Anne Sawyer - A Story

Anne Sawyer - A Story

This is a story about Anne Sawyer, born 19th December 1919 and who died 2nd January 2002.

It is a story of a loving woman.

  • A caring daughter, sister and aunt.
  • A loving wife and life's partner.
  • A dutiful daughter in law.
  • A nurturing, supportive, non-judgemental mother and mother-in-law.
  • An encouraging, loving and protective Nanna.
  • A loving friend and supporter of her great grand children
  • A good, generous workmate
  • A great travelling companion
  • A reasonable patient
  • Good fun to be with
  • And a friendly smiling face to all she met
  • She was a beautiful loving person.

At the end of 1919, Sheep Hills was quite a busy community with a population of rural workers that supported four churches, a state school, and a pub. The railway station with its vast wheat stacks was the economic centre of the town while the tennis club and the Mechanic's Institute Hall were the social centre.  The railway had two passenger trains a day. The morning train was to Murtoa with a connection to Melbourne and the afternoon train went to Warracknabeal. A good job really, as 40 year old Ellen Malcolm caught this train to "Warrak" on 19th December where Annie Frances was born at the hospital a few hours later.   I fancy that George Malcolm, Annie's father stayed to look after the children. They were:

  • Mary (10), who's daughters, Betty and Margaret are with us today
  • Eileen, who was born after a wild 10-mile buggy ride nine years earlier
  • George (7)
  • and young Gerard (5) whose daughters, Patricia and Bev are also here

Family lore says there were others that did not survive infancy and this, isolation and the harvest probably influenced the decision to delay the registration of the birth for 10 weeks..  

Ellen brought young Annie back to quite a tough environment at Sheep Hills. It was tough for everyone, even the landowners who were the aristocracy. With his regular weekly income, the stationmaster was probably best off and represented the only member of the town's middle class.

The Malcolm family was part of the Australian version of peasantry. They did it very hard, eking out an existence between seasonal jobs on planting and harvesting. The diet was pretty uninspiring and Mum ate so much chicken and rabbit, that she didn't eat it again.  

Mum was loved by her parents and siblings and may have been spoilt a bit, but they could not protect her from the harshness of an education system that treated her violently and sat her in the corner in a dunces cap when she got things wrong.   

This abuse stayed with Annie for the rest of her life and we should take this as a timely reminder of how deep an impact we can have on our kids when we fail to support and encourage them.  

The photo of Annie on the front of the program was probably taken when she was 17 but Mum always looked pretty young so it could have come up to 10 years later. I fancy she was on a Sunday afternoon picnic after Church. The day before she would have played tennis and attended a wild dance at the Mechanic's Institute.

Space and editorial censorship by my Godson Michael Box has meant we had to leave out another photo of Mum, but I will describe it now and show it around at Chris and Julie's house this afternoon.

Mum is around 30, is now called Anne and she has a family of her own: Valerie, John and Helen. She is sitting in a pub with husband Tom. She has a cigarette and packet of matches in one hand and has a glass of beer in the other. I can only guess that we kids are in another room drinking red lemonade.

I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea. Mum has assured me that she was holding the cigarette for someone else and that she poured most of the beer into the pot plant behind Tom.

A lot had happened since Sheep Hills. The family had moved to Melbourne after farm mechanisation and the Great Depression had left little call for saddle makers and farm labourers.  

Anne had spent some time during the war working in the cafeteria at Foy and Gibson and it was here that she showed some of her generosity by lending 10/- to a workmate just before payday each week and having it repaid a few days later. She certainly did not have anything to spare but soon tired of the weekly ritual and gave the 10/- to her friend as a gift.  

The beer glass photo is significant for another reason. It clearly shows that her hand is missing two fingers as a result of falling under a tram one New Year's eve. Along with the dunce's cap, this was a significant injury to Mum and until very recent years, she took to hiding it behind a handkerchief. Some of her grandchildren probably thought that it was always present to wipe away the tears that appeared on every notable occasion. (Some of those irreverent children called her ability to cry at the drop of a hat - the Nanna Gene)

Times were still tough, with the Sawyer's living in a small flat behind a house in Power Street Hawthorn. Despite the lack of money, Ann and Tom's children were loved, well cared for, and encouraged to make the best of their education. Ann and Tom went without to make sure we got the Catholic education they promised when they married.

On a personal note, I have to thank Mum for going to work to make sure that I got a good education. I was under no pressure but I know by the celebration of minor achievements as triumphs that I carried the aspirations of Mum and Dad. I am sure that there are plenty of others here who would testify to a similar feeling.  

Mum's work as a shop assistant at the Fredelle Knitwear Emporium at the other end of the Burke Road shopping centre gave her much joy and when trade got a bit quiet, Mr Fredelle urged Anne to stand at the front door and attract customers with her wonderful smile.  

Mum kept working with Michael and "the girls" at Fredies for many years after Tom's early retirement. I welcome some of them here today.

Before I finish up I want to talk about Holidays and Fun.

Holiday's were quite an institution with the Sawyer's and this has continued with them up until six months ago. My first memory of a holiday is catching a train (it was always a train until we kids started to drive them). The train went to Warburton and we walked up a steep hill to the boarding house with suitcases in a pusher. A loud bell signalled each mealtime and we wolfed down all that was put in front of us. We knew that there would be meagre pickings when we got back to Melbourne and had a week without any income. Holidays were very much an activity to be shared. On my first scout camp I was a bit embarrassed when Mum and Dad arrived on the first weekend to stay at the nearby pub. I bet I hear similar stories this afternoon.

Mum and Dad enjoyed all their holidays and met many new friends this way, some of them are with us today to share our grief and celebrate Anne's life. Thank you for being here.

A significant part of each day out involved observing the follies of others and making up outrageous stories about our fellow holidaymakers. I know that the holiday gene has been passed down to the grand children and great grand children and Dad tells me that after a bit of a rest and rebuilding his energy, he will be at it again.

Mum was also part of a great deal of fun. You might call her naive and innocent because after close to 70 years of tall stories by Tom and his leg-pulling apprentices she continued to rise to the bait. I have thought about this over the last week and I reckon that she was playing a role and probably having us on just as much as we were having her on.   

Remember the words "Stop it Tom" accompanied by encouraging laughter.

The last six months were hard on everyone. To her credit, Mum did it pretty well and gave us plenty of warning and enough time to prepare for her death. She was understandably angry during August and her early time at Adare but she worked through it and when she accepted her mortality she apologised to everyone for her behaviour. She then went back to her beaming greetings. These continued until Boxing Day. I fancy that when she had seen everyone she decided to let go and move on to another stage of her existence.  

Thanks to all those who cared for Anne during the past few months.

Tom wants to thank everyone for coming and celebrating Anne's life. He is obviously feeling his loss but wants to talk to you all during the rest of the day.

Anne really loved her family, the idea of her family and the reality of her family. Her only instruction for today is that we are to make sure that everyone understood how much she loved them.  

She particularly loved her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.  

This has been my version of Anne Sawyer's story. Your version will be a bit different but I'm sure that Mum's love had a significant impact on you and that her spirit and love will live on.  

John Sawyer 8 January 2002