Carmel is a retired school teacher, wife, mother and grandmother. Her family's life dramatically changed when she was diagnosed with early onset memory loss. With her husband, she tells their story and looks positively into an unknown future.
Further InformationVIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Rob & Carmel McGrath
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
Carmel has always loved a good story.
Well, that’s because I come from a long line of storytellers. My great-grandmother told me of her childhood in Moonta and my mother told us stories about growing up in Kalgoorlie goldfields. My grandmother had a big black handbag and in that bag she had a large money purse with a clasp that made a loud satisfying ‘click’. As a child I thought grandma was very rich because the purse was full of lovely thruppences and sixpences and we were often given a coin to spend, even when we were young adults and grandma’s memory was fading. My mother’s stories were more along the lines of cautionary tales. She would say you may be injected with a sedative and wake up to find yourself on a slow boat to China, the victim of the White Slave Trade. This was known among us girls as NSA, you’ll ‘Never be Seen Again’. Be aware.
Carmel grew up in Caulfield, had a Convent education and Graduated as a trained Infant Teacher from Toorak Teachers College.
From the age of 6 until I was 20 I was in uniform, so it was a joy to dress up for my Aunts wedding and my Debutante Ball.
…and she headed off to teach in the bush
My first school was at a small sawmilling settlement in Gippsland. I boarded on a local farm and learned to adjust to the challenges of country life.
Carmel taught my younger sisters and we met at a local dance. We married at Glenhuntly in 1961.
After our wedding we drove to Horsham in our little black Volkswagen to begin our married life. After ten years in rural schools in Wimmera and the north-east we moved back to Melbourne. This time in a station wagon because our family had grown, we now had a boy and three girls.
As the wife of a rural school Head Teacher in the ‘60s, life for a city girl with four young children presented plenty of challenges. The drought, tiger snakes on the veranda, the mother’s club.
I was never bored or lonely. There were visits from many people, from the district inspector, a passing swaggie and once a clown in full make up.
In the ‘70s Carmel began a long association with St Mary’s in Dandenong. “Yes, I’m the manager of Wellsprings for women in Dandenong where Carmel is a volunteer. She is an incredible inspiration to the women who are here and Carmel is probably the most loved person and she just contributes so incredibly generously.”
At her third and final attempt and after 30 years at St May’s, Carmel retired. Our children had done us proud. They were settled and secure in their homes and careers and it was finally time for her to develop some of her own interests but there was yet another challenge.
After Rob recovered from a heart attack and bypass surgery, I encouraged him to fulfil his long held dream.
While I was in Kenya, Carmel was diagnosed with Alzheimer disease.
I seem to be moving in smaller circles, I wasn’t driving as far or as often. I’m a great reader; I haven’t really been interested in any new books.
Carmel has accepted this ultimate challenge and since that diagnosis in 2001 she has written a book which is now nearing publication. She has written her story.
“They want to sort of do the “Carmel, Carmel” bit, oh we don’t want this…and I say I want to go out for dinner, I want to do something. I don’t want to be ‘Poor Carmel’, I don’t want that.