A Tribute to my Parents


Yesterday Josh, Gerald and I were searching through old photograph albums for pictures of Josh and his mates as young teenagers, when I found this document with a swag of glorious photos and a very impressive dinner menu which my (then) good friend Warren Hannah, lovingly prepared as the wedding celebration.   We had a lavish three course meal for around twenty people in our home, the tables were laid with starched white linen and sparkling silver and glassware, laden with flowers and the house and garden, where they renewed their vows, was dressed with yards of white ribbon and garlands of flowers.  After the dinner and the moving and acknowledging speeches, my parents did their 'thing' - they went off, got dressed up in Music Hall costumes, and came back and sang and danced and entertained the guests for half an hour.   Then we danced till midnight.

 I also have the vows they wrote for each other, and will include them with this later.  It is interesting to read this all these years later, particularly from the perspective that Gerald and I will be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary in just under three years from now.  I remember back then trying to imagine what FIFTY YEARS together must be like, and that they were really VERY OLD.  I am incredibly moved and touched and inspired by the lengths I went to to ensure this great landmark was acknowledged with love and with style, and how hard I - and a dedicated team of others - worked to make it all happen, and how incredibly grateful they were.  I am also clear that there is nobody in our lives who would create an event like this for us, this is something a loving daughter does.  But I can vividly recall their joy, delight and astonishment at what we created for them.   Not only this - but there were many large and happy birthday parties, for their 65th, their 70th, their 80th and another mega affair for their 65th in Berry, at the home of my (then) good friend, Edwin Butler.  I found photos too, of when they first came to Australia, in 1975, when Gerand and I had been here about two years, Gerald was 27 and I was 25, they were 54 and 52 years old, and I fussed over them as if they were 'elderly'.   I realise now how YOUNG they were compared to Gerald and I today, at 68 and 66 years old, 

I loved my parents, and so did Gerald.   We worked hard to help them settle in Australia, and then most days of our lives, until they died.   And  am clear my parents were present to how much they were loved and acknowledged, not only by the Grand Affairs, but by the love and effort we put into making their lives special, and easing their paths, every single day.  And my heart tells me what they always said, and wrote in numerous loving cards - that Gerald and I were wonderful kids, and a rich blessing in their lives. 

Here is the speech I wrote on their 50th wedding anniversary on 23rd October 1993. 

 On the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary on 23rd October 1993 at 1 Oberon Crescent, Gordon, NSW Australia.   

Vera Hedley and Thomas Guthrie were married on 23rd October 1943, in St. Joseph's Church, West Hartlepool.  The best man was Bill Godding and Vera's sister, Eileen Hedley, was bridesmaid.   Vera wore a gray pin stripe "costume" instead of a wedding dress, as clothing was still rationed via coupons.  Sensibly, then, as she is now, she believed a wedding dress would not be something she would get a lot of wear out of!  (She wore the suit for many years.). Afterwards, the wedding party went to a local hall for a meal and dancing.   Tom danced with his Mum first! 

That night there was a very severe bombing raid, and the photographs shop in Church St was bombed, hence no photos of the wedding.   Tom and Vera went to Newcastle for a week for their honeymoon.  They say "Gone With the Wind" during their stay. 

Tom and Vera grew up together in Mozat Street, West Hartlepool.  Tom's Mum, Ellen, and Vera's Grandmother, also Ellen, were very close friends.   Between them they "laid out" all the dead in their street, and delivered all the babies too.   They both liked a drop of the hard stuff! And sometimes were given Whisky in exchange for their services - but largely they provided this service for free, as nobody HAD any money.  Tommy was occasionally given the pennies from the eyes of the dead who had been laid out in his front parlour.

Tom was to all intents and purposes, a bit of a wild boy, but a vey good Catholic, and he loved his Mum dearly.   His father died when he was an infant.  Ellen Guthrie ruled her household with a rod of iron, she had 8 kids, was less then 5 feet tall, and yet her kids were terrified of her, but adored her!   It was a house with no money, no man, but lots of laughter, love and loyalty. 

Vera grew up with her Mum and her sister Eileen in the same street.  Her father left her Mum with two young kids to support, and no money.  Her Mum was also a bit of a tyrant, and a perfectionist, she worked till she dropped, and expected incredibly high standards from her girls.  Her work ethics remain firmly embedded in our family today! 

Tom and Vera started going out together when she was 16 and he was 18.   Tom had been in London working for a few years, and when he came home and they met up again and started to go out together.  Mom says she decided early on she would marry Tom Guthrie, but that every girl in town was after him.  She was so happy when he, too, showed an obvious interest in her, and she couldn't believe her good luck!   Her Mom had other ideas.   Tommy Guthrie was not she she had in mind for her daughter - he had a 'reputation' as he was a member of a very cool and select group of young men known as "The Cads Club".  Entry to this club required certain criteria - one of which was you had to drink eight pints of beer and remain sober, and also be able to down a pint in four seconds or less .... (No wonder Dad hardly ever drinks today.). And you had to be a snappy dresser, and the more closely one resembled Clark Gable the better - Dad did look like him, and he prided himself on having the same physical size as Gable.  He once even bought a pair of Clark Gable's shoes which were auctioned after a film and Dad wore them for years!

Vera had a very good future, and gorgeous legs, which she still has!  She was approached by a stocking company who paints her legs on the back of its van! - as advertising for their stockings.  Then her Mum found out just whose legs they were and that finished that.  Scandalous! 

Tom and Vera had the same godmother, Bella Bassini.   Fr. Thornton was the priest who married them, and he also christened them both! 

The war started in 1939, and Tom served in France and Germany.  Vera lived in London for a while, where she worked as a bus conductress - a job she continued to do after they arrived in South Africa in 1948 - she was the first female 'clippy' in that country. 

In 1944, my sister Susan was born.   "Beautiful Black Eyed Susan" was what they called her.  She was born during an air raid in London there were no lights, and Tom used matches to guide the ambulance to their house.   It was a very bad raid, and how terrifying it was for a young woman having her first baby.  The ambulance threaded its way through the rubble and the bomb craters in time for Susan to be born in the hospital. 

AFter the war, Tom and Vera decided that England was no place to bring up a family, and so in 1947, Tom caught a ship to Cape Town.  His friends and famil thought that he was out of his mind, that Afrida was a dangerous, wild place (and it was), and that he would be back eating humble pie very soon.   Yet Tom fell in love with Africa from the moment he spied Table Mountain, even before the ship docked.   He arrived with five shillings and a suitcase.   After being relived of that five shillings after drinking Cape brandy with a few unscrupulous locals, he got a job as a mechanic, and in 1948, Vera and Susan followed.  Vera remembers the journey vividly, mostly women and children, in a troop ship with everybody violently sea sick in shared dormitory accommodation.  The first day in Cape Town, she bought a dozen eggs, a leg of lamb, a loaf of bread, a proud of butter, and ate the lot.   After years of old rationin, the abundance of food was unbelievable.

Sandra was born almost nine months later to the day, in November 1949, and was a real worry for a few days, as she was considered 'physically deformed' - having been born with a crawl covering half of her face.  Vera's doctor, a man my parents endowed with super human skills for ever after, used a scalpel and cut it away, in front of my Mother, and revealed her baby's perfect little face. 

In 1955 Tom went to Northern Rhodesia, seeking a better life - once again - for his family.   It took about a year before he got a job on Bancroft Copper Mine, and his mine number (another mystical thing always remembered in our household) was 627.  Vera had lost twin boys in her eighth month of pregnancy, and money was acutely short.  She worked in Garlicks, a department store in Cape Town, to eke out a living whilst Dad was away, and sending small amounts of money, intermittently, whilst he waited, with hundreds of other men, to get a job on the mine.  On the only trip Tom made back to Cape Town (four days and nights in a train) - Vera fell pregnant again, and Ian was born in 1956.  He contracted meningitis at 6 weeks old, and was not expected to live.  Tom was, by this time, back in Northern Rhodesia and Vera managed to conceal Ian's illness from Tom for some months until Ian, after surgery which saved his life, was able to travel and she took the whole family to join Tom in Bancroft.  Ian was then eleven months old, and the journey was by steam train.  It took four days and four nights, through South Africa, Southern Rhodesia and over the Victoria Falls into Northern Rhodesia, a journey of 2,500 miles through bush and desert and searing heat.   Tom met them in Ndola with a borrowed car, and drove them to Bancroft, about one hundred miles away.  Ian's cot fell off the roof of the car en route and smashed in the bush.

We had a HOUSE!  4 Luapula Avenue, Bancroft, it was brand new and in the last street in the town, with the African bush at the end of our backyard.  We all thought we had arrived in Paradise.   We had. Growing up and living in the bush in the middle of Africa was the most idyllic childhood.   We were safe, cherished and living in the most beautiful surroundings.   Sometimes at night, Tom would wake up us kids and take us quietly to stand at the kitchen sink, overlooking the backyard, where there would be lions, or elephants, or zebras.   We had a huge anthill in the garden, which was filled with chattering monkies. Tom and Vera and their children were very, very happy there.  Vera learned to adapt to the bush and stored her high heels, hats and gloves, and dealt with spiders, snakes, and staff.   Tom worked underground, and was once caught in a terrifying 'mud Rush' where dozens and dozens of men died.  It was then he was given the nickname "Bwana Tembo" - (Bwana Strong Rope - for his legendary physical strength) by the Africans.  That name endured through all his life in Africa, reaching mystical levels when some years later he worked at the Open Pit on Chingola Mine, when he quite regularly saved the lives of men caught in precarious situations in 200 tonne trucks perched on the edge of the open pit.

The friendships Tom and Vera formed at this time have endured a lifetime. 

In 1960, the Congo War started, and as Bancroft was right on the border, it was a very dangerous place to be.   Gunfire could be heard at night an hundreds of bloodied, terrified refugees poured over the border.  A State of Emergency was declared, and Vera kept us kids home from school, with the car prepared with blankets, medical supplies and food - for an emergency exit.  Tom served in the army during this Bush War and was gone for long periods of time leaving Vera on her own with the three kids.  Tom decided to evacuate his family to England, and resigned from his long pursued, highly desirable job on the mine, and so we left Africa.  We all HATED England.  Tom and Vera and Susan got employment, and Sandra and Ian went to good schools and Vera's parents were close by.  But it made no difference.  They ALMOST bought a house, and in the final stages of signing documents, Tom and Vera looked at each other and said "Really?  Are we going to do this?"  It was a Mystical Moment in our family's history - we all looked around the table at each other, and the silent message "England is DEFINITELY not for the Guthrie's!"   And Vera tore the document into pieces.   REJOICE!   So in 1961 we returned to Africa, this time to Chingola where Dad once more had to wait for some months to get a job on the mine.   He worked for a private company in the meantime, an we lived in a flat which was burgled in the middle of the night shortly after moving in.   Sandra was 10 years old and witnessed the event, which left her terrified at night for many years. 

The family lived very happily in Chingola.  Northern Rhodesia gained Independence on October 24th 1964, and became the Republic of Zambia.   We lived in another mine house, and Ian went to boarding school, Christian Brothers College, in Kimberley South Africa.   Susan got married.  Sandra started going out with Gerald also in 1964, and two years later, went away to Southern Rhodesia (priming itself up for another ghastly bush war in the fight for independence) to secretarial college. Gerald's Mom, Freda worked with Vera in one of three stores in Chingola, called Nchanga Trading.  (Nchanga was the 'native' name for Chingola), and his Dad, Ev, also worked on the copper mine with Tom.   It was a very close community.   The families attended the same Catholic Church and school and enjoyed the same circle of friends.   Tom and Vera were very active in the church, the Masonic lodge, the swimming pool, and had good friends, sharing a very social and happy life.  Chingola had a population of 4,500 and I think they were friends with everyone! 

Mom and Dad had some spectacular holidays, and Susan was married and SAndra and Ian were growing fast. They became grandparents to Susan's son Mark Fenton Thomas in 1964.  Vera was named "The Youngest, Most Glamorous Grandmother in Chingola."   She was only 41!  Tom was General Foreman of the Nchanga Open Pit, the biggest open cast mine in the world at the time.   He was always very physical, he swam and dived for Northern Rhodesia, and was a Life Saving Champion.  He was known as a local 'hero' - he saved the lives of many children who were drowning and was frequently in the local papers.   At work he was also responsible for many heroic acts in dangerous conditions, and saved the lives of many men.

Sandra and Gerald got married in 1969.  In 1973, Gerald emigrated to Australia, and Sandra followed six months later.   In 1975, Mom, Dad and Ian followed us to Brisbane - Ian went back to Johannesburg to university and Mom and Dad moved to Maroochydore, to a big old house they had bought on the Maroochy River.   Tom did not take to Australia.   He hankered for Africa, and six months later, returned to Cape Town.   Vera had not even fully unpacked yet, and their belongings had only just arrived in Australia from Africa - so she just re-routed them BACK to Cape Town.  Vera found this period very trying, she was working in a book shop and operating a taxi service in Maroochydore, and returned reluctantly to join Tom, who had found work as a supervisor of a large building in Cape Town.   Vera and her best friend Lydia opened a sandwich shop in the centre of town, which was lots of fun and lots of hard work.

About two years later, they returned to Zambia for two years, and then went to Angola for another 4.5 years.  Meantime, they were flying in an out of Australia on their annual holidays, either to Melbourne or Sydney, wherever Sandra and Gerald happened to be living.   Ian came to live in Australia during this time.  Years passed!   And in 1977, Joshua James Groom was born - and in 1978 Sandra, Gerald and Joshua returned to Africa for the first time since they had emigrated, to visit all the family.  It was at this time that Vera determined to come and live in Australia.  Shortly afterwards, Susan came to live in Australia too.  

 In 1982, Mom, Dad and Granny (Vera's Mum) came to live in Australia permanently.  Gran came from London where she had lived with my Grandad Bill (not my 'real Grandad, but the only one I had) and I liked him.  He died a year or two before they all came to Sydney.  Dad got a job at the Council in Ku-ring-Gai in Gordon, where they also lived, in a flat next to the railway station.  Vera worked at a variety of jobs, including housekeeper to a wealthy and inconsiderate family, babysitter, demonstrator, waitress, seamstress, and as a cleaner at Joshua's school.  They then moved to Turramurra to a bigger flat, and joined the Turramurra Bowling Club, which Mom still belongs to, and she has made many friends there.   She is an accomplished bowler.  Granny died in 1988, on 17th December, Vera's 66th birthday, after being nursed by her daughter through a long illness.   That same night, Vera went ahead and performed in the Turramurra Bowling Club Annual Charity Show.  It was a fundraising event which raised only for the Sunshine Children's Homes, for kids with disabilities, and they did around 12 performances each year over the Christmas period.   Vera felt that her mother, who had 'trodden the boards' herself, wold have wanted her to do just that.

In 1990, when Sandra and Gerald created their 'new' marriage, Tom and Vera moved into Gerald's little house in Burlington Street, Crows Nest, and Dad joined North Sydney ANZAC Memorial Bowling Club, where he is an umpire and highly respected. 

Today, Dad exercises daily, does yoga once weekly, plays bowls frequently, coaches teenage students to play bowls, has his Umpires Certificate, writes copious letters and newspaper articles, sings in the Kur-ring-Gai Male Choir, and is in the process of writing his life story.   He is also on the Committee of his Bowling Club.  He has been an active, life-long member of the Masonic Lodge, and recently achieved his 32nd degree.  He says he does not know how he found time to work full time, before he retired 7 years ago, as his life is so busy!

 Vera is one of the most energetic people in the world.  She too plays bowls frequently, plays cards with her friends weekly, babysits, works one day a week with her friend Jenny, and she raises lots of money for charity through her participation annually in the Turramurra Bowling Club Concert, of which she is the STAR performer!   Vera always has several projects on the go, and on any given day, you can be sure she is SOMEWHERE, HELPING SOMEBODY, DO SOMETHING.  She can be seen, sewing machine under one arm, mop, duster and rubber gloves under the other, determinedly making a difference to the lives of everyone she meets.   The first thing she does when she walks into our house is set up the ironing board and clears the ironing basket.  Then she gets out the vacuum cleaner and disposes of all the dog hair.   She sews, she knits, she crochets, and she and Rita travel the length and breadth of Sydney by train, bus, and ferry every Saturday morning.

Tom and Vera have been pioneers in many of the countries they have lived in. They have lived through so much together:  their deprived childhoods,  a World War, produced three healthy, successful children, and the pain of losing two babies and a miscarriage.   They have lived in five different countries, and travelled the world a few times.   They have shared poverty and prosperity, life-threatened illness and accidents with their kids and each other, surgery, sickness (including malaria, bilharzia, pneumonia, and a host of others.  They have laughed and loved, fought and wept, ached for their children's disappointments and rejoiced in their successes.   They have loved and supported each other's family and their own, and worked till they dropped to provide their kids and each other with some of the thins they never had themselves as kids.  They've made mistakes.  They've enjoyed great success.   They have been an inspiration to many, and included many in their family and loved them like their own, and given of themselves and their time very generously.   They have worked tirelessly for charities and organisations, and they are well loved here in Australia and internationally.

They've always had each other, in sickness and in health, till death do them part, for FIFTY YEARS.  (And that is just the length of the wedding!).  They have spent their lives together. 

I would like to set off fireworks on the Harbour Bridge tonight - a kind of New Year's Eve celebration, televised globally - to acknowledge them both.  

Instead, I ask you to stand and raise your glass to acknowledge these two extraordinary people, my Mom and Dad.  

We love you.   We thank you.   You are an inspiration.



Sandra Groom