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Faith_ The best and worst of our humanity is showing


At an International Women’s Day event in Sydney in 1958, activist Lucy Barnes quoted from a poem. The last line is worth noting: “We shall not travel, but we make the road.

As International Women’s Day approaches, I look at the photo of me as a child, nestled between my grandmothers, and I realise how much I learned through their words, actions and love. They helped shape who I would become, without me knowing it at the time.




















                                   Gemma Di Bari with her grandmothers Gemma Di Bari, left, and Vittoria Barile, right

The rituals and routines that gave their life rhythm and purpose helped them to meet adversity head on as they bravely paved a road and carved out a meaningful life. As Proverbs 31:17 says: “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.”

One cooked hearty meals for her family of nine, loved her garden where she grew camomile and tended her chickens. She spent hours outdoors enjoying the warmth of the sun, engaging with the wisdom of nature while feeding bread to the birds. When I would visit, I would perch myself on a kitchen chair and watch with curiosity and anticipation as her fingers deftly worked the dough into pillows of mouth-watering gnocchi.

The other got up every morning at 5am to read her Bible and greet the silent secrets of the day yet to unfold. She loved to play the piano, crochet and sew. Not wanting to disturb her, I would often tiptoe quietly into the loungeroom where she was sitting by the window waiting for the sun to rise, weaving her fingers around rosary beads in silent, contemplative prayer.

My grandmothers, as with many women of their time, were women of courage and faith. They were stoic and wise women whose values helped them through the hardship of war, migration to a new country and the death of loved ones.

The 1950s and ’60s were a time when women relied heavily on their community, friends and family to get through the daily toil. Despite the hard work, they found joy in moments shared with others. Dinnertime with family around the table, a kind word spoken to neighbours over the fence, the gathering after church, and engaging in conversation when buying what they needed from the local haberdashery, baker, butcher and milk bar. These things were what my grandmothers valued and drew strength from.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to leave the country of my birth and live overseas. Would I have their strength? Who knows, but what I do know is my grandmothers, like many other women, epitomise International Women’s Day. “We shall not travel, but we make the road.”

Gemma Di Bari is a Melbourne teacher and writer.

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