Resilience, we hear this word constantly as being the way to keep our head above water through thick and thin. Of arming ourselves with the tools to achieve our aspirations. According to the Oxford Dictionary: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape. The Philosophy of Never Giving Up.
If you think about this as it pertains to our ability to ‘spring back’, after adversity, it perhaps is easier said than done. Let me share a story with you. Imagine if you will a young girl growing up in a family experiencing the demands of WW2 in London. Her Father having died of cancer, when she was just eight years old. He had been the Licensee of the Camden Head Pub in Chelsea, where June had been born 1929 in the upstairs bedroom. She was the last of 6 children.
Her childhood years saw such a diversity of experiences whether at Cousley Wood, Camden Town, Chelsea or Dymchurch, all interwoven with her Siblings, Grandparents, Parents, Aunts and Uncles, who in themselves had plenty of stories to tell.
This rich family history was reflected in the many stories and poems June wrote, where she revealed her innermost feelings throughout her life. It was obvious her formative years were full of enriching experiences with some of her earliest recollections being at her grandparents’ home in the beautiful Kent countryside.
When her father died, it was necessary for the family to move to a smaller pub, the Princess of Wales which became the family’s new home. It was her Mother Ada, and Sister Ethel that kept the pub running, which in itself was an incredible feat, as it was unusual for a woman to operate licenced premises at that time.
WW2 looming and so June and her Brother Eddie was sent away to Boarding School for ‘safety’, she was 11 years old. School life was another huge challenge for a young girl who had always exhibited a ‘free’ spirit.
In her late teens, she returned to live with her family at the Princess of Wales, which was more a gathering for locals in a neighbourhood cafe for a chat, rather than what we in Australia know as a pub. She married a quite striking and handsome young man named Ronald She was just 19.
June’s life was one of resilience, of enduring incredible hardship at times through circumstances that no one would ever have dreamt of occurring in one person’s lifetime. She survived Tuberculosis which should have claimed her life, spending many months in hospitals and sanatoriums which impacted heavily on ‘family’ life. In 1963, it was decided that the family would emigrate to Australia, June was thirty four.
After already having encountered many arduous trials in her lifetime, it took a lot of courage, determination and fortitude to pursue an unknown opportunity on the other side of the world, and to do so with only eighty pounds in their pocket, plus three children. This was a remarkable feat and of course quite a gamble.
June’s life was one of survival, tenacity and when it comes down to it, courage and determination to get on and live a life that would provide hope for the future. Within a week of arriving in South Australia, Ron got a job and almost immediately was assigned to ‘bush’ jobs, building new schools for the Public Service. These jobs could see him away from the family for up to three months at a time, leaving June to become acclimatized to her new surroundings plus manage the three children.
Being homesick would certainly be understandable. A different culture, living in unfamiliar ‘territory’ and the only link to family in the UK were the numerous letters that she wrote and received over many years.
I consider that one of June’s ‘saving graces’ was Pam who became a close friend, and in later years, Mum said was more like a Sister. Their lives became entwined as they spent many years enjoying a friendship that built a close bond between them. Without Pam, June’s life would have been shallow, as she would not have experienced the many expeditions with young children in tow, where she and saw and experienced the many wonders that a strong friendship can bring.
June could not drive, and even if she could, there was no family car in those first few years, due to restricted finances and of course Ron working away from home. To add to the situation, there was longevity in the Powell family, June’s mother living to the grand old age of one hundred, plus the Aunts lived well into their eighties and nineties, even ‘Little’ Auntie Ethel reached the fabulous age of ninety six, although she was hanging out for the 100 milestone, and didn’t quite make it. The bond between June and her distant family became stronger due to the continued ‘separation’.
It wasn’t until June came out to Australia that she started to rebuild her relationship with her Mother through the hundreds of letters that were sent over the years, plus the trips back to England, Mum was able to reconnect with her family.
Dymchurch, the seaside home of her mother and sister, had always been a magnet, where the extended families visited and shared their stories. It was certainly a place of happiness for all concerned.
June’s love of England plus her aptitude for continual learning gave balance to her ‘Aussie’ lifestyle. She had always been a ‘thinker’, someone who surrounded herself with books and was articulate when it came to English History.
She often pondered on what ‘life’ was all about, and penned these thoughts on the back of an envelope:
What is the trick of living? Perhaps its enthusiasm — the Josephine’s in their crazy hats and zest for living, or Andrew (Princess of Wales), with his outrageous ‘chuckey stories’, or Brother Joe’s wonderful designer of ships, or an Italian actor’s exuberance, or the old street violinist. People not cast in the urban mould, but those enthusiasts that ‘step-out’ into the spotlight and make life more exciting and interesting for the rest of us.”
The fact that June was a Publican’s Daughter, meant that her early experiences of being in a ‘hub’ surrounded by people talking and discussing issues, people from different walks of life; instilled in her a ‘passion’ for meaningful conversations, where politics, or events were openly discussed and although people may not agree, there was always a robust exchange of ideas.
The fact that the Princess of Wales was situated in Chelsea meant that she was exposed to the ‘hurley burley’ of life in the heart of London that would impact both herself and her family.
It was many years later that she was accepted into the University of Adelaide to undertake further study. This was a very happy time for June, as she could experience a learning environment and meet and discuss issues with fellow students. She would also write many essays which contributed to her being awarded a ‘D’ Distinction in History.
She sat and achieved her Adult Matriculation Certificate at the amazing age of 49 years. This is an incredible achievement for someone that left school at 16 and had not returned to study until this time. Her family were incredibly proud.
It has to be said however that even after 50 years of being ‘down under’, June was still somewhat homesick, as although her ‘heart’ belonged in England, she readily admitted that the family had done better in Australia.
There had always been something missing from her life in Australia, and that saw June and Ron return home to their ‘roots’ on many occasions over the years. These trips proved to be their saviour, as they were able to balance their lives between their homeland, and their adopted country.
June was a highly intelligent and knowledgeable woman who displayed a strength of mind and character that we rarely see today. She was seen by many as a friendly person who showed genuine interest in others personal stories or their achievements., was a fun-loving woman who enjoyed life and noted for her infectious laugh.
She always supported and encouraged her children in their endeavours, and was an inspiration to many and I believe, that inspiration will live on in all of us. Her life was characterised by her strength, dignity, courage and achievement, and she truly made a difference to the lives of many.
The idea of Resilience then is very much represented through June’s experiences, the highs and lows, but always striving throughout to achieve what she would consider to be the best she was able to achieve.
It is not easy being a ‘thinking’ being, always wanting to strive for what might be considered the impossible, within the realms of what was possible. She was a woman, like her mother before her, she never gave up, and I am sure that with their blood in my veins, I will continue to aim high and strive for what is possible in my life.
If we go back to what Resilience represents, the Philosophy of Never Giving Up, even when the tides of change may seem overwhelming, it goes to show that to successfully negotiate life’s challenges, an additional strength is required. A belief that perceptions can be overcome when ‘needs must‘. (An English term often used to describe when an action is necessary or unavoidable).
Strength of character determines the strength of what can be achieved in today’s world, and we should never underestimate the value of ‘working diligently’ to achieve our aspirations.
June’s achievements came out of necessity, the necessity to live a life that could satisfy her never ending need to sate her ‘pie in the sky aspirations. It just goes to show that nothing is impossible, however there has to be an inner courage to optimise potential opportunities to enrich our lives and careers.
If you would like to immerse yourself in a ‘social history of the times’ read June’s story, depicted in THE PUBLICAN’S DAUGHTER a biography of June Pegram (nee Powell) , my Mother. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HTG6M88