In Memoriam Gwendoline Busby (1927 – 2017)

In Memoriam Gwendoline Busby (1927 – 2017)
In Memoriam Gwendoline Busby c. 1948.
In Memoriam Gwendoline Busby (1927 – 2017). Unknown photographer c. 1948.

Gwendoline Dimes was born in the East End of London in 1927. She survived the poverty of the Depression and bombing during the Second World War but never really got over her evacuation or the death of her youngest brother.

Gwen wanted to go “into service” so she could live in a Big House, but her mother didn’t want her charring for the toffs. She thought she might go into tailoring, but her mother wasn’t keen on her having intimate access to men, or that the majority of London tailors at that time were Jews. Instead, she joined the typing pool.

Sometime later, she met a young engineer named John Busby at a local dance, and they married in 1955. They built a house in the up and coming town of Bishop’s Stortford, and when they had all but given up hope, welcomed son John in 1961.

In 1967, they were surprised by the arrival of daughter Alexandria.

On securing a position with the then Western Australian Government Railways. John and Gwen emigrated. Gwen packed and shipped their belongings, arranged passports, vaccinations, and passage to Australia. She left all she knew, to set up home in a new country where she knew no one. She arrived in August 1973, aged 46.

In their small, unairconditioned flat, Gwen found that first summer almost impossible to bear. She would put her feet in buckets of cold water, and wet flannels on her head to try and keep cool.

When they moved to a home of their own in Roleystone, it wasn’t much better. She learned to open and close the house to keep it cool, and to do her high-energy chores in the morning and evening so she could rest during the heat of the day. She learned, she adapted, she survived.

Sadly, her marriage came to an end in 1979, but she and John remained cordial. She took care of his housekeeping, and he took care of her household maintenance. They continued to celebrate Christmas together until his death in 1998.

She survived her first stroke in 2000 and moved into Gordon Lodge. They took such good care of her that she survived another 17 years.

Gwen Busby was what politicians like to call an “Aussie Battler”. Regardless of the many hardships she faced, Gwen staunchly kept going, doing the best she knew how with the limited resources she had access to. For 90 years, she just kept moving forward, one foot in front of the other.

She lived an ordinary life, some would say that it was not even a remarkable or noteworthy life, but she mattered. The space she filled could not have been occupied by any other – it was remarkable precisely because it was her space. And that was a constant and still space where she focused entirely on you without distraction.

Gwen instilled strong values in her children, raising them to be good citizens who work hard, pay their taxes without complaint, and look out for their friends and colleagues.

While she seemed stern, Gwen loved deeply. She wasn’t comfortable with physical intimacy and couldn’t show her love with hugs or kisses; so she tried to perfect you. Gestures that some would take as criticism were the only way she could demonstrate her love. A tweak of the tie, a tug of the hem, or washing your face with a spit-soaked hanky.

Gwen didn’t believe in sugar coatings; she felt that painful things should be delivered quickly and cleanly to speed recovery. If you were her friend, she would show her respect through a blunt rendering of her opinion. Unfortunately, her bluntness resulted in many misunderstandings over the years. She saw life in black and white and thought that to say otherwise was a lie.

She showed her respect to the world at large through her politeness, and by dressing well. You could count on her to offer a tradesman a cup of tea and a slice of cake. She would never forget to say “please” or “thank you” or ask after your health and family. And listen patiently to your complaints without offering unsolicited advice.

Gwen entered the final weeks of her life with the same quiet dignity she displayed during the rest of her life. She maintained her standards and independence as long as long as she could; wanting to wash her own clothes, eat in the dining room, and sit in the garden.

And in the end, like the remarkable real-life pioneering rocket scientist Yvonne Brill (1924 – 2013), she will be fondly remembered as a loving mother and a good cook.

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