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Amy Ewins – Remembering my dearest Mum – An Australian Story

22nd January 1939 – 14th October 2017 ; 78 years old

Remembrances by her son, Dr Tristan Ewins

A strong woman and caring mother who provided for her son as a Sole Parent against the odds – A Story that deserves to be told

Amy as a child and younger woman

Amy Evelyn Ewins – who I hereafter will refer to just as ‘Mum’ – was born in January 22nd 1939 ; the year war broke out in Europe.  And during the terrible bushfires of that year.

As she grew up the world was a radically different place. She enjoyed Guy Fawkes nights ; burning effigies of Guy Fawkes and eating toasted marshmallows. As a very young girl she remembered my Grandma waving a yellow scarf to my grandfather as he headed out to Singapore as part of the 8th Division, 13th AGH.   She didn’t see him for years after that.  But for all that time she had photos of ‘happy daddy’ and ‘sad daddy’.  Her father had also left her a colourful statuette which she liked to look at as a child.  She called it ‘Mister Hunty’ ; and she kept it throughout her life.

On her mothers’ side they were Scotlands and Salvas.  Mum was part Greek and part Scot ; as well as part Welsh and English.  On her father’s side I understand the Ewins’s were predominantly Welsh.

Like me, Mum was an only child.  She remembers the distrust back then between Protestants and Catholics ; but she never bought into sectarian hatred.  When I was young she was indignant when she saw a mixed couple (Protestant and Catholic) had been gunned down in their beds. Life seemed to confirm her feelings about organised religion and its offshoots.  Though as a child she would send me to camps organised by Christian organisations.

She was raised as an Anglican ; but complained that her parents forced her to go to Church which they did not do themselves.  Nonetheless I believe Mum continued to believe in God and Christ throughout her life – despite being very cynical about organised religion.  Despite her cynicism, though, somehow she did want me to believe in God and Christ.

Mum’s Dad – who his mates called ‘Honest Geoff’ – came home from the war in 1945 on the Hospital Ship Oranje.  He was suffering from Beri Beri after years of malnutrition.  And had to wear an ‘iron’ on his leg where he had been shot.

As a child my Mum would listen to her father talking with his mates when he thought she had gone to bed and was asleep. She heard of the Japanese atrocities.  Torture, be-headings ; feeding the men on dirty rice if they were lucky ; and on banana peels.

At School Mum did impressively.  Back then girls had to wear hats and gloves at all times in and out of school.  Her favourite subjects were History and Geography.  She could have gone on ; and at one stage wanted to be an artist.  She was actually very talented here ; and used to enjoy making pictures and Cartoons when I was very young.  But at the time ‘big things’ were not expected from girls.

Amy as a young woman ; Living in the Shadow of Japanese War Crimes

As an adolescent my Mum was a terrific Swimmer. I seem to recall she went on to earn places in the State championships.  She swam at the Surrey Dive for the Surrey Park club ; and again could have done great things.  She also did very well in the Three Mile Yarra swim.  Sadly she quit swimming because she felt her physique was becoming ‘unfeminine’.  Her first boyfriend I seem to recall was a Hungarian Jewish boy called Mick Withers.   (I hope I’m getting the name right ; I may be confused)  They were very close and on one of her birthdays I seem to remember her recalling she was given a Star of David pendant and proclaimed by her friends as ‘an honorary Jew’.  In fact Mum was Anglican (though later she did not really care much about denomination) ; but Mum had great empathy for the Jewish people ; and in her youth as well as as a young adult was close friends with several Holocaust survivors.  She always hated fascism; and she told me stories of war crimes as a child.  But she hated what had been Imperial Japan even more given what they had done to her father in Changi Prisoner of War Camp.  And the atrocities she had heard of against the Koreans and the Chinese.  Throughout her life she was always angry that Japanese war criminals were not brought to justice as German war criminals were.  Her mother – my grandmother – was involved in a case against the Japanese Government.  Mum became friends with Vivian Bulwinkle (later a Lieutenant Colonel)  – a famous Australian nurse who spent years fighting for justice against the Imperial Japanese for war crimes ; including a massacre of nurses which she barely survived.  (she was the only survivor)

Mum was a proud Australian – but never in a jingoistic sense. She believed in ‘the Australian character’ – of mutual solidarity amidst hardship ; and the sacrifices made in the fight against fascism.  She believed a culture arose out of all this – out of the hardships during war – which perhaps we are losing now.  Human solidarity is excluded when the Ideology of economic Liberalism is taken too far.

As a youth my Mum lived in Carnegi, then in Camberwell (or was it Hawthorn?) and then Box Hill.  In Camberwell/Hawthorn her family lived in a house owned by Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Savige ; who I understand wanted to support my grandfather as a former Prisoner of War who had suffered terribly.  My grandfather also used to take her fishing on rough seas.  And she also loved climbing trees.  There was little a young man could do that my mother could not do.   Later in life she joined the Women’s Electoral Lobby.  Since being a child she was also a fanatical Hawthorn supporter.  Something she passed on to me. And before she became ill she used get up and do a dance every time Hawthorn won a match.  Actually she was a great dancer ; and one time won a dancing competition while on holiday somewhere.  I can’t remember all the details.  There are things I wish I could remember the details of.  For a brief period she was also a successful model.

The worst tragedy of her young life was when her uncle, Ken, died in a car accident.  Ken had loved her dearly ; and had been a natural at playing the piano by ear.  Mum thought I got my ear for music from him ; but by my understanding I have never been so talented.

Amy Travels the World and achieves a Successful Career

As a young adult – in her 20s – Mum travelled the world. Mainly via ship.  Travel took weeks then ; it was a different world.  She spent a couple of years in Britain working for the Rank organisation as a secretary.   She slept under the stars in Scotland ; and remembered the icy cold showers in the youth hostels there.  She learned several languages and spent time in Greece, Italy and France, as well as Ceylon, Germany, the Netherlands, and Egypt.  As a young child she used to show me slides of the Acropolis and other landmarks.  She became friends with many people ; friends from Germany, from what was then Rhodesia, Poland and elsewhere.  She made friends with American soldiers stationed in Germany ; and a young American man from a wealthy family (I forget the name ; perhaps it was ‘Bobby la’Moigne or something like that) whose  father was desperately trying to keep him away from Vietnam.   Another friend of hers was a Polish Catholic who had been imprisoned in a Soviet concentration camp; apparently imprisoned for her faith.  Maggots had eaten away at the side of her head ; and she was scarred for life. Mum again was sceptical about organised religion ; and perhaps more so about the Roman Catholic Church. But she was a compassionate person with a sense of justice.  She was not prejudiced against Catholics even though highly sceptical about Roman Catholic doctrine.  But she hated all extreme political violence.

When Mum started working in real estate for Nathan Beller it was truly a turning point in her life. She worked hard – very hard.  And was famous in her circles for her success in the field.  Many of those friends here were also Holocaust survivors ; and at the time her boss, Nathan, received occasional  letter bombs from neo-Nazis.  She told me of their stories as well , and even as a child this left a lasting impression on me.  But one of her friends was also Bob Engel – a conscript German soldier who had served in Greece.  He had seen terrible things and it had never been his wish to go to war.  Nathan Beller did not hate all Germans despite everything ; and Bob Engel – despite stealing my mothers’ clients sometimes (he said she was his daughter) – was nonetheless a friend.  As best as I can recall, Mum never forgot him crying at my Grandfather’s funeral when they played the Last Post.  Mum would also cry on Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day ; remembering her father and what he had been through.  She also cared for my grandfather as he was dying of cancer.  And worked hard at the same time to secure a Veterans Affairs Pension for my grandmother – which meant she (Grandma) struggled significantly less than she would have otherwise ; though she still lived very modestly.  Veterans Affairs usually used to obstruct such claims at the time, and apparently all the men at the Veteran’s Hospital cheered when the pension came through. (Mum went to Canberra itself to demand it directly of the politicians)  I guess to them (my grandfather’s Veteran mates)  my Mum was something of a hero.  Mum never glorified war, though, despite wanting me to know about Australia’s role in World War Two. She was proud of her father.   She also hated war ; and I remember her being ashamed and horrified when Australia took part in a “pre-emptive strike” against Iraq in the Second Gulf War.  Despite believing in God, Mum loved John Lennon, and especially his song ‘Imagine’.

Just before I was born my Mum acquired Benjamin ; a miniature poodle who was to have a central role in both our lives.  I guess in her mind he really was her ‘first son’.  As a very young child Benjamin was perhaps my best friend.  At this stage of her life Mum knew many interesting people ; including Helen Reddy, Olivia Newton John, Ken Morgan ; and at one stage met Bob Hawke ; who tried to pick her up – apparently with no success. For a while she went out with a wealthy man by the name of John Tallent ; and she loved him deeply.  They enjoyed an exciting life together for a time ; but he drifted away from her during her father’s battle with cancer.

Mum also loved music – including Jazz (with the interpretations of Bach by Jacques Loussier) ; and classical music ; including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, Dvorak and others.  This also had a profound effect on me as a young child.

Mum Provides for a Home and Upbringing for her Son against the odds

Hence it was that my mother and father were introduced to one another ; and somehow decided to marry after I had been conceived.  I think at one time they loved one another ; but things deteriorated after I was born.  My father left when I was seven months I seem to recall (he says it was Mum’s decision to break up) ; and they were divorced when I was two. My father had been a German refugee as a young child ; But Mum reverted to her original name (Ewins) when the divorce went through.  Hence I was a ‘Ewins’ and not a ‘Kamphausen’ ; which my father was always upset about.  But I never knew any differently.  When Mum was divorced the acrimony between them was very bad ; and it affected her friendships in St Kilda where she had been living.  I don’t want to say more here, though: I care about both my mother and father, and hence it’s not appropriate to go into more detail.  Hence she moved to Box Hill – to provide me the benefits of living in a leafy suburb on a park ; and to be near my grandmother who was thereafter core to our lives. Mum recalls that despite her successes as a real estate agent that no bank would provide her a loan – because she was a woman.  Finally the ANZ broke ranks and helped her – and she banked with the ANZ for the rest of her life.

I guess what happened thereafter was as much my story as hers.

Mum tried to make friends in Box Hill ; but she lost contact with all her other friends and life was never the same again.  A young man, Trevor – was in love with her.  He was very creative in making things with his hands ; carpentry, jewellery-making and the like. But she wasn’t in love with him.  Sometimes she regretted her decision : she did like him a lot ; and he was apparently good with me.  But Mum would spend the rest of her life unmarried – and generally single ; though she was engaged to another man briefly.  He was a gambler, though, and Mum was worried about our financial security.  And she always wanted to put me first.  Which she did right until the end.

Mum was a sole parent thereafter.  ‘Getting by’ was tough.  But Mum sacrificed to ensure throughout my life I enjoyed a great deal.  Competitive swimming ; a full-sized slide ; music lessons. We always had pets ;  Not only Benjamin, but also a beautiful female apricot poodle, Jaffa ; and several cats including ‘Misty’, ‘Munzter’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘Mister’.  There were other pets too.  She would take me as a young child on ‘park crawls’ to parks all over Melbourne. Together we made Acorn Men, and engaged in other creative endeavours.  She would make cookies and chocolate crackles.  She made a Tyrannosaurus Rex costume for me at primary school as a young child ; and she created large colourful cartoons based on the themes of ‘the Muppets’ and ‘Hawthorn Football Club’ for two birthday parties – I can’t remember exactly how young – but early primary school.  Again – she was highly creative and artistic.

When I was physically assaulted on a primary school camp by a teacher she fought to hold him accountable.  But this also led to a difficult stage in our lives, as the school ‘closed ranks’, and for a while no school would take me.  Mum tried her best to keep me engaged ; and while I fell behind in maths and never recovered Mum made sure I believed in myself in terms of my abilities in English, the Humanities and so on.   When I messed up Year Eleven Mum made certain I had a ‘second chance’ at Doncaster Secondary College ;  through which I got into Arts at LaTrobe.   I was assisted in this with the money Mum had paid into the Australian Scholarship Group.  I would never have achieved my PhD later in life if not for the support of my mother ; providing the self-belief I needed to recover from hard times and eventually to succeed academically.

When I was a young child Mum was challenged in a court case when my father fought for access.  I’m not going in to it here as I care about both sides of my family and don’t want to re-open old wounds.  But it did exhaust her emotionally and financially.   Some time after, though, Mum started working in market research – which was her final job.  The pay wasn’t great – not as good as in Real Estate. But Mum learned a lot about corporate strategies, inter-linkages and so on in the process of completing various jobs.  I used to work with her on jobs also sometimes – as teenager and a young man.  As I also knew from experience ; some of the work was involved and interesting ; at other times it was menial and repetitive. Later working for another company I found at times work intensity was maintained harshly to reach quotas in as short a time as possible.  I wonder if it was like this for Mum sometimes too.   I don’t know why we didn’t really talk about it.  At one stage she had to go through the Phone Book calling people and businesses about their opinions. As you can imagine the text was very small ; and that work (though not all other market research work) was done at home.  Doing phone work (on site) , though, Mum was to again make some good friends ; especially Roma Perry – who she was close to until Roma died after a battle with cancer in 2012.  Mum seemed to enjoy the opportunity to meet interesting people through phone work.  The next year her Cousin Robert Ewins also passed away ; and it was beginning to seem that soon there would be no Ewins’s left.  Bob had been well known as a brilliant and much-loved teacher at Camberwell High.  Bob’s  intellectual passion had been for the likes of Quadrant ; as opposed to my own love of Left-wing politics. But we were family. Mum was shocked and unhappy ; But neither one of us could imagine Mum would only have a few years left.  Until a couple of years before the end Mum was fit and healthy.  I used to try and convince myself she could live forever.  Even then I could not stand the thought of her dying.

The End?

Perhaps the darkest times in my mothers’ life were when her father and mother died ; and in the last couple of years when she became ill : first with breast cancer, and then with Chronic  Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder.   Before then we had enjoyed walks at Blackburn Lake and Elgar Park ; or eating out, browsing the papers, and having coffees together.  She would discuss politics with me and proofread my articles and blog posts. But after her operation for breast cancer things gradually went downhill. She was very sad not to be able to make it to my PhD Graduation.  Within two years she aged quite suddenly; but she had a will to fight until the end.  She would say “I cannot leave Tristan alone”.  Despite all this we believed she had at least another year left.  Maybe several years if we were careful during Winter, and replaced the dust-encrusted carpets which were harmful for her in her condition.  And I wanted to believe she had more time. We had been informed on previous admissions by her doctors that the lungs were not so bad ; and that her main problem was a consistent infection in the upper respiratory tract.  But the most recent time she became ill was to be the last.  I was informed her lungs – quite suddenly – could no longer bear the strain.  I still find it hard to believe that I was talking to her one night – and she sounded well and in good spirits.  The next morning she was struggling for breath and could barely speak.  After the Doctors attempted to use an oxygen mask I was informed that nothing could save her.  After Mum passed away  I was also told she had had a heart attack because of the trauma. After an autopsy, though, the findings in regard to a heart attack were inconclusive, and it was found cause of death was from “complications from COPD”.  For almost 24 hours Mum struggled – and dear God no person I know suffered such  – but had deserved so much better.  I had  prayed for Mum to live to see me finally succeed in life ; maybe even have a family.  But as she fought for life she was unable to say anything : she never spoke to me again.

I pray to God somehow, some day I will see her again ; hear her speak again ; get to say all the things I needed to say before she was taken away so suddenly.  I won’t dwell too  much on my feelings more here, though, as that’s not the point of this obituary.  The point is to remember and celebrate my mothers’ life.

Dear Mum I love you.  I hope somehow some way you live on.  I hope all the injustices you faced are somehow made good in the hereafter.  You were my everything ; You were always my rock no matter how hard the times.  You were always sacrificing ; always giving.  You were a compassionate,  capable, intelligent and just woman.  You deserved so much better ; a longer and happier life.  Never in my life have I respected anyone as much as I respect you.  I love you forever.  There is a grave near where you are to be buried where it says “to live on in the hearts of those you love is not to die”.  Somehow I hope this is true.

Friends of Amy can leave Kind Comments at a Web-Page I have also made to remember her by.  see:  https://amyewins.blogspot.com.au/2017/10/obituary-amy-evelyn-ewins-remembering.html


7 comments

  1. Steve Laing

    I lost my Mum last year Tristan. She was also born in 1939. She lived for 15 years with Parkinson’s till it finally caught up with her. I flew back to Scotland to be with her in her last days, but arrived just three hours after she died. Your mum would be proud of you for remembering her so eloquently, and as long as you have her in your thoughts, she will always be with you.

  2. Christian Marx

    That was a lovely tribute to your mother, Tristan. Very moving. Sorry for your loss.

  3. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    ditto.

  4. Ballarat

    Thank you for writing this tribute to your mother.

  5. diannaart

    Thank you for your remembrance of your mother, Tristan. Moving and wonderfully recalled reading.

  6. Elizabeth Ann Buckingham

    Hallo Tristan, after many years. Sebastian told me Amy was ill. I am sorry, and more so, on reading your great story of her life. It is a super tribute by you and for her. And your grandparents. The photos of Amy are stunning! You have a terrific memory and long may you enjoy the ones involving you and Amy. Kind regards, EA

  7. Tristan Ewins

    Mrs Buckingham ; You’re welcome to come to the funeral ; I ‘ll give Sebastian the details.

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