Denise Honan

D Honan Is An Australian Visual artist

Betty was my mum . Dimunitive in stature but feisty in nature she was born in 1926 in rural outer Melbourne .  She grew with an older sister and enjoyed a bucolic lifestyle in the period between two wars , a forerunner to the  Great Depression .It is a shared history of many older Australians  .

These events helped shape my mum’s early life , as did a bout of peritonitis when she was 14 , that required a 6 month stint in hospital , and precluded her further education . Betty went to work at 15 in the British Australian Tobacco company , Swanston st , Melbourne .  First sweeping the floors for discarded tobacco skeins , later graduatiing to the sorting bench . Lifelong friendships were forged and happy events shared , particularly when VP day was announced  . Dancing  in the streets and all out revellery was enjoyed as a young spirited nation could put the grim spectre of war behind them .

Mum married ,  moved , lost a baby  , and subsequently raised my brother and I in Colac , a country  town in the Western District of  Victoria . She was an astute baker , sewer and gardener and seamlessly re -adapted to rural life . Independence presented itself in the form of her tiny Morris Minor and a driving licence .  She was soon seen careering around country roads , only travelling marginally faster than the pedestrians , with us , and the corgi “Taffy ” firmly ensconced in the back .


Betty Ellen Kiernan

Betty Ellen Kiernan


A move to  Melbourne saw Betty take on the joint running of  a pub. The first in gritty industrial Port Melbourne circa 1969 . A subsequent move to a South Melbourne  pub , where she remained for 30 years followed . Betty nursed her partner through cancer and retired to the home she had made for herself . Some uneventful years followed . Mum travelled , gardened , entertained and viewed the world at a more leisurely pace .

Warning bells began to ring when phone calls became discordant  , words jumbled and sentences incomplete . Heating was unable to be turned on or off and letters were attempted to be posted at flinders st railway station.Taps were left on and keys were lost . Falls in the street , and further falls late at night alone in an empty house , indicators to Betty’s world slowly unravelling .Inoxerably Betty ‘s progress towards a nursing home was charted .

Comfortable , modern ,    great views and caring staff replaced her much loved home .  She mourned for and lamented with flickering anxiety her home . It was mirrored in her plaintive cry of ” I just want to go home ” . Betty survived for 4 years in the new regimented environment , daily submitting her will to greater indignites and submerging her independence . The slurred speech , unkempt appearance , wild hair , and muddy eyes , signified her gradual descent into madness . Her final act of rebellion , I believe administered by what remained of her addled brain was to stop eating . Betty peacefully slipped into oblivion on the 27 september . There is not a day goes by that I don’t miss her and rue her passing . Dementia is a cruel , remorseless disease .

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