Page 29 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 27 November 2012

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MRS JONES (Molonglo), by leave: Canberra is a city of migrants in a nation of migrants. Like so many of my fellow Canberrans, I was not born in the ACT but moved here for work reasons. I fell in love with this city, its beauty and its opportunity and I am now proud to call Canberra home.

My grandmother, Nicolina, was born in Naples in the 1930s to an Italian peasant family. Her own mother died in childbirth. Nonna Nicolina grew up waiting tables and cooking in the family trattoria. She had a strong sense of values. She loved her family and her country. She worked hard and had an unshakable faith in God.

As a young woman, my grandmother married the love of her life, a dashing young naval officer cadet, Giuseppe. The Second World War and its effects on Italy left them living in a single rented room with little means to survive. Looking to the future, Giuseppe and Nicolina grasped the opportunity for a better life here in Australia. Leaving his wife and daughter, Nonno emigrated first, arriving in Australia in 1953.

Like many of his generation of immigrants, he worked hard, saved enough money and bought a house, outright. Three long years after he arrived, he sent for my grandmother and his daughter to join him. As new Australians they asked nothing more from the government than the opportunity to work hard and build a future, which they did. They did not seek a free ride.

Over time they worked even harder, bought a larger house and sent their children to good schools and my mother to university. As a child myself, I used to sit in the kitchen with Nonna Nicolina and listen to her stories of life in Italy and life as a migrant. I learnt the importance of hard work, self-reliance, loyalty and of traditional family values.

My paternal grandmother, Isabelle, was a high achieving woman for her day. She attended the University of Tasmania. She was one of few women at that time completing a degree and went on to be a career educator herself. The pinnacle of her career was her appointment as the head of migrant English for the Tasmanian education department. Her life was a full one; she carried six babies to term. In a tragedy few women in Australia face today, her very first baby, dear Margaret, died of a hole in the heart, a condition easily curable today. I am very grateful to live in a society where we have achieved medical development to a point that women and their babies are normally well cared for. It is not so long ago when every family knew a woman who had died or lost a child at birth.

When people have asked me how I ran an election campaign with four children, I realised that I had reached back into my family and learnt the skills of blending children and career from Grandma Issy, and I have shamelessly copied many of her ideas of how to have both a family and pursue broader work. To achieve in this country, women do not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater! We can have multifaceted lives. There is no such thing as a super mum, only a mum with a super team. Every team a mum builds around her is different. So much of our achievement comes down to creative solutions and the sharing of ideas and networks.

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