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NOT WITHOUT A BACKWARD GLANCE

Renate Kirkpatrick grew up in windy Wollongong, discovered the surf scene and by the age of 18 was exploring the heady Sydney set of the late 60s. Finding herself pregnant, she fled to New Zealand where the adoption of her first-born son led to the lies, secrets and omissions that would meld into a heavy burden, haunting her for years. 
It was a weight she believed she had to bear alone, and knew the day would come when she would be found out. The fear of discovery was her greatest burden. 

However, as the years passed, Renate came to
realise she was not alone. Stories emerging from other women like herself who endured this ordeal, telling of being drugged, coerced, threatened, banished and shamed into giving up their babies. The truth emerged that adoption agencies of the time rarely had the best interests of baby or mother at heart, with young girls used as fodder to supply the ever-increasing demand for babies.   
Renate is just one of thousands who endured this ordeal, and is now one of the thousands hiding in shame.  She believes that if her story and that of others before her are told - if people are to learn the truth of the climate at that time - then perhaps relinquishing mothers can have a measure of acceptance, and can let go of their guilt and wounds. It is time to heal.  

This is Renate’s story.  

In Store Price: $AU21.95 
Online Price:   $AU20.95

ISBN: 1-9210-0582-3
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 153
Genre: Non Fiction

 

 


Author: Renate Kirkpatrick 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2005
Language: English

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To all those men, women and children who are still searching and to those who are considering it but are afraid, I say, don’t give up! Not every reunion ends happily. Not everyone finds what they’re searching for. Often there can be further disappointment. Even so, an end to the unknowing is definitely better than never daring to find out, never knowing at all. - Renate Kirkpatrick

Author Bio. 

Renate Kirkpatrick was born in Germany in 1951 and immigrated to Australia in 1955. 

She grew up in windy Wollongong, discovered the surf scene and by the age of 18, and was exploring the heady Sydney set of the late 60s. Finding herself pregnant, she fled to New Zealand where the adoption of her first-born son led to the lies, secrets and omissions that would haunt her for years. 

With future husband Glenn, she spent a large part of her twenties travelling around New Zealand and Australia in an old PMG van. Settling on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia in 1974, they began a Sign writing partnership, had two children and still reside there today. 

Creative by nature with a constant need for self-exploration and expression, Renate is an award-winning artist, drawn to such tactile crafts as pottery, papermaking, rag-rugging and the fibre arts, which she now teaches. 

Although writing ‘Not Without A Backward Glance’ began in secret, a testament intended for her family only, it became a cathartic experience - one that she hopes may be of help to others.

Prologue  

In 1970, I gave a child up for adoption. I was just eighteen. The subsequent years amass a succession of secrets, lies and omissions melding into a heavy burden. A weight, I believed I had to bear alone. I knew the day would come when I’d be found out.

This fear of discovery was perhaps my greatest burden.

The initial movement of pen to paper comes slowly and painfully. In the small hours, when no one can witness my despair, a scribble here, a paragraph there then all is quickly torn up and destroyed before the new day has a chance to cast any light on it.

There are interviews on television, radio, snippets in magazines and newspapers telling such appalling stories; I don’t care to take in the details. Years before, a young, single girl was informed that her baby was stillborn. Now, she finds the child she has mourned over for thirty years standing on her doorstep.

‘How could this have happened? Who’s to blame?’ the woman asks.

Others tell of being drugged, coerced, threatened, banished, shamed into giving up their babies all those years ago.

Suddenly, I’m no longer alone.

Then the biggest travesty of all comes to light, as Aboriginal mothers tell of their ‘Lost Generation’. Any previous suspicions I may have had that baby rackets genuinely existed in the seventies and before are now confirmed.

Today, there’s no doubt in my mind that adoption agencies of that era weren’t the charitable organisations they claimed to be. I personally believe they rarely had the best interests of the girl, or even her baby, at heart. At the time, they were used as fodder to supply the ever-increasing demand for babies.

I’m just one of thousands of girls who endured this ordeal. Now, I’m one of thousands of women hiding in shame. If our stories are told - if people are made aware of the climate of the time - perhaps relinquishing mothers can have a measure of acceptance, a little compassion and much needed understanding to regain some self-esteem. Perhaps we’ll be able to let go of our abiding guilt and our festering wounds given a chance to heal.

Having said that - the idea of writing my story is fraught with dread. What wretched portrait will I paint? Of some woman consumed with guilt and shame for abandoning her child? Someone who believes she’s weak and cowardly for not fighting for him in the first place? Someone always fearful of being judged? How am I going to reveal my inadequacies and not lose those nearest and dearest to me? Won’t they all forsake me once they know who I really am and what I’ve done? Can I take that chance?

I want the ghosts to flee. I want to rid myself of anger and guilt – to feel whole again. I don’t want to live the lie anymore. To do so, I know I must tell it like it is, and was. And tell it from the beginning. A journey I dread yet am compelled to take.

Much has been wilfully omitted from my memory. These blank spaces can never be filled. The anguish and remorse I felt back then is still as vivid today. I still harbour deep resentments I can’t, or won’t, relinquish perhaps because they have been with me so long. Only now, I no longer allow them to destroy the best of me. Today, I’m freer than I ever expected. Relinquishing my child was heart-rending. Finding him has been my greatest reward.

To all those men, women and children who are still searching and to those who are considering it but are afraid, I say, Don’t give up!

Not every reunion ends happily. Not everyone finds what they’re searching for. Often there can be further disappointment. Even so, an end to the unknowing is definitely better than never daring to find out, never knowing at all.

I haven’t done, nor do I intend to do any research. I will rely wholly and solely on memory and, since much time has passed, it must be taken into account that my perception is subjective and I’ll make assumptions with regard to other characters and their views. I trust I make them without judgement or blame. Names have been changed; places are sometimes vague but do exist; the events are true. This story is mine, but not mine alone. 

Chapter One  

My earliest memories begin in Germany where I was born on the seventh of January 1951 and, although these recollections are only fleeting, my need to hold on to them is great.

Photos are scarce but one in particular still makes me smile - a contented little girl, bright and wide-eyed, holding a small posy of wild flowers - taken on my fourth birthday.

I vaguely recall my grandmother bustling in a kitchen rich with aromas of fruit and spice, where clouds of steam billow from an ancient coal stove. The benches are high and I’m standing on a chair. I see long-handled ladles, black dented pots, chipped crystal bowls; batters are beaten, dough is kneaded, fingers are sticky dipping and tasting, cheeks are tacky licking and slurping.

I remember being bundled in cosy blankets, snug and warm in my dad’s lap, on a sled. I look back. My grandmother’s on the stoop, waving goodbye. It’s twilight. We’re racing down a hill. The snow is crunchy and crispy white, the air like frosted glass, our cheeks are icy and I’m squealing with delight.

Glimpses of images - cool dank woods with evergreen mosses, velvet to the touch, mushrooms in secret places and the perpetual joy of discovery. I see a close, shadowy room, hung with the day’s washing on a cold spring day and detect a delectable whiff of mushroom broth through the air.

To this day, Lily of the Valley’s heady fragrance propels me into an overpowering reflective trance; its honeyed scent, so tangible at times, I almost believe I can feel it. According to one aunt, I used to toddle off rather a lot but could dependably be retrieved from a small, green meadow where the lily grew wild.

Whether these early impressions are real, or relative to families and photos is of little consequence, for no matter how fragmented or detached they now appear, I feel them to be good and whole and, in essence, the best of me.

It’s 1955: life in post-war Germany is unbearable. My parents like so many all over Europe, want to make a fresh start. The destination matters less than leaving behind food shortages and monetary inflation. Just their need to move forward and forget the pain and suffering that war inflicted is compulsion enough. Their youth grants them the energy and determination to venture into the unknown, to explore new frontiers and trust in fate.

They can choose to migrate to Canada or Australia and apply to both. But it’s the prompt reply from the Australian Immigration, (to whom I’ll be forever grateful), which inspires our direction.

The ship’s a floating city. The air bubbles with excitement: people scrambling everywhere with high spirits, happy, yet anxious, impatient to begin their journey - hugging, kissing, laughing and crying at the same time. And then there’s my grandmother, wailing like there’s no tomorrow.

She’s beside herself with grief, certain of never seeing us again. Surely we’ll perish in that faraway, untamed land of deserts and wilderness, wild animals and still wilder ebony natives. What will become of her? Her grandchild? Not even my father’s promise to bring her out (once we’re settled) comforts her. To the bitter end, she never forgives my parents for leaving.

But my parents put little stock in the old woman’s fears, nor will they be swayed by her amateur dramatics. This is the dawn. Everyone is filled with renewed hope, new dreams picture a better world; a smoother more luxurious life is beckoning. They feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the gamble they’ve undertaken. But, as we sail and despite the initial on-board discomforts - sharing cramped cabins with strangers, women and children separated from their men at night - the confidence and expectations amongst us intensifies with each new day. This is adventure on the high seas. Everyone is buoyant, rejoicing in a newfound freedom. It’s a time and place for instant but steadfast friendships, some of which endure forever.

This voyage piques a deep nostalgia. The redolence of briny ocean mingled with a whiff of oil, rust and dining rooms still lingers today. I only need to walk on a wharf to be transported back in time. It’s here where my parents allow me to roam on board unaccompanied. My first taste of freedom. Grandma always used to take care of me while my parents worked. Her overprotective and possessive nature went unchecked, allowing me no independence. Now, suddenly, there’s no-one hovering over me. I have umpteen hours to explore the decks and corridors. Stairs invite climbing and rails are for sliding down, nooks and crannies are for hiding and long passages for running flat out.

I meet and play with other children for the first time.

I never suffer a day’s seasickness, but I’ll never forget the pain and retching of others, their convulsions, eruptions and even pleas to die. No, not me. I adore the rolling pitch. It tickles my tummy, makes me walk funny and rocks me to sleep at night. The really rough days are the best, especially when sprawled in a deckchair with closed eyes, pretending to float on air. I love the food, the fun, the friendliness. I love the feeling of goodwill and fortune surrounding me. Above all, I love being with my dad. His time is always free and I can be with him, all day, every day, if I want.

One clear, blue day a man, gazing out across the shimmering sea, suddenly yells, ‘Come see! Come see! Look! Up there,’ he shouts, pointing to a lone seagull hovering high above the ship.

I turn to my dad. ‘But it’s only a bird, papa?’

‘Ah yes,’ he says. ‘But this is a special bird. It’s showing us the way to our new home. A place where no matter who you are, or where you come from, a better life is waiting.’

I gaze up at the gull, then back to my dad, ‘Ooh!’ he can talk to birds.

I look around the deck, everyone is laughing or clapping their hands. Some have linked arms and are dancing little jigs. For the moment, their nausea and petty grievances have been put aside. Dad and I can’t help but be swept along by their enthusiasm. He lifts me high into the air and twirls me round and round.

Our six-week journey is ending. New adventures are about to begin.

 

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