It is difficult to write this and I do not mean to tread on graves or to dig up painful memories. I simply wish to reflect on how the most painful events can provoke the strongest inspiration.
I was invited by the National Museum of Australia to contribute to the annual Australian of the Year exhibition, by providing an item of significance. One which would help communicate a message of inspiration to a wider audience. Among other things, I thought about sending over some of my police gear or perhaps a couple of photo's from my crash in 2004. But my thoughts kept circling back to the person who influenced me the most as a child and young adult. That person was my late Mother, Patricia - 1942 to 2011.
"So often in a world where we are looking for that clear sign to guide us, it is the most insignificant of events which prove to be the most influential."
Only those very close to me know the nightmare my Mother went through, at the hands of a violent and abusive husband. Everything I do today as a Father, uncle, mentor or educator, is based on the lessons learned from this amazing woman.
Mum loved music, especially Musicals and Opera. This love grew as she got older, later turning into a passion as she started singing at church and local events. Her voice was amazing and it was something I could listen to all day as a child. As such, my own love of music and musicals started at a very early age.
By the age of 15, Mum was performing on stage throughout the south west and Perth. By her early 20's, Mum's record collection was massive and included a couple of her own recordings, one of which was recorded during a performance at the Perth Concert Hall in 1963. Mum was on her way as a soprano and was becoming well recognised on the Perth operatic scene. But at that time, marriage and pregnancy got in the way.
Singing and performing had to take a back seat for a while, at least until her first born was settled. Mum was still only 22, so she had plenty of time ahead of her. Over the next 2 years, she was able to start singing again, but the initial support she had from my father soon began to dwindle. The demands on a wife to remain at home and look after the house and kids instead of following a dream, was more of a priority to a husband in those days. By 1974, with 5 young children and my father working full time, Mum's dream appeared to be over.
To this day it breaks my heart when I think of what my Mum was denied by my father's selfishness and her own selflessness. I know she lived with that regret for most of her life, but that regret was always outbalanced by the love she had for her children. She always said, "If I was famous, I never would have had my amazing kids!"
By 1975, my fathers selfishness had evolved into abuse and alcoholism. As a young child through the late 70's and early 80's, I witnessed the most horrific violence against my Mother by a man who was supposed to protect her. After the worst of outbursts, when my father would leave the house for ages, sometimes days, music would be our place to hide from the pain.
Between the ages of 5 to 10, I found those violent times to be the most terrifying of my life. But when my father left the house, these would be the greatest moments of my life, as it gave Mum and I the chance to share our love of music without having to be quiet.
The Sound of Music, Evita and West Side Story were our favourites, and I reckon by the age of 10, I knew the entire score of each by heart. Harry Secombe, Luciano Pavarotti and Mario Lanza were also played as loud and as often as we could. Time and time again though, we always came back to 3 records which mattered the most, those which were the sweetest to listen to; Mums recordings!
Through my teenage years and into adulthood, especially when I had my own child, whenever I see this record, it reminds me of how Mum would protect the things she loved the most, especially her children! She thought only of us when she was going through hell. She found the courage to leave her abuser when she knew she was going to be on her own. During our most difficult times, she kept us safe, she kept us fed and she inspired us to be the difference in our own lives. Those values she taught me, have remained with me.
This is why Mum's record was my choice for the exhibit and why I was honoured to send it to Canberra. It helps me remember where I have come from and what I have achieved after starting from the worst of places.
But above all, it helps remind me to be a voice for those who might not have the courage to speak for themselves and it reminds me to be something I never had as a child. An honourable father figure and male whom kids can rely on and trust!
This is one of the main reasons I do what I do!
An excerpt from Paul Litherlands Auto-biography, 'Finding my Way Out of the Darkness'.