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September 2019

Maureen and Germaine – Strong Women


Maureen Tighe died too young, a brilliant mind lost too soon, decades before her parents.  She had many talents and her training as a microbiologist and research scientist has left a lasting legacy.  She was fascinated by the properties of wood and how the right treatment might render it more resistant to rot but without the toxic effect of prior preservatives.  Her work with colleagues at CSIRO resulted in an environmentally friendly treatment now used around the world for power poles and external wooden structures.

From the global impacts of her work back to us at Bayside, Maureen’s life is still note – worthy for other reasons; She was the daughter of our recent resident Noel Tighe and the sister of Fairway’s past Board member, Danny Tighe.

I was chatting to a close Tighe family friend recently and she mentioned Maureen, – not just in the context of her cleverness and contribution, but also because she went to school with Germaine Greer, at a Catholic Covent in Melbourne.

Whatever one thinks of Germaine – weirdo or wonderment (and I vacillate between the two) I could not help but admire her after my friend’s summation – based on Maureen’s stories.

To her, Germaine was “born brave” no doubt the bane of some nun’s lives, she stood up to them; those who seemed to love delivering a whack or two.  Of course they were a tiny minority and there were many kind exceptions but corporal punishment was a part of everyday control with a ruler or stick used to address any perceived impropriety (a giggly whisper, an order not obeyed quickly enough who knows?).

Maureen had suffered polio in one of the late 40’s epidemics – she was not robust nor was she cheeky or rebellious, she was never a target for discipline but others were not let off so easily and several seemed to stir up some of the nuns – even though their behaviour was more to do with silliness than sedition.  Some of those girls were quite vulnerable which brought forth Greer’s protectiveness, At times like this she would create a diversion and yell “Hit me instead” which sometimes meant she took one for the team.

Maureen said in assembly there were sometimes a few naughty girls stood in front who were delivered stringing blows to the hands (with a ruler or stick) Greer would whisper “don’t cry whatever you do or they’ll never let up”.

The fact that Greer loved many of her “Teacher – Nuns” and mentions them individually in her contribution to the book “Convent Girls” is testimony to what the Presentation Order was famous for – Education.

Despite Greer’s genetic gifts she credits her educators with stimulating and fashioning her thinking processes and encouraging her creativity “ … They loved me more, and worked harder on me more than my mother did.  They made me hungry for spiritual values.  Just not theirs… I am still a Catholic but an Atheist Catholic.  There are lots of us!”

A whack on the hands, legs, bottom or whatever, was not just a quirk of some catholic convent nuns.  All schools until quite recently (80’s or so) used corporal punishment as what they thought was legitimate behaviour control.

I went to co-ed Beaumaris Primary and High Schools.  I received a few hits on the hands, (probably for gas bagging—clearly the deterrent was unsuccessful). The boys were not infrequently called to the principal’s office to get the “cuts” which seemed to be a painful caning to the backside; the number of strikes commensurate with the level of wickedness the poor boy had indulged in (not to say that some behaviour did not warrant addressing) the fact that we girls were not delivered the cuts is a rare example where lack of equal opportunity was a positive!

Such behaviour from teachers would be headline news today and warrant investigations and resignations.  It’s gone so far the other way, that now some teachers fear aggression and violence from their students (and parents on some occasions!)

But back when Maureen and Germaine were convent schoolgirls physical punishment was the norm.  Perhaps there were not many vulnerable students protected by Greer but Maureen’s take on this  (and Greer’s recollections as well) definitely point to a unique young female with a combined fierce intellect and persona which allowed her to diffuse situations and often get her way when others of a more timid pervasion would have just fallen by the wayside;  The Presentations knew they had a Gem – even though she resisted their polish.

Greer certainly has not lost one jot of her ability to provoke; she often polarises with her edicts but sometimes when one unpicks statements which appear absurd or outlandish you have to concede she has a point. It’s just rather sad that the author of “The Female Eunuch” which is regarded as number 13 on the best 100 non-fiction books of all time, is often described as a ‘Ratbag’.

She, however, may wear the label proudly.

There are sometimes moments which come unbidden, a chance comment, an unplanned meeting up with someone, a page in a book, or a thousand things in which we make connections.

The whole conversation with my friend only began as I made a random comment about one of Greer’s highly controversial books.  I had no idea about Maureen Tighe, though knew the other Tighes well as Noel was a loved and long term resident with us and his family were a constant and devoted presence.  His son Danny gave Fairway the greatest service being a voluntary Board member and our Treasurer for several years.  (As well as working full time – what a contribution…).

Over the last few months connections of an unexpected nature have been made between our Quality Manager Susan Manners and residents and staff as she interviews each person to discuss and explain the new “Charter of Aged Care Rights” introduced by Ken Wyatt, the then Minister for Aged Care in March 2019.  The Charter places the resident at the centre of care given and stresses the provision of choice and respect in an environment of diversity and inclusiveness.  The Charter is applicable across Home Services as well as in Residential Care.

Opening people up to the consciousness of their choices, rights and need for respect can be a road less travelled.  Such discussion can, and has, dislodged memories of when rights and dignity were nowhere on the radar.  In fact Susan has listened to stories of childhood abuse, emotional turmoil and regret.  I wonder if the Federal Government realises the psychological debriefing an in depth discussion on personal liberties and respect has evoked!

Of course facilities that “tick boxes” only would not engender these responses but Susan is a true professional and as several folk have commented “… I feel safe talking to you this way…”

It’s often wise that we take stock of the business we are in.  We are not just feeding, watering, medicating and keeping mobile the ageing folk in our care; we are actually providing the stage, the platform for the rest of their life to be played out.  This may involve living with unspoken experiences or thoughts, unresolved griefs and fears, unfulfilled wishes or needs… perhaps just to be heard.

And if in that spontaneous, unplanned moment we get an inkling of that lingering confusion, unresolved issue or sadness what do we do with it?  Do we medicalise and plan for a therapeutic approach?  Do we document and thereby open up privacy to public scrutiny?

Do we “not go there” citing our professional boundaries and keep all conversations shallow for our own comfort – even though when one is 80 or 90 there may not be many more of these in the offing?

Or yet again, despite indications that there are pockets of unresolved conflict or unhappiness in some residents, are we over stepping our role in unearthing what lies beneath?  Don’t most people have a few scars from life’s ups and downs?

A fellow Nursing Masters student years ago was concerned about what he felt may be the emotional isolation and loss of personhood and deep communication in his Aged Care Residents.  He put out a questionnaire to gain what insights he could.

The most earnest response he received (amongst a sea of ‘No comments’) was from a man who felt unhappy that the laundry service kept over stretching the elastic in his underpants (so much for existential despair!)

There are some questions which have no answers.

In Aged Care we are making the best of what we can in an environment which is not one’s past home but which becomes a home; “Communal”, shared and subject to routines but a home and hopefully a haven as well.

People flow in and out of each other’s lives.  The quality of relationships is built on trust and a tiny space wedged between the tasks of the day where one may authentically be a human being with another.  Just listening is probably the greatest gift and the best therapy.

We talk about meeting emotional needs; trouble is when meeting physical needs can be a challenge, there may not be much time left over for what may well be, for some folk, the most important need of all.

Let’s keep communicating!


Sandy May

We listen.
We respect.
We care.