Barbara's Story

Tackling causes, not symptoms
Portrait of Barbara
A quiet and determined achiever, Barbara is a calm and resilient woman with vast life experience who gets things done, from making beautiful quilts to teaching drumming with OWN’s Heartbeats and playing an active role in OWN at branch and state level.

She begins her day with tai chi, and finds meditation very beneficial.

I’ve always been a volunteer, from picking thistles aged seven for Granny Burge’s canaries, running errands for my grandfather the baker after school, and later helping with the P&C and netball. Now it’s older women through OWN.

Barbara Malcolm is a natural a storyteller with acute recollections of the events of her life.

She can also remember many of the momentous events of the 20th century, beginning with the start and end of World War 2 when Barbara was a child in Cowra in western New South Wales.

She clearly remembers the day the war was declared. Her childhood home was one of the few in Cowra with a radio, so all the neighbours gathered to hear Prime Minister Menzies’ announcement.

Five-year-old Barbara couldn’t understand why everyone was so upset, and she couldn’t cheer them up. Her mother explained, “not now Barbara, please”. So she had to sit in a corner and watch all the people crying and think ‘why are you all howling?’

Through the course of the war, Cowra was the site of a prisoner of war camp.

One of the things that affected me a lot was, when the soldiers came, they would march from the camp to the railway station and back. While they were in town there were parties and festivities, and football games, and everyone was very down when they left. For years later, every time I heard the sound of marching, I would cry because it reminded me of the soldiers marching in and out of town.

The day the war ended, VE day, we were living in Hunters Hill. The extended family, my siblings and cousins all went across to the paddock across the street where the baker used to keep his horse. All of a sudden, a biplane came over, a very rare sight. This pilot in the biplane flew right down over us kids, in an open cockpit. He swept over us and waved, grinning and laughing. We were just going beserk and turning handstands. I’d never seen a plane close up. I can remember it as clear as anything”.
A young portrait shot of Barbara

During the war, Barbara’s life took a difficult turn that would affect her for the years to come.

My mother and father separated when I was seven. I had a shattered school experience. My father played a big part in my young life but, by the time there were four children, he walked out and went to live with someone else. I was at a Catholic school, so that was very difficult for me. It was a big thing not to have a Dad but I got away with it because there were a lot fathers missing during the war. I just said, ‘He was away at the war’. But, after the war, I had to ‘kill him off’. He had some brilliant and exciting deaths. He fell off the harbour bridge, or the Germans shot him down over France. He had some lovely deaths, dear Dad.

Barbara’s mother had to find what work she could, which meant moving from place to place and relying on family support.

My mother struggled really hard because there was no financial assistance. She took Dad to court every three months, but Dad refused to pay. We moved around, trying to find somewhere affordable, so I kept changing schools. Mum worked all the time, a little dot of a woman, a tiny thing. We lived with my grandmother, then we could afford to rent a house, then Mum would get sick again. She had tuberculosis, which wasn’t diagnosed for a long time. Without my grandparents and aunts, I don’t know how we would have turned out. Families were more close-knit then.

When my mother’s TB was diagnosed, she spent six months in the sanatorium at Waterfall. The government in their wisdom got her a job at the Steelworks at Clyde Engineering on permanent nightshift so she could look after us during the day! I left school at 13, and stayed home to look after the younger ones while Mum went to work at night. So, I had very little schooling. My teenage years were very troubled because Mum worked at night and the children were in bed. It was very lonely, and pretty grim times.

I thought it was very unfair but I thought that was a woman’s lot.

Barbara working in her garden

“Things turned around in the 50’s when I started getting my life in order. Mum instilled in us a good work ethic. That’s how we got ourselves out of bother. I worked at the conveyor belt at Dunlop Rubber Company and for Jansens until I got married. My husband Keith bought a service station and I worked there, and there was a drive-in at Bass Hill across the road, and I worked there as a cashier. I worked when my children were young but took some time off when they were small. We lived next door to the service station, so it was convenient for work.”

Barbara has four daughters, and she’s now a grandmother and great grandmother.

“I am very proud of all my daughters; they all have a good work ethic. They have all worked hard. I made sure that they had a good education. That was the most important thing. They’ve made a success of the careers they have chosen to go into. They are grandparents now some of them. I have a great grandson and daughter in the nursing profession.”

Barbara joined OWN around 1997 when she attended her first ever conference. It was life changing.

“I saw in the Women’s Weekly that OWN was having a conference. I had never been to a conference so I rang the NSW office and they invited me to go. I had recently moved from a fifty acre farm onto a one acre block. Without a farm to run, I was at a bit of a loss. The last of the girls left home, and the housework was done by lunchtime. So, I decided to go to the conference.”

“I was blown away by the things those women were doing. It just absolutely amazed me. They were talking about women being overmedicated on valium for things that are social issues; you couldn’t fix domestic violence with a valium tablet. A tablet will never make domestic violence go away no matter how the woman felt. Those two things clicked together in my mind. You have to take charge of your own health. You have to look at causes and symptoms.

“I’d never ever been politically minded, ever. But I have always been a volunteer. So, it was a big step for me to meet women who were addressing and identifying issues, because I had never thought about that. A lot of my friends were taking valium for all sorts of reasons and I had never thought why are they doing it? If they were depressed, I just thought depression is part of life. So, if you get depressed, well, valium fixes it for you. I’d never thought about the issues behind it; that issues should be addressed not covered over. And that was the message I got from that conference – address the cause, not the symptoms; go after the issues.”

Barbara with a group of OWN women in red ponchos, drumming

Mentored by members, including Joy Ross and Betty Johnson, Barbara began to take on roles within OWN and, after two years, she was elected to the management team, working in the office one day a week.

She later became a liaison officer between the groups and the convener of the Wellness team. She worked with the interested women in the Wollondilly area to help establish  Wollondilly OWN, and then Coniston, south of Wollongong, which celebrated its tenth birthday in 2019.

Barbara has a deep commitment to wellness based on her own experience with isometric tension exercises learned at a gym, fixing a problem with swollen ankles and, thus, avoiding the need for medication. Exercise has played a vital role in her life, and she believes OWN has been ahead of its time in promoting the benefits of wellness through exercise and activity.

“I stayed at the gym until I had breast cancer in the year 2000. It took me a long time to get back to fitness. Cancer was a long haul and really and truly knocked me. The treatment was severe, the cancer was aggressive. It was hard going. You just meet every day as it came. It was just day-by-day until you got through it. I have never been able to get back to full strength, but I’ve done well.”

“When the centre opened at Coniston, I got back to drumming, Scottish country dancing and tai chi. I continue with the tai chi each day. I taught Argentinian drumming and led the drumming group until mid 2019. I also do the gentle exercise class.”

Barbara showing of her quilt embroidery of native flowers

Barbara has seen many times over how life changing exercise can be for women.

“We were doing country dancing in the bowling club, and a woman’s head appeared in the doorway, then it disappeared. When I caught up with her she was almost back to her car. I asked was she interested in the dancing. She was crying and she said, ‘I thought I was but I’m not’.”

“I talked to her for a while and I found out her husband had died two months before. She was a Scottish lady and she’d sat at home for two months crying and then she decided to do something because she couldn’t sit there sobbing for the rest of her life. So, she had seen in the paper about our Scottish dancing groups and thought that’s something she could do.”

“She said the first week she couldn’t get out of the car, the second week she got as far as the door. The third time, she looked around the door and I caught up with her. So she became a member of Wollondilly until the day she died. That story has repeated itself in different versions, the story of women, reaching out after two months to two years. When they reach out, they reach out for some type of stimulating contact.”

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