Doing it with style

by Kim Kelly


My grandmother Ivy Swivel, or Ivy Mellish as she was known before marriage swept her off her maryjanes and into an entirely unsuitable betetherment to a handsome surfer who didn’t deserve her, was a woman who did her own thing. Always. Often infuriatingly.

She was and remains the butt of many a family joke. If any of us feels we’re at odds with the world or teetering towards hysteria, we cry, ‘It’s Nana’s fault!’

Self-taught and self-wrought milliner, couturier, Conservatorium-trained opera singer and painter of abstract nudes, she set us an example of how to go forth in that crash and burn way of total disregard for others’ opinions. She could wear the most outlandish hat, say the most awful thing, or turn up to Christmas dinner bedecked from head to toe in what appeared to be wrapping paper, and demand to be taken seriously. Woe betide the fool who didn’t. And I wish I had inherited a little more of that gene.

But affectionate ridicule aside, she was also a woman unable to fulfill her ambitions largely because of the times she lived in. Exuberantly colourful and obnoxious gals were not to be seen or heard in 1930s Sydney, or in the 40s, or in the 50s, and so her attempts at business failed. I imagine those disappointments in no small way fed the fabulous flaws that would become her eccentricities.

She certainly fed me many an appalling meal as a child. A cook she was not. A homemaker she was not, unless you count her flair for turning her tiny flat into an installation collage so whacked she might well have given the German expressionists a run for their money if she’d made it to Berlin.

But she was my Nana. Nana of Coogee. Rather beloved. Champion quoits player and inventor of the after dinner game of golf whereby pieces of paper napkin are rolled into balls and randomly potted into wineglasses around the table. A boredom-killer. Soprano laugher. And my about-to-be-published novel, The Blue Mile, is dedicated to her, as well as to my other grandmother, Nin. Now, she was an entirely different kettle of gal, but no less a woman of style, and I’ll tell you all about her another day.