by Kim Kelly

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
DONNA

My word, I’m enjoying this series of spotlights on the wonderful people who colour my world, and I hope you are, too. Our next intrepid Reflector is someone I first met at university, when I was seventeen and pretty naïve about most things. Donna was a couple of years older; she was articulate, confident and worldly – someone who actually knew what the word feminist meant – and her long blonde hair and fabulous laugh seemed always at the centre of the party.

She was dazzling then and remains so today. Wise, honest, smart and still with that fabulous laugh, I’m thrilled she’s agreed to share something of herself with us here in answering the Big Seven questions. Read on and you’ll catch a glimpse of one of the best real-life love stories I know, too…

Who are you and where were you born?

My name is Donna Meadows and I was born in London in 1965. My father is Australian and was working as a musician for big bands in London when he met my mother. My parents, my grandmother (my mother’s mum) and I came to Australia by boat in 1968. My parents separated not long after arriving in Australia and I lived with my mum and nan but spent weekends with my dad. I am the only child of my parents’ union but have four brothers and two sisters from other marriages. I have two daughters, aged 14 and 10, and have a shared care arrangement with the girls’ Dad. I have a partner, Konrad, who lives in Canada, and we have a long distance relationship.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

Catching a ferry with my nan when I was five or six from Circular Quay to Manly at night and sitting in the ‘ladies compartment ‘while going through the heads – the boat was rocking from the swell, and we were accompanied by seagulls catching a ride in the wind alongside the ferry. Thrilling!

What does home mean for you?

Being a child of separated parents, I had a number of ‘homes’ in my childhood. I lived with my mother, stepfather and brothers in four places on the Northern beaches, and would spend time across the bridge in Glebe and Newtown with my father and his family. 

My father moved up the mid north coast when I was fifteen, so I then had that place as a home as well. I also left the family home quite young, just before I turned sixteen, as I had a fraught relationship with my stepfather, and my mother rightly thought it would be more stable, and in the best interests of doing my HSC, for me to live with one of my stepsisters, not far away in the next suburb.

When I was eighteen, the lure of the urban environment drew me back to Newtown and I then moved into share accommodation with strangers, in a terrace house, while going to university. The strangers became lifelong friends, and I continued to stay around the inner west in share accommodation for most of my twenties. ‘Home’ was about parties, boyfriends, breakups and fantastic friendships.  

My sense of ‘home’ was always about the people around me. I always felt loved and safe in whatever ‘home’ I was in, and had the constant support and security of my parents as backup wherever I was. In many ways, it was a great way to experience ‘home’ as I am not scared of change and continued to live in a number of places, including overseas, with friends and partners throughout my thirties and forties.

I hope my daughters also have the opportunity to live in different homes at different stages of their lives as it teaches you an enormous amount about getting on with a variety of personalities, being considerate of others, and being independent – all great skills for a fulfilling life.

I think I am settled now for a few years with my daughters, living back in the house I consider the ‘family’ home; the one where my mother and brothers lived. I’ve built a granny flat for my mother at the back, and my daughters and I live in the main house. It is a great beach cottage and is a welcoming port for all the brothers and sisters, my father, stepmother and my partner Konrad.

‘Home’ continues to be a place of relationships for me, but I also feel very fortunate and grateful to live in such a beautiful environment and try to impart this sense of appreciation to my daughters.

What makes you smile?

  • When my daughters show mettle and resilience at life’s challenges
  • Heading east towards the ocean on Seal Rocks Road, NSW, any time of day
  • An illicit afternoon with my partner, Konrad.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

Too many to list here! The only thing I will say is NOTHING beats getting professional help for overcoming patterns of behaviour and choices that are not positive – a good therapist is worth every cent.

Who or what is the love of your life?

I’ve had three significant relationships with men in my life and they have all been based on either love or friendship at that time, and gave me maturity, confidence and my beautiful children. They have all been worth the pain and heartache that comes with the waning of love and ultimately breakup.

However, the relationship that I have now is without a doubt the love of my life. Konrad and I met in our twenties and had a brief but intense fling before parting ways; me travelling, and him returning to Canada. We didn’t stay in touch but both had a sense of ‘the one that got way’ about each other.

While clearing out his mother’s basement, Konrad rediscovered a postcard I’d written from Nepal all those years ago and felt a burning need to find me again. It wasn’t easy as I was not on Facebook or any social media, so he had to do some digging. He is a collector, which helped as he is tenacious and good at research. He eventually found me and fired off an email to my work address.

Both of us were in relationships that were ending, with small children, so writing to each other was a form of support and distraction from our domestic issues. Over the course of this old fashioned epistolary romance, we fell in love all over again. It was sealed when Konrad eventually flew to Sydney to meet me in person and we knew then that there was no turning back.

The challenge of having a long distance relationship is nothing compared to the challenges that face most failed relationships; communication breakdowns, contempt, and different values. We talk every day, and see each other for a few weeks every three months. We will continue long distance for a few more years as we both have jobs and children in our respective countries.

The advantage of having a long distance relationship is that there is a constant hum of yearning, and that is good for any relationship. The thousands of emails that we wrote also provided a very solid foundation for knowing each other extremely well, which is important. People ask us about ‘trust’ and ‘loyalty’ but for us it’s a non-issue. Frankly, if we couldn’t trust each other, it just wouldn’t be worth it. This relationship is a gift, and I will be forever grateful to Konrad for finding and wooing me. He is, without a doubt, the love of my life.

What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

In a nutshell, not much. Neither of my parents have shared much about their parents or their grandparents’ lives. It is like getting blood from a stone finding out anything. My mother’s mother came from a family of strong women and business owners in England, and her father came from working class stock from Perth, Scotland. He was an abusive alcoholic and my mother and grandmother left him when my mother was twelve or so. I think this is why my mother hasn’t looked back much and has always been more focussed on the present. My father grew up in Sydney and is third generation Australian, with Scottish background. He is now starting to tell me stories of spending fun childhood holidays with his grandparents who lived fairly simply in the bush, in western NSW.

Now that I have a partner who is a collector, and very interested in stories of history and family heritage, I have taken more of an interest but it is difficult getting any information out of my parents.

Although it is not my bloodline, I am particularly interested in a story from my late stepfather’s family history, to which my brothers Bill and Frank are connected, which involves a ‘kidnapping’ in the mid nineteenth century of a great grandmother ‘Rosie’ by an Aboriginal tribe in Victoria. We still have the walking stick that was carved by her ‘Aboriginal’ father for her when she was a toddler. The story itself needs to be researched for the truth to emerge and I am planning to do this over the next couple of years.

My own family heritage is vague and unreliable, a few stories here and there. My main take away from it is the value that feminism has brought to women’s lives. I have a sense of strong women in my family history who were limited by inequality and misogyny. This political view was formed in me early on, at the age of fifteen or so, and I always look at history, including my own family history, from a feminist perspective.

And what a magnificent woman you are, Donna Meadows. Thank you so much for your openness and generosity here. Cheers to many, many more years of story-sharing friendship ahead. And when you find out about Rosie’s ‘kidnapping’, you have to tell me all about it – my wordy, indeedy you do!

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