|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: March 25, 1993
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
Why are you a republican? And before you became a member of the republican movement, how did you show your conviction that Australian should be a republic?
Well in the first place, I would say that my whole family were republicans maybe, except for one or two. My mother wasn't. I mean she was a monarchist. She covered the walls with photographs of the Royal family that were cut out of newspapers and we used to rip them down. Why am I a republican? Well, I'm a republican because I feel that Australia is adult enough to make its own decisions without consulting someone 12 000 miles away. I'm a republican because I think we have a great need now to be an independent nation, mainly because we have a large population of people who have never known the monarchy, it's meaningless to them, absolutely meaningless. That they have to swear allegiance to something away over on the other side of the world to me, I think that it's unreal, completely unreal. I'm a republican because it was the British Empire and under the British Empire that the colonies were established and in the establishing of these colonies many of the indigenous people suffered very seriously, including my father. So, you know, why should I want to bow to people who represent a system that destroyed so many people, destroyed the culture of so many people, so destructive. I guess those are the main reasons.
But the British Empire did want to honour you at one stage, didn't they?
Well, they did. I think that was in 1976 and I was offered an MBE and I did refuse it because I couldn't possibly wear that. [INTERRUPTION]
But the British Empire did want to honor you at one stage, didn't it?
Yes it did want to honor me at one stage with an MBE and of course I couldn't possibly accept that, but I did accept an Australian Award, an AM, and that's meant something to me.
Now just looking now at your life, as you live it now, when you say that you want to just concentrate on your writing but you still seem to have a lot of activities going on. What are the main things that you would like to achieve now, in this later part of your life?
I would like to complete the two books that I am writing at present, I want to put a lot of energy into that. Other things emerge and tell me I should be doing other things. I suppose, if I guess I've got the energy. I would today see a major force develop for the banning of the manufacturing of destructive, whatever it might be, whether it's just guns that people have in their house, or whether it's bombs or whatever, just the total banning of all destructive ammunition and I would like to see Australian people get up and say, 'Enough is enough. We must stop the sales of arms, we must stop the manufacture of arms and the sales of arms'. That incidentally is what I would like to do. I would like to help mobilise a very strong force in that direction. But I know what I will do, and that's sit down and get on with my writing.
Now you were brought up by a father who was a lay preacher, you were sent to Sunday School, you have been associated with Christian people in the movements that you have been involved in, you joined with them to work with them for causes. How do you feel yourself about religion?
Well my faith has always been in people. I have great faith in people. I don't feel uncomfortable with people who tell me they are Christians and they belong to one church or another. I feel quite comfortable with people because that's their right to their belief and I have to respect that.
But your own belief?
Well, my belief is in people. I fix my faith in people. I'm a great believer in the power of people and I think, you know, I'm a street woman, I believe we should make good uses of our streets. They are not just there for motorcars, they're there for us to get out and express our feelings of how we feel, particularly about war, about peace, the manufacturing of arms, the banning of the manufacture of arms and so on. And so my faith is in people and I can't say anything else other than that. It always has been and it always will be.
So you're not religious at all?
I'm not religious, no I'm not a religious person. I have respect for those who are and enjoy the company of many who are but it stops there.
What do you think about whether there is going to be anything after death? What do you think is going to happen after you die?
Oh, after I die. Well, there will be nothing. I'll be a pile of ashes, maybe in the garden or in the sea, up at the crematorium.
As you get older, do you think about dying?
Oh yes, I think about dying quite a lot. I wake some mornings and think, 'I wonder how many more mornings I will have?'. Life is not one long morning any more and you know, twilight is coming through. So, yes, I think about dying. I have no fear. I've got an awful lot to leave, but it'll be all right because I've had an awful lot.
When you look back over your life ... [INTERRUPTION]
When you look back over your life to date, what do you feel has been your greatest achievement, the thing you're proudest of?
Well I am most proud of having achieved that Referendum. It wasn't a personal achievement, it was a team achievement and I was part of the team. But I'm still most proud of that.
And what in your life has given you the most joy and pleasure?
My family. I love my family. I love Hans and I love Lilon and I love my son-in-law, Stephen Llewellyn. It doesn't go beyond that really. I mean the love for others is different. But the love for those four people now, is quite intense and deep. It gives me a lot of pleasure.
Has friendship played a big part in your life?
Friendship is my life. My friends mean an awful lot to me. My women friends mean so much to me. You know I have those women friends whom I can pick up the telephone almost any old time and talk to them and they know that they can do that for me. When we thought we were threatened in having our telephone conversations timed, that had quite an impact on me. I was very disturbed. I'm very dependent on the telephone to keep in touch with my friends, they mean a lot to me.
Do you feel you've brought to your life any particular strength that's enabled you to do more than a lot of other people around you have been able to do? Where does your strength come from?`
I don't know. I've got some strength and I'm not awfully sure where it comes from. I suppose a lot comes from my mother and my brothers and sisters. It's been easy to handle it, it hasn't been difficult. I think that very often people with a lot of strength find difficulty in coping with that strength. And I haven't got that problem. I know what I want and I know those things that make me feel most contented and satisfied.
What sort of situations do you avoid?
I avoid stressful situations now, as I would avoid a cyclone. and I avoid situations where people tend to want to push me around, or where people tend to flatter me and say, 'Oh don't talk about being old, you're still young'. I find that hard to take, you know. I don't like it, I don't like it at all. So I avoid situations where there are pushy people.
Do you have anything that you regret in the decisions or choices you've made in your life?
Well, I suppose there were many small unimportant decisions I've made in my life, I can't think of awfully many now or any at all, that I have regretted. I can think of many decisions that I have made that I'm quite pleased with, quite happy about and they've been decisions that have not only enriched my life but has also enriched the lives of others and they've been good, they've been good.
So there's nothing that you think, well look, if I had my time over again I would have done that a bit differently?
Oh yes, if I had my time over, I would have done many things differently. Many things, I am sure. I am sure that I would have given more of my time to understanding music a little more, I would have given more of my time to perhaps looking after myself a little better. I would have given more of my time to understanding people of other groups. I'm not awfully good at that. I try even now, I try but I find it hard and I find that I can become quite biased.
In what way? That is a very surprising thing for you to say, Faith.
Well, you know, I went through the war and during the war years I hated the Japanese so intensely I can't tell you, and the Germans. This is what war does to people. [INTERRUPTION]
It's surprising to hear you of all people who dedicated a very big part of your life to advancing the cause of a people that weren't yours and who is really almost a by-word for tolerance and understanding, to say that you wish you understood some groups better and that you've been biased. Could you - could you explain that?
Well, having gone through the war, those of us who went through the last world war as adults, I'm sure find it very difficult, Australians find it very difficult to forgive the Japanese. I do. I find it very difficult to forgive them for their vulgarism and their cruelty and their murderous actions in the Pacific. I think of the women nurses who were beheaded and the men who were on the Burma Railway. You see my brother died, he was on the Burma Railway and of course there were thousands of others and I lost so many friends in the war who died at the hands of the Japanese. Now ... [INTERRUPTION]
So the war - you think that war often leaves a legacy of hatred?
War does leave a legacy of hatred. It's left a legacy of hatred here in Australia and I know that it's left such legacies around the world. I mean how can we ask the Jewish people to forget what happened in Europe? How can they forget the Nazis? How can they forget those brutal SS men who dominated their lives in the concentration camps? When I talk about this need for my involvement and other people's involvement in peace I mean it because it means, if we have peace, we can do away with an awful lot of hatred. Sure, there are many wars based on religion today and I curse religions for it. They kill each other, they murder each other, they rape each other. And so there are many things that have got to be fixed up as it were. And one of the things that has to be fixed up with me, is to rid myself of this bias. It's not easy, it's very hard and I've got to work at it.
Perhaps there is a difference between forgetting and forgiving?
Well I think that the ideal thing to do is never to forget but to be able to genuinely forgive. And we ought not to blame the people of this generation for the crimes that were committed by their forbears.
Now while we're on the subject of your faults, Faith. What other aspects of yourself do you hope that you can improve on? Is there anything else that you have to tell us where you wish you were a little different?
You know, today, I am what I am. I don't want to be different. Maybe if I were asked to try and change a little 10 years ago, 20 years ago, I would find a space in which to try and change and be different. I can't do that now and I enjoy being me. I find nothing wrong in being just me. I enjoy myself, I enjoy my solitude. My hours of loneliness have much space between them. I tend not to get lonely, I enjoy being just with me. And sometimes when I'm very much with me and the phone rings, I see that as an intrusion. I don't want to change about anything now and I'm too lazy to change, it requires too much of an effort and I've put a lot of effort into so many things, I don't want to put a great lot of effort into awfully much now.
For the community, for the world, for the country, for the people that you've worked for and for the causes you have worked for - what are the things that you look forward to in the future? What are the things that you would like to see happen in the world that would make differences that would mean a lot to you?
Today I would like to see the small wars in the world end. I wish for nothing more. I would like to see the end of the suffering of the war victims as we see them today. And I would like to see the black people of the world, and when I talk about the black people of the world, I mean all the African states and all the African-Americans and the black people throughout the whole world, to be one with the world. That they ought not any longer be dependent on charities to give them their place in the world. Their place in the sun, the sun belongs to us all and the blacks should have their equal share. [INTERRUPTION]
If you had to sum up and describe your life, what would you say about the life that you've lived to date?
Well in summing up my life I can truthfully say that no-one has had a life as good as mine. I do. It's been a rich life, it will be easy to say when the end comes to this old life of mine, it will be easy to say goodbye, it won't be a problem there. I can't think of anything that I would want to add to my life. There were hard times and there were good times but there's been a fairly equal balance and I've been able to bear the bad times, great sorrows I've had, I've lost - all my brothers have died, my favourite sister died - and so I've gone through these bereavements and it hasn't been, well I mean I just have faced the fact that there comes a time when there is no more life to live and that was it.
Do you feel that luck has played, do you feel that you've been a lucky person, or do you think that you've made your own luck?
Well, I can say that I guess luck plays a small part in a person's life, one way or another, whether it's good or whether it's bad. Being with Hans has been great, you know, it hasn't always been smooth, but I'm always grateful that we've been mature enough to sort out the differences and we've been able to realise that this life together could never be replaced in any other way. I shouldn't say some of these things, but I guess the person who has enriched my life tremendously has been my daughter. She's just such a strong person and such a compassionate person and such a beautiful person. Like one of my friends said, 'I'm so glad Lilon's doing medicine, look as she walks into the wards, we'll all feel better just by looking at her'. And it's hard for me to say this because I've always made sure that I would never in any way possess her, to keep a great space, and I have succeeded in doing that, I would never go to her house without first ringing and she does the same for me and I've made sure that she has had her life entirely, her adult life, without any interference from me. But at the same time she's given me great joy, it's been wonderful, just wonderful having her.
You've got a new grandchild, a brand new grandchild, what do you hope for the future for that child?
Let me tell you this. We were at the birth, and when the grandchild was a matter of minutes old, my son-in-law, Stephen, brought her out and put her in our arms, this lovely little thing. She wasn't lovely then, I mean babies are awfully ugly when they're first born. Now my son-in-law Stephen is the nephew of Ernie Llewellyn - Ernst Llewellyn - and you might remember how he ... and one day shortly after she was born, her father Stephen was nursing her and she held her head this way, and he said, 'That's good, get that little space for the violin to fit in. So with my grand- daughter I won't see that many years of her life but I have thought how wonderful it would be if she was a violinist. Her mother could help her along to begin with and there is this tradition in the - someone has to keep up the tradition in the Llewellyn family.
What sort of a world do you hope that she will be living in?
On more recent days, I have become concerned about the future of the world and I know that the birth of this little one has had something to do with it. And perhaps that is why I have shown concern about the continuation of the manufacturing and the sale of arms because if we go on doing that we are going to destroy ourselves and I think that in all fairness to my granddaughter and there are a million or billion others of her age, they deserve a decent world to grow up in. We owe it to them.
Great, thank you, wonderful, that's it, good.
[end of interview]