Letter to my Sister
As a teenager, I said to you once “You are like the moon.” “Yeah sure” was your scornful response. You are not one for emotion or sentimentality. But I insisted on your glowing presence, like the moon, and you could see it was a moment of truth and I would say it, now and then, over the decades.
You were round-faced, laid-back, mellow and big-boned - we would laugh at that word, big-boned.
Of course you were other things too. You could swear, I couldn’t. You were as feisty as all fuck (okay I am swearing in your honour!). Your friends would want your take on the latest political shenanigans. You loved a good long conversation over endless cups of tea, happy to argue politics for hours, scornful of inconsistency and injustice.
So many memories of us drift through me. As kids we were bookworms. We were creative, knitting, sewing, crafting. We sang, we laughed, but most of all we played and played and played. Remember when I showed you how to draw love hearts. We practised those tricky curves and drew huge love hearts in red crayon - all over the wall. I remember the bedroom we shared as kids, your half of the room a sprawling, creative mess, mine neat and organised. Do you remember the line of socks down the middle if we fought, each claiming our half, excluding the other? But it was never for long. What about when I was 7 years old, you were 5, our hands on our hips, scolding Dad for being so mean. We were so
Yes, we also learned silence in the face of Dad’s abuse, until we became teenagers and then we raged against the old Patriarch. We shared the pain, then we left him and we shared the liberation. I was 16, you were 14. Oh, the freedom, the rising above, the
and into our 20s, when we became activists. We were riding the wave of the environmental movement taking off in the late 80s, early 90s. We were passionate about saving the old growth rainforests of the world. We discovered nonviolence. We relished the joy of friendships and worked hard together with such earnest courage. We protested, blockaded, facilitated, discussed, organised, consciousness raised and empowered ourselves to act. We also squeezed in essays for Uni but our juice was for changing the world. Remember the debates: secrecy or openness, jail or not, male domination, women’s empowerment, willingness to be harmed, fasting, the complexity of using our bodies for political persuasion. I remember our
Our tribe blockaded ships from Malaysia carrying rainforest timber to the Melbourne docks, every three weeks. Remember how we used to say ‘Activate the phone tree!’ It sounded so Batman and Robin. We would get the call at 2.00am, ‘The next ship is in.’ Quick, to the Batmobile! Or rather the boyfriend’s old Holden. We would put on wetsuits and swim out on surfboards or in kayaks in front of huge ships, safely, then be thrilled to watch our action plastered all over the media. Remember when we were arrested and put in the women’s remand centre. We refused to agree to the bail condition to not return to the docks again, because, well, that was our job, going to the docks every three weeks, it was how we earned our wage, the dole. Then you went to jail for blockading the bulldozing of forests in East Gippsland, I fasted in solidarity for 10 days in the City Square.
We were the Barter sisters, we were so proud to be the Barter sisters, of the famous women’s activist house in Fitzroy. Amazing how after three years of swimming in front of ships, working with unions, getting regular media coverage, the Builders Workers Industrial Union agreed to put a ban on the use of all rainforest timber on all Victorian constructions sites! Woo hoo! We were changing the world.
And I wish you were here now so that we could talk about how the work continues: we could celebrate that Norway is the first country in the world to commit to zero deforestation.
We laughed. Ah the easy
of sisters. We laughed how Robert Burrowes, the Gandhi of our group, used to wear for the media, his yellow diamond shaped badge saying “Practise Nonviolence”. We cringed a bit to tell Mum the next episode: arrests, fasting, jail, er Pentridge in fact, but then would laugh at her predictable response: ‘Whatever you need to do dear, just be careful.’
Then we are in our thirties. You follow your love of the Spanish language and move to Argentina for ten years, a new defining of ourselves as separate. You are suspicious of my name change and my spiritual path. You say “It has to be real, and in the world.” And it is
You helped make it real. Living through violence has made it real. Growing up I really needed you, my feisty younger sister.
It was intimidating sometimes how fiercely practical and competent you were. I remember you as a majestic lioness mother, the home birth in your small flat in Buenos Aires and whoops, no midwife. You, so gutsy. You return to Australia with a husband and a beautiful daughter.
Then we enter our 40s. You died aged 45.
Now I remember the last week of your life, as I write this during the second anniversary of your death. I love the photo of us, taken eleven days before you died. It is a real sisters photo, you with your knockout smile. I look at it and I see, you are still the moon,
I remember, in the hospital, the only tears we shared through the three and a half years of your illness. Your biggest heartbreak, needing to leave your twelve year old daughter behind.
Then back at home, you moved into the calm. The day before you died, you said to the palliative care nurse “It won’t be long now.” With your usual practicality, you got on with it. You let dying move you on. The calmness of your dying, the fullness of your living, the Grace, the radiance of you, a gift that breaks my heart but mends it too.
I am still drawing love hearts, in gratitude, for the shining moon of you.
Anahata Giri 2016