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Eulogy by Julian Mann

Gillian was born in 1939, in Derby England. World War II started shortly after and she didn’t see her journalist father Charles for her first 6 years. 

In those times, women took over their husband’s jobs, and Gillian’s stressed mother Beryl faced the difficulty of raising a child, working as a journalist and worrying about her gentle husband posted in Ceylon with the Air Force.

The wartime experience had a strong influence on Gillian, and this showed up in her art 60 years later with many powerful images in the Burial Ground series.

After the war she’d spend her summer holidays on her cousin’s farm, where she would go nowhere near the animals and was frightened of the cows.

Her younger cousin Ian’s earliest memory of her talent for art was a 10 year old Gillian who did his homework. And she would draw pretty pictures of rabbits and other animals throughout his school books. “She was brilliant” he said. 

After a stint as a dental nurse, a 22 year old Gillian eventually followed her passion and went to Art College in Lancaster, North West England, where her father became the editor of the local newspaper.

3 years later, she moved away to study at the Leicester College of Art, where she met my Indian father and I arrived shortly after.

My father was quite younger than her – he was 19 – she was 26. This was to become a common theme in her relationships over the years.

Well, she always did look 10 years younger than what she really was.

That relationship was thankfully short-lived but left her with many emotional scars. But she rarely said a bad thing about him. She always showed me her happy face - shielded me from bad things. 

This was to become a common theme in our relationship - even up to the end. She struggled to tell me she had cancer. She couldn’t tell me she was in pain. 

A few years later, Gillian married again, to a lovely person Alistair. And he is the reason we are here in Australia – with no regrets. Unfortunately it didn’t last long either – but they stayed good friends and Alistair and I have become very close over the years.

So for most of my young life, it was just me and my mum and lots of love and happiness.

I look back in amazement how she managed to bring me up by herself, while she studied in England, and later worked hard hours teaching at the Canberra School of Art and immersing herself in her artistic creations.

And she was always there for me, even as a grown up. When I was sick she would always come and look after me.

We were not just mother and son, we were good friends. We were great companions.

I remember, after her own mum died 6 years ago, we travelled around Ireland together. We drank Guinness together at the pub, listened to the music. It was one of the best nights of my life.

Meanwhile she was chatted-up by one of the locals, who was later slapped by his wife and taken home.My mum still had it going. Mind you, she never chased the fellas. But she had many admirers.

Mum imprinted many values on me over the years.I admire her kindness and compassion and her humane treatment of animals. She loved her many doggies, but she also showed such care, hand feeding the sheep next door in the grip of this terrible drought.

I admire her disgust of war, her concerns for the environment and her aim for women to be treated as equals.

Hey, being the only man in the house, I copped the brunt of strong minded feminist.

Despite what my mother imagined, or maybe hoped, I never had a real talent for art. I was just into sport. But although she had no interest in sport herself, she always encouraged my passions.

As for her art... As a child, I was a bit embarrassed with all the women’s private parts displayed all over the house, and later I nearly had nightmares waking up with a devilish picture above me in her Binalong house.

But I’m totally proud of her achievements. Her subject matter has great meaning and shows great passion. I think she is under rated because of her challenging subject matter, which was darker in recent times.

She told me how one of her dear Binalong friends, Fling I think it was, who said something like “Gillian, your art is so dark, but you are such a lovely bright person”.

I met so many interesting and genuinely nice people through my Mum. She always had so many characters around her - whether it be neighbours, colleagues, students or other acquaintances.

What stands out though, is her support and friendship of people starting a new life in Australia, particularly those who have experienced extreme adversity.

She nurtured them as artists, but more importantly she treated them with compassion.

This includes my lovely Chinese wife Amy who arrived in 2005. She tried so hard to help Amy find friends, taking her around the ANU looking for Chinese students, so she could speak her own language.

She didn’t want Amy to feel isolated in a strange country.

Amy’s arrival brought our family closer together again. We are so glad that we did some lovely things with Mum in the last 2 years.

This included:

- the 4 hour Billy Connelly concert in Sydney (she even stayed awake the whole time),
- a trip to Tasmania for her 67th birthday (her first holiday there),
- cherry picking in Young each Christmas,
- and a week down at Jervis Bay with all the dogs, (her first trip to the beach in 10 years).

One of my strongest memories of Mum in recent times was my wedding on top of Mt Kosciusko. She walked all the way up, as strongly as any of my younger friends.

And she cried throughout her speech which set both Amy and I off in tears as well.

She was so full of pride.

Another strong memory was at my joy of my lovely daughter Lila and being such a proud dad. Mum said to me with a wry look “Now you know why I love you so much”.

Overall, Gillian was incredibly brave and positive - throughout her life and throughout her terrible illness. She didn’t give up, she just ran out of puff.

Even the day before she died she said “I suppose I better cancel the Bega project”.

If she could have done it, she would have.


I would like to finish with a short poem Gillian wrote in the late 1970s.


Youth passes.
The buds have opened,

and lovely are the flowers.
Some die quickly,
Some linger through the Autumn into Winter,
Strongly holding their bloom.
I hope I am one of those.

Mum, you were.

jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:49
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 07:02
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:53
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:56
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:51
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:47
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:43
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 07:02
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 06:42
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 07:01