HUMAN INTEREST STORY
Lana was born in 1935. She is now 81 years young and lives in south-west Sydney. She lives in a forty-year old flat on the top floor. She has seen many neighbours move in and out the block. These have included young migrant families and older couples who have moved onto palliative and nursing care. Her most recent neighbour was a former refugee too. This neighbour, after two decades in Sydney, lost her only adult son to suicide and then found herself with inoperable, fast-growing lung cancer. Lana thinks of this neighbour often but hasn’t felt able to visit. Lana says, ‘It’s very sad but I don’t know what to say’.
Lana has some OCD and some social anxiety. She has never driven and never had a driver’s license. It is only now, in her later years , and out out of absolute necessity that she is very, very occasionally venturing out on public transport. The last time was when her only brother made her feel physically unsafe after belittling her. She is the sort of person who usually prefers another adult or child, to escort her or at least deliver and collect her from doctors appointments etc. Routine is very important to her peace of mind. Changes in the packaging of consumer foodstuffs or even renovated supermarket aisles bring about behaviour which is not practical nor comforting. Anna is a woman who often fears change even if she has been consulted or pre-warned.
As a very young girl, she fled PNG with her elderly father and a toddler brother. Two younger siblings were left behind in the care of Catholic nuns. The siblings died along with the nuns by Japanese gunfire. A year prior to being forced to flee her birthplace , she also lost her young mum. Lana watched her mum accidently fall into a river and then wash away. This is a fact Lana has only recently shared.
She has three adult children.
She and her brother do not see much of their other relatives.
As a young woman without much guidance from family or friends, she found herself in the family way and was told she had no choice but to marry the man who had had his way with her. While this marriage lasted 30 odd years, her oldest son eventually deposited Lana on his sister’s doorstep when Lana was about 50 years old. That was the first step in her divorce. Ten years later when the father of her three kids was suddenly diagnosed with terminal metastastic cancer, she refused to be his carer. ‘I didn’t even want to sit too close to him when I went to visit him in hospital’, she says.
Lana is also not friends with the female who abandoned her ex-husband a month prior to his diagnosis. The other woman is a nurse’s assistant and (Lana knows) of dubious motivation. ‘She only visited him in hospital to check out his friends and my brother’. The other woman has now firmly embedded herself into the life and finances of Lana’s young brother. This has caused considerable pain and numerous counts of verbal and emotional ( verging on physical) abuse from a brother she has always been very close to. ‘ When I was young, before my father died (from a broken heart and tired liver), he said we (my brother and I) should always look after each other’. Her brother has just asked Lana to vacate her unit. He wants the title deeds back. After all, according to him, ‘ I gave it to you. You won’t need it anymore … soon’. Lana recalls that the unit was a gift. Her brother had always said the title deeds were registered in her name and she has always believed him. They have always put each other first. They were always very close siblings who have supported each other. Her brother has never married or had children of his own. They have both lived very frugal lives: Lana because her husband preferred gambling to working, and her brother because he was a hard worker and was tricked out of their inheritance by the Catholic church as a young man. The church stole their father’s house and shop when they fled PNG. AS a young man returning to PNG to bury his father, a priest had tricked Lana and her brother into signing over the property.( Both had been told otherwise and when they were given a pittance in cash, they were told that this was a little bit of rent for the time the Church had occupied the property in Australia whilst the family escaped from the Japanese invasion).
To this day, Lana doesn’t like Catholic people or war movies. She does however getting away from reality by watching American soaps like The Bold and the Beautiful. And James ‘Bomb’ films. She has also become fond of Bollywood movies.
Note 1. Lana declined to be photographed for this story.
Note 2. Unexpectedly however, she has shown this writer a transcript she recently received. It pertains to a 1944 ABC radio story logged by journalist Frank Legge. The transcript was recovered by a stranger from Queensland Library archives. Whilst it is not accurate in all respects according to Lana, it is the tragic story of her as a young girl with her family. They had been left behind in the PNG jungle for months. All her relatives had managed to escape the Japanese at the start of the invasion.