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The Inheritance of Dreams | How Granny’s History Shaped My Future

Each spring on Move LifeStyle, our content brings focus on children and babies, in celebration of the future of our families. This month, we’re looking to the past to mark the importance of those in our lineage who came before us; our mothers, grandmothers. It is with great honor we share this story of heritage and family history from writer Holly Ringland, whose life has been greatly influenced one inspiring woman: Her grandmother. Enjoy. —Ashley

When she was thirteen, Joan Mary stopped going to school. Her father, an Australian lighthorse solider in WWI, had died of toxaemia when she was a child; Joan had to help her mother earn money to look after her brothers and sisters. She got a job sorting rotten potatoes and was paid in pennies.

Holly Ringland | Joan Mary

Joan Mary, aged 15

At seventeen, Joan Mary married Hilary Winston, a local pineapple farmer. By the time she was 29, Joan had given birth to six children, lost three babies in miscarriages, ran the family home, and worked the pineapple farm with Hilary.

Granny, and my grandfather, Hilary Winston, before they were married when Granny was 17.

Granny, and my grandfather, Hilary Winston, before they were married when Granny was 17.

In idle moments between the challenges and hardships of a working class life with a big family, Joan scrambled to find time to read, learn, or daydream. Inevitably it never came. Something more urgent would need her attention and Joan would tuck her dreams of an education away with her desire to become a writer.

By the time I knew Joan her stories were the magic we, all twelve of her grandchildren, were transfixed by. We thought Granny grew stories in her garden with her flowers: down the back steps she’d go with her clippers and back she’d come with a handful of fresh cuts and a new tale. Granny mapped our own stories in etchings on the trunk of a palm tree in her front garden; twelve grandchildren growing taller, year-by-year. She showed us where we were headed and the heights we could reach.

A rare photo of spirited women: Granny is 29. At this time in her life she has six children, has had three miscarriages, runs the household on her own, and helps upkeep the pineapple farm. My great-grandmother on the right, Hilda May, married an Australian soldier and emigrated from England to Australia after WW1. She raised their five children alone and never remarried after my great-grandfather died of toxaemia.

A rare photo of spirited women: Granny is 29. At this time in her life she has six children, has had three miscarriages, runs the household on her own, and helps upkeep the pineapple farm. My great-grandmother on the right, Hilda May, married an Australian soldier and emigrated from England to Australia after WW1. She raised their five children alone and never remarried after my great-grandfather died of toxaemia.

“Tell me a story, Granny,” was all I’d ever have to say when I was with her, and away we’d go to a different country where my great-grandmother grew up by the sea until she met an Australian solider and boarded a ship of brides. Away we’d go to the centre of Australia, (and Granny’s daydreams), where the earth was the colour of your heart, she told me. Granny never went back to school. She has never travelled outside of the state she grew up in. There was only ever one time when Granny could not be called upon for a story: when she had a cup of tea and a freshly sharpened pencil poised over the crossword and her small leather dictionary at her side, you knew to tiptoe on by. Her talent with words was sacred and no one dared interrupt.

In 2009 I moved from Australia to England to pursue writing. I drove north to visit Granny before I left. I will never grow out of my need for her storytelling.

“Come and sit with me, Holly-darlin,” she said. My skin prickled in anticipation. I clung to her stories, about love, adversity, compassion, and the challenges my great-grandmother overcame, and those of her mother and her mother’s mother. I am still as mesmerised by Granny’s stories as if I am a child again hearing the ocean in a shell for the first time.

“You are doing everything with your life I wish I could have done with mine,” Granny said, as she has been saying since I was 22 when I first left home to travel. She placed a small, worn leather book in my hands. I recognised her dictionary immediately. It is one of my most treasured possessions.

Holly-RIngland-Dictionary

The stories Granny raised me on set the trajectory of my future. For four years in my twenties I lived in the central desert of Australia where the land is the colour of my heart. In 2010 I was the first person in my family to travel to the seaside town in England where Granny’s parents met. I threw two poppies into the Celtic Sea that day and reflected on what I was doing in the UK, pursuing a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember: to write.

When I walk into my study in Manchester and I light a candle to burn Australian Eucalyptus oil at my desk while I work, the thought often occurs to me that it’s not the shoulders of giants I stand on. My giants surround me. The women who came before me were denied educational, economic and social equality, yet worked just as hard as any man. Their sacrifice was expected and unrecognised. These women are the giants I stand side by side with. They encircle me at my desk and stand at my shoulders while I’m working. In my blood Granny’s stories whisper as I write my way into living this life the best I can; this writing life Joan Mary could only ever dream of.

Me, aged 33, and Granny, aged 84, Christmas Day 2013.

Me, aged 33, and Granny, aged 84, Christmas Day 2013.

Author Description

Holly Ringland

Holly Ringland is an Australian writer who divides her life between Australia and the UK. In February 2015 Holly's personal essay, Might be rainbows, was published in Griffith REVIEW 47: Looking West. A sample of the novel she is currently writing has just won a 2015 Griffith REVIEW Contributor Circle Award, which includes a weeklong fellowship at the iconic Varuna House, Australia's national writers' residency. Holly has short fiction forthcoming for publication in PRESS: 100 Love Letters, a lush and beautiful anthology edited by Francesca Rendle-Short and Laurel Fantauzzo, due out August 2015 for distribution at the Melbourne Writers Festival. Find her online and on Twitter.

  • Melissa R. Poulin
    I love this piece, Holly, and the beautiful way you’ve captured your granny’s bright spirit. I am inspired by your gratitude and sense of responsibility to the women in your family, to honor and pursue your calling as a writer. Thank you for writing this!
    • holly
      Thanks for your beautiful thoughts, Melissa – they have revealed things to me I hadn’t realised about my own story. And thanks also for being the one who suggested so many moons ago that I should write a piece about Granny. Thinking of you as the months count down… x
  • Philippa
    Beautiful writing, imbued with such gratitude and love. What a gift Granny Joan has given you, in every sense of the word! xx
    • holly
      Ahhhh, Philbs, thank you. I could write a tome on Granny, it’s been such a pleasure to share this tiniest part of her life and how it is threaded through mine. Always so lovely to see your face pop up in my world x


Move LifeStyle is an e-zine for the modern working woman created by Autumn Reeser, Jenn Wong and Ashley Fauset.

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