For Rosemary


She was like so many women of her generation, a bright mind and great sense of fun channeled almost entirely into raising a family of four children out in far-flung Chapel Hill in Brisbane.

She had grown up in a well-to-do household in Fortitude Valley with three brothers Tom, John and Tony. Her father was Dr Alban Lynch, medical superintendent at the Mater Hospital and a family doctor. Her mother was Meta Crane, a nurse from Stanthorpe. Educated at All Hallows and the University of Queensland where she earned a BA Dip Journalism, after university she worked at The Courier-Mail under the editorship of Sir Theodore Bray, remaining with the paper after marrying fellow journalist Dugald MacColl and well into their first pregnancy. This was rare. In those days women in the public service were required to resign when they married. But when she told Ted Bray she was pregnant, he said it would be a shame for her to leave, so she stayed. What a great boss in those days!

Once she resigned, late in her pregnancy with my brother Ian, she didn’t return to work, not for years, and then only briefly for The Catholic Leader when Ian and Andrew had finished school and Lachlan and I were teenagers. I hated it, to be honest, no Mum home in the afternoons after school. But now I look back and wonder how it must have felt to be her, to have so few choices about how she lived her life. It’s been different for my generation. We’ve been able to work and have children and however difficult that’s proven – you can’t have it all as Anne-Marie Slaughter has recently told us – it’s better than the alternative.

Even so, she'd have said then that children are the greatest gift. We lived in a chaotic household in which we had an awful lot of fun. Mum would pile us into the car and drive around pretending to be lost. We had an old Austin and the back door used to fly open going around corners fast. I’d scream if I was nearest and one of the boys would lean over to close the door. We’d sing a song she made up, “I wonder how the dust gets in”, because the car was always full of dust from the dirt road we lived on. I remember one day sick from school when she bought me an ice cream. We drove round the neighbourhood talking about nothing in particular. I woke in the car hours later in our driveway, the ice cream melted on my shirt, the sun through the window, Mum sitting beside me reading and waiting for me to wake up. I felt so safe.

By far the greatest gift Mum gave me was a love of reading. As children, we read comics, almost exclusively. Teachers frowned on our knowledge of Superman and Batman, and the woman next door, whose opinion mattered to me, told me she couldn’t believe my mother, an educated woman, would let her children read such rubbish. I remember feeling mortifed when the woman said it but when I told Mum, Mum shrugged and said she didn’t really care what we were reading, so long as we were reading. And she was right. All four of us are avid readers now. And as a writer, I can say with conviction that Superman has every narrative trick you’d ever need to learn.

She maintained her passion for reading and writing, publishing several romance novels under the pseudonym Katherine Sutherland when her children were grown. Her unit in Perth, where she spent her last decade, was crammed with books, both novels and how-to books about writing. I look at those books and wonder if part of her might have wanted a different life, although she never once complained, not in my hearing, not even when she learned that cancer had spread to her bones. It finally felled her, swiftly, with just three days in bed before she died in the early hours of 20 February 2013, months later than even the most generous medical predictions of her end-date.

My writing career is her gift to me. And time is short, no matter what you think.

Rosemary MacColl (nee Lynch) 9 March 1932 - 20 February 2013. Family and friends are invited to join in a Memorial Mass to celebrate the life of Rosemary MacColl at 9.30am on Saturday 9 March 2013 at Mater Dei Church, 16 Philomene Drive, Ashgrove. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Murdoch Hospice in Perth where Rosemary spent her last hours.