At the recent funeral service for Anna Buck, husband Robert and daughters Sophie and Ngaio read the following eulogy, which Anna wrote herself in true Annagram style.
ANNA was born at Christmas Common in Oxfordshire, England in 1948, the third child of Thomas Maxfield and Dorothy Porter.
Bluebells were blooming in the beech woods of the Chiltern Hills on that April morning, and Tom’s sister took Bridget and Jon, Anna’s sister and brother, out to pick armfuls while the home birth took place. Her mother always told her she was born with bright blue eyes wide open, looking around at everything.
Her parents gave their children – seven in all, eventually; Bridget, Jon, Anna, Mark, Daniele, Barney and Ben – an idyllic childhood in a succession of derelict mansions and farm labourers cottages, with the focus on the natural world around them and the beauty of life – love, laughter, art, books, music poetry and drama. It shielded them from the lack of money for a large family on a teacher’s wage, and the shortage of housing in the wake of World War 11.
She and her siblings were free to wander country lanes, leafy woods and chalky hills, discovering flowers, butterflies, edible nuts and berries and courting couples who thought themselves hidden from view.
It was during this time that her love of wild flowers and small creatures developed; she knew the pleasure of breathing deeply the scent of cowslips, the bright blue of cornflowers and scabious in the barley fields; the orange and black of cinnabar moths, and the Chalk Hill Blues – tiny butterflies that seemed to be pieces of the sky.
This idyllic childhood masked the fact that the family always had to move on, ultimately to the school house in the Oxfordshire village of Kirtlington. With her father headmaster, her parents thought that their housing problem was over. Tom ran a youth club for the village’s teenagers, to the dismay of the older villagers who regarded them as yobbos. Some used to linger in the kitchen of the School House after meetings, chatting and laughing with Tom and Dot. Too young to join the Youth Club, Anna attracted the attention of one by tying his shoelaces together so that he fell over when he stood up. Some years later, Robert (Bob) became her husband.
Instead of having secure housing, the School house was sold out from under them. Rather than live in two council houses – the offer made to them – they decided to emigrate to Australia. A Jehova’s Witness came to the door while Anna’s mother was packing up to move and told her “There’s a Council House for everyone in Heaven, Mrs Porter”; to which her mother replied “If heaven’s made up of Council houses, I don’t want to go there.”
The family boarded the Castel Felice at Southampton Docks on a grey November day; there were three ships in the Sitmar Line – The Fair Sea, the Fair Sky, and the Castel Felice, otherwise known as The Fair Cow. It was crewed by handsome Italian sailors, so Anna, aged fourteen, had a very good time. She sold her childhood dolls and toys to make money for the voyage; but by the time the family reached Australia, everyone was broke. If the food on the ship hadn’t been included in the ten pound fare, they’d all have been a lot thinner.
Landing in Sydney just before Christmas, they experienced life in a hut on Bradfield park, with impoverished Australians waiting for a Commission home. Their first Christmas in Australia was marked by heat, rain, flies, no presents, and the amazing friendship of an Aboriginal family who took her parents under their wing.
“I took one look at your Mum and all them kids and said She needs our help’,Auntie Rae Stuart told Anna years later.
Anna’s great sorrow was that she left England just before the Beatles hit the charts – she regarded herself as the first Beatle fan in Australia, and annoyed her schoolmates at Chatswood High by singing their songs, instead of the Surfing songs that the other girls sang along to.
Tom found himself forking out for a stamp for an air mail letter to George Harrison, wishing him a happy 21st birthday.
Two years later the family found themselves on an Aboriginal Reserve on the North Coast, with her father as teacher/manager and her mother as matron.
During their time there, Anna’s first child, Tamsin, was born.
She was raised by Anna’s parents, who moved to Rocky Hall, while Anna went to Sydney and worked in the Repatriation Department as a clerk – a job she hated. In the evenings she attended Forbes Street Art School at East Sydney Technical College, but found that part-time tuition was not what she wanted.
When Tom wrote that he had sponsored Robert (Bob) Buck to come to Australia, Anna and her brother Jon went to meet him at the airport, and spent an entertaining afternoon watching him attempting to dive over the waves rather than under them on Coogee beach.
Bob found a very different person from the little girl who had tied his shoelaces together; after a few short weeks they decided to get married. Their plan had been to slip into a registry office and announce it after the event; but Bob did the old-fashioned thing, and asked Tom for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Dot suggested they get married at Rocky Hall, in the hall. Anna won a sweep at work, and with the $10.00 bought a piece of lace from which she sewed her wedding dress. A Rocky Hall neighbour sewed the bridesmaids’ dresses; The people of that end of the Towamba Valley all came, bearing gifts, home-made cakes, jellies and sandwiches;
Tom and Dot’s friends who ran the Wyndham Pub donated champagne, and her Grandfather gave her away while her father played the wedding march on the piano.
It was the beginning of a marriage that lasted fifty-one years, with children Ngaio, Damian, Joel and Sophie being raised ultimately in a big old house in Wyndham. Anna would hear noises of little lost children, trying to find the right door in a house of many doors – it had once been the top half of an Inn. She and Bob were happy that their children were experiencing a country childhood, with the extended family of Tom and Dot just up the road; her children were having the same sort of childhood that she had enjoyed herself.
During this time Anna created a range of craft designs that she sold to Better Homes and Gardens; she also ran a market stall from which she sold freshly baked bread (she rose at three am to bake it), jams, and calico dolls and animals.
She met Anna Glover, Editor of the Bega District News at one of these markets, and the two became friends. They began writing articles for the paper under the banner Annagrams, ‘to give people something to read other than Council reports’. Anna Glover dropped out after a while but Anna Buck continued entertaining the folk of the Bega Valley for the next 40 years. She won the AC Sommerlad Award for best article in a country newspaper two years in a row; the second judge was Richard Glover.
She wrote about all the things she loved; her home, her children, her parents, animals wild and domesticated, and, above all, her beloved Moth – the Man of the House.
She also worked as a journalist, and won awards for feature writing; she travelled the Bega Valley for the tourist newspaper in a series of unreliable cars, breaking down on remote roads, crossing creeks and once, when a tyre burst on a dirt road, going for a short flight down an embankment.
She became a member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, and rediscovered her love of poetry. She won many awards for short story writing and poetry. She went on to be shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize four times, and to be included in Best Australian Poems (edited by Les Murray and the Dorothy Porter) four times. She corresponded with both for many years.
Anna took part in a drama workshop for unemployed youth, and wrote a play Dragons Dance for them to perform. She later rewrote this as a children’s story, which was published by Scholastic and nominated for a Children’s Book Council Award.
She put together three volumes of Annagrams, the first of which outsold David Attenborough’s Walking with Dinosaurs at Candelo Books.
She edited numerous anthologies for the writers, and conducted many workshops for them. She once said she was the most successful unsuccessful writer she knew.
During the Wyndham years Anna and Bob bought land at Rocky Hall, and began a mud brick and alternative lifestyle that would last throughout their lives.
While they moved houses from Wyndham to Pambula to Candelo and finally to Bega, weekends were punctuated by filling the car with dogs, dog hair, food, wine and the Saturday papers and heading inland. Whenever they bumped over New Buildings Bridge, they felt they were leaving the modern behind and returning to older times and older ways.
During these years Anna never lost her love of creating, crafting, and making art; she took up leadlighting, and many old homes in the Valley were made more beautiful by her work.
After a year of cancer treatment in 2006, during which she continued to produce a weekly article, so that few even knew she had been ill, she returned to her first love, art. She attended TAFE and gained distinctions in drawing and painting. She made lifelong friends through the class. She was never particularly interested in selling her work, or even exhibiting it, other than in her own home. The joy was in doing it; if anyone wanted her paintings, they could have them. Despite that, her work was exhibited throughout the Valley and in Canberra.
Although she learned to use a computer, Anna never came to grips with Information Technology and mobile phones. She preferred a letter in the letter box to email, a chat on a landline rather than Facebook. Reality TV left her cold, and the gradual whittling away of the National Broadcaster, newspapers and services in the country were a constant source of sorrow. Like the song, she preferred her world the way it used to be.
Nevertheless, she loved television, and could often be heard arguing with it, particularly when newsreaders used dodgy grammar or when politicians were being interviewed.
She regarded herself as supremely lucky to have been brought up in a loving family, and to have married and made another with Bob.
She loved her Bega home, looking out to Mumbulla Mountain over the wetlands. She felt there was no better place to be.
Her only sorrow during the last weeks of her life was that she had to leave this beautiful place, and her beloved family, particularly Bob, the love of her life.
Mind you, he found himself besieged with advice on how to look after the animals and the house; no doubt she is still trying to organise him from beyond the grave.
Anna loved giving gifts, matching those she loved with something that would give them pleasure. She did not realise that she had given the greatest gift of all, herself, to those around her.
She ended her life as she began it; keenly interested and appreciative of all things beautiful, and in adding to that beauty herself.