Rae Webb; Auntie Rae
 
Here is the Eulogy I gave at Rae’s funeral on Friday the 20th of Jan, 2011.
On the day I spoke from notes so what is here and what you heard if you were at the funeral may differ slightly.
 
The Family
 
To gather information for today I went to the greatest living authority on the Hetherington family of Kingston: my 94 y/o mother Edna. “It is” she said “a distinction I would rather not have” but since she was having quite a good day we were able to have a helpful conversation. 
She and Rae were very close and when I told her last Tuesday of Rae’s death her face registered a profound sense of shock and real loss. Gone was the last contact with her home family and gone was someone she had shared confidences with for the past eighty-five or so years. Dementia meant she was unprepared for Rae’s death but the event itself will never be forgotten.
 
Arthur Charles and Elsie Maud Hetherington had nine children. Rae was the second last. They were a very close family with devoted parents and strong sibling loyalty. All eleven people at some stage of family life lived in that small house in Kingston and Rae and Edna shared a bed she tells me, but that only marginally helps explain the accommodation logistics. Somehow nine children fitted into two bedrooms. The children lived together; worked together and played together-if you add in the parents, after all, they are a cricket team. Edna tells me that Rae was her parent’s favourite, especially her father’s. As she told me yesterday of Rae sitting on her father’s knee whilst he sang to her, Edna’s tired, lined old face softened: even dementia would never drive away the Hetherington family confederacy and closeness. 
 
They were a very happy family despite having very little. This forced independence from money and the necessity of making the best of what was available produced nine children in whom the virtues of thrift, sharing and unselfishness were an integral part of life, not something you learnt or practised some of the time. Right to the ends of their often long lives all the Hetheringtons found poor citizenship perplexing. For someone like Rae, or my mother, work had dignity, common tasks had dignity, a clean house was not just a clean house it was a statement of intent to live well. The Hetheringtons were one of the poorest families in Kingston but they were nevertheless an institution: decent, principled people upon whom you could always rely. What an extraordinary achievement on the part of their parents and how lucky we cousins were, or are, to have had the example.
 
 
 
 
There is one thing I can not imagine Rae coping well with. During the Depression nothing was thrown away in the Hetherington household- indeed there were so many of them they could have started their own op shop. Recycling was practised in Kingston well before it became fashionable in South Yarra and clothes were recycled. I can not imagine my always-immaculate, fashionably-dressed Auntie wearing hand-me-down clothes.
 
The Auntie
 
One of my earliest memories of Auntie Rae is my mother saying “Auntie Rae” NOT “Auntie Rachel”, and so Rae was very early in my life placed in a box labelled ‘most serious auntie of them all’.  One did not take liberties with Auntie Rae. She had the Hetherington mantra of high standards in whatever you did and was quite capable of reminding wayward nephews in which direction lay the path to virtue. Of course it was balanced with the family sense of humour but not ever at the expense of propriety. I quickly recognised that here was indeed a chip off the old block and one who was likely to be as pedantic about doing the right thing as my mother. Holidays with the Webbs would not be a holiday from doing the right thing.
 
I think I can see us preparing for an outing in either the Hudson or the Oldsmobile. I was very young and down for a city stay probably in Empress Anenue.  First the car: immaculately black and spotless inside. Harry would bring it around to the front of the house. Rae, immaculate of course, would inspect the children including nephews. We would all have recent memories of bony figures delving into ears at last night’s bath searching for any signs of dirt which we might have missed. Poor behaviour was not an option as we packed into the car and went off to wherever it was we were going. The preparation was as important as the journey and the destination: that was the Hetherington way.
 
My mother would say “I have a clean house but it’s not as clean as Rae’s”. Rae’s house was the family yardstick for cleanliness and efficiency and I heard that from at least two other Aunts, both of whom had spotless houses.  And if I incline my ear and listen carefully now, can I still hear the Venetians being cleaned at six AM in the morning?
 
Rae had the Hetherington sense of humour which I saw fade only once and that was when on the move to the St Kilda shop, on a forty degree summer day, much of the furniture had to be lifted through a first-story window because it would not go up the stairs. Most of the Webb possessions were on display to an interested St Kilda public which quickly gathered to watch. She needed her sense of humour in that shop as she dealt with people whom her upright, country upbringing would not have really prepared her for. I was always made welcome during school holidays and seemed to do pretty well for treats in return for a minimal amount of work. 
 
The Webb’s move to Niddrie saw us country people visiting this house standing out on its own in the middle of nowhere, paradoxically far more isolated than ours in its small country town. Roads were unmade, indeed non-existent in winter and my exasperated father would ask when we had arrived after fifteen minutes of bumping over water-filled craters and navigating by instinct rather than road signs; “don’t you people pay rates”. Just like our place in the real country it had a pan toilet with weekly visits from the night cart. I felt very at home at Ida Street. There were even fish in the creek at the bottom of the hill. 
 
Much later I found myself in the Army and for about a year on and off working at Maribyrnong, just around the corner from Niddrie. Rae and Harry kindly let me stay at Niddrie since all the Webb children had left home. I had most weekends off and Rae and Harry used to take some pleasure in asking me if we had decided to call the war off for the weekend break. I finally learned to reply that we waged war only during office hours.
Rae loyally watched ‘In Melbourne Tonight’ every night and Graeme Kennedy was a special favourite. We always had a cup of tea at 9-30 PM. I was careful even at the age of 21 not to leave mess anywhere. 
Whilst on the subject of the Army, I turned 21 in 1967 whilst in Recruit Training. On my birthday the mail arrived during a drill lesson on a windy hillside and amongst the cards was one from Auntie Rae and Uncle Hal.
 
And then quite a long time elapsed before I began to see Rae and Harry again regularly and that was when Harry became housebound due to illness. I would go over to them of an evening and sometimes be able to give Rae a break for a few hours. Rae, loyal, loving wife was so proud of Harry and when others might have complained about the burden of looking after someone who was terminally ill, would remark on Harry’s fortitude and rejoice and smile with him if he added a few extra steps to his daily walk from the incinerator to the back door.  On those visits we also always had a cup of tea at 9-30 PM.
 
Rae very generously came up to stay a number of times with my mother at her Retirement Village. Edna is a self-contained woman and whilst Rae never complained she did say once or twice as I drove her home to Melbourne: “your mother likes her own way” or “we seemed to have Ryvita biscuits quite a lot”. I was very grateful to Rae for coming up and staying with mother as there was only so much that I could do for Edna during the tumult of a working life. Rae’s visits provided a real break for Edna too. Now that Edna has been diagnosed with Dementia it is not too hard to see the illness was developing for many years, so Rae’s later visits would have been quite problematic.
Rae’s friendship and sibling love mattered greatly to Edna and Rae’s death will leave an irreparable gap in my mother’s life.
 
I shall miss Rae and I mourn for her with the rest of the family. I was very proud to have her as my Auntie.
 
Thank you.
 
JRT.
Jan 2011