Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rosemary Dobson Bolton - A Reminiscence


Rosemary Dobson Bolton was my godmother.  In some respects this is a rather old-fashioned relationship, carrying as it does some religious connotations.  But I think I always thought of her more as a fairy godmother – one who bestows gifts, both material and emotional – rather than playing an overtly religious role in my life.

I don’t remember discussing with either my mother or Rosemary how it was that she became to be my godmother.  I know they lived in a boarding house in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney during the war and that both their sisters were also there for some part of that time.  My parents were married some years before Rosemary and Alec and so their children are several years younger than me and my brother.  For a brief time, we all lived on Sydney’s north shore, and shared some enjoyable family gatherings.  I remember Ruth Dobson, Rosemary’s older sister, visiting on a few occasions during this period, too.

I feel very fortunate that in our later years I got to know Rosemary so well.  This doesn’t always happen in these relationships.  As a child, I lived in different parts of Australia to her and her family, and then they moved to England to live.  I visited and spent some time living out of a suitcase in her daughter’s bedroom for around three months.  I think this was a difficult time for her daughter, but for me it was a gift.  I was living in a home in London, and could come and go as I pleased.

Eventually we all ended up living in Canberra.  It was then that Rosemary, and her husband Alec, and I became firm friends.

I was studying full time, trying to provide for myself in whatever ways I could.  Two things I could do reasonably well were typing – I had my own IBM electric golf ball typewriter – and cooking. 

On an irregular basis, Rosemary would ask me to cook for the family and invited me to eat with them.  I remember once that we were both shocked when the cost of the ingredients for one meal was quite high – and my enthusiasm had to be curtailed.

What I remember most about this time was that I typed the poems for Moscow Trefoil by David Campbell and Rosemary Dobson.  Natalie Staples, David and Rosemary were all interested in the poetry of Osip Mandelstam, and this interest quickly extended to poems by Anna Akhmatova.  Following Natalie’s literal translations, both David and Rosemary took these and made their own versions of the poems in English.  I typed the iterative versions, and eventually a manuscript was prepared.  Moscow Trefoil was published in 1975 by the ANU Press.

Rosemary was a modest, restrained person.  Her poetry has been described as being austere, but I don’t find that quite the right description.  She was gracious and elegant, careful and dignified, and for me, this describes her poetry.  Rosemary was wise, and often gave me good advice.  She was fun, too, and helped me see the importance of simplicity – in all things.  She was always encouraging and positive.

Rosemary provided an excellent role model for me in my relationships with my godchildren – and she was always interested in how they were going.  This was a role we had in common.

I will remember her for so many things and think how fortunate for me it was that in the 1940s, my mother and she happened to live in the same boarding house. 

Meredith Hinchliffe
©  July 11, 2012

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