Thanks for booze boot camp Mum, you always knew how to be prepared

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Thanks for booze boot camp Mum, you always knew how to be prepared

By Kate Halfpenny

My brother and I were mucking around in the kitchen at our parents’ place the other day when Mum came in with a Mother’s Day request.

“I’d like you to come to lunch with a list of things you’re going to say at my funeral. Things I taught you. Four will do.”

When it comes to being prepared, my mum is ready to push the boundaries.

When it comes to being prepared, my mum is ready to push the boundaries. Credit: SarapulSar38

She was insistent. Said that at 85, she might be rocking up to her last Mother’s Day. While we were together for that, she wanted to hear our thoughts on her.

Helene wasn’t seeking editorial approval. She loves the bit at funerals where people share how the departed impacted lives or was memorable but feels it’s a waste the person isn’t there to hear it.

Before she choofs off, she wants to know what her kids learnt from her mothering. What her legacy will be.

So, my beloved tiny powerhouse mama, here’s my list. A bit early but I know you can’t read my awful handwriting so hopefully this will do.

Helene and Kate Halfpenny: “My daughter and I do not look like sisters.”

Helene and Kate Halfpenny: “My daughter and I do not look like sisters.”

Per your instructions, it can’t include everything you taught me. Like, that Jif cleans anything. How to make Christmas pudding. That a belt lifts an outfit. That women wither without a career, change is a worthy adventure and “barramundi” in restaurants probably isn’t.

OK, the big four.


One: Don’t take any shit. Ma, you are a famous firecracker. Riled by condescension and mansplaining. I love it when waiters think your age means you’re off with the fairies and you call them on false flattery (“my daughter and I do not look like sisters”.)

When you and Dad built conference facilities at our isolated Tassie hotel motel in the mid-1970s it was a big investment. Needed a solid return.


A national insurance firm made a booking. The first night, one fella propositioned you in the dining room. Shortly after, the whole group was back on the coach, exiled into the empty coastal darkness. The lesson: self-respect is priceless.

Two: Be prepared. Remember when I was an 18-year-old newspaper cadet living at home? Mum, we’d get back from work around the same time. You’d plonk down your bag, and pour me a couple of fingers of neat Scotch.

You’d heard journos loved getting on the sauce and wanted me to learn to hold my liquor. You literally ran a booze boot camp. So ace! Even if it didn’t work.

Three: Be generous. Ma, you grew up in a tough time. Your dad’s war experiences changed him, tingeing your home life with violence. You’d carry your siblings up the road at night to safety. Maybe it was that early responsibility that made you find accepting kindness difficult.


Even now, it’s very hard to do something nice for you. Offering to take you to the doctor involves Kofi Annan-level negotiations. But you’re a total gun at showering other people with love. Birthday cakes and scratchies for friends. Always down on the floor with my kids when they were little, playing, laughing.

Last week you decided the road workers outside your house needed morning tea. You made chocolate eclairs — chocolate eclairs! — and dropped them off. Then were beyond surprised when the workers reciprocated with flowers.

Four: Deportment. Anyone else remember when Miss Australia was on telly in the ’70s? Yeah, evening gowns, crowns, a different age. Mum, you were fixated on contestants’ posture.

“She won’t win, walks like a wharfie.” “Her shoulders are back, head is up, I like her.” Anachronistic now, but it taught me to keep my head up, literally and emotionally, and to walk with a bit of panache. Like you mean business. Like you run the show. It always gave me confidence.

You taught me more about parenting than any book, show, research. Some of it was valuable because it showed me how I didn’t want to raise my own kids. How I wanted to break generational cycles.

That doesn’t mean I don’t honour the way you raised me. Because we all know being a mother is about evolving. Reflecting. You did so much that was fabulous, Helene. Still do. Thank you.

Kate Halfpenny is the founder of Bad Mother Media.

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