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NINE NANNAS BY JAKE TERREY

PHOTOGRAPHER: JAKE TERREY (From a distance)
ART DIRECTION: STEPHANIE HUXLEY

Here are nine healthy Nannas. To these women, this period of time has been tough. To break up the bad news we thought to pay them a (distanced) visit, and drag Jake along too.

Valma, 92, North Shore. Nan to Ali, Founder & Director, Electric Collective PR

How would you describe your grandmother? Tough, bold, fearless, filled with attitude and spark. She’s brave and a bit crazy, she loves her family and friends and is fiercely proud. What is her best personality trait? Making sure, no matter what age I am, what I’m wearing or the season, that I am always wearing a singlet. She is also lion hearted with her generosity and has a secret wild streak that reeks of crazy. How would you describe her sense of humour? Incredibly sharp and cheeky, not at all PC and loves to spell out an inappropriate word thinking it softens the blow a little (“well… she is a real b.i.t.c.h.”) What is she known for in your family? Vegemite sandwiches, plates of them cut into triangles, no crusts, wrapped in multiple layers of cling film and alfoil and held together with elastic bands. Chocolate crackles and Anzac biscuits, hot cross buns with an inch of butter, ginger beer and lemonade. These plates of food go to every picnic, event, smuggled into movies, or are ready for us when we arrive. She used to have a cornetto for me and a lemonade ice block for my brother every time we visited (a source of great contention for who was the favourite!) and she used to cook a mean roast when she was able to. She’s also known for the fake plastic snakes she has on her balcony to scare away the birds she doesn’t like (yes, she’s been seen to launch these through the air at the unfortunate bird that gets too close) while the birds she DOES like gets bowls of honey and seeds. We’ve counted the number of times she’ll say on a phone call “well, I’ll let you go then” and continue on a new story… no one knows what the highest score but it’s definitely double figures. 

What role does she play in your life? I have spoken to my Nanna weekly (where possible) my entire life. Sometimes daily, but it’s rare a week will go past without us chatting on the phone even though these days it’s a bit more repetitive with memory not her strong point. She would look after me when I was little and mum went back to work, I would stay the night just to hang out as a teenager and when I worked close by, we would watch Sale of the Century together and she would give me over cooked steak with strawberries sprinkled in sugar. In the mornings, hand squeezed orange juice. I’ve sent her postcards from all around the world and she has NEVER missed sending me a strange birthday card – we share the same birthday so she can’t forget that! She’s been through so much in her life, had so many things snatched away from her and looked life square in the face with her head held high and powered on. She has taught me resilience and strength, but also softness and generosity. She has influenced me in so many ways, I catch myself doing things and know they’re from her. I’m so thankful for that. I’m so lucky to have that relationship with her. How often would you usually see her? Not enough with my hectic life. Every month to three months face to face, though over the phone 4-5 times a week (and we still send each other letters). Has that changed since COVID-19 If so how and how do you keep in contact? The first time we saw each other in about 3 months was only recently, and Luna Wolf (my seven-year-old daughter) and I had a distanced cup of tea over the front balcony. Nanna was furious we wouldn’t come inside, she’s furious she has to wear a ’stupid mask’ and that shopping is much more difficult for her now. We stay in contact the same way we have for decades, weekly phone calls, post cards and letters. How did she respond to the changes and has it affected her overall demeanour? She’s angry, but I think that’s because she feels unease and uncertainty. She doesn’t have access to information like a younger generation. She’s never owned a computer, and she trusts what she knows. The same ABC news channel she has watched at the same time each day for decades. She is frustrated she can’t shop for the things she would normally get, at the time she would normally get it. But she’s not let that get in the way of her life, and still (with a ’stupid mask’ on) goes for walks up the block, to the letter box, to the post office and goes where she can. What are you looking forward to once restrictions are eased? I can be sanitised and conscious of hygiene, but my kids are still grubs. I’m looking forward to seeing my 2-year-old and 7-year-old hug her without feeling fear.

Helen first had her red nails appiled on the 15th October, 1978. She has had them ever since. 

Helen, 94, Caringbah. (Great) Nan to Alana, Beauty Therapist

How would you describe your grandmother? The most stylish 94 year old you will ever see! Nan is always dolled up in heels with a matching handbag, has a tonne of hairspray in her hair, blue eyeshadow, red acrylic nails and pearl earrings! I can actually count on one hand how many times I have seen her in her “casual” wear upon a surprise arrival from myself. What is her best personality trait? The only word that comes to mind is independent. At 94 years old she still takes herself down to the shops, cooks for herself and even cleans her own villa (yep, she lives alone!) Her stubbornness does come out every now and then when us GREAT grandchildren, grandchildren and children try to help. How would you describe her sense of humour? Nan has old fashioned wit, loves a good chuckle and the occasional inappropriate joke that shouldn’t be shared at the dinner table. What is she known for in your family? Nan is known for her overly generous nature; she is always trying to sneak a $50 note under the table. I remember growing up, every Christmas Day my siblings and I would look forward to Nans giant bag of gifts each, it looked like Toys-R-Us had opened up a store in our lounge room! Whether it be money, gifts or love, she is the most generous, loving and giving person I know. What role does she play in your life? Our Great Grandmother is the matriarch of our family and an inspiration for the three generations following her footsteps. She is always there with chocolate and a listening ear whenever anyone needs. How often would you usually see her? Once a week! (That’s if I catch her before her 4pm bed time). Has that changed since COVID-19 If so how and how do you keep in contact? Absolutely, since COVID-19 the family have kept their distances, we have had a few chats from the garage and top of the drive and a weekly phone call catch up! She will often joke about how busy she, that she would have to fit me in her schedule. How did she respond to the changes and has it affected her overall demeanour? When the news hit, Nan went into stress out mode! Her freedom was taken away from her and she wasn’t even sure why at the time. As Nan lives on her own, it becomes very lonely, Nan has shed a few tears and looks forward to seeing the postman that drives by once a day just to see another human. Nan is craving interaction and cannot wait to go down to her local supermarket to say hi to all the workers she has become friends with. What are you looking forward to once restrictions are eased? Once the restrictions have been lifted, we have already planned a BIG family lunch with all 17 of us to celebrate her 95th birthday! She has requested lobster mornay, oysters and an espresso martini!  

This is Di, Helen's neighbour, who, like all good grandmothers, popped over to check in on the commotion and ensure we were taking good care of Helen and not making her do anything she didn't feel comfortable with.

Caterina, 72, Maroubra. Nonna to Zach 10, Student (wants to work at EB Games) and Alexandra, 18, Student (works at KidStuff)

How would you describe your grandmother? She is loud, over the top and full of energy! What is her best personality trait? She is the Most welcoming person ever and her front door is literally  always open !! The Family joke is we call her house oxford street! Every one loves her and pops in to visit. So many times we go over for dinner and there is some random from Italy joining us. How would you describe her sense of humour? Outrageous. She calls my dad a dicky head with a thick Italian accent What is she known for in your family? Her cooking, cooking a feast to feed an army even though there are only 6 of us there! And saying, “mangia mangia”. What role does she play in your life? She plays a central role in tying the family together and organising events all the time. She spoils us and would do absolutely anything for us. How often would you usually see her? Every day Has that changed since COVID-19 If so how and how do you keep in contact? Yes unfortunately we didn’t see her at all for the first month then we would pop by 1 x week! Nonna and Nonno were the first people to come over when we could have 2 visitors! How did she respond to the changes and has it affected her overall demeanour? She was very sad. She seemed down and was bored. She didn’t even want to cook. She missed all the visitors and called every day checking to see if we were eating, lol. What are you looking forward to once restrictions are eased? Going back to school and going to nonna’s after school every day! Her cooking big feasts for all my cousins and I. 

Margaret, 88, Cronulla. Grandmother to Rachel, Photographer

How would you describe your grandmother? Strong, smart, caring, loving, reliable, consistent, always there. Faithful, determined , independent. What is her best personality trait? All of the above. How would you describe her sense of humour? Very sharp! Nothing gets passed her. Can be self deprecating, mimics people perfectly and tells a great story. What is she known for in your family? Always being there. Having a spotless house. Can settle any baby put in her arms. What role does she play in your life? She is someone I go to when I need respite, to vent, to feel calm and cared for. How often would you usually see her ? A couple of times a week. Has that changed since COVID-19 If so how and how do you keep in contact? I didn’t show up to her house unless it was to deliver something, the kids never went in the house, I called her or would try find a reason to visit with ‘essentials’. There was about 3 weeks or so where I hadn’t seen her at all. That felt like a lifetime. How did she respond to the changes and has it affected her overall demeanour? She has stayed her usual steady self, she cleaned so much the vacuum literally had no dirt to pick up so I guess cleaning and gardening were her coping mechanisms and gave her a sense of purpose in the days. Maybe she felt it more than she showed because she instantly cried the first time we embraced. What are you looking forward to once restrictions are eased? Showing up to her house unannounced with 3 kids in tow and sitting in her sunny room. 

Robyn, 76, Vaucluse. Grandmother to Leo (4), Mum to Gabriel

How would you describe your grandmother? Witty with a bubbly personality. What is her best personality trait? She’s always positive How would you describe her sense of humour? She’s very funny. Being a mother of three boys, she’s always quick witted. What is she known for in your family? Her shabbat dinners and her microwave chicken. Except if you’re Leo whose favourite thing is when she plays the violin. What role does she play in your life? A very important role. She is the first one that I ask when I need advice! How often would you usually see her? At least twice a week. Has that changed since COVID-19 If so how and how do you keep in contact? We are seeing her through the window or in her garden. We are definitely keeping distance. How did she respond to the changes and has it affected her overall demeanour? She had to learn how to teach online (zoom), which was a big challenge for her (she is a violin teacher). What are you looking forward to once restrictions are eased? Going for a weekend away with her.. maybe in a nice farm house. 

Agata, 83, Casula. Nonna to Danni, Fashion Editor 

How would you describe your grandmother? I would describe her as one of those Italian women that peeps out their home to see what the neighbour is up to. And then gives the next visitor a full play by play in the most endearing way. Like every wog Nonna from the movies (think looking for Alibrandi). Otherwise… Strong and resilient beyond words. Nonna is patient, loving, wise, fiercely loyal, extremely kind, selfless and the epitome of a true nurturer. What is her best personality trait? Nonna is very loveable! Not only does she have the ability to love unconditionally but you can’t help but love her in return. How would you describe her sense of humour? The Cartisano’s have been known to have a very warped sense of humour and Nonna is no exception. She finds the strangest things funny and cracks jokes that catch us all of guard. Definitely quirky. What is she known for in your family? She will with out a doubt start a conversation with “Allowww, Denni… It’saa Nonna” even though her name comes up when she calls. She is an incredible cook! Not fancy but very delicious southern Italian dishes. Her ricotta polpette, pasta with red sauce. and melanzane (eggplant) are a few of my favourites. She is also known for her love of Bold and the Beautiful and growing up it was Murder She Wrote- one of the only 3 shows we were ever allowed to watch on TV (Xena Warrior Princess was another but that was Nonno Felice’s pick!). What role does she play in your life? She is MY Nonna. I don’t actually know how to put it into words and am currently teary. All I know for sure is that my heart aches at the idea of not having her around. She is my confidant, biggest fan, mentor, friend and everything in between. I love her beyond words. How often would you usually see her? As often as I can. I do my best to go and see Nonna once a week but sometimes this of course is a hard thing to do when working 7 days. If I don’t see, her we definitely speak. Has that changed since COVID-19 If so how and how do you keep in contact? I didn’t see Nonna for around 7 weeks to begin with, but I couldn’t cope. I actually cried to my Mum one day and ended up going to Nonna’s and talking to her through the door. Facetime is great but it isn’t the same as being face to face. I ended up volunteering to go and do Nonna’s groceries instead of Mum just so I could drop them to her to see her. The first time I saw her in 7 weeks Nonna even invited me inside. It felt strange to be a guest in what has always felt like my own home purely cause you just don’t know what the right thing to do is and of course because you would never want to inflict any sort of sickness on someone you love so much. Crazy times! How did she respond to the changes and has it affected her overall demeanour? She was very scared at first so took every necessary precaution. But I think the hardest thing is that Nonna lives alone so is feeling very lonely. All our family make an effort to visit her as often as we can and share a meal, a tea or a hug and it really is the highlight of her days. With these visits change to regular facetime calls she often mentioned how much she misses all of us and that is so hard to hear. What are you looking forward to once restrictions are eased? I am really looking forward to having a family lunch at Nonna’s with my cousins and Uncle and Aunties but mainly with the brand-new great-grandchild that we are patiently waiting on! Less than two weeks to go! There is nothing better than laughing and reminiscing about old times and eating so much that we all find our spots around the house for our food coma nap- this has happened ever since I can remember! But mainly, I really can’t wait to hug my Nonna again. So tight! Nothing compares! 

Ružarka, 79, Glenfield. Baba to Claudia, Stylist and Fashion Writer

How would you describe your grandmother? Selfless beyond belief and the centre of our big Croatian family – her superpower is making every one of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren feel like they’re the favourite. What is her best personality trait? Optimism. Baba Ruža sees the joy in everything. Her recipe for happiness is simple: a delicious meal + family all together + children playing + everyone in clean, ironed clothes. She’s also very trustworthy. Years ago, I reversed her car into a fence and it left some bad scratches… Dido still doesn’t know it was me. How would you describe her sense of humour? Light, cheeky, witty. Anything her great-grandchildren are learning or saying at the moment is particularly hilarious. What is she known for in your family? Baba is known for feeding. You will never leave her house without a full meal, black coffee and freshly made cake to take home. On the day of this shoot, photographer Jake Terrey left with a loaf of baba’s famous ‘pinca’, a sweet Easter bread. She’s also known for her rose garden, her very successful veggie patch, mending all our clothes, her gold jewellery collection and keeping on top of Croatian community news. What role does she play in your life? I just want to make my Baba happy and proud. And I hope to be more like her as a woman (and mother one day). Nurturing, kind, elegant, warm, excellent at negotiating, joyful… she’s everything. How often would you usually see her? Every fortnight or so and at family events: birthdays, christenings, Easter or just Sunday lunch. Has that changed since COVID-19 If so how and how do you keep in contact? It had been months since I’d seen her so on Easter we FaceTimed (a new skill for Baba)… but only after she had watched the Croatian church live stream. How did she respond to the changes and has it affected her overall demeanour? When COVID-19 started to become really scary, I called to check in. Baba responded with “If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go”. Despite this, she has been taking it seriously, making her own masks out of the scrap fabric in her sewing room. What are you looking forward to once restrictions are eased? A delicious meal + family all together + children playing + everyone in clean, ironed clothes. 

Judy, 79, Cronulla. Nanna to Karla, stylist and Co-founder, SIDE-NOTE

How would you describe your grandmother? One of a kind. She’s a little whacky, she buys lots of mail order things and then makes everyone in the family provide feedback on how fantastic they are. Her favourite things to buy are: bathmat sets with cats or dolphins, hand-held contraptions like mini sewing machines, steamers, de-linter’s, automated soap pumpers, wall mountable air deodorisers / sprayers. I mean I get a lot of stuff delivered, but this morning I opened the front door and the driver said “It’s for your nanna”, so I actually suspect she’s ordering a lot more than we know. She also loves buying mens flannelette and Hawaiian shirts from Lowes (for herself). She’s very good at PA-ing. Reminding you not to forget things, leaving notes of things for you to take home, putting things in multiple plastic bags, receiving packages, calling when you’ve got mail, letting you know when you’re ‘running low’ on tooth paste, toilet paper or dog food, calling when you’ve driven off forgetting to take something, saving Stellar magazine for me to read and labelling it with a sticker that says KARLA. What is her best personality trait ? She likes gossiping about people in the family and casually slipping in bits of information that she knows would be of interest to you and or make you annoyed. Ie – new boyfriends and “lady friends” of the cousins, or, when Georga (my sister) doesn’t come home, or when someone dropped the ball and forgot something off her shopping list. More importantly, she’s tough as nails. She’s from Tamworth so she describes herself as a ‘bushy’. She’s very stoic. She’s excellent at taking care of you when you’re sick, ie me. She’s travelled and lived all over the world with four children so while she is reluctant to leave the house or break routine these days, you can ultimately take her anywhere, and there she will be with her handbag clenched under her armpit and mouthful of mentos waiting to be picked up. How would you describe her sense of humour? It’s quite dirty I would say. When faxing was a thing, Uncle Mario used to send her dirty jokes that she would recite to everyone in the family. Her sense of humour is therefore often inappropriate. But she’s also in this phase of turning most things into a joke, and when you’re not really following, she’ll say “Can’t I make a joke?”, so it’s best if you do just laugh at everything, always. She also likes the boys in the family better, even when you do nail the present giving (like the one time I bought her pink plastic flamingos for the garden and they ended up in a vase in the living room), there’s nothing really the boys do wrong. What is she known for in your family? Famous one liners, that she uses regardless of the information you’ve told her, “Oh well what can you do”, “We will survive”, “No big deal” and a sharp “I beg your pardon” when you’ve asked her to do something differently and she takes it personally. Then the free gifts, because the more she orders from Windsor Mail, the more they send her, and the further along she is in the never ending line to receive the $20,000 jackpot grand prize. One time Tom got to order from the catalogue; he chose a multi coloured lighting system for the toilet bowl. She’s also known for her takeaway containers. She keeps everything and the takeaway containers are a real issue because the entire bottom shelf in her walk-in pantry is just takeaway containers. She also 9 times out of 10 won’t like the presents you buy her, and she will put them away and unashamedly re gift them to someone else in the family next year. What role does she play in your life? She is a very involved Nanna. She was very in my childhood, we’d go on family holidays with her and my grandfather, we’d have weekly dinners and every Christmas, easter and family member birthday together. We’d go to Miranda Fair together. She was and is very good at house-holding, so her house is the centre of the family and she runs a tight routine-driven ship. I moved into her house in year 12 and then while I was at university and when I moved back from New York. And here we are again, all together. Tom and I moved in, in October last year with our two dogs. This morning she woke me up by sneaking into the bedroom through an interconnecting bathroom with “I’m not waking you up I am just collecting the glasses, but I am glad you’re awake do the dogs want to go out, I’ve shut all the gates on the side as the boys are here working on the pool and they know to only use the other side of the house, oh look here you’ve got some washing I’ll take that, oh listen Tom mentioned you were cooking TACKOS tonight are you sure you want to, I’ve got beef and vegetable soup if you change your mind, Nicole loves my beef and vegetable soup, and let me tell you she’s not the only one”. She’s a very involved Nanna. I don’t know what I would do without her. I also don’t know who everyone else in the family would have to talk about. How often would you usually see her? Every day Has that changed since COVID-19 If so how and how do you keep in contact? It did at the beginning because I was still working and I was quite concerned that I would bring something into the house, and that I would ultimately kill her, so after realising that buying a ventilator just in case was beyond my capacity, we moved out for a month. But as restrictions have eased, and after having isolated at mums place, we have moved back in. She did one video call with everyone in the early days, but wasn’t very impressed by the whole thing, I just don’t think she’s the type of person that likes to talk much on any sort of device. How did she respond to the changes and has it affected her overall demeanour? She took it very personally and was very offended. I think she thought we were trying to trick her. Initially she suggested that she was happy to not go to IGA, but she would absolutely still need to go to the pharmacy, green grocer and post office, and it’s okay if no one would drive her, she would walk. Even my Uncle, who ordinarily has the most sway, had little luck convincing her that this was serious and we were not singling her out. It was only after she spoke to Aunty Erin who told her that her family was leaving groceries in the garage, that she began to understand that it wasn’t just her family trying to ruin her week, other families were doing it too. Mum and her siblings have started letting her go back to IGA, (which I am against), but it definitely provides a morale boost for a few days and I understand that it provides her with a sense of freedom and or control that protection can’t. What are you looking forward to once restrictions are eased? Family dinners – all cousins etc over at the one time. Our family is large and I think that when everyone is together Nanna is happy to take a back seat and relax a little. Nanna stresses a lot.