Conversations with my mother: Anne + Claire Carlin

Nevertheless Journal Issue One Conversations with my Mother Claire Carlin Anne Carlin

Words by Natalie O'Driscoll
Photos by Simone Gorman-Clark

In this series we get a mother and daughter in a room together to interview one another about their beliefs, their relationship, women who inspire them, and what has informed the adult they have become.

Meet Anne (mother) and Claire (daughter) Carlin. Fierce and fabulous women both; feminists, activists, creatives. Women who are completely engaged with their communities. Tough women who have been through the wringer and come out the other side stronger for it.

Here is their abridged conversation.

Claire: We would like to acknowledge that we are on [stolen Aboriginal land]. We acknowledge and we pay our respects to country, to elders and to those who let us live, work and play.

Anne: We would like to talk about the women that have been in our lives, who have helped shape us. From my perspective, I know there are amazing female public figures out there who have great influence. They do galvanize people and they provide support. But for me, those people who have engaged and shaped me most, are the people I personally know.

Claire: Totally. Famous people do have an effect, of course they do. But the women who have shaped me are those women in or around my life. It would be remiss of me not to begin by saying the first one is my Mum. You know, you're a very inspiring woman, what you have done.

Anne: Be careful, I don't want to cry.

Anne + Claire. Image by Simone Gorman-Clark

Claire: We can laugh and we can cry. But you know you've always tried and you've always pushed and you've always been there and you've never just sort of gone ‘I'll just do what's easy’. You worked my whole entire life and that was just not weird to me, but I have friends who are ‘oh, your mum always worked’. It's just not everyone did the things you have done as well, which I think is what makes you special. I remember when we moved to Brisbane and you started, you, you took your first year off of work. I think that year.

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Anne: Yes, I did. But also partly it was because I couldn't get a job. But it was, it was nice to be able to walk you to primary school.

Claire: I learnt my eight times tables on that walk to the beat of our pace. That first job you had at TAFE was helping women get into apprenticeships. You've always been there working at it in one way or another. The cause is strong. And real.

I think that has always been modelled to me and I think modelling is really important. You don’t just talk about what you want to change – you take action. And through that action, you give people opportunities.

Anne: Reminds me of that expression that is used a lot nowadays, “You can't be what you can't see”. I think that's what was important to me. When I am inspired by what people do, I think “I can do that, I can have a crack at that.”

Claire: I think you've always been an activist. I can see that in reflection…

Anne: On the streets protesting, doing signs, that came later, and we have done it together.

Claire: This late-stage activism you are now doing, it’s not easy work. You’re leading people and trying to do the right thing, you’ve seen people do it and you’re like ‘well, why can’t I?’ That’s inspiring.

And I know all my friends, anyone who I know who intersects and interacts with you is moved by you in some way. I often get asked about you from people I haven't seen in ages and that's great. You're a good person. You have an effect on people. I think that's made me; you have clearly made me. There are a lot of people who have shaped me, but I think you are the most important.

I struggle a bit like we all do, with self-worth and feeling confident in being capable about the things I do. But I'm a smart, kind person. And I get that from you.

Anne: Claire you are one of the most intelligent, intellectual people I have ever met. You are very deep. When Claire walks into a room, it is like someone has opened the blinds and let the sun in. You are cheerful, bright. It is a lovely feeling when you come to visit or when I come to you. As you just alluded to is that there is a deeper side to you that you struggle with. Sometimes I think you are excessively kind – I am not quite as kind as you.

I remember when you were considering being a social worker when you left school. I remember thinking ‘that is not the right avenue for Claire, she is too much of a kind caring soul.’

Claire: I remember that conversation. You were nice about it. You said “I don't think this is a good idea, maybe later in your life.” I think about that sometimes, and maybe now I'd be a good social worker coz I could have the maturity to separate from it.

Anne: Let’s talk about mums. Because mums are the most inspiring people we know, right?

My mother had an incredibly underprivileged life. Her mother died in childbirth when she was two. She was the youngest of eight. She and the three younger ones went and lived with their grandma who was old and cranky and didn't have a great life. Mum was made a ward of court when she was about 11, because there were issues of violence between granny and her. By the time she died, I knew quite a lot of that history and I always thought she was just an amazing woman. She's a bit like Claire in a way, she had a really fierce intellect, but had never been educated.

Mum died in a car accident and the year before she died, she decided to go to university. And so she studied. How old were she then? 52, I think. Wow. She was 50. And that was 1979. She'd never written anything, she'd never had any background. She didn't finish high school.

She went to uni and did really well. She did ancient history in English in that first year. That was really exciting and it was just amazing to see how much it meant to her. The next year she was doing one subject and then she was killed in a car accident. It was pretty sad that she didn't get to finish a degree, but it was just wonderful that the last 18 months of her life, she was able to use her intellect and do something. She never, ever believed that she would

Claire: She had a crack at it.

Anne + Claire. Image by Simone Gorman-Clark

Anne: I had this reoccurring fear that if I left my permanent job, if something happened to Steven and I was left alone, I'd end up homeless and sleeping under a bridge.

Claire: It's interesting thinking about what we know now. And especially with the work you're doing at the moment, probably everything you read, like with thinking about specifically in that violence against women and what we are learning is like the most vulnerable group of people are 50 year old women.

Anne: And when women were in a situation where they didn’t work, it did make them very vulnerable. Now, times have changed.

Claire: I can't believe we're still having to deal with this and look at the issues we have. I think, fuck It's this perpetual cycle. When I think about what my generation, my friends are doing now, the little battles we fight, I can reflect back and see, man, you had to quit your job if you got married.

That's ridiculous that in our shared lifetimes, that was still a thing. I think it's our responsibility, our generation need to be doing our bit because the next generation is still gonna be putting up with shit and fighting battles and whatever. I don't think it's ever ends, but your generation paved that road for us. And then we've gotta keep doing it, you know?

Anne: And you will, you will. I've met so many young people, especially since we've been living in the same town. I just think your generation and younger women are absolutely amazing. You know, you're gonna change the world and it's necessary. I was thinking of Greta Thunberg. She was so young and so strong and galvanized. She made a move and we joined that movement. It's critical, the climate movement is, isn't it amazing, like the critical thing that's facing our world today. And you young people, you're gonna kill it. Don't worry.

Claire: It is 100% true and undeniable, but someone like Malala Yousafzai, what a human being, and the greatest intellect. I can see why those Neanderthal men were absolutely, are absolutely fucking terrified of her. Because she is so smart and so independent and has so much free thought and is just incredible. It's like, they should be scared of her

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Anne: And that's why they don't want women educated.

Whether they are Muslim or Christian or, whoever. Doesn't matter. Men hold the power in most parts of the world. And one thing they don't want to do is give that power, particularly to women.

Claire: Absolutely. Girl’s education, and education in general. That's where my focus is, to empower people to make their own choices. It's all about empowerment.

Let’s talk about my Auntie Ruth, which is mom's sister. And you know, for someone who basically just keeps getting dealt with a shit hand, you know, one, after the other things happen, she's a bit bonkers. That's what we love about her.

But you know, she's still a happy, nice person. She could hate the world. She could hate people. She could be a disaster to be around and she's not, she's a joy. And I don't know how she does it. I actually don’t know how some days she gets up and gets out of bed. From the extreme violence she suffered. I think about that sometimes and what would I have done if she died? So I'm so glad she didn't die.

Anne: Something that she actually said is that the reason she fought so hard when she was attacked is that she didn't want to die and not have her body found. And people would never know what happened to her. I've always thought, boy, she fought to stay alive. And that was just the beginning of her or the strength or that particular fight. So yeah. She's the most amazing woman. 

Gee we're lucky we know a lot of amazing women. Most of them are family.

Claire: I know, and I've got a mate sitting in my room, probably listening to us, going God, listen to that pair waffle on. But you know, she's pretty amazing too. I've got amazing friends.

Anne: We're lucky.

Claire: I feel very privileged. And I think this process, I feel privileged to have been asked to do this and how lucky that I get to do it with you, what a joy.

So Nat, you are awesome. Sam Morris is awesome. Chloe Popa is awesome. Amanda Gorman is awesome. Like what about four awesome women starting magazines?

Anne: I know I think it's wonderful. I love the title too. Yeah. Nevertheless.

Claire: Nevertheless, it's a good rebuttal.

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