by June Allen
June Allen’s estranged husband snatched the oldest of their three children in August 1969, while the family was living in Sydney. He left June a note to say he would be back later the same day for the other two children. Terrified of losing the other children and heartbroken at having to leave 7-year-old Philip behind, June raced to the airport in the clothes she, Patti and Rex were wearing and carrying only the blanket 4-year-old Rex was wrapped in. Her father in New Zealand paid for their air tickets and later that day they were back in Auckland.
So begins a heart breaking account of June’s struggle to care for Patti and Rex and after a brief time with her father, to manage alone as a solo-parent, all the while trying to figure out how to get Philip back from Australia. Her book is a stark reminder that today’s social woes – homelessness, dysfunctional families, child poverty and poor mental health – are nothing new. They all existed back then, 50-odd years ago.
However, Allen’s story highlights that then those issues were greatly stigmatised and there was very little aid for a young mother in dire need. There was no tenant protection and it appears to have been far too easy for her family to free themselves of June by committing her to a psychiatric hospital and her children to foster care. Eventually her former husband and his new partner tired of caring for Philip and he was reunited with his mother, Patti and Rex. Without any financial support from the children’s father, the early 1970s were a tough time for Allen and her little family. Life was harsh and they were often cold and hungry, inadequately clothed and resorting to extreme tactics to find somewhere safe to be together. And yet Allen never relented in her determination to create a dignified life for her family.
I’ll Have You Home by Christmas is an unembroidered account of Allen’s hardships. It is bleak and disturbing and sad. Perhaps it will have you wishing you could have been there to help her and there will be rare comic moments that will let you laugh out loud. There may be times when you wish you could have given Allen and/or her family a good shake. Readers who have ever had to deal first hand with any of Allen’s hardship will sympathise with her, while those who have escaped such challenges may find this a somewhat frustrating read, but at the same time, I’ll Have You Home by Christmas is a tribute to Allen’s unwavering courage, resilience, resourcefulness and single-mindedness.
It would be so easy to dismiss I’ll Have You Home by Christmas for its simple, slightly jumbled literary style and no-frills presentation. However, even the luckiest of readers, and I count myself as having had a fairly untroubled life, will surely ask themselves, as I did, How would I have coped in those conditions? so that in the end this book is an acclamation of love and a mother’s survival instinct; of sheer grit and truthfulness.
As difficult as life still is for the under-privileged in 21st-century New Zealand society, I’ll Have You Home by Christmas is proof that some conditions at least have changed for the better.
Writer, freelance proofreader, copy editor, and translator from Italian to English.
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Author: June Allen
Publisher: Kwizzel Publishing
ISBN: ISBN 978 0 473 388522; large print ISBN 978 0 473 396275
RRP: $ $32.00; large print $34.50
Available: McLeod’s Rotorua, selected Paper Plus stores, Wheelers, Unity Books Wellington, All Books, and the Publisher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On Kindle with title ‘I Stole my Children’