Posted by: Debra Kolkka | November 28, 2018

Sitting with my aunt

While I was in Italy one of my favourite people had health issues. My lovely Aunty Shirley has been in hospital for seven weeks. She is my father’s sister and has known me longer than just about anyone on the planet.

When I was born I lived a few houses away from my aunt. I was an early walker and talker and each morning I would leave home and walk to her house where I would spend the day with her and my grandfather who lived there too. I loved standing at the huge window in the living room from where I thought I could see the whole world. My earliest memories are from that house. My grandfather, father and uncle built the house and the one we lived in as well.

Aunty Shirley likes a chat and I have been delighted to hear about her early life. I didn’t know my grandmother, Dorothy known as Dolly. She died before I was born.  By all accounts she was a gentle, kind soul loved by everyone who knew her. She came from England with her family as a young girl and she met my grandfather who arrived in Australia from Finland in 1912. According to my aunt there was never a cross word between them. I wish I had known her.

Wedding of Matti and Dolly

Grandfather built a house for his family on 5 acres of land in Manly, Brisbane. He planted fruit trees and vegetables and they had a road side stall. He also worked in the area as a builder, a job both of his sons would take on, and later my brother.

Grandfather's stall

During  WWII he should have been interned as an enemy alien, but his boss spoke up for him and as building was considered an essential industry he was allowed to stay at home. However, someone came to his house and took away his atlas and a lantern.

The farm was sold and my grandparents bought a cafe on the waterfront in Manly where they served fish and chips, steak and chips and milkshakes to the sailing enthusiasts. After the war when petrol rationing finished people started going to the Gold Coast.(before it was called that) The sailing crowds diminished and they sold the cafe. It is still there and is now a great seafood restaurant.

My mother worked there sometimes when she was a young teenager and that is how she met my father. I particularly love to hear tales of my father’s youth. He excelled at sport, especially running and could sing and play the piano by ear. (Traits I did not inherit) Aunty Shirley remembers him being sent off for lessons, but he soon continued by himself after just a few.  Today is his birthday. He would have been 92.

I am happy to say that my aunt is on the mend and will soon be going home to join her husband.

It has been a delight and a privilege to spend this time with Aunty Shirley. The hospital is not far from my home and I have spent most afternoons with her. I will continue with visits to her home, but this time has been special.



  1. Good photos

    • Thank you. They are very old.

      • yes i have some from same period

  2. This is great family story dear Debra, I can almost imagine the days.. What an amazing connection Finland, Australia and Italy, this is another great story. I loved to learn more about you and your family. Seems that I would love your aunt too, I wish her to get well soon and have a nice days with her. Don’t forget to tell my greetings and my best wishes, Thank you, Love, nia

    • Everyone loves Aunty Shirley, just like her Mum.

      • to be loved by everyone is so beautiful. There is a great soul behind this. Blessing and Happiness, Thank you for sharing with us dear Debra, Love, nia

  3. Thank you for sharing some of your family history and the happy ending love Rob

    • Aunty Shirley will be 86 in a couple of weeks. I hope she has many more birthdays.

  4. Lots of people seem to have been able to play piano by ear. My grandmother could too – she just memorised it

    • I had another aunt who played piano beautifully. I loved to listen to her.

  5. Debra
    What a delightful story. How lovely to have a much loved Aunt in your life.
    Thank you for your story.
    PS It was great to meet you last week at the art event in Bulimba after following your blog for many years.

    • It was great to meet you too. I don’t often write personal things but Aunty Shirley is special.

  6. What a beautiful story and you’ve told it well Deb –

    • Thank you. I am happy to be home at this time.

  7. I love reading your story about the Kolkka Family! What a lovely wedding photo. Would you know any of the other people in the wedding party, Debra? I bet they have their individual life stories worth telling, too. I remember well your Aunty Shirley. She is a special lady with a beautiful face.

    Am intrigued to read that Grandfather Kolkka had a farm before owning a fish and chip ship in Manly. Such a hard-working family making good of their life in a new country.

    Also great to read about your Dad learning music. I used to watch him play the organ always with a smile on his face, and wondered how he learnt music. Your story today helped fill in the missing gaps in family history. Will look forward to reading more family stories from you, Deb. xx

    • I don’t know who the others are in the photo, but I can no doubt find out.
      Dad loved to play the organ almost as much as he loved to play golf.

  8. I know your Aunty Shirley was very important in your life and i think you are very fortunate to have had that close time with her and she is also lucky to be so loved and remembered. I too had precious, kind and loving Aunts but i moved to Australia on the cusp of becoming adult and didn’t ever get close time with them again. I also love the image of you sturdily trotting off each day to the home where Aunty Shirley gave you love.

    • Apparently I was quite knock kneed and I was so accustomed to walking down the steep driveway of our house and up the steep driveway of Aunty Shirley’s house that I wasn’t all that great on flat ground.

  9. A simple story from the heart about your family. Cheers to Aunt Shirley’s recovery and to you for being there for her.

    • It is lucky for me that I am home from Italy for a while.

  10. I love the story about your Aunty Shirley. Wonderful photos to go with the memories… I’m happy she’s on the mend…

    • We are all delighted she is getting much better.

  11. That’s very sweet!!!

    • She is a lovely aunt.

  12. A delightful story. Thank you for sharing, Deb. And I wish your aunt a speedy recovery.

    • She should be home in time for her 86th birthday.

  13. Good to hear that auntie Shirley is slowly recovering. Wonderful that you have had those special hours with her.

    • I have enjoyed my afternoons with her immensely.

  14. This post made cry – tears of joy. We all miss Dad so much. It is wonderful to to hear about his life. Aunty Shirley is a delight. Thank you for being with her.

    • Aunty Shirley is special and hearing about Dad, Grandfather and the Grandmother we never knew has been great.

  15. Wishing your aunt good health as she recovers. I also had a favourite aunt and miss her very much. Treasure every moment with yours. 😘

    • I do treasure her. She has a lovely family to go home to. She is much loved.

  16. What a special person to have in your life! Hope she is well on the road to recovery.

    • She should be going home soon.

  17. Hi Deb….Fabulous story….All this time I didn’t know you had a bit of Brit in you!!! All that teasing I endured when we were young uns!! Which cafe at Manly was theirs? Jxx

    • They owned what is now the fish cafe on the corner of the esplanade and the main street of Manly.

      • Ah yes!! I know it well… what an interesting family and so good to have such a great relationship with Auntie Shirley…. So glad to hear she has recovered well and you have had this precious time together …. so important as they and we age!!! Jxx

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  19. I so enjoyed reading this story and am very happy to hear that your aunt is doing so much better. I loved the old photo of the fruit and vegetable stand. It looks like everyone is dressed for church instead of for selling produce.

    • Yes, my grandfather has a tie on and my grandmother a pretty hat. My aunt has told me since I posted this that it was not their regular stall. My grandfather built a lovely white pergola style building to sell their produce. When she gets home she will look for it.

      • I thought it was so special. 🙂

  20. What amazing memories and I love the faded photos too. Life really was so different back then. I loved that they were never cross with one another.

    • I recall my grandfather as a quiet, dignified, gentle man and I loved being with him when I was little.

  21. Thank you, Debra, for sharing that with us. – Arja and Heli

    • Aunty Shirley is home now and feeling much better.

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