This is the life story of my Grandmother, Fay Coleman

By Ronan Hughes

Born on February 19, 1947, birth name Fay Janet Doolan, she was the first Ash Wednesday born in the hospital for that year. Her birth parents were Muriel Ileen Anderson, changed to Muriel Ileen Hammond after she was adopted and Patrick Eric Doolan, whom, thanks to later DNA tests, would be revealed to not actually be of the Doolan family. 

 When she was born, she was the youngest of three children, having an older brother and sister, and by the age of 6 she was the middle child, having a younger brother and sister as well. Her mother was a loving and kind woman, a doting mother, but her father was a different story, a somewhat violent man who treated both his wife and children with contempt and would often mistreat them. In 1953, they moved from their home in Brisbane to Hemmant, which was the same year that their father left their mother, who they wouldn’t hear about or from for 30 years, only learning about him in 1983 when they were called to be informed that he had passed away in palliative care at a nursing in barely a few hours from where they had spent most of their lives. 

Shortly after moving, her mother remarried, to a man who was even worse than their birth father. He would beat his wife and children, and on occasions fabricated scenarios in attempt to have the younger children put into homes and foster care. One such scenario that she remembered clearly was when he came home drunk and attempted to beat their mother. Her, along with her older siblings, attempted to stop him by force, and in retaliation he called the police, claiming that they had attacked him and that Fay, young enough to be put into care, had tried to attack him with a pair of scissors. During this time, her mother had a further five children with her stepfather, resulting in a total of nine siblings, most of those younger. Thanks to the long hours both parents worked, and the longer hours her stepfather would spend away from home for various reasons, much of the daily child-minding fell to the five older Doolan siblings including her, each taking care of one of the younger siblings. 

During this time, she was also attending school along with her siblings, and would later come to find out that her family had Aboriginal heritage. Her mother, Muriel, was born on country in in an Aboriginal campsite in Charleville in 1918, but when her mother and grandmother moved to Brisbane she and her sister were put into a home, where they were brought up to be domestic servants, where it was believed they would receive a better life than what their mother could offer them. It was due to their and her treatment during this time that she refused to reveal their heritage to Fay and her siblings, believing it would keep them from being abused and bullied at school, not to mention that she was afraid aboriginal heritage would make her children a target of protective services and more likely to be rehomed if anything happened, as this was something that, at the time, happened all too often and there are countless cases of it. In spite of all this, she persevered and raised all 10 of her children virtually alone with almost no help from the government or her spouse, and aimed to give them all the best lives possible. 

In school, Fay reached grade eight before deciding to quit, instead starting to work to help support her growing family. She originally wanted to become a schoolteacher, as she enjoyed schooling and learning but this was to be unrealized. Her first job was with Dixie Chickens at age 14, where she dealt with sexing and killing young chickens. Amazingly, her work ethic, skill and quick learning saw that she quickly rose in the ranks of the business as well as standing out in the eyes of her employers, well enough that by age 16 she was asked if she wanted to go over to New Zealand to work in one of their large hatcheries. However, she felt obligated to stay close to her family and more importantly her own mother, so she declined, to stay close to them and to ensure she’d be able to help them out in the way that they needed. She continued in that profession until the age of 17 and a half, when she moved on to KR Darling Downs. 

Here, she met her future husband, Gary Coleman, from whom she’d take the surname Coleman. While they became quick friends, however played the gentleman and refrained from going out or dating until Fay was 19 years old, but from there they feel quickly in love and were summarily married two years later in 1968. A year later she had her first child, a daughter, Lisa, and had two more children by the 1973. By the birth of their fourth child, they’d managed to purchase a house in Hemmant, which had originally been planned to be purchased for Fay’s older sister. But after examining the property, her sister decided it wasn’t up to her standards. Fay however jumped at the chance to own a home for her family and purchased it herself for the princely sum of $8,000, with a loan rate of 17 percent, with a total weekly wage of merely $60. 

With so many children to look after, she’d often spend most of her time as a stay-at-home mother, and often found herself having to take care of multiple snakes. Lisa would often throughout tomato seeds to start growing plants, and this would often result in the snakes moving in thanks to the new foliage. Most of these would often end up being shot trying to get in through the front door. 

A few years later in 1984, she began working in the RSL for a few months until the catering business that employed her shut down, but for those few short months it would often result in Lisa having to look after the other siblings due to both Fay and her husband working on Saturday’s. Eight months later, she found part-time employment at the local Snackbar, where she worked part-time for a further 10 years, but eventually sold the snackbar, which resulted in Fay leaving due to new management. From there, she moved to the Hemmant Hotel, where she worked for 5 years in the kitchens until an accident at work, which resulted in her almost snapping one of her legs. Thankfully, the hotel was kind enough to offer her a position looking after and watering the plants around the hotel, until her retirement at the age of 50. Five years later, her husband passed away, and moved once more in 2002, now to a home in Hemmant, to be closer to her family and grandchildren. By 2009 she had moved once more to Macleay Island, which was the first time in her life that she’d lived in a newly built home instead of purchasing one that had already been on the market. However, she only lived on the island for a mere three years until a want to be closer to her family pushed her to move back onto the mainland, living with Lisa for several months while her new home was built, and in March 2013 she moved into her current home in a lifestyle village in Brisbane. 

During that time, her family continued to grow, and by the time she finally moved back to the mainland for the last time, her family had grown to 19 biological grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, who often visit and spend time with her, thanks to living relatively close to her once more, one of the real reasons she decided to move back to Brisbane, and one of the best decisions she had ever decided to make, but she still hopes to travel and see more of the country one day, to make up for time she lost.