Anne Hope Cortis


2 June 1925 — 1 April 2008

Anne was born Anne Hope Balmain on 2nd June 1925, in Sydney, but grew up in Bega in southern NSW.

Her mother Emilie, known to everyone as Topsy, had been a schoolteacher before she was married and had been one of the early Sydney University women graduates. Her father William, or Billy, was a leading businessman in the district. He had two children from an earlier marriage, Don and Margaret, or Myga.

Anne had an older brother John and a younger sister Judy, who is here with us today.

Anne was a Bega girl and growing up in that beautiful corner of the country influenced her in many ways. Her love of simple living, exercise and good fresh food, preferably from her own garden, were the foundations that kept her active and independent right up to the day she went into hospital. She shared her home-made bread generously with family and friends (no bread-making machine used, it was all done by hand). She ignored the margarine and low-fat dairy lobby: it was butter and cheese that went with that delicious bread of hers, nothing else would do, except of course a boiled egg from her own brown hens.

Anne's independent spirit began early. Meals at home in the dining room with Billy and Topsy were silent affairs for children and dominated by adults' talk of local business partners and golf. Anne would misbehave and talk back to her father at the table, to be sent off to the kitchen to finish her meal with the cook, a place where she much preferred to be!

On another occasion, Anne was heading home through a cow paddock when one of the cows charged at her, head down and horns out in front. What to do? Anne grabbed the protruding horns and found herself tossed over the cow's back and hit the ground behind. Her only concern about this event was how to explain her torn dress to her mother without admitting to the truth.

The freedoms of life outdoors suited Anne. She and Judy and their friends would play tennis or ride their scooters to Tathra for the day, no small distance of 10 miles, including the final climb up Evan's Hill. They would swim in the river and go on hikes around the district, staying overnight in local schoolhouses or farm buildings.

At the end of school, Anne gained her Leaving Certificate twice, as Topsy felt that at 16, Anne was too young to leave home for university, so decided that she should repeat her final school year. Anne studied for a Bachelor of Science at Sydney University. Women's College and wartime Sydney soon became home.

Living in Sydney meant that Anne could see much more of her beloved aunt Vi Balmain, always called Tantina, who lived in Mosman. Tantina had never married, instead she trained as a concert pianist in Vienna before returning to Sydney to live and perform. It was Tante's influence that set Anne's musical tastes: Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi. For Anne, there was only classical music.

Graduating after VJ day, Anne remained in Mosman and started work with NSW Forestry — working in a laboratory in the Rocks area of Sydney. Here she and Judy met William (Bill) Cortis, back from the war in Europe, and now also working for the Forestry Department. At the same time, Anne met Herbert Farrimond, or Farry, an ex-Royal Marines officer who was now working with H.C. 'Nugget' Coombes on the reconstruction of the Australian economy.

Anne, Judy and Bill became a close-knit group over the next year. A plan to go together to London and Europe was devised and the three eventually left Sydney by ship for England.

Life in post-war London was hard, hunting for work, managing to survive the food rationing, living in the cheapest accommodation possible. The positives were taking time out to go hiking in Wales and Scotland, and travelling to the Continent: France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

In 1950, Anne and Bill were married in East London. They decided it was time to head back home the following year.

Work was difficult to find in Australia in the fifties. Giles was born in 1952, then Mike and Pete. By the time I was born in 1958, Anne and Bill had built a house in Avalon, a home amongst the gums trees and within sight, sound and smell of the ocean that Anne loved so much. But Bill was no 'company man' and the finances were strained to breaking point many times in those early Avalon years. Finally the chance arrived for Anne, with the youngest in kindergarten, to work in her own right. She found a science teaching job at Narrabeen Girls High School, casual at first and then permanent. She threw herself into the triple workload of mother, teacher and DipEd student, writing assignments late into the night, after all of her other tasks were done.

Life at Avalon was carefree, once Anne settled into her teaching routine. The natural environment was breath-taking; sand and sea, enormous angophora trees, prolific birdlife and of course, the resident koalas in the manna gums surrounding the house. Many of the local people were artists, others had returned from the war and found refuge in the far northern beach suburbs of Sydney. Anne and Bill were known for their hospitality and diverse company, not to mention the famous parties on the hillside above the house, where bonfires, barbeques, wine, music and dancing went on for most of the night.

So it was hard to believe Bill when he came home one evening in the early seventies to say that he'd accepted a job in Canberra and that we should follow him there for the start of the 1973 school year. Canberra?! He persuaded Anne that the new ACT school system was an exciting venture: time to break away from the NSW HSC system and develop challenging curricula and new teaching methods.

His prediction was correct and Anne thrived in the hothouse of the ACT school system over the next decade. She taught chemistry and biology at Watson High, then Weston Creek High, where she was head of the Science Department for many years and also President of the ACT Science Teachers' Association.

At a family level, the 1980s were desperate and heart-wrenching years. Pete increasingly showed signs of mental illness and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His life became a cycle of terrible symptoms, hospitals and medications, followed by periods of calm before the cycle began again. Bill became increasingly ill as well and was diagnosed with cancer in 1985. His condition deteriorated over some months. He was nursed at home by Anne, family and friends and died in December of that year.

Anne retired from teaching in 1987, allowing more time for Pete and relaxing with her music and gardening.

In 1988 Alexei was born in Scotland, her first grandchild. Anne had travelled over to be with Ivan and me and the precious 'bundle' as she called him! While she was there, she made contact with Farry, who lives outside Glasgow. Their affection for each other was still strong and they wrote to each other regularly from then on. Farry had hoped to move to Australia to be with Anne, but it was not to be.

In October 1990, Pete died in a house fire, at a time when he was gaining some degree of control over his illness. This was a terrible blow for everyone, but especially for Anne.

Happiness came again with the birth of her grandaughter Anna in 1991. Her two beloved grandchildren shared so much with her. Anne was always there to cuddle and talk with them, collect them from school, bake them bread and cakes and encourage them in everything that they did.

1991 was also the year where her dream of a cottage overlooking the sea came true. She found a small fisherman's shack for sale at Guerilla Bay and knew straight away that this was her second Avalon. With Mike's help she extended the cottage and from then on, her time was spent gardening and enjoying the beach, the sunshine during the day and the roar of the waves at night. She loved sharing her Guerilla Bay with family and friends: the pleasure had to be spread around. She had returned from one of her Guerilla Bay trips only a few days before going into hospital.

Anne had health problems over the last year or so. Some of her aches and pains she put down to medication side-effects, some to 'getting old'. Her approach was always to get on with things as soon as the symptoms passed. Her determination to remain active, healthy and independent was the strength that carried her through what we now know was advanced liver cancer. In the end, she was spared the months at home that she had seen Bill suffer through. Her heart stopped beating as she slept, early in the morning of 1st April 2008.

Anne gave so much to others that she knew and loved. She leaves an empty space in all of our lives and we will miss her deeply.

« back   |   27 April 2008