Aunty Edna was my great aunt. She was born in 1918 to my migrant great grandparents Joe Balich of Croatian decent and Ethel Cullimore of Irish decent. Edna was their third daughter. My grandfather John, was the only boy and the youngest. He started a vineyard in 1912 in west Auckland which he named Golden Sunset, after the wonderful sunsets he observed as he planted his vines. Edna and my other aunt Josie, were the workers in the family whereas my grandfather and my eldest great aunt fell victim to the spoils of the fruits of the land and become alcoholics. Unfortunately, my grandfather being the only boy was left this vineyard by my great-grandfather in 1947. I believe had Josie and Edna been in charge it would still be in the family today.
Aunty Edna was married young and was stunning in her youth. She won Miss Auckland in 1939 and was runner up Miss New Zealand. She possibly would have won that title too except that when she was a young girl she had lost her fourth finger on her left hand whilst chopping firewood. I have a cousin that made a short film, ‘A Taste of Place’ in the year 2000. In that documentary Aunty Edna talks about growing up Croatian in New Zealand and she proudly shows off her sashes.
Aunty Edna was a dear aunt and confidante to my mother. They were very close especially after the death of Aunty Edna’s husband in 1995. Thursday was their shopping day. Mum would collect Aunty Edna as she never learnt to drive. They both shared a love of books and always went to Whitcoulls in Henderson for a weekly buy up. Aunty Edna’s house was a clutter of books. She also had the compassion to understand my mother’s occasional bouts of mental illness, was never judgmental and would be a calming influence on mum if she thought she was going off the rails. There was a special bond between them that only true friendship and mutual respect brings.
Aunty Edna made sure that I was left her mother’s engagement ring. She died in November 2009 aged 91. She had a living daughter of her own and two sons. She wanted the ring to remain with a female that had Balich bloodlines and that was me, whom she always affectionately called “Lovie”. Aunty Edna’s headstone states, “a wise and spiritual lady.” I put this ring on every morning and am reminded of my roots and why I must keep writing about my family history, having her wisdom to write from my heart and the spirit to keep going.