Lesley Hewitt

Sibling abuse is a common form of family violence, but one that is still not widely recognized. It can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. Sometimes all three. Not recognizing this abuse means that the impact on victims is not acknowledged or dealt with.

In My Father’s Suitcase, Mary Garden, a freelance journalist living in Castlemaine, has written a warts and all story of growing up in a dysfunctional family in New Zealand during the 1950s and 60s, and shines a light on this unacknowledged form of family violence.

Her powerful account of her toxic relationship with her sister Anna is difficult to read as she reveals the physical and emotional abuse that Anna inflicted on her.

The Gardens are a high achieving family. Oscar Garden, the patriarch was a pioneer aviator. Mary and her sister Anna both have a PhD and are published authors. But behind the surface is complex intergenerational trauma. Mary Garden’s honest and deeply personal memoir uncovers this complex intergenerational trauma and how the many family secrets, mental health issues and family violence have impacted on her relationship with her sister Anna, a relationship,  that starts in sibling rivalry (something that most of us with siblings will have experienced in some form or other) but goes way beyond that, to sibling abuse.

Garden  acknowledges the shame and guilt she felt, her attempts to help her sister as Anna’s mental health issues became more acute, her anger at the failure of New Zealand’s mental health services, and her own sense of betrayal and anger towards Anna and other family members when Anna published a book mirroring Mary’s own book about their father. But ultimately the book is about resilience and how Mary dealt with the emotional impact of these family experiences on her own life. It’s an honest and searing account of a toxic family environment, and one which left me thinking about why Mary was able to emerge as a survivor. It’s also a book that encourages the reader to reflect on their own relationships within their family. Sibling relationships are the longest-lasting relationships in our lives and as such have a profound impact on who we are.

Mary Garden was a guest in Hepburn Radio’s Second Thursday Book Review. A podcast of the interview is available on the Hepburn Radio Soundcloud.

My Father’s Suitcase is available at Paradise Books, Daylesford.

Lesley Hewitt is a Daylesford resident who does The Second Thursday Book Review on Hepburn Radio.