#AceHistoryReport – Apr.27: I fell in love with a gal called Avice. A.V.I.C.E. I think her name comes from a beautiful Dutch singing bird. Have you heard of it?
‘Tears for treasured Radio Melbourne listener Avice Marsh, whose song will play on and it all started at beginning of the lockdown, after she called through to the Afternoon show in Melbourne to request a song’
updated 15m ago
“Hello darling, can you play You Are My Sunshine?”
I can still hear her voice from that day and that beautifully peculiar way of saying sunshine with that laugh. Her very Avice way of laughing.
It was immediate love. For us all.
There was something about her. Her voice, perhaps? The way it reminded us of elders that we loved? Her warmth? That she was 99, soon to turn 100, and she wanted us to play her a song? Maybe all of it.
“Hello darling, will you play Somewhere Over The Rainbow?” I’m turning 100 in November. Did you know? Will you come to my party?”
But we were in the middle of the pandemic at that stage and knew that it would be unlikely for her to ever have that party — so we made a promise that in whatever way we could, this strange radio family would celebrate her birthday.
“I’ve laughed & cried with you & sing along to over the rainbow every time you play it for Avice. – w”
And we kept that promise. And she kept her end of the bargain too.
“Dear Avice, I made sure that I was sitting by myself to listen to your special birthday. I find myself sitting in the middle of my plant nursery tears, rolling down my cheeks. You have been my Vera Lynn during this pandemic. Thank you for your joy and gentle thoughts during a time of stress in our lives. Happy Birthday, Avice. Jenny from Baxter. X”
My radio family
Falling in love with Avice has made me wonder about the ways that we love and the nature of radio.
Each day on the radio, we speak to each other as close friends might. We share secrets. We argue. We get annoyed at my use of grammar and the way I say particular words.
We tell our funniest stories. We start to wonder about the lives of regular texters and callers and miss them when they are absent for a time. And, through it all, we make a family of sorts.
I’m careful to talk about it this way — to overstate the relationship that we have with each other, to describe it with the importance of family. But I’m also determined to recognise it for how it is important.
When people ask me what my experience of making a radio show on the ABC is, I now say, ‘It’s bloody profound’.
“I love you, Avice!! I’m so moved. Riley from Parkville”
So, that gal called Avice was an angel during a pandemic when we needed her, and that’s how we’ll all remember her.
It feels strange to say that we loved Avice — we only knew her in her 100th year.
But Avice became so important to us, so treasured by us, that we loved not only what we knew of her in those small snatches of time but also who she was and how she made us feel.
‘”I can’t go back to work, just want to dwell in the kindness and warmth — and Avice, our dearest soul. Thank you again. Lots of love from Clunes. Barb xx”
I am in love with how she showed us that the world could be tender and simple. That she was able to connect us to that. That she reminded us.
The love is for Avice but also for our love of Avice — how we are a community when we love her, that she made us feel connected at a time of great disconnection.
“Hi, Jacinta. There are tears of joy here in Karamay City, Xinjiang Province, Far North West China. We love you, and we love Avice. You’ve brought sunshine into our bleak snowy day. Xie Xie! Royce from Xinjiang. rom Xinji”
A life lived
Avice, from Traralgon, was born in Rosedale, 180-odd kilometres east of Melbourne, at 5:00pm on November 19, 1920. She was delivered at home in a little room off the kitchen and christened by Reverend Mitchell on a dinner table.
She told me when she was born that she was “as small as a bag of sugar”.
She moved to Melbourne when she was just 12 years old and started working many, many jobs, including the Havelock cigarette factory, where she dealt with cigarette papers.
She met her husband when she was 24 and playing the banjo at a banjo club. They married soon after. When I asked her how she came to find herself with a banjo in a banjo club, she seemed confused by the question.
“Because it was fun, darling.”
She eventually returned to Rosedale and bought the house that she was born in from her brother. She had two daughters, a source of enormous pride.
When I heard she was unwell and declining quickly, I really wanted to see her. I wanted to tell her that we loved her and to pay respect to that time together on behalf of us all.
I asked my boss if I could go to her and do the afternoon show on the road.
“Of course,” she said. “Go and see about a girl.”
So, I started making preparations. I’d drive to Sale and sleepover, visit Avice in the morning and then do the show from ABC Sale that afternoon. Perfect.
Except it wasn’t.
She was declining rapidly, and her family needed to be with her. It was too late. They would pass on that we loved her. They would let us know if anything changed.
And then I cried and cried. And cried.
A grand love
I’ve tried to understand why I have been so heartbroken this week, when I heard that she was unwell, to try and pick apart just how I could be feeling so deeply for a woman who I have known only through this world of ours.
She was 100 when she died. It was her time to go. But it doesn’t change that we cry. And why we cry.
The tears are about the love. We cry because we have loved. We cry for the utter beauty of it all. It breaks our heart only because it was grand enough to do so. She is worth crying for.
Avice died on Sunday.
I want her family to know that she had this life with us on radio where she was a star, where she won the hearts of an entire state, where she helped us at a time when we really needed her.
That we loved her, in the wild way that a radio family might, and will always remember her this way.
Her name comes from a Dutch bird. It’s a beautiful singing bird. Have you heard of it?
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