Written by Sally Madgwick, Inga Madgwick, Gundega
Zariņš and Ojārs Greste. Read by Sally Madgwick at Dagnija's
funeral on 6 March 2009.
Dagnija loved a good funeral and would love that you are
all here today to honour and pay your respects.
Mum was born on the 4th August, 1942, in Riga, the capital
of the Latvian Republic, which was created at the end of the
First World War, and occupied by the Soviet Union in the Second
World War. To avoid life under communism, Aleksandrs and Olita
left their homeland after Dagnija turned two. The young family
spent 5 years in Germany in various Displaced Persons’ camps
where her brother Kristaps was born, until migrating to Sydney,
Australia, in May, 1949. The early years in Australia were
spent in Bathurst and Greta Migrant Camps before moving to
the family home at 16 Ferntree Rd, Engadine.
Engadine was then a new suburb, surrounded by abundant native
bush trees, flowers and rocky walks along the pipeline to
the Woronora river. Our grandmother, Omi told me that Mum
would gather clay and pigments and mix her own paints from
the backyard bush: there exists one painting still from that
era, a landscape. Dagnija was first and foremost an artist,
her naturally driven talent influenced every facet of her
entire life. She was influential at a young age, and bucked
the system early when she won with her radical design of a
school uniform for the new Heathcote High School. The blouse
was to reflect the bush earth, a taupey cream, that she and
Omi dyed with tea and the skirt colours inspired by her backyards
native reds, browns and greens with a fashionable design for
a skirt that pleated at the front, never before seen in that
context. This uniform would be proudly worn by her sister
Dagnija’s last years of high school included studying life
drawing with Professor Bissietta in the city. It was the beginning
of a pattern of travelling and reading on the train in the
mornings and late at night during her student days, where
she would eventually meet her first husband Rodney Madgwick.
Mum talked fondly of her years in between the obligatory drawing,
painting and essay-writing for Sydney University and East
Sydney Tech, a time of stimulating her intellectual thirst
for films, plays, Spanish music, jazz concerts and a myriad
of exhibition openings. A turning point in her artistic development
was meeting the artist Ian Fairweather during a hitch-hiking
trip to Queensland with her friend Irena Pauliukonis-Sibley.
His dirt-floor workplace in the bush on Bribie Island was
filled with tins of commercial plastic paint and paintings
on masonite sheets. It was not the bohemian studio expected
of an artist. It made her evaluate her four years of diverse
experiences, and lack of focus at art school.
Dagnija’s life as an art student changed over the next ten
years to that of teacher, wife, mother, and community activist.
After a period in Melbourne in the mid-60s she had married
Rodney Madgwick and moved to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
where her daughters Inga and Sally were born in 1968 and 1970,
respectively. After separating from Rodney in 1970 she purchased
12 Dock Rd, Birchgrove, as a single mother during which time
she completed her Diploma of Art Education at Sydney Teachers
college and taught at various schools. Dock Rd, is remembered
fondly by Inga as a "girls house", helped with support
and rent from Mary Page, who would become one of her life
long best friends and Lija, who became Sallys godmother, her
sister Gundega and many days and nights of fun, dressing ups,
excitement, glamour and a fabulous independence of feminine
spirit. Later, working with a challenging group of artists
at the John Ogburn Studio and intellectualising about painting,
gave her a vocabulary about art and seeing.
Mum saw life as one big possibilitiy, believing that reaching
for the stars was important, and like Opi, her father, that
perserverence and belief in something meant not giving up
after the first attempt and that sacrificing for things that
are important was a key to achieving most anything that a
heart or mind was set on.
In working towards a goal mum could enlist and motivate teams
to achieve her aims. With her young daughters and Ojārs Greste
who had by 1973 moved into Dock Rd, they worked, scrimped
and saved in order to travel for a six-month overseas trip
during the late 1970s. This included a road journey West to
East across the USA in a Ford LTD, then on to Paris, London
with Inga and Sally, meeting back up with Ojārs in Spain,
travelling on to Stockholm, Leningrad and Riga, enabling her
to look at paintings with a deeper approach to meaning. Visiting
Latvia at this time and experiencing the repression there,
changed her attitude towards her ethnic background. It contributed
to her re-orientation towards the Latvian community in Sydney
and a commitment to a relationship with Ojārs Greste who shared
this similar background. The remainder of the 70’s, was spent
teaching at Riverside Girls High School, Punchbowl Boys High
School, and working at stage design, book illustration, and
curating art exhibitions.
Dagnija and Ojārs Greste married on 8th November, 1980 here
in this Church. Mum held a fascination with religious iconograophy,
symbolism and all faiths that valued the experience of the
life force. Edgars, their son was born just after her 39th
birthday on the 6th August 1981. The challenge of re-discovering
the Latvian language, through study and teaching it to an
infant son became the motivation behind a new involvement
in various community organisations.
It was to be a ten-year period of intense politicisation
and focusing on the homeland’s struggle for freedom and was
rewarded by a second visit in 1991 to a Latvia on the brink
of independence. The wish to introduce Latvian culture to
a wider public led her to produce the first ever Latvian compact
disc featuring the chamber choir Versija, assisted by Ojārs'
nephew Martins Koskins, organising a national choral concert
tour in Australia and facilitated the involvement of that
group to perform at the Sydney Festival in 1994.
Dagnija believed it was important to encourage alternative
international networking for artists. Her achievements with
her involvement of the Australian Latvian Artist Association
was a number of reciprocal art exhibitions. In 2008, she co-ordinated
the submissions by 15 Australian Latvian artists, including
a landscape of her own from the balcony of her Dock Rd home,
to a permanent collection of Latvian Diaspora art in Valmiera,
Latvia. In August of last year she travelled to the opening
to be present at this key moment of her cultural pursuits.
As Australian culture goes forth into the world, Dagnija’s
vision was that it will advance positions created for it by
its ethnic connections in every corner of the globe. This
vision of hers manifested itself in the book Latvian Artists
in Australia, the production of which she was the driving
force, and which was launched on 27th December, 2008 during
the Australian Latvian Arts Festival in Sydney. (Available
for sale at the wake!).
Mum was fortunate enough to have four grand daughters Tahlija,
Savannah, Jet and Scout who brought her much joy and pride
and will be part of her living legacy. Mum wanted to live
to be 101 and to drive with her girlfriends in a Bentley back
up the road she took with Irena, and to have a studio where
she would paint with Ojārs and share the space. It is only
these two goals that remain unfinished as she passed away
on Monday, 35 years too early.
Dagnija was daring, often accepting that rules were made
to be broken, she dreamed and dared to do things that most
people would not dare to do. This courage she showed as she
faced terminal breast cancer by doing all that she could to
heal. Surgery was not possible with the diffuse nature of
the disease and she underwent both conventional medical therapies
of chemo and radio therapy, alternate therapies and a dramatic
change in lifestyle and diet but the physical effects of the
cancer overcame her.
Mum passed away peacefully at home, conscious in the presence
of her close family.
Written by Baiba Metuzāle-Kangere on the occasion of
Read by Edgars Greste.
Tu teici vasarā, ka zieds visskaistākais
ir mirkli īsu pirms tam jānovīst
Zieds saulei uzsmaidot tik spožā krāšņumā
par veltēm pateicas ko tā tam devusi
Zieds it kā veldzi vēl sev meklēt grasītos
bet mirkļa ilgums tomēr ir saules nosacīts
Un saulei jāseko ir šim, ir visiem ziediem.
Tik krāšņais mirklis tavs lai mūsos paliek vēl
Read by Inga Madgwick
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you awaken in the mornings hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep