Out of the Shadows
The Australian Women's Weekly|April 2020
Hilde Hinton was “the other sister” in the background as her siblings, Connie and Samuel Johnson, raised millions to fight cancer, but now she is stepping out with a heartbreaking novel inspired by the mother her siblings never knew, writes Susan Horsburgh.
Susan Horsburgh

Hilde Hinton spent 20 years trying not to be a writer. She has always loved crafting words but as youth gave way to adulthood, she set her writing dreams aside – there were bills to pay, three boys to raise, and two siblings to support, one of whom was wrestling with cancer for a third of her life. “I chose obligation,” says the 51-year-old.

As Connie and Samuel Johnson rallied the country behind their Love Your Sister campaign, raising $10 million to fight cancer, their big sister was content to remain unseen. “I’m the Oscar [winner] for the best supporting role,” she says. “I was there every time they needed me. I was a mother figure. That’s what they needed and that’s what I wanted to provide because I felt I didn’t have it.”

Crunch time, though, came a few weeks after Connie’s death in 2017, when Hilde was feeling dazed and deflated, a “gaping hole” in her life. After badgering her to write for years, Sam gave Hilde a talking-to one night – and it changed everything. “He actually squared up,” she recalls. “He said, ‘No more hiding behind obligation. The kids are fine – they’re grown up. You’ve got no excuses.’”

So Hilde wrote, in between her shifts as a prison officer, for eight months. The result is The Loudness of Unsaid Things, a heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful book inspired by Hilde’s early years. It’s about a girl whose mother grapples with mental illness and takes her own life – a lost teenager who can’t articulate her anger and confusion in the fallout.

“She’s a girl who had to grow up too early but really grew up too late – she can’t find her people, a whole lot of unsaid things just develop in every relationship,” says Hilde, who lost her mum when she was 12, Connie was four and Sam three.

“In our family, nothing’s unsaid. [But] no-one spoke about my mum’s suicide. I thought it was bizarre. I didn’t bring it up with Dad; I didn’t bring it up with Connie and Sam because I thought, ‘I’m protecting them – they’re so lucky they’re not going to remember her’, so we never spoke of Mum. In my teenage years I couldn’t find anyone to talk to because no-one wanted to talk about that stuff.”

Today, on a steamy late summer morning, we’re talking about it all on the back porch of Hilde’s ramshackle weatherboard home in Melbourne’s north. She calls it her house “for the temporarily defeated” and over the years has taken in all manner of strays; there’s a 22-year-old currently living in the backyard bungalow. He’s a friend of one of her three sons: Austen, 21, Sullivan, 22, and Jonno, 30. The younger two still live at home.

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