Eric Arthur Robert Smythe

1904-1980
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Born at Jerilderie Eric was said to resemble his aunt and others in Tasmania, i.e. to have a "Brain" nose. As a toddler he drank “Spirit of Salts” (hydrochloric acid) which someone was using as a flux for soldering. The doctor was called but he understood the child would be dead and did not hurry. The acid was already diluted from use, so they gave Eric soapy water to make him sick, which neutralised the acid and further diluted it. Miraculously he survived.

As a little fellow Eric was taken by Ted and stood on the bar of the hotel where the boy sang for pennies which enabled Ted to continue drinking a bit longer.

Eric started school at Jerilderie, then Gladesville and Sandringham. He was at Fort Street Boys High School when his father died. He did many jobs during the following years and during the Depression. He did metal turning for Clyde Engineering, some mechanical work, drove a taxi in Sydney and worked at Rankins Springs and Erigolia.

In Sydney Eric met Ada James, who had been born in England and come to Australia with her family four years earlier, aged seventeen. She had short straight hair and a fringe in the flapper style. She worked in her father’s shop and Eric came in often to buy things he didn’t need, so that he had an excuse to talk to her. They married in March 1927 at Bankstown and lived in various places including an old bus. Although the marriage had serious problems, divorce was unthinkable. Their first child was Gordon but it soon became obvious that he was not developing. In fact he seemed to be loosing the verbal and other skills he had had as a toddler.

During the Depression while Rita and Harold were away, Eric lived at “Billabong” after separating from Ada. He decided to return to Ada who lived near Bankstown but from time to time he turned up at “Billabong” looking for a bed for the night. Eric was very concerned about his son as he felt that Ada was inconsistent in her handling of him. Ada felt that people were quick to criticise but slow to offer any genuine help. Eric was fond of Gordon and thought she should be treated with firmness, patience and love. He was convinced he would become more manageable.

In 1931 Eric went to Erigolia with some furniture, taking three weeks in a spring cart, having left Ada in the care of her family. He stayed for about a week and then decided to return to Sydney with the cart, but he changed his mind and left the gear with Viv and went by train.

Back in Sydney he drove a taxi and a breadcart and was involved in an accident, which resulted in facial injuries and a stay in hospital.

In 1933, Ada and Eric had a second son, Barry. A few years later, Eric and young Gordon were living at KY, sleeping on the back veranda with Bob. As he was on the dole and parted from Ada, he was available to drive Dorrie in Perce’s car, to different places as needed, until his mother died and Perce and Dorrie moved.

After that, Eric was a travelling salesman, coming to the city on a motorbike and sidecar to collect dresses and underclothing which he took around the country districts from his base at Viv's farm. His hands were usually grease-stained from doing his own maintenance. On one occasion he recorked the clutch plate using corks from empty wine bottles from a hotel. He often gave credit to people who needed clothing but had no money, resulting in bad debts.

When his youngest brother died in 1938 he went to the funeral in Cowra on a motorbike. On the way he missed a left-hand turn and went through the fence into a paddock. Although shaken he was able to continue.

Eric was torn between his need to earn a living, his concern for his boys and his inability to get on with Ada. They strongly disagreed about the upbringing of the boys. He was in a dilemma – what could he do?

Back in Sydney he sometimes took his son Barry and his niece Dorothy on outings to Manly or The National Park. He was known for his jokes of which he had a great repertoire. "Do they have to pay you to be good?" "No". "Then you are good-for-nothing."

He had tried to study accountancy but the text books were costly. He did a course in short-story writing most of his writing had a strong social message. It is possible that a story he wrote was published in a magazine (possibly ABC weekly) under Perce's name, as he was already known; a story showing lack of insight into women, as the men gambled with life and death over her affection. One of his sonnets was "Bulli Pass by Night". A hobby was doing cryptic crosswords.

After his divorce he met Margaret (Peggy) Lindors who had come to Australia from Scotland to look for her father. She had not been married before. They met while she was working for a debt-collecting organisation, connected with a bankrupt dude ranch and the Hydro-Majestic. She was "given away" by her employer, a dubious character who wore full morning suit, and they had their wedding reception at Paddington in his house which was full of repossessed paintings etc.

Peggy encouraged Eric to study accountancy in Australia and Scotland. After many years of part-time study, he qualified, continuing with company law and other courses. They had trips to Scotland, once staying for some years. Eric wanted to help his sons so they returned to Australia. He visited Gordon regularly and tried to teach him things. Hoping for improvement, Eric even took him to a meeting of Evangelist faith healer, Billy Graham in 1959, when Vi took Bill.

With maturity Eric believed that he could have worked harder at his first marriage. He contacted Ada and kept in touch with her which gave them both a lot of comfort.

Peggy was a very Christian woman and was supportive of Eric, although she remained homesick for Scotland all her life. Their niece Dorothy boarded with them at Dundas on two occasions in the 50s. About 1960 Eric bought and rebuilt an MG sports car from his nephew, Ken who had taken it apart. Eric had unorthodox views. He thought that people should be able to purchase whatever is produced without having to pay interest. "If the country produces it, the people should be able to buy it." He was developing a strong sense of what he considered social justice.

Eric who had used a lathe on one of his jobs, bought a professional standard lathe for his retirement. He had a stroke and lost the use of one arm but still tried to use the lathe. His nephew, Clyde told Peggy it was too dangerous. Viola stayed with Peggy for a while after Eric died in 1980. They got "Meals on Wheels". At Peggy's funeral two years later a poem was read which Eric had written.

Ada remarried and became widowed. She went into a nursing home and lived to the age of 88 and died in 1992. All her life she felt she had been responsible for Gordon’s problems and died not knowing the truth.

Gordon

Gordon was retarded from about the age of three. He lived at Glenfield Special School for about three years from about 1938. On admission he could not achieve any of the living skills for which he was tested. He was no better on leaving. The family looked for possible causes. Ada felt she could and should look after him. Eric tried to teach his son simple tasks. Finally as a young adult Gordon went into Rydalmere Mental Hospital, which is now his home.

Recently it was discovered that Gordon has PKU (phenylketonuria), a genetic disorder in which an enzyme is defective. There is a build-up of an amino acid which causes severe mental retardation. All babies are now routinely tested. If a suitable diet (basically vegetarian) is followed by those affected, they develop normally and other proteins may be tolerated after some years.

Barry

Barry was brought up by his mother in the Cabramatta area. He inherited his father's appearance, mannerisms and his particular sense of humour. He left school early, finding maths particularly incomprehensible and had sixteen jobs in six months before joining the army. He served in Japan and Korea in the signal corp. in the early 1950s. He married Janis Curral in 1956 and had four children, Brian who died as an infant, adopted Irene and Linda and later Gary. He became a meat inspector and found it necessary to understand regulations to deal with prosecutions in his work, so studied law, and became a Prosecuting Officer. As it was necessary to understand maths, he put his mind to it. The marriage did not last and he lived again for a while with his mother who was beginning to suffer from Alzheimer's Disease. In 1991 he had a bad fall, a heart attack and a staph infection resulting in a long stay in hospital. In 1994 he married Beverley Serhon and they lived in Wallerawang, NSW until Barry passed away in 2012.

 

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