Percy Ellesmere Smythe (Perce)

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Born at Winton, Victoria, educated mainly at Jerilderie, Percy showed an early interest in writing and sketching. He left school at the age of twelve and worked at various jobs including on his grandfather's farm, tailoring and with PMG, before enlisting and later training as a gunner in WW1. Percy was rather intense and staid, but shared family qualities of honesty, integrity and kindness. In France he won an MC, which he received from King George V at Buckingham Palace. His religious faith helped to sustain him through the war. In England he met seventeen-year old Dorothy Jewel but her parents would not consent to the marriage. While waiting to return to Australia Percy enrolled at an Art School in London. Dorothy went to Scotland to establish residence for two weeks before they married in Glasgow.

After the war they arrived in Australia to learn that his father had been killed in a road accident. Dorrie had a stillborn baby daughter the following year and had trouble settling in a strange land far from her family. Perce felt an outdoor occupation would be of benefit to him, because of bronchitis, a legacy of the war, so he and Dorrie tried farming in Bowral. After two years of misfortunes — drought and flood — they gave up the farm and Perce became a groundsman at Duntroon Military College, where Betty was born. Perce had always wanted to be a writer and on the advice of one of the College professors he began to study for the Matriculation. As a returned serviceman it was necessary for him to sit for only four subjects and he chose English, French, Latin and Maths. He obtained a scholarship to Sydney University, and there majored with honours in English. While at University he began to question many things he had taken on faith. He was the only member of his family to go to University.

As he was on a war service pension he was not eligible for a Teachers' College Scholarship, so he borrowed money and paid his own way for his Diploma of Education. In the meantime Dorrie and Betty went back to England to visit her family. About this time he began to write Latin translations for the texts set for the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate exams, and published them himself, although he hated studying Latin. He became an English master at Barker College, but as the Depression was worsening he knew he would be the first to be retrenched so resigned at the end of his first year, moved to a house they called "Juniper" at Ramsgate near his mother and took full time work at a private coaching college in the city. This became half and then quarter time work. His small war pension and the income from his books helped. He decided to set up his own coaching college. For the first six weeks he did not even get any enquiries, then the son of Nurse Armstrong, who lived next door, became his first pupil and was soon joined by a friend. While things were slack Percy began to write and publish guides to the study of Shakespeare plays set for schools, and other books as aids to students of English and later French. As the students were generally eager to learn and there were no disciplinary problems he found that coaching was better than school teaching.

About 1934 they acquired a Rugby car and a dog named Bunty who rode on the running board.

When his mother died in 1936, he and Viv were the executors of the will. It was agreed that Ida and Charlie Johnston and their four children could live at KY and pay rent to the rest of the family. Each of the siblings got £5 a year. Viv and Clytie got the picture which Perce had drawn of his brother Bert and this upset Dorrie who felt they should have had it.

Soon after Annie's death he and Dorrie moved to Artarmon. This house was also called "Juniper". They had the luxury of a telephone in 1937 J 4943 later JA 4943.

He had the ambition of being independent of the age pension.

He continued writing books as aids for high school students studying Shakespeare and later French, which became widely used in schools as "crib" books. Several other books were less successful including one on good Australian speech and a fairy story "A Night in Cavernland" which had begun as bedtime stories for Betty, and included bunyips. When it was published he put a copy beside Betty's bed as a surprise.

Always interested in drawing and painting he continued to develop his skills and took art lessons.

Just before the outbreak of the second war, Perce paid for Dorrie's widowed father, her younger brother and sister to come to Australia. Her family had realised that Perce was anything but a "wild irresponsible soldier". In fact he was a rather fastidious, conscientious intellectual kind of person.

Perce asked his brother Viv to repay some money he had borrowed and this caused a serious upset.

During the war the family had a holiday cottage at Paradise Beach, Pittwater and went there as often as possible, only once a month due to rationing. They carried a pushbike on the running board and used it locally. With help from tradesmen to do the frame and the roof Perce and Betty had built it from a Hudson's Readicut in 1941. They were delighted to have occasional visits from koalas and possums, which lived in the nearby trees. When Perce's sister Rita was in need, they provided a home for her and cared for her daughter Dorothy. Dorrie enjoyed entertaining family and friends, played the piano and sang — she was a mezzo-soprano — and enjoyed cooking many interesting and appetising dishes, including elaborate baked "English" Christmas dinner even in century temperatures!

When the holiday cottage was sold in the fifties, Perce thought he should get more exercise and bought some land at Dundas to grow Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum) to cut and sell at the flower market in the appropriate season. He felt that life would seem longer for people who had a lot of experiences to look back on. Perce and Dorrie both enjoyed travelling, a favourite place being Switzerland. When planning a trip to Cairns, Dorrie decided to learn to drive at the age of fifty-five and after much practice finally got up courage to get out of first gear! When Betty came home from a trip to England, she was astounded to see her mother get into the driver's seat of the family Holden, parked at the wharf.

They lived at "Juniper" until 1959 when they moved to Dundas and later to Denistone. Perce was still writing when he died in 1966. A couple of years later Dorrie moved to Mowll Village, Castle Hill. Here she lived at first independently, then after losing both breasts due to cancer, with more and more care until she died in 1984.



As a youngster Betty had always wished she had been a boy and wanted to do boyish things. Her father encouraged her to try anything she enjoyed, including Brownies, Guides, cricket, skiing, woodwork and playing the mandolin. At a time when girls did not, she liked to dress in shorts. When the “Biggles” books were popular she was nicknamed Biggles. She attended the Methodists Ladies College. After doing the Leaving Certificate she went to business college to fill in the year she had to wait before studying Physiotherapy at Sydney University. When women on the road were uncommon she learnt to drive, and was considered a good driver (gave passengers a comfortable ride). Over the years she tried amateur theatre, painting and photography and to do basic electrical work. She practised physiotherapy until illness prevented her from doing strenuous work.

For a while, Betty worked for her father at his college, and tried running a small private library but her health became worse. She got hepatitis and endocarditis (a result of rheumatic fever as a child). When finally she recovered sufficiently to work again, she spent two years as a bookkeeper for a furniture manufacture, before going on an overseas trip in 1955. On her return still being unable to do strenuous work, she taught mathematics at Presbyterian Ladies' College, Pymble, and later set up and ran the audio-visual department in the school library. She had left home and shared accommodation with Nancie, her long-time friend. In her retirement she kept fully occupied with a multitude of activities including woodworking and collaborating with Nancie on a successful craft book and later learnt to use her computer. They lived in a unit at Bowral before moving to a retirement village nearby. In 1999 Betty “launched” her father's journal from WW1, having typed nearly four hundred pages of eighty-year-old handwritten diaries.

Betty passed away in 2016 aged 93.

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