Chapter 15 INFECTIOUS PATIENT 1950
At the Intermediate Certificate, Bill had won a Coal Board Scholarship for fourth and fifth years and went to Sydney Technical High School to do two mathematics, chemistry and physics. Dad thought he should go for an apprenticeship and become a tradesman as he and his brothers had done. This was common for boys who did not choose to go to university or teacher's college.
We were living close enough for Bill to come to visit, riding his bike.
There were suggestions about a reconciliation between Mum and Dad and a meeting organised by the elders but Dad had nothing to do with it and would not hear of it. I knew nothing about it at the time. Mum was still clinging to the hope that Dad would come back, maybe as an influence on me, but I had no such thought, he was not part of my life. Uncle Viv said it was Dad's responsibility to contribute to my education. No way. From Bill I knew he did not have a steady job and income. I should have got a job in the bank as he had said. Why did I want to stay so long at school?
Beverlee was thoroughly enjoying the life and work at University, she found the world a capital place and saw no point in retreating from it. We saw each other only occasionally, but when we were together she still tried to help me overcome my daydreaming and insomnia. "You should try to think of something peaceful, like floating down a river."
When I tried floating down rivers I ended up escaping from rapids, bravely rescuing a child who had fallen in, or alternatively being rescued by an important person who decided to adopt me as in "Daddy Longlegs" by Jean Webster.
At the end of the year Beverlee found that she had given more time to the social life than she could afford, and she did not pass.
For a while she got various jobs including a junior Laboratory assistant, until her parents moved to Queensland, going back to cattle farming. Beverlee went with them and apart from letters, we had no contact for many years. She wrote to me "Dear S.D.S.K." (Spotty Dotty Skinny Kinny) enthusiastically adopting the idea from my cousin David at Ramsgate a few years earlier.
Mum did a little baby-sitting for one of the doctors she had met at St George Hospital. In January 1950 I had a job working for the doctor and his family at their rented holiday house at Blackheath, where I did my best to keep the little ones occupied especially in the early morning so that the parents could sleep in. With my earnings I bought a pair of golf shoes (comfortable walking shoes) and a pair of aqua slacks in preparation for bushwalking with Dad and Bill. I had been given a diary in which I briefly recorded events and expenses for the year. Having a record proved handy and was the beginning of my diary-keeping career.
Later in the month Dad took us down the sandstone cliffs from Govett's Leap, Blackheath to Blue Gum Forest in the Blue Mountains where we camped. During the weekend Bill found it very tiring and was quiet and lacked enthusiasm. I noticed that Dad was critical of him. Bill had a really awkward and heavy rolled up tent to carry, I had only my own clothes, a blanket, my camera and a few bits. Dad carried the food, mainly tinned and dried food. I was used to Mum being more patient, encouraging and sympathetic. My main reaction was that I had never seen anything more enchanting than that forest of straight tall blue-grey tree trunks in the half-light of early morning. It was especially delightful as the various parties camped there began to stir from their tents which were scattered among the trees, and lit their fires, so that the smoke began to drift up to the tree tops far overhead. I loved the Grand Canyon (which bore little resemblance to the vast original in Arizona which I hoped to see one day) and Neate's Glen so cool and still and calm as we ascended from Blue Gum Forest. I loved the many waterfalls and pools especially the part where the track found its way along a rock ledge about two hundred feet above the creek. The gorge was narrow and steep and so overgrown with dripping ferns that the creek bed was not visible, but it could always be heard chanting gaily as it dashed down to join the Gross River. From some places we could look back and see how far we had come. I was fired with enthusiasm to see more. Every step took us gradually higher and higher. At last we emerged from the moist greenness and into the blazing sunshine, and found the dusty road which led us back to the highway.
It was wonderful that Myles Dunphy and some bushwalker friends had been able to raise the funds to save the wonderful Gross Valley from development. The unique geology of the Grose Valley began to etch itself into my understanding.
* * *
I still minded Philip from time to time as well as the little girl at Ramsgate in the smocked dresses and I knitted a twin set for her mother to earn pocket money. When the family moved to a larger upmarket house at Croydon, I went occasionally for a few days at a time and learnt how to iron shirts and other completely new tasks. For her fourth birthday, the little girl had a lavish party with all the girls in elaborate frocks and boys in equally expensive suits - definitely not play clothes! Some of them called me the maid.
I could afford to go occasionally with Penny to the pictures in Hurstville and to "Gone With the Wind" with Helen, but the latter was a very long film and Helen paid for a taxi home as we missed the last bus. We saw "Sons of Matthew", which I loved, a Charles Chauvel film starring Michael Pate, and set in the Blue Mountains and Southern Queensland, places I WOULD see. One day I took Philip to see "Wizard of Oz" which started in black and white like most films, but when the scene changed to the Land of Oz it became Technicolor. The wicked witch frightened him.
"Dorothy I don't like this picture," he declared loudly during a particularly tense silence.
In February Philip started school which made it a bit easier for his parents and I was in my final year at high school. In fifth year, many of our lessons were in upstairs rooms on the same level as Miss Cohen's office. We passed under a fan-shaped window which was part of the exterior entrance of the military hospital with the date 1815 in the keystone. When the hospital was converted to a school in 1849 the verandahs were enclosed and the present facade added. We walked up the stairs past an Honour Board with girls' names in gold letters, and a large stained-glass window of the school motto. Sport on Monday was still the highlight of the week, especially when I was selected for the school basket ball team (later known as netball) to play against other schools. At the Combined High School sports in the Show Ground, the team I was in won the Under and Over, and we shared a corner of the limelight given to our schoolmate, Marlene Matthews, who won the sprints.
During the year we still went occasionally on outings with the school to plays, concerts and ballet.
Fifth year had a special "wash" area (a few taps and basins adjoining the school), just wide enough for us to practice dancing with some privacy preparing for the next school dance, important for most of us even in a very busy phase of our lives. The Charleston was revived in the Pop world and we taught each other the steps for which a partner was not necessary.
Lesson time concentrated on compound interest and stocks and shares in Maths and this seemed so irrelevant in our lives. Calculus and co-ordinate geometry remained a mystery as I headed for the Leaving Certificate although I learnt by rote how to apply the formula. In English "Julius Caesar" was our Shakespeare text (as set by the Department of Education) and again I learnt large passages as well as meanings and analysis. I went along with the general belief that Shakespeare was inspiring, but I had no aspiration to study it further. How would any of this help me next year? Some poetry touched me more deeply.
Ulysses by Tennyson
my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles...
Our hobbies period, last thing on Friday afternoon I spent doing extra French with Mrs Patterson. She would not accept anything but one's best and was prodding me through an Honours course in French. She was still habitually dressed in a neat, black dress, perhaps, we thought an indication of a lack of colour in her life.
I grew up without birthday parties or getting Christmas presents. However people varied in the strictness of adherence and said "It's not for your birthday." Mum gave me a birthday card, hoping no doubt not to be completely out of my world. The Thews and Bill , Beverlee, my friends at school, and other relatives gave me presents. My biggest problems were not being able to afford similar gifts in return. I had given Mum a pretty cup, saucer and plate and I gave Bill hankies. Bill gave me a book "Needlecraft" because of my interest in sewing, knitting and crochet. I was given stockings (very precious) and lipstick. I also bought stockings as a present for Mum. Good eyesight and patience were necessary to mend ladders in stockings. When they were beyond repair Mum cut them into strips and made them into mats.
Bill had found some pale green wool and had begun to knit me a jumper which I finished. I knitted him a Fair Isle sleeveless pullover, my first attempt. The yarns not being used had to be woven in at the back for neatness.
Uncle Perce had bought me a simple camera five years earlier and Uncle Ernie (Dad's brother) had given me an old tank for developing films myself in an improvised darkroom which was more economical, although less professional than commercial developing and printing. I had taken photos of trips, holidays, family and friends. In April I was asked to demonstrate to some chemistry girls how to develop film in a darkened change room. I felt so important doing something the other girls could not.
At Easter I went to Artarmon to get meals and keep house for Auntie Dorrie's father while she and Uncle Perce went on a trip which included Jenolan Caves in their new Holden, a car made in Australia since 1948. The little boy next door was ill in bed and I read to him, which for him was a change from his own family. He then pestered his mother to bring me in again to entertain him. I stayed about an hour each time. He gave me a box of chocolates at the end of Easter.
As it was too difficult for Mum to get to her baby-sitting job, I also started working regularly for the doctor on Sunday morning.
Also for pocket money I knitted Helen a jumper with intricate multicoloured roses using a graph to follow the pattern. And I worked at Ramsgate in the May holidays to shop and cook for a family while their mother and little sister were away visiting. There were two boys who were working. Not long before I used to play cricket in the street with them and my cousins using a set of cricket stumps invented by their father so that the stumps stood on the asphalt where we played, but fell easily when hit. Later he began the Inventors Association in his home and was awarded an OBE.
My brother came to Lugarno to visit and told me that Dad planned to take us to Queensland at Christmas for at least a month. Bill was getting no help from Dad with a place to study or time free of jobs.
About June Bill was ill with flu and wanted to leave school. Dad had to repay £90 of the Coal Board scholarship which did not please him. Bill worked as a carpenter for a couple of months for one of Dad's brothers who was building a house. Bill then got a job with a builder, but dad would not sign papers for him to be apprenticed. He bought himself a motorbike and not long after was in an accident hurting his right hand, breaking five bones, which meant he could not use a hammer. Dad did little to help him while his hand was painful.
Dad and Bill had lived at Peakhurst for many years. His friend Vern had originally asked Dad if he and his mother and sister Dot could share the house and Vern lent some money towards the costs. When Vern went to Tasmania, Dot and her mother who was ill moved to a room in Hurstville feeling it was improper for her to continue keeping house for Dad and Bill. She had been brought up to believe it was her duty to look after her mother and brother and had never followed her own inclinations, only her obligation as learnt before the growth of welfare for the needy.
Dad planned to sell the house. He borrowed from the bank to finish it, but when it was sold there was still a large bank overdraft. Dad had built a caravan in which he could live. Bill stayed for a while with a friend and then with Dad's brother Bruce and his wife Mollie at Oyster Bay so he was now further away from me, but I managed to get there to see him.
He was becoming less and less communicative, kept everything to himself and had very limited social contacts, but continued to add inches to his height. He had left me far behind. Mollie and Bruce asked me about Bill's wishes and plans, thinking he might have told me more than he told them as they felt he was unhappy. Not really, maybe a few things. He was quiet and lacking in self-confidence. I was more outgoing and knew I had plenty of skills both manual and intellectual.
At Fort Street we were not encouraged to think we were "just girls" with a few years of working until we married. Most of our teachers were unmarried or widowed. Examples of successful Fortians such as Joy Nicholls, a world-famous entertainer, were continually held up to us of what we could achieve in the sporting, entertainment or academic world. But even the most exciting career involving travel and prestige did not compare to my dream of having a home and family of my own. A vocational guidance test suggested I could do anything I wanted to, suggesting a University course. That was no help as it left the choice open. The question was "What would I enjoy and be good at?" Medicine was a long course and impractical unless the student had financial support and a suitable place to study, science was not then a field for girls, especially shy, reticent girls although it greatly interested me as did many other things. In an interview with Miss Cohen I said I wanted to be a teacher. I had really never been exposed to other possibilities. We now had to make decisions about the future. We had to put down two choices of career and I put teaching and ? having in mind infants' teaching and could not find another possible career. What else was there? I had never been aware of anything but sewing, office-work, medicine and the school world.
College was a place where I was certain to meet people. A scholarship would not provide a lot of money, students needed support from their families, but it would be more than my school bursary and I could always get part-time jobs (knitting, baby-sitting) and housework and so long as my situation was improving I was content, even optimistic. To the inevitable question that everybody asked I usually said I wanted to be a teacher and a lot of scholarships were available. Mrs Patterson supported me in this.
"Teaching is always interesting. You meet many different people and that makes variety. It may be many things but it is never dull. Sometimes you can travel."
She continued to tell me to take the long view and not be disheartened if I did not get exactly what exam results I wanted. It was hard to accept such advice. I could not see so far ahead, only concentrated on the next exam results.
We knew our lives were in our own hands. Our health was our own responsibility. Nobody else would look after our health if we did not. Nobody was going to present us with the job we wanted. Our own ability was the only limitation There was no notion that the world owed us a living or even some kind of allowance if we did not get a job. We had to make a choice and go after it. There wasn't a lot of advice on health or career choice.
When Uncle Eric and his new wife sailed for Scotland, her birthplace, some of our relatives went to look over the ship and I got the wanderlust. One day I would be on a big ship and go overseas to work as many other Australians did to "see the world."
Whatever I did in my future career depended on a scholarship. Scholarships depended on hard work, but my mind would not concentrate on the task in hand. If I chose teaching I would be under a bond to the Department of Education and would have to teach for three years wherever I was appointed. So I was committing the next five years of my life. Why push myself toward some uncertain goal? It seemed pretty pointless when I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Pat and others were so sure of their goals. Elizabeth with the frizzy red hair who was usually first or second in the year, was worried about slipping to third place! Olwyn would clearly study science at university and Pat whose father and two brothers were doctors was definitely headed for medicine. "What if I didn't like teaching? What was the use of all that study?" I asked myself as I mended the seat of my tunic with threads taken from the side seams, trying to make it last a few more wears.
One day at school the sole partly came off my shoe. Someone had a packet of chewing gum and organised a surreptitious "chewing squad" for a temporary reattachment. When I got home I cleaned off the chewing gum as well as I could and used adhesive, but it obviously wasn't going to hang together for long. The next day Elizabeth gave me a pair of her old shoes to see me out to the end of the year.
In September Mum had another heart attack, waking me one morning, unable to talk properly and paralysed down the left side. I called to Helen and she went to a neighbour who had a telephone to ring the doctor, but by the time he came she was much improved. So close to my Leaving Certificate. I felt I could do without this. A few days later she was worse and agreed reluctantly to go to hospital again when a bed became available. I stayed home from school to keep an eye on her and when Allan came home from work I went to Hurstville to buy material to make her a nightie which she needed for hospital as her others were threadbare. Next day she was readmitted. Miss Cohen called me to the office to see how I was managing. She gave me £2, a small fortune to me. My friends brought flowers and chocolates to give her. Mum seemed reconciled to the idea of being in hospital. As soon as she went, I slept in her bed instead of my stretcher. In October she went to Primrose House - a kind of convalescent home near Ramsgate for patients discharged from St George Hospital.
Mum was home for a short time late in November but was soon back in St George Hospital. She tried to reassure me that even if I didn't do well, I had gained a lot by doing the Leaving Certificate. "You don't need a very high mark to go to Teachers' College. You'll probably do well enough. Always concentrate on the positive. Be optimistic."
Nearing the last day at school, we were allowed a "muckup" time at lunch time with girls putting on a version of Julius Caesar, our Shakespeare text set for the Leaving Certificate. Among the improvisations "Bread is the staff of life and the staff do nothing but loaf." Also references to some of the teachers, with jokes about their names which they all took in good humour (no doubt they'd heard them all before).
I might postpone the day of hard work, but the Leaving Certificate ignored all procrastination. The day approached. My French teacher gave me a precious pair of silk stockings to wear on the last day with my new special outfit. "You've had more than your share of bad luck." I took her a bunch of flannel flowers from Helen. Those stockings would be very carefully and painstakingly mended when necessary. The seams were always kept straight down the back of the leg. About this time mesh stockings became available. They did not "run" into "ladders", and had no seam to worry about, but went into holes which could not be mended.
We struggled with irregular French or German verbs and chemical formulae. "I'm a saturated solution," I claimed as I chatted to my friends on the last day.
Dorothy, Joy and Heather 3 November 1950
I remember the sadness of Farewell Day when we all wore new frocks and hats (definitely not the uniform variety and not now requiring coupons as rationing had ended) and court shoes and were farewelled by fourth year. We had learnt a square dance and I was very taken with it and thrilled to be selected to perform on the day. I also made a cotton check frock with a full skirt for the event. I walked to the bus stop at Lugarno in my new shoes and frock, with my square dance frock over my arm.
Not much "real work" was done that day. We were all preoccupied with what everyone else was wearing and getting photos of our friends. We were allowed to ring the old school bell which stood near Siberia, to toll "good-bye" to the school. The promise of keeping in touch with our friends of five long years. The fears of disappointing our families in the exams. The uncertainty of the world beyond. Then came the party, we changed into our square dance outfits, performed our dance and left fourth year to wash up.
After five years we were all recognised by the teachers, but little was known about us (and we knew virtually nothing of them). I was one of the exceptions, a good student and well-behaved, with a lot of home problems.
We sang our school song for the last time and wondered if we really were the makers of our own fortunes although we knew that it was up to us what opportunities we took. Staying at home was not one of the options. Marriage was the only chance of avoiding the working world. Having gone as far as the Leaving Certificate, we expected it would lead to something and were going to make further choices towards a career, at least for a few years. We climbed the stairs which led to the office, also to the fifth year classrooms and took a last look. The students who got First Class Honours in any subject, had their names in gold letters on the Honour Board above the main entrance. I knew it was there but it was not a source of inspiration or motivation.
"Philip has chicken pox. It will be just my luck to catch it from him."
"You could be getting it now. You've got some spots on your face."
A slight feeling of indisposition which I had been suppressing, suddenly grew. I was definitely not well. What next? There seemed to be a conspiracy against me.
She was right. Among the freckles were some blotches. The next day I was laid low, delirious, eyes watering and had a magnificent crop of chicken pox. I had helped arrange a picnic for someone's birthday but was not able to go. We had over a week at home in which to study before the first exam, we called it Stew Vac (Studious Vacation). I acquired very little in the way of knowledge. It was more than I could hope now to get a scholarship, without which I could not go to College. As I lay alone in the house with bandaged eyes I wondered if I had spent two years of frugality and endeavour for nothing. Helen rang the school and was told that if I still had exposed spots I should get a doctor's certificate and would have to sit in isolation. If not, just come as usual. The infectious period was over. I had a couple of small blemishes on my face which Helen disguised with pancake makeup. The first paper, English, was easier than I had feared, I tipped a number of questions, and my hopes rose. I revised for each exam, often sitting on a rock above the George's River. But my confidence was low.
But at last the relief to think it was all over. Our lives would soon be in our own hands! Our Leaving Certificate results on which so much depended would not be out for a few weeks yet.
Our final Speech Day was as usual held at the Conservatorium and we wore our white frocks and listened to speeches and applauded our school mates once again. I had never been on the stage to receive a prize. In five years I should have got a prize for something!
All applicants wanting to go to Teachers' College had to go to the college in the grounds of Sydney University for medicals and also got free Xrays. For most of us this was the first time we had been required to give a urine sample. To be presented with a small beaker for the purpose was a bit of a surprise and a bit difficult for those who had unwittingly already just gone to the toilet. Somehow we all squeezed out a few drops.
Dad's proposed trip to take Bill and me to Queensland was postponed, but I was not counting on it and went to Colo Heights. The tenth addition to the family was now two years old whom I enjoyed very much.
I also had an invitation from Pat's family to stay with them and another friend, Margaret in a holiday cottage across Pittwater from Church Point. We swam, fished, learnt to row, talked, played games and relaxed. During the fortnight Pat's father took us three girls by the regular launch, then bus and tram to a Test Match in the Sydney Cricket Ground. Don Bradman had retired two years earlier, but was still a most admired batsman. A young, bronzed cricketer, Bobby Simpson, fielding near us, aroused my interest. He looked gorgeous. My ideal man! Perhaps?
On the day our Leaving Certificate results were to be published, we girls got up at 5am to row furiously to Church Point to buy the early morning paper. An hour later, arms tired, backs aching, our clothes saturated from our unskilful rowing, we rushed onto the wharf to find that the papers would not be available for another hour. We looked around frantically.
A man was waiting nearby, having travelled up from the city. He was waiting for the first launch, innocently reading... a newspaper.
Pat, too excited to ask properly, darted up and almost snatched the paper. He relinquished it without a struggle, no doubt guessing the reason for our urgency. The pages were completely disorganised before we found the right section and under the heading Fort Street Girls High School, we saw our names in print. Honours for both Pat and me and university scholarships for all of us. Elizabeth had no less than three first class honours and had topped the state.
I wrote to Uncle Viv and told him about the results, also that Mum was in hospital again and that Betty had been ill for some time with endocarditis and had to be kept very quiet. Auntie Dorrie had nursed her at home so that she was not subject to the usual hospital routines with large, busy wards. Finally she went to hospital for tests.
A letter came from Uncle Viv.
My dear Dorothy,
Your letter of 19th has just arrived. I knew you would do well, but with all the upsets etc just before the exams I hardly expected 1st Class Honours! Good girl and I'm as proud of you as if I had done it myself. I'm very sorry to hear that Mum is ill again and sincerely hope she will be quite well again soon. At the same time if she can be kept laid up as long as possible it might save her from over exerting herself as she is prone to do. Give her my love and tell her from me that it's time she settled down to a restful life.
I'm very sorry for Betty. It must be dreadful to be laid up when so young and I'm glad she's in hospital, it is much better than home nursing in most cases and it will give Auntie Dorothy a chance. We've got lots to be thankful for, even though we aren't getting all we'd like.
I hope to be home on leave in about four weeks. There's no certainty about it. My leave is due then but we are so short-handed that there is a probability that relief may not be available.
Must close now for the mail.
Wishing you every success and happiness and a confident tackling of your problems. Love to Mum and lots for yourself.
Uncle Viv XX