The Great Depression
> Kezia Ruth Dubios
> Fort Street Reunion
14 August 1953
> Bushwalking memories
An Experienced Driver
Homemaker and Mother
Wandering the Wide World Over
Frustrations & Despondence
Our Own Place
Our Big Trip
We Move into the House
Bill Goes to New Guinea
Leaving New Guinea
A New Direction
* * *
Dorothy's teaching career
These pages were written by Dorothy Bremner for her
children and grandchildren.
Chapter 25 HOMEMAKER AND MOTHER
Both back at work, we settled in the flat vacated by Cecily and John, basically one long room divided into a bedroom, living area and kitchen. We collected Mum's glory box and some other small items of furniture, booked our fares to Europe on an Italian line (Fairsky) and began to plan our trip to explore the world. I got more library books about Switzerland which I still believed was our main destination. When Gerald Durrell's next book, "A Zoo in My Luggage" became available I read that too and still admired the accurate and insightful observation, the witty comments and the wonderful drawings.
In the flat was an ice-chest which was sometimes a problem as the tray had to be emptied regularly. If not, it overflowed and made a mess all over the floor. Someone had to be there to get the ice when the ice man arrived, carrying a block on a bag on his shoulder. It did not keep food very cold, so I had to shop frequently.
But at last I had a place where I could invite people as I chose where we could entertain our friends and I could begin to become a homemaker. I bought a second-hand varnished cupboard and table and a couple of kitchen chairs from which I stripped the varnish with methylated spirits and lots of old paper in preparation for painting them white. Cookery books with coloured illustrations of dishes and more than just basic recipes were now available and I soon acquired one. In an exercise book, I made a shopping list as a reminder and began to write into it recipes of dinners, biscuits and some cakes, found in the library or borrowed from my friends. Recipe books and advertisements showed an oven with several dishes cooking at the same time, but my baked custard boiled and curdled when cooked with a roast dinner. A useful lesson! I experimented with herbs and spices and tried Wiener Schnitzel and lemon meringue pie and with some practice was quite successful.
Bill wrote to his mother to announce he had married and planned to bring his wife to visit his family and do some travelling around. She wrote back a delighted letter. My German was not up to being able to read it fully, but the postmark was plainly Germany. When I asked him, Bill said "They live now just over the border in a very beautiful part of the Black Forest, a stone's throw from Switzerland. You will love it there."
We began to go through the correspondence lessons together, I helped him at every step by explaining words and imperial measurements but I wondered if he had done some of the arithmetic. Perhaps in the metric system, less arithmetic was needed. I checked everything, but if an error crept through, he felt let-down. He wanted to get 100%. I began to wonder if he was an engineer as I understood the profession.
One day after a visit to the beach during the Christmas holidays Bill was too impatient to wait for me to fit the diaphragm and said he "would be careful". Soon afterwards I began to suspect that I was pregnant, three months after our wedding. Bill was disappointed to say the least, especially when I was hit by day-long "morning" sickness. It bothered me in the morning when Bill habitually sat on the side of the bed to light his first cigarette of the day and bounced the bed as he dressed. It made me "seasick". I calculated that the baby was due soon after the time we had planned to arrive in Europe.
"I've already written to my mother to say we are coming. I've asked them to look out for a car for us. Am I supposed to turn around and say we aren't coming? I've told them to arrange their holidays and meet us in Naples and we can spend some time on the Riviera before we go up through Switzerland."
A baby did not fit into this picture. The doctor advised me to postpone the trip as travelling with a new baby could present problems. Very soon I found I could not wear any of the clothes in my wardrobe and my morning sickness was so severe I lost four pounds in a week and the doctor gave me daily injections, then a script for tablets which I needed for seven months. The tight-fitting bodices were most uncomfortable but luckily "the shift" was in fashion and, for the early weeks, I quickly made a couple although I had plenty of clothes and was not addicted to having only new things. It gave me time to study patterns of maternity clothes and plan a wardrobe. Practical outfits consisted of a skirt with a waist that could be let out and smocks of various colours which could be worn over jumpers in cool weather. Bill had sent away a mail order for three sets of underwear which arrived about this time which added to his chagrin - all were see-through nylon, one a white "harem suit", a pretty but prickly pair of yellow pyjamas and a black lace bikini set. He had an image that a wife should be sitting around looking glamorous, instead of someone working full-time and now suffering morning sickness.
It was a relief to me to know I was not going to be childless and hoped I would not suffer from miscarriages, as my mother had, but I waited to be sure before changing our travel plans. After a while I got a library book describing what to expect and exercises and diet to have a healthy baby. Lacking close family or friends in the area, I had to depend on books. I already had an idea of a healthy diet and did not have to change much. As suggested I practised sitting cross-legged as often as possible to stretch the pelvic muscles.
Bill no longer admired my figure. Was it all that made me attractive to him? I took the thought of pregnancy seriously and got books from the library including some by Dr Spock on child development. This was a whole new experience to be savoured but I could not interest Bill who thought it was a lot of unnecessary fuss. He did enjoy bringing his workmates home for a meal and I looked forward to entertaining, having interesting conversations and using my pretty cloths and china.
After a while using the ice chest, we decided to buy a refrigerator before the baby came and later use it in the house we planned to build. The council had a show room of electric goods which could be paid off over twelve months, interest free. The repayments were easy to achieve and the fridge was a big advantage and I discovered the joys of a small freezer compartment.
I was unable to be Clare's attendant when she and Bill (my brother) married, as I was by then already into maternity clothes and had made a special pretty dress which could expand as I did. My brother was going to Granville to teach and to the Technical College in Ultimo, Sydney, two days a week. Some of the Kinny family were surprised as he did not seem to have the gift of insight, necessary for teaching. His explanations of technical things were hard to follow. I had once asked him about ACDC current, but was none the the wiser after a detailed account, during which my mind wandered.
One evening I was doing my school program and writing letters, sitting on the lounge with a bottle of ink beside me. My fountain pen had departed this world. Bill (my husband) came over for a kiss.
"Watch the ink!" I cried, too late. He knocked it over. He became very angry and blamed me for spilling it. His reaction surprised me.
"I've been writing letters for half an hour with no problem. I often do it. Anyway the lounge is so old it really doesn't matter. I'll just turn these cushions over. It's nothing to get so het-up about."
He continued to fume that he would have to pay for a new lounge. It was unexpected to me, in fact quite startling, something I was not used to, at least since my earliest years, and which I could not understand. Why did he react that way over a minor setback?
I began to knit and sew for the baby, using cotton or fine baby wool. Pattern books for sewing simple clothes provided basic directions to which I added small hand made trimmings. My mother's button tin contained many tiny white buttons which I could use. I bought Terry towelling nappies and made flannel pilchers to tie over them to keep the clothes drier. All babies, both boys and girls wore nighties day and night and dresses for going out, for ease of changing the nappy. I bought blue material for bunny rugs, (soft little blankets). I looked at mosquito nets, baskets, prams (one that could be folded to go in the car and converted to a stroller for later) and other furniture. I bought a second-hand traymobile on wheels and painted it blue for the basket. Also a child's wardrobe which I painted in pastel colours. Some people made a few coloured clothes, pale yellow or green. Boys would never be put into pink but girls could wear any pastel colour. Most of the layette I made was white with one little blue jacket, hoping for a boy first. In my class was a five-year-old, a very bright, very well-adjusted and fine-looking boy who always wore a brown cotton suit. He was exactly what I hoped for.
Bill was unwilling to forego his dream of touring Europe, so we agreed to go later, taking our baby to see his Grandma (Oma). I continued working to help save our fares to Europe, but in the changed circumstances, I was realistic and easily able to switch the object of my saving to a home for the coming child.
At first Bill called our unborn baby 'Adolf' which with my prodding became 'Peter' and presumed we were having a son.
"We won't be able to go on any 'Grand Tour' with a young child," I said. "But if he is healthy we can probably go on an occasional trip."
"I am going to go and see all the places I couldn't before because of the war. It's no use if we don't do it properly."
"Well I think it will be a great experience to meet your family and live in Germany for a while without being too ambitious. Too much moving around is not good for children. They need a routine. I am really looking forward to seeing the Black Forest."
"A child shouldn't rule our lives. People make too much fuss about things like that. My mother can mind him or we'll take him."
"Your mother is ten years older than when you last saw her. And as she is working she won't have a lot of spare time to mind a baby."
"You've always got an excuse."
I still wanted to get a bank loan and with our savings build a basic house on the block of land I had bought. Bill didn't want to start building until after we came back. I intended to work as long as possible, then resign and become a full-time wife and mother. I would sell my shares and draw my superannuation. We could rent the house while we were in Europe, leaving our few pieces of furniture and other things in it. It would be something to come back to. On that block we would have to have a septic tank with a pump, to pump the effluent up to the back yard to a seepage trench. I was very much in favour of having a solar heater for hot water on environmental grounds. Bill reluctantly agreed.
Our serious arguments began with the house. We both liked a house we saw with a "butterfly" roof which appealed as having some character and being interesting and dramatic. The view of the front of the house was all we could see from the road, but I was also looking at designs in magazines and making mental notes of handy ideas and borrowing books of house plans from the library. We also agreed on a garage under the house and that was about as far as our agreement went.
"I can't shake it out of my hand," he often said. He meant he could not achieve a result by shaking his hand (or waving a magic wand). It was obvious he could not be pushed or rushed. I was not willing to put all my money into the trip. Finally he saw the logic of my argument, or realised I was supplying most of the money and would simply withhold it. Being a bricklayer he intended to build a brick or possibly cement block house and wanted to do as much as possible himself, having a poor opinion of other peoples' work.
It seemed as if we could not get water and electricity on to the block and Bill decided to look for another. We saw one nearby and he was so taken with it that he decided to put down a deposit. However when it came to the point the second block was in a subdivision that had not yet been presented to council, so it was back to the first block, but with a commitment by then to buy the second which with interest was going to cost over a full year's wage. Bill would not sell it but wanted to pay it off. It was in his name so I could say nothing.
"We should sell it," I suggested.
"I'll build on it later," Bill said. "Then we can rent it or sell it and make more profit."
Meanwhile the owners of the block next door to the original one, a retired couple, wanted to build a two-bedroom fibro cottage and joint applications for water and electricity were successful. I thought something a little bigger and more solid than their place would have been appropriate, not too small but in keeping with the situation and value of the land and our circumstances. I sewed and knitted while Bill drew and discarded many house plans, done in Indian ink. A mistake could not be erased. He did not want to do a rough copy first and insisted on putting in a lot more detail than required. A blot meant starting again. Copies were black and white, but still called blueprints.
"While I'm excavating I might as well take a bit extra and put a shower and toilet downstairs with the laundry," said Bill.
"I'm not at all keen on having the laundry downstairs. I don't see the point of an extra shower and toilet. It will be a lot more costly plumbing."
"I'm going to make it a separate flat. We can live in it while I build the house and rent it later. It will bring in income."
"I can't see how we can possibly afford all that and it will take extra time. There won't be time to finish the house before we leave for Europe. We don't need a grand house, just a modest one."
"You are just making difficulties."
"I don't like the idea of sharing a house. It's bad enough here."
"You are impossible to please."
This was similar to what I remembered of my parents' marriage except that Mum soon acquiesced. Was it normal? Was I expecting too much? Was it unreasonable to expect to have a say? After all, half the money at least was mine.
I made a rough list of prices of everything I could think of and it was obvious we would have to apply for a bank loan even for a simple house. Bill objected to the notion of being encumbered with repayments to a bank.
"Who's doing this anyway?" was his answer to any objection. As he was drawing the plan there wasn't much I could do about what he put in. Everything had to be bigger and better and more elaborate than necessary.
"I'm not going to build a shack." He lit a cigarette and I fetched an ash tray. The smell of smoking exacerbated my nausea.
"I'm not suggesting a shack, just an adequate house in keeping with an unsewered area and a dirt road."
I was learning that there was no point in trying to reason. If he was doing something he wanted to be left alone to do it his own way. This was the same as my early life at Bankstown. Dad made the decisions. But I couldn't help trying to convince him about things I thought were important and especially when I thought he was not right. It was a waste of time and ended with an argument and another sleepless night, feeling hurt and resentful.
I tried not to dwell on the negative and things I couldn't change, as my mother had encouraged, but I found it impossible to find that silver lining.
The plan when submitted to council included an S-shaped driveway with what seemed to me to be tight curves, laundry downstairs and an extra shower, toilet and "workroom" which was to be our bedroom until the rest of the house was built. Modern houses had space-saving wardrobes, dressing tables, kitchen and laundry cupboards built as an integral part of the structure. I was very happy about eliminating the need for free-standing items as I had no beautiful period pieces I wished to keep. It was by now less acceptable for people to live for a long time in temporary accommodation. Shacks and garages, emergency housing during and after the war, were now frowned upon by the local councils and neighbours who felt it devalued the area.
Apart from morning sickness for which I was still taking tablets and later backache for which I had Xrays and a threatened miscarriage for which I needed bed rest for a few days, I was progressing well. I went to the doctor regularly, dutifully drank the prescribed amount of milk, practised sitting cross-legged, took iron and flouride tablets and tried to keep them down. The Department of Education required women to take maternity leave for two months before the expected birth at which time I intended to resign. I had finished all my maternity clothes and the layette for the baby.
I was still "Spotty Dotty" but no longer "Skinny Kinny". While at home awaiting the birth I had a big cleanup and realised that all Bill's papers, and his passport said he was a German bricklayer. He didn't see it as much of an exaggeration to say he was a Swiss engineer rather than a bricklayer from Black Forest as they are very close. I had never felt an urge to present myself as anything different from what I was, so could not understand why he did. Perhaps he felt because many German migrants were arriving and very few Swiss they therefore had higher prestige, associated with chocolate-box pictures of snow-covered mountains and beautiful chalets and window boxes of geraniums.
Our son was born a year after our marriage. He was beautiful and most co-operative, everything I had dreamed of. 'Peter' we had agreed on months before and Bill agreed to my adding 'Andrew' after my brother.
"It's nearly like a family name, my mother's oldest brother was Herbert Andrew, killed in WW1. There is an 'Andrew' in every generation and I like the name."
My milk supply was so generous that my doctor suggested I start a milk bar.
11th September 1960
Was so glad to hear of your little lad & to know you're both keeping well.
I hope you'll bring him along some time for us to see.
Charlie & Leone's baby was born on 31st August, a boy too, Phillip Andrew, so my small stock of grandchildren is already growing.
How glad and proud your mother would have been!
I expect you know Perce and Dorrie sold their house at Artarmon & are living in the garage at Dundas (very nicely fixed up as you can bet) till they toddle off to England. We'll be out there next Sunday to see them, all being well.
Love from all here
I loved to dress my baby up in the pretty clothes I had made, to go shopping, visiting or to the clinic. He was soon thriving and smiling at everyone and I was very proud. I went regularly to the clinic and they made suggestions but expected me to use common-sense and be sensitive to the baby's reaction, not unthinkingly comply to some system of rules. By now I was making a bigger size "boy" clothes, in blue, sometimes yellow or green. By about four months boys wore various kinds of suits. When pushed for time to go to the local shop if he was asleep, I sometimes took him in his pram, still in his bed clothes which disturbed him less and I felt guilty that I had dressed myself but not him. It was now common for men to do many things for their babies and I assumed that Bill would soon be captivated by our son and I involved him when I could with bottles of boiled water on a hot day and other minor tasks.
It was not long before Peter was sleeping through the night and soon showing recognition. As he grew heavier I found my backaches increased, but there seemed nothing could be done to help. I attended the Baby Clinic for checks and advice, but everything went well. I was delighted to watch the daily progress and development. Motherhood was wonderful. I anticipated he would be the first of four children, hopefully two boys and two girls, all healthy.
Bill enjoyed the attention given to our little son, with his ready reaction to my "baby" conversations and his willingness to be photographed on any occasion. We soon accumulated packets of photographs and sets of slides which, following my mother's example, I tried to label and date at the time for an accurate record.
Cecily in New Zealand had another baby soon after me, this time a healthy girl they called Karen. All went well this time and the baby thrived.
Bill had previously had a minor accident at work when a block had fallen on his back. Xrays showed there had been no damage and nothing was apparent. The doctors had prescribed a back support which he never wore. One of his workmates suggested that back injuries were difficult to diagnose one way or the other. He now went off work on "compo", (workers' compensation), but was continuing to order and use building materials, such as timber for profiles.
When Bill's well-paid job finished he did not readily find another. He started preliminary work on the block, combining with the farmer to put up a barbed wire fence to keep the farm cows out. I was a good manager but we had practically no income and I could do nothing about our joint finances or Bill's "compo" money.
We tried not to delve into our savings for the house. The only solution to our economic situation seemed to be for me to go back to work. When I had resigned I had given away all my teaching aids, intending to stay home. When Peter was about five or six months old I got mastitis so with advice from the clinic I weaned him. A girlfriend was available as baby-sitter while she awaited the arrival of her own baby, so I applied for temporary or casual work.
Married teachers were employed if a single teacher was not available. Soon I found myself once more in the classroom, this time as a casual teacher in a school for older subnormal children. They were taught life skills as much as possible and many went into "sheltered workshops" to do simple repetitive tasks. One of the boys aged fifteen was Alan Shephard who was very proud of the fact that someone of the same name was the first US man in space. The astronaut had had a sixteen-minute flight, to be picked up in the Atlantic Ocean. The boy felt famous.
Bill had no objection about me working so long as it did not stop me doing the housework and helping him as required. The next six months were frantically busy. Dad put in preliminary electric conduit ready for the electrical work as a belated "wedding present". And in my "spare time" there was sewing for the growing baby.
One day I was giving Peter a little solid food in our flat when there was a tremendous noise which I thought at first was the landlady's washing machine. Then cups in my cupboard began to rattle. I realised it was an earth tremor although I had never before experienced one. I grabbed Peter and ran outside, but soon everything was peaceful again. It brought home to me the instability of the earth, the reality of geology, the way nature has created and destroyed landscapes. This tremor was centred at nearby Robertson.
When the actual work on the house began in March I spent a lot of time after work and at weekends, holding tapes for hours on end until Bill was satisfied that the corners were "square". I ordered goods, collected materials and kept accounts. Unfortunately the fence was not sufficient and the cows got in regularly to trample around our prospective house. Bill made a catapult to fire stones and on one occasion chased a cow across the paddock and staggered back exhausted.
As trenches were dug they were trampled by the cows which infuriated Bill but did not convince him to put up a better fence. He thought the farmer should keep the cows away.
Days and weeks went by with little observable progress except that our bank balance was suffering. I tried to get an estimate of what it might cost as the uncertainty worried me, but my questions annoyed Bill. He wanted to do everything "properly", that is not to have to stint himself. He had started sending money overseas for his stepfather to put aside for the car he would get before our arrival. Bill had mentioned a Mercedes. My superannuation came from the Department and duly disappeared in heaps of sand, gravel and bags of cement. My shares were sold and provided steel pipes for our future bath water. Finally we had floors for a garage and "workroom" complete with built-in drainage pipes and we were also at ground level financially. Bill often re-did work he had paid others to do. He excavated even more than the plan showed "for storage". I was still in demand on the building-site, holding tapes and doing other jobs which required two people.
Progress on our place was interminably slow. Bill assured me it would go more quickly after the early stages. The neighbours' house was begun after ours and they had now moved in. It was quite obvious that we were not building a house but a garage-cum-one-bedroom flat. The garage was to be the living area, with laundry, shower and toilet and behind that a bedroom. Three weeks before the sailing date I left work, we moved into a "concrete bunker" with the bags of cement and wood shavings and both worked nearly twenty-four hours a day to finish the garage and pack our swag. It was my 20th address but certainly not my "dream home". It had cost over three times what we had set out with and we were forced to borrow £300 from the bank. Bill said it was time for me to advertise for tenants. Only one couple answered, saying they would take it. When I called at the address given, needing details for electricity to be put into their name, I was mystified that the family seemed puzzled. I wondered if they were married. I also wondered if they had noticed the cow pats and cow prints everywhere. However they did pay a nominal deposit and I went ahead, putting the handling of the rent in the hands of a real estate agent.
We had the required injections against exotic infections such as small pox, common in the ports-of-call along the way and got our passports in preparation for the voyage.
I had lost a lot of weight while breast-feeding and continued to lose weight during the following months. This meant that I was able to fit into the clothes I had worn before getting married, including a neatly-fitting mauve winter dress with a white knitted angora collar which looked very smart. I thought it would be suitable to wear on arrival in Germany. For Peter I had made some summer clothes for the trip and planned warmer outfits, bought wool and a few toys which had some educational value as well as being bright and attractive - blocks that could fit inside each other, others that screwed easily together.
Before leaving we needed tax clearances and as I was very busy I agreed to go to a friend Bill went to who did tax returns for a small fee with a guarantee of a better result. I took all my accounts and my rough calculations. He simply doubled all my deductions. A larger cheque came but made me feel uneasy.