Chapter 3 DOFERY
I called myself Dofery, Dothery and finally was very proud at the age of four to be able to say Dorothy.
"What a clever girl you are, that's a hard name to say," people told me.
Others said "You are such a good girl and so helpful and sensible."
I swelled with pride. I liked to help and feel useful. I was quite unaware that my mother needed extra help because of her chronic heart condition or that she was less robust than Dad or other adults in my life.
Running errands was quite a help when Mum felt unwell. It saved having to dress Billy and take him in the pusher until he was able to walk well, up the hill and along to the next corner for a few groceries. Sometimes I had to go first to the butcher on the next corner, with sawdust on the floor to keep it clean and a large wooden chopping block made hollow by years of use. If necessary I took a wooden case (Dad called it a port) which my Grandpa Kinny had made, painted in an imitation grain pattern and with metal on the corners to protect the wood. I set out feeling important being careful how I carried the case trying to protect my bare legs from the metal corners which scratched. I was given a penny if it could be spared. The grocer took my list and measured the items into paper bags while I watched him go to the bulk supply in a tea box, large hemp sugar bags or calico flour bags, and various boxes.
If I had a big order to carry and nothing to spend, the grocer sometimes asked me "What would you like - a pink musk stick, a black liquorice stick or Freddo Frog?" I invariably chose the frog (unwrapped chocolate frog made by MacRobertson's at the time). Frogs, chocolate variety, smelled so good, felt so smooth and tasted wonderful.
I often helped prepare the meals, picked vegetables from the garden and collected eggs. There was no question or discussion about what we would eat. There was no compulsion to enjoy our food but we were usually hungry and simply ate what was on our plates or what was offered. If there was something new and we showed any reluctance, Mum might add a little butter, pepper and salt and say "Pretend it's mushrooms and eat it first so that you don't have to look at it on your plate. That's all there is."
Dorothy and Billy with Mrs ?
Mum trusted me from a young age to deliver messages. I was given clear explicit instructions, which I carried out very diligently. Once, aged four, I had to go by train to Punchbowl with a message for a friend that Mum was not well enough to visit as planned. I was developing a good sense of direction and confidence in myself and was quite eager to carry out this important job.
"Go to the station, catch the train that goes to town, get out at Punchbowl and go to their place with this note. Don't forget to get into the second carriage or the second last, with 'non-smoking' on the window. Then come home the same way. You know how."
It was over half a mile to Bankstown station about the same from Punchbowl to the house. I did not have to pay as I had not yet turned five but I knew how to "read" the destination and "non-smoking" signs. Women usually travelled in the non-smoking carriages. My extended family did not smoke and we felt that people who did were suspect and better avoided. Very proudly I achieved my mission without any anxiety and did not expect or get any recognition or reward. It was reward enough to know that my services were needed and I had been successful.
Another time at a bible study meeting in the same house, the son aged about fifteen invited me to his bedroom to look at comics. By his behaviour when our mothers came looking for us, I assumed there was something wrong. Was he embarrassed or guilty as he suddenly pushed me off his knee? Why? Was something wrong? Was it bad to look at comics? We were told it was very hard to be good. Mankind was generally not very good.
We heard bible stories in which anything was possible, presented as literal fact and were told that the devil would tempt us to do bad things. I had a vague idea that the stories we heard were about people called Hebrews who lived a long time ago in a far-away country, both the people and the land very different from us. If it wasn't in the Bible then it didn't exist. God came frequently to tell them what to do and to punish them (smite them) when they displeased him. He once sent a flood to kill all the bad people. He sometimes performed miracles. He sent dreams to the Pharaoh which good people could translate. In time we learnt that everything good and beautiful was God's handiwork. Everything else belonged to the Devil, but God was more powerful. Sampson could pull down a whole building, David could kill lions without weapons. Joshua killed everyone in Jericho and conquered the land. Even though they killed people, they were righteous.
I was encouraged from a young age to "read" the words I was hearing. I could soon pick out known words. The thin paper in the bible had an exquisite silky feel and I enjoyed the sensation. Its sensuousness perhaps replaced the soft comfort of a cuddly Teddy Bear or even demonstrative parents which I had never known. I also joined in the singing to the best of my ability and with enthusiasm and "read" the words in the song books which were a regular part of all meetings, always participating fully.
We went around the streets with the books printed by Jehovah's Witnesses. We met in different areas and allocated streets to those present who would knock on every door, trying to interest the people. At times these included the Catholic locality, previously known as Irishtown and sometimes towards the Bankstown aerodrome, with lunch eaten at George's Hall. A cut lunch was the norm and someone always thanked God for the food we had brought. I got to know my hometown very well. If we were near the train line, Billy and I would rush, trying to be under the train bridge over the road, as the train passed, unless it was a steam train. Then it would be a freight train on its way to Melbourne and we would have many freight cars which we tried to count.
Dorothy, Rita, Billy and friend
Dad's role - as all the men I knew - was the breadwinner and little more. He had a shed with large wooden doors and occasionally the car was put in where he could work on it in any weather. Billy and I painted the doors with leftover paint of various colours. On another occasion we each painted a blue "5" on one of the cement front gate posts. We thought we had done well and been useful until a visitor mistook our number for "55", then we felt guilty.
About this time Dad moved the house, possibly planning to subdivide the land into two blocks which did not eventuate. I saw the house blueprints which were copies of the original plan, drawn with Indian ink on transparent paper, then copied by a machine which shone a light through the plan. The black lines and writing were left white by the process, the paper was then placed in a ferric solution which coloured the rest of the paper blue. Mum tried to explain the process to us.
First Dad moved the verandas. His youngest brother, our Uncle Bruce aged about thirteen or fourteen was visiting at the time. He enjoyed taking me for walks, getting some shopping if needed and playing with me. When I raced down the hall and through the door and, finding no veranda there, landed awkwardly on the ground, Bruce was reprimanded by Dad as having allowed the accident. He should have stopped me! Once at Kogarah Bruce had displayed anger when something upset him, but when he was told by the rest of the family that he sounded like Harold, he stopped abruptly and resolved always to be more controlled in future.
I must have complained enough after my fall for my parents to take me to the doctor who sent me for X-rays of my back.
"Look at the pictures. These are the bones inside your back. The doctor can't see any damage but Daddy will take you to a chiropractor. He'll make you better."
A visit to the doctor was very rare as, like anything else it had to be paid for. If ill, people took caster-oil, rubbed themselves with eucalyptus, took a few drops of kerosene on sugar for a sore throat, used kerosene, vinegar and salt for infections and many other home remedies passed on from generation to generation. In case of accident and injury, neighbours and family helped each other. In general people were responsible for their own health and safety.
Once when visiting Auntie Vi at Penshurst, she said to Mum "You are too thin and frail and I don't like your nasty cough. You need to rest. I'm getting the doctor."
Like the rest of the family Mum had been brought up not to complain. She was admitted to St George Hospital for about a week and had a chest Xray which confirmed heart deformity. Auntie Vi looked after Billy and me with her own seven children.
Sometimes Mum took us to Ramsgate to visit our cousins now living at KY in a little house on a small block with hollyhocks making it look like a picture in a book. This was easier once Billy could walk confidently but it always involved railway steps at Bankstown, Sydenham where we changed to the Illawarra Line and Kogarah. Sometimes we went as far as Central before changing so that we could go past the railway sheds and see all the steam engines being cleaned or overhauled. It was a dirty, noisy, busy, exciting place.
Billy and I always wanted to go upstairs on the trolley bus, preferably to the front seat for a better view and a glimpse of Botany Bay, and to savour the fullness of the experience, but Mum did not always have the strength to climb the stairs. It was a marvellous outing especially if it was warm enough to walk down to the beach for a picnic on the grass, play on the sand and paddle in the water. At the very least there were games with our cousins, Charlie, my age and Mary, the youngest of all our girl cousins. When Uncle Charlie came home from work, he was generous if he had spare money. Occasionally this outing included a fish and chip treat. Maybe even ice-cream, kept by the grocer in an insulated well, set in a refrigerated counter, served with scoops. We sometimes had Peter's or McNiven's ice-cream 3d (three pence) for a standard or 1d (one penny) for a small ice cream in a cone. There were also slices, with wafer biscuits, buckets and family cartons but we seldom had these. I always chose vanilla although chocolate and strawberry were available. Dry ice (compressed carbon dioxide, much colder than normal ice) was used to keep the ice cream cold. If exposed to the air the dry ice gave off "clouds" and became a gas without wetting the wrapping.
The production of Arnott's biscuits had begun in Newcastle but moved to Homebush. They included milk arrowroot and sao biscuits. Adults dunked the ginger nuts in their tea as they were very hard. Lattice biscuits were my favourite but plain biscuits were far more common than fancy, cream ones, being a lot more economical. Sometimes we bought a large bag of broken biscuits for a few pence.
In the house at Ramsgate there were some books, kept in the old fuel oven, which was no longer used as they had a gas stove in the kitchen. These books had a great appeal to me and I was soon trying to "read" them. There were a few "Milly-Molly-Mandy" books, probably birthday presents to my cousins. My uncle bought a newspaper and we "read" the comics including Ginger Meggs and his escapades with the big bully Tiger Kelly, also Felix the Cat who had a removable multifunctional tail and a magical bag of tricks. I don't remember learning to read, but just found one day I could and began to read selected stories from "The Children's Treasure House" for myself.
At KY we listened to the wireless and heard serials such as "The Search for the Golden Boomerang" and "Mrs 'Obbs", with advertisements for tea, headache powders, cough drops and other things. Early wirelesses were crackly devices and hard to tune to the station but we listened anyway.
I remember street trees opposite my cousins' house which to me were heavy-looking, stiff, straight, spiny, impossible to climb, probably Canary Island Palms. They didn't appeal to me.
It was before Empire Day (24th May), my cousins and their friends were collecting burnable rubbish for a bonfire in a nearby vacant block. Billy and I were not supposed to to join in this activity as the approaching ceremony was not acceptable to Jehovah's Witnesses. There would be pretty fireworks such as Roman candles and Rockets and noisy ones like Jumping Jacks and Tom Thumbs.
Towards the end of the year we were aware that Auntie Ida was telling Mum what she had laybyed for her children for Christmas. Occasionally she even showed a hidden box on the wardrobe. We were not supposed to hear or see any of this. We knew that cousins Mary and Charlie would get a toy each on Christmas morning, probably a doll and a car, and some little things in a pillow case hanging at the foot of the bed. We knew it was mandatory for us to believe in God. I wondered if I believed in Santa Claus, would he come to us?
Coming home from an outing we sometimes stopped for cold sliced meat at the ham and beef shop near Bankstown station, where we could smell hot baked rabbit. Pigs' trotters or crumpets for tea could be bought but we rarely had any of these as Mum mainly cooked her own meats, perhaps a pig's cheek which cost very little and was delicious.
I was becoming aware that these outings were tiring for my mother. The evening meal for us was usually light but my father expected his normal dinner at the usual time which I helped to cook. If we missed a connection and were late, it was an obvious problem. Mum's family rarely visited us at Bankstown as the children felt wary of Dad. Mum reminded visiting children "Uncle Harold doesn't like noisy children."
Across the road in a vacant block, a man occasionally set up two short posts with a long rope stretched between them. Billy and I stood at our gate to watch. A lady in a full-skirted pink dress and carrying a pink parasol practised tightrope walking. She was so pretty. If I had a dress like that I would dance in it. Sometimes a horse was tethered there which kept the grass short. If it rained at the right time, delicious mushrooms grew and Mum took us across the road to pick them.
Another time she took us to the pictures to see "The Wizard of Oz" which frightened us. Mum felt she had made a mistake. It had not been a good choice. The picture theatre, bigger shops and a Coles variety store for haberdashery and clothes were near the station. All the shops had many staff members, standing behind the counters ready to serve the customers and offered a bigger variety than the corner shops where we usually went.
There was a procession of people living in caravans or converted trucks camping in our grounds and many cars to be repaired. Once, an old man lived for a while on the veranda with a cat which did tricks for food. He had been an engineer for Burman and Phipps of England who made gear boxes for motorbikes. Apparently he had come upon hard times. He refused to take Billy on outings because he "whinged" but he took me to a factory, full of noisy, smelly machines "which were to make other machines" which puzzled me, but I did not press the question. I knew better.
A woman and her son about my age stayed in our front room for a while.
Other people lived in the grounds in a large homemade van or a caravan (and used our lavatory, bath and laundry). One couple was there while waiting to get their house. Like most people in steady work they bought land and in time built a simple house. I knew a baby was in her tummy and asked "How did it get there?"
"Sh," said my mother with more than usual sharpness. "I'll tell you later."
"Why?" I wanted to know.
"Later," she said firmly and hurried me away. She did tell me later in an impersonal way without mentioning caring relationships, only that the man "plants the seed".
"Did I come out of your tummy?"
"Did Daddy do it?"
This was quite unbelievable, but I got the message to drop the matter. My God-given curiosity was inappropriate. I could not imagine my parents ever having behaved like that. I never saw any sign of affection or even closeness to each other. I found it more likely for the couple in the caravan as they were warmer towards each other. Later the woman whose pregnancy had provoked my curiosity had a beautiful baby daughter. When the baby could sit up I lifted her into my newly-painted pram (a second-hand toy passed on from a neighbour), and got paint on her cardigan. Her mother gave me a smack, but knew how to remove the paint.
When the subject of contraception came up at Auntie Ida's one day, I asked Mum for more information on the way home. Mum described a condom in very practical terms as a little bag, but there was no hint that their use was enjoyable, just a duty. Couples who had enough children used them so that the husband was kept happy without being burdened with more mouths to feed.
I asked "Why doesn't the man just do it in the little bag?"
Mum had taught me the basics of making pom poms, knitting and crocheting, using bone needles or crochet hook. The first thing I made, with help from someone staying at our place, was a green silk crocheted cushion-size square, using chain and treble stitches and following a graph to form my initials.
Towards the end of the year war was declared against Germany because of its aggression in Europe. This was the work of the Devil. There was no question of Dad enlisting, he was a conscientious objector working in a vital industry. Dad found the money to buy land at Peakhurst, about five miles away on Salt Pan Creek, took the corrugated iron from the shed at Bankstown and built another shed which later became part of a house on his new block. He took a lot of his meals at a friend's place saying he could get nothing at home. Later he built a simple house at Peakhurst which took a year to build.
The world was at war and so was our family. I was largely unaware of both. It was commonly believed that a "broken home" was the work of the Devil, a tragedy for the children who would be condemned to a life of instability and unhappiness and that it was the woman's task to keep her husband happy. Mum could not admit that her marriage could really have problems.
As a treat for Billy and me Mum sold a chook and got money to take us to a small family circus which had set up on a vacant block close to the centre of Bankstown. Mum regarded seeing tightrope walkers, acrobats and animals such as elephants as educational. During the next few years there would be no more opportunities for such entertainment. Circuses found it difficult to continue travelling around the country as many of the men enlisted in the army.