Chapter 37 RECOVERY
The train journey was one to be remembered. This time I could not afford sleepers, so we were in for a long, long night. As we were leaving, David began to develop a slight fever, which increased as we progressed.
"For a family which normally doesn't suffer from minor illnesses, we choose inconvenient times to get sick," I said to myself.
The guard who noticed he was ill, asked if there were any doctors among the passengers and finally located a nurse, who suggested he should be seen by a doctor. A phone call about 11pm from one station secured the services of a doctor at the next stop, and he rang ahead and had a chemist meet the train in the wee small hours with a prescription which enabled us to complete the trip.
During the early part of the evening, Peter had watched two youths playing chess. In the morning when they started again, he tentatively suggested a certain move, and in amazement they offered him a game. So began his interest in chess. His problem would be finding opponents. He hoped his friend John from kindergarten would be interested.
When we arrived home we had to move in with our tenants who planned to return to Newcastle when he retired in a couple of years. We cleaned and painted the garage. It was quite comfortable for two and looked quite presentable with floor coverings and curtains, vinyl tiles on the work surfaces, and now that the house was built, the problems of water pouring in and the sun beating down were eliminated. Design deficiencies were disguised and I had to admit that Bill's concept had made it possible. My tenants' rent helped to repay the bank, the rates and maintenance of the house. Two cars had to fit in the front yard with the S-shaped drive which made it difficult to back out down the slope and round the corners and it was plain that the garage would never be used to house a car.
As well as essential food I had to buy a clock to get up on time to have everything organised for work. By very careful budgeting, always knowing what bills would be coming, allowing for unforeseens, we managed financially. My old neighbours had moved nearer to town because of his health. So we had new neighbours but there were still no more houses in the street.
The children started Sunday School, but the boys found it uninteresting and soon Jacqueline went alone, enjoying the company and activities.
My appointment was to the local school, Farmborough Road where I had taught while expecting Jacqueline. There were four lunches to cut each morning, I made four sandwiches each with a different filling, and put a quarter into each lunch bag. My class was 2A, the boys were also enrolled there, Peter in third class and David in first class. Peter made contact with his old friends, the others had to make new friends. Jacqueline was to go to the pre-school in Dapto, the next suburb which presented a problem of transport. After a couple of weeks of unsatisfactory arrangements, I came to the conclusion that a car was essential. Auntie Dorrie lent me the money for a "bomb" which required the services of the NRMA every day for a fortnight.
Superannuation was automatically deducted from my pay, the minimum calculated to bring it up-to-date. When I retired in the distant future I would not have a large income but saw no problem in that. It would be enough.
One day coming home from the pre-school with Jacqueline she told me "I found something the teacher had lost and she said 'You have sharp little eyes', but they look round to me."
She was more outgoing than the boys, made friends more easily and thoroughly enjoyed pre-school. On the way home the exhaust pipe fell off the car and had to be replaced. Towards the end of the year I had repaid Auntie Dorrie and saved a little. I could claim a lot of deductions for rates, school uniforms and pre-school fees, and when my tax rebate came I bought a Morris Oxford, more reliable and respectable.
Even though they were luxury items my priority after that was a record player and a record of "The Seekers" whom I had first heard at Pennant Hills the year before. The group had traveled on the same liner we had sailed in to Europe in 1961. They provided on-board entertainment for the passengers particularly memorable were "I'll Never Find Another You", and "The Carnival is Over". They had now returned to Australia and been on a homecoming tour and were named Australians of the Year.
I was on the road to recovery.
Mobility made me more ambitious. We could now go to visit my brother in the Blue Mountains. He was now teaching. Even a holiday was possible and a visit to Dad and Dot in Mudgee. Also my mother's relatives and Grandma Kinny in Sydney. Grandma Kinny's old house had been resumed and demolished by the Council for extensions and the money invested in another house which she never saw. At the age of 90 she stayed for a while with Uncle Bruce and Auntie Mollie at Oyster Bay, but was a long way from other family and friends. She went into a nursing home near Kogarah station. Uncle Ernie who up until recently had lived at home with his mother, administered her estate. Grandma wanted to give two of her sons each a sum out of the estate for their businesses. This was done but created some dissension among some family members. Grandma then went into a private room in a nursing home where we visited her. She was completely familiar with the names and ages of the children and showed an interest in their conversation. Uncle Ernie later met and married a widowed woman of the same age who had a grown up married daughter.
About this time Uncle Allan who had apprenticed my brother twenty years earlier, originally in a shed in my grandparents' backyard, had now built up his engineering business to the point where he had up to thirty employees and needed bigger premises. He provided free morning and afternoon tea and to make the little kitchen less congested, he had a trolley wheeled around with hot water, tea, coffee and biscuits. One employee complained there were not enough cream biscuits for all and they had run out by the time the trolley got to him. He was a bit of an agitator and encouraged his fellow workers to complain about things that had apparently satisfied them until that time. My uncle's verdict was "Provide your own biscuits from now on."
I rarely saw members of the Kinny family apart from Grandma occasionally and the others at funerals. As they were such long-lived people funerals were rare. All Dad's brothers and sisters were younger than he was.
On the other hand the Smythes were older and a number had died, not always when I was available to attend the funeral. Uncle Viv had stayed in New Guinea, working part-time repairing telephones and doing general maintenance. He died at work one day. Another of my folks gone. One who had supported us when we needed, beginning with helping me finish my schooling. The gradual loss of family connections.
By getting a local girl to mind the children I could go out at night, and did another Geology course, this time at Wollongong University, covering local formations and history. It was a fascinating subject, but not easy to grasp without a lot of serious study which I had no time for at that stage. Understanding Geology was necessary for an understanding of archaeology, palaeontology and anthropology which also interested me. There was so much new knowledge and many new techniques. I knew that the earth was still forming and had not been created in six days, nor had geological catastrophes been sent to punish wrongdoing. The theory of plate tectonics was a concept which explained many things. I knew by now that if my life had taken me into a science field instead of teaching, I would have been just as involved. As it was, these subjects had to remain absorbing hobbies.
To me had fallen once again the task of Federation Representative and during the year I attended a meeting at the Wollongong Miners' Hall attempting to get "white-collar" workers and "blue-collar" workers co-operating for more union strength. Bob Hawke, the secretary of the Trade Union Movement was the speaker, telling us that we should combine against our employers to fight for what we wanted. The speech did not convince me, especially as the beer flowed and the floor was a mess. Strikes put up wages which resulted in higher taxes. I felt I had a good life with adequate material goods, I was employed by the Department of Education and had a loyalty there. Most of my colleagues did not agree with many of the strikes, but felt pressured to join in or they would be "scabs". We were told not to do bus duty or clean up a child who had had an accident. Most infants' teachers could not ignore such problems when they happened.
Some people talked about equality of opportunity for everyone and thought the government should do much more than make the laws. I felt that everyone in my generation had the opportunity to do what they chose depending on their ability and ambition. Equal opportunity had not led to equality of outcome as many people of my age had not taken advantage of what was available. It would have been a lot easier for many of them than for me, but they had freely made their choices of career. "Each man is the maker of his own fortune" as our school motto told us was probably generally valid.
People lived in more comfortable houses, with carpets, hot and cold water, white goods and television sets. Car ownership was more common. It surprised me to learn that, in spite of growing affluence, the crime rate was higher than it had been in the Depression. Some of it was due to a growing drug culture, some to greed and envy. I still had to economise carefully. But our still unfinished house was more comfortable than my mother had dreamed of.
Also at this time, children were beginning to bring packets of chips or Twisties to eat at playtime and cordial in plastic bottles, in place of a sandwich or fruit and water from a bubbler. People were obviously getting more affluent and things we had regarded as treats for birthdays were affordable for every day. They were not acceptable to me as they were dearer, less healthy and not suitable for David's diet. David was invited to a friend's party at which every single thing was bought. David whose diet was still largely gluten-free, had trouble finding things he could eat as the party fare was unfamiliar. Our birthday parties were mainly "homemade", but there were treats like flavouring (usually green) to make up cordial for the occasion, unknown in my childhood. And it was impossible to find a gift to take for the boy. He already had everything! Sad! What could he look forward to?
The fun of the impromptu self-organised game of cricket was replaced largely with having to join a club, acquire a uniform, be transported to a site for coaching, practice-sessions and games against other teams in a competition. I tried to be selective in the activities the children undertook. As I could afford it, I enrolled the boys in judo, cubs, later Scouts and Jacqueline in ballet and Brownies according to their choice.
If they asked for expensive bought treats I gave them a choice - "If I spend money on this we can't afford the petrol to go out on Sunday." They always chose the outing. Or if one of them wanted an expensive birthday present, I gave them the alternatives of that gift or an outing with the same answer. From an early age they had learnt to make choices within limits. "Do you want peanut-butter or vegemite?" "Do you want wheel carrots or stick carrots?" (cut into circles or strips). I was glad they were used to being allowed to have a say and could make decisions.
Many people had developed the handout mentality, made less effort to do things for themselves, believing that the world owed them a living, that they should get any welfare possible, that people were more important than animals and their habitat. The ready availability of credit fostered materialism and the thinking "I may as well enjoy whatever I can get."
I also encouraged the children to sort out their own problems without me arbitrating - to negotiate television programs and so on. My solution to an argument was to switch it off until they had worked out a compromise.
Much had changed in the education world. Secretaries and teachers' aids were now employed in larger schools. Classes were smaller but not all teachers took advantage of a small class to allow capable children to work independently in a corner or corridor, and allow more initiative, experimentation and creativity. Art and craft were getting more imaginative. My first efforts as a young teacher had involved tracing around up to 45 templates and the children cutting or pinpricking around the shapes and pasting them into their books. A recent innovation was to attach a large piece of strong paper to a wall, rough in a scene on which the children could paste outlines they produced - trees, flowers, buildings, traffic, animals, depending on the topic being illustrated, to produce a unique piece of art.
For Christmas I bought a small artificial tree which could be packed up and used again and again, as I had run out of places to plant living trees of the conifer type. I did my best to make sure Christmas was an exciting event - new clothes and things they needed without going overboard with extravagant presents and food. One of my priorities was A.A. Milne's "Winnie-the-Pooh", a favourite of mine since childhood. It became one of theirs too.
My tenants were marvellous. They took three balls of string of different colours and wound them around things in the yard. Each of the children followed a string which led to a present. The children called them Granny and Grandpa and loved them. They were honest and reliable and uncomplicated. They were good surrogate grandparents.
When Jacqueline started at the local school the next year, I bought a second-hand uniform and made her another one. The boys were still there, David in second class, Peter in fourth and we now went together each day which was much more convenient.
The Space Race had resulted in much manned and unmanned exploration and mankind had seen his beautiful planet for the first time from beyond its atmosphere. This was inspiring. In July 1969 the first man on the moon was televised. We took our classes to neighbouring houses of people who had a television set and who were willing to be hospitable. The houses all had pan toilets and we had to discourage the children from unnecessary use during the long wait. We saw Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong who made his famous statement "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." It gave a different perspective of the earth which looked so beautiful from space. Peter and David were very interested and we joined an astronomy club to have access to their telescope. I had some misgivings and was not so sure that the event was altogether a positive thing. We had messed up a lot of the earth and should not start on space until we had thought a lot more about the consequences and the enormous cost. Many things hailed as miracles were later seen as having unintended negative consequences - DDT, antibiotics, cars, computers. It was obvious if science discovered something, then someone would want to exploit it and this was not always beneficial.
At Fort Street, my old school, "Siberia" was demolished in 1969 and there were arguments about the future of the whole school. It stood on extremely valuable real estate. One proposal was to convert it to a National Trust Building, and for the girls to go to Fort St Boys High which unlike the girls' school, had been designed as a school with adequate space and facilities, not close to growing noise from Bradfield Highway and the Cahill Expressway over Circular Quay.
About this time Jacqueline seemed to be having a lot of falls and getting a lot of bruises. She was a bit of a "Tomboy", but the bruises were out of proportion, so I took her to the doctor. He called his partner to see her as it was not likely they would see another case. Then he rang the hospital and said "I'm sending in a five-year-old girl for tests and sedation." The sedation was to avoid the possibility of internal bleeding. She had a disease called purpura or spontaneous bruising. Apart from the bruises she seemed so well. I felt absolutely confident that the medical profession knew how to cure her. Her platelet count was abnormally low but after a period in hospital she recovered fully and was soon galloping around again. Peter was now the only one who had never been in hospital and he was a little envious.
Very keen to get a house of my own, I enquired about the possibility of getting a bank loan, but found that it would have to wait until Bill and I settled our property matters. Bill was pressuring me to get things finalised but according to the Public Solicitor that I had consulted, a divorce would have to wait until we had been separated for another three years (six altogether). When Bill's contract was up he had gone from Wewak to Rabaul, to work on a treatment works and wrote that they wanted him to "take charge of two bridges after the completion of the treatment works". I was inclined to be sceptical about that. He was keen to have our domestic matters settled one way or the other, either I should "join him wherever he chose to work", or else "have something done". To me there was no option. It would have been a relief to get things settled, but it was not possible. If he had hit me I would have had grounds.
The second job did not eventuate and Bill had returned from New Guinea and was now living in Sydney. He came to see me, bringing a bag of lollies for the children and suggested we should have come to see him when we passed through Sydney even though David was unwell. He wanted to take the children out. When I agreed and the children began to get excited about an outing, he insisted I had to go too, then we found ourselves going to where he was working, then to his flat in Sydney. This was not an outing. By the time we got home, the children were extremely tired and quite fed up. I would not let myself be talked into that again!
On another occasion that he called, the children were playing outside. Bill came in without stopping to talk to them and left without speaking to them. Peter told Jacqueline "That was Dad." She hadn't noticed. He asked me if I would consider a reconciliation, and when I declined, demanded the house as I had promised before leaving New Guinea. I was looking for something for him to use as an ash tray.
"Yes," I said. "As soon as I can get something else. If you help with the rates and upkeep, I will be able to get another place sooner. At least we could sell the other block of land and save me having to pay rates and clear it."
"You can have the land," he agreed "as soon as you sign the house over to me. You could get a small unit with the money from the land."
"I doubt that and I don't want a small unit. The children need a yard. Peter loves cricket. I put as much money as you into this place and it was my block of land before we were married. I had to go back to work to pay for that other block, pregnant with Jacqueline, so I'm entitled to at least half the total value."
"That's not what you said in New Guinea. Are you going back on your word?"
"Yes. With what has happened, I haven't been able to do what I had planned and the children are not going to suffer."
"It's always the children come first with you." It was an alien thought to him.
Unlike my parents I did not accept that he was the head of the house and that my duty was to obey and I had ceased to believe that it was my task to keep him happy.
I had tried to fit in with Bill' s reasonable wishes and only reluctantly saw that my marriage was a mistake. This was in no way the fault of the children and I determined to do the best I could for them.
For a little while Bill came spasmodically, occasionally brought some maintenance, but would never listen to any of my suggestions about the house to enable me to get a place of my own. He would pay nothing for bank repayments, insurance, rates or upkeep, would do nothing to make repairs, finish the house or clear or sell the other block. The maintenance stopped and he stopped coming. I did not regret anything especially my three children or my experiences in Europe and New Guinea. It was pointless to regret what could not be changed. We needed all sorts of things but made do, hoping to have our domestic situation resolved and be able to move soon. He got a job on the Captain Cook bridge between Taren Point and Sans Souci on which my cousin Ron was an engineer. Ron said Bill displayed an extremely short temper, out of proportion to any problems that had arisen.
David was particularly fond of all animals and was delighted when we were given a cat, Ginger. One day the cat used my tenants' car for a cosy sleep under the bonnet and was killed by the fan belt when the car was started. I buried the cat but my tenant thought it was not deep enough and he dug it up and buried it deeper. Jacqueline was at Sunday School when the accident happened and decided not to go again, as bad things happened when she was not home. We soon acquired another cat, a tortoiseshell which the children named Tutti.
They each chose a household task on Saturday morning and their help made it possible to have an outing on Sunday. Their efforts had to be accepted, the results sometimes less than perfect. They each chose something to cook when I put the oven on in the afternoon. David often chose to make bread and added food colouring to made green scrambled eggs or purple custard. Later I became doubtful about additives in food colouring and I stopped buying it.
One outing was to the Wollongong Botanic Gardens which was being redeveloped across the road from the University. A friend who worked there showed us the bower of a bower bird with its parallel rows of thin sticks to form an "avenue" and bright blue collection of objects to attract a female. He also talked to me about avoiding harmful chemicals. The area had a wealth of heritage and Council was beginning to realise the need to preserve it.
Loneliness was still a problem for me, especially after the children were in bed and I had school work and maybe housework to do. I fantasised about meeting someone who would genuinely care about me. My dream man was always a good dancer.
When I happened to see an advertisement for "Parents Without Partners" which was starting in a small Wollongong hall, with a small band, I decided to join the group. So began my rehabilitation into society. At first picnics then socials, fitted in with regular schoolwork, housework, gardening, taking the children to the park or to the beach, teaching them to sew, knit (Peter knitted a jacket for Bear) and cook. At the socials most of us had to learn to dance again, but I found it came back quickly. I was meeting people to dance with, even if I sometimes had to be the "man". I was quickly confident, was usually asked for most of the dances, never needed to dress in revealing clothes or behave in a vulgar way and was also soon elected to the committee as treasurer. Jacqueline wanted to know where was the treasure?
In the meantime the "Club" scene had arrived and town hall dances faded. Sometimes a group of us went to a club together. At first the men felt they had to buy drinks for the ladies. Most of us were very happy with a couple of drinks during an evening. I liked brandy, lime and soda or gin and tonic. The clubs did not make much money out of us but we had a good social time and soon learnt which bands played good dance music and which ones just made noise. Very loud noise was becoming popular with younger people, we felt to the detriment of dancing, conversation and any real music.
Sometimes we went to a square dance, taking the children. During the evening a couple of simple dances were put on for them to join in. They could talk to each other or play games or cards. We took pillows and rugs and when they got tired they went to sleep in an adjacent room.
On a little portable electric organ I bought, I taught myself to play sing-a-long melodies for family outings with Parents Without Partners. There were also opportunities to go to concerts in Wollongong and develop my interest in classical music and opera which had been "on hold". Dance music was for dancing. Musicals were for diversion. More serious music needed more concentration and understanding but yielded deeper and longer lasting rewards.
On a bus trip to the zoo I sat with a friend who had children about the same ages as mine. We had often discussed child behaviour. When David got temporarily separated she teased me "Authoritarian parents don't lose their children." A little later her son of the same age disappeared, but could be heard everywhere. He panicked wildly and was pretty quickly located. "Authoritarian parents don't lose their children?" I asked.
On a similar trip to Luna Park, I was persuaded to go on the "Cup and Saucer" which was supposed to be nice and gentle. But it was too much for my stomach. I wanted to get off but of course was trapped circling back and forth in the revolving "cup" and still felt sick days later. Never again.
Meanwhile Peter and John, both aged nine were selected to go to the Opportunity Class in Wollongong. One afternoon soon after school started the following year they were slow getting to the bus stop and found they had missed the school bus. They went back to the police station and borrowed money to ring John's mother to come and get them. By the time Peter should be home, I began to look out for him and after another half-hour I started getting pretty frantic and wondered what I should do. Having no phone I could not ring John's mother and of course she could not ring me but finally delivered him home. Relief!
One day I had taken Jacqueline to ballet lessons. The boys had stayed at home. One of David's friends came with some fireworks and David's hand got burnt, but Peter immediately put it under running water, which saved him from bad injuries. On another occasion a stack of bricks fell down and David's arm was broken. It was a simple break, not obviously broken, so I bandaged it carefully and it was next day before I realised it needed medical attention and a plaster. This was his fourth accident.
Psychology had begun to be of extreme interest, as I had begun to wonder why David had so many accidents? Could his gluten allergy cause problems? Was it an inherited thing? How could I help my children not be affected by the marriage break-up? Was it true that broken homes created an inability in the children to form stable relationships themselves? Why did Bill behave the way he did? Why did he get so angry? I decided to do some part time university study, the Department of Education paying my fees. My tenants were willing to mind the children while I was at lectures and also to clean the house for me midweek for a modest charge. It was never so sparkling. I had to pay to belong to the students' union and when I queried this, saying that I did not see that I would ever use any of the facilities, I found there was no choice. Fees to use the library were understandable, although I had no time to read anything except the text books which I bought second hand. About half the group was "mature-age", many of them teachers who were better organised and always got the higher marks than students who had just left school.
It was always a rush to get to lectures on time, but I found the course very stimulating and I learnt a lot about child development and how to administer intelligence and other tests. There was no time to be despondent. Occasionally my children were used as guinea pigs by the lecturer to demonstrate how the tests should be administered. I also found it would be better if my assignments were typed so I bought a typewriter and set about learning to type, using a special rubber to correct my many mistakes, sometimes laboriously having to retype a page. Also it was necessary to learn to spell 'physiology' and 'psychology' and relearn some of the words from school spelling lists which until now I had never needed.
David showed insight into mechanical things and kept the old lawnmower going. He also showed an interest in electronics about which I knew nothing, but bought him a "Hundred-in One" with little batteries, globes, wires, bells and so on. He asked me "If I put the transistors in parallel will it ....?" which was a complete enigma to me. One Christmas I bought a model steam engine, with a little tray for a tiny fire, to heat a miniature boiler. When the water boiled, the steam passed along a pipe and turned a wheel.
Mutti continued to write and ask for photos. I wrote that Bill had returned from New Guinea but that he didn't come to see the children any more. She still wrote that she prayed he could be with us soon. Eventually the day came when she realised we were permanently separated, as she ceased to include him in the address. Then her letters began to become irregular, scrawly, vague and brief.
One day Onkel Willi, Mutti's brother-in-law wrote from Bonndorf that he knew I had not heard from her for some time, but that I should continue to write and send photos. They gave her pleasure but she could no longer put words together coherently, not write legibly but she worried about us. Vati and Mutti planned to move back to Bonndorf when they could get suitable accommodation. Mutti would like the address of Bill's solicitor. I gave her what I had but it was likely out-of-date. Soon afterwards Uschi also wrote for the solicitor's address, but I think Bill's instructions were for the solicitor not to contact his mother.
"What's wrong with Grandma?"
"She's getting a bit old. She's sixty."
"But your grandmother in Sydney is 95 and she isn't sick," said Peter. "She can still write and she always remembers our birthdays."
"My grandmother is extra strong and healthy. The people in Germany eat a lot of fatty food and not a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables especially in the winter and that can block up the arteries, so that the blood can't get to the brain and then it can't work properly." I was stabbing in the dark. It was probably dementia.
An article appeared in the Education Gazette about exchange teaching in England and I decided to apply. My insurance which I had taken out in 1953 when I began work, and I had never needed to use was due to mature in the coming year and I had a little money saved.
If my application was successful we would fly, sea voyages were now for the wealthy on prolonged cruises. From England we could visit Mutti during the vacations and the children could meet her before she became worse. It seemed a pretty intrepid idea and rather daunting. I would have to save furiously. I was nearly forty, Peter would be twelve and had started at Dapto High School, David ten and Jacqueline nearly nine. I was rapidly and reluctantly going grey and felt it was premature, so decided to "help" it retain its original colour. It would be twenty years since I had been Skinny Kinny, although I was not overweight. I still had freckles but did not feel like Spotty Dotty. My three-year part-time University course would be complete, I was getting credits in the exams and would gain higher status as a teacher and more pay. I would be qualified to give Intelligence and personality tests in schools and could have become a school councillor, but had begun to think many of the child's problems in the classroom are the home life, the whole family situation not just the individual child.
I preferred co-operation to competitiveness both at home and in the classroom. My children were independent, took the initiative and helped to plan trips, pack and keep things in order so we were able to go on inexpensive holidays. I encouraged them to be co-operative by having a democratic home life and expected them to do a share of the work.
In the summer, my brother suggested we go with them to the Snowy Mountains. This was the first time I had gone on a holiday with the children. On the way there we developed a greater sing-a-long repertoire and "memory" games and "I spy". Bill (brother) had a large cottage tent in which we could all sleep and each day we explored the high mountains and the Snowy River Scheme which had turned the flow of the Snowy River to the west, and which I had seen in its infancy about ten years earlier. In time this came to be seen as having unintended consequences to the environment. We also stayed in onsite vans and this experience led me to consider going to the Warrumbungles where we stayed in "recycled" Sydney trams, walked in the bush, marvelled at the scenery and saw the Siding Springs Observatory. On another occasion we ventured as far as Ballina and Binna Burra for the rainforest and a myriad of plant and animal species. By contrast the Blue Mountains which I had known just about all my life was a tragic example of the misuse of land. The area would later be declared a World Heritage Area, unusual because of the road and railway that ran right through it with a large built-up area, threatening it and causing a perennial problems of weed control and pollution. Fires, erosion, polluted water, badly-made tracks, inappropriate development caused the reduction of all life other than human.
The principles of environmentalism were beginning to take shape in the minds of thinking people who realised mankind was exploiting his environment believing he should have "dominion over" everything for his own purposes. World populaton had doubled in my lifetime. Embryonic ecology. Although nature interested many people they still remained only partly aware of the result of their actions. Some members of the Kameruka Bushwalking Club went to Tasmania, hoping to stop the flooding of Lake Peddar and protect the wilderness of the beautiful lake with its pink granite sand. This was a watershed in the conservation movement and led to the involvement of Dr Bob Brown and the formation of the Greens as a political party and later the successful fight to save the Franklin and Gordon Rivers from damage. In time I began to find their attitude negative, promoting themselves, running down other political parties. They seemed to overlook the major problem of too many people in the world. It is obvious that it is people who vote, not animals or trees.
The next year I had a kindergarten class and found myself brushing up my piano skills, as there was a piano in the room and I was one of the few teachers able to play. I used my kindergarten class for research I was required to do for my University course. As part of this we had to learn how to do statistics appropriately and had to design a piece of research. I chose to look at birth order and how it affects the child's confidence - the "middle" child of three being less confident than the older and younger siblings. It had been very hard to give to David, the same attention as I had to Peter who coped easily with everything he did, David tried to emulate his big brother and often found it beyond him, Jacqueline, the adored baby tried lots of things but was not worried by failure. I saw similar characteristics in the children of my friends and relatives and in my class.
I had gained no insight into my marriage problems except that some people have periods of excitement and overactivity followed by periods of depression and inactivity. Why? An insecure or self-centred person is more likely to fabricate stories and put other people down, by exaggerating his own exploits. On first acquaintance Bill was so plausible. And anger can be a cover for guilt which is a very uncomfortable feeling. If so he may have been reacting to having told me he was a Swiss engineer and so on. There was nothing I could have done about that except perhaps to have confronted him with it when I first found out. That would have been intolerable to him. It would probably have accelerated our parting. I would have had only Peter and would have missed out on David and Jacqueline. That was unthinkable. Bill and I were poles apart in what we valued and there was no point in trying to discuss with him what I saw as important, such as the needs of the children or environmental issues. It was as useless as trying to explain evolution to someone who knew nothing about geology, anthropology, astronomy or chemistry and only what the bible said. I had long ago refrained from discussing any of this with my mother, brother or father.
I saw parallels with our marriage and that of my parents. What he wanted was what mattered which was the same as my father. The main differences were Bill's lack of veracity and that he had been happy for me to make a major contribution to our income, so long as he still got my full attention.
I also learnt that many people dislike ambiguity and look for certainty. From primitive times people have invented reasons for events, blaming "gods" or "spirits" for floods, droughts, hurricanes, family deaths and things they did not understand. They were willing to believe that prayer and sacrifices could prevent catastrophe. Various cultures explained death in different ways with different forms of afterlife which gave people some form of comfort and security.
Parents worry if they don't know what their children are doing and where they are. Many of them had grown up with rote learning of spelling and tables and still thought that it was the only way as it was the way they knew. One father of a boy in my class with quite a good number sense was upset that his son could not recite his tables. Some parents try to remove the anxiety by controlling their children's behaviour, being authoritarian, with the belief that the children are "good". Children who are independent, explore their environments and are creative cannot be tolerated by these parents. Giving children enough freedom to develop their own talents while learning responsibility is more effort than making and enforcing the rules in a family. I realised that my mother had perhaps unintentionally, given me a lot of freedom which was a great advantage in developing resilience and being able to accept and adapt to the challenges of my life allowing me to discover a lot for myself. I tried to do the same. There were accidents and setbacks, but on the whole my children all behaved responsibly. I could feel proud of them and revelled in my new-found confidence.
At the end of the year most of the students in the group celebrated in the University Union canteen and had a drink at a subsidised rate. That was the only time I had been there and had had no occasion in three years to use any of the other facilities. I thought it was the same with my colleagues. Were the students learning to depend on the Union to provide things which we had all provided for ourselves?
A friend invited a group of us and our children to a BBQ. My children were busy "helping" with the cooking. The topic of independence and responsibility came up. A little later I wrote a letter to the editor of a local paper, in answer to one on the topic of allowing children to be independent and having a sense of responsibility.
When next I saw my friend she said to me "I saw your letter in the paper."
"How do you know I wrote it? It didn't have my name on it, only my initials."
"It was still recognisable. That's exactly how your children are. Independent and responsible."