Chapter 23 AN EXPERIENCED DRIVER
In August 1955 when Cecily and John were married I was their bridesmaid, dressed in pretty aqua. Cecily wore a simple but elegant white bridal dress and veil in which she looked radiant. Harry was best man. A lot of our bushwalking friends were invited to the reception, held at home in a recently finished extension to the house. Cecily and I were a bit nervous, but Mr and Mrs Platt were very supportive and calm and everything went smoothly. Cecily and John went to Lord Howe Island for their honeymoon, leaving Rose Bay by flying boat at an uninviting hour, as flight times had to depend on tides on the island.
John Balderson, Cecily Platt, Dorothy Kinny, Harry Wallace
In November Uncle Perce and Auntie Dorrie were back from England. My uncle had taken slides of their trip and we had a "slide evening" to view them. Some of the relatives thought there were too many, and too confusing but I was never bored as I hoped to visit some of these places myself and could relate to them. In December I was helping cut Christmas Bush on the farm at Dundas, ready to sell in Martin Place for Christmas. My uncle's project was beginning to pay off. My three-year bond period with the Education Department was almost over. If I had chosen I could go elsewhere and do other things. I could teach overseas. Ever since Uncle Eric and Auntie Peggy had gone overseas some years before, it had been my ambition too.
Uncle Perce, Dorothy, Auntie Dorrie and Betty
In February we saw Cousin Betty off on the "Iberia". With each farewell my wanderlust grew. Among the bushwalkers some planned exciting overland trips to faraway places. John's sister Peggy and I thought we would go together to Europe the following year. We booked the cheapest berths, six to a cabin and well below decks. We each took an extra job to supplement our incomes, Peggy as a waitress at an expensive restaurant, after her day as a librarian and I did some private coaching. My job was at Rose Bay, coaching a young high school girl, Carole, really keeping her company and supervising her homework as her parents both worked late. Her mother imported lingerie for her exclusive shop called Dorith Unger in the social centre of Sydney near the Hotel Australia and the Theatre Royal. They also employed a cook who silently provided us with a meal as she spoke very little English. I began a French coaching class for two girls from Fort Street at Oxford Coaching College run by Uncle Perce to earn extra money towards my vision. I also helped Cecily's brother with his English homework.
I decided to do a course held in the University Geology Department to help my understanding of the subject. The speakers had access to all the rocks they needed. My school chemistry was some help in understanding the principles, also a basic understanding of the classification of plants and animals. It gave more insight into volcanoes, glaciers, geological time, prehistory, fossils, anthropology, carbon dating of rocks that had interested me for a long time, especially after becoming involved in bushwalking and caving. Rock formation was beginning to make sense. It all obeyed natural laws which could be observed and analysed mathematically and had nothing to do with gods punishing men who displeased them. At the same time there were so many types of rock which were quite difficult to identify.
A few weeks later a friend said to me "Have you seen the latest copy of ‘People'?"
"No. Should I?"
"Yes there is an article in it which I think will interest you." She would not elaborate.
The article was headed "Curiosity Makes a Trog," (referring to troglodytes, cave men) accompanied by a half-page picture of my face coming through a squeeze hole. I felt famous.
Uncle Perce had bought a Holden car which was built in Australia, incorporating Australian features. He suggested I get a driving licence before going overseas. Auntie Dorrie, then in her fifties, was learning to drive so that if my uncle became ill on a trip, she would know how to get to a doctor. She had professional lessons (no L plates needed) and a very patient teacher who allowed her to drive around in first gear for weeks until she got some confidence. I decided to learn to drive although I had no car. Women drivers were very much in the minority. The cars were usually owned by men who earned a higher wage, even in the same trade or profession. Some men would not have wanted their wives to drive "their" car.
Uncle Perce gave me a few preliminary lessons in his Holden which had a column gear change and my brother who had acquired a Morris with a floor change did likewise. I found it exciting to be behind the wheel, in control of a vehicle and I became enthusiastic about learning to drive.
While living at Burwood, I found my "bed-sitter" an unattractive and restrictive home. Winter came with shorter darker days and I stayed out as late as possible. One afternoon I went to town shopping, there was a southerly change, the evening suddenly became cold and I was not warmly dressed. When a cold became worse I decided to go to Auntie Dorrie's to go to their doctor. There was a telephone in the landlady's room but she was out. Although I felt ill I walked to the nearest public phone. Auntie Dorrie said come straight over. I did not even go back for my toothbrush. Auntie Dorrie took one look at me and put me to bed and called the doctor. Pneumonia. As the doctor who had known of my mother's poor health, said I would be away a month, a relief teacher would be employed. My medical expenses were largely met by the recently formed Teachers' Health Fund, which I had joined. Uncle Perce and Auntie Dorrie collected my things from Burwood.
In spite of a month's absence from work, my class and I quickly settled back and at the end of the year, they did better than expected.
I was physically well again due to the supportive nursing of Auntie Dorrie. During this time Auntie Dorrie, Uncle Perce and I went to a romantic musical film I had previously seen, "The Student Prince", set in Heidelberg, a place I hoped to see one day. I stayed at Artarmon for another month while Betty was away. After I recovered I went to live with Uncle Eric and Auntie Peggy at the cottage at Dundas so that I did not have to go back to the bed-sitter. I was given an end of the big living area with a curtain across for some privacy. This was to be a temporary arrangement until I went away for my Europe trip.
Auntie Dorrie had finally got her licence and when Betty came back from her trip she was astounded to see her mother get into the driver's seat!! She brought me a heavy silver bottle opener, a souvenir from Norway in the shape of a Viking ship as a thank you for having helped her with getting a wardrobe for the trip.
Dorothy and Bill
As the time for our departure for Europe approached, Peggy found her savings had not mounted the way she had hoped, so I considered going alone but after being so sick for a month, I began to have second thoughts about being alone so far from home. So when I was due to pay my fare I cancelled my passage, or at least in my mind postponed it until I found someone with the same ambition and bought a car instead. I asked Bill's opinion about the make of car and looked in the paper to find a second-hand Morris Minor for £500, a year's wage. He took me to look at it. It had mini trafficators one on each side, which saved the driver having to put his arm out through a flap or wind down the window to give hand signals, when stopping or turning. Very modern! Uncle Perce suggested it was easier to get a licence after a couple of professional lessons, so I went to a driving school, explained I was buying a car in three days. On my third lesson the instructor took me to town, across the harbour bridge, where I kangaroo-hopped after paying the toll, through the city traffic and up to the Domain where it was possible to be tested without any delay. Somehow the Domain was not the most popular place for beginner drivers! Having managed to do all the right things and given all the right answers, I went to the car vendor, with a cheque and a brand new licence. Cecily's brother came with me to collect it, drove to Dundas to pick me up in his father's car. Getting home in my Morris Minor was fairly simple, but the next morning when I tried to start it, I began to think I had made a dreadful mistake.
Bill had looked at the mechanics and assured me everything was in order. But here I sat, manual in hand, trying to get it started. There was a key instead of a button and all the controls were different from what I was used to. I had not thought to ask the owner how to start it and he seemed to presume it was not his problem any more. The sweat poured.
I was unable to move my proud new acquisition. Then I noticed that the petrol gauge showed empty. The vendor had given me just enough petrol to get home.
"The man must have given me exactly enough petrol to get home," I told my aunt. "I never thought to look. Do you think Uncle Eric has any petrol?"
"Only the mower fuel. You could try that."
The engine started but the next problem was getting the car up that steep twisty drive. Insufficiently warmed up, it took several attempts. NOT MUCH FUN!
At the end of the year the detailed time-consuming tests in reading, spelling, writing, composition and number, had suggested that my class did much better than expected of them - or had they really not been well-graded last year? I knew what each child was capable of so was there really any point in the tedious test which the slowest children found defeating and made them dispirited?
For my holidays I had booked on a package trip of the Great Barrier Reef, a cruise and a week on an island. I flew to Mackay, enduring the discomfort of the small plane in some turbulence, then caught a train to Sarina where my friend Beverlee lived. She met me at the station in their truck. She was practically running the property as her veterinary husband had a practice in town and was often away on business. She was quite capable. Her toddler daughter led a very unrestricted life in the company of many animals. My own self-esteem had grown to the point where I could look at her with the eyes of an observer and found her rather intense.
A few days later I was on board a Roylen Cruise boat heading for the Whitsunday Islands. Luckily we were mostly in calm waters as my tummy objected strongly when we were not. We visited a number of islands, enjoyed various forms of entertainment, walked on the reef at low tide, saw coral, but the weather was against going to the outer reef. Coral souvenirs I saw were all brightly coloured and quite unnatural. I resisted them, but lashed out on a pair of pretty cone shells, converted into salt and pepper shakers (to date the only ones I had acquired). Christmas was a great feast, including oysters I had helped collect. I then had a week on Brampton Island where I spent New Year. There were fancy dress parties, dancing, swimming, walking, tennis, a trip in a glass-bottomed boat and plenty of fun.
The Roylen took me back to Mackay. I decided to see a bit more of Northern Queensland while I was there, so I travelled by train to Townsville and Cairns. My Cousin Keith (one of the youngest in the family) was working in Cairns and he took me to Green Island and to some parties. Back to Brisbane by train, a Queensland train on the narrow gauge railway, was not a marvellous trip as I had to sit up day and night. NSW trains on standard gauge were rather more agreeable. In spite of this anticlimax to get home, the verdict was a taste of being a tourist with a modest amount of spending money. My horizon had expanded widely. I had seen something of my country from Tasmania to Cairns. I was not afraid to take opportunities that presented themselves.
Going home one night, driving up a fairly long, twisty part of the road towards Dundas, I double-de clutched as I usually did to change down a gear. At the top a motorbike that had been following me, overtook me and an authoritative voice said "Pull over there driver." A policeman had stopped me to tell me one of my taillights was defective. Only that! What a relief! He then said "I'm sorry if I startled you. I didn't realise you were a woman. Congratulations on your driving."
After that I think I felt like an instant seasoned driver - well not quite. It took a lesson in driving-too-close-to-the-car-in-front-and-not-stopping-in-time. A tow bar into my grill. I made sure I never made such a mistake again.
My class was 2E, the school having reverted to plain labelling. I could largely use the program from last year to work out my new one. I had by now quite a collection of teaching aids and lists of poems, speech rhymes and so on and doing the program was slightly less tedious. The headmistress thought I had shown a special insight into slower learning children and gave me the opportunity to repeat my performance.
Teachers: Miss Kinny far left standing
One day a medical team came to the school with Salk polio vaccines. We explained to the children what would happen and they were all lined up for the injection. I had to demonstrate my courage in front of my class when the nurse took my arm.
"Look at this brave teacher". That was the first injection I had experienced, but certainly not my last.
My accommodation at Dundas was very limited and intended to be temporary until I went overseas. I went to board with Auntie Nell in an older-style house at Ramsgate, and drove each day to Granville. Mum and I had often visited this area when I was a child and had lived there nine years before, at Auntie Ida's. She, Uncle Charlie and David still lived in the old house KY. Auntie Nell's husband Gordon, Mum's youngest brother, had died in 1938 aged just 32 leaving two small sons, Bob and Ron under four years old. Gordon had had rheumatic fever as a boy, related to the illness my mother had had. He should not have been doing heavy work but in the Depression years he did whatever was available, often working on Soldier Settler farms in the Rankins Springs area for his brother Viv and brothers-in-law Charlie and Bill. Everyone called him Beau because of his pleasant personality and good looks. After his death Auntie Nell went back to Ramsgate to keep house for her father and unmarried brothers who dominated the household and were intolerant of noise and running about of little boys. The boys were brought up strictly and had to be stoical.
Bob and Ron had both been pressured by their family to do University courses to become engineers. Ron was still at home, now in his final year at University of NSW.
Bob, a little younger than I was, went to Bathurst Teachers' College after a short time working as a chemical engineer. He was a boy for whom things should have fallen into place. Very bright at school, he had attended an opportunity class for gifted students, had gained his Queen Scout Certificate. Well-built, good-looking, outwardly confident. He had graduated as an engineer, but had since decided he would prefer to teach and got a scholarship. He had a good time at Bathurst College, enjoying the social life. But he found life as a teacher was not what he had expected, in fact he hated it so much he left and had to repay his bond, working in the Orange district at anything available.
Ron, two years younger, had missed out on some of Bob's distinctions, was shorter, freckled and good-natured with a special sense of humour. His blue eyes were framed by long up-curled eyelashes and there was a hint of copper toning in his hair.
Being a licensed driver I felt qualified and was eligible to teach him to drive! As he already had a motorbike licence he knew the road rules and and how to cope with traffic. In return he gave me a few clues about car mechanics, distributors and carburettors.
He was the same age as Bill and was like another brother so we often went to dances and parties together in my car. Most parties were held at home and included dancing. Ron was great company, thoughtful, sensitive and good fun. He knew a lot of people in the area where he had spent most of his life.
"There's one thing I must admit," said Ron. "You're not like other girls I know. You use reason to work things out and don't get too emotional. And you aren't one of those helpless females who don't know one end of a car from the other."
My interest in how things worked was no doubt in part due to my interest in science and my curiosity as well as a certain amount of need as a car owner when tyres, batteries, fan-belts and spark plugs were unreliable.
His experience of girls was rather limited as civil engineering was a totally masculine domain at the time and he could not have afforded a girlfriend if he had been interested. I felt very much at home with him. We liked each other and could comfortably attend any functions we chose.
One evening Auntie Nell, Ron and I sat in the kitchen enjoying a cup of tea. Ron divulged to me "I have to put on a jumper because Mother's cold."
"Ronnie has his father's sense of humour," said Auntie Nell. And to change the subject she said "The kitchen needs painting badly."
"Ah," said Ron. "I'm just the person you need. I'm a very bad painter."
In spite of this self promotion, Ron was induced to bring in a ladder and start preparation. Auntie Nell bought some chartreuse paint to make it look fresh and clean. So began my first real education in housekeeping.
"I've been thinking what we should do for Ronnie's 21st birthday. Where could we have it?"
"Not a party, please, mother," pleaded Ron, who was averse to the idea of the traditional celebration. We had both attended a number of 21sts and many of these were such a combination of young friends and older relatives of different generations and interests, that they sometimes fell flat as entertainment. I knew what he meant.
"Well you'd better think about it," said Auntie Nell. "You've been to a lot of parties and should return the invitations."
"I wouldn't mind having a launch picnic, if Uncle Norm will lend me his launch." His mother's brother had an oyster farm at Taren Point and Ron often helped at weekends and holidays. "We could go up the George's River and then come back to the boat shed and have something to eat."
"Could we dance in the boat shed?" I asked, enthusiastic about the idea. I made up my mind to begin immediately to knit him a blue jumper as a birthday gift.
We cruised up the river with afternoon tea prepared by Auntie Nell served on board. The evening meal at the boat shed was followed by dancing to Country and Western style records and supper which included a case of prawns and of course some oysters.
Auntie Nell was a good dressmaker and gave me a lot of hints about sewing, helped me make a winter coat, also informed me about other housekeeping, and as she worked full-time, I helped with various domestic jobs. She insisted I should slice the beans evenly on an angle.
"Your Granny Smythe would be horrified how you are doing it. Of course you should have learnt all that from your mother in the normal way of things. The beans cook quicker if they're sliced properly."
"Mum was always happy if I helped and she wasn't too critical. Sometimes I feel very ignorant," I admitted. "When I was in lodgings I found there were a lot of ordinary things I didn't know... the sort of thing you take for granted, like how to get rid of ants and how to clean windows."
Sometimes we sat up until very late listening to Test Matches on the wireless. I was now living very close to where I had played cricket in a dead-end street ten years earlier. By now Bill had moved to Lugarno. He was due to be called up for National Service but being a conscientious objector as Jehovah's Witnesses were, he was put in Military Corrective Establishment for the duration and worked in the library.
Auntie Nell and I went to the Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown to see the new Australian show "Summer of the 17th Doll" by Ray Lawler. When we came out of the theatre we were disoriented and for some time could not find the street in which I had parked the car! I thought I had lost my most precious possession. What a shock!
During the year I also saw "Jedda" a film in full Technicolor about an Aboriginal girl brought up as a European and her conflicting relationship with a full blood Aborigine. The scenery was magnificent and the story very confrontational. The concept of the racial problem was one I had not experienced or observed or considered.
I had arranged for my pay to go straight into a bank account, and I withdrew money as I needed it, instead of having to go to a shop such as David Jones which was willing to cash our cheques. We still got a monthly pay slip. When mine failed to come for a couple of months I learnt that I had been appointed to a country school, but the appointment was cancelled. Someone omitted to cancel the address to which my pay slip was sent. My pay still went in to the bank so I had no problem accessing it. When I learnt what had happened it brought home to me that the possibility of a move was very real. My headmistress had suggested I state my preferences for the coming year, as I had been at Granville for four years and might find myself sent anywhere in the state. So I applied for retention in Sydney first, Penrith area second, Wellington third.
My class again did statistically better than expected compared with the other classes.
I had met another George, twelve years older than I was, a High School teacher, always conservatively dressed in a suit and white shirt. By then a lot of men dressed more casually except on formal occasions and I encouraged him to wear pastel coloured shirts as a break with tradition. He seemed happy to oblige. Our friendship developed steadily, when unexpectedly I got a telegram.
"Report in January to Wellington". Auntie Nell, Ron and I had been through the town, in my little Morris, on our way to visit our relatives in Dubbo. I remembered Wellington as an attractive place on the Macquarie River with a large attractive park and swimming pool on the western side of the main road. George and I were disappointed, but accepted the appointment as a normal occurrence. We decided to write frequently, see each other whenever possible. I packed my clothes and sewing machine into my car. Mum's glory box and other items were stored at Dundas. He came with me to look for accommodation a couple of days before the school year began.
"I think we should book rooms at the hotel tonight," I said. "Then we'll visit my relatives in Dubbo district for the evening. I can have a look around after I put you on the train tomorrow."
As with everything he acquiesced.
Within the Dubbo district lived most of Auntie Vi's family, including Hazel and her husband John who was manager of the gas works. Put together there were a dozen of my cousins and their spouses. Auntie Vi, now a widow, had gone to New Guinea to help Auntie Clytie who had suffered a stroke. Most of the family members were serious churchgoers, each interpreting the bible to suit their biases.
We called on Hazel and John who were still in the process of finishing their roomy white weather board home, after living for years in the old house provided by the gas works, within the grounds.
"It's so good to be out of that house, even though this one isn't finished yet," said Hazel. "We never did get rid of the tide mark left by the floods and I was always afraid for the children. You know," she explained to George "When Oliver was about three he was riding his tricycle around the yard when a truck startled him and he went backwards into a shed built over an old disused well. The door gave way and he went down into the water sixty feet below".
"Jennifer was about two and a workman began to wonder what was wrong when he saw her leaning over the edge in the damaged shed. He shouted to her and was horrified to find that one child had already gone down. He shouted for John. "God had looked after him. Oliver was clinging to a piece of wood. John was down the ladder in seconds. All Oliver said was "Daddy I didn't mean to do it'."
We all sat for a moment unable to speak.
"Well what do you plan to do for accommodation in Wellington?" asked John. Who do we know in Wellington? The minister? I'll ring him if you like and see if he can help."
"Oh thanks very much. Even if it's only temporary until I can look more fully."
The address given by the minister was a little old-fashioned house with a tank for water, a chip heater and primitive plumbing. The board was cheap and so I moved into the clean, comfortable room. There were three elderly ladies, two sisters of seventy and eighty, another lady of ninety and her daughter - a young woman of sixty. The eighty-year-old ran the establishment and sometimes complained that her seventy-year-old sister was a bit of a ditherer. There was no wireless in the house, but regular bible-readings before meals.
They were rather askance later in the year when Sputnik was launched by the Russians. To them it seemed like interfering with nature. I went out at the forecast time and there sure enough was a blinking light travelling across the sky exactly as predicted. It confirmed my opinion that science was extremely accurate. It was said to be about the size of a basket ball and with the brightness of a star of the fourth magnitude orbiting the earth every 90 minutes.
Teaching in the country was very different. It was so much more relaxed. I walked to and from work each day and spoke to people along the way. My headmistress at Granville had believed I had a special ability to "get through" to the slower or disadvantaged children and my classes had always gained higher marks in the yearly tests than expected. Classes here were large, all the infants teachers were women and the headmistress was unmarried, which was no different from Granville. Only one was married and she left, well before the birth of her baby and was replaced by other married teachers for periods. We never used their Christian names. One, not much older than I was, asked me to be the licensed driver for her to get more practice, and even while out doing three-point turns and hill starts, I could not bring myself to call her Stella, as invited.
There were six classrooms all opening on to a central assembly hall. Although classes were large it was possible to have more group work, with some children working in the hall. I developed the ability of attending to more than one thing at a time. For the first time I taught a number of part Aboriginal children, some of whom lived in a shanty town and part Chinese children, descendants of gold-miners, many of whom were more artistic than academic. Some of the former did not come to school regularly and progressed slowly. However it was no more difficult than at the mainly white Australian community at Granville. The playground was spacious with trees where we could sit and knit while on playground duty. The asphalt area was small, used only by children needing a paved place for their game, so there were few accidents.
Schools were trying to involve parents more in the education of their children. At first this consisted of having annual Education Day when parents (and grandparents) were invited to look at displays of work and watch some kind of dancing, singing or percussion band. At Wellington we had singing games in the playground and examples of art and writing pinned on the walls. Parents, mainly mothers were more likely to come to school to make contact with teachers.
One rather cosseted only child told her mother she was sitting next to an Aboriginal girl. Her mother asked her if she wanted to be moved.
"Oh no, she's a dear little girl," although in fact much taller than the speaker.
Mostly I waited until the heat had gone out of the day before walking home. As the weather got colder I found going out in the car at night involved scraping ice off the windscreen. Also a supply of water had to be stored in the house each evening before it froze in the pipes resulting in no water for breakfast or washing or cleaning teeth.
In the evening I spent a lot of time sewing, knitting (a blue jumper for George) crocheting things for my "box" including a crocheted supper cloth. The older sister taught me to tat. I went to dressmaking classes at the Tech and my wardrobe increased at a phenomenal rate. Pretty cotton or nylon dresses with full, full skirts and tiny fitted bodices. My favourite was a watermelon pink party dress with pink and white sprigs of flock nylon flowers. It had a wide satin sash of the same bright pink, held at the waist by a diamente buckle. I felt like a princess.
George and I became engaged, he bought a sapphire ring and I began to plan my wedding dress and "going-away" outfit. A trousseau always included nightdresses although I, like most single girls wore pyjamas. I saw a dinner set I liked and laybyed it for my "box". It was light olive green and ivory with a fluted edge. Floral dinner sets (meat, gravy and peas mixed with roses or violets) did not appeal although I had saved several gifts of bone china cups, saucers and plates with a variety of pretty floral designs.
I was intensely interested in houses and families anticipating a home and family of my own. During my period at Wellington I spent many weekends at Hazel's, sometimes minding the children, sometimes sewing for them when she was working at the local hospital as a nursing sister. I was always glad of the extra experience. Children's clothes were something new. I was interested in the ways children were brought up, observing my friends and families and their children, developing theories about what was successful and what I would do when I had the opportunity. I vowed I would never hold "post-mortems" about minor disagreements, but teach my children to sort things out fro themselves.
"John's always on call at the gas works in case of emergency," explained Hazel. "I like to work whenever I can. If John is called, he has to take the children to Nancy's or Bill's. We need the money for the house. It was cheaper to live in the gas works' house but if we hadn't made the effort to build, we might have ended up like Mum and Dad. They always had a shire house and when Dad had the stroke, they had no money for their own home. If he had been able to keep working until he retired he'd have got a good pension."
George wrote regularly, sometimes rang and sometimes came to visit me, sometimes I went to Sydney for the weekend. He was kind and thoughtful and very agreeable. This was what I found bothered me. He was always agreeable, no matter what I did or said. We planned to marry and go to Canada to visit his brother for a year or so on a working holiday.
From time to time I drove to Sydney, leaving school at 3.30, often with people looking for a lift. On these trips I was aware of pains in my leg (thanks to my sprained ankle and hurt knee) and an aching arm (so-called tennis elbow). In winter it was very cold and I began to crochet a little rug to put over my knees using scraps of wool from various sources. Bathurst was a good place to stop for a break and a meal. Once on a juke box in a cafe I heard a record of Harry Bellafonte singing some calypso songs and was immediately taken by the style of music, particularly "Jamaican Farewell". A little later I saw a film with Harry Bellafonte "Island in the Sun" and was dazzled by him. He was gorgeous. He provided me with a repertoire of new songs which I croaked (with my ruined voice) especially when driving any distance alone.
George and I planned to go ski-ing in August and I was aware of a nagging appendix so I opted to part with it some months earlier in the May holidays in a private hospital in Sydney, my first experience as a hospital patient.
While in Sydney I met George's brother, who had come back for a holiday from Canada and found that he had forgotten how to shell peas. The only ones he knew came from the freezer or a can which amazed us.
During the year I began to think it was not necessary to try to please George because he was always delighted. He was an intelligent, patient man and I think genuinely happy about our relationship. I had grown up with the stereotyped image of the man who took the initiative in making important decisions. I believed that every woman needed a man, a more mature man, preferably taller and earning more money for a strong relationship.
In August George and I went skiing at Perisher Gap, in the Snowy Mountains, walking to and from Smiggin's Hole with all our gear, food and skis. It was a great holiday. My progress as a skier was much greater than when I had gone to Kiandra, as there was plenty of snow. I was flattered by the attention of the other young men and realised that George was so passive it began to annoy me.
Before the end of the year I decided I was unfairly looking forward more to travelling overseas than marrying George. I began to find him a bit serious and staid and I was young and frivolous, maybe "mixed up", so I broke off the relationship. He went alone, planning to stay for a while with his brother. I went on a cruise to Noumea (very hilly, very French), Fiji (where I bought a beautiful sari length to make a dress), Tonga (unsophisticated and natural, where we went ashore in landing barges as there was no wharf large enough for a big liner) and finally New Zealand (where I was so intrigued with the Pacific Islands displays, in the Auckland museum that I forgot the time and nearly missed the boat. I was running along the wharf to the cheers of the crew as they were about to take up the last gang way). At last I saw other countries and cultures, my first very superficial experience but was more concerned with having partners for the dances. Although there was a desperate shortage of men on the ship, I had nearly all the dances and had partners for other activities. It was a lot of fun and my photos helped me to absorb something from it when I got home. The nearest I got to the Milford Track was Wellington, New Zealand. A long way! At least I had been on foreign soil!
Back in Wellington, NSW, I found another place to board and joined every possible group as I felt I had not made an effort to meet local people while I was engaged to George. There was the Dramatic Society, Classical Music Club, Car Club, tennis and golf. Most of these faded quickly as they clashed with other activities or were eliminated as being above my head, or not inspiring enough. Tennis and golf continued, both had social dances. One of my colleagues and I took up golf and I bought a small set of second-hand clubs. We had some lessons for a start. A game cost 19/6 which gave us 6d change from £1. Next to the counter was a 6d poker-machine. This was my first encounter with such a thing. It never tempted me to spend more than one coin which I saw as a donation to the club. Gambling left me cold. Winning the lottery was something I never dreamed about. What I wanted, I set about to attain by more certain methods such as saving and budgeting.
But I was not afraid of going places on my own as I had a year ago to the Barrier Reef and more recently on a cruise. I didn't see it as risky. Both times I had had a very good time, perhaps because I was alone.
I began thinking even if I didn't get married I should get a block of land and get a house built. I could rent if I didn't want to live in it. But was tired of living in other people's homes. Where I was boarding was so boring, and I couldn't even invite friends. I had to depend on their invitations to their homes.
Many groups had a picnic ball, where each table of friends took a basket of food for supper or a dinner-dance where a meal was provided. Postcard sized tickets with gold or silver embossed edges were printed and sold well before the event. People got together to book and decorate a table. I went to as many as possible. An invitation, a ball gown, an evening purse and shoes and a partner were necessary.
My golf had improved to the point where once I actually did one hole in par! When the golf club hosted a big tournament, I found myself learning to be a waitress to serve lunch to the players. Country people were indeed more involved than city people. And my tennis did not embarrass me. There were other invitations such as joining a group playing against Dubbo, a game of golf, a game of tennis and a game of billiards followed by a party.
Then at tennis I met Richard, the sub-manager at Coles and very gentlemanly. He was wonderful and I knew this was IT. We went together to dances and other local social activities. He appreciated the effort I took to look nice. We enjoyed dancing and tennis, got on well together, never had a disagreement in eight months, yet we had to respect each other's views where we differed. He had a little "Beetle" as the early Volkswagens were called. It had a heater which was an innovation, bringing heat from the engine into the car to keep the occupants warm while the car was moving. We could talk about religion to a degree without becoming uptight, agreeing to differ. He went without fail to mass on Sunday, I had a sleep in except for the disturbance of the church bells. But marriage? We didn't get to the point of discussing it, because he was convinced he could only marry a Catholic, I knew I could never become one, even for Richard. We also felt there was no-one else for either of us and imposed an embargo on the subject. Family planning was unmentionable.
Dad's sister Jean died of breast cancer and was followed soon after by Grandpa Kinny in his eighties and Cecily's brother of an asthma attack aged twenty. In Richard's mind cremation could not have been an option.
For Open Day in Education Week at school I taught my class a simple square dance, which they enjoyed because it was a bit different and more "grown up" than the traditional singing games which had become part of these occasions.
This is where the Department stepped in and kindly sent me a telegram. "Report immediately to West Wyalong."
"West Wyalong" I cried. "I went through there last May coming back from Griffith. My girlfriend and I were teasing each other and saying "Here's your next appointment! Oh no! You should see it. There are about forty hotels all empty, some derelict. It used to be a thriving town in the gold-rush. But now!"
The town had been neatly laid out but the diggers built along the bullock wagon tracks to be near their claims and water and to avoid mud holes. The result was unique. Surrounding mullock heaps did not add to its beauty.
Richard was going to bring my things as I had left my car in Sydney for a major overhaul of the engine. I would go by train that night and Richard would come at the weekend.
Seven pm on a chilly winter's night from Wellington, arrive Blayney and wait for a couple of hours, train to Harden, wait several hours, motor-rail to Cootamundra, by now next day, pick up main western train from Sydney to Hay, arrive West Wyalong mid morning, not amused. I booked into a hotel to leave my case and walked to the school.
At the school I was shown to a room where the headmistress was trying to teach two classes. She greeted me with open arms "Are we glad to see you!" she cried . "This poor class hasn't had a permanent teacher all year. We have nearly given up hope. The only casuals in the town will come only if it suits them, and that's not regularly. The main one is the bank manager's wife who really doesn't need or want to work. As the year has gone on, the class has got worse and the casuals less and less inclined to come."
"How many children?"
"Forty-five lovely children. But you can imagine they've got a bit out of hand, but I'm sure you can cope."
"UGGG!" I thought.
"What about board? I know of someone, who lives on the other side of town. Lovely person." She told me to go to the hotel I had booked into, have a sleep, then try to get board at the address she gave me and come back tomorrow.
Having a regular permanent job involved accepting to some extent what appointments were available, with all the problems which may be involved.