Chapter 24 MRS KUESTLER
The board I got was excellent: chickens, eggs, cream, fresh fruit and vegetables from her son's farm and she was a good cook. The landlady even accommodated Richard for no extra charge, when he came bringing most of my gear which I couldn't carry with me.
He and I enjoyed each other's company, went interesting places and had fun together so long as the sensitive topic of marriage was avoided. We both recognised the impasse. I knew there was no future in waiting for him, and prospects in West Wyalong did not seem good as there were fewer single men my age. I was approaching the age when it would be harder to find someone compatible. I played tennis but found the standard very high and I was seriously outclassed. One of the other teachers complained,
"All the men here can talk about is points and bags." (points of rain and bags of wheat)
Without a car I could not get out to the golf course. One of the young teachers was a serious churchgoer and persuaded me to come to Fellowship. Members spoke as if it were necessary to have a higher being, at least there must be someone "up there" to look after them or if not there should be. It did not inspire me. I had realised that people of all cultures have always tried to make sense of the world and have accepted or invented supernatural or spiritual solutions for natural calamities, gods or spirits who had been angry and caused floods, earthquakes or volcanic explosions. If there was a meaning for life, surely there was a meaning for death.
I was not getting younger and was keen to settle and have a home and family of my own. I had made friends in Wellington and had gone occasionally to Sydney or the Blue Mountains for special events. I had come to appreciate the scenery of the Western slopes, the pockets of bush and the wheat crops in large rolling paddocks. My car had been repaired by Dad and Bill, and was waiting for me in Sydney. I was anxious to be reunited, it gave me so much freedom.
Since 1950 when I left school, I'd had a number of relationships and was very hopeful of a few, but each proved not to be THE ONE. I'd been exposed to many situations and tried to look at the positive aspects of each experience, that each had widened my horizon in some way. But I was very glad not to have been too involved with any of them, was not now trapped in an unrewarding marriage, or worse still to be faced with the need as an unmarried mother to give a baby up for adoption. This was the only option for girls unless family members offered help. Like all my friends I was aware of the unacceptable risks of STD (sexually transmitted diseases) and an unwanted pregnancy. Only one girl I knew had married hastily when it was obvious that a baby was on the way. We felt that she and her boyfriend had not behaved responsibly and the marriage was shaky. There was no government support apart from minimum age, widow or illness pensions. My friend Grace Mackintosh from Colo Heights had a very unhappy marriage, two little children, became ill and died. It seemed impossible that this had happened to someone I knew who was only about 27. Also my cousin Margaret, whose wedding I had attended, had now separated from her husband and returned to work and I could not ignore the failure of my parents' marriage.
My school-friend Pat was a doctor at Wollongong Hospital. My girlfriend Cecily and her husband John were living in the town, John teaching and Cecily now awaiting the arrival of their first baby. She had worked for several years as a stenographer and they had saved, invested, bought furniture and everything a baby might need. To this I added a layette I had made, white of course. They had given up bushwalking, except to attend meetings of the local group.
Most of my friends were married and many were on the way to getting their own homes and having a family. Was I looking for perfection? Was I expecting a miracle?
Although I had never spent a lot of time at the beach because of my skin, I missed the coast, I did not feel "at home" in West Wyalong and could not get my bearings in its flatness so I applied to return as I had had two appointments not of my choosing. I was now in my seventh year of teaching and was "experienced". First choice, Wollongong. And at the end of the year came my appointment to Port Kembla. I headed east, found a furnished room with use of conveniences near the town centre. Children from a migrant hostel made up a large proportion of the pupils in the school. Many were from Northern Europe and lovely children, with interesting backgrounds and language problems which soon dissolved. Classes were slightly smaller but more help was often needed. There was plenty of variety and teaching was interesting. One boy asked if he could bring his drums to school and I agreed, but was very surprised to find that, although he was only about eight, he had a full set of drums and could play them like a miniature professional with help from one of the teachers on the piano. [He later had his own band and I felt I had played a minor part in encouraging him.]
I joined every group which appealed, from drama to music and bushwalking and even checked out the surf club. There were lots of migrants, "New Australians", including at least a dozen shift-workers next door who must have shared the beds in a small three-bedroom house, which nobody seemed to think twice about. Wollongong had a good beach and I tried to find a way to acquire a tan. Wollongong also had a good library which I joined and found Australian books by Ernestine Hill, Miles Franklin and Ion Idriess which whetted my appetite to see more of my country.
Early in the new year Cecily and John's baby arrived, the first grandchild in both families, a beautiful boy, Gregory Richard. Congratulations from everyone and celebrations of the happy event. I envied her even more and was very keen to acquire a home of my own and have a family. I needed a husband first. To date none of my relationships had developed to the point of intimacy.
A couple of days after the birth, the baby was confined to the nursery and we all began to worry. At a week old he died of a staph infection. Who can describe the shock, the heartache and remorse a family feels at such a loss? The bright dreams that have turned sour, the words that stick in the throat at innocent remarks from strangers, the tears that won't be checked in private, avoiding people, to escape their pity or their embarrassed expressions of sympathy, or their commiserations and description of similar experiences which were not the same at all. Cecily had been such a support to me when my mother died, but the two events could not be compared. I knew I was offering nothing but empty chat.
Only John and the two grandfathers attended the funeral with a tiny white coffin. Cecily and John decided to escape to New Zealand for a change of scenery. Their furnished flat would be vacant from August. Maybe I would take it. John put in his resignation and applied for a job in New Zealand.
Uncle Eric took his retarded son Gordon and Auntie Vi took Uncle Bill after a stroke, to a Billy Graham Crusade at the Sydney Cricket Ground in May hoping for miracles. Thousands of people flocked to hear him during the 15 week tour of Australia and were mesmerised by his well-organised and well-promoted charismatic Baptist preaching. I saw a big problem if my cousin Gordon suddenly became well enough to leave Rydalmere Mental Hospital, would Auntie Peggy be expected to look after him? He would need much rehabilitation and this seemed to me a lot to ask as she had never had children of her own. Neither Uncle Bill nor Gordon improved. Auntie Vi said she had not had enough faith.
Soon after my arrival in Wollongong I met "Bill" at a dance. His real name was Wolfgang Kuestler and he had been in Australia about seven years.
"Do you like jiving?" he asked and I thought he had asked me if I liked driving.
"Yes I've been up to Brisbane with a couple of girlfriends, and down to the Snowy in the summer..."
"Jiving?" he said rather puzzled.
"No, in my car," and I realised I had misunderstood. He spoke quite good English but with a heavy German accent and a problem pronouncing "th". He was taller than average, a good-looking blue-eyed blond with a beautiful suntan which he had recently acquired in Queensland, a better than average dancer. He had also been working in the Snowy, so we talked about places we had both been to, but my travel and experiences did not compare with his. He was sociable, made friends easily, liked company and sounded so exciting.
"I'm working as a bricklayer at present, but back home in Switzerland I was an engineer. Before I came here I built a grand house in the Middle East with a complicated chimney. I left bricks in the flue because I suspected that the owner would not pay. He was nearly smoked out until he paid."
"What part of Switzerland did you live?"
"Right in the Alps".
The Alps! How wonderful!
"I used to be an expert skier, but I haven't done much since I came here. I've spent most of my time in Canberra and Queensland. I've been away four times since I arrived, once to Japan to build a seven-storey hospital, once to do some climbing in the Himalayas as the expedition photographer, once to New Zealand to train and then back to Switzerland to ski for my country in the Olympic Games."
By comparison every other man I had met paled into insignificance and was quite dull and colourless. Here at last was a man who had a similar spirit of adventure to mine, who had really done some of the things I had been dreaming about. At that time I had been twice to Tasmania bushwalking, to the Barrier Reef, to Cairns as a tourist, on a cruise to the Pacific Islands, as well as many lesser trips. My life sounded almost boring.
"I've just been waiting to meet a girl like you to make me settle down. My mother has nearly given up hope of me staying long enough in one place for her to write direct to me." As we talked over coffee at a cafe, he lit a cigarette.
I said "I've been thinking of settling in Wollongong, near the sea, the lake, the mountains, the bush and not far from Sydney where I have family. I'd like you to look at a block of land I've been thinking of buying. It seems a good buy to me but I'm no builder. I've saved enough to buy it."
"I must tell you about the castle I was building on the shores of a Swiss lake, bedrooms and living quarters on top with a double garage under that and a double yacht-garage on water-level, all with internal lifts."
"That sounds exciting. Why don't you see about getting accepted here as an engineer?"
"One day when I've settled down."
He wrote a couple of letters to me in the next few days, both in green ink, every 'u' with a ~ line over it, using quaint English and saying I was the most beautiful girl, Lady, he had met since he came back from an eighteen month contract in Tokyo, who could "make even a hard boiled adventurer like me stay in one place, the ones everybody could fall in love with at first sight." He was very entertaining and unlike anyone I knew.
He also shared my love of dancing and suggested we go, a few days later to watch the finals of a ballroom dancing competition in which the women all wore VERY full tulle skirts, decorated on the top layer with patterns of sequins - matching or contrasting - with tightly fitted bodices always striking and costing the earth. I loved dancing but was not interested in this competitive aspect which seemed too serious; perfection was the only thing acceptable, rather than for fun and the love of music and dance as a social activity.
We went to look at the block of land I wanted to buy. It sloped gently up from the unmade road. This would allow for a garage under the house. The area was not far from the centre of town but was undeveloped and affordable, cows grazed on it and drank from a waterhole at the foot of the hill. Kookaburras perched in two huge gum trees and Mount Kembla rose behind.
"It would never be too far from trees and bush because they will never allow development on the mountain. Look, there are ibis coming to drink at the waterhole." It had a truly rural atmosphere, but was only ten minutes drive from the Wollongong CBD.
Bill agreed it was probably a good buy and I paid the deposit with some of my savings and signed the contract. It would cost £500, the equivalent of a year's wage, the same as my Morris Minor a couple of years earlier. The first step in getting a home of my own. In time I could apply for a bank loan and get a house built. I could have the home I wanted, not have to fit in with other people's wishes and arrangements. Bill and I went on outings together and he indicated he liked to drive and I complied with the tradition that said men were drivers, women were passengers. Bill expressed surprise at the idea of singing as we went along and I soon desisted. He hinted that a bigger car would be more appropriate. My Morris was traded in on a two-tone Hillman (a little more modern and roomy) using the rest of my savings and I opened a bank account with the Bank of NSW to pay off the land as advised by the solicitor who did the conveyancing. I saw the logic in borrowing for the land rather than the car which could be written off in an accident. This was the first time I had borrowed money and was convinced that there was complete security in buying land as it could always be sold if something went wrong.
There seemed no reason to delay our wedding. I was already twenty-five, keen to have my own home and belong to someone. Bill was very eager and I allowed myself to be propelled into plans for marriage. There was no-one to persuade me to have a big elaborate ceremony with a lot of guests. There was no thought of extravagance. Bill would be inviting only a few friends. Whatever we decided, I would have to pay for. Nobody I knew had been married in a registry office, even non churchgoers had traditional functions. I thought it appropriate to marry in St Phillip's Church, near my old school and have the reception at the Hotel Australia.
So we planned to marry in August just before Cecily and John left for New Zealand, and have a belated honeymoon in Europe for which we were saving. I began to get books from the library to learn about that part of the world.
Bill had no family in Australia. He had been the first grandchild in his family and had been pampered by his grandparents who had largely brought him up. His mother was very young and unmarried when he was born and soon went back to work. He left Europe at the time of migration to Australia, setting out to "see the world" cheaply.
He was willing to give up his freedom which was precious to him and was very keen to get married so we looked upon ourselves as committed to each other. Cecily did express some reservations about his exploits and did not want to be my bridesmaid, I thought still suffering from the loss of her baby. I didn't want to think his stories were not plausible.
My brother Bill whose initials W.A.K. (William Andrew Kinny) were the same as my fiancé, (Wolfgang Arthur Kuestler) was also engaged and Clare was happy to be my attendant and asked me to do the same for her. She was tiny, friendly, candid, cheerful, a contrast to my brother's noncommittal five feet eleven. They planned their wedding for the following year and to buy land and build. He was working at Mascot as a fitter and turner. They planned to live for a while in a caravan on the block of land they had bought in the Blue Mountains.
Bill (my fiancé) was working at the new coke ovens at Port Kembla and this involved specialised work with very good "heat money", with so many minutes working and then so many off. I drove through this area every day on my way to work and at the time it was very noisy and dirty. The firm he worked for went on strike soon after we met (I think for more money although they got extra good wages). I had never been on strike and in fact never did during my teaching career. I suggested Bill begin to look into getting Australian qualifications while he was not working. This idea didn't appeal. He preferred to wait until we were married. He had no savings and had to live on a small amount of "strike money" which covered rent and cigarettes. Until then he had not planned for his future and had no thought of putting aside a part of his income.
I was basically cooking for him in the flat he shared with a German friend, and mending his clothes and doing the shopping. Domestic chores were anathema to him. I was used to it.
Bill wanted to have as much as possible to spend on our honeymoon and to buy a car in Europe. He did not want to borrow money at this time. I would have liked to get a bank loan and build our house first so as to have somewhere to leave our things while we were away. During the next few months I chose a modest sapphire engagement ring and began to plan my wedding, thinking of details of dresses, invitations, the reception on so on.
Some of my colleagues from school gave me a surprise party in their flat, for staff members and other friends including Cecily. It was truly a surprise. I took my knitting! I was led to a chair decorated with streamers, each one of which led to a hidden gift - a peg bag, a rolling pin, a rat trap. The staff gave me two cake plates at an afternoon tea at school.
There was also a "kitchen tea" at Clare's place at Randwick attended by old Fort Street friends and some relatives. Clare organised a couple of games, I showed my "box" which was very traditional, things which I had saved from presents from children, pretty cups and saucers, also things I had made during the last five years or so, embroidered tablecloths, crocheted supper cloths.
The trousseau I had made included a pink and grey molleton dressing gown, with pink trim, a white nylon petticoat, stiff and full with lace and blue frills and ribbons and tiny flowers, a pink brushed nylon nightdress, with a honeycombed yoke highlighted with white motives and tiny diamentes, white "baby doll" pyjamas trimmed with blue ribbon and lace, a blue satin bra and suspender belt on which I had done fancywork. Some of my lingerie was inspired by things I saw at Dorith Unger's, near Hotel Australia.
I bought pink soft leather slippers and got my ears pierced so that I could wear tiny pearl and diamente earrings.
Clare had listed all the household things I needed and which type and colour I would prefer. I opened presents and afterwards we had a splendid afternoon tea to which many people contributed.
In the meantime I was busy knitting Bill a blue jumper, (although his favourite colour was black) making myself some more clothes for my trousseau, thinking about my wedding outfit (he suggested I should make a black dress but black was never associated with weddings).
Uncle Perce and Uncle Eric had indicated that they did not feel they could attend my wedding if my father was going to give me away, because they felt he had deserted my mother and me twenty years before. Some of the Smythe family wondered how I could have a relationship with my father in the circumstances. I had been far too young at the time to understand everything and since then had heard only one side of the story and very little of that. I knew it was within Dad's legal rights to sell the house at Bankstown and evict us as he did. Mum had rarely spoken of him and nothing disparaging. She had grown up with the conviction that it was her task to keep her husband happy and I saw no reason to reject that belief. I thought I was better equipped than she had been to achieve that goal and I was marrying a man who admired me so much. Being in touch with my brother often involved contact with Dad and Dot. Dot was easy to get on with and Dad seemed to be making an effort to be more agreeable. Realising that marriage for other people I knew was not always easy, I tried to make no judgements about my parents.
One possibility seemed to be to have my brother give me away.
"No matter what he did in the past your Dad is my son," said Grandma, "and I feel that if he does not go to the wedding then I should not either."
Grandma Kinny meant a lot to me. There was a dilemma.
The solution was that Dad would give me away in traditional style and that I invite my friends and my cousins to the reception. Most of my cousins hardly knew my father and had no problem.
The perfect day should have had only positives, but that was not to be. My "fairy tale" ideas hit the reality of family loyalty, hurts, distrust and biases.
My fiancé normally dressed very informally, and had to buy a suit for the occasion, shorts and thongs just would not do.
Clare, Dorothy and Harold
My dress was three-quarter length, made of white delustred satin with a faint ripple. It had guipure lace and seed pearl motives around the neckline and tiny sleeves. It fitted my twenty-four inch waist neatly and the skirt was full and very graceful. On my gloves I had tatted an edge and sewn seed pearls. I had an apple blossom coronet with a short veil, scalloped around the edge. My white court shoes had a neat leather and narrow gold trim. Everything except my shoes and gloves I had made myself. My bouquet was pale pink gladioli, in a modern arrangement (not a large bouquet). Clare was my bridesmaid with a similar dress in blue.
The cake was a single tier with white icing and a touch of blue and a tiny spray of pink and white sugar flowers.
My mother's brothers and sisters and their spouses also Clare's mother and grandmother came to the church, historic St Philips (named after Governor Arthur Philip, a rare church with a surname) in York Street near my old school, but did not attend the reception. They gave presents - linen, saucepans, an ironing board, cutlery, canisters (pink and grey), glasses, a steam iron (very modern) and other electrical goods. Uncle Viv and Auntie Clytie sent a telegram to bring their felicitations from New Guinea and a beautiful embroidered tablecloth. Dad's family sent cards and gifts but as I had had very little contact with them, they did not attend.
The reception included my brother, some of my cousins, a few friends, Dad, Dot and Grandma and two of Bill's workmates - altogether twenty-four of us. It was held in a room at the Hotel Australia, a fine, stately building nearly 100 years old with elegant decor, entered from Castlereagh St between King St and Martin Place, since replaced by MLC Centre.
Cousins Mary and Betty
Bill Kinny and ?
Cousins Margaret and David
Dad, Dot and Grandma Kinny
Roslyn Bushell and cousin Ron Smythe
We had a tasty meal, some wine, some speeches and lots of good wishes. The small band played the bridal waltz and Bill and I waltzed around the floor with ease. Our marriage would surely be patterned on this, moving as one, dancing through life together as Mr and Mrs Kuestler. Although I had kept my initials, I had a new surname, even more difficult to spell.
The first night of our honeymoon was in the luxury of the Bridal Suite with a large bath all to ourselves, unlimited hot water on tap and a huge bed. The next morning my new husband and I set out for Lamington National Park which I had loved since I first discovered it as a bushwalker. He seemed more impressed than I was with the high rise development along the Gold Coast. I expected that Bill would like Lamington just as much, as he had told me he was very keen on all outdoor activities. He found it a photographer's paradise and posed me by waterfalls, on logs, under huge trees. It was a wonderful fortnight and I felt certain a foretaste of a long and happy life together. All I needed was someone like him and all he needed was someone like me. I had found a purpose, a direction for my life - to make a happy home for my husband and our future family. Every year would bring us nearer to our goal.
I planned to help Bill with the maths and English in the correspondence course in civil engineering which I had bought him as a wedding present. It was intended to be a four-year course. He believed he would sail through it as it was basically revision with an emphasis on imperial measurements. We intended to enjoy dancing and bushwalking together and anticipated a contentment with each other. I had been to the doctor before we married to get contraceptive advice and had been fitted with a diaphragm as we planned a trip to Europe about May the following European summer to visit his family before we had any children. At last I was going overseas! Those wonderful Swiss mountains! And maybe also the homelands of my ancestors.
Marriage, a modest home, travel and soon a family. I asked for nothing more.