Chapter 33 PROGRESS
Later in the year, I contacted the Department of Education to say I was available for casual work. Since my marriage, my weight had gone up with each pregnancy and down with each period of breast-feeding. I was now slim again but had lost the neat figure of five years earlier. People were more relaxed about dressing. Clothes were more casual, women were less restricted and many worked outside the home and managed their own money. Jeans or slacks were unacceptable for work but "pants suits" were OK and the "shift" was very quick and simple to sew. In anticipation of some work I made a couple from curtain material which I had been given and put aside "in case".
My few good clothes were never worn around the house, so that they could be kept for best. When something was really no longer wearable, it was converted to something for one of the children or finally a duster or car rag. The children's clothes were mended and patched (especially at the knees) and the patch decorated imaginatively to disguise it.
When a few weeks' work was available at the end of the year, the Department sent a telegram. I got a baby-sitter and worked to buy some Christmas presents for the children, including some little colourful "Golden Books", yellow plastic raincoats and hats for them (a great new innovation), a tree which I decorated with what I could find and would use first as a Christmas tree in a tub, then plant in the garden, and an umbrella and basic items for myself. I had only one summer dress, a couple of shifts and one pair of shoes. Using MY money, Bill bought me an electric knife which was a big advantage for cutting his lunches, as he took a lot of sandwiches for his "smoko" and lunch. It became obsolete with the advent of sliced bread soon after.
At school I TALKED garrulously in the staffroom and any free minute, aware that I was boring everyone as my only topic was the children, but unable to stop, as I was so craving adult conversation and companionship. It was difficult for me to make friends as the type of people I liked did not fit in with Bill or he with them and I had little time to go by bus to visit my previous friends who were not nearby.
Mutti had sent presents which I had also put aside for Christmas, matching suits for the boys, more Lego and another doll.
"Why don't you buy yourself a smart black dress for Christmas? Or a bikini?"
"I have spent all the money I earned. In any case you know I prefer colours to black and colours suit me better and I never go swimming with three little children and if I did I wouldn't wear a bikini."
Bikinis were strictly for the young and slim. If I'd had a choice I would not have bought a bread knife, a black dress or a bikini. When I could I would buy a food mixer which would help with making cakes and biscuits for David, also meringues for treats. Until then an egg beater plus muscles did everything.
Christmas was memorable, as I had managed to keep everything hidden until the day. To me it was a day for children, with lots of fun and surprises, but I preferred it to be Christmas Day rather than Christmas Eve as in Germany which was too exciting before bed.
The bank loan and the money Bill had got from the damages claim had disappeared on materials for the house, money to live on while he built it, and a woodworking machine. Now there was none left and the house was still far from finished. Bill looked for casual work and wanted a car.
We both had to go for our licences again, as we had let them lapse in the car-less years. It did not delight Bill to have to go for his twice, believing he had been failed because he was not Australian. I always insisted that the children sit quietly while I was driving. Having a car I could perhaps travel to nearby schools for casual work and the problems of getting the shopping home would largely be solved, if I could negotiate to use the car.
We bought a second-hand two-tone Hillman.
The bank representatives called, saw that we had moved in, although the house was larger than planned and there was much to be done, and said we should start our repayments. Our finances were even more meagre!
I had been determined to teach my children to be co-operative and sort out their problems by negotiation. It was not easy to avoid getting stressed when I was busy and pressed for time, in fact bringing up children thoughtfully is not easy, but it is rewarding.
Although he would not be five until August, Peter was enrolled at Farmborough Road school in May. There was a small intake in May to keep up the numbers of children needed to retain all the teachers. By this time uniforms had become the norm for Infants and Primary Schools. The school required grey shirts and pants, for winter, pants were of wool and lined, which was a technique I had to learn. As soon as I was informed, I started to knit him a jumper in the right colours. I thought I had prepared Peter thoroughly, telling him everything I could think of. He had excellent language skills, but had forgotten all the German he knew so well in Germany. He could write his name and had been allowed to do most things for himself, so he was confident in his ability and was looking forward to school. Numbers fascinated him and he had taught himself the numerals, beginning with the "Smiley Lion" book, then copying them from the calendar, my tape measure and his books.
I told him he should be sure to go to the toilet at recess, but there was a toilet in the classroom which was a help to new Kindergarten children. I had apparently not made it clear about coming home.
When I arrived to collect him he said "Why did you come and get me?"
"The other children are going home now. Look you can see them. Your teacher will be going home soon, you know. She has to get her dinner and go to bed too. You go back tomorrow." He hadn't realised that it would be a daily event. That satisfied him.
Another boy, John, who was not much older than Peter, started at the same time. Soon afterwards John's mother wrote me a note asking if Peter could join the family on a picnic with chops on a BBQ. I was delighted that Peter had already made friends and when I met the family I found them to be great people. John, like Peter was blond and blue-eyed. His little sister, the same age as Jacqueline had long silky blond hair. Peter and John became firm friends. [They were still friends 45 years later.]
When Peter started school David wanted to pay the bus driver on our next trip to town. I gave him the money to hold, while I folded the stroller. As the bus slowed to a halt, I took Jacqueline's hand, stroller and basket in my other hand. Just then, David who was so proud of his important responsibility, dropped the coin and it rolled under the bus. A passenger near the door crawled under the bus to retrieve it.
In August we had a run to Warimoo to visit Bill, Clare and Roderick. If we went anywhere together, Bill always drove. This was rare as the children were car sick. By driving steadily and cornering carefully I found the children did not get car sick. I was nervous of driving with Bill as we had a number of near accidents. A friend said that one day Bill would kill himself on the road as he was very impatient and erratic and did not concentrate.
After one term in kindergarten, Peter and John, the youngest in the class, were both promoted to upper kindergarten. The first thing Peter did in his new class was get sick. Monday morning he stayed home, but by lunch time he seemed better so he went to school. The same thing on Tuesday. On Wednesday he was definitely not well, so I made an appointment to see the doctor. In the surgery on Thursday, the spots began to pop out. Measles! He was quite ill and fancied he saw washing prams floating around the room. When the other two caught it, they were not so ill, but very irritable. While one slept, I rocked the other in the stroller.
As well as the interior fitting-out of the house, our paths and fences were waiting for Bill to feel motivated and the garden was waiting for the paths and fences. Right at the back door the heap of building rubble remained, here and there in the yard were stacks of timber and bricks, and a heap of dirt piled up by the excavator when we had first begun to build, five years ago. If Bill had not objected I would have made an effort myself, with some of these eyesores. Even the area where my vegetable garden had been before Jacqueline was born, was now littered with building rubble and off cuts and not very productive.
"Why can't you wait until I get a chance to do it?" Bill would say.
"I've been waiting for years now, to get the garden going."
"Well I'm not going to waste time getting a garden ready, then spoil it when I do the fences. And as usual you'll say we've got no money."
"If I could grow our vegetables like I did before, it would save money. It needn't be in your way. And it would save me having to cart so much shopping up the hill."
"I can't shake it out of my hand," was his usual reply.
"If you just clean up some of the rubble I'll do the rest."
"Push. Push. Push. It makes a man fed up. No wonder I've lost all interest."
I tried to persuade him he would feel less depressed if he could see some progress on the house. I was wasting my breath. Sometimes he went downstairs to sleep in the garage, once for about a week.
Apart from routine shopping in Unanderra and occasional bus trips to Wollongong, I seldom left the house. The only time I went to Sydney after Jacqueline was born was to Uncle Perce's funeral. On their return from England, he and Auntie Dorrie had bought a house at Denistone. He died suddenly still working on a book and I felt so sad that since our return from Germany I had not been able to visit. I felt shocked. Whenever I had need of someone to talk to, to ask advice, to seek comfort and reassurance, I thought of my family and they were far away.
For the funeral I went up by train with the three children and stayed overnight at Pennant Hills, where Auntie Vi lived while Uncle Viv was in New Guinea following Auntie Clytie's death.
I rang a baby-sitter and left the children in her care during the service. Everyone was at the funeral. It was a family reunion as well as a sad occasion. We all went back to Auntie Dorrie's for afternoon tea. I had a wonderful time catching up with many of my relatives and meeting the spouses of some of my cousins, and after collecting my children from the baby-sitter, introducing them to their extended family.
In the year after we moved in, work on the house came to a standstill apart from painting. From time to time Bill got paid work. Dad came down for a few days now and then and he and I painted. He was my teacher and did most of the finishing coats.
Some days I would do very little else in the house but paint. There were enough interruptions attending to the needs of the children, without worrying about the breakfast dishes in the sink, or the unswept floors. At four o'clock I would disguise the worst of the mess and begin dinner.
Once when Dot came with Dad for a visit, I talked to her a little of my difficulties, trying to work on the house, do what I could in the garden, make clothes for the growing children and keep the house in order. The housework suffered. Dot who was a self-effacing woman, said to me when we were talking about my early life that Dad was also not an easy man to live with - letting me know obliquely that the problems of my parents' marriage was not all on one side as he believed. Dot had known Dad had a bad temper but believed mistakenly that she could keep him happy and he would not be irritable with her.
"I wish I had talked more to my mother. I suppose everyone thinks that. Recently my Uncle Perce died and I hadn't even seen him for nearly three years."
When the children asked him a question, Bill seemed not to hear them and was mostly too occupied with his own thoughts to answer. They developed the habit of coming to me to ask "What's Daddy doing?" I often had to go and find out and explain as well as I could.
The "garbage bin" game usually went like this since our return from overseas. The heavy metal bin had to be carried to the road side.
I would say "Bin night tonight, don't forget."
"Yes all right. I'll put it out later." In the early years of our marriage he usually did.
Later "Don't forget the bin. Everything's in it ready."
"Yes yes. You don't have to keep on about it."
Silence. We go to bed. The bin is not out. Bill sleeps. I get up and put the bin out. Next morning "You couldn't remind me could you?"
At the beginning of the next school year a "morning only" position was available at the hospital school in Wollongong, and I proposed going back to work on a "permanent temporary" basis, more regular than casual work, if I could count on getting a little help with tasks like lawn-mowing. Bill agreed and actually put out the bin that night. I rang my original baby-sitter who was available for Jacqueline and David and hurriedly made myself a couple more dresses. When Bill was working I would have to drive him to work first and collect him each afternoon.
This job was for three hours each day which was very convenient. The other teacher was helpful and understanding of my limited time, as she had three children herself, all now grown up. But during those three hours there was no time to breathe. From the moment we appeared at nine o'clock, the children, some in beds in wards, some in wheelchairs, were calling for activities. It was exhausting, as each child had particular needs and disabilities. With some of them, as soon as we got used to what they could do, they were whisked off to surgery or taken home. I enjoyed the variety, having no programs to do or tests to mark at home, apart from the few long-term children who were special and for whom work had to be prepared. The arrangement was ideal for me.
A new sunny classroom had been added to the children's ward and this was formally opened soon afterwards. I bought a smart aqua linen dress on special from David Jones for the occasion. We were on television for a few moments, and I had now one really good dress. I could shop on my way home and had the afternoon for my children and housework before collecting Bill if he was working.
This was 1966. At Peter's school I joined the Mothers' Club and very soon found there was a great shortage of people willing to be on the committee. At the elections I decided it was preferable to learn to be the president rather than the secretary or treasurer. At the Easter Parade I was required to make a speech of thanks and congratulate the participants and winners. Another new experience for me.
Decimal currency came in and I made a "dollar bill" hat for the parade. £1 equalled $2 when the changeover was made. The need to learn that 12d was 1 shilling, 20 shillings were £1 was gone and the problems of calculating "money sums". Many people resisted and some cynically blamed the shops for cheating and profiting from the change.
The infants' headmistress was a married woman with a daughter in the primary department. Married teachers were by then more common. Parents were encouraged to be more involved in the school - still not in basic "core" work, only on special occasions, when fathers and grandparents often came as well to support the child and show an interest. My children had no-one but me.
Unemployment was beginning to rise, but tradesmen could usually find work as demonstrated by Bill's workmates, who always accepted whatever was available and were never out of work. Machinery now made many jobs obsolete, women found they could do many jobs which had traditionally been men's jobs. People I knew on the land near Bathurst were finding they could not get seasonal workers because going on the dole had become an easier option. Employers bought more equipment so as not to have to rely on unpredictable manpower.
Bill was spending little time doing anything around the house and showed scant interest in the children, unaware of what he was missing. He spent a lot of time next door watching television with the neighbours. I knew they were not terribly happy about it but didn't like to say anything. When he came home I was often in bed, dead tired. I was so fed up with lying awake at night, hearing noises which were mostly cows near the house, so my priority would be a fence, then floor coverings and proper cupboards, and a food mixer. After paying for these things I began to save for the next major job, maybe floor coverings in the kitchen, but decided to buy a television set. I went after work to look at the limited range at the time (all black and white) and chose one which was delivered immediately arriving before I got home. Bill refused to take delivery, thinking a mistake had been made, but I went next door and rang and reordered it. Of course there was an argument but I had used MY money and was not going to be overruled. It was a very sore point that I had made the choice alone, but he did not hesitate to make use of it.
I resolved not to become obsessed with television, watching indiscriminately. I found some documentaries and nature programs which I watched with the children when I had time. I also discovered "Four Corners" and became an addict of programs such as David Attenborough who was involved making programs such as "Life on Earth" and "The Ascent of Man" for the BBC. He later introduced conservation themes and colour television which greatly enhanced the study of nature for those who had the latest models. Photography had advanced remarkably and amazing things were recorded on film by experts. I was still interested in caving and saw on a documentary that the famous Lascaux Caves had been closed to the public because the prehistoric murals were fading. They had lasted 20,000 years since Cro-Magnon (New Stone Age) man but large numbers of tourists with the pollution they brought had caused great deterioration.
While there was some sign of progress with the house I could always tell myself it would eventually be finished and life would be easier and there would be some time and opportunity for relaxation and entertainment. When things came to a standstill it was difficult to be philosophical, especially as the house would never be what I wanted. The future would have looked very bleak except for the children and their need of me, their confidence in me and the pleasure of watching their development. I wanted them to be happy, confident, independent and responsible.
Bill often complained about our marriage and said that we were just living next to each other. "You have time for the kids and for work and the house but no time for me." He said our relationship should improve "when we had no money worries" which were the cause of our problems but he seemed incapable of adjusting to our income which was spasmodic. I should just stop trying to make ends meet! He often picked a fight because I "breathed" by which he meant sighed, or "had a face". I could not go to bed during an argument as he followed me and woke the children which made things worse. And I had to be up early every morning no matter how late a night I had had.
In the back of my mind I knew our marriage was going nowhere. I bought a book "The Art of Marriage" but could find no solutions in it. I tried to persuade Bill we should see a Marriage Guidance Counsellor and make an effort to be happy together. His response was that I should go and learn how to keep a man happy. At times I had seriously thought of leaving during the past years, but I had nowhere to go and nobody to turn to. In spite of my resolution I was often depressed and could not maintain my optimism. It all seemed completely hopeless. I was not going to give up just because things were difficult. When the future looked grimmest I sought relief in activity, the achievement of a minor goal, such as tidying a cupboard or making something. But it was often impossible to keep calm and cheerful. There was no way Bill and I could discuss things rationally.
My greatest worry was what would happen to the children if I became ill or died? There was no thought that Bill would want to look after them. My fear was that they would be separated as my brother and I were in our childhood.
"If I can't live with him, I don't want the children to be in that situation."
I hoped that my brother and sister-in-law would care for them, although I was not happy at the idea of them possibly becoming Jehovah's Witnesses. They were probably by now too independent in their thinking to become converted and conforming.