Chapter 9     EPAMINONDAS 39

At school in woodwork, Bill had made a contraption for holding a skein of wool to be wound, in preparation for knitting. He also made me a wireless in a wooden case with my initials carved into the front in Gothic script as a decoration and painted pale green. It had three valves and a rectifier as it had to run on DC current. To earn the money for the components, Bill had worked for Uncle Allan, de-burring (filing sharp edges off) holes drilled in a metal product he was making, for which Bill earned a penny a hole. He also mowed the lawns and clipped the hedge for pocket money from our grandparents and Uncle Ernie. He brought the gifts over to me on one of his rare visits, coming by train and tram. We had a lot of catching-up to do, but couldn't find the words.

To listen to the wireless I had to go to the room we shared with the landlady for cooking as there was no power point in our room. The table where we ate and I did my homework was in our room, so my listening time was limited and I sometimes stood near the wireless to hear programs. It was out of the question to turn up the volume to listen from the next room. I heard snippets from a children's serial "The Search for the Golden Boomerang" with theme music from Nutcracker Suite which became my favourite music.

I first heard on the ABC the Argonauts' Club which I later joined. It was based on Greek stories and names, Jason and his vessel "Argo", setting out to find the Golden Fleece. There were fifty "rowers" in each "boat". My name was Epaminondas 39. The program included music, stories, poems, nature talks and regular times when members contributed their own items or answered questions posed on the Brains' Trust.

Mum did not encourage commercial programs such as "Mrs ‘Obbs", still advertising "Bonnington's Irish Moss Gum Jubes." I was convinced that the "petraloxymel of carrageen" was invented, so the product was dubious and the program avoided. I happily listened mainly to the ABC. A very popular way for families to spend the evening was to listen to "The Amateur Hour" on 2GB especially during the war with blackouts and rationing. My school friends mentioned the names Bobby Limb and Rolf Harris.

Some of my classmates were selected to take part in "The Quiz Kids" compered on the wireless on a commercial station since 1942 by John Dease. The shows were broadcast on Sunday nights, those of us who could, listened to the program when the five young contestants answered a variety of general knowledge questions. Some of the girls actually went with their parents to watch the recording of the show and it was disappointing that I could never join them to see how it was done.

The wireless was also used to set the clock, as the correct time was given every hour. Otherwise the time could be learnt by using a public telephone. A voice said "On the third stroke it will be......precisely." Coins were not needed for this.

Auntie Ida invited us to my cousin Margaret's wedding in winter 1945. As Margaret was away in the Air Force, Auntie Ida had to arrange everything. She borrowed a neighbour's dresses, a wedding dress and yellow bridesmaid's dress for Mary. Her letter asked my mother to come early as she, my mother was "always calm" and Auntie Ida was very nervy. Mum had given some thought to the idea of us going to a ceremony in a church. Perhaps she did not want to admit to her family the details of our domestic situation and tried to avoid contact. She always avoided negative comments about Dad but her brothers and sisters were not so charitable and we had not visited them recently. Finally she decided it was not inappropriate to go to the wedding, especially as her sister had specifically asked her to come early to be a support.

She asked me "What would you wear to a wedding?" I had virtually no choice. I had a pink cotton frock I had made by hand, white shoes and socks. We bought simple straw hats and simple decorations from June's millinery and attached the net and ribbons and tiny flowers. Mum wore her suit with stockings held up by garters with her matronly-styled shoes. Women of means had corsets which gave them a firm figure but were costly and probably also unhealthy. My hair was curled in rags overnight to make it extra curly. Most of our relatives who could, came to the wedding, but Mum told them little about where we were living, only that it was temporary, and discouraged probing inquiry.

wedding 1945Leo and Margaret's wedding

At the reception Auntie Vi rearranged the place cards to mix people more and played "Robin's Return" on the piano to entertain them. Auntie Ida could play too but was too shy to do so.

I expressed the thought that it must be wonderful to go to a restaurant where they played music, having in mind Strauss, Chaikovsky or Chopin. I had never been to any sort of restaurant, the only meals not home-cooked were occasionally fish and chips wrapped in newspaper while visiting my cousins at Ramsgate. So Uncle Eric as a treat invited me to go to lunch at "The Baltimore". A pianist played "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and similar pieces which did not fit into my image of real music. He accidentally called me Dorrie which confused me although I knew I had been named after Auntie Dorrie.

Uncle Eric also took me and his son Barry out occasionally, once to Manly by train and ferry where we gorged on prawns, another time to National Park by train and walked to Audley where I wanted to walk on and on to find the source of the Hacking River. He was very keen on cryptic crosswords and showed me how he worked out the clues.

I once said to him "I don't get disappointed because I don't expect too much." I was used to having unfulfilled dreams. My dreams were unrealistic anyway, but they helped me cope. Uncle Eric thought I must be a very lonely person, certainly out-of-step with others. I later became very optimistic, especially as I became more in control of my own affairs. I saw the roses rather than the thorns, although I tried to evaluate and not be over-enthusiastic or too carried away.

Even though I now had a wireless I did not normally listen to the news and did not know that the war was finally over after the dropping of the atomic bomb and Victory in the Pacific against Japan. I went to school as usual and was again sent home. This was VP Day, Victory in the Pacific or VJ Day, Victory over Japan. Food and clothing rationing went on for some time and many things were still in short supply years later. But everyone rejoiced at the complete end of hostilities and I saw this as an improvement in world affairs and Armageddon seemed remote.

In general the aim of our school curriculum was to broaden our activities with drama and art rather than achieve a much higher standard in basic academic subjects. Before the year's end at school we had covered all the arithmetic course and could do long division, work out square roots, calculate money transactions and so we were introduced to the ideas we would meet next year at high school, algebra, geometry and other more interesting mathematics. We also learnt more complicated grammar and a smattering of French all of which I enjoyed. I saw them as intellectual puzzles. Mum also remembered a few words of French which I practised. Parsing and analysis were easy. I understood the function of the parts of speech although meaning of the technical terms was obscure. What exactly was "parsing"?

Our outdoor activities included ball games such as tunnel ball, captain ball and under and over. The class was divided into equal teams, standing behind each other in a line and the ball was passed through a tunnel formed by our legs, at shoulder height or alternately under one girl's legs and over the next girl's head squatting in line. I enjoyed all such activities and had no difficulty.

I had applied for Fort Street, my mother's old school. Towards the end of Primary School I sat for a Bursary, given at that time to students who passed the examination and who satisfied a means test. I was told I would likely fulfil both criteria.

"Secret" languages were all the thing & we communicated saying "I a mum sus tut o nun e bub rur o kuk e" for those in the know to take out all the "u"s leaving "I am stoney broke" (I have no money). Autograph books were popular, often with different coloured pages and at various times, such as at the end of sixth class, girls passed around their books for signatures and drawings, mottoes or verses. Popular verses included:-

"Life is mostly froth and bubble.
Two things stand like stone.
Kindness in another's trouble.
Courage in your own."

"I had no shoes and complained until I met a man who had no feet."

"Give me the strength to change the things that can and should be changed,
Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
And the wisdom to tell the difference." ( from Reinhold Niebuhr 1892-1971)

Granny Smythe had written in my cousin's book:-

"He who knows and knows that he knows
Is a wise man. Follow him.
He who knows not and knows not that he knows not
Is a fool. Shun him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows
Is asleep. Wake him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not
Is a child. Teach him." (translated from an ancient Arabian proverb from Darius 500 BC)

Mum thoroughly approved of all these as they fostered a positive uncomplaining outlook.

"There's always something good in any situation," she said.

Most women depended on their fathers and later their husbands until they were widowed or reached the pension age. Mum was not a widow nor elderly. Only in 1945 was there any welfare allowance for women such as her. She was advised that she was probably eligible for a special benefit pension, as support from Dad was scant and not regular and she could not work. Since early in the century more and more social security was becoming available. She got a part pension. A dependable income.

She still attended the local meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses for comfort and companionship when she was well enough. Unfortunately the meetings were upstairs and she had to walk up very slowly. We saw Dad's youngest brother, his wife and baby son whom I had seen when visiting Grandma Kinny. Immediately I began to knit my cousin a jumper and cap. My knitting was always admired. Also at the meeting was another baby whose parents called her "treasure" which impressed me, as I didn't feel like anyone's "treasure". How wonderful to be thought of as being so precious. They were looking for interesting things to stimulate their daughter's curiosity which also impressed me, as many people discouraged curiosity as promoting being a "sticky beak" or "into things", even "naughty" or "mischievous".

Someone from the meeting persuaded me to go with her "witnessing" with the books. We ended up not far from Luna Park and she took me around the attractions and financed a ride on the ghost train. It was meant to be very scary, with sudden, loud screechy noises but I found the illusions too transparent, the skeletons and "devil" faces were too ordinary and lacking in anything mystical, like a trick once you learn how it's done. Maybe for little children. At least I now knew what Luna Park was about. A bit of a sham. I should have tried the Big Dipper.

At the end of the year we gave the projects we had done to our friends and I found I didn't have one to keep. The last two years had been much more individual than my previous school life. I was a person capable of creative thinking, my uniqueness was of importance. Next year would be a big adventure into the unknown world of high school. Before then I was off to Colo Heights, a secure and familiar environment, a sanctuary of normal family life.

erskinville school 1945 1944, 5A - from memory and deduction from other photo
back row: ?, ?, ?, ?, Dorothy Kinny, Beverley Ford, Leonie Critchley,?, Judith ?
2nd row: Joy Grieg, Margaret Wiblin, Beverley Ford,?, Yvonne Leech,?,?,
Jean Simpson, Joan Eady
3rd row: Allison McCusker, Margaret Yakas, Coleen Hornsby, Gwen Chegwin,?,
Jean Irvine, Ruth Ellis,?
front row: ?, Olga Clark
We all regarded Leonie Critchley as the most artistic.


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