Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jan's Tribute to her mother, Thelma.

Note from Rowland: This began as an appreciative piece written by Jan in memory of her amazing mother Thelma. It 'grew wings' - and is still a work in progress...


THELMA - The true life experiences of a 20th century woman

1907 - IT'S A GIRL

Joy and relief showed on the face of Julia as she gazed at her healthy little baby girl. Relief because she had given birth to her in the mud brick cottage in Marble Bar, where she had lost her first child just two years earlier. The midwives had insisted she not allow the baby to drink the colosterum. That was a boy and there was just a tinge of disappointment that he was not to be replaced, but this was a beautiful, healthy baby, delivered with the help of one of the women in the town.

Julia had married a policeman at seventeen, and gone with him on his first posting - Marble Bar in the far north of Western Australia. In fact he had gone ahead of her to build their home, as police policy had it in those days. It was 1904 and William Lloyd Findlay Robinson rose to the challenge with great enthusiasm. He had met Julia in Perth not long after migrating from Ireland and it was love at first sight. Julia, raised in the Barossa Valley in a German family moved with her father to Perth in her early teens to help her dad find work and to set up home ready for the arrival of her mother and siblings.

Struggling in the heat of Marble Bar, managing with a Coolgardie cooler made of hessian around an iron frame and keeping the hessian constantly wet  by draping  Lloyd’s old socks from a water filled tray at the top, was no real hardship. Cooking over a wood stove with gathered skirts and long sleeves was also a normal part of everyday life. Keeping Lloyd’s police clothes and her white blouses clean and smart had to be done by boiling them in a copper over a wood fire, scrubbing them on a piece of rippled glass in a wooden frame, then wringing them all by hand and drying them on clothes wire propped up by forked saplings. The irons had to be heated on top of the stove so this meant keeping the stove top free of soot.

The precious baby girl born into this scene was pampered and doted on. Julia had made most of her clothes but parcels came from down south from family who grieved her absence. This happy couple named her Thelma Jane. Two sisters, then three brothers were born to Lloyd and Julia, one in each of the West Australian country towns that Lloyd was posted to - places like Moora, Northam, Bruce Rock. Later, while in Albany when Thelma was 16 the last child arrived, another brother. Lloyd and Julia were good, proud parents who instilled loyalty and responsibility into their seven children. It is not possible to determine whether the younger brothers and sisters adored each other the way they adored Thelma. It may have been that they looked up to her as the eldest, but I rather fancy it was something to do with her loving nature. Not once in her lifetime did I hear her say an unkind thing about her family.

This was a musical family; Thelma learning piano, Norma, cello, Una also piano and the boys brass. So it was natural while in Bruce Rock to become friendly with a farming family by the name of Higgs. Mother Alice (known as Ginny ) played the organ in the local Methodist Church, husband Joseph, quiet and withdrawn, was a willing listener, but their son Willard (an only child) played piano and sang. So the two families had many a musical night together. Willard’s parents were in their forties when he was born and knew very little about toys and fun, only about farm work and machinery. Tragically, when Willard was only nineteen his father died, leaving his wife and son fearful about coping with the property alone, resulting in their walking off,  and moving to Perth. There Willard bought a milk round in North Perth, found a ‘nice home’ and a delivery vehicle. In their loneliness the two sought out old friends, particularly the Robinsons who by now were also in Perth in the suburb of Claremont. Willard had grown a fine tenor voice and Thelma a good contralto, so musical nights with adult children became even more interesting. The two sang many a duet with either one or the other accompanying on piano with Robinson young men on instruments.


But Willard, three years her senior ‘grew eyes’ for Thelma. The musical nights developed a little more intensity, and they tied the knot on January 20th, 1934. Their honeymoon was organized – much later - by Willard who took his new bride to a dirty dusty remote mining town called Sandstone. It wasn't in Thelma's nature to complain. Besides she was just so thrilled to have landed herself with a husband who neither drank, smoked nor swore.

Thelma didn’t just marry a husband - she also married his mother, by now well into her 70s and not just a little cantankerous. I guess she married the milk round too, as it had to be done even on the night of their wedding. Although happily married Thelma noticed Willard siding with his mother rather than his wife, but recognised the elderly one’s hold on him and chose to say nothing. Their first child, a son, whom they called Robin Willard was born in February the following year and Thelma’s joy was complete. Lola Miriam, a precious daughter came just thirteen months later, and though loved and adored Thelma started to find life extremely busy. In fact it was like having three children as Ginny grew more frail. Or was it four children? Willard always expected his meal on time, and a cup of tea served on his arrival home. This was becoming more and more impossible with the present situation and suggesting to Willard that he might make a cuppa himself as she was feeding the baby, brought forth such anger that Thelma, the peacemaker, tried to organise her hectic life around Willard’s wishes.
                                                                                                                                                  Doing a milk round every morning of his life was fast losing its glamour and Willard became restless. He had long dreamt of studying to become an engineer, but could see little possibility now of that ever happening. The next best thing would be to train as a winding engineer in the mines. He’d seen jobs like this advertised and decided to make inquiries. Practical experience had to be gained in tiny mining communities in remote parts of Western Australia. Thelma dreaded leaving her beloved family, but worse than that, the thing she feared more than anything else had happened. She was pregnant again! Despair overwhelmed her to the extent that she tried all means possible to rid herself of this foetus - crude means which typified her utter desperation. In between her efforts she cried, day and night, knowing full well that she could not cope. After three months in this state, which included packing up the family (her job) and moving first to Boulder where a house was purchased in2 Evans St, along the tramline that ran between the twin cities of Kalgoorlie and Boulder. During this time Thelma realised this baby would not budge, and she had no other choice than to start to love it. This she thoroughly succeeded in doing as I am that child. I have only positive memories of a truly wonderful mother who loved me, met my physical and emotional needs and provided me with the security that every child deserves.


Within my first year we moved from our home in Boulder to a tiny community called Meridan. They were happy years for us as children, living in a rambling old house with a verandah all the way around. I recall playing in cardboard boxes, and running around and around that house. Well before I turned three our father drove us to Claremont for the birth of my younger brother, Vivian Lloyd. My earliest memory is of  that trip, and of waking up and seeing the lights of Perth . My father left us in Perth and returned to Meridan to be with his mother, now 81. I loved my little brother dearly. On returning to Meridan, I vividly remember gates that had to be opened and shut. On one gate dangled a bunch of boys, wanting a tip for opening for us. My father was always ready to hand over a shilling or two. On reaching home we found that he had built for us four kids a fairly rough wooden table with four wooden stools. He had painted each stool a different colour, matching the same four colours that protruded into the centre of the table, each forming a triangle. My colour was blue, my sister’s green and red and yellow for my brothers.

I have absolutely no recollection of other houses in that district, only gum trees and red dust. It must have been a farming community as our dog Peter came home after being gone for several days. He had been shot in the leg and by the time he reached home the lower leg was hanging by just a few threads of skin. My dad picked up his gun and headed for the bush. I remember the look on Peter’s face - he knew what was coming , but fortunately Dad couldn’t do it. Instead he brought him back, snipped off the leg, bathed the stump in some foul smelling stuff, got rid of the maggots from the wound and bandaged it up. Peter of course wanted to lick the wound and quickly disposed of the bandage, so Mum got out her treddle sewing machine and made little pouches out of old sheets. She attached tapes to the pouch and tied them behind his neck. Peter wore those pouches for months and went on to live for many years with his three legs.

Coolgardie was our next port of call but I don’t think we stayed there long as my only memory was of the little cream Pontiac car in pieces all over the back yard. Dad announced one Saturday morning: ‘OK, today we head back to Boulder’. He must have received his licence as a winding engine driver. This meant he was qualified to work in the engine room at a mine and drive the cage up and down the shaft. Well somehow he got the car all together again, Mum flew around wildly packing, as well as cooking the leg of mutton that must not go to waste. How our furniture was transported I cannot tell - there wasn’t a great deal! My father had almost no need for comfort.


I, of course had no memory of the Boulder house. I was still only four. But before our departure for Meridan my father had planted six gum trees along the back fence, two flame trees and a lilac tree at the front. These survived our absence extremely well, and grew to be huge. In the back yard was a very large mulberry tree, down one side of the house were two rows of grape vines on trellises and beyond that a peach tree and a fig tree. Our father erected a swing for us between the two rows of vines. It was made from an old tyre, and I recall many hours spent on that swing while munching into bunch after bunch of grapes. That is of course when not up the mulberry tree fighting off the ants and devouring the fruit.

Our home was brown weatherboard with an iron roof. It was fairly large. Our only heating was in the middle room where the piano was with two cane chairs. The kitchen was where we always were. Its wood stove and large kitchen table with lino top, a wooden cupboard for crockery and a wireless was all we needed. The back verandah had a bathroom and beside it a Coolgardie cooler. Out in the back yard was the wash house with copper and troughs. The lavatory was right down in the far corner with a lane behind it for the night watchman. We were considered to be quite comfortable.

My father rode his bike to work if the car was in pieces, which seemed to be most of the time. When we heard him coming home from work we kids would run and hide so that his first job was to discover each of us. My grandmother was by now confined to bed and my mother had accepted her role as her primary carer. In my fifth year I saw a tear in my father’s eye and was informed by Mum that Grandma had died. I remember my mother having to buy a black dress. It was the only ready-made dress my mother ever had. I think my grandmother must have found us four kids a bit much, as after all, she had had only one herself, and that at the age of forty five. I mainly remember her for the porridge she ate every morning without milk, and also in the last years for the smell of her room.

 We were well aware of the war taking place in Europe. My father had a world map pasted up on the kitchen wall and when the news was on he would get up from the table where he’d be reading the paper and study the map. Woe betide us kids if we even whispered while the news was on. Somehow my sister Lola and I would often choose that time to get the giggles. Many times Dad just took off his belt and whacked into us. Yet we’d do it again. We were often belted, but I don’t recall it ever happening while Dad’s mother was alive. Dad taught with the belt. It was Lola’s turn to water the garden on one occasion. I know she did it, but Dad accused her of not doing it. She was belted amidst her protests, then taken out to see that she had not done it properly. Dad put his finger in the soil to reveal dry earth beneath, but had never taught us how to water.

Because of the war effort Dad left his job in the Lake View and Star mine to work in a foundry in Kalgoorlie. So our family stayed together. My mother's brothers all went to war but none as far as I remember went to the front line. My brother and sister had started school at Boulder Primary when the Japanese were frighteningly close to our coast line. We had to hang blankets by our windows at night so as not to allow light out. Inspectors roamed the streets and called on us at least once to say our blackout was not good enough. But worse than that, the school was practising responses to bomb attacks. The first time the siren blared, triggering immediate evacuation of all pupils to their homes, Robin and Lola came rushing in with the news that the school was being bombed. My response was an extraordinary loud bellow, sobbing; 'I'll never be able to go to school!' Years later Lola told us that Robin was rushing home faster than her legs could carry her and when she called to him to wait for her, he yelled back; 'Hurry up! Do you want the Japs to get you'?

Even before I started school in my sixth year I knew I wanted to be a teacher. Fortunately for me my first teacher, Mrs Leonard, was a delightful person so I had a good start to my schooling and cannot remember one unhappy day for the eleven years spent at school. I'm fairly sure we started at grade one in those days, and High school was for five years only. Anyway, I can't say the same for my sister Lola's experience at school. She started out with 'Miss Johns' who scared us all almost to death. Not being at ease with her teacher necessitated Dad's helping Lola with her reading at home. I remember thinking he would have to be worse than ten Miss Johnses as he had no patience at all, and many tears were shed during these coaching sessions. Lola and I were always very close and I remember grieving deeply for her.

It must have been at the end of my first year at school following an extended period of time that Dad had spent in Perth with Robin who was under a specialist for liver problems, that Grandma Robinson sent back with him two celluloid dolls for Lola and me. They were each in a crib with wooden cross ends and dowelling threaded through calico to form the bed. She had made a flannelette nightie for each. How we loved those dolls! I called mine 'June' and Lola called hers 'Annette'. It was the only doll I ever owned. Our play was previously cutting out paper people from the 'Women's Mirror’ when Mum had finished with it, forming families and just playing 'Home' in the fern bushes that grew up the front of the house.

When I was just five I remember Mum saying goodbye to us as she had to go to the hospital to get another baby. As the taxi arrived I called out to ask her to get one for me too. Somehow she didn't manage to do that but brought home a little girl who became 'Althea'.

Dad had bought Robin a Meccano set and he - Robin - spent many hours constructing all sorts of models, generally humming as he went. That is of course if he chose not to torment us girls. I once chased him through the house only to have the door slammed just in front of me, catching my hand in the latch and breaking several bones. The whole neighbourhood must have heard my screams as the hand ballooned into three times its size. We didn't rush to doctors but generally let nature do the healing. The following day, however, my teacher commented that it needed attention, so somehow my mother bundled me and the two younger children up and caught the tram to Kalgoorlie to visit Dr. Webster. The result was a proud wearer of plaster - the only one in my life.


One delightful memory was catching the over-night train to Perth from Boulder station with Mum, to visit her family. I think there were only five of us at the time. Her father, still in the police force, was stationed at Southern Cross. Grandma had had to stay back in Claremont with her younger children who had jobs in Perth. So when the steam-train chugged into Southern Cross early in the morning Grandpa was there with a billy of porridge and enough bowls and spoons to satisfy our hunger pangs. We loved that trip to Grandma's home in Claremont. She had an almond tree in the back yard, and Aunty Una who still lived at home raised chickens, always claiming that the mess they made was 'clean dirt'.

Apart from the war, the forties were a great time to be raised. We had a lot of freedom. Only once do I remember being bullied. We three were walking home from school one day when some kid much bigger than we started making threats. I remember my sister Lola saying; 'If you don't stop, we'll tell our grandfather and he is a policeman'. She didn't let on that he had died several months earlier, but it did the trick. We were free to roam as we wished and we generally stayed together until Robin was too old to be seen with his sisters. Many an hour we spent on Saturdays on the slag dumps not too far from home. They were refuse dumped from the mines, and if we didn't take old cartons from home it wasn't too hard to find a sheet of tin lying around on which we could soar from the top of the heap to the bottom. We stirred up a frightful amount of grey dust and went home filthy. But that was OK because Saturday night was bath night and Mum would always have the fire going and the copper boiling when we got home. Bathing meant carting boilerfuls of hot water from the wash-house up the back steps and into the bath. I think we all went through the same water from the youngest to the eldest. We two older girls had long hair and  Saturday night was for hair-washing followed by curling our hair around pieces of rag and trying to sleep on lumps. 

Just after lunch on Sundays, a lovely man by the name of Mr Johns (no relation to the teacher) picked us up and took us to Sunday School at the Methodist Church in Boulder. I can't remember a great deal about it except that when it came to Anniversary time, our father was always called in to teach the Sunday School their anniversary songs. Well did we hate that! He lost patience with those kids who didn't really want to sing songs anyway, much to our embarrassment. But we three older kids often had to stand in line behind the piano at home and sing while Dad played. I remember trying to sing  'The Little Grey Mouse', with each phrase punctuated by a sob following a whack for not singing up. In many ways we were not a really cooperative trio.


Sometimes on a Saturday night an old lady and her daughter (Beaty Powell) dropped in. I can remember one occasion in winter when we heard the tram stop outside our place and Mum let out a howl of horror as we were being bathed in a tub in front of the fire in the middle room where the piano lived. Sure enough we were quickly bundled into towels just as Mrs Powell and Beattie entered the front door. Their visits always meant a night of music with Mum at the piano and Beatie's soprano voice with Dad's fine tenor providing a beautiful sound.

My father had grown up in the scouting movement in Bruce Rock and reached the heights of 'Queen's Scout'. This qualified him, while still in his teens, to attend an international scouting jamboree in Egypt, I think. The trip took several months by sea covering some European countries too. The whole experience was quite something just after the First World War and mementos of that trip adorned our middle room mantle piece. There was a stone Pharoah, and three black elephants. My father had high ideals for Robin and scouting, but Robin misbehaved at some stage in the process, so after the belting the scout uniform was removed, never to be worn again. I remember the words 'You are not good enough to be a scout.'

I loved making clothes for my precious doll, so for my 7th birthday my mother made from cardboard covered in cloth a delightful sewing box. It had cloth loops around the inside to hold small reels of cotton, a thimble, some tiny scissors and felt attached to the side with large eyed needles. There was also a new piece of printed fabric to make up for 'June'. Later that year I tackled knitting a cardigan for her in mauve wool.

One Sunday afternoon that year I came home from Sunday School feeling so sick and hot that I simply got myself into bed. I awoke to the doctors words 'We'll have to call an ambulance'. Many weeks were spent lying half-conscious in an isolation ward in the Kalgoorlie and District Hospital as I recovered from diphtheria. Those were the days when no-one could visit as that would only cause upset. I think at any rate that I was too sick to care, but I remember the wonderful sight as I looked out of the hospital window, of my mother arriving with a bag. I was well enough to go home.

We were not regular church goers, mainly because Mum never had enough time to make herself anything decent enough to wear. But she taught us to say our prayers each night, which we each did diligently. We individually recited

                      ‘Jesus, gentle shepherd hear me.
                       Bless Thy little child tonight.
                       Through the darkness be Thou near me.
                       Keep me safe ‘til morning light.’

and we knew that our mother was very devout. Each week the local clergy came to take Scripture classes in our school. I don't remember much other than one day when Rev. Lund from Queen's Church spoke about some missionaries. I remember nothing of what he said, but I can see him now in his black clothes with the white dog collar. I was sitting at the very back of the class room and I can still feel the surge within that said; 'I want to be like that'.

We each had friends whom we brought home at times. Robin's friend, 'Don Shervil' lived in our street and was much more sophisticated than we were, After the condensed milk was removed from the can, Dad would carefully smoothe down the ragged bit left by the tin opener, and we used those for drinking utensils. Don could never drink from one of those, so went thirsty. Dad would cut one tin into several strips, bend the edges carefully over and solder the strips onto another tin to form a handle. These made excellent mugs for taking to school for school milk and they didn't chip the way enamel mugs did. We accepted our being a little different in some ways. I had a friend at school called Alison Horn. At lunch and recess we swung on the iron bars that formed the roof structure of the playground sheds. There were quite a few of these bars , and if we could get two side by side with no other kids in the way, we had races from one side of the shed to the other, just going hand over hand. These were the days before girls wore trousers, but I always wore respectable home made calico bloomers, with elastic around the waist and legs. There was no grass in our school playground, only red dirt, so acrobatics were reserved for home where we had a lush lawn right across the front of the property. Most of our acrobatics were done there with the girl next door - Janet Burgoyne. Her brother Garry was Robin's age, and why it was I do not know, but we often fell out with them. Laura Morgan lived next door, on the other side. She was good at acrobatics too but was Robin's age. Patty Frank lived across the road so we were in and out of each other's homes. The only problem was that she went to a Catholic School , and in those days there were tensions between Catholics and Protestants. To other Catholic kids we would call out; 'Catholic dogs jump like frogs in and out of the teachers' gobs'.  Now I wonder how we could ever have done such a thing and whether or not our mother knew. Lola was the loyal one. She had a friend in her class in Boulder called Helen Council. She was a lovely natured girl who readily felt at home with us and came often. Lola has kept in touch with her.

We always wore shoes to school, a privilege every child in the school did not have. But they had to be taken off once home and we were bare footed. Patty's mother despaired that our feet must be freezing. I remember one occasion, it would have been pay day, when my mother asked my father if we could afford this week to buy me (Janice) a new pair of shoes. Dad always kept the purse and doled out enough, but I worried in case they cost too much. I remember they were patent leather, with patterned leather each side, laced at the top. They cost nineteen shillings and eleven pence. I was so proud of them. Mum's two sisters remained working women for quite some years and as they dressed well we often received parcels of good clothing that Mum was able to cut down for us girls. It saved her the embarrassment of asking Dad for money to buy material. But we occasionally got new home made dresses. Mum did her utmost to have us looking good.

We found fun in simple things. One of my pastimes was to create houses out of weetbix or cornflakes  boxes. The glue was easily made with plain flour mixed to a paste and boiled until clear, and there always seemed to be a bit of paint around that could add a satisfying touch. Lola and I searched gutters to find old tennis balls and we became experts at juggling and throwing against the brick walls of the school. We could even throw accurately enough to play 10ers, 9ers or 7ers against our weatherboards. For some reason we did not seem to have access to a library and our only source of children’s novels was Sunday School prizes. These were cheap, simple books, but as Robin reached the last year of primary school, he was given 'Coral Island' as a prize. I devoured it - my only memory of a novel until high school. Robin and Lola were each learning piano and after much pleading I was allowed to commence, but our lives changed drastically soon after I started and lessons had to cease.

There was another occasion when Mum took the five of us to Perth to visit her family. We caught the tram down to Boulder, got on the little steam train that took us the few miles to Kalgoorlie, then an overnight trip to Perth in bunk beds. Oh, the clatter of the train, the smell of coal smoke and the sheer excitement of reunion with aunts, uncles and cousins: it was my picture of heaven. Grandpa Robinson had passed away but Grandma still lived in the lovely old family home on Stirling Highway, Claremont. We were thoroughly looked over, admired and doted on. Grandma had gas laid on with hot running water. She even had a 'toilet' which flushed. Ours was a lavatory in the farthest corner of the back  yard. I liked the smell of gas in Grandma's house. There was a bungalow in the back yard and we had sole use of it. Aunty Norma was married now to Frank and they shared the house with Grandma. Grandma was kind and lovable. She smiled every time she looked at us and we all loved her dearly. In her back yard was an almond tree, and Frank told us not to pick the fruit. So we decided that did not mean not to shake the tree. There seemed no law against picking it up off the ground. But we were caught and I think Uncle Frank sighed deep sighs of relief when the day came for our departure.


There was only one holiday we took as a family. Dad had long gotten rid of the Pontiac and had just bought a really old car with a rag hood. It was an Essex. He took it all to pieces of course, got rid of the hood, cut off the back of the body and made a flat wooden back a bit like a T model Ford, He then made a white canvas canopy that provided roof for the cabin and a back section that resembled a wagon. There was some sort of division between the front roof and the back canopy. We planned in my tenth year a trip to Esperance in this fantasmagorical vehicle. The day we were due to leave, Dad went to a garage to load a 44 gallon drum of petrol onto the back. Robin accompanied him, sitting in the back with the drum. Unfortunately, when negotiating a bump the drum jumped and landed on Robin's bare foot. X-ray and plastering followed. By the time we were ready it was dark, but not to be put off we set off, four of us finding spots amongst luggage in the back, Althea on Mum's lap in the front. Communication between back and front was not so good as I vomited over bedding, clothes and luggage before we could stop. Then at midnight we had a blow-out - a flat tyre. We all piled out, lay out what blankets and bedding we could find that were not putrid and slept beneath the stars. At daylight while Dad fixed the tyre Mum built a fire, got out a billy can and boiled eggs. Water was always carried by travellers on those remote roads in those days. Our home for two weeks was a tent left erected by friends before us, right on a beach, a thing of wonder to us red dust desert-dwellers. Dad set traps in the evenings to catch rabbits and if I woke early enough I accompanied him to get the catch the next morning. It was a cruel practice as the rabbits could be heard yowelling in pain as we approached. A knock on the back of the head ended their agony and up to a half dozen would be carried home by their feet. Chopping off their heads and skinning them was gross, but for some reason I often looked on. Our evenings in Esperance were spent with all the other camping kids. I remember one night when Robin sang a song to them all: it was this:

  There was an old man called Michael Finnagan
  He grew whiskers on his chinagan
  The wind came up and blew them in again
  Poor old Michael Finnagan
  Begin again (to be sung again)

Family singing nonsense songs was quite a feature of our traveling, especially on the back of the older Essex.


 It was November 19th, 1947 when I was ten that our youngest sister Heather Joy was born. Mum had brought her home from hospital in a heat wave and my earliest memory of her was a tiny body lying stark naked in a cot on the front lawn with a wet sheet over her. It reminded me a bit of the Coolgardie cooler, but said a lot for my mother's resourcefulness. Unfortunately Mum had suffered for many years with varicose veins and this last pregnancy did untold damage to her legs. One leg was bound daily for the rest of her life, to avoid swelling, and the slightest little scratch resulted in an ulcer which sometimes took years to heal. If infected her leg would swell into something like a huge leg of pork, and her temperature would rise so quickly that on many occasions she needed hospitalisation. We had a couple of families who helped us out. I remember often being heart-broken seeing my mother leaving for hospital.

One of the most memorable things we did as a family in those days was to go out into the bush on a Saturday afternoon to get wood. Dad's method was to blow up a dead tree with gelignite. He'd set it up with a long fuse, yell out for everyone to run for their lives, then light the fuse. We all loved the sound and sight of the explosion. When enough trees were blown to pieces and after Mum had lit a fire and boiled the billy, always with a green twig across the top (what did it do?), we each had a cup of tea. Dad loaded the flat back of the old jalopy (there were no sides on it, and he'd taken the canvas wagon top off the back section) tied the dead wood down firmly with rope and yelled 'Pile on everyone'. That meant four of us who could not fit in the front with our parents and the two youngest. Viv was only seven and he with we three older ones hung on for grim death on top of the piles of dead wood. Dad was not a slow driver either. He ripped along at a good speed, each of us kids exhilarated with the wind in our hair, singing all the latest songs we'd learnt from 6KG, the ABC regional station in our area.

I loved my brother Viv. For some reason he became the black sheep of the family. He was blonde and the rest of us had dark hair. On one occasion in a fit of anger Dad had exclaimed that he must have been mixed in the hospital - he couldn't be his son. Now people can be forgiven for rages but I never forgot that one, and felt deeply for Viv. He wet his bed until he went to national service at seventeen and I always suspected it was psychological. The funny thing is that Viv grew up to look more like Dad than any of us.

Years earlier Dad got to hanker after his old life on the farm, and left us for quite some months to go back to the Bruce Rock area and see if it was at all possible to return to the land. I was too young then to understand how Mum managed, but I remember being excited at the possibility of living on a farm. I look back with sadness at my father's restlessness and think that a person in his position should never have had so many children, myself included in that. Another of his longings was to find gold. Back in the twenties before he married he joined a party which set out for the McDonnell Ranges looking for the reef that Lassiter claimed to have found. Of course they came back empty- handed, but Dad had an interesting experience while there at the Mt Margaret Mission. The missionary's daughter (Esther Schank) aged seven grew very ill and needed urgent hospitalisation. Dad was the only person around who owned a motor vehicle and was able to get her to the nearest hospital, just in time to save her life. Fifty years later when Dad was living in a ghost town in W.A. (Goongarrie),  an aboriginal man called in for a match. He took one look at my father and said; 'You are the man who saved Esther Schank's life.' What a memory!


Dad's love for red dust and desert was a mystery to me, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the times he took us prospecting with dolly and pot. We'd pound the rock in a pot with the dolly, put the crushed rock into a pan and wash off the dust with water - water that had always to be taken everywhere we went. Of course we never found anything but it was good fun looking. Dad got out in the old jalopy at weekends quite often, prospecting. He sometimes took Robin with him and Robin acquired a love for red dust and deserts too. Dad found a reef at Widgiemooltha. He was so sure of it that he and Mr Burgoyne from next door mortgaged their homes to buy machinery, quit their jobs and set off for Widgiemooltha to make their fortune. However Mum coped with six children I cannot tell. Robin had just started High School and had a huge appetite, Lola was in her last year of Primary and I was in Grade 5. Viv would have been in grade two and the younger girls not yet started. Mum had to stretch the child endowment out for months on end. None of us received birthday gifts that year, and when mine came good, my present was that I could choose from two menus for dinner that night. I'm not sure what the alternative was but I remember choosing boiled eggs because we could draw faces on the eggs. My mother remained her lovely self but the struggle was obvious, especially with Robin who must have found the deprivations at his age harder than I did. He hated Mum asking him to go to the neighbour's in order to try and sell some of the vegetables she had cultivated. We were a rather proud lot.

At last after many months the two men returned - empty handed but alive. They had stepped out of the mine with the gold reef in view only to see the whole thing cave in on top of their machinery - their homes! With no resources left to reopen it they had no choice but to walk away from it. At least they had survived.

Dad's job at the Lake View and Star mine had been filled of course so he had to look elsewhere. The Kalgoorlie Miner (our local ‘rag’) advertised jobs in Broken Hill where silver, lead and zinc were being mined. Before he left to work there he talked about a much better pay-packet with new houses being built near the mine and that we kids would all be able to have new bikes to ride to school. So we farewelled Dad, anticipating all the exciting things that lay ahead. Mum had the responsibility of selling the house, and the precious piano. After paying the mortgage debt from the sale she had ninety pounds, with which to buy our tickets, take a trip to Perth to farewell her beloved family, and keep us fed 'til we reached Broken Hill. Dad seemed to need all his earnings to set up  for our arrival. Mum realised that money - 90 pounds - would not go too far, so ever resourceful, she created with hammer and nails a wooden box with a lid on hinges and rope handles each end for us two girls to carry. This contained all the baby needs for the trip. Our travelling gear was in an old metal trunk (also with handles each end) which Dad had used for his trip overseas. Robin and Viv had responsibility for this - a fair weight for an eight year old boy but he rose to the occasion with Robin's encouragement. Mum had the baby in her arms and Althea on her free hand.

Before this event, all our worldly goods had to be packed in whatever wooden crates my mother could put her hands on. Robin as man of the house now, at thirteen, had to lift and hammer, while we girls labelled everything with indelible pencils. Just a few nights before our departure Robin moaned all night with pain across his shoulders and down his arms. As there was an epidemic of poliomyelitis, Mum naturally concluded that that was what he had. What to do now was beyond her comprehension. After a sleepless night, she knew she had to get him to Dr. Webster, who diagnosed muscle pain from hard work. What a relief for all of us! Added to that, in the middle of all this she received a letter from Dad to say 'Call it all off - I don't like the job.' Mum sent a telegram immediately, to say; 'No, I've signed the sale of house documents and it is too late!' This, I think, was the first assertive thing she had ever done.  Her moral judgement prevented her from retracting her deal with the buyers. So we went!


Two weeks in Perth was total joy for all of us, except that Heather bit the heel of a brand new baby cousin. Mum bought red floral material to make new dresses for Lola and me. She usually dressed us alike. These were lovely cotton dresses and I clearly remember advising her on how to do the frills. What a smarty-pants I must have been. But Mum had taught us both to knit and sew. In our last year in Boulder Lola and I knitted our first jumpers in plain and purl. They were burgundy in colour, and with Mum's help we had each done a pretty good job and wore them until we grew out of them. Mum had also taught us how to smock and we made round-necked blouses for ourselves that year too. They were soft, pale green. We had to sew the sleeves into the body in a magyar fashion, draw up the dots ironed onto the fabric in circular formation, so that the smocking went right around the neck. We chose soft pastel shades of embroidery thread. Then, with the under-arms still not seamed we put a few rows of smocking around the short sleeves. The last embroidery job was three pastel flowers and leaves on the chest. Finishing off was easy, with the final result very satisfying. I took it to school to show Miss McCormack, my fifth grade teacher and she was so impressed that she asked me if I would make her one. She provided material and thread and I set to work with immense pride. She seemed to be pleased with the result and rewarded me with a soft blue hanky and some scent. I was not quite eleven, and wonder now whatever it looked like in her eyes.

The time came all too quickly for our train trip east, and I did overhear a few conversations from family members regretting Willard's attitude in taking us all so far away. The trip was wonderful. Sleeping in the train as it rattled its way for three days and nights across the Nullabor plain was like being rocked off to sleep. During the day we could go to the back of the train to view the longest straight stretch of railway line in the world. But by now I was becoming interested in poetry, so memorised the whole of 'The Highway Man' by Alfred Noyes. Dad met us in Adelaide where we stayed two nights in a hotel. Robin, full of mischief, chose his moments from our first floor room to drop orange peel onto pedestrians below . We had our first ever meal out - fish and chips sitting in a small restaurant, and we explored the banks of the Torrens River. Next day we caught the Silver City express from the Adelaide railway station and were met in Broken hill by people Dad had come to know. After a meal with them we made our way to the house Dad had set up for us. We couldn't believe our eyes! None of us dared to ask what had happened to the new house near the mine. This was an utter dump. It was set right back from a rusty corrugated iron fence and had a rusty roof. If there had ever been a front garden it was now in rack and ruin - so different from our garden in Boulder. This house had only two bedrooms, a living area and a small kitchen with a cement floor. The toilet was in the back yard beside the wash house but it did flush. My mother was very quiet. I overheard her ask Dad about it and he said it was all he could afford. She gently broached the subject of his pay, and his comment was that he had to live.

On the front verandah was a little room called a sleep-out. There was one serious problem. The rust had eaten great holes in the corrugated iron roof . Dad purchased a second hand tent and pitched it inside the sleepout. This became our parents' bedroom. We four girls slept in the main bedroom and the boys in the little one off the kitchen.


It was time to enrol in school. Dad took Robin and Lola to the High School and Mum enrolled Vivian and Althea in the lower Primary. Dad met up with Mum, baby Heather and me at the Primary Principal's office with the result that I was to be placed in his class, 6A. The standard in WA seemed to be much higher, and the principal was half inclined to put me straight into High School but fortunately decided against. Nevertheless it was a smooth year for me and particularly in Mathematics I found myself ahead of the rest. I learnt to play basketball and softball there and set off in a growth spurt so that Mum had to get the sewing machine out when I reported that one of the boys said I had the best leg show in the school. Our house was in easy walking distance of the school, so we didn't really need those nice new bikes!

On one occasion we three big kids were allowed to take Vivian and Althea to 'The Pictures'. Althea was six and in her first year at school. She had taken her doll along with her and as we hurried home across a road she dropped it and the china head shattered. This was such a devastating blow that we picked up the many pieces while she sobbed hysterically.  Once at home we located some tarzan's grip and all had a hand in trying to put the jigsaw together. The tricky bit was getting those sleeping doll eyes set properly. But Althea's spirit was appeased and that patchwork faced doll remained her constant companion. Our celluloid dolls didn't travel too well from the west. They became dented and cracked, but we learned the art of getting old scraps of celluloid, soaking them in methylated spirits till they became soft and also doing a patchwork job on them too. I am so glad that we never had the option of throwing away what was precious and replacing it with something new. The man over the road from us in Wolfram Street took a fancy to toddler Heather and bought her the most beautiful doll we had ever seen, but because she was so young it had to be put away in 'the trunk' for years.

Heather developed nephritis that year and was hospitalised. None of us was allowed to see her because of  'the unsettling effect it would have on her'. We kids often roamed up to the hospital and peaked through glass doors to try to spot her. We often thought we could, but if it was her she didn't show any sign of recognition. When she finally came home after many weeks she seemed to know none of us, and I remember thinking what a silly hospital rule it was that starved a child of love.

Mum's family were Baptists and they were all active in the Claremont Baptist church. Mum had been too. She and her sister Una had started a Sunday School in a nearby  suburb called Dalkieth. It was run in someone's home but grew so rapidly that the Baptist Union over there soon found enough people in the Dalkieth area to form a church, so those people took it over when Mum married. Her youngest brother Russell later became the secretary of that church which thrives today. Anyway there was a tiny Baptist church within walking distance of our home in Broken Hill, so Mum started taking us along, We became quite involved, particularly in Junior Christian Endeavour which we had to go back to after lunch.

Dad stuck at his job for just a year! He wasn't at home with silver lead and zinc. But there was a job going at the State Coal mine in Lithgow in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales. We were all happy to move as we had not been in Broken Hill long enough to make really lasting friendships.


Dad also discovered that there was a house that went along with the job and we secretly hoped it wasn't a 'dump'. The train to Lithgow took us in early December 1949 through the most beautiful country - mountains, streams and trees, trees, trees - an absolute wonder to kids who had only known red dust and desert. We reached Lithgow one evening at dusk. We waited on the bridge above the station for the man who was to meet us and take us to our house. It was all so very exciting to be there and to be surrounded by mountains in all directions. Time was getting away and by dark Dad left for awhile to make a phone call. Mum desperately needed somewhere to sit as those legs of hers were not good. But she kept us all occupied until Dad returned saying we would stay the night in a hotel. What fun! It was one of those hotels that had a veranda right across the front. The next morning we piled out onto it to view children in their droves all making their way to school and of course we didn't have to go. Instead we settled that day into a migrant hostel just out of the town. This was a new experience again as we slept in two- bed rooms - four required for us - then lined up in a dining room to be served our food. Poor Dad! He was 45 by now and all he owned was the goods in our bags, a few bits of furniture somewhere in transit, a patient wife and six lively kids.

Apparently the job held, but we kids never did find out about the house. Dad was not going to be daunted by this turn of events, so what did my father do? He bought an old marquee! He and my brother Robin (now almost 15), pitched it on a flat bit of land up the gully beyond the State Mine, with the help of all the intrigued onlookers - us kids. Mum was very quiet! The only neighbours lived 50 metres away. They were the Jones family with their eight children. I am sure they were all onlookers too, such was the intrigue of this circus, but they didn't show their faces. Dad had to negotiate with them about running a pipe from their water supply to us. The pipes Dad purchased only came halfway, but that was how it was to be. Cost was not a problem because water was free in those days. The next urgent thing was to dig a hole in the ground, put a plank of wood with a circular hole in it, some upright poles and hessian around them. Then we all had to be taught how not to fall in! This was our throne room, which had to be relocated when full. Dad did erect an iron roof over it before too long as Lithgow, well known for perpetual drizzle, didn't let us down.

You could see the sky through a fair bit of the roof of the marquee, so whether or not we still had the tent that was used in the sleep out in Broken Hill or whether another was obtained I do not know, but yes, you have guessed, it was erected under the holes, for us six kids to sleep in. Three beds each side fitted perfectly, although one was still an old iron cot that had done us all. Mum and Dad's bed was of course outside our tent and under a reasonably good part of the roof. It didn't matter that there was only enough canvas wall to go half way around the marquee as we were right away from civilisation and close to a mountain. My parents could wake up to the sight of a eucalyptus clad mountain. How they survived the chilling winds I can’t imagine. It was a very beautiful spot in fact. From a junk shop Dad found an old iron stove and set it up outside the marquee on top of stones that were readily available everywhere. At the other end of our tent and within the canvas skirt we had a large iron tub in which we bathed. A creek rippled along near where the wall didn't exist and the sound provided us with constant music. Dad created four strong  timber posts in a vertical position, secured at the top with a wooden platform, and Mum hung old sheets around to keep the dust out. This was our wardrobe and it was strong enough for several of us to sit on if we wanted to be high enough to be out of the way. Lola and I often sat up there knitting. We made our own warm navy blue cardigans for school. Everyone else at school had blazers but we didn't feel unduly concerned.

We had only been in our marquee home a week or two when we had our first hiccough. The old kitchen table was next to our parent's bed  on the wall side. It was Christmas Eve 1949 and Mum was making chocolate crackles on the wall side of the table. It was pretty windy and a sudden gust blew the whole marquee over. I can see my mother now with hair flying, hands raised , and chocolate crackles everywhere. We all managed to get clear of the three large poles that had held the whole thing up, and when we had crawled out from under the canvas, there was only one person missing, two year old Heather. She was in her old iron cot. One of the huge stanchions had landed across the cot and had it not been such a strong old cot she could not have survived. I was sent off on Dad's bike to a corner shop a couple of miles away to try to purchase more rope, but my efforts were futile. After tearfully explaining the situation to the shopkeeper he suggested I take a whole lot of wire that he had thrown aside from wooden crates. This did the trick until new rope was able to be purchased.


So, with everyone pitching in and deeper holes dug for the three pylons , guy ropes tightened and wire replacing rotten ones, we crawled into bed wondering what Christmas day might bring. Somehow, some time Mum had managed to shop and buy a present for each of us. My present that year was a blue fountain pen and Lola's was green. I felt like the luckiest person on earth. Mum managed to cook a chicken in that funny little outside stove. We only ever had two vegetables and this time it was baked potatoes and beans, and oh boy did it taste good. That January we climbed mountains, hiked in the bush, paddled in creeks and thoroughly enjoyed a healthy life in the brisk mountain air. The boys had to cart buckets of water from the tap half way between us and the Joneses. They also had to collect wood to keep the fire going. We'd brought the old boiler from Boulder and if food wasn't cooking init, it sat on top of the outdoor stove, so that we had a fairly constant supply of hot water. The mine was only a mile away so Dad rode his bike to work. Getting supplies was a problem as no-one wanted to deliver that far out. But six kids made pretty good pack horses.

I couldn't wait to start school. Mum had worked hard on the old treddle machine to make our school uniforms and we all got new school cases. The day finally came! It was my first year in high school. We caught the bus from the terminus at the State Mine. Dad had to work, so Mum took two first to the primary school , got them settled, then proceeded to the High School. Robin settled in to Year 3, Lola into Year 2 and finally it was my turn. The principal read my report from my school in Broken Hill and took me up to my new class which was already assembled and getting to know one of their teachers. I was told I would be doing a standard course plus French and Latin. How exciting! I stood in front of my new classmates in my home made clothes and liked them all immediately. The only other new girl in our class was from a school in Sydney. Her name was Beth Bulkley. She wore her previous school 's uniform and it was perfectly tailored and laundered. That day we had to vote for class captain. Why would I be chosen? I was, and I tried to do my duties with diligence. Our address had to be 'Care of the State Mine, Lithgow'. That was OK with me.

My parents had their first real argument after several months in that marquee - well the first in our hearing. There was nowhere for them to get privacy. Dad needed a car. He asked Mum to write to her mother and ask for money. That was such a humiliating thing for my mother to do, but in the end she had no choice. When the money came, Dad got the train early one Saturday morning to Sydney, four hours away by train. By early afternoon he was back again, but in a taxi. He'd forgotten his cheque book. In my father's youth he'd been used to having plenty of money as his mother had a very substantial inheritance. It must have been hard for him to have so little, but he was never a good handler of the stuff. It seemed to slip through his fingers easily. Mum said little about this event, but I almost read her mind. If she had held the purse we may have all been better off. Don't get me wrong. We did love our father but his shortcomings were obvious to us all.Well, it was after dark when a little green Morris rattled over the wooden bridge across the creek and parked outside our marquee with Dad at the wheel. This was quite a step up from the Essex with the T-model flat back. But eight people in that small car almost bent the springs in the other direction.

Viv continued to wet the bed. How Mum washed I do not know, but she continued to keep us clean, and that meant washing all the bottom sheets each Monday and putting the top one to the bottom. Viv's washing had to be done daily. There always seemed to be white sheets on the makeshift line, that is if they were not new. Mum bought unbleached calico to make sheets, and after a few boils in the copper, which she must have had outside the marquee, the sun bleached them on the line.

Viv was forever at one specialist or another to determine the problem causing bed-wetting. One doctor prescribed medicine of all things. It was foul smelling stuff. Viv often chose to go the distance to the tap to get water to drink it down. On one occasion I saw Dad watching him intently as he took the medicine glass to the tap, so I watched too. Yes, he did tip the stuff out. I thought that belting might kill him. It was utterly cruel, and Viv only nine. We all felt so helpless and I suppose Dad did too, but that was when I made my very determined decision never to belt my children. Viv recovered physically but emotionally he must have been frightfully scarred. He had a delightfully cheerful personality and always seemed to bounce back, but it covered up a heap of pain.

The bush smelt fantastic, damp gums above rotting undergrowth. We enjoyed our early morning walks to the bus terminus at the mine. But winter was approaching. We had kerosene lamps in the marquee and also a kerosene heater. The smell was quite horrific, and of course we were constantly aware that neither could be knocked over. In one of Dad's frequent bush rambles which he took for hours on end  at times, he had followed a dirt track until he came upon a pine forest about 6 miles from our camp. Amongst the pines was an empty house. Inquiries at the forestry commission resulted in permission being given for us to occupy it. So on June 3rd, I remember the date because it was my 13th birthday, Dad hired a truck to take us further out into the bush.

The house was weatherboard and had a strong iron roof and three rooms apart from the kitchen. The aroma of pine trees was something new to us, and very pleasant. Mum and Dad had a room of their own, but I think their iron bed must have rusted in the marquee because I know they had to put their mattress on the floor. But we four girls had a nice large room to ourselves, and the boys had one that adjoined the kitchen. The kitchen was big enough to take our table, and of course a living room was not necessary as there was nothing to put in it.  I need to say here that this never bothered us kids, and Mum never complained. Again the wash-house and the lavatory were in the back yard, but they had roofs.

Dad's shift at the mine started at 6am, so we all rose at 4:30 am to be ready to leave with Dad as soon after 5am as possible. Althea was only seven. We joined Dad in the engine room for the two and a half hours before the bus came. It was warm and interesting, watching the huge reel of metal rope unwind as Dad pressed the right lever to let the cage down into the mine. I have no idea how ever Viv and Althea coped, but I do know they often went straight to bed when we got home from school. As for us three older ones, it worked well for us - we got our homework done during those early morning hours.

We all had to meet on the bank corner for Dad to pick us up from school. He was always there as his shift finished at 2:30. Our trip home involved driving back a couple of miles to the mine, then the mile to where we had camped, and soon after that we had a very steep hill to climb. We were too heavy for the little Morris, so at a certain point we kids all got out and pushed the car up the gravel slope. We called it 'the Grade', and from there on it was plain sailing along a winding dirt track about another four miles to the pine forest. 
On the 28th of that month of June, Althea's eighth birthday, we waited and waited on that bank corner until dark. Dad finally turned up to say the car had broken down and we'd have to catch a taxi home. This was another first for us, so the idea of a new adventure took our weariness away. We never received pocket money, so during our wait the hunger pangs just had to rumble, and we knew there'd be no appeasing them until we got home. Dad tried one taxi after another but none would take us out to the pine forest, only to the bus terminus near the mine, and that's what we did. It was very cold and before we'd trekked up to the top of the Grade, snow started to fall. Dad set a steady pace and poor little Althea trudged on, whimpering with weariness. I wished Dad would take her hand or carry her school bag awhile but his theory was to bring us up tough and to some extent he succeeded. By the time we reached home and judging by our mother’s state of anguish she presumed we'd all gone over the cliff. There was absolutely no way of calling for help, no telephone, nothing! These were long days for Mum, isolated completely with two and a half year old Heather, and just a 'wireless' to keep them company.

As the winter set in that dirt track became a quagmire. Dad would try to divert the car onto grassy patches around the bogs, but that was often worse. We'd all get out and push, but of course the mud sprayed up and covered us. Once my shoe came off and I had to literally dig for it in the mud. We'd eventually get to the mine and try to dry off in the warmth, but the state we arrived at school in was sometimes disgusting. After awhile, having got the car out of a bog, several times a trip, I'd refuse to go on to school, so we'd let Dad go on to work and we kids turned around and walked back home in the early morning dark. As Spring dried up the bogs, the track improved. Dad bought an old Buick, similar to the Essex we'd had in Boulder. There was no roof at all on this one but it had the same flat wooden back. Robin, who, still fifteen, had been driving awhile on the back tracks was allowed to drive us as far as the top of the Grade, and we walked the rest of the way to the bus. This meant we didn't have to rise so early, and Robin was very careful to honour his responsibility, and drive carefully. Then, after school we had to be sure to get on the bus from school together, walk up the ‘State Mine Gully’, then up ‘The Grade’, and onto the truck for the trip home. This gave Dad a lot more independence too, but I think Mum had her moments of concern.


Towards the end of that year, someone told Dad of a house that was available only half a mile from the last house on the edge of town and up another gully, and beyond a little suburb called Oakey Park. It had been the office for a coal mine whose poppet legs were still there, the shaft covered over with iron , and a few old sheds still left standing. The bus came to the last house so we could run to it in ten minutes. We moved in late November, marvelling at the fact that we could actually see the lights of civilisation. This was the tiniest house I had ever seen, but we eight occupied it together, happily settling into our little bit of space. The kitchen again was the centre of communication and of warmth. This time it was a coal stove, and a coal copper in the laundry. A kitchen sink had been built into a corner of the kitchen with running water. Mum settled her old treddle sewing machine under the front window, and apart from that we had a cupboard for crockery and another for food. We had kept the four poster wardrobe frame that Dad had built for the marquee, and that fitted in the main bedroom, where a double bed had been left by the previous tenants. We had to pass through the room behind the kitchen where the boys’ beds were set up and then through another room (the girls' room) to reach the bathroom, which also contained the copper and wash troughs. The lavatory of course was way outside. The girls’ room could take two three quarter size single beds, so we fitted two per bed, leaving enough room for a passageway through to the laundry/bathroom. If we wanted privacy in the bathroom we could bolt the door once in, but no other doors were ever locked. Even the front door.

We were not very far from the main railway line to Sydney, but the beauty of that setting with a creek bubbling along just behind the house was wonderfully therapeutic. We kids soon climbed mountains and drank in the views. Further up the gully was even more beautiful. Years later, Dad purchased a few acres up there and even levelled a spot where he planned to build a house. Mum’s legs were getting worse, so she actually dreaded the prospect of the long walk to the bus, and fortunately that house never got built. We are all grateful for the simple life we led, discovering ways to entertain ourselves, and learning to be resourceful. Although we ate simply we were never hungry. Mum never got a break. She prepared every meal until we girls were old enough to help. We never had visitors; there was no way to fit them in, and we certainly never ate out, neither were we invited out. Mum had absolutely no friends. She wrote every Sunday afternoon to her family, but had not made a friend since our arrival in Lithgow. She hung out for her return mail from Perth which came as frequently as she wrote.

My high school practised a dreadful habit of totalling each student’s examination results and working out where each one came in the year. Our classes were also graded and went in my first year from A to G. The kids in G had dreadful complexes about themselves and I am so glad that practice has been thrown out. But that first year I came second in the year. The girl ahead of me was the deputy principal’s daughter, and the one after me the daughter of the Manager of the Small Arms Factory, which provided work for many people in the town. Anyway we three had to go up onto the stage on Speech Night and receive prizes. My whole family came along. From the stage I looked down to the hall full of people and spotted my parents’ faces. They looked so proud, and my father’s expression particularly has stayed with me all my life, and that look saw me through many traumas in the years to come.


It must have been in my second year in high school that Dad bought a few acres up the gully. We all loved tramping up there, and beyond Dad’s land was a magnificent fern gully, and beyond that a reservoir. Dad fenced his land and bought some saanan goats. They had to be brought home each night and housed in one of the sheds left by the mine. Before long there were little kids on the scene and milking to be done, so we all learned how to do it. Somehow Mum never learned how to milk, whether by design we never knew, but it’s probably just as well, for her sake. Dad built a milking ramp which led up to a platform with a bale at the end, and that became one of the first chores of the day, followed by hunting them up the gully and through the gate onto Dad’s property. On that property too we kept a few geese and fattened them up to sell at Christmas. These were left up the gully and had to be put into a wire enclosure at night to protect them from wild cats. But the goats had to be brought home, milked and put into their shed for the night. We drank goats’ milk for years, and as the herd grew too large Dad would neuter the young males and we’d eat them when they were large enough. The meat was very tender, but Althea reckoned it was an abominable thing to do. She had each one named and would kiss them goodnight. She refused to eat them. We also bred pigs which stayed up in the gully and with whom Althea had no relationship at all. She had no trouble eating them, if they didn’t get sold.

During the next year in Oakey Park, Mum discovered that a bus ran into town on Sundays, so she started taking us to the Baptist Church. Young people there invited us to join in some of the youth activities, including a group called Christian Endeavour, similar to the one in Broken Hill. It was a bit new to us, and when someone invited me to join a group at school called Inter School Christian Fellowship, which met after school once a week, I started to get weighed down by it all. I remember one of the rare occasions that I was so heavy with a cold that I stayed home from school, and had time with Mum and only Heather still around at home. I rather self consciously broached the Christian subject with Mum, and asked her why we had to believe in Jesus. She very simply explained to me that God wanted to be part of His world, so He had allowed His Son, Jesus to come and live among us to teach us how much God loved us. Because people didn’t like what He said they crucified Him. Mum then quoted that verse from John 3:16 ‘For God loved the world so much that He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in Him should have eternal life’. She went on to say that all of life is a gift, that what Jesus did was a gift, the gift of enabling us to be  reconciled with God. All we needed to do was believe and receive this gift. Just living a good life was not enough for reconciliation with God, because then there would be boasting if we made it. No-one could ever earn their way to God. But she added that knowing about Jesus in your head achieved nothing. The important thing was to live with Him and for Him. It was a daily way of life for her. I began to perceive her source of strength, to understand how it was that she was able to cope with all the traumas that life brought to her. Her modelling for me was what drew me to faith. I went away to think about it and in my own solitude I remember thanking God for that gift, and discovering a real sense of his being close. I became vitally aware of a new joy that grew out of this companionship.


Prior to this, I had detested making trips out to the lavatory at night. But now I started to discover the wonder of solitude. It was nothing to do with loneliness, but rather about having time alone, time alone with God. I would keep the lavatory door ajar and gaze at the stars and marvel at the vastness of God’s creation. If I had to prepare a paper for Christian Endeavour, or a talk for I.S.C.F., I generally gained my inspiration while in our outhouse.

We were all aware that our Dad was becoming a very unhappy man. By now he would have been 48 and we knew nothing of mid-life crises, but as we look back we can understand how he felt. We lived in a sort of trap. He must have earned reasonably good money, but certainly not enough to get us out of the hole we were in, and still provide for six kids each of whom had to be fed, housed, clothed and educated. There were good things, because we loved the beauty of the mountain setting where we lived, but once we were all inside there was no room to move, let alone think. The little Morris had broken down long ago and been discarded. So our means of transport was the Buick, which Dad drove to work. We kids were fairly independent, relying on public transport, but for Dad, I think there was no light ahead. He came home often in a very disgruntled mood and we found ourselves trying to avoid him. He did all the mechanical work on the old Buick, but when he couldn’t get something right his mood was even worse.

 One day Dad had been rummaging around in a junk shop and found a decrepit old pedal organ. None of the notes worked, but he thought he could do some work on it. Well it was poked into the boys’ room and stood there for ages awaiting the tender loving care it needed so much. Impatient to try my skills on it (having had those six months of piano lessons when ten), I got to it myself one day and found that if I cleaned one note at a time and got it carefully back into its correct position I could pump out a sound. This procedure took quite some time until I had completed the whole job. Well, I soon learned how to coordinate foot pumping and hand playing, in a very elementary way, and spent hours of pleasure on that little organ.
It was during my third year in High School, at the age of fifteen, that Robin, Lola and I each attended classes at the church for baptism, and at their conclusion we applied to be baptised by immersion. That appointed Sunday arrived and while I was ironing the white dress I had made for the occasion, Dad came in with as close to a demonic look as I had ever seen and just let us know that if we went ahead with this baptism we need not come home. This was a shock to us all. It had not occurred to us to ask Dad for his permission as he took no interest in our church activities, although he had come to hear me sing alto in a duet with another girl in church. Anyhow we had no option but to pull out. I was assigned the task of riding Dad’s bike a mile or so to the nearest phone box to let the minister know we were not allowed to go through with it. In fact we were forbidden to return to that church. Dad’s mother had been the organist in the Methodist Church in Bruce Rock and his father was a preacher. Why he had this prejudice against baptism we never found out. But the Baptist minister never came to see us about our trauma, which disappointed Mum dreadfully, so we just settled into working in a tiny little Methodist church in Oakey Park on Sunday mornings. Mum, Lola and I ran the Sunday School along with my Chemistry teacher and I S C F leader, Jim Pendlebury. At night, Dad often took us in to the Methodist Church in town and would sometimes sing in their choir. Dad did have a very fine tenor voice and was often chosen to sing solo parts. But I loved standing beside Mum in church and hearing her put in a contralto part with most of the hymns we sang. Her favourite hymn was:

                            O love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee,
                            I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow
                            May richer, fuller be.

                                                                                                                                    Before long, Mum was teaching Religious Education in the Lithgow Primary School, and also playing the organ in church on Sunday nights. Mum had quite a love for poetry, and during these years of hardship, she found that writing her own was a release to some degree of her emotions. She took her wedding vows very seriously, and talked to us about commitment and what that means. Although she didn’t like what Dad was becoming, she understood his grief and frustration. I believe that leaving him was impossible, as social security offered nothing to women in her situation. She was absolutely in a bind. There was no way out, as her youngest at this stage was still only seven, another twelve, and Viv fifteen.

Unfortunately this turn of events - our moving to the Methodist Church - did not change my father’s attitude at home. On two occasions some of Mum’s relatives come over from the west, and somehow we made them fit. When my mother’s sister Aunty Una, the third in the family, came across with her husband and two daughters, Dad bought a small second hand caravan and parked it not too far from the front door. We thoroughly enjoyed their stay as we remembered them as the only siblings of my mother who had visited us in Boulder. The rest found it too hard to face the desert. But Aunty Una and Uncle Ted were wonderful, giving themselves some of the chores to do, and thoroughly enjoying the fresh mountain air. Dad always went out of his way to be nice to people outside the family. He took us all sightseeing in the Buick. He always drove and put the two oldest people in the front. Everyone else had to hold on (there was nothing to hold on to) on the flat back. But he would take us all up to the historic Zig Zag railway, way up above where we lived and also out to Hassan’s Walls where there was a lookout over the beautiful Valley. On one of these Saturday afternoons my ‘dress’ was on the line, so I had to wear my school uniform. Unfortunately I ran across one of my school friends out there, and the next Monday, she quizzed me at length as to why ever I would want to wear my uniform on a Saturday. I simply said it was because I liked it, and saw no reason why I should tell her that I only had one dress.


Viv was an animal lover like Althea and longed for a horse. He must have been thirteen or fourteen when he had earned enough from a paper round that he must have done on Dad’s bike. So Dad went with him to purchase a horse. She must have been pretty old, but Viv loved her, and used her to do the paper round. I used to think he looked great on that horse. One day he let me get on her, but as he had no saddle and even if he had, I fell off, heavily. I must have knocked myself out, because next thing I knew was Mum and Dad picking me up. I remember that I couldn’t see, so some nerve or other in my back was injured. Nevertheless I came good, although I suffered periodic back spasms for years after that. I have no idea how long Viv had that horse, but less than a year, I think, as the poor thing broke a leg. I’ll never forget Viv’s distraught sobbing as Dad went to the paddock to shoot it, drag it up the gully behind the Buick, then build a bonfire to burn it. Oh, poor Viv, how I longed to take some of his pain!

Lola left school at the end of her third year as she had a holiday job in the office of the Co-operative Society and they offered to employ her full-time. Dad was in favour of this but I know Lola wasn’t. Nevertheless she followed Dad’s instructions. He bought her an old bike, and she started out as a working girl the year Heather started school. Heather hated school and frequently refused to get on the bus with the rest of us so that Lola often ended up having to put her on the back of her bike and push into town, drop Heather off, then go to work hot and late. I often wonder why it was that Lola had to be the one who was the disciplinarian. Lola, in fact, lost her teenage years. As Dad became more and more unhappy and more violent, Mum confided in her a lot, and Lola, I believe, was weighed down with the family’s problems. If we had a day off school we kids often went hiking around the mountains and thought Lola was being a spoiled sport in refusing to come, but have since learnt that Mum was depending on her to help at home. With all Mum’s kindness, this was an area where I feel she should have insisted that Lola enjoy herself, but then Mum was dreadfully lonely, and seemed to need Lola. We kids were pretty thoughtless too. Now that she had left school and didn’t have to study we let Lola take on the bulk of the chores. I look back with sadness to Lola’s missed youth.


I had a great friend at school called Joy Nyholm. She lived near the school and often took me home with her at lunch time. Her little brothers were a pain but Joy was a good friend and boy, could she play the piano! Her family attended the Anglican Church and were fine, caring people. Mrs Nyholm once said she would love to meet my mother, so we arranged a meeting time and they became close friends. Mr Nyholm also became friendly with Dad who could be such good company with people outside our home. I don’t think Mum would ever have told them what Dad was like at home. But she was my mother's only friend, and Mum started visiting her when life just got too much. What she shared I don't know, but she came home more relaxed.

One birthday Dad bought me a bike, I think it must have been my sixteenth, when in my fourth year in High School. The paint had almost all been rubbed off, and it was in need of new spokes to replace missing ones and bent ones. We’d been taught to be resourceful, so I was going to turn this bike around and give it a new lease on life. I took the wheels off, cleaned it all thoroughly, and painted it with burgundy enamel. But bike wheels in those days had a strip of white around the rim where the spokes were. I took all the spokes out of one wheel and cleaned them. Dad let me buy some new ones to place in the gaps or replace the bent ones. Some could be straightened. I painted the rim burgundy and then put my white strip around the spot where the spokes were to be returned. I’d kept one wheel intact to use as a pattern, so therefore got the spokes all back perfectly. Then the process had to be repeated on the second wheel. I knew every detail of that bike and how to oil it and repair it. In the end I had a bike which was ‘home painted but respectable’, still a far cry from those new ones we thought we were getting in Broken Hill. It really did not matter. We had each learned to accept our lot, and in spite of it all, or because of it all we were a very united family.


Around our little office home and for miles around grew dozens and dozens of blackberry bushes and one February Mum learned that a Product Store in Bridge Street run by Mr. Phillips bought them from pickers by the bucketful for jam making. Well, our mother took it on as a profession. In all of her twenty years of marriage she had never earned a cent. For one thing she didn’t have time and for another her clerical training was now out of date. But Mum made time to pick blackberries. She would get into a pair of Dad’s old overalls, take a ladder and a poker, the latter with a bent end to hook a branch and draw it to her. She was so thrilled to be able to earn money that there was no stopping her. Now you would have thought that Mum had a few things in mind for herself, but no, she bought us each a tennis racket and took us to Sydney for the first time by train, with Dad too of course. Mum had a pretty hopeless sense of direction and none of us would have known where to start. Dad did his homework and got us to the Royal Easter Show without getting lost and we returned home by train that night.

Robin did his Leaving Certificate two years before me, and the following year commenced an Engineering course at Lithgow Tech. Robin had worked in his school holidays as a ‘Call Boy’ for the railways. This meant he had to go anywhere in town at any time of night to call people to work, as very few people had phones. Hence he managed to buy himself a motor bike to get around.


It was 1954 when I entered my last year at school. I had settled on studying French and English, Physics and Chemistry, Maths 1&2 for my Leaving Certificate. I was the only girl in the Maths classes but it didn’t daunt me in any way. I certainly had no romantic ideas about anyone as our family’s social life was non-existent. But in the first couple of days of this new school year, we had to elect one boy and one girl as school captain, likewise vice captains and six of each as prefects. We were all very nervous as we had a secret ballot. All the bits of paper votes were taken away by the staff to be counted, and on their return they announced Terry Marning as boys’ captain and I, Janice Higgs, as the girl’s captain. There was a frightful lump in my throat. John Tatem was the deputy for boys and my special friend Kay Ross (the daughter of the Director of the Small Arms Factory) was girls’ deputy. The worst part was to come as only six others of each gender were chosen. My friend Joy whose parents were so kind to mine missed out and I think my grief for her outweighed my own excitement. This was however a very great honour for me and my nieces tell me that my name is still up on the honour roll forty five years later. I well remember hurrying home to tell my parents. Dad was not there but I knew I’d find my mother out in the blackberry bushes, and her look of pride was all I needed. We didn’t fuss a great deal over achievements, and I preferred it that way. When the Principal, at a special ceremony was conferring me with that honour he had difficulty pinning on my badge as Mum had cut the yoke of my tunic too wide and had to put a seam down the centre. My blazer was also home made so I embroidered the school insignia on my pocket. No-one at school  ever commented on my clothing, but everyone else seemed to have regular bought uniforms. I still meet regularly with those precious school friends. None of them ever commented on my homemade clothing. I never heard a swear word, neither did any of us ever talk about sex.

But this responsibility in the leadership of the school exposed some of my weaker points.Very early in the year we were having some function at the school, which necessitated my having a key to open up the school. The Principal needed the key on the Friday night, but offered to drop it in to me at my place the next day. No-one from school had ever been to my place, let alone a teacher, or - oh no! - the Principal. I spent a few days of anguish because I knew of no homes as tiny, or as poor as mine. Mine was surrounded by those rusty old iron sheds left standing by the mine. We just saw the beautiful mountains and the creek rippling by, but would he see that? By now I was a deeply committed Christian who was trying to live the life of a follower of Jesus as my mother had taught me on that special day we’d had together. Some how I found a passage in Philippians 4 where Paul the Apostle said that he had ‘learnt in whatever situation he found himself to be content.’ So I accepted my situation and went to the Principal to describe how to find my place. He replied that it would no longer be necessary, as he was now able to attend this function himself.

Nevertheless my pride was still very much a part of me. Our family’s vehicle was still the old Buick. For some reason Dad got it into his head to make two three seater wooden chairs with backs and sides out of rough timber. These he put on the flat back of the Buick, back to back. three of us sat in one with our backs to the other three. This raised us all by about eighteen inches, thus making us much more conspicuous than ever. If we were out anywhere together, Dad always had to go right through the main street of town. But not only that. The horn on the Buick made the most ridiculous gurgling sound you could imagine. I never looked up to see why it was that he always had to use it. I never talked to my brothers and sisters about this, but kept my pride to myself. No one ever ragged us about it, but I’m sure we looked the typical hill-billies.

I think 1954, my last year at school was the worst year of my life. Not only did I have responsibility as school captain, but also as I.S.C.F. leader. These I coped with, but home- life became unbearable. Dad was so unhappy that he would beat us and Mum for the slightest little thing. Mum started to be much more assertive as she could see what Dad’s tension was doing to us all. There were a few occasions when she had to cancel her R. E. classes as she could hardly front up with a black eye. On one night Mum walked out.

None of us knew where she had gone. I dreaded her trying to end her life down the old shaft, but told myself she would never do that. I wish I had gone after her to comfort her. She came back late looking drawn but more peaceful. I think she had just taken time out to try to draw on her Source of strength. But the next morning, the first sound we all heard as always was Mum shaking the ash out of the stove ready to light it again for another day. And, as always she was whistling. Oh, Mum, I thought, you are a wonder! In my head I can still hear her whistling even though she has been gone for nearly forty years. My school results were dropping. During my classes I would be worrying about my family situation and not concentrating the way those subjects required. I worried most about Mum, but also about Lola who seemed to be the one who milked the goats in the mornings, and did multitudinous other jobs. She grew irritable and hot-tempered particularly with Dad. She at least had the courage to confront him. I’d try to catch up on homework at night, but as I mainly studied sitting on my bed beside my sleeping sister and working on my lap, I couldn’t seem to make enough headway. Then Dad applied for a job back in W A. It was at Norseman. Now, Robin was doing well in his Engineering course and I knew that I would never finish my schooling if we went. Dad got the job and settled on going. He had a truck in mind that he planned to buy. We were just going to pile everything onto it and go. As far as I knew there was not even a high school in Norseman so I begged my parents to let me board with the Nyholms just until I could sit those final exams. They refused so I told my Chemistry teacher of our plight. Not he, but another teacher found the courage to visit my father at work and plead our case. It was going to be to no-one’s advantage to go, except maybe Dad’s, but we knew that going back to the west was not going to make him any happier. So to everyone’s relief Dad changed his mind. But I felt the most guilty, and occasionally got blamed for our still being in Lithgow. I cannot imagine where we would be now if we had gone ahead with that plan.
In discussion in recent years with my brother, I was horrified to find that he was quite excited about the possibility of that move. I feel so guilty that I’ve never asked anyone else what they thought.

By now I was well behind in my studies although Robin seemed to ride through it quite well and gained such good results that year that the Small Arms Factory gave him a cadetship to study the next year at the University of Sydney and do the Degree Course in Mechanical Engineering. All this time Viv continued to suffer Dad’s wrath and also to wet the bed. Althea became quite introverted and Heather just glided along through it all. I struggled with my study. But we always found little glimmers of light. The school magazine had to be filled so I wrote a piece of verse about indigenous Australians. When we lived in Boulder the aboriginal people were only allowed in the town on Saturdays. We always gave them tea and sugar as they lived in their native state in humpies in the bush, with no allowance from the government. If we gave them clothing it was put on on top of whatever they were wearing - always just rags. One old man made a habit of hanging over the back gate and watching us kids play cricket. He’d always enjoy the game with us. So I had a heart for these people and won the prize for senior verse. An article I wrote about the Snowy River Hydro-Electric scheme was also accepted for our magazine so this helped me feel a little better about myself. At Speech Night that year I didn’t receive an academic prize, but did get the poetry prize and the medal for the best all-rounder, for sport and study. Unbelievably, my Leaving Certificate results were good enough to get me to University of Sydney to study Science. By now I felt too weary to take on such a course, but acceded to my father's wishes and moved to Sydney.
Viv had left school. Dad decided that he should be apprenticed as a carpenter, and found work for him, but Viv had not the slightest desire to be a carpenter. His relationship with Dad was deteriorating. It seems he could do nothing right in Dad’s eyes. When we were attending the Baptist Church in Lithgow Viv was only twelve or thirteen, but he was really ‘sweet’ on a lovely little girl called Betty Harvey. Viv used to polish his shoes (they were actually boots) in those days and try to make himself as handsome as possible. He was a lovely cheerful boy. But he lost touch with Betty after we left that church. In a sense I lost touch with him too after I left for Uni, and often longed to spend more time with him. He was very practical, certainly not an achiever at school, but not a problem either.

When home one weekend I recognized Mum’s exhaustion so arranged with my landlady for her to come and spend a week with me in Sydney. I met her at Strathfield Station and felt so proud of showing her my haunts. I had to be at lectures during which time Mum was pretty lonely, but we had some good chats at night. I remember being proud that I could afford to buy her a pair of new shoes. She had brought knitting and crochet to do as her hands were never idle.

I was seventeen and asking all sorts of questions about the Christian faith. Prayer for my family seemed to have no effect, as things were getting worse. I wondered where prayer took over from psychology, and what part evil played in all of this.

My parents had no phone, so I often just turned up on a Friday night, walked in and got into my old bed and went to sleep, to give everyone a surprise the next morning. It was a four-hour train trip from Sydney to Lithgow. I suppose I got a taxi from the station to our little office home three miles out of town. I loved my family. My father was always good enough to run me back to the station on Sunday afternoon. Everyone timed the train and knew exactly when it would pass by on the mountain behind us on its way to Sydney. There was a slight incline beside our house where my whole family came out to wave. I still have a picture in my mind of my mother running up that hill, the last to arrive, apron on and white hair flying in her haste.

After one of these visits I recall nothing about the conversation in the car as my father drove me to the station but I remember he upset me terribly. I kissed him goodbye and as I ran to the train I burst into tears which flowed for the whole four-hour trip. I never raised my eyes to the other passengers, and suppose it was some sort of release from years of tension. As soon as I reached Sydney, I felt free again and recovered rapidly. My older brother was quite capable of looking after himself, so I think my grief was for my older sister and my mother, both of whom seemed to be trapped, and also for Viv who hadn’t been asked to come back home. The younger girls knew nothing other than arguments and seemed to take it in their stride.

Halfway through the year the doctor’s family with whom I lived in Sydney moved to an outer suburb, and came back to Petersham several days a week to continue his practice there. He had his secretary and her son come to live in with me but I found this a total distraction. My school friend Joy Nyholm was living in an Anglican hostel over from the Uni and I managed to get a place there for the third term. Even there as I tried to study, my mind was not in it and the end of year result published in the Sydney Morning Herald did not have my name in it. I was not surprised! But I was rather devastated. I proceeded then to apply to Bathurst Teachers’ Training College to do a two-year Primary Training Course resulting in a diploma only. My scholarship of course was terminated. I had previously earned pocket money selling toys at the Co-op prior to Christmas so took that job again for the few weeks before Christmas. My parents were kind about my failure and my father offered to pay my fees for that year, to allow me to repeat, but the cost to him would not have been fair, so I put my foot down and said I felt I should go to Teachers' College. He must have been very disappointed in me. I was eighteen now, with very few of this world’s goods. Every item of clothing I owned I had made myself, except for my shoes. I had never owned a watch, but my mother had one. She took it from her wrist saying I needed it more than she. We loaded my funny old bike onto the back of the ute (a respectable Vanguard by this time) and headed off in early March 1955 for Bathurst to enrol for the two year course - just Dad, Mum and me. It was a one-hour trip by road west of Lithgow.


I just loved that place! I joined up with a bunch of Christians who had a meeting every Sunday afternoon and on Wednesday nights walked off the property to a cow-shed where we sat on bales of hay and prayed together. They were such a wonderful lot of young people and my faith flourished. Of course it was a residential College and I could see how some of the young people in my year went pretty wild, just out of school with their new-found freedom. I think my mother had inculcated into my being, with example rather than words, a sense of responsibility. My friends at school were wholesome country kids, and although very naive and ignorant, I never mixed with those who smoked or drank and so was not tempted in any way to enter that scene.

The music lecturer at the College got the interested students together in my year to present Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado. It was such fun, and I was the understudy for Natasha, always glad that I never had to perform, but thrilled rather to be in the chorus. My parents drove up for one night’s presentation. I loved singing at the cow-shed and in our Sunday meetings, putting in some harmony, so that I sang a duet with a friend from our school-days at the Annual General Meeting of our Christian Fellowship. I had all year  been the Missionary Secretary, but now at this meeting was elected as the General Seretary. A fine young man Peter Smart was elected President.

It was not easy to get home from Bathurst and finances didn’t permit anyway, so letter- writing became our means of communication. Mum was wanting to take a trip to Perth with Heather who was now eight and hardly known to her family. So we organised that I would run the house for the month of February while I was doing a teaching round at the lovely little school near our home in Oakey Park. Dad never let the younger kids attend that school as he believed they would get a better education at the main school in town. Except for Heather, Vivian and Althea had started school in town anyway when we lived in the tent in the gully and in the pine forest. I really enjoyed that teaching round with all the friendliness that goes with a small school.

Mum left late in January, and Althea returned to school. Lola had to go to work each day in the office at the Co-op and Robin worked during uni holidays in the Small Arms Factory through which he had gained his cadetship. Viv was still working on the railways I think, but not living at home. So it was a busy month for me, keeping house as well as getting lessons prepared with the lesson-notes written up each day according to the College’s stipulations.

Anyway, Dad had this little cement brick making business going on up the gully at the spot where we had banked up the creek to make a swimming hole. If on day shift at the mine he’d get home before 3pm with enough day light to work on his bricks. There was an unwritten law at our place that if darkness fell and Dad was not at home someone should take the lantern up the gully to him. I could never work out why he didn’t take it up himself in preparation. He usually drove up there! Well I was nineteen now and apart from being busy I was also rather defiant, thinking someone has to break this crazy cycle. So one day after school, I came home, brought the washing in, folded it and put it away, then put the dinner on. By now dusk had fallen and I decided not to conform to what I knew was expected of me. Althea was fourteen so quite capable of doing it but no-one else was home yet. I had noticed some of Dad’s socks needed darning so set to that task when Dad came in demanding an apology from me. I refused, saying I was far too busy and would be lying if I apologised. I’m not sure if anyone had quite treated him in this way before. I was very polite. Well, off came his belt from around his waist, and did I get it!! Lola came home in the middle of this and almost had a nervous breakdown. She was exhausted from it all, and I was bold and determined. Years later I remember writing to Dad and apologising for my behaviour and Dad responded saying he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. I guess that sort of thing was just routine for him, but for Lola and me, as young ladies it was abhorrent.

Returning to college for my final year was exciting. I loved the community life and I loved the practice rounds of teaching. I returned to my same dormitory room with the same three girls with whom I had shared, and this year I picked up my scholarship again so that I was no longer a burden on my parents. There was a new intake of students, among whom were many who became involved in our Christian Fellowship group. To welcome them we organised a hike out of Bathurst. Quite a bunch joined us and we stupidly drank creek water. None of us had the sort of containers you need for carrying water. It took six weeks for the first of the group to become ill, and many followed, so it didn’t take much hindsight to put two and two together and realise we had drunk contaminated water. Several students were hospitalised with hepatitus, and our embarrassment caused a good deal of character development.

Because of my home background I was very careful about dating and refused a few possibilities. But there was this tall blond headed, studious, sporty, goodlooking, popular guy who could play the piano better than anyone I knew, and who had come in with the new intake of students and was taking an active part in our Christian Fellowship meetings. I rather liked him but was very very wary. After I had led a study one time he asked me to go and get my coat as he wanted to talk to me about something. It was May and getting cold in Bathurst. I thought he was going to tackle me on some aspect of my theology, so felt a bit daunted. However, it proved to be on another matter - a romantic
one! Poor Rowland, I held him on a string for a whole month. That night I heard the chimes from the nearby prison farm on every hour and didn’t eat for a week. I wasn’t ever going to run the risk of even going out with someone unless I could be pretty sure he was the one for me. So he waited a month for my answer, just to go out with him!!

I was now twenty and didn’t take long to fall in love. They were wonderful months where we learned to relate to each other. We were serious enough for me to take him home. It was fairly safe in those days to hitch hike with a male so we set off one Saturday for my home. I’d written ahead and had my parents’ permission for us to stay over-night. Rowland could occupy my brother Robin’s bed since he was at uni in Sydney.  The driver dropped us off at the top of a mountain pass from which I could pick my way down the side of the mountain and then behind a row of houses. Unfortunately Rowland didn't notice a heap of hot ash where someone had been burning off. Being a city slicker he put his foot straight into it. When we reached my place we paid little attention to it, even though his sock was burnt. I do recall his face turning white with the pain but we thought he would heal the same way we did with almost no help. Well the poor boy, on returning to college was hospitalised for quite some time with a seriously infected burn. Anyway, I didn’t warn Rowland about my circumstances, but just took him there. He never commented then or later. I had been to his home in Sydney and discovered it to be a really pleasant suburban house in a lovely spot by the Georges River. At my place the kitchen was the only place to be, so Rowland seemed to place himself against the bar in the front of the old combustion stove while I sat at the table with Mum and helped her peel the veges. 
We always walked through our brothers’ room at any time to get from ours to the kitchen but with a guest there we had to go out the back door and around the side to the front door which led into the kitchen. I knew Rowland was an owl and we were all larks. We wished he would hurry out of bed. So we got on with milking the goats, then driving them up the gully for the day. During the latter process I saw his head at the window and wondered if perhaps I should have  warned him that I was a goat girl. Never mind - he didn’t seem to be fazed by it all. I later took him for a walk up the gully and got the feeling he enjoyed it. I loved everything about that gully - the sound of the creek, the sight of the mountains, the aroma of damp gums - just wonderful!

Rowland warmed to my mother very quickly, but my father was not so impressed. He called him ‘fizz gig’ (behind his back) which I found a bit rude, but because he had tight curly hair my youngest sister Heather, now ten changed the name to ‘frizz wig’. My family was very practical, making or mending etc but Rowland was very studious and certainly not practical. My father thought the brainiest people were scientists and engineers and that if your subjects were literature or history it was because you were not bright enough. So he never quite accepted Rowland with any warmth. I’m not sure that I expected him to, so it wasn’t a real problem.

That year came to an end all too quickly. Rowland returned to Sydney to find odd jobs and I to my family in Lithgow. We were now dependent on the mail man. Lola swears I kept her awake one night reading a long letter to her from this wonderful man in my life.  It must have been before we got too romantic in our letters, but Lola and I were always very close, so it’s probably true.

The Thursday before School started in February 1958, I received a telegram from the Department of Education to tell me to report to Granville South Primary School, Woodville Rd, at 9am on the following Tuesday. I had packed my few posseesions in readiness, so telegraphed Rowland to say I would be on a certain train the next day Friday to seek accommodation in the Granville area. That night when Dad got home I gave him my exciting news and was flabergasted to hear him say that I would not be doing that. He would take me to Sydney on Sunday and he would find accommodation for me. I had been away from home for three years and was as independent as any twenty year old could be. I thought of defying him, but knew that life would be pretty close to hell for the rest of the family for weeks to come if I took that line. Consequently I sent Rowland another telegram first thing the next morning to say I would not be on that train. Poor Rowland had left home early in anticipation of my arrival, spent the morning looking around the second-hand bookshops which were his second home and went to meet me at Central Station. He had no idea why I was not on that train and went home feeling very depressed, to find my telegram. I still feel indignant that my father took such control over me at that age. He contacted the Methodist minister in Granville who organised accommodation for me with a very nice old retired couple, the Jessops in Hewlitt St Granville. It was so good to be away again.

Even though Rowland and I were on opposite sides of the city we managed to see each other a little until the time came for him to return to college in Bathurst. Then the letters were our means of contact but at least the home I lived in in Granville had a telephone. Very occasionally he hitch-hiked to Sydney for the weekend.

I thoroughly enjoyed teaching. It was a boys’ school and I was given Grade Three. At last I was earning a little money, though almost half of it went in accommodation, and teachers were paid poorly in those days. I received twenty eight pounds a fortnight and thought I was on clover.

My brother Vivian must have turned eighteen in my first year of teaching and was working on the railways in Lithgow. One night he and a mate came off their shift only to find his mate had missed his last bus home. Viv could see another mate’s car nearbyo and thought this mate had just come on duty, so he had the bright idea of ‘borrowing ‘ that car and running the first mate home. By the time he returned the car the police had been called so Viv was put in the lockup for the night. That was the last straw with Dad. He said that no child of his would ever go to jail and promptly kicked him out of home - such as it was. My mother nearly broke her heart as her greatest efforts were protecting, helping and keeping the family as close together as possible. Viv moved from one family to another and took up smoking. My heart nearly broke too as Viv had always seemed to get the short straw in every way possible. I grew more and more angry with my father. When I had the chance to go home for a week-end I would spend most of my time on the old bike that was still hanging out, going from one place to another in search of him. Once Rowland had met me in Lithgow as a half way point, and I am ashamed to this day that I left him with my family while I went off on a search for Viv. There must have been only one available bike.

Meanwhile Mum was always our anchor, providing strength for us all, yet crying quietly at times. She had recourse to help from no-one. She had nowhere to turn. Her sisters and her mother received many anguished letters from her and unfortunately Lola never had a teenage life but went straight from childhood to being an adult because of her sense of responsibility, but also because poor Mum shared her woes with her. She had that lovely friend in town but she was a bus-trip away and I think Mum depended too much on Lola from an early age. On a holiday or a Saturday my siblings and I would decide on a hike up the mountains, but Lola would stay home to help Mum with the washing, which had to be boiled in a copper, put into a trough with a pot-stick and rinsed, then sent through a hand-ringer. Mum accepted Lola’s help too readily and I look back and wonder how ever I could have been so thoughtless.

Dad had reneged on milking so Lola always did it before she went to work, then washed up in a dish and got on to her bike to get to work by nine, after herding the goats up the gully of course. I mostly did it at night if I were at home.

I turned twenty one that year, my first teaching year, and old Mrs Jessop, with whom I boarded had a few of her friends around to celebrate. She was a lovely lady and I enjoyed boarding there in Hewlett St. My parents sent me a Brownie Box Camera, which I was glad of, but have never become a good photographer.

At the end of the year Rowland proposed. The only problem was that he was a poor student, so we found a wholesale jeweller and I had enough money in my bank to get the cheapest ring possible. Rowland’s family gave him a wonderful twenty-first at the end of 1958 and they all expected us to announce our engagement at that. His parents knew we had the ring, but Rowland was too afraid to ask my father so we had to announce it much later when Rowland could rake up the courage.

I determined not to go home during my first Christmas holidays - well not for long anyway, so I arranged to do a month’s nursing at a hospital the Sydney Rescue Society ran, originally for pregnant unmarried girls but by then taking other patients. It was quite an experience for a naive country girl. During my first viewing of a delivery I had to leave the room lest I faint. The shifts were long and exhausting. On a night shift one of my responsibilities was to stoke the huge furnace in the basement which provided the hospital with hot water. I let it go out once, but managed after a frantic effort to get it going again.

Being in Sydney enabled me to see a bit of my wonderful ‘fiance’ who also had a casual job digging trenches.
                                                                                                                                                 Telling Lola about my experiences in the hospital sent waves of yearning through her as she confided in me with her deep longing to have trained as a nurse. She had recently been hospitalized in Lithgow with nephritis and enjoyed the rest. She was almost 23 now and I urged her to do something about it. She felt she had to be at home to help Mum, but I felt she had to start having a life of her own. The result was that she wrote to Parramatta Hospital and was utterly amazed to discover that they took late trainees. She commenced almost immediately. It was 1959 and Robin, Lola and I were all now in Sydney, Viv somewhere in Lithgow and only Heather and Althea at home. So who milked the goats? No one! Tragically wild cats attacked and killed them all just before Lola was due to leave. I know that Mum missed Lola badly, but Lola, being the person she was went home regularly on days off. We saw a lot of each other in those couple of months as we were in adjacent suburbs. It was the year of the Billy Graham Crusade in Sydney and we both went to the training sessions to equip us as counsellors and passed the test. I also sang in the choir - a wonderful experience.

Rowland’s first teaching appointment was to Captain’s Flat Central School where he was to teach Geography and English to secondary students. I knew a tiny bit about the place because my Dad had once applied for a position there and had even gone there for an interview. He didn’t take the job and when I went with Rowland’s parents to deliver him to the town the weekend before his commencement date I understood why . It was certainly not an attractive town. The mine (silver, lead and zinc) dominated the little fibro town with its surrounding slag dumps. It was about an hour out of Canberra along a dirt road, and to me it seemed like the end of the world. It wasn’t very nice leaving Rowland there in the ‘miners’ mess’. I remember quietly whimpering in the back seat as we pulled out the next day to return to Sydney.

Term 1 in 1959 was absorbed with teaching a new class in the girls’ department at Granville South Primary School. I was given a composite Grade 5/6 and was elected the Art teacher for the whole of the girls’ school as someone saw a caravan I had drawn on the board. Also took girls to other schools to compete in softball matches on Friday afternoons. Meanwhile I had become involved in the local Methodist church. I helped in the Christian Endeavour and sang in the choir. Mum came to Granville to spend a few days with me that term. I recall her sleeping in the double bed with me, but snoring so loudly that I couldn’t get off to sleep. Unfortunately the next day was a very important annual inspection day for me and I needed some sleep, so I crawled through the window and onto the bed on the front verandah where I slept quite soundly for what was left of the night. I knew I would wake my hosts if I went through the front door. Poor Mum was very hurt the next day when she woke to find me absent, and even more hurt when I confessed the reason.

Meanwhile I hung out for letters from Rowland. He spoke of a vacancy in the school in Captain’s Flat and wanted me to go there immediately as it would be difficult for me to get a position there the next year. I did apply, though very sad to leave Lola. Fortunately the transfer didn’t come about until the end of term (May) which allowed me to be involved in the Billy Graham Crusade. Accommodation was arranged for me with a family from the school and I commenced Term 2, 1959 on Grade 2 (oh dear!) at Captain’s Flat Central School. Rowland worked with secondary students under the same Principal and we were all on the same staff. It was a fantastic school, with a very conscientious Principal, and I soon adapted to teaching younger children. We had splurged and bought a new holden station wagon as travel was a huge part of our lives - in and out of Canberra, just to get out of the tiny town, and frequent trips back to Sydney. Keeping up the payments was a challenge as teachers in those days, though very well respected were poorly paid. Class sizes were huge. I recall teachers going on strike to reduce class sizes to 38. Giving personal attention to and marking 38 books, stories etc etc involved working back or taking work home. I preferred the former.

We found a kindred spirit in a clerk at the local bank who ran a youth club on Wednesday nights in the Presbyterian Church. We think the whole of the school must have come along and the noise was unbelievable. We did manage however to get silence when we wanted it. The faithful Presbyterian minister from Braidwood came with his wife once a month to take a service, on a Sunday, and apart from that we ran a small Sunday School and smaller worship service.

On one of our trips to Sydney, for Rowland to play rugby union for the district, I bought material for my wedding dress and going-away outfit. We had bought a very old Japanese sewing machine and my mother’s resourcefulness came to the fore as I put the scissors into the material and got the gown started. I went home to Lithgow at the end of the school year to finish off my gown and other outfit and also to choose and make bridesmaids’ gowns for Lola and Althea. To my utter surprise Lola and Mum had already done the latter. They had chosen colour, material and style and just made them up. I couldn’t quite believe it, but as they said: ‘You’d never get it done!’ Well our tastes were pretty similar and they were probably right, as I recall stitching embroidered lace onto my gown the night before the wedding. We had no pre-marriage counselling in those days, and although Rowland knew the celebrant I had hardly ever met him until the wedding day. We had no say in the planning of the ceremony. It was 'done' for us.


January 9, 1960 turned out to be a real 'stinker' as far as temperature was concerned. Friends of Rowland's family were on holidays and allowed my family to occupy their home the night before the wedding. So I left from the Jolly's home in Hurstville in all my bridal gear (which of course I had made myself). Robin, Lola and Althea were part of our wedding party along with Rowland's brother Graham and it was actually quite a lovely day. I can't imagine why we have no photos of Mum on that day. Mothers didn't seem to be important in wedding parties then, but Dad carried off his duties responsibly. The whole day cost 150 pounds, so my parents and Rowland's parents each contributed 50 and it was up to us to pay the other 50. My two years of teaching and Rowland's one hadn't enabled us to save much, so a honeymoon was out of the question. Nevertheless we were paying off a station wagon, so the best thing to do was sleep in the car. We spent a couple of nights in the Royal National Park, heating canned food over an open fire, but as facilities were pretty well nil we opted to attend a Christian Teachers' Conference as the fees were less than any other respectable accommodation would be.                                                                                                                                      

After that we headed back to Rowland's family home, picked up our wedding gifts and headed back for Captain's Flat. By the time we reached home we had 20 pence in our pockets and had to get a bank loan to tide us through to the next pay day. We rented a small fibro cottage within walking distance of the school and enjoyed setting up home before the next term began in late January. There were two new teachers added to the staff, one of whom had just been widowed so returned to Australia from Norfolk Island to try to adjust to a different life. Her name was May Quintal and we took her in to share our rather simple lifestyle. The principal was this year going for promotion so the whole staff caught his enthusiasm, and pulled together to form a team with a very high standard. The pupils caught the atmosphere and flourished under such enthusiasm.

I omitted to mention that after I moved to Captain's Flat and toward the end of Term Two in 1959 we had a fairly serious car accident in Queenbeyan which took me off to hospital in an ambulance and kept me there for a week. The radio on the front of our Holden wagon was square bakelite and put such a gash in my knee that it required more than forty stitches. The surgeon warned me of the possibility of a stiff leg for life. He gave me a pretty picture of how I could be struggling down the aisle. His predictions were unfounded, the knee healed well and has never fulfilled his promise of arthritis at fifty.

We loved our years of teaching at Captain's Flat and related well to other staff members. The Wednesday night youth club continued to thrive and the teaching standard achieved at the school because of the expectations of the Principal was exceptionally high. We put on musicals and entered voice production competitions in Canberra with gratifying success. During our third year there I became pregnant, taking leave from Easter and giving birth to Rowland Paul on June 15 in 1961. He was a healthy 8lbs 13ounces and the joy of our lives. We continued with the youth club, bundling him up in the station wagon with piles of kids in pick ups and drop offs. Paul thrived. When he was three months old and still being breast fed we would drop him off at Mrs Winchester's home before school and he'd sleep until lunch break from school and I'd pop there to feed him while I ate my lunch, Mrs Winchester was a great Christian lady for whom I did a bit of dressmaking. Another Christian lady in town was Mrs Rita Backouse, married to an alcoholic miner. She was one of the most amazing women we have ever met, suffering all sorts of deprivations, and struggling in unbelievable ways to raise their five children.


By the end of 1961 we returned to Sydney. Rowland had done three years of country teaching and was hankering for city life. He missed the use of libraries more than anything. Family friends had moved to work in Papua New Guinea and offered us the use of their house in Oatley as long as we cared for their daughter 'Beth' who was in her final years of high school. Besides, I was pregnant again and wanted to be a 'stay at home mum'. Fortunately the Department of Education waived my five year bond. I had only served four years.

We were sad to leave the young bank clerk with the full responsibility of the Wednesday night youth club, but knew him to be very capable. Rowland had played the piano and taught the kids lots of songs. Dear Jim could not sing in tune but he was a wonderful inspiration to the kids and he has spent his life leading children and influencing them in wholesome values. Besides, we introduced him to a friend of ours and they have made a wonderful life together and raised three great kids.

With the help of Mr Nyholm in Lithgow, Dad was persuaded to purchase a nice fibro home in Macauley St Lithgow. It would have been early to mid 1962 and Mum was delighted. We all felt that she deserved than the aweful lot she had received in life. This house had three bedrooms and a lounge room, with a rather roomy kitchen with a built-in table and seats on the wall side. She started having visitors and even a small Bible study group with  whom she made life long friends.

Althea married a Lithgow man in1962 and Robin had achieved his Bachelor of Engineering from Sydney University so returned home to work at the Small Arms Factory in order to work through his bond. Dad was working away from home at Oakdale so Heather, Mum and Robin made a fairly cosy little trio at home.

In June however of that year Rowland and I in Oatley received the news that my brother Vivian had an accident in his car and was seriously injured. We set off immediately for Lithgow to hear that Viv had, along with two of his mates replaced some part in his car and were taking it for a test run along a country road. The replaced part was OK but when taking a bend the steering rod snapped and threw one mate out to his death, injured the other friend badly and gave Viv such horrific injuries that he was not expected to live. To my utmost great sadness he died before I could say goodbye. His lovely girlfriend was devastated with grief, to mention nothing of what Mum went through. But through it all her her faith enabled her to acknowledge that God had taken him out of this most unhappy family situation to a far more wonderful place. He was just 22.

On September 7, 1962, I gave birth in St. George Hospital in Kogarah a gorgeous little 8lb 7 oz girl. Rowland was over the moon because there were no girls in the Croucher family. His dad was one of four boys and Rowland one of three boys. And each of his two brothers has three boys! When we took Paul home to Lithgow when Viv died he at just 12 months brought much joy to the distraught family. And now a new baby – Karen Elizabeth - nearly three months later also brought some light relief. My sister Althea also gave birth within a few days and called her little boy 'Martin'. Mum absolutely adored her grandchildren and loved having the two babies at home at the same time.


Rowland had long-term thoughts of entering the ministry and started making plans. Our friends warned of the possibility of returning from New Guinea so when Rowland's brother Graham bought a weatherboard investment house in Woronora Pde Oatley he offered it to us at low rental. Beth moved there with us as her parents were not yet back. And in early 1964 Rowland commenced full-time study at the Baptist Theological College at Eastwood, on the other side of Sydney. To keep his little family alive Rowland had to take on a small student church. He was given Narwee Baptist Church where we spent four wonderful years with delightful people and incredible growth. Rowland threw his heart into the work and often missed lectures at college. His responsibilities were to preach at two services on Sundays and run the Wednesday night Bible Study. Because I wanted to raise my two children I did not supplement our tiny little income in any way but I did make all the children's clothes, as well as my own sometimes out of the good bits left from our worn out ones. I already knew how to cook from the cheapest cuts of meat, and was not used to any sort of luxuries anyway.  Then each Christmas Rowland led a 'beach mission' up north at Byron Bay during his four weeks of holidays from the church. To supplement our little allowance from the church Rowland drove taxis all over Sydney on Friday nights.

As soon as Paul and Karen were at school I applied to return to teaching as Rowland's load was far too heavy. I was appointed full-time to Beverley Hills Girls’ High School to teach Mathematics. I had been captain of the church Girls' Brigade for several years and determined not to neglect my church responsibilities, so continued with that and all the home duties, without neglecting my two precious children. Life was full and fulfilling. The church community was exceptionally friendly and diligent about growing in their faith. The youth group was thriving and needed a full-time pastor, even though Rowland, the senior pastor was only part time because of his studies. So Dave Kendall, an American singer who was brought to Australia with his wife Mary by an evangelistic organization ‘Ambassadors for Christ’ became our Youth Pastor. Rowland simply asked the parents of the young people if they would be committed to supporting him financially for a year and after that the church was convinced of the worth of his ministry and took on his support. The following year a part-time deaconess – Lyn Wadson – was added to the church staff. Wonderful times!

1967 – A BOLD MOVE

A Christian friend owned a block of land with a weatherboard house on it but wanted the house removed in order to build a factory. He offered the house without the land to our church to house the new youth pastor, but as Narwee had only brick dwellings the council would not permit our moving it to Narwee, so other accommodation was found for them. As I had just started earning I got the bright idea that we could buy a cheap battle-axe block in a lower socio-economic suburb – Punchbowl - and take that house ourselves, which is what we did as an investment. Although Rowland had the added burden of digging trenches around the newly settled house, it did prove the be of benefit to us.

Following Rowland's graduation and ordination by the Baptist Union of NSW, he accepted a position in 1968, with the Intervarsity Fellowship working with tertiary students. This meant we had to find our own accommodation, were able to sell that little house, put part of the profit into a home unit in Bexley in which we would live, and part as a deposit on another unit as an investment. I applied to transfer to Kogarah High, near our new home as Paul and Karen would be attending Kogarah Primary School, almost opposite Kogarah High, both within walking distance of our new home.

This worked well for four years, each of us enjoying our roles. After two years I was appointed 'Mistress in Charge of Girls', as it was a co-ed high school, and I thoroughly enjoyed that responsiility. Paul became very successful at soccer, gaining several awards, but there didn't seem to be a corresponding sport for Karen, so we started her in ballet. That only lasted a few weeks as Karen was much happier reading! They were both having piano lessons anyway, and were making friends with other children in the units.

 Lola had long finished her nursing certificates and decided to work with the Bush Church Aid Society. She was appointed to Cook along the Nullabor - delivering babies, stitching up cuts inflicted by broken bottles, diagnosing physical problems which necessitated calling on the Flying Doctor Service, preaching on Sundays, cutting peoples' hair and even attending to injured dogs. After about five years there she felt the need to watch over Mum who had moved to be with Dad who had returned to the West and settled in a ghost town called Goongarrie, about 60 miles north of Kalgoorlie. It was a dreadful life for Mum, as Dad took work in a mine and left Mum alone a lot of the time, with not a soul around for many miles except for a demented man who lived one hundred metres away in a tin shack. Dad had at least bought a lovely stone home which had belonged to the railway. Not that he lived in luxury. All he needed was a table and chairs, a stove to cook on, one easy chair, an organ and a set of encyclopedias. Yes, a bed and a radio. And he did have a telephone. Mum never asked for any comforts. One night well after dark when Dad was at work there was a knock on the door because Mum had a light on. You can imagine Mum's fear, but it was just an aboriginal man wanting a match. But henceforth Mum never turned the lights on if Dad was at work, so she had nothing else to do but lie in bed awaiting Dad's return. They did have power from a  generator.

By 1970, Lola had moved to Darwin and Rowland and I took our two kids for a trip to visit my parents in Goongarrie. We drove to Adelaide, left our car with ‘rellies’, and took the train to Kalgoorlie. We passed through and stopped at Cook, but it was an empty sort of feeling as Lola was no longer there. Mum and Dad picked us up at Kalgoorlie and drove us to their home. Robin had repaired Viv's car for Lola. It was a Holden FJ and she left it with Mum and Dad when she caught a ship to Darwin. So after a few days in Goongarrie, and a sentimental trip to Boulder visiting my old childhood haunts, we set off for Perth in two vehicles. Rowland excused himself from the trip to Boulder as he had never been anywhere in his life where there was absolutely no sound and wished to experience the solitude of the desert for a day.

Reuniting with my grandmother Robinson (then 83) was wonderful, and introducing her to my husband and children was pretty special. She thought Rowland could play the piano as well as Billy Graham's pianist. Grandma was as warm as ever, but delighted in seeing her much loved daughter, Thelma, her eldest. When her eldest son's wife died under simple surgery while her husband Roland was in the army she took on the full responsibility of their three year old son 'Glen' and later another son's two daughters when he separated from his wife. Glen was still living with her when we visited, and of course we met other rellies too. Lo and behold the almond tree was still there with Glen's initials carved into it. Grandma lived in an elite-looking brick home on Stirling Highway in Claremont. I loved the smell and the sight of the trolley buses that ran along the Highway. Not far away from her home was a park with a sloping grassed area that we loved rolling down as kids. The time came to leave all too soon as my teaching holiday was only the bare two weeks and much time was spent in travel. Glen and another cousin called Milton offered to drive Lola's car back to Goongarrie, thus freeing us to fly to Adelaide. The whole trip was pleasant but I found it hard to say goodbye to Mum.


The next year Paul was invited to go a special school in Hurstville for very bright kids. After many enquiries we decided to allow him to attend. He was in Grade 5. He didn't adjust well at all and as Rowland was appointed to take the leadership of the Central Baptist Church in the city we felt it was time to move. We rented a home in Woolwich, near Hunter's Hill, a short distance from the city and Paul and Karen were enrolled in the primary school near us (Grades 5 and 6). I was not teaching because, to our delight we discovered another little Croucher was coming.  I was able to continue the course in Mathematics that I had commenced by extension through the University of New England in Armidale (NSW).  I remember studying while in hospital. Paul and Karen came home for lunch every day - something they had never been able to do as I had always been teaching. Rowland continued his Master of Education degree at the University of Sydney that year.
Then a call to the Blackburn Baptist Church in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne came that year and we felt it would be a much healthier place for our kids than the inner city. It meant I would not be able to continue University study. However , it was a move we felt we should take. Karen was affirmed by also getting an invitation to a special school for bright kids but wasn't too upset by not being able to take it. The saddest thing for me was that Lola had decided to come back to Sydney to do training in midwifery at the same time that I wrote to tell her of our impending move to Melbourne. But Mum, Dad and Lola all turned up in Dad's ute - a new one by now – to say goodbye. Now that we were all off his hands Dad spent his money on vehicles and never thought that Mum might like a few comforts. His attitude was extremely self-centred, and Mum was never one to complain or perhaps too fearful to do so. By now they were both pensioners but the pension went in to their general kitty. My mother never had a cent she could call her own and had to ask for money to buy the bare essentials only - even material to make herself the simplest of clothes.  They had all driven across Australia to bid us farewell. I think Dad had a medical appointment in Sydney that he wanted to keep and driving across the continent was just no worry to him.


We packed up and left for Melbourne in January 1973 with a 5 month old adorable baby daughter (Amanda Jayne),  two excited kids of 11 and 12 and a labrador dog called Sandy. The Blackburn Baptist Church welcomed us warmly, and we settled in to the church's manse at 13 Holland Road. Taking advice from the church folk we enrolled Paul and Karen in private Baptist schools which involved their travelling by train. Russell Costello, a teacher at Carey Boys’ Grammar traveled there each day with his son Peter, after dropping his daughter Janet off near Strathcona, offered to include Paul and Karen. They just had to get home by train.

I became involved in helping in the Blackburn South High School Inter School Christian Fellowship. A lovely student named Rosemary White called once a week after school to plan the next meeting. She was a dynamic young girl who years later, as a mother of four discovered she had cancer. She was given five years to live, but remarkably lived another sixteen years and saw her youngest reach 24. Her positive attitude and her faith was what carried her through.

We felt little Amanda Jane would not like to be an only child so planned another who arrived safe and sound on May 25, 1974, and having four people settle on a name was quite a challenge. Karen finally suggested ‘Melinda Louise and we’ll call her Lindy Lou’. We all jumped at that idea, so Lindy Lou she was. The Lou part was dropped once at school because she refused to be enrolled as Melinda and chose just 'Lindy'.

Robin by this time had four daughters, each learning violin by the suzuki method and on one occasion they with others from their suzuki class were invited to perform at Strathcona as they were interested in teaching violin by that method. Otherwise we saw little of our NSW rellies over the years. Soon after our arrival in Blackburn we received the horrible news that one Rowland's brothers’ young wife had died. She was a healthy mother of two little boys and expecting her third when some rare condition caused her to drop dead when dining at a friend’s home. It was an horrendous time and Rowland was asked to conduct the funeral at Mortdale Baptist Church.

Later that year Rowland's parents came to stay for a few weeks with Graham and the little boys. We managed to find beds for them all and this was and has always been our pattern of life, providing hospitality. Other rellies and friends came from NSW too, which we always delighted in.

The church flourished. Rowland took a personal interest in everyone in the church and trained people to care for each other. Most people were placed in small groups as the church became too large for everyone to relate to each other.


Meanwhile we all became very concerned for Mum who was 'existing' in the WA outback and not sounding at all happy. Lola made several trips across when she managed time off work. She was now a highly qualified nurse and had a responsible position in Balmain Hospital.

When Lindy was 20 months Rowland was asked to speak at a conference in Bathurst for a week in January 1976. Dad was always saying he planned to come back to Lithgow some time, so he kept their house in Lithgow. I wrote to see if they may be back by that time and if so could the kids and I come and stay with them for that week as the two towns were only an hour apart. What happened I don't know, but Mum came across by herself by train and we had a wonderful week together. She adored all her grand children and hated living so far away. Mum had beautiful grey eyes but all her four children had their father's hazel eyes. Lindy's are blue after her father and Mum was delighted. She was able to see Robin's three girls, my four kids, and Heather's three. She missed out on Althea's two boys as her family was living in Canberra.
It was a wonderful time of re-union except for one thing. Mum shared with me the sort of life she was forced to live. Her mother had died three months earlier at 87 and she didn't even get to the funeral in Perth. Her brother Roland had also passed away, so the only thing – her family-of-origin - that drew her back to the west was diminishing. But worse than that was our father's treatment of her out there in such solitude. The only ray of hope was the occasional visits of a missionary - Noel Blythe and his wife - who dropped in on their way to visit isolated communities up north. Dad was always pleasant with people outside the family, so Mum had to live a lie before them. But she still longed for those visits.

By way of explanation, our father probably had a difficult childhood, being born an only child to elderly parents. His mother had a good inheritance from a prosperous family in Maryborough, Victoria, who owned a successful foundery. She married a good man who was a farm hand and became a butcher. With the inheritance, they moved to Bruce Rock in WA with their 5 yr old and bought a sheep and wheat farm. They possibly had some successful years but invested badly and when our grandfather died when Dad was only 19, he and his mother were so encumbered with the financial challenges that they just had to walk away from it all and move to Perth. Dad took on a milk round, not using horse and cart but a small vehicle as Dad had always had what he wanted. In their loneliness he and his mum looked up old friends, i.e. the Robinsons whom they had known in Bruce Rock but now lived in Claremont, a suburb of Perth, Dad could be very pleasant and somehow won Mum's heart. She was highly impressed by the fact that he neither smoked, drank nor swore.

Anyway I could not bear the thought of her returning to the west. I pleaded with her to come and live with us in Melbourne. She thought that would be like divorce and she could not do that and be true to her vows. I explained that it need only be until Dad returned to Lithgow. She was sorely tempted but wanted me to discuss it first with Rowland. This I did in detail on our return to Melbourne and Rowland readily ageed. He had a great respect for our mother. My quick response to Mum carried Rowland's approval, and her reply was that she felt very ill and would only be a burden on us. A day or two later another letter came saying she was in hospital with pneumonia. Next thing Lola rang to say she had had a heart attack while in hospital. I left my two little girls (aged almost 2 and 4) with a wonderful lady in the church, left Paul and Karen with Rowland, and caught a plane to Canberra. I drove with Althea from there to Lithgow. Mum was very debilitated and Dad drove across. I wanted to stay longer than Althea could so I let her drive back alone to Canberra (a bit thoughtless of me I later found out). After a few more days, Mum was not improving and I was worried about how my friend was coping with my girls, so I made the decision to return to Melbourne. I knew deep down that I was not going to see my mother again. Mrs Nyholm was also in hospital at the same time so I went to her ward to say goodbye and remember shaking like a leaf. I returned to say goodbye to Mum but never felt I showed her enough love. She was not a huggy, cuddly mother but O did we love her!!!

I caught the train to Sydney and was met by Rowland's parents, then got on the overnight train to Melbourne. I am crying now as I write this as our mother battled against the odds nearly all her married life and deserved much better. After several days Lola rang to say she had passed away. She was only 68 and her sisters said she died of a broken heart, and we believe they were right. Rowland drove with me to Lithgow for her funeral on March 17th, 1976,  which was Lola's 40th birthday. I wrote a poem to Mum through my grief, thinking it could be read at her funeral, but the Uniting Church minister said it was too emotional. He alone conducted the funeral. None of us was asked even to give a eulogy or say a word about our mother. We don't know who decided all that. Anyway this is what I wrote:


We would have given anything to have kept you with us here
To see your smile and feel your touch and hear your voice of cheer,

We longed to keep that feeling of deep security
Which we have always felt in you whenever you were near.

But God had better plans for you, His ways you've said are best,
And so we know you've gone to Him and entered heaven's rest.

There must have been rejoicing in heaven as you came
And Jesus held His arms outstretched and called you by your name.

So as we think of you today our hearts are filled with praise
For the one who gave His life for you and led you in His ways

Jan Croucher, March 17, 1976

Mum was buried in the Lithgow cemetery but quite a distance from Viv, and we all returned to a life without her.


Dad returned to his desert home in WA. Robin continued with his engineering job in Wallerawang and he and Glenda had another daughter (their fourth). Lola went back to nursing at Balmain. I took on teaching at Strathcona Baptist Girls' Grammar School as head of Christian Education, Althea and Rex and their boys stayed on in Canberra and when Heather's marriage broke up she moved with her three children to live in the family home in Macauley St Lithgow. In 1981 Rowland and I moved to Vancouver (Canada) with our two youngest girls. Paul, at 20 looked after himself - at his request, and Karen who was in 2nd year at Monash Uni went to live with a family from the church. We had hoped that they would each follow us. Karen was dating Ross at the time and they both came to visit us at the end of 1981. They wanted to get married so we had a small wedding at the First Baptist Church, Vancouver, where Rowland was pastor, and they returned to Melbourne as Ross had another year of his teacher training course. Paul came to visit us later in 1982 and then proceeded to India and beyond.

We didn't fit well into the church in Vancouver as they were very conservative British people. So in May of 1983 we started on a rather long journey home. We hired a car and toured down the west coast of the US and settled in an attic belonging to a family with connections with Fuller Seminary in Los Angeles. Rowland attended lectures there for three months while the girls and I went into shopping malls in the heat, made our glasses of fruit juice last as long as possible and did Canadian correspondence studies, in an attempt to prepare the girls for their return to Australian standards. Rowland was returning to a job in Melbourne with World Vision in their Leadership Enhancement department, so after three months at Fuller as part of a Doctor of Ministry Course we set of for three months’ travel through Britain, Europe, Israel and Africa visiting World Vision projects. It was a most enlightening experience and such a wonderful education for our girls.

We flew from Johannesburgh South Africa to Perth in December 1983, and got a plane to Boulder to visit Dad. He seemed to be managing OK by himself, although his simple living was certainly not one of comfort nor even great hygiene. From there we proceeded to Sydney for family reunion then on to Melbourne.

Karen and Ross had settled in to a house in Heathmont and by the end of 1983 had a gorgeous little girl, whom they named Abbie. They invited us to stay with them until we found a place to live. It was a delightful experience getting to know Abbie, whom we were able to care for when Coralie was born.

I was invited to teach part time at Strathcona, and started a Bachelor of of Theology degree part time at Whitley Baptist Theological College, and also complete an Arts Degree. We settled in to our own home in Heathmont in April 1984.

In May, 1986 Lola received information from the Menzies (just north of Goongarrie) police that Dad had gone missing. His ute was found out near an open cut mine which he loved visiting. The bonnet was up and he had obviously been trying to fix it, but with no success must have decided to try to walk the 40 Ks home. Unfortunately he has never been found.

We are glad that our mother was spared that trauma. And soon after that she was spared another trauma, that of Heather's 16 yr old son's death in a trail bike accident. Because Dad was never going to use the grave site he had purchased beside Mum's, young Steven was buried there. We think Mum would have liked that. She would also have loved the fact that Lola married in 1981, just 5 years after Mum died.

So when we contemplate the life our mother led, we are filled with grief and also with a great deal of anger. Our father no doubt was a product of his time and his circumstances.  He had threatened our mother not to interfere with the way he disciplined us, and she concurred, whether out of fear or from a misguided desire to be a good wife, we will never know. He also stated to her that the woman was only the incubator for the children. On one of her lowest moments when she threatened to leave him he said that was OK with him, but she could not take the children.

Our mother was stuck. She had not developed her clerical skills since marrying and childbearing, so any worthwhile employment was impossible. Social welfare for single mothers was unheard of and for her the shame of separation was unbearable. She battled on with the inner strength that she gained from her faith. My fondest memory of her was waking to hear her shake the ash out of the old combustion stove, rekindle the coal fire, get the kettle boiling and making a cup of tea to take in to Dad in bed. This of course was her duty as after all he went out to work and all she ever did was stay at home, The lovely warm lumber jackets she continually made for him of course were to be expected!!!

My eternal memory though, was of her whistling while she did all that……….

'Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint'. (Isaiah 40:31)

PPS In recent years my husband and I have returned to Perth a few times. On one occasion I wandered in to the back yard of my grandmother’s home, now owned by a group of solicitors, and found the tree bearing my cousin’s initials and was in a dreamworld when a solicitor walked by and asked if he could help me. When I apologized and explained that this had been my grandmother’s home, he invited me in. He took me to every renovated room which I had loved so much and introduced me to each of the occupying solicitors.


Jan Croucher

December 2014
Updated and corrected, November 22, 2015


  1. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your account here - a truly remarkable story, one of its time. Thanks so much for recording it, a great thing for your family.

  2. 6th August, 2017

    Dear friends,

    My precious wife Jan passed away peacefully on August 1st, 2017, after suffering from cancer for the past four years.

    Her Thanksgiving service is planned for Wednesday the 9th of August, 1.30 pm, at the Crossway Baptist Church, Burwood East, Victoria.

    The 60 years we have known each other, 57 and a half years married, have been a wonderful experience...

    Shortly before she died she said to me 'You are the light of my life!' And I replied similarly.

    I've been a very privileged man: and reading this story again encourages me to be very grateful that Jan had the mother she had. She has, in turn, been a wonderful mother herself.

    Sometime soon I'll tidy this Blog up a bit, and perhaps add some comments here and there.


    Rowland Croucher