Poetry 1 To Irena

Although you always did deplore 

My frequent locking of your door,

With gentle, kind and boundless tact

You pardoned this egregious act;

And swore – despite my mortal sin – 

You’d save me from the loony bin.

Should I grow frail and get the flutters

You’d keep me from the House of Nutters.

And I — to show that I’m true blue –

Will do as much, my dear, for you. 

Ch13 Epilogue and poetry.

This is not the end of the history of the Foxon Family. Hopefully it is only the beginning of our story in Australia. The rest lies in the future, and is unknowable to me. All I can do is to wish those future generations good luck.

I am pleased about one important thing. Although our ancestors, through no fault of their own, knew hard times, we have escaped. We have escaped from the back-breaking toil, the telltale blue scars, the lifelong slavery of Yorkshire company coal mines. We have escaped from the squalor of the East End of London and from the contemptible isolation of the European ghetto. We have escaped from the physical poverty engendered by lack of money. And we have escaped from the spiritual poverty of ignorance. In Australia, the slate has been wiped clean. What we now write on that slate is up to us. If we go back to poverty or regress to ignorance, the fault is our own.          

The next generation, provided we can be blessed with peace, has the opportunity of a better life than any before it. What they make of that opportunity lies within their hands.

Progress depends partly on ability, partly on work, and partly on luck. But luck, after all, is when opportunity meets preparation and preparation involves perseverance. So above all, one’s success depends on perseverance and preparation.

The world becomes ever more crowded and complex. How can one make sense of the pullulating human ant-heap?

Once I had a goldfish pond in the front garden. The algae, nourished by sunlight, provided ample food, and the happy fishy residents bred up from half a dozen to over a hundred. It was interesting to see how the awkward, exotic fantails decreased in number and reverted to more basic forms – survival of the fittest! There must be a lesson in that!                             

One day, fifty yards down the road, a Council workman sprayed some weeds with poison. A zephyr of wind deposited a few droplets of hormone spray in the pond. Over a period of a week the fish slowly succumbed and floated white and lifeless to the surface. 

So it is with humankind. A nuclear holocaust, a melting of the ice caps, a tilting of the earth’s axis, a collision with a lump of matter from outer space, the explosion, or the collapse of the sun ………..One day our planet Earth will become the communal “Vernichtungslager” of us all, and it won’t matter a rap whether we are Christian, Jew or Muslim, white, black or brindle, fish, fowl or reptile. As more of us realise this, the Theatre of the Absurd gains added significance. But it does not supply any of the answers.

Actually, nothing has changed. All men are cousins. That is biologically demonstrable. We all live, and we all die. We must survive as long as we can because that is our inborn nature. And we must live together and seek happiness, for happiness is the ultimate goal.

But first we must have sufficient food and shelter ………For who can be happy in the cold with an empty belly? These things we must obtain for ourselves and our families. And that means continuous effort and the acceptance of responsibility.

My Yorkshire father and my Cockney mother believed that all should work and do the right thing by each other as far as possible, remembering that in the last analysis one has a sacred and primal duty to look after one’s own family. 

In this connection my father said to me many times, “If a man has children with a woman, he should never leave her, or them.” I believed him, and I still believe him. I might add that in my view the same strictures apply to a woman, and the only possible excuse to break the union in her case might be extreme and unbearable cruelty. Many of the modern generation would disagree, I know. It is easy for articulate moderns to juggle with words and show that licence and self-indulgence are permissible and even intelligent, while duty and responsibility are unnecessary. It only worries me that in sowing the wind, they may in later years reap a whirlwind in a delinquent and unstable society.

Did I say that we should seek happiness? Of course we should. But true happiness and an integrated society can only come from the acceptance of duty and responsibility by all of us.

One could now enter into a lengthy and extremely boring dissertation on religious morals and political philosophies and hypocrisies, but enough is enough. My descendants will decide of their own accord whether they wish to be socialists, Marxists, capitalists or opportunists, Catholics, Shmatholics, Protestants, Jews or Callathumpians. All that has no importance, provided they are good people.

I have one regret in my life. I wish I had spent more time with my children when they were young. But, too often, I was working overtime, or was too upset or worried to be able to give more generously of my time. Children are our greatest treasure, and we have them for such a short while. I hope that my own children learn from my mistakes. 

Oscar Wilde said somewhere: “As they grow older, children judge their parents. Sometimes they forgive them.”

I wish this for my grandchildren and great grandchildren all down the years – that each one of them may become what Irene’s mother, in Yiddish, would have called a “Mensch”!  A Mensch is a courageous, well-balanced person, able to control every situation with intelligence and strength of character.

If I were ever elevated to the English House of Lords (a very remote possibility!) and had to look for a family motto, I would have emblazoned on a scroll the words of Edith Piaf, the French nightclub singer. She had known great poverty, being literally born on a Parisian sidewalk. 

With typical Gallic economy of phrase, she said: “C’est pas une honte d’etre pauvre, mais c’en est une de vouloir rester dans la crasse!” – It is not a disgrace to be poor…But it certainly becomes one if you are prepared to remain in the shit!”. 

…Now there was a Mensch!!!

When Irene and I came to Australia in 1949, I looked from Caringbah towards Sydney one night, and was inspired to make one of my rare, mostly disastrous, and always incautious incursions into verse.

I might finish off this memoir with those lines.

Before doing so, I should explain that in those days “Displaced Persons” was a euphemism for a refugee from a camp in war-torn Europe. “New Australian” was a term coined by the Department of Immigration to distinguish those Pommies and Reffos who had only recently arrived from the other Pommies and Reffos, (now dinky-di Aussies), who had been in this country for at least one generation. The term “New Australian” had an honoured currency for many years, and in some fashion might even have helped to weld together those of different ethnic origins into one Australian amalgam.

Well ……………here comes the poetry.

                          Silent suburban Sydney, softly folded in the star-shot fog of night…

                          What other being of some far-off time gazed upon a similar sight?

                          Perhaps some dark-skinned hunter on his nocturnal way,

                          Perhaps some exiled convict stared as I across the black of Botany Bay.

                          I too am exiled from the land where I was born,

                          And my heart too is by a sweet nostalgia torn.

                          Yet this is pure illusion, I suspect…

                          Because all things – the good and bad – are good…in retrospect.

                          The squalor, slums and class distinction one forgets.

                          Time heals the festering wounds…then one regrets.

                          Yet this Australia – just another land for me – 

                          Shall for my children and their children “Homeland” be.

                          Here Displaced Persons, once denied the right to live,

                          Their strength, their talents and their sons, shall to Australia give.

                          The dreaming, red-tipped bushland gums shall start

                          Then to the muted thunder of a nation’s heart.

                          And we will build within this southern space —

                          We Britons, Greeks, Italians, Poles – a new Australian race.

To survive, my children, that is the object, to survive without hurting the other fellow any more than you have to. Perhaps, with luck, in this new country, we may do a little better than survive.

So good luck to you all – family, friends and readers of my tale – and very much love.

Ch12 Pt2 Cundletown

When I arrived in Wingham, the School of Arts had just been taken over by Council as a public library. There were about five hundred books in it of the “Zane Grey” and “Ruby M. Ayres” type. Twenty-one years later we had a rebuilt and enlarged premises with fourteen thousand volumes of fiction and non-fiction covering every possible aspect, and the majority of these volumes I had chosen myself. Even the rather élitist Library Board had to admit that with our limited resources, we were providing an exceptionally good public service.

With regard to our road plant, we slowly increased it until we owned a large range of the most modern machinery, and by this we increased the scope of our work enormously.  

We established an industrial subdivision near the Sporting Complex as well as purchasing land near the Wingham Cemetery and subdividing it for industrial purposes. In this latter area we sold twenty acres to Angus Nugent and Sons Pty. Ltd. for one dollar to bring their tannery from Sydney to Wingham. We then subdivided the balance of the land and sold the blocks at such prices as to recoup our original expenditure. We made the tannery loans under the decentralisation legislation and the Local Government Act, and today they have a very large and viable business, which employs between fifty and sixty people.

We lent thirty per cent of the cost of establishing a factory to R. L. Child and Son Pty. Ltd., manufacturers of hydraulic hose fittings, to relocate part of their Sydney operation to the industrial area next to the sporting complex. They currently employ thirty-five persons, and if the business prospers, they have sufficient land to enlarge their factory four times over. I was pleased by a remark made by the managing director and reported in the local press that he was particularly grateful to the Town Clerk for all his help. Talk is cheap, we all know, but it was rather nice to have one’s efforts acknowledged just once.

The establishment of these industries in Wingham might seem small beer by city standards. But one should remember that in a small country town two new industries employing the best part of a hundred persons with the promise of more means an enormous boost to local prosperity. Another point is that for each industry we succeeded in getting established, the best part of a dozen might have made inquiries, taken up time, raised expectations, then simply vanished. 

In the early days in Wingham, I was one of the founders and secretary and general organiser of “The Wingham Dramatic Art and Musical Company”. We put on some shows of really professional quality, and I am sure Patricia and Peter remember taking part in “The King and I” and other shows. By this means we also raised enough money to build a home for a refugee family whom we brought to Australia from a camp in post war Europe. With this effort we actually put Wingham on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, which I always thought was no mean feat. The family did not entirely co-operate the way we had hoped, and the thing turned rather sour at a later date, but that was not our fault.

We underwent three amalgamation inquiries in Wingham between 1968 and 1979. We fought them all tooth and nail and won the first two. But we lost the 1979 one, and despite mass demonstrations in Sydney at the Town Hall and outside Parliament House by over two thousand people who had travelled especially from the country to protest against a number of proposals, Wingham ceased to exist as a separate entity as from 1st January, 1981. From that date, the Municipality of Wingham, the close-by Municipality of Taree and the surrounding Shire of Manning (less the Tuncurry and Nabiac areas) became known as The City of Greater Taree.

The former Town Clerk of the Municipality of Taree became the Town Clerk of the City of Greater Taree. The former Shire Clerk of Manning Shire became his Deputy. As the former Town Clerk of the Municipality of Wingham, I became the Administrative Officer of the City of Greater Taree. The title was rather grandiloquent. I had no idea what it really meant. The main thing was that I retained my scale of salary and my continuity of service. In a time of recession and unemployment where it would be difficult for a person of my age to get another job, I was grateful for this. I was nearly fifty-nine years of age and had six years to go before retirement. I had been Town Clerk of Wingham for twenty-one years and three months.

So, in August, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eighty one, it is nearly time to bring this account of a small segment of my family history to a close. Irene and I live in a modest three bedroom brick veneer cottage with a double garage underneath. It overlooks the Manning River at Cundletown, just out of Taree on the mid north coast of New South Wales. We moved here twelve years ago, causing quite a stir in Wingham at the time, for the close-knit population did not fancy the idea of their chief administrative Council servant shifting to a rival town. However, now that I am working at the Council offices in Taree, it is very convenient.

Our children are grown up, and I am pleased with all of them. 

Patricia gained her General Nursing Certificate at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. After travelling to Canada, to her grandfather in London, France, North Africa, Spain and a kibbutz in Israel, she returned to Australia. More study resulted in passing her Midwifery training, to become a double certificate registered nurse. Irene and I were very proud of her for this effort, first because it demonstrated her perseverance and dedication, and secondly because always, throughout her life, she would have a profession to return to in case of necessity. Moreover, to be a good nurse is a help to being a good mother. Patricia upgraded her nursing qualifications and subsequently received the degree of Bachelor of Health Science, Nursing at the Catholic University in Sydney. 

Patricia married Raymond in 1975. Ray comes from old pioneers of the Newcastle district on his mother’s side. On his father’s side, he comes from mixed German and apparently Cherokee stock.  His German grandfather had emigrated to Canada and had married a full bloodied Cherokee woman, who was one of Ray’s grandmothers. This lady had travelled a long way from Georgia and North Carolina, the homeland of the Cherokee Indian Nation up to the 1830’s. The Cherokees of that day were highly successful farmers who competed vigorously with the white man in the agricultural area. So the American army under government orders dispossessed them and drove them westwards. Their prosperous farms were then stolen by the white settlers.

The Indian “Removals” were begun by General (later President) Andrew Jackson, also known as “Old Hickory” because of his hardness of character. They were continued under President Van Buren. The Cherokees were forced to vacate their comfortable homes at a moment’s notice. Soldiers then drove them mercilessly on a long winter’s march across the western plains to Oklahoma. During this terrible march when the icy winds began to blow down from Canada one quarter of the Cherokee Nation perished. The brutality of this North American forced exodus was repeated on a larger scale a century later by Hitler’s systematic concentration and murder of the Jews of Europe. I sometimes think that our grandchildren have a double injection of refugee blood. Perhaps with this they may be doubly endowed with the will to survive. 

Peter took up a Teacher’s Scholarship at the University of Newcastle. With the proceeds of this scholarship and by working shifts at the Newcastle works of BHP, he put himself through the University, obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, and became a schoolteacher with the New South Wales Education Department. I should be remiss not to record that my father was in Australia when Peter received his degree and was enormously proud to be present at the ceremony in the Great Hall of the University. So were Irene and I.

Peter married Margaret in 1978. Margaret’s background is interesting. She traces her ancestry to a soldier of the First Fleet, and to convicts and soldiers who arrived very shortly afterwards from England, Scotland and Ireland. So within one generation my family, from being very new Australians, related to nobody, became old Australians related to many. 

When Christopher left school, he struck an unfortunate patch. He had matriculated from High School and might have gone to University, but graduates were finding it difficult to get jobs. Indeed, everybody was finding it difficult to get jobs, and a recession of frightening proportions stalked the land. School leavers were major victims, and once having failed to get work, found themselves even more disadvantaged the following year when more school leavers competed with them for insufficient jobs. Meanwhile Mr Malcolm Fraser, our millionaire Prime Minister of the time, well insulated by his inherited capital, his politician’s high wages, non-taxable allowances, free overseas trips and princely superannuation, was telling everybody that “Life was never meant to be easy”.

So Christopher had to get a job forthwith, and any professional studies he took up would have to be done part time. 

Christopher found a job with the Government Insurance Office of New South Wales at their headquarters in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, where he is working hard and saving his money, the classic formula for financial success. Irene and I have confidence in his intelligence and ability. Christopher studied for and obtained appropriate qualifications in the Insurance business.

My father used to say to me that if a man had good children, he was rich. It was a precept with which I agreed entirely.

By these standards, Irene and I are indeed rich. For we have three fine children who, we know, will bring up good children in their turn. 

The grandchildren are, of course, a wonderful additional bonus. They are our future, our posterity. We hope that they make good marriages as time goes by and have good children in their turn. May they have health and happiness. If they have these they will acquire a sufficiency of wealth to meet their needs.

Ch12 Pt1 Wingham Town Clerk

I had arrived in Kempsey in the latter part of 1956. It was now 1959, and I was thirty-seven years old. I was once more chafing at the bit and dissatisfied with things at the Shire of Macleay.

It annoyed me that I was never allowed to attend Council meetings, was not allowed access to Council minutes, and apart from the general office routine, had very little idea what was going on. The Shire Clerk never sought my advice and never took me into his confidence. As a result, when Councillors asked me questions about aspects of development, I was unable to answer satisfactorily. The Shire Clerk had had a most unfortunate experience with his previous Deputy, and because of this, he had apparently decided to tell nobody anything at all. As a result of this experience, he was subsequently obliged to take three months’ leave, during which time I found that I was quite capable of doing his job once I gained some of the local knowledge previously denied me. When he returned to duty, I decided that it was time for me to move on.

Jobs were now beginning to dry up. For years there had been a shortage of qualified clerks, at least, in the country, the city slickers having apparently been unwilling to leave the fleshpots to migrate. Now, however, coastal jobs began to attract larger numbers of applicants. Jobs were still fairly easily available in the west. But once there, it was almost impossible to get back to the coast. I reasoned that in our lifetime the coast would be the area where most of the development and the action were. Certainly the amenities were there. Anyhow, I felt a great personal need to be near to the sea where I could visit sometimes and recharge my batteries. Thus, my objective must be a job on the coast as Clerk to a Council. So when Wingham Municipal Council advertised, I had little hesitation about putting in for the job. Wingham was eighty miles or so closer to Sydney and Newcastle than Kempsey, and it was only eight miles from Taree, a burgeoning town. Forster and Tuncurry were within easy reach, both excellent seaside resorts. Port Macquarie was not too far away. Wingham was a small town, but it suited. There was a mere ten shillings a week increase in pay, but I should be my own boss and run the business my way for once, as well as dealing directly with a Council of Aldermen.

Adequate educational opportunities were close at hand for the children. If I got stuck in Wingham, they could lead a happy and fulfilled childhood in this area. Moreover, facilities for further tertiary education or professional training were available relatively close at hand in Newcastle. When Irene and I had first come to Australia, I had picked Taree as the town where I would like to be Town or Shire Clerk for all these reasons. Wingham was very close indeed geographically speaking, and if the money was a little less than I might have hoped for, well, there were many worse places in New South Wales.

There were three applicants for the job apart from myself.

Nobody else had applied for the job because it apparently seemed so insignificant. Also, the threat of amalgamation overhung Wingham even in those days, and few people were prepared to take this risk. The incumbent Town Clerk was a Freemason, and he and I recognised each other the moment we met. Despite this, I never did attach much importance to the Masonic link. The days when you had to be either a Catholic or a Freemason to get a good job in the public service were passing, and it seemed to me that the sooner that kind of rubbish was buried, the better. I think that I got the job, in the final analysis, by default. The other candidates were so unacceptable for various reasons, that I was the only one left, in spite of the fact that I was a naturalised Australian and not a natural born one.

So I started work in Wingham. I immediately found that we were grossly understaffed and that I had no chance of getting any extra staff because the finances of the Council were balanced on a knife’s edge. The only plant we had was a tabletop Bedford truck which was of ancient vintage even in 1959, and a farm tractor with a blade on the front which acted as a grader-cum-dozer. Every time the thing struck a rock larger than the size of a football, the wheels spun, and the labourers had to rally round with pick and shovel. All the records were kept by hand. I had one old fellow who looked after the rates, thank goodness, but all the rest of the income and expenditure records, the ledgers, the plant returns, stores and materials, journal calculations and entries, periodic financial statements, annual statements of accounts, trial balances, annual estimates, calculation of appropriate rate levies – in fact every last thing to do with accountancy – were carried out personally and manually by me. In addition, I managed the show, raised loans, attended to all the mail, all the correspondence, organised all the Council meetings and did all the minutes. I worked a seven day week with daily overtime for ten years, and never got paid a penny extra. I calculate that Wingham Council owed me thousands upon thousands of dollars when I left, and my regret was that I never stood up to them and demanded what was rightfully mine. However, at the time, I was in a financial bind, and very worried. The children were at a stage when I did not want their school disturbed. I owed a lot of money and had very little capital. Wingham was a small, inward looking community. Had I stood up for my rights, they would probably have had to pay me. But there was a legal doubt in that the Mayor never authorised the overtime that I was forced to work. Also, our finances were so restricted at that time that every penny had to be watched. By all the rules of the game Wingham should have been amalgamated within a few months of my arrival. But I also had another personal and even selfish feeling deep in my heart. Here was a little community obviously on the point of collapse. I was determined to see that it did not collapse. Maybe this silly little place was my personal testing field and battleground. If I could make Wingham live and prosper I would know deep in my own consciousness that I had contributed a small amount to the development of Australia. Nobody would fully understand it but me. It does not matter a rap what other people think of you. It only matters what you think of yourself. I became determined that come what might, I would set Wingham on its feet so that it would never collapse. At the same time, I would earn sufficient money to ensure my children an undisturbed and secure childhood.

Today, I might take a different attitude. But what actually happened is factual, and backward thoughts are pointless.

When old Normie, who did the rates book and other odd jobs eventually retired, I mechanised the entire accounting process, installed an electronic accounting machine, and transferred the manual ledgers to card systems with automatic postings of the general and works cost ledgers at the same time. I replaced Normie with a female accounting machine operator with a good knowledge of bookkeeping.

Prior to this, I organised the financial and legal aspects of a sewerage scheme for the whole of the municipality, which had previously been on an antediluvian pan service. Subsequently I organised extensions of the sewer, and was in the process of organising with the Public Works Department a further augmentation of the overall sewerage scheme when Wingham was finally amalgamated in 1981. However, this augmentation was in train, and the town was to receive the benefits of it, amalgamations notwithstanding.

When I arrived in Wingham, slightly over a score of houses had been built under a Council housing scheme introduced by the Town Clerk who was my predecessor. When I left, we had financed four hundred new homes under the scheme, and a myriad of extensions and renovations. In addition we had built one small Council subdivision, one large subdivision of over two hundred houses, mostly Council financed, and a further large subdivision half constructed and built on at the time of amalgamation. Here again, the project had reached such a stage that the new Council had no alternative but to continue the work to completion.

I was able to obtain thousands of dollars by way of government grants for unemployment relief, which put kerb and gutter and footpath throughout the Municipality. (The manager of the local branch of the Commonwealth Bank said he always dreaded receiving correspondence from me asking for loan funds. He said that he knew that he would have to advance Council the money, because the picture I painted of Wingham’s plight was so heart rending that it made him cry. I used the same technique on government departments, and it worked amazingly well for about three years until they seemed to wake up to the fact that they were being rather free with their money).

During my time at Wingham, we built a filtrated and chlorinated 33⅓ metre swimming pool and extended it to 50 metres. We also turned our old garbage dump and an adjoining Crown lease into two hundred and seventy acres of sporting complex for football, hockey, cricket, shooting and other sports, and built a huge Sporting Pavilion, again partly with grants. The Sporting Pavilion contained for a long time the only basketball court in the area. It also contained squash courts, showers and dressing rooms, and on the outside a grandstand to seat one thousand people. This grandstand overlooked what came to be recognised as one of the best rugby league football fields in the area.

Ch 11 Holocaust survivors

One other thing worthy of mention happened while we were in Kempsey: Irene discovered that she had some family in Melbourne. We learnt of Sophie’s existence through a letter from Irene’s mother, but as we only knew her maiden name, had some difficulty in tracking her down. We took the Morris Minor to Melbourne, and when we eventually did find her, we discovered that by a coincidence, she and her husband lived in the next street to our old friend Max, who had been so kind to us when we first arrived in Australia. 

Sophie was a small, dark haired, soignée, charming woman of excellent intelligence. Her husband, Abe, who was ten years older than she, was a typical European intellectual, ready to discuss any of a dozen subjects at the drop of a hat. By profession he was an industrial chemist; by inclination, a pianist, and he played that instrument with considerable skill. They were not typical Australians; they were typical Europeans of the tolerant, well-educated middle class. If the analytical intelligence, tolerance and understanding they brought to Australia were to become part of the Australian ethos, then Australia would surely benefit.

Sophie spoke English with barely a trace of accent. Abe was grey haired, hawk-faced, and spoke still with a strong German accent. The knowledge they both had of the English language was, however, encyclopaedic. I had always fancied myself as having something better than average skill and vocabulary in my native language, and I was chastened when they both beat me easily at Scrabble.

They had a daughter, Freida, who later married a young engineer, also the son immigrants. I always thought that there was a strong facial resemblance between Freida when young, and Patricia’s little boy, my grandson.

This side of our family was uncompromisingly, (if liberally), Jewish. By “liberal”, I mean the usual interpretation given to these matters. That is to say, customs are kept only if they fulfil a religious purpose, and a very wide tolerance is shown regarding religious matters. In the final analysis, however, a Jew is a Jew, even though one’s personal religious faith may wane on occasion. Moreover, to be a Jew is something of which one can be justifiably proud.

The story of how Sophie and Abe escaped the Holocaust and came to Australia will bear telling very briefly, as a representative of so many others.

Abe and Sophie were married in Germany just before the war. He had obtained his degree and was starting to build the foundations of a career. Because the threat from Nazi anti-Semitism had became so obvious, Abe planned to escape Germany, promising to send for Sophie as soon as he was able to establish himself in a more civilised and less murderous society. As for thousands of Jewish people, things did not proceed smoothly. 

On Nov 9 1938 a violent pogrom against the Jews was carried out across Germany. It became known as Kristallnacht. Thousands of men were rounded up and sent to newly built concentration camps. Abe was lucky. Several thousand men were allowed to be released to England, as long as they already had travel documents. 

Back in England, an old army camp at Sandwich, Kent, was generously offered for the protection of these men rescued from incarceration on Kristallnacht – it became known as Kitchener Camp. The men had to leave Germany immediately, without any chance of notifying families.

It is only with hindsight that Irene and I understand the difference between the fate of Abe and that of Irene’s brother on that night. Abe had seen a bleak future and had already taken steps to leave. Irene too had had the foresight to arrange travel to leave two weeks earlier. At 18 years old, Irene’s brother Heinrich did not listen to the exaggerations of his little sister, preferring to remain in Berlin with his mother. Only two weeks later, his mother regretted her insistence that Heini remain with her. Despite her pleadings and offers of money, Heinrich, having no travel documents, was rounded up and marched to the brand new, mass extinction gas chamber.

Sophie was also forced to leave Germany and seek refuge in France in order to save her life. Sadly, shortly after the declaration of war, the Germans pushed the English out of Europe and overran France.

Neither Sophie nor Abe knew the fate of the other; their families had been dispersed or sent to concentration camps. Thus, they lost touch with each other for seven years, not knowing whether the other was alive or dead.

Just when there seemed to be some hope for Abe and others welcomed into the camps at Richborough, the harsher face of England showed itself again. As they had done 160 years before, the “powers that be” decided it was time to deport its “enemy aliens” to Australia.  2542 men were put on a ship with only a 1600 person capacity and sent off across wartime waters, including some Italian survivors of a rescue ship that had been taking them to Canada. Abe’s story became a part of the infamous events aboard the ship Dunera. Alongside more than 2000 Jewish, genuine refugees fleeing murder by the Nazi regime, the British included a few hundred Germans and Nazi sympathisers. Combined with poorly trained crew and officers, the detainees were despised, robbed and abused, as if they were all “the enemy”. The hellish trip finally ended on arrival in Sydney on the 6th September 1940. Several months elapsed in the dust-ridden New South Wales internment camp at Hay, before men like Abe were officially recognised as genuine refugees. Despite their journey, Abe and others took the opportunity to volunteer for the Australian Army, seeking to contribute in some fashion to the defeat of the bestial Hitlerian regime that had brought death to so many innocent people.

Unfortunately, while on a training exercise, Abe broke his leg and was invalided out. The resilient Abe then got a job as an industrial chemist with a private firm in Melbourne, and set about establishing himself in this new land.

Back in France, Sophie fled to the southern unoccupied zone and obtained work as a “domestique” or servant girl. She spoke good French, but unfortunately with a recognisable German accent. She explained this by pretending that she was an Alsation – a native of that province on the borders of France and Germany which has been alternatively French and German so many times that the inhabitants are mostly bi-lingual and seemingly fight every other war on different sides. 

She changed jobs from time to time, the more so after the Germans occupied the southern part of France. If her employers suspected that she was something other than what she pretended to be, they said nothing, until the time when the Gestapo eventually caught up with her. She was betrayed, captured, and sent to a French concentration camp erected on French soil with the concurrence of the collaborationist Pétain Vichy Government. Conditions here were normal for concentration camps – a bowl of cabbage soup, and a small piece of bread each day if one was lucky. It was not long before people began to die of disease and malnutrition. When they died, the bodies were wrapped up in shrouds, carried outside the camp in stretchers at night, and left there, to be picked up in the morning by the burial carts.

One day a rumour sped through the camp like fire. The Jewish prisoners were to be collected together and sent in railway wagons to the gas ovens of the “Vernichtungslage” in Germany and Poland. Once one was in the railway truck, one was as good as dead. At the same time, escape from the concentration camp was virtually impossible. Sophie sought desperately for a plan to save her life.

With ingenuity and determination, she hoarded her bread ration every day. The bread thus saved was used to bribe a guard to wrap her in a shroud as if she were dead, and leave her outside the camp with the bodies one evening. That this was done is not as surprising as you might think. The guards were also poorly fed, and many not totally committed to their work. At dead of night, she cautiously unwrapped her shroud and ran away into surrounding forest, putting as much distance as possible between herself and the concentration camp.

Once more she supported herself by domestic work, keeping herself to herself, moving whenever she felt it necessary, always on the lookout for a sign that some person may have suspected her secret and betrayed her to the Gestapo. Somehow she survived until the Allied landing in Europe. Her relief when the terrible fear of betrayal and death was finally lifted would be hard to describe in words. 

Luck, or fate, can play an equally terrible or fortunate part in our lives. Sophie’s name had been registered on a Jewish Survivors list, by the Red Cross. As fate would have it, friends in New York, who were already in contact with Abe in Melbourne, saw this particular list. Overjoyed on learning this wonderful news, Abe was able to secure passage for Sophie from Marseilles to Melbourne, via Tahiti. Sophie put her language skills to good use, acting as an interpreter aboard ship.

After seven long, anxious years, Sophie and Abe were united again; a happy ending for two people, tinged with sadness and the memory of so many whose stories finished in a different and tragic way.

Ch10 Pt6 Kempsey and exam results

Our house was perched on the ridge with beautiful views both ways, especially up the Tweed Valley to Mount Warning. The main window in the lounge was plate glass, and the view was like an oil painting of the Valley by a master landscape artist. Sometimes birds skimmed across the valley and tried to fly straight into our lounge room, often knocking themselves out on the plate glass. But the chief disadvantage in building on such commanding ground was brought home to us one night when a cyclonic wind started to blow. We had not realised the enormous energy created and dissipated in the form of cyclones on the Queensland coast. Now we found out. The house shuddered and shook throughout the entire night, and the wind only abated the next morning. During all this time, Irene and I lay silently in bed, waiting for the next sledgehammer blow to hit the house and make it shudder. Irene was wake and I was awake, but neither let the other know for fear of creating unnecessary alarm. The only people who slept peacefully through that night were Patricia and Peter in their bedrooms on the opposite side of the house. They slept the peaceful sleep of the innocent and the young.

The next morning, when Irene and I got out of bed and realised that we had both been awake simultaneously, we went downstairs to see what had happened to several large tea-chests containing heavy tools, books and household goods which we had stored under the house. They had been blown right across the road, and scattered into the scrub. Now we realised why our builder had actually anchored the house with huge bolts into the concrete foundations, and strongly strutted the wooden “stumps” on which the house stood.

It was very hot in Murwillumbah, and all the neighbours used to leave their front and back doors wide open all day long. Everybody knew everybody else, and in those days you could leave your house open without fear. We had a small bitzer dog at the time. He was only a puppy, but he was full of fun. He would run up and down the street and steal slippers and shoes from other people’s houses. At times I would have up to a dozen odd pieces of footwear hidden underneath the house. He was an incorrigible thief, and people started to complain. In the long run, I had to have him put down. He was a lovable animal, just the same, and the last dog I ever owned.

At the Council, I began to chafe at the large number of people senior to me. I thought I should never get promotion here. So when a job was advertised in Kempsey for an “A” Grade Clerk at Macleay Shire, I took it. I would be that much nearer Newcastle and Sydney, and in any event, I felt that middle age was starting to catch up with me. It was nearly time for me to think in terms of a permanent billet. The Council bought a very nice house for Irene and me at Kempsey, on the understanding that I refinance it from my own resources and pay them back at an early date. The sale of our house at Murwillumbah, and the raising of a further bank loan, fulfilled this task.

Our house in Sullivan Street, East Kempsey was a large fibro residence on sloping ground with a huge garage at the back. It was possibly the best house we had ever lived in during our Australian experience. Every day I walked over the big old-fashioned timber bridge that crossed the Macleay River to the Macleay Shire Council Chambers above Reg Harrington Motors in Belgrave Street, the main thoroughfare. 

I had joined a Masonic Lodge in Sydney, and gone through the 3rd degree in Murwillumbah, on a rainy night just before the entire town was flooded. In Kempsey I was fortunate enough to meet a number of men who embodied all that was good in Freemasonry. 

I never quite repeated the experience elsewhere. I reached the 18th Degree at Kempsey, and later, in Wingham, became the Master of the Royal Arch Chapter before abandoning “The Craft” for one reason and another.

We had had no car at Murwillumbah, but at Kempsey I bought an old but durable 1939 Chevrolet. It enabled us to make trips to Port Macquarie, Crescent Head, and the beaches. We also had a couple of very hazardous trips to Sydney. For in the old Chev the petrol had the habit of vaporising in the middle of a very hot day so that it never got as far as the engine, and the whole contraption stopped until the engine, and the weather had cooled down. I remember that one day we started off for Sydney at eight o’clock in the morning, but didn’t get there until well after midnight, being stranded for hours on what was then a dusty gravel road between Gloucester and Krambach.

After I had been at Kempsey a couple of months, Lloyd, the Shire Clerk, called me in. He said, “My wife has just rung me about you.”

I made a non-committal noise. I hardly knew his wife.

He went on, “She’s seen your name in the Sydney Morning Herald.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your name was published in the list of successful Technical College examination candidates. You’re a qualified Town and Shire Clerk.”

I don’t remember what I said. I know that an enormous wave of relief swept over me. I didn’t feel that I had suddenly been clothed in a garment of omniscience. I knew my limitations too well for that. But I was vastly pleased that through perseverance I, a stranger in a foreign land, had acquired a qualification that a very large number of the native born who aspired to it failed to obtain. That might mean I was lucky. But it certainly had to mean that I had perseverance and that if I wasn’t a genius, I surely wasn’t stupid either.

I will recall what Irene said when I rang her about it. She was silent for a moment. Then she said: “Oh, my dear, I am so glad.”

The terms of my appointment to Macleay Shire were that if I got my ticket, they were immediately to promote me to Deputy Shire Clerk and, more importantly, pay me the going rate. To the credit of the Shire Clerk and the Council, this was done at once and without any argument.

It was during this time that Patricia learnt to swim at the local pool under the tuition of Neville Duke, the lessee, who was an excellent teacher. Peter, too, liked to paddle at the beach and occasionally dip his toes in the shallow end of Kempsey McElhone Memorial Pool, although he was rather small yet to take much of an interest in swimming. It was in Kempsey, too, that Chris, our Number Two son was born. It was rather fortunate that just before Christopher put in an appearance I had traded in the old 1939 Chev for a brand new Morris Minor. I was not quite 37 years old, and this was the first new car I had ever owned. I was, of course, vastly proud of the little wagon.

Irene had been experiencing discomfort for quite a while, and thought that labour pains had started. The doctor, an expatriate Pommy, put her into the Macleay District Hospital. However, nothing happened, and they sent her home to ”do some washing.” Being who she was, she was up at six o’clock next morning, doing just that in the laundry under the house.                                            

Half way through, she suddenly dashed upstairs, pulled me out of bed, and screamed at me to get the car going. At this stage, I was very glad that I had invested in a new Morris Minor, for the car started like a charm. Patricia and Peter, wondering what it was all about, piled into the back, Irene grabbed her suitcase, and we were away. No sooner were we in the street than she urged me to go faster. I crammed on speed, but then she cried out that I was going too fast and would risk an accident. So I slowed down. However, when I slowed down, I was told to step on it, otherwise I would have to deliver the baby personally in the car. This really shook me, for I hadn’t the faintest idea what would be required of me. Thus, alternately speeding up and slowing down, we shot across the timber bridge over the river, along the deserted main street, and finally arrived at the hospital on the other side of town.

Irene told me to drive right up to the door, practically fell out of the car under the sympathetic eyes of several globular pregnant ladies on the verandah, and into the understanding arms of a nurse who sized up the situation immediately. I was abruptly dismissed. This was women’s work. So I got back in the car and drove home with the kids. 

Reaching home five minutes later, I heard the phone ringing and dashed inside to answer it. They told me that we had another son, and that I could come back to see him. So once more I raced across town and entered the Macleay District Hospital.

There, on a table, Christopher lay stark naked. He was very obviously a manchild, and I will swear that he swivelled his head around on the table and grinned at me as I came through the door. His umbilical cord hung carelessly across his stomach and over the edge of the table. He seemed to be saying, “How are you mate, all right? Are you pleased to see me?”

Our next door neighbour in Kempsey was Ralph, an exceptionally fine man, who had built the house in which we now lived. One of his sons was called Christopher, and Irene told me that Patricia and Peter, between them, had decided that “Christopher” should be the name of their new brother. (“James” was inserted by Irene, after myself). Thus was Christopher named, and I only found out about it afterwards, when the registration had been made. I must confess that I thought it was a good choice. But I always told Irene that I was convinced that she had actually named Chris after the doctor who had attended her during pregnancy. She never failed to deny this with some vehemence. Incidentally, that doctor came charging down the road in his little car about half an hour after everything had happened. Apparently he had been abruptly pulled away from his breakfast, so young Chris really stirred the possum in Kempsey on that memorable morning in 1959.

Ch10 Pt5 Paw paws and confidence.

I had gained maximum experience from Eurobodalla Shire. However with the appointment of the new Deputy all promotion was blocked for me. I wrote away for a job as “B” grade clerk at Tweed Shire Headquarters at Murwillumbah. I would drop a grade, but Tweed Shire was a big undertaking, and I hoped to gain more experience in the costing and plant side as well as some knowledge of mechanised accounting. I also thought that should I get stuck there, it would not be a bad town for the family, being in close proximity to the Gold Coast and Brisbane. I was accepted without interview, and set off to drive six hundred miles north, leaving Irene and the children in Moruya until she could organise furniture removal. This was what deterred people from moving around more in those days, I am sure – the high cost of removals.

I set off on Friday afternoon, and felt very uneasy about the car from the beginning. It just didn’t feel right. I got to Wollongong in the evening, and as night fell, started to climb the steep ascent of Bulli Pass. The engine got weaker and weaker, and finally conked out altogether when I was about a third of the way up the pass. I was unaware of it at the time, but the old fashioned timing had slipped. Of course, it was such an old and worn out engine that it probably wouldn’t have made it anyway. Now I was truly in strife, and I was only pleased that Irene and the children were safe and sound and probably asleep in Moruya.

After a while I heard a car coming down the pass accompanied by much singing and shouting and merriment. I stepped out into the dark road to halt it. Three young fellows had been celebrating somewhere, but they were only too happy to get out of their vehicle and give me a hand. They physically lifted my car and pointed the front end downhill back in the direction of Wollongong. Unfortunately the exhaust once again fell off in the process, but this had now become a minor matter. So I taxied downhill, the engine creating a tremendous noise every time I touched the accelerator. At the bottom of the pass the road became a series of gentle rises and falls into the centre of town, but I found that although the engine roared like a bracket of bofors guns when I put my foot down, I could barely make it over each gentle rise, so weak was the pulling power of the engine. I therefore drove into the first service station I came to and begged for help.

It was at this stage that I suddenly realised that when I stopped, the car seemed to behave like a concertina and actually seemed to draw itself together and stretch itself out. On closer examination I found that the chassis of the car had been broken in several places, but some previous owner had bolted the bits and pieces together. The bolts now seemed to be coming loose. It was suddenly very clear to me that not only would I not get to Murwillumbah in this car, but that I would not even get to Sydney without the whole mess collapsing somewhere en route. 

I was now in a near panic. My wife and children were in Moruya, under notice to quit their residence. I was in Wollongong late on Friday night with a heap of a car fit only for the junk yard. I had to get up to the Queensland border and start work on Monday morning, and I had very little money.

I finally arranged with the service station proprietor that he would garage my car until I could make suitable arrangements. In addition, for five precious pounds, after he closed his business he would drive me to Caringbah, on the outskirts of Sydney. At Caringbah – Taren Point, to be exact – I looked up my old friend Lionel, whom Irene and I had met on the Ranchi when we were all migrating to the promised land of Australia. It was one o’clock in the morning when I got Lionel and his wife “Johnnie” out of bed. But when I told them the nature of my problem, they were only too pleased to help.

We arranged that in the morning their son-in-law, whom I knew, and who had a powerful old Chev, would take his vehicle down to Wollongong and physically tow me and my old car back to Lionel’s place. Lionel would then store the Morris in his own back garden until we could do something about it. This would enable me to catch the train to Murwillumbah and start work Monday morning. It is certainly good to have friends. Four years before, I had helped Lionel to dig out the foundations for his house. I had laid bricks for him and helped him stand up his frame. I must have cast my bread upon the waters, because he certainly saved my bacon on this occasion.

We stayed at Murwillumbah for one year. 

I think that our arrival in this town was our low point. For a few terrible weeks I had a feeling of absolute failure. The capital we had gained from the sale of our house in Caringbah had been eroded by the purchase of an old bomb of a car and two furniture removals over substantial distances. I had had two jobs in one year and suddenly seemed to be very unstable. Prices were rising everywhere and I was no longer sure of my touch. I had had two years of miserable lack of success at my examinations, although I believed that I had worked to the maximum. I questioned the wisdom of leaving Sydney. I even questioned the wisdom of coming to Australia. I questioned my own ability.

We were staying in one of four Council flats at Tumbulgum on the banks of the Tweed River just out of Murwillumbah. It was a picturesque location, but the flats were old and the haunt of immense cockroaches, which hid behind the picture rails and skirting board and disgusted us. We decided to build again.

We bought a block of ground on the top of the ridge overlooking the town of Murwillumbah in one direction and with a beautiful view up the Tweed Valley in the other. At the end of the valley one saw Mount Warning, so aptly named by Captain Cook as it lifted its unmistakable crest into the sky. On either side of the valley, lovely, orderly banana plantations climbed up the slopes, presenting a scene of marvellous sub-tropical beauty. Only a short distance from the town pineapple plantations stretched themselves across paddocks of volcanic red soil. Paw-paws grew like weeds. Sugar cane was everywhere. 

In Sydney, Lionel had got rid of our car for sixty pounds, and sent us up the money with great promptitude, which I much appreciated. The car was such a wreck that I would have thought myself lucky to get forty pounds for it. A spring had collapsed, and he had actually had to weld it before getting rid of the vehicle. (Imagine a welded spring!)                                        

I drew up plans and specifications for a house, copying the plans out myself laboriously several times to save money with pen and Indian ink kindly supplied by the Building Inspector. But now I had difficulty in finding a builder. We finally ran someone to earth who could start building in a couple of months. The house was lined inside and out with fibro, again to save costs. I was to paint the interior myself. Despite all these machinations, I was still fifty pounds short after I had borrowed the maximum amount of money that the local branch of the Rural Bank was prepared to lend me.

Back in Sydney, I had bought Irene an electric sewing machine, another one of those luxuries which my mother had aspired to, but had never been able to obtain – she had thought herself lucky to get a treadle model. Irene now sold her sewing machine for exactly fifty pounds, and we were in business.

I now went up to our block – on top of the hill in Myrtle Street – every weekend to clear it, for it was completely covered with lantana. Patricia came with me, while Irene looked after Peter, still a very small boy, in the flat at Tumbulgum. Patricia wandered around picking flowers and sunbaking while I wielded a brush hook and mattock and rolled large amounts of lantana a hundred feet and more downhill behind us. It was only later that I discovered that this area was a breeding ground for black snakes. A tree in front of the block harboured amongst its roots a family of a dozen snakes. They went squirming in every direction when we subsequently had it snigged out. Immediately across the road, in a mess of lantana, a cross-bred terrier used to come down every day and catch himself a black snake. These reptiles were extremely venomous, and had I known of their close proximity, I certainly wouldn’t have brought Patricia with me, and would have been much more careful myself when clearing the block.

However, clear the block we did. Our house went up, and within about eight months of coming to Murwillumbah, we had moved in. The house was perched on thick wooden “stumps” about six feet high. These were anchored into a huge slab of concrete, which became an open air laundry. It was my intention to enclose this when I got some money. I now began to landscape the front garden and to lay down a huge concrete driveway between the house and the road. All the concrete was mixed up by hand, and by the time the job was finished, I felt finished too.

I was still studying for my Town Clerk’s certificate by correspondence, and this time went for my examinations to the Murwillumbah High School, under the supervision of one of the local teachers. I took several subjects at the same time. If I succeeded in all of them, I should have obtained my ticket, but in view of unsatisfactory results in previous years, I was not very confident. I had now had considerable experience, and knew what I was talking about. However, the exams were becoming more difficult with every passing year, and I was sure that there was a deliberate attempt to limit the number of successful candidates. When I had finished, I felt that I had done a good job. But I had felt like this on previous occasions, only to find my optimum rudely shattered when the results came out.

I forgot about the exam, and turned my attention to the house and garden. I planted some paw paws, and they grew like Jack’s famous beanstalk. Everything grew in this steamy, tropical climate.