Ch10 Pt4 Moruya and the toy car

Whilst still working at Hurstville, and as an additional task, as if the Clerks Course wasn’t enough, I built a thirty foot glassed-in verandah and extra bedroom on the back of our house at Caringbah. I did everything myself, from the concrete and drainage to the roofing, window-flashing and floorboard cramping. Once again, although it might have been amateurish in many ways, it was as solid as the rock of Gibraltar and never leaked anywhere, which was more than might have been said of some houses put up by professional builders. I thought that I was beginning to learn some of that good old Australian versatility, and was mightily pleased with myself. The glassed-in verandah with its huge six-foot louvres was intended for Patricia to play on as she grew up. The extra bedroom was for our first son, Peter, who was born at Kogarah hospital in 1954. (After the experience at the Jacaranda Private Hospital where Irene had actually been left by the doctor in the middle of delivery while he went to attend to a call elsewhere, I had grown wary of private hospitals. I had come to realise that a modern hospital with all the best equipment and ample staff available for every emergency was a far better proposition from the patient’s point of view).

After Peter’s birth, Patricia and I went to the hospital one day, Patricia being just old enough to toddle around and hold my hand. We had our first glimpse of Peter through a glass screen being held up by a nurse. He was a red-faced little fellow with screwed-up eyes, and a huge red nose, just like his old man, poor little chap. Never mind, son. All the better to smell with. Subsequently, of course, Peter’s face gained more normal proportions. Patricia and I went upstairs to see Irene, and I blundered into the maternity ward just as the mothers were feeding their babies, and was roundly told off by the nurse in charge. However, the new mothers all seemed very proud of themselves and didn’t mind a bit. As for me, well, I know of no more beautiful sight on this earth than a mother nursing her child. Irene was also very pleased with herself. She now had a son as well as a daughter. Moreover the birth had been very much easier. 

“I’m quite pleased with him, quite pleased with him,” she kept saying, grinning like a Cheshire cat, and sounding as if she had won the lottery.

However, Peter was not long to inhabit the little room I had built for him. They had promised me a rise of one grade to “B” grade at Sutherland Shire after one year of satisfactory service. After a year, I asked for the rise, but was refused. I thought this was very rude of them, as I had never had any complaints about my work, and again took to consulting The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturdays, when the local government advertisements were published. Within a month I had been offered and had accepted a job as “A” grade clerk at Eurobodalla Shire at Moruya, on the coast, some two hundred miles to the south of Sydney. We sold the house for three thousand two hundred pounds, and I moved down to Moruya, while Irene stayed in Caringbah to finish off details of the sale and organise the transfer of our furniture. Before I left, however, I bought a second hand Morris 8/40 motor car, 1939 vintage, from a man I knew at Sutherland Shire and thought was my mate. 

Alack and alas!! How many times have I told myself to trust nobody, and how many times have I failed to take my own advice! The cylinders of this wreck of a car were dreadfully scored, and on the way down to Moruya from Sydney, it seemed to consume voraciously equal parts of petrol and oil. As we put-putted along, we left a technicolour trail of blue smoke behind us.

That car gave me untold trouble. I was booked the only time in my life when the exhaust fell off, just as I had to rev up to start on a steep hill at Narooma, amidst a bottleneck of tourist traffic. I put my foot on the accelerator, let the brake out to get away, and there was a sound like a rocket blasting off. Naturally this happened at the exact spot where a tough looking police constable was monitoring the holiday traffic. He jumped six feet in the air, like a startled acrobat, then came at me waving his arms and wanting to know my name, rank and number. The position was exacerbated because on this day of all days, I had left my driving licence at home. That little episode cost me ten bob.

It was a dreadful car.

On another occasion, when Irene, I and the children were travelling in the direction of Eden towards the Victorian border, we stopped for a breather and just happening to glance at the rear of the car, I noticed that the differential housing had pulled apart and I had lost all my oil through great gaping gaps. When I put my hand on the diff, the metal was hot enough to fry an egg on. 

To resume my story, I left Irene up in Sydney, and went down to Moruya to start work. I once again left my old job on Friday and started at Moruya on Monday, thus saving a year’s holiday pay to help cover the removal expenses.

I was renting a large old house next to the Council Chambers in Campbell Street, Moruya. Most weekends, while Irene was still in Sydney, I would sleep on a camp bed until half past two in the morning Saturdays, then rise to the shriek of my alarm clock and catch the bus to the rail terminal at Bomaderry, about a hundred and thirty miles north. We arrived at six o’clock in the morning, and I would catch the steam train to Sydney, generally finishing up in Caringbah a little after midday. I returned Sunday nights to Bombaderry, then caught the early morning bus back to Moruya. They were whacko weekends all right, and I always went to sleep very early Monday evenings, absolutely exhausted. I had taken the old Morris car to Moruya, but parked it in the shed behind the Council Chambers, and did not use it very often because of its unreliability. After about three months, Irene came down with the furniture and the children. A furniture removalist had agreed to shift our stuff down in his lorry for a hundred pounds, which was not unreasonable, considering the distance to be travelled. It was a special trip, and he was taking advantage of it to bring his girl friend down. On their way back to Sydney, after our furniture had been removed, the van would be turned into a love nest for the amorous couple. Neither Irene nor I cared what they did afterwards, as long as they delivered our furniture safely. When they eventually made the trip, the weather was thickly foggy, and Irene has horrific recollections of sitting in the cab with Patricia and Peter in her arms while the driver drove down Bulli Pass, probably one of the steepest and most dangerous roads in the State at that time, with visibility of about three feet. They eventually turned up safe and sound. We transferred our furniture to the big old house at Moruya, and settled in.

At Moruya, I worked harder than at any time in my life before. The Statements of Accounts were years behind. Everything was done by hand; mechanical aids, even like simple adding machines, were conspicuous by their absence. I gained an enormous amount of experience, but I wondered why, if this was local government, I had not volunteered for Siberia. Eric, the Shire Clerk, was a very nice and understanding bloke, but he was understaffed, and we were all overworked. In addition it was winter, and suddenly I felt the cold. We warmed our bath water with an old-fashioned chip heater. Our fire was fed by timber from a heap of mill offcuts I chopped in the back garden. Since our house was right next to the Council Chambers the temptation to bring work home or go next door and do it was irresistible, particularly as there was such an enormous amount to do. Jack, the Deputy, who had come at the same time as I, and who was Peter’s godfather when he was christened at the local Church of England, gave up after a few months, and took a job elsewhere. An unqualified Deputy came from Sydney, and as this blocked my own promotion and things were starting to get me down, I thought that perhaps we ought to move on. There were eight hundred people in Moruya at that time, and the small town atmosphere after the big city was very difficult for both Irene and me to accustom ourselves to.

I had now begun to do the balance of my course by correspondence through the Sydney Tech, and one way and the other had no time for leisure or my family at all.

At this time, a haemangioma, or superfluity of blood vessels on Peter’s eyelid began to worry us. He was born with it, but now could not shut his eye properly, and when he eventually went to sleep, one eye remained partially open, giving the impression of a villainous, perpetual wink. We secured an appointment with an eye specialist in Wollongong. Eric insisted on filling our car up with petrol from the Council pump, and one dark evening at midnight, after having left Patricia with a friend, I drove off northwards. Irene was at my side. Peter slept peacefully in a basket on the back seat.

I doubt if I shall ever forget that ride. The performance of the car was always uncertain, but I knew that I absolutely had to get Peter and Irene to the specialist at nine o’clock the next morning. Huge semi-trailers seemed to bear down on us out of the darkness every few moments. I hated the wretched car that I was driving, and was conscious of my responsibility for that young life in the basket on the back seat. Neither did I forget Patricia sleeping peacefully back in Moruya. Every two hours I stopped and by torchlight refilled the sump with oil from bottles that I carried. It was a nightmare drive, but Peter slept peacefully through it all. I was very pleased when dawn came up as we entered Nowra, and for the first time I was able to top that wretched sump up with oil without the necessity of balancing a torch to do so.

The specialist in Wollongong examined Peter benignly without turning a hair, and informed us that any fears we might have were groundless. A haemangioma such as this was not at all uncommon and would right itself of its own accord within a few years. If there was no improvement by the time Peter was four or five, we should come to see him again. Much relieved, back we went to Moruya. But before leaving Wollongong I bought a toy pedal motorcar which Patricia and subsequently Peter got quite a bit of fun out of. It might have been some sort of sublimation. I had always longed for such a toy when I was a kid, but my family had never been able to afford such extravagance. Now my kids enjoyed it!

Ch10 Pt2 Our brick and fibro castle at Want Street

Alack and alas! We had barely been in it a week when there came a sudden downpour of rain – one of those tropical downpours which are so common in southern latitudes, but which we did not seem to experience in England. The rain came through the roof of our garage in buckets. It fell on the second hand chairs and dining room table we had bought. It soaked the second hand bed with its second hand mattress, spotted the second hand wardrobe and kitchen cabinet dividing the living area from the sleeping area, and gathered in pools on our new if somewhat cheap quality lino. Irene sat down and wept. I was at first filled with despair, and then with a blinding rage. After all this effort, was a leaking roof now about to defeat us? We ran around placing pots and pans in strategic positions. I swore that as soon as the rain abated I would fix up that roof so well that not a drop of rain would come in for the next hundred years.

The next day was Saturday and I climbed up to have a look at the corrugated iron close-up. It was second hand, and there were numerous small holes from where it had been previously fixed on some other roof. I walked the mile and a half to Caringbah and bought some bituminous mixture. When I got back, I first plugged every hole with bitumen. I then tore up small strips of tent canvas and put them on top of the holes. Each piece of canvass received a further coat of bitumen and then a coat of paint. When the paint dried, I placed more bitumen on the spot, another piece of canvass, another covering of bitumen, and a further coat of paint. Every nail that held the iron sheeting to the timber rafters was similarly treated. The roof never leaked again while we were there, and I will guarantee that it does not leak to this day.

My job at the Department of Local Government had proved a very present help in trouble. However, I was earning only a labourer’s wage. Indeed, a labourer might have earned more with overtime and odd jobs on the side. Since the Department had the oversight of all the local government Councils in New South Wales, I began to wonder if there might be some future for me in this direction. I therefore composed and had typed something to the order of two hundred letters of application, which I sent to every municipal, shire and county council in the State. I might have received at the most half a dozen replies, which I thought then and still think today was a very poor reflection on local government. However, one of them was from Hurstville Municipal Council, half way between Sydney and Caringbah. They were looking for a clerical assistant, and offered me an interview. I rang up George, the Town Clerk, thanked him for his consideration, and asked when he would like to see me. We arranged an unlikely rendezvous the next Sunday morning at the bus stop just outside Kogarah railway station.                                                

George was a tall, bespectacled, black haired, lantern jawed man of fifty. His accent was aggressively Australian. He chain smoked cigarettes through a long holder. His brown, spaniel-like eyes hid a shrewd and pragmatic mind. He thought before making a statement. But when the statement was made, you could rest assured that it was authoritative and was backed up by a lifetime of experience in guiding the affairs of a local government council. He was the first of a long line of town clerks that I came to know, whom you could recognise almost as you would instinctively recognise schoolmasters, doctors, policemen and bookmakers.

After he got out of his car at Kogarah, we had an impromptu interview on the street corner. He seemed to be satisfied, and invited me back into the car beside him, saying he would take me to look over the Council Chambers at Hurstville. We went into the neat brick and tile building (now regrettably demolished), and after I had looked through the tidy offices with polished lino floors, he asked me if I liked what I saw. I said I did. He explained to me that in this job I would gain a good knowledge of New South Wales local government in a substantial Council and that they would “train me up” so that I would have a steady job in a good atmosphere and something to back me if I went elsewhere. I took all this with a pinch of salt, but on reflection in later years, I began to think that George was probably sincere. We left with the understanding that I should give a week’s notice to the Department of Local Government, then start at Hurstville. I would be a “D” Grade Clerk, and would earn one pound a week more than I was then getting. Moreover, since Hurstville was closer to Caringbah than Central Sydney, my travelling time as well as my fare would be halved. I went home and conveyed the news to Irene with jubilation. Thus, although I did not realise it at the time, I took one of the most important decisions of my life. I decided how I was to earn the money to pay off the mortgage and enable Irene and me to raise our children. The field of endeavour in which I had arrived more or less haphazardly was to take us up and down the coast of New South Wales over half a lifetime, and thus have a decisive influence on the lives of our children.

After we had raised the money to build our garage, Irene had commenced work in the Coles store just down from St. James’ Station. She served behind the sweet counter and finally finished up in charge of the lemonade counter. I think she had the distinction of selling more drinks with less lemonade essence than any other sales assistant within living memory, thus contributing considerably to Coles’ large profit that financial year. Irene worked in Coles for about nine months, and during this time we paid off the mortgage on our garage at a record rate and also bought a very nice lounge suite and an Axminster carpet square from Bebarfeld’s the large furniture store opposite the Sydney Town Hall, in George Street, now occupied by Woolworth’s. It is necessary to realise that in England we had never been able to afford a lounge suite of similar quality to the one that now graced our garage, whilst Axminster carpet was something to which the working man simply did not aspire. We lived on the smell of an oil rag, got up very early, and worked very hard. One week, we had no money after paying debts, and existed on tomatoes grown in the garden and bread and milk bought on credit. But with Irene’s wages and mine we were paying off our commitments at the rate of ten pounds a week. After so many wasted years we were at long last getting ahead.

If we were solving difficulties regarding work and accommodation, on another plane Irene and I were having problems. I had always thought that no man was complete without a wife. Certainly I had found that Irene and I had been of tremendous help to each other during those first lonely and difficult days in Australia. But by extension, no marriage is complete without children. We had been married for three and a half years, and there were no children. Indeed, we had been led to believe in England that there was a strong chance that we should never have any. For me, this was a matter of great sadness, as I am quite sure it was for Irene also. I suppose that you see in your partner desirable qualities you hope may be transmitted to your children. Also there is a natural desire to be related by indissoluble bonds of flesh and blood. This, of course, is the mere beginning of things. What follows after is the serious business of raising the children, and this is what life is really all about. Life may be financially easier without children, but it becomes very empty. Love and affection, those important qualities no money can buy, must inevitably diminish. With children, love and affection increase, and a man and a woman achieve a sense of purpose.

We began to visit the Crown Street Women’s Hospital Sterility Clinic. It was not a pleasant experience. One feels like an animal on a clinician’s dissection table. However, they rapidly diagnosed a condition the pundits in England, by some strange oversight had completely missed – a minor obstruction of the Fallopian tubes, which was quickly rectified.

Irene became pregnant, but had a miscarriage, probably due to the need to carry buckets of water across our block at Caringbah before we had it properly connected to the garage. The next time, she had injections, and we were much more careful. Patricia was conceived in our little green and red silver-roofed garage in Caringbah, and born just after we had entered into occupation of the house we later built on the block.

I shall never forget the day my daughter was born. Indeed, I have remembered that afternoon with tenderness all the days of my life. I walked to the “Jacaranda” Hospital, near Cronulla. (We could not afford a car). Here I was shown an olive-skinned newly born child lying in a butter box. There had been many births that day, and they had apparently run out of cots. A fuzz of dark hair covered her head. Her blue eyes rolled in completely opposite directions, chameleon-like, as she tried to focus on what was possibly my vague shadowy shape bending over her, or perhaps sought to identify the direction that my voice was coming from. Her little soft red mouth seemed to pull itself into a kind of smile. She was bruised right across the face, from the forehead, across the eye and nose, diagonally to her chin, for it had been a difficult forceps delivery. That moment, a wave of tremendous love swept over me. Irene and I were both almost thirty years old. We had thought that we should never have children. Yet here was my beautiful daughter smiling up at me.

I went to say “Hallo” to Irene, but she was stretched out exhausted, and very weak. She had been in labour for four days, and the birth itself had been extremely difficult. I think she hardly realised I was there.

That evening I went round to the house of a friend who insisted on playing Richard Tauber records all night. Although Tauber was a great favourite of mine, I simply sat there in a kind of daze. The only thought that kept repeating itself in my mind over and over again was, “I am a father. I am a father.” The wonder of it dazzled me. The responsibility of it overwhelmed me.

Later, I took to washing out the nappies, as they did not do this at the “Jacaranda” Private Hospital. But my good intentions were undermined when I put tapioca in the sink in mistake for washing powder. The result was a bit of a mess. Subsequently, when she returned from hospital, Irene took over this chore.

Some months prior to Patricia’s birth, having paid off the garage and once again obtained a clear title to our land, we approached the St George Building Society for a loan. This was quite a small concern then, with headquarters in Forest Road, Hurstville. We had no money, so we were obliged to pick a plan showing a two-bedroomed house of minimum size – in fact, the overall area was six and a half squares, which most people today would consider laughable. However, we borrowed sixteen hundred pounds on the grounds that half a loaf is better than no bread. Our repayments were two pounds ten a week, and my wages at that time seven pounds.

The problem now was to get a builder. Irene had transferred from Coles’ in Sydney to a milk bar in Forest Road, Hurstville, so we were able to go into work together and come home together, the Council Chambers being just along the road. This enabled us to have more time to look for a builder. However builders were not interested. Most of them had work for the next eighteen months or two years, and simply could not fit anything in prior to that time. We went to builders all over Caringbah and Cronulla without success. I did not want to try to build it myself, fearing that I might not get a good result because of my lack of expertise. I feared also that it would simply take too long and costs would smother me. In the event, we ran a builder down who lived no further than the adjoining street. He agreed to build our small brick and fibro castle after nine months had elapsed. We accepted his offer with alacrity, knowing it was the best we were likely to get, and the house was eventually built just in time to welcome Patricia into the world. How proud I was, that although the place was small, it was entirely adequate at that time for Irene and me and that my daughter had a separate room and lovely surroundings to take her first faltering steps in Australia.

I was not a particularly devout Christian, nor was Irene a devout Jew. We decided that Gentiles have an easier time in this world than Jews, but that it is desirable for children to be taught the moral precepts common to both religions. We therefore had Patricia christened in the Methodist Church just down the road, on the grounds that this was the closest church in the vicinity, my own Church of England being a couple of miles or so away at Cronulla. Patricia’s godmother, our good friend Beryl, was a practising but very tolerant Catholic. Thus were the outward formalities of society completed.