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!