There must have been tens of thousands of young children who migrated to Australia with their families in the first half of the twentieth century. While we have many accounts of what the immigration experience was like from an adult point of view, an account from a child’s perspective is somewhat more unusual. Elsie Young, my mother, was unusual for a number of reasons, but a major reason was a fairly remarkable memory. So she is able to tell the story almost in the way she would have done as a young child.
And the children of migrants, in many ways, had it tougher than their parents, who had chosen to come, who understood what was happening to them, and who had, at least to some extent, some control over their destiny. The children had none of those advantages, and had been removed from familiar surroundings, friends, pets, school; been taken on a long arduous trip; found themselves in a strange house in a strange land stripped of everything and needing to build new friendships while speaking with a Pommy accent; found themselves in a strange school system where their earlier work may or may not be recognised, and where in any case they may find themselves moved from school to school as their parents dealt with the difficulties of economics in their new surroundings. And so on and on.
This account deals with all such things for a young English girl beginning life in 1921 in the north of England, and finding herself transported to the south west of WA in 1929, and then, after the Depression forced them off the farm they had come to develop, into Perth suburbs.
Elsie began writing down her story around the time she turned 80. I have left it very largely as she wrote it (by hand in an exercise book). It is, somewhat surprisingly (to me), quite well done. I have removed hundreds of exclamation marks (which littered every paragraph!), have added material in square brackets where it isn’t clear who she is referring to, or where the special knowledge of growing up in Perth is presumed, or where a sentence is awkwardly constructed and the meaning unclear. A couple of times I make gratuitous comments, but I have been very good generally. I haven’t really edited, although if she had ever tried for publication it would have been edited quite a lot (including removing a couple of personal descriptions I have removed, and I think she would have done, on second thoughts, and some family history material repeated on “Dream” and not derived from her own memory). I have changed the order of a sentence on just a couple of occasions and left it at that, so what you read is essentially her talking, and she wrote as she talked.
If you have read “Dream”, elsewhere on this blog, then some of the story, and characters, will be familiar. If you haven’t then you should (including a short context piece introducing my mother), either before or after reading Elsie’s story.
I was born at 62 Salvin Street, Spennymoor, County Durham, England, to replace my brother Kenneth who had died at the age of 16 months from Pneumonia. He was a beautiful, intelligent child, and his death broke the hearts of my parents and my brother Robert. My mother nearly lost her mind with grief, and the doctor told my Dad that the only way to save her reason was to have another child. Both of my brothers had been over 10 lbs in weight, and my mother had painful and long labours. When the first pang came, my mother sent my Dad post-haste for the doctor and midwife. He had just left the house when I appeared – born on the bedroom floor – all 7 lbs of me and with red curls.
My parents, Charlie and Emma Young, had resided in York for some time. My Dad, an only child, was born at Long Lane, Dalton (in Huddersfield) on 23/5/1890. His mother, Annie (nee Carter) had died in 1900 at the age of 40, and he and his father, Robert Charles Young, lived alone for some  years. My mother was the 6th child in a family of 9, born on 29/7/1888 in Spennymoor, County Durham, to Richard and Polly Evans. Richard, who was a good singer, stood out in the snow singing carols. He took ill on Christmas Day and died of Pneumonia on New Year’s Day 1896 [?].
Polly was left with 9 children aged 14 down to 10 months. She supported them herself until each one turned 11, then the child in question had to ‘go into service’. Mum was employed by Dr Anderson as a playmate for Kenneth Anderson at 11, but by 14 she had to leave home to go to York. She boarded with her sister Rachel before taking employment as a nanny, first with a Mrs Killingbeck, then the Pearsons, and lastly as a companion to Susie, the niece of the Dobies. She met Dad, who was then living and working at Armstrongs the butchers, when he delivered meat to the Pearsons. He noticed her bike, and offered to check it and also asked her to join the York Harriers [cycling club] which she did. They fell in love and had a great courtship until they married at Groves Wesleyan Chapel on 18 July 1911.
Straight after the marriage they moved to Spennymoor. Mum’s brothers Dick and Jim were working as miners and had persuaded Charlie and Emma to move there and Dad could also work in the mine. It was to Spennymoor then that they travelled after a honeymoon in Scarborough, and their family life (and mine to be) commenced at 5 Hartley Terrace.
I don’t know exactly how long they lived in Hartley Terrace or whether Kenneth was born in 62 Salvin, but I know that I was born there on 19 March 1921 at approx 6am. Kind but untactful neighbours told my brother Robert to go upstairs to see what his mother had to show him. He flew up the stairs, thinking his baby brother Kenneth had come back, but when he went into his mother’s room and saw me, that tiny red-headed girl, he screamed ‘send it back, I don’t want it, I want Kenneth’. I believe that feeling towards me, that inner resentment, lasted all his life, although I can remember him carrying me as a little girl on his shoulders.
I was allergic from birth to wool, and so my mother had to get all my garments, including knitteds, made from cotton or silk. Because my mother had been so possessive over Kenneth and wouldn’t allow anyone to touch him, she believed that god had taken him to pay her back from making a little god out of him, therefore she was determined that he would not take me for the same reason! I could go to anyone’s house and stay for a day or overnight. She had a neighbour named Mrs Sabin who had three children, Mary, Arthur and Elsie. Mary used to take fits and was retarded but she was allowed to take me out for walks in my pusher. I can remember stumbling over what I thought was a high step to visit the Sabins and to go to bed in ‘Artie’s cot’ (after the war Arthur came to visit us in Swanbourne). Mrs Sabin made excellent chips, and rhubarb jam.
My mother used to say of me that I walked and talked at nine months and hadn’t shut up since.
Another neighbour was a Mrs Proud, who as ‘Jinny Jones’ had been a school friend of Mum. She had a son, Ronnie, who my mother took the credit for giving him life. Apparently Mum used to act as a midwife to the local GP and had to go with him on one occasion to attend to Mrs Proud. He delivered what he thought was a dead male child and threw the body in the corner. Mum picked it up, smacked its backside and was rewarded by a cry from the baby. (In later years Ronnie was to come into the backyard at 12 Wear Street, call out to Mum: ‘Look Mrs Young, aeroplane’, and while Mum was scanning the heavens he would grab my scooter and run off with it!). Mrs Proud always had a tin full of small queen cakes on her mantelpiece, and when I stared at the tin she would give me a cake. One day my mother threatened me with who-knows-what if I took a cake. Off we went to see Mrs Proud. I sat on a chair and stared at the tin. Then I did the unthinkable – ‘Mrs Proud’ I said ‘I don’t want one of your cakes’. ‘Why ever not?” asked Mrs Proud. ‘Because’ said I ‘my mother said so.’ I remember all the places I used to visit as a child by what I used to eat there.
My earliest recollections [though] are of sitting beneath Dad’s beautiful pedal organ and listening to him playing. I could recognise several pieces, but it was years before I knew they were the introduction to Handel’s Messiah, Handel’s largo, and the war march of the priests from Aida. As I grew older, approximately four, my Dad taught me to sing ’The Hoodoo’ and ‘Away in a Manger’. Apparently I sang the latter in church when four and had to be stood on a box to sing all four verses as without the box I couldn’t see over the pulpit!
At the age of two I stuck my head through the park railings, and the railings had to be cut to release me – I still have the scar over my left eyebrow. I must have been three when Mum took me, all dressed in white embroidery, to visit a cousin whose husband worked in the mine. Their house had a flight of steps leading from the back door and at the bottom of the steps was a tub full of dirty clothes. I slipped and fell down the steps straight into the dirty water. I have never been able to stand dirty water to this day!
I don’t know when we moved to 12 Villa Street. I remember sleeping in the back bedroom in a cot that had been Dad’s as a child. It was a large cot with hessian lining to keep out the drafts. Robert slept in a three quarter size bed in the far corner. The house was a peculiar one. Its back door, yard, and gate, opened on to a lane, and back to back with Holland’s house (121 Craddock Street). The front door opened on to a garden, but not a street. As a small child I never saw it open and it was perpetually dark.
I can remember my fourth birthday party in 12 Villa Street only because it was Easter and there was a huge (to me) basket of Easter Eggs on the table. One Christmas morning I was brought downstairs to find a huge long box containing a big doll with porcelain head and sleeping eyes. It was far too big for me to carry. I tripped over the back step and shattered its head. I don’t know what happened to it after that, but next year I was given a porcelain baby doll and I broke that too. After that I had an unbreakable ‘Mama’ doll that Mum won in a Northern Echo [newspaper] competition and this doll, named Betty Echo, travelled to Australia with me.
I don’t really know where my name came from. It was Robert’s favourite, but from which of three ‘Elsies’ of our acquaintance I have no idea. There was a cousin Elsie Young, daughter of Nicholas Young, who visited the home farm; cousin Elsie Evans, daughter of Mum’s brother Sam; and Elsie Thornton who was a close friend (and bridesmaid) of Mum in York. Anyway, Robert wanted me to be named Elsie, Aunt Sally wanted me to be Edith Mary, and Mum wanted me to be Marjorie. The three names were placed in a hat and Robert was allowed to draw out the winning name. He drew out Elsie so that is why and how I got my name.
I was christened in St Andrew’s (Church of England) Church in Spennymoor. Mum and all her siblings had been christened there, and Kenneth’s funeral was held there. My godmother was Elsie Thornton. The date was somewhere in April 1921.
My mother always told the story of how I could go to the shop around the corner with my little basket at the age of 14 months. I would take two notes – ‘one for Holly’s (Mrs Holland) yeast and one for Mummy’s yeast. I used to call myself Essie, and when I was questioned about crossing the road to the shop in safety I used to say: ‘Essie look up-a street, Essie look down-a street, No motor cars coming, Essie Run!’
At the time of my birth I only had one living grandparent, my Dad’s father Robert Charles Young, known as Grandad. He had remarried in 1911, a dreadful creature named Beatrice, and known as Grandma Beat. They lived in The Lodge on Malton Road near York. She had satin cushions and my grandad used to put them on the floor for me to sit on and I would promptly wet on them.
Because of our lack of grandparents, the roles of senior members of the Young and Evans clan rested on the shoulders of aunt Sallie [Evans] Butler, who was Mum’s oldest sister, and my great uncle Leonard Young and his wife Harriet, who were aunt and uncle to my Dad. Because my grandfather Robert Charles, who was the first surviving son of Charles and Elizabeth Young, had left the farm to become a gardener, Len had to take on the role of senior male family member, and the Home Farm, when Charles died in 1901. Len married Harriet Cookshaw (his brother Tom had married her sister Mary Ann [Polly] Cookshaw).
Mum and Dad were keen cyclists, and as much as possible rode their bikes to York, a distance of 60 miles. After Robert was born, or at least when he could sit up I presume, they took him along strapped in a carrier street at the back of Mum’s bike. I gather that the bike trips stopped when Mum became pregnant with Kenneth, but I never heard whether Kenneth ever visited the farm. I am sure that I was never taken by bike, and my earliest recollections were of travelling to York in the lovely old-fashioned trains. I do know that I went to the farm as a toddler, presumably at the same time as I wet Grandma Beat’s cushion because Mum always told me how Aunt Harriet had a row of coops across the yard, into which, every evening, [she would] herd each of her ducks. Mum called me to go to bed but I refused, “no, Essie not go to bed, Essie watch Auntie put the ducks in the cupboards”. I was 14 months old.
Mum would quite happily take me by train to Auntie Sallie’s, have a cuppa and return home on the same day. I can remember going there, my impression was of a gate leading into a courtyard paved with black and white squares. I told everyone for years about this but they all insisted it could not have been the courtyard, but the kitchen. When I was touring around York in 1983 I came across a house that had been demolished. All that was left of it was a courtyard paved with black and white squares!
Auntie Sallie belonged to the darker Evans, the opposite to Mum who was on the auburn side. Apparently Sallie was the image of her mother Polly, and Polly’s mother Sarah Scott – black hair and black eyes, very Italian looking and I presume as the remnants of the Roman invasion looked, and of course the invaders themselves. She was a great dancer in her youth, danced at many balls wearing a black ball gown and waltzing especially to the “Merry Widow Waltz” which was her favourite. She married Joseph Butler, a glass blower by trade, and had two sons, Joe and Harry. Joe became head of the police force [in York] and Harry head of the fire brigade [in York]. Neither fathered children, but Joe adopted a daughter Marjorie.
When I was four, Mum and I were on one of our train trips to visit Aunt Sallie. A woman shared the carriage, and when she got out at York Station he left the carriage door open. I had been kneeling on the seat with my hand around the door. Suddenly the door slammed, trapping my hand. I screamed and can remember vividly my hand being released, and Mum carrying me (she always carried me under her arm for some reason) to the first aid post on the station to have it treated. She bought me another doll to stop me screaming and instead of going to Aunt Sallie’s we caught the next train back to Spennymoor!!
When we were going straight to the Home Farm and not to Aunt Sallie’s, we would be met at York Station by Uncle Len in his smart horse and trap. He would lift me up on to the seat, help Mum up with her luggage, and away we’d go. I can’t remember my Dad and Robert being with us (Robert anyway as by the time I was 6 he was 14 and working at “the store”). My Dad must have been there because I can remember him playing the organ at the Home Farm while Aunt Harriet, Rhoda, Mum and I sang songs such as “Widdecombe Fair”, “My grandfather’s clock” and “One more river to cross” and favourite hymns such as “What a friend we have in Jesus” and “When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.” I can also remember my Dad played the organ at Uncle Tom’s farm, while Mum and Lena sang duets.
We used to walk to Uncle Tom’s farm which was called “Pear Tree Farm”. Uncle Tom and Aunt Polly lived there with their sons Edgar, Ronnie and Charlie, and their daughter Lena (who had married George Irving). At the time of my visits to Stockton, Lena had a small son Eric, and Charlie had one named “little Charlie”.
I was very fond of Aunt Polly who was a gentle lady. I was often taken to visit her, and can remember Lena carrying fruit in her apron to her mother. One day I was left alone with Violet, the Home Farm maid. I wasn’t told why, or where all the other members of the family had gone somewhere together, but later I went to Pear Tree Farm and found not Aunt Polly, but a house filled with flowers. This was 12 October 1928. Aunt Polly had died at the age of 59, but then, I didn’t really know what the word “dead” meant.
Aunt Harriet was a formidable person. She was, to me, a big lady with a white bun of hair, and very like the female counterpart in the weather clock. She always seemed to wear an apron and be forever working in the kitchen cooking, plucking geese for their feathers, or working in the kitchen garden. I have remembered forever her baked ham especially and her curd cakes. I can never recall her showing me any physical affection, and yet she would give me pence and send me along the road to the house that sold pear drops and tell me to “go and buy some goodies”. She always took me across the road to the village church [above] especially at Harvest Festival time when the church would be decorated with produce from the Home Farm. Best of all she would take me to the Market in York by bus. This bus had the door and steps at the back and we would climb in and sit on a long seat. We would have a basket containing snowy white cloths wrapped around the home made butter and plucked fowls.
One day I decided to climb up an apple tree and pick an apple to eat. Next thing she was yelling at me to get down and leave the apples alone, and if I wanted one to eat I could get one off the granary floor! Well, I didn’t want one off the granary floor, I wanted a fresh one, and from that day I always liked my fruit fresh from the tree or vine!
Uncle Len was a stern creature. He was, to me, a huge man who roared! When he wasn’t outside on the farm he was in the sitting room reading the Yorkshire Post. He wore half glasses over which he would look sternly at me. Outside the sitting room door was a bookcase. At 5 I asked him if I could borrow a book to read. He looked in astonishment at Mum and said “Canst bairn read?” “Of course she can read” said Mum [this appears elsewhere as a story about me, which is the way I was told it. Perhaps it was said, by two different grandfathers, about both of us].
I can remember, in 1929, Uncle Len roaring at my Dad about “Taking those bairns to the jungle.” I had no idea what the row was about or where the jungles were that they were roaring about, but I did know it was my Mum’s idea and not my Dad’s! I will leave that story for a later time however, as I was 8 by then, and I have to go back a few years before this jungle talk erupted.
When I recall Spennymoor into the time tunnel of my memories, everything is grey – skies, walls, roads. I can see Wear Street sloping down to the gasometer, with a row of terrace houses facing hours which was number 12. As this was a dead end street, no traffic of the day flowed through but people did come and go either on foot or by bike. I remember Stone’s ginger beer being delivered on a Sunday, and an ice cream pedlar delivering jugs of ice cream for 1/-. Sunday was our roast lamb day and we always had the ginger beer and icecream then. My mother used to dress me in white embroidery to go to Sunday School and then she would give me a penny, tell me to go to a certain fence (which I later discovered was around the allotment gardens), knock on the gate and a man would hand me a penn’orth of mint.
I must have started school [above] when I turned five. I screamed the school down the first day because they gave me a red-headed teacher. I got over that and settled in. Mum was late one day for a parent’s day, and came round the corner to see me standing up in front of the whole school, entertaining the pupils and their parents with tales of Brer Rabbit. The teacher used to spread library books across the floor, and we would go out in alphabetical order to choose a book. After the first day of this selection procedure I went to the teacher and suggested that she have this turn-about, that is A-Z one week and Z-A the next, as my name was Young. She agreed this was a good idea. On 6th December that year we all had to take off our shoes and be lifted on to what I thought was a high shelf (but realised much later was just a form). This was St Nicholas’ Day, and into our shoes was placed a chocolate.
Boots were the general footwear for young and old (When Mum was born her sister Hannah was told she had a new sister. Hannah replied that she didn’t need a new sister, she needed new boots). Most people wore lace-ups – the favoured few wore buttoned boots. I wore buttoned boots bought and fitted at the store. In the winter I wore short wellington boots with little socks inside them. I also wore a black waterproof coat and hood. I used to walk to Rosa Street School through a lane at the top of Wear Street but my mother always came for me at lunchtime, gave me a hot lunch and then took me back to school. One day she failed to arrive and I ran home crying. I didn’t want my lunch which was my favourite fried potato. Mum gave me a dose of castor oil then nursed me on her lap in front of her bedroom fire. The chair we sat in was a rocking chair which I usually loved, but not that day. Mum sent Dad for the doctor. The doctor’s verdict was “diptheria” and “hospital” and Mum burst into tears.
I remember seeing the ambulance arrive and being carried downstairs wrapped in blankets. I was taken to the “fever hospital” which was for infectious diseases. Mum and Dad used to visit me but could only look at me through the glass window pane. When I started to recover I walked around and went into the little kitchen to watch the nurses prepare the meals. They used to make me Ovaltine to drink and as they prepared it they would sing two popular songs of the day “Among my souvenirs” and “When you played the organ and I sang the rosary”. I had cried for the white teddy that had come to me from Kenneth’s death, and so it was brought in for me but could not be taken home again. I must have been in hospital for at least 3 months because I celebrated my 6th birthday there.
My mother must have been an amazing manager financially. In 1926 the General Strike brought Britain to a standstill but she still managed. Soup kitchens sprang up everywhere. Robert took me down the street one day and we smelt a delicious odour. There was a line up of people, mostly children, and of course each person, including us, received a cup of delicious soup. My mother was horrified when she knew, and we both had our bottoms spanked. “That soup is for poor people,” she told us “we’re not poor.”
Around that time or possibly earlier I left the house and joined the schoolchildren lining the streets. When my mother questioned me as to where I’d been I told her loftily “I’ve been to see the Prince of Wales” [ie the future, briefly, Edward 8th]. He waved to me by the way! [it was 14 May 1929, Edward was there to open the Newcastle Exhibition which she refers to below].
I was still in hospital for the first few months of 1927. I don’t know exactly when I was discharged but I made a quick recovery and went back to school. Then tragedy struck our family: my Dad went down with Rheumatic Fever and spent 11 months In bed. My mother nursed him single-handedly with only the help of some of his workmates who came in occasionally to help her to “turn him”. He begged her to let him die because he thought he was paralysed for life. God had other plans for Dad and he slowly recovered. The first day he was able to go downstairs he sat at his beloved pedal organ, placed his hands on the keys and played. He put his head down and sobbed.
I remember standing at the window of the main bedroom where my Dad lay and looking down on Wear Street where a lad was walking past the house singing “Ain’t she sweet”.
Dad recovered enough [by 1928] to play cricket once more and to return to his work in the coal mine. Dad, Mum and I went to see the Newcastle Exhibition. I remember seeing a Lifeboat for the first time, the original painting of “Red Boy” and Sir Malcolm Campbell’s racing car “Bluebird”.
On Saturday nights they would take me to a food market. To enter we had to pass a news stand from which Dad would buy me “Sunny Stories”. I always believed that the counter where the news-lady sold her wares was as high as the roof. It was only recently I figured that the counter was the normal height and it was I who was miles below it and not the counter that was miles above me. I don’t know what else my parents bought aside from a Toblerone chocolate bar for me, a whipped cream walnut for um, and some Everton toffee for Dad. I used to look at the Toblerone bar and spell it [the name].
I used to be taken to see my Dad play cricket. I can’t remember anything about those outings except that I would sit on a low bench and munch on a chocolate bar!
My brother Robert was working at the Co-op on the delivery wagon, but managed to get a fair bit of bike riding in as well. I remember playing with friends outside the gasometer [one day] and seeing the doctor drive up on his motorbike and sidecar. I was horrified to see Robert, unconscious and with his clothes torn, being lifted out of the sidecar and carried upstairs to his bed. He and his bike had been carried 25 yards under a hit and run truck. He hadn’t even been taken to the hospital for a check-up! He had concussion and hurt his back but there were apparently no other serious injuries.
Apparently my Dad and I didn’t pick up from our illnesses as previously thought, and the doctor advised my Mother to migrate to a warm climate. Canada was out as being too cold, so the choice was between NZ and Australia. The Methodist minister and his wife were named Henderson. They were Indian people [what were called Anglo-Indians perhaps?] and very dark-skinned. Mum used to take me up to the manse once a week and while she did the housework I would play with the sons Charlie, Ernest and little Roy. Mrs Henderson would always give us rice flavoured with tomato and I loved it. Mum consulted Rev Henderson about the emigration and he agreed to help. From then on we had a pile of brochures sent through the mail to tempt us.
Christmas of 1928 must be the one I remember so clearly. I imagine Aunt Harriet invited as many relatives as possible to farewell our family. I can remember the huge tree from floor to ceiling, and the real Christmas crackers. I also remember Rhoda and I seated on the floor roasting chestnuts over the fire. I presume we played the usual table games on the big table after the remnants of the feast were all cleared away – “Happy Families” “Blow Football” “Fish Pond” were some of our favourites. I would also be looking at pictures through a bathescope.
Apart from our trip to York, the only other excursion we enjoyed was the annual train trip to what was called “The Seaside”. The only two I remember well were Seaton Carew [above] and Redcar. The train trips were exciting and run by the church. I can remember getting off at the station in question and seeing a great many stalls selling nothing but buckets and spades. One year it rained all the time we were there so we sent the whole time sheltering under the pier. I made sandcastles there and we ate egg and bacon pie. I also bought a comic book from a lad who was going round selling them from a tray balanced on his chest. Either on one of these trips, or a trip to York, I remember my Dad pointing out to me the famous white horse carving in the hillside [impossible to know which one she means here].
I didn’t have any close playmates of my own age in Spennymoor. I used to join the local children sometimes in their pursuits such as the penny concerts (but only as part of the audience. I learned to ride a fairy cycle by getting on and riding it.
I was given a three-wheeled scooter after the diptheria and every Sunday afternoon Mum and Dad would take me with the scooter to Whitworth Lane which I remember was bordered with hedgerows and wild roses.
I did have a live-in playmate for a few months when Mum brought Molly Avenell [at left above with Elsie] home from Stockton. I let her share my blackboard, desk, dolls, cots, beautiful doll’s dinner sets that had come to me from Stockton Hall, and even my scooter. Molly badly wanted to go to Australia with us but it was impossible [no idea who this girl is, or what this is all about – I assume my mother didn’t either].
When not at Holland’s or Sabin’s or Walker’s or Proud’s or Henderson’s I was quite happy to play alone with especially my desk and blackboard because my sole ambition was to be a schoolteacher.
I loved comics especially “Tiger Tim’s Weekly”. I decided I would like it delivered, so at the age of 7 I walked into the paper shop, gave my name and address and ordered Tiger Tim’s” to be delivered with the newspaper. When it arrived Mum demanded “What’s this?”. I told her I’d ordered it. “Well it can go back”. My father then said “If she’s smart enough to order it she’s smart enough to keep it”. And I did.
I loved to ramble around Spennymoor by myself especially to window shop. My two favourite shops were the jewellers into whose window I gazed in vain at a silver egg cup, and the toy shop which had a beautiful fairy doll floating in the window. Another favourite shop was Harrison’s the baker’s which sold delicious cream buns. I made short trips to the park alone too. On one occasion a parade was going on and a man, dressed as a baby, was being pushed along in a wheelbarrow – I was horrified and disgusted! Apart from the walks along Whitworth Lane with my parents, my favourite walk was to my bluebell wood.
All through 1928 the brochures came but my Dad refused to look at them.
Soon it was 1929. My highlight of that year was the Sunday School Anniversary. I had a new white embroidered dress with hand made undies underneath and a white ribbon on my long curls. Ernest Henderson sang “Oh for the wings of a dove”. A class of small children sang “We are but little children weak” and I said to myself “They are too”. My own two favourites were “Sound the battle cry” and “Trust and obey”.
Spennymoor at that time had a very active drama group. Tootsie Bertram, the chemist’s daughter, was the lead female singer and everyone in Spennymoor seemed to be singing “Take a pair of sparkling eyes” from “The Gondoleers”, which was being presented that year, presumably in the Town Hall (where I was once taken to a big religious revival held by one Pastor Jeffries. I was lifted up and sat on the olive green window ledge).
Early in 1929 forms arrived from the Salvation Army to say we had been accepted under the Group Settlement Scheme and they would act as our nominees. A trip was first offered on a ship called “Barradine” but for some reason that fell through. Finally we were offered births on the White Star Line’s Vedic. Mum stood over Dad with a pen, forcing him to sign the emigration papers which he was loath to do. Mum, Dad and Robert all had to have medical examinations but I didn’t.
Our date for departure was to be 19 October and for the months preceding our house was a hive of activity. Huge wooden crates appeared and were slowly filled with items for household use. We filled a leather trunk and my grandad’s box with clothes. We could take no furniture except Dad’s little chair, so everything we owned had to be given away or sold, even Dad’s precious organ. I was very interested in all this, and not very happy when none of my toys could go. Happily all our books were packed, and our games of Ludo, Draughts, and Dominos. Even the bikes had to be disposed of, although if we could have taken them they would have been very handy on the “Groups”.
When everything disposable was gone, and everything else packed, we left 12 Wear Street for the last time. We spent the night at [friends] Holland’s place, and next morning caught the train to York to say goodbye to Uncle Len, Aunt Harriet, and Rhoda, as well as the Butlers. I believe we were farewelled at Spennymoor Station but I don’t remember that. It was a sad visit to the Home Farm. My Dad took photos, one of Uncle Len and [nephew] Charlie working on the farm, one Aunt Harriet and Rhoda, and one of myself and Rhoda [below, Rhoda on right].
Finally our stay was over. We said our goodbyes and the next thing I know we are in a carriage at York Station. Just as the train was about to leave for Liverpool a lady came running down the train to hand me the biggest block of chocolate I’d ever seen. The lady was Susie, Mrs Dobie’s niece [Mum had been employed as Susie's "companion" years earlier before she was married] and the chocolate was Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. I knew it was Susie because we had visited her earlier in her upstairs flat and she had given me a toy.
We finally arrived in Liverpool where I believe we stayed a few days. I was at one of the washbasins [in a hotel or hostel?] and had my Betty Echo doll with me. A lady was there with her small son and I made my doll say “Mama” for him. The lady told me his name was Rex and that she was Mrs Vellender. Our family and theirs became lifelong friends from that day on.
We all thronged the decks of the Vedic as she prepared to cast off, but we had no one to see us off. The Salvation Army Band played “God be with you till we meet again” as the ship left the wharf (a song that, 23 years later, Dad was to play as he left home for the last time to go into hospital).
As opposite sexes could not share a cabin together, Mum and I had to share with another woman and her daughter, while Dad and Robert were to share a cabin with another man and his son. This arrangement was terrible for all of us. The first day out at sea I went exploring. I came across an iron staircase leading down to I knew not where, so I followed it. I came to the crew’s quarters and got into conversation with them while my parents searched the rest of the ship thinking I had fallen overboard.
As well as spending time with the crew (who made me their mascot) I made friends with George, Lance, Ella, and Frank Armstrong [possibly in photo below on board; Elsie front left] who were going to Kalgoorlie where their father was to work in the gold mines, and the Wetherells, who were to open a shop in the Manjimup district which at the time was noted for tobacco growing. A swing was erected on the deck for the children to use.
Dad was appointed as pianist for the trip and he quickly organised church services and concerts for the entertainment of other passengers. Mum and Robert were sick all the time the ship was in motion. Mum had no appetite and this apparently worried the Chief Steward. He visited Mum in her cabin and asked if he could get her anything special. She asked for a tray to be brought with tea in a tea pot, not from an urn, and for fresh tomato sliced and freshly cut bread and butter, She received exactly what she ordered and enjoyed it.
Dad and I loved the meals and didn’t miss any. My favourite ship’s food was the home made ice cream and the hard tack biscuits. As the sea became rougher the ship became unsteady, rocking a great deal. It was then that wooden partitions were put on the tables to stop the plates sliding about. We spent a lot of time on the deck in spite of the roughness and Dad pointed out to me the Canary Islands as we passed them.
“Crossing the Line” [ie the Equator, a very old tradition at sea] was great entertainment. A canvas swimming pool was erected and used, and every adult not sea sick took part. Dad was the “barber’s assistant” and wore his cap back to front.
Robert made friends with Jack Armstrong who was the oldest of the Armstrong children, and went ashore with him in Cape Town. I went ashore with Mum and Dad, and Dad explained that Table Mountain was so called because the clouds rolled across its flat surface at certain times of the day and this was called “laying the table cloth”. The native women carrying huge flower arrangements on their heads fascinated me, also a small boy trying to sweep the gutter with a broom with no bristles. We bought souvenirs then went back on board. Dad and Mr Armstrong were very worried when all the gang planks were being drawn up and there was no sign of Jack and Robert. Suddenly they came racing along the wharf and up the last gang plank, and following them was a score of Africans. Apparently they, Jack and Robert had knocked a stick away from a “dandy” [what she means is an African, well dressed and, as they probably all would have seen it, giving himself "airs" - a sudden glimpse of different sensibilities. It is worth noting, by way of mitigation though not excuse, that Robert was only 17, and he had come from a country where this kind of racism (and anti-semitism) was rife, with funny magazines commonly showing cartoons like the one below] and knocked him over. It could have caused an international incident. (It would today).
We spent 6 weeks at sea on the Vedic – the Captain at the end saying it was the roughest trip he had experienced in 38 years. (We discovered that as well as carrying migrants to Australia the ship, which after Fremantle went on to other state capitals, was carrying a cargo of steel for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, then just under construction).
We arrived in Fremantle on December 10 1929. I stood on the deck and looked down on a sea of rusty iron roofs and wondered what on earth they were. We had to leave the ship and cross the railway footbridge. This was very high and had “Mayawatee Tea” printed on each step. “A very strange word” I thought as I spelt out its syllables. We had to catch a special train to Perth, and I guess most of the passengers from the Vedic would have been on that train although a few had gone on to the eastern states.
We walked from Perth Station in all the heat to William Street and entered the “Britannia Hostel”. I don’t remember the bedrooms, though we were there a week, but I was fascinated by the wood and glass partitioned dining room. On the table was a silver container of bread, a cruet set, and a jug of water. The pea soup was delicious. The whole place seemed to me like a royal palace.
We had deposited ten pounds sterling with the Salvation Army to buy furniture. For that ten pounds, from Boans Store, we were to get a double and two single beds, a wardrobe, a table, 4 chairs and a meat safe. Mum told them they were robbers! [perhaps they were, with a captive market of migrants].
As Dad had been a member of the Rechabites in England, we had to seek out a Mr Walter Warren so that Dad could transfer to the WA Rechabites. We walked from William Street to Mount Lawley [a distance of some 4-5km, depending on the exact start and end points; the family were always great walkers] to find Mr Warren. We found him and were made welcome. I smelt hot figs that were ripening in the Sun. Mr Warren told me I’d soon lose my English complexion but I didn’t believe him.
[Another day] we went for a sight-seeing walk along Hay and Murray Streets and I was intrigued to see the steps of a theatre (the Royal) bedecked with greenery and advertising “Maid of the Mountains” starring someone named Gladys Moncrief [a famous popular Australian singer].
Finally we left the Brittania and joined a train leaving for “Margaret River via Busselton”. There were only two other families travelling with us to Group 137, they were a Mr and Mrs Henderson, their sons Jack and Andy and their daughter Helen. To my surprise and pleasure, the other family were the friends I’d made in Liverpool – Mrs Vellender, her husband Jack, and little Rex.
It was a long train trip, nothing like the ones I’d been on in England. I looked out of the window in amazement to see huge trees, tall trees almost touching the sky. As the train pulled into Margaret River station a lady ran along the platform calling out “Anyone from Newcastle?” Mum called back “Well we’re from Spennymoor, that’s not far from Newcastle.” “Come on then” said the lady. Next thing I was being dragged along by Mum’s hand, Mum following the lady off the platform to a house. We learned that this lady was Mrs Rutherford, the stationmaster’s wife. From that day we were firm friends and always had lunch with the Rutherfords when we visited Margaret River town.
We were told on arrival that as we and Vellenders would not be able to take over our farms for at least a week we would have to stay in the Henderson’s house. Now these group houses only had four rooms – 2 bedrooms, kitchen, sitting room. With the 4 of us, 3 of Vellenders, and the 5 Hendersons we were a household of 12. I have no idea where we all slept, but we did eat together in the kitchen. The place was filled with flies, they were all over the pastry as Mrs Henderson rolled it out, and they fell in the tea and were drowned (and were fished out, I should add).
Henderson’s house was situated at the top of what looked like a long rough bush track fringed with native trees. On our first free day we set off, like the early explorers, to take a look at this track. We believed that it would eventually lead to our property which we were interested to see. We were gazing up at what we later learned was a prickly pear tree [not sure this can be right] when round the corner came a small girl with a big dog. Edna had come into my life and I into hers.
Edna told us that her name was Edna Ness. I told her that my name was Elsie. At that her face lit with joy. It seemed she was reading a series of books about a certain “Elsie Dinsmore” and here I was on her doorstep. She walked back with us down that long track, which I was told was three miles in length. We eventually came to a settler’s cottage which Edna said was her home, and then to a wire fence which blocked the way to another cottage which was to be ours. Edna told me that she was 10 years old [Elsie was 8], that she had a pony, and that she and her parents had come from England to the “wheat belt” (I didn’t know what this meant of course) [see later where the history is explained].
After surveying our new home from a distance, we walked back up the track (now called Crozier’s Road) to Henderson’s. I had my first lesson in Aussie speech from Mrs Henderson, even though she herself spoke Scottish. She had a table with long seating forms in the kitchen and here we all sat for our meals. I sidled up to her on one of these forms and said in my best Durham accent “Can I sit agen you?” She turned to me and said “You mustn’t say ‘agen’ you must say ‘can I sit beside you?'” I hadn’t realised before that other people spoke differently to the way I did and I was astounded [can't be true - she was familiar with both Yorkshire and Durham accents, and would have encountered many others on the ship, and anyway, the Ness family came from Yorkshire!].
As we had arrived on 10 December it must have been the 17th before we moved into our house, but I know we were there for Christmas. In that short time Dad had been approached to be the pianist in a small band (they already had a drummer and a fiddler) to play firstly for the P&C [Parents and Citizens group, ie supporters, fundraisers, of the local school] Christmas social, and then for the monthly dances and monthly Congregational services. That Christmas Social was a memorable one. I was given a toy sweet shop which my mother handed back saying “She doesn’t want that, she wants a book called ‘Anne of Green Gables'” (I got the book later, and ‘Anne’ was the best present I could ever have been given).
We were finally allowed to view our new home, and what a shock we had. It was built of what we were told was “Jarrah weatherboard” with a corrugated iron roof. As at the Henderson’s house [all these Group houses seem to have been identical, built cheaply to the same very simple design] there were two bedrooms, kitchen, sitting room. The floors and walls were unlined, uncovered. There was no lighting of any kind and no water laid on – just a tank outside. The handles on the doors and stove were hanging loose. There was a front verandah which was floored, and a back verandah which had a roof but no floor boards – just a series of steps leading in and out of the kitchen. The house itself lay open to the elements [I guess she means just standing on open ground], and there were no fences [that is around the house itself]. Far from the house there were a number of fences blocking off the house [she means farm I think] from the road and also a creek across one end of the property. After viewing the house we were told that our furniture and luggage would be deposited down at the corner of the block, 100 yards away, where the creek ran through, as the transport would not be able to come any closer. Some days later it had all arrived and been dumped about 100 yards away.
The packing cases had to be opened and contents carried piece by piece to the house. Dad and Robert must have carried the furniture between them and it would have been heavy. Luckily there was no rain, but the weather was horribly hot. Eventually everything was in the house and the only thing broken was a large table lamp that had come from Stockton, and unfortunately something we dearly needed to light our evening hours.
As there were only two bedrooms my bed was placed on the front verandah. As I lay there I looked up in amazement to see a huge dome of stars – this was an incredible sight, in Spennymoor I would have only seen grey bleak buildings had I looked out.
We had only one table and four chairs. These were used in the kitchen during the day and carried into the “lounge room” at night. We had a kerosene lamp which was carried about by the handle, and a small oil lamp which we used at night to read by or play the games we had brought – Ludo, Draughts, Dominos and cards.
Tools were delivered at the same time as the household goods. They were shovels, axes, cross-cut saw, drills, auger, crowbar, pliers, plus rolls of wire, plain and barbed. [I assume this equipment was supplied through the Group scheme, funded by the bank loan which purchased the land]. Dad and Robert had to first fell trees, then cut fence posts, dig holes into which the posts would go, then make holes in the posts to thread the wire through (all this without previous experience). The fences had to be built around the homestead and the paddocks before we could be supplied with animals. At last the fences were ready and our horse “Darkie” arrived pulling what was called a “spring cart”.
In the mean time Mum was rushed to the Margaret River Hospital by the “cream truck”. Her nerves had given out at the sight of bare skeleton trees which she said were trying to get her. Dad, Robert and I coped the best way we could until she arrived back to take up the reins.
At the top of the Crozier Road track, on the opposite corner to the Henderson house, an unofficial meeting place had begun. All the farmer’s wives, and sometimes their children, used to assemble there once a week to await a visit from a Margaret River shopkeeper named Mr Auger. He used to bring out the mal and also meat and groceries and take back any mail to be posted. Someone, presumably Mrs Ness, must have brought ours that first week because I suddenly saw Mum one day carrying a parcel across the paddock that divided us from the Ness property. That parcel contained a round tin, and in the tin was a Xmas cake packed around with comics and the top covered in sweets. Good kind Mrs Holland had posted it to coincide with our arrival.
I found it hard to believe it was Christmas. I was poking around in the only wardrobe one day when I discovered the Xmas presents. I decided that as Santa wouldn’t know where we were, he had given the presents to Mum in advance this year (by the next year of course Santa came as usual). I felt we needed a Xmas tree so I took the long kitchen knife and tried to hack off a tree branch. I nearly lost my thumb and spent Xmas Eve with it fastened up in the air – no stitches, no doctor, phew!
We had a freshwater creek not far from the house and also a freshwater river running through the property. Because we only had the rainwater tank for drinking water, buckets had to be taken to, and carried back full from the creek. Mum had a galvanised tub which she put in front of the kitchen stove and in which she bathed me, but how she fitted into it herself I don’t know. The buckets were kerosene tins and they had to be boiled on the kitchen stove. To get wood for the stove Mum drove around the paddocks in the horse and cart and load it with fallen sticks or Banksia nuts (must have been a hard transition for her after the unlimited coal supply in England) which burned well. Robert soon mastered the axe and spent a lot of time chopping wood for the stove. Dad and Robert had to take soap and towels and bathe in the creek, so always had cold baths. Laundering of clothes was done in the same way, buckets of water (dirty clothes included) to be boiled on the stove and then rinsed in fresh buckets of clean water from the creek.
Right from the moment we first met at the top of the three mile track Edna and I were firm friends. She was my first close friend and my mentor. I learnt from Edna first of all what the black stuff was on the bread her mother had given us to eat. We were seated on the step of the verandah and I asked her “Is this the stuff out of the dripping?” “No” she said “that’s Marmite”. The next thing I learnt was something she called “English”. She was reading a small thin text book. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s English” she replied “look, they have a sentence and they leave out words and you have to put in what you think are the missing words.” Now this was right up my alley. I loved words. I had been in Standard 4 at Rosa Street School in Spennymoor and so was well-versed in reading. Edna, aged 10, was also in fourth standard, but they called it “class” at Rosa Brook school [odd coincidence in names at opposite ends of the world!] which she attended and which, although five miles away, I would also be attending when the holidays were over. In the meantime we would enjoy life together.
There was a big tree next to our house and we would climb it and sit among its branches writing poetry. Dad and Robert built a swing from the strongest branch and this we also enjoyed.
On our excursions to the seaside in England the closest I ever got to “swimming” was to tuck my clothes into my bloomers and paddle. I was astounded when Edna suggested we swim in the river. The freshwater river at the bottom of our block consisted of first a smaller pool and then a larger one. Edna waded into the smaller pool in her bathers and then lunged forward in what she said was “breast stroke”, by demonstrating how she was waving her arms. I had no bathers so just took off my dress and waded in, following her instructions and swimming straight away. We had many happy hours in that little pool as time went by. It was infested with leeches which clung to our arms and sucked our blood and could only be dislodged by burning matches held to them, but even that didn’t deter us.
On the other side of the river was another “Group”. On our side we were called Group 137 and on the other side they were called Group 85 and Group 86. There were men working alongside the river bank building a road. They had tents made from sacking, and beds made from sapling frames and more sacking. When they moved on, these tents and beds were left behind, so Edna and I swam across a wider part of the river and towed the tents and beds back to our side, for what use I can’t remember. One day Edna brought a long pole with netting at one end for my approval. “What’s this?” I asked. “It’s for catching Marron” she told me and explained that Marron [freshwater crayfish] were the creatures in the river that we saw when swimming. She had a piece of raw meat on the end of a string to go with the pole, and off we went. I was given a kerosene tin to carry while she carried the rest of the paraphernalia. The tin was placed on the bank and the pole and net was loaded with the meat and placed in the water, or at least, the meat was placed just in front of the net [ie dangling on a line]. We had to keep very still and just watch. Finally a Marron approached the meat and took a bite and Edna swooped it up with the net and threw the unsuspecting creature into the bucket. We took it home to Mum who then had to boil it in water on the kitchen stove. It was delicious. We had many more of these Marron fishing expeditions and many more feasts. Today of course Marron fishing is only allowed if they are a certain weight.
Because of the creek (whether it was part of the one running through our farm or another creek altogether I do not know) at the other end of the property it had been difficult to get in or out even with the spring cart, so Dad and Robert built a sturdy culvert stretching from one side to the other. We had been told to drive to Margaret River which was 17 miles away and bring back a cow. We drove across the new culvert and off we all went happily. We reached Margaret River, collected the cow, and then, after tying it to the back of the spring cart, set off for home. On the way we stopped at a small clearing surrounded by ferns and lit a fire over which we boiled a blackened billy can. The fire smoked and the billy never boiled, so we didn’t get the long-awaited billy tea. That poor cow had to walk the 17 miles behind the cart, but we all arrived safely home. Robert named the cow Molly and it became his friend. It answered to his whistling and banging of the bucket as he called her in to be milked. So now we had a horse and a cow both. Our place was starting to look like a real farm.
Edna’s parents were named Bert and Gladys Ness. They had emigrated from Yorkshire to the wheat belt [inland, drier WA, a long way from Margaret River, where wheat was grown] at Newdigate. Like many other people I met later, they had been nominated by relatives who treated them badly on arrival and then had them turned off the property. They had then been allocated a farm like ours. Mrs Ness said, when she first met Mum, “Thank god to see a white woman”. I didn’t know what she meant then and don’t even now because I don’t recall any coloured people being in the area [there would have been a bigger Aboriginal population in wheat belt towns, so Gladys may have meant that, but my guess is she meant an Englishwoman rather than an Australian].
Eventually she visited our house and Mum showed her the treasured photos she had brought from England. Mrs Ness immediately recognised a photograph of Mrs Drummond’s Bible class at Groves Wesleyan, as she herself had belonged to it. She also told Mum that when she (Mum) was in hospital in York, having her goitre operation, she (Mrs Ness) had worked temporarily for Mrs Dobie until Mum’s return!
Mrs Ness’ house made an impression on me by having a very large lamp suspended from the ceiling. Mrs Ness was kind to me but both she and Bert were harsh parents to Edna for some unknown reason. In her childhood anyway. Just after New Year I went with Edna to the 22 Group School. We had to walk up the three mile track, meet up with some children who were already living nearby (Joan Watson; Joan, Charlie and Joey Hobson; Bobbie and Mary Hynes) then walk another 2 miles to the school. I was surprised to find that the building we were now approaching was the same one we had attended at Christmas for the “Tree”.
After entering the door I saw rows of forms and discovered that each form was to seat a whole class. I sat with Edna on the fourth class form. The headmaster, a Mr Dwyer, and his assistant Miss Ina Crozier, welcomed us. Miss Crozier played the piano and we were instructed to sing “Song of Australia” the words of which I did not know, but the rest of the school apparently did. Edna whispered to me “When you get to the last line sing ‘Old England, Old England, Old England” which I dutifully did in opposition to all the rest singing “Australia, Australia, Australia”. I enjoyed the school. I sat on the verandah and ate soggy tomato sandwiches and learnt to drink water by putting my head under the tap. I helped to make a little garden bed, and I roamed the bush to collect leaves and twigs for a nature lesson.
Then bullying raised its ugly head. I was given a cup at home to take to school, but that cup and those that followed were smashed. My hat was pulled off my head and thrown in the dirt. Finally, my sadistic predators, Frank and Tony Busby, frog-marched me off the road, held me face down in the dirt, and put a maggoty dead goanna down my back. When I screamed I was threatened with death if I told. Fortunately Edna saw all this and fought them off. She told her mother who then told Mum and there was hell to pay. Mum was at the school next day and accused the boys who both owned up and were caned. I figured that the reason I was bullied was that I spoke differently to the rest and so I copied the Aussie accents and spoke no more as my ancestors had done.
Mum told Mr Dwyer I would not be coming back. He suggested correspondence lessons and these were sent for. When they arrived they were for class 2 and not 4! Mum was insulted and refused to use them and so I had a holiday for the time being. As my nerves were so bad from the treatment, Mum decided that she and I would take a trip to the city. On the next block to ours lived Bert Medlock, his wife Mary, and their baby daughter Nancy. Bert told Mum of a boarding house at Cottesloe Beach run by a Mrs Lewis. Mum wrote to her and booked a room for herself and me. This was at the beginning of March 1930, so lovely beach weather. We went to Perth and then to Cottesloe by train and after alighting were met by Leon who was a grandson of Mrs Lewis. As we approached the big stone house I could see the ocean and smell, again, hot figs [ie hot in the Sun].
We were given a room with a double bed which I had to share with Mum. The first night we both awoke scratching ourselves to pieces. When Mum put on the light (which I learned was electric) we could see swarms of insects which looked more like beetles. They were bed bugs. Mum marched into the room of Mrs Lewis, woke her in no uncertain terms and showed her our itchy skins. Mrs Lewis took all this quite calmly, apologised, gave us another room without bugs, and went back to bed.
On the 19th it was my ninth birthday. Mum thought it would be nice, as it was a Sunday, to find a Sunday School. We crossed a railway line and straight away found a big old Methodist Church. We went inside and were directed to the Sunday School which was at the rear. We were made very welcome, and when Mum told them it was my birthday I was given a special chair to sit on and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me. I never forgot the kindness of these Mosman Park Methodists, and a few years ago when it was the hundredth anniversary of that church I wrote and told them this story.
Because we only had 4 kitchen chairs at home, Mum decided to buy a deck chair for Dad so that he could be comfortable after his hard days of toil. So the next day we went to the nearest furniture shop and bought one for 15/-. This chair was carried by Mum all the way from Cottesloe to Margaret River as well as our baggage!
I couldn’t stay off school forever, so Mum was told I could attend the Group 85 school across the river. Dad and Robert had to then fell a large tree, and build with it a bridge including a hand rail so that I could cross the river in safety. By then we had a dog named “Snooker”. Every day Mum would give me a rag which I had to tie on to Snooker’s collar after I had crossed on the log bridge, then send him home to let Mum know. (What she’d have done if he had come back without the rag heaven knows). I loved the 85 school. I spoke Aussie by then so no one knew I was a Pommy [slang for English migrant, origin uncertain] and I daren’t tell in case I had another bashing. Two of the families from the Vedic, Lowes and Milners were there as well.
Dad and Robert were now good tree fellers. All the trees had to be ring-barked first and then pulled down by axe and cross-cut saw. Dad was paid £8 a month for this work [not sure if this is for work just on their block or more generally] and it had to be done before any more pastures could be sown. We had another cow by then, name of Blossom, which eventually produced a calf we named Rosie. We also had by then several hens and a rooster. There were no barns or coops of any kind, just the open air, so the fowls nested in the trees and the animals on the ground.
I still played with Edna of course. She stayed on at 22 School and brought home loads of ideas for compositions which I shared with her. We roamed the bush for wildflowers, mainly orchids, and we waded in a swamp for Boronia [famous for its scent - in the 1950s, and perhaps even later, it was sold in bunches on Perth city streets in season]. We discovered derelict shacks that had once been homes and we used them as cubby houses.
[I was beginning to be involved in the social life of 22 School]. I was thrilled to be invited to an outing at Walcliffe which I was told was a beach. We went by truck and when we reached our destination I stood and stared with horror at the giant waves far removed from Redcar in England.
The local Girl Guides association was run by Mrs Gillespie, famous because of her daughter Kathleen, who rode, not a mere pony, but a horse to school. Edna was a keen Guide and took me along. We were told that as Lord and Lady Baden Powell were to be in Perth, the Margaret River Guides would all be forming a party to travel to Perth to attend the Reception. Mum agreed I could go and soon we, Edna and I and all the rest, were on a train heading for Perth. We were to be accommodated at St Mary’s Church of England Girl’s School and eventually reached there. This was a grand adventure and just like the stories of girl’s boarding schools. The second day we all had to march down to the Esplanade. As I was the youngest I had to march at the end of the parade alone while the rest marched in twos. With my dawdling self crawling along and looking at everything in sight I suddenly realised I was alone in a strange land and the rest of the Guides had disappeared. Edna must have been watching me however because I was found and joined back to the parade. I think we had a week in Perth. The best part of the whole trip was to me the train load of Guides all heading home again.
While Dad and Robert were mastering the arts of tree felling and farming Mum was busy making that settler’s cottage into a home. She learned to order a month’s groceries at a time. This order [ie the goods] was sent from Perth, and there was great expectation when it arrived. The meat for the meals was brought by Mr Auger and Desmond Bussell, who came out from Busselton by motor bike and side car. As there was no ice chest or even a “cool safe”, the meat had to be washed with water and then soaked in vinegar. The milk had to be boiled to stop it going sour [it would have been unpasteurised], but if Mum wanted fresh milk for a cuppa she would milk a small quantity straight from the cows.
She had brought her cake and bread tins from England and soon had her skills at cake and bread making restored. Her speciality was a cake made from 12 eggs and a pint of cream. She made an excellent fruit cake which was donated to one of the competitions run by the P&C to raise money for the Christmas Tree. These weren’t actual raffles, more on the lines of guess the weight. One year Dad won half a cabbage and another year a baby pig which we named Percy. It never grew, and drove us crazy trying to catch it every time it got out.
Reading was our preferred leisure activity. I had been reading since I was 4 or 5, so by the time we arrived in Margaret River [ie aged 8] I was ready for Dickens. My favourite was David Copperfield and a close second was Nicholas Nickleby. These books, with others, were Dad’s Sunday School prizes. I also read and enjoyed my grandmother’s “Girl’s Own Paper” annuals [and was given one of her own as early as Xmas 1926, aged just 5] and Robert’s books, two of which were “Coral Island” and “The Lighthouse”. Everyone in our Group 137 had books so the first thing anyone did when visiting was to make straight for the bookshelves. (Dad had made a book shelf from one of the packing cases by then). Bundles of comics were sent out by Mrs Holland. Mrs Armstrong sent “Woman’s Mirror”. Mrs Vellender gave us “Christian Herald” and “Daily Mirror”. So we were well supplied with an assortment of reading matter.
Back home in England the schoolkids [ie at her old school] were given lessons in writing letters to me and all the best of them were sent out. One asked if I wore silks and satins and another [asked] if I had turned black. Another asked if she could come for the weekend.
A soccer team was formed and Robert joined it and played well. The teams went around playing each other, but they must have travelled by horse and cart because I only know of one car (Hendersons) and one truck (the cream truck) although I guess there were others. We all attended the monthly socials, in the 22 School Hall, at which Dad and his band played. Dad had never played dance music in his life before so he sent to Perth and had several books sent to him. I could do old time dancing at the age of 8 and loved it. Candles were grated all over the floor and we children slid up and down on the wax to make it level. A huge copper was boiled at the back of the Hall to make tea and coffee, and all the women took food for supper. These socials were the highlights of the month.
Once a month, on a Sunday, the Congregational minister, Mr Salter, came out from Margaret River to conduct a Protestant Service (held in the school), and a catholic priest held a mass at the home of Mrs Lennox. I looked in at the Catholic-service-in-preparation one day and was amazed to see an empty lounge room, empty of any furniture except for a butterbox (liberally used for furniture) cupboard covered with a white lace cloth and bearing a candle and a statue.
My mother had kept in touch with the Low family. They had been passengers on the Vedic and now lived on Group 85. Thelma Low was about my age. Mrs Low was expecting a new baby (or so I was told) and when Mrs Low went to collect it from the hospital, Thelma would be coming to stay with us for a while and to attend school with me by crossing the log bridge. One evening around dusk a spring cart pulled up outside (it had come via the culvert). On the cart were Mr Low and Thelma, who was carrying her bundle of clothes. Mr Low was carrying something that looked like a square box with a handle. He brought it inside, put it on the table, and opened it. Inside was a thing that looed like a black plate. I was told this was a gramophone record. Mr Low then put the record onto something inside the box, placed a metal arm over it, and music poured forth. That record was, on one side St Saens “Le Cygne” and on the reverse “Softly as in a morning sunrise”. The gramophone was put into our lounge room, and I used to go in by myself, switch on the beautiful music, and listen to it as I gazed out onto a darkening but starry sky. It was an experience I never forgot.
As there were no shops closer than Margaret River people had to rely on the mail order system of purchase. The big Perth stores – Boans, Foys, and Bairds – sent out catalogues which showed pictures of wondrous goods. I don’t know whether the catalogues were sent more than once a year, but the Christmas ones were the most [eagerly] awaited. As Christmas 1930 approached Edna and I were allowed to each choose a gift, preferably a book, and these would be ordered. After much consideration I chose a book titled “Betty holds the reins”. I was riding Darkie bare back by then and was longing for a pony, so I figured that “Betty holds the reins” would surely be about horses. When the book was given to me at Christmas by Mrs Ness I discovered it was about a girl who took over the housekeeping during the illness of her mother.
Edna introduced me to a game that was to be another light of my life, and this game was derived from the catalogues. She told me that this game was called “paper pictures”. What I had to do was get as many catalogues as I could, and then cut out all the people figures and all the furniture, in fact anything at all. The people became families, with each person named, and all the other things were to go into their pretend houses. We only had one old catalogue from the previous year, and I daren’t ask for the new one, so I had to make do. Then I had the bright idea of asking all our friends and neighbours for their catalogues and also magazines. Mrs Vellender had “Mother and Home” books which I begged for as they had lots of babies in them – and she also had a new real baby boy who was only 4lbs in weight and had to sleep in a drawer. His name was Kenneth Richard after my lost brother [seems extraordinary - sign of a close friendship indeed if true]. Thelma had to share my books and catalogues and she joined in the game with Edna and I.
Mum decided to take Thelma and I to visit Mrs Burridge who lived near the top of the three mile track. As it was winter [jump back in time here] and it would be dark early, we took with us the hurricane lamp. We reached the Burridge house and I talked to John. The Burridges were selling up and returning to England. John gave me parts of a Tinker Toy set. It must have rained heavily that night because half way down the track it was flooded. To get Thelma and I across, Mum had to carry one at a time and wade through the water. She carried me first, under arm in the usual way, while Thelma screamed at being left behind. After dumping me Mum had to wade back for Thelma while I screamed. Suddenly Mum dropped the lantern which broke and went out, and there we all were, Mum and two screaming nine year old girls. Eventually we found our way home the rest of the way in the pitch dark and rain. A very memorable night.
Other events from the world of the 1930s are still in my mind. One was the announcement in the papers that the Duchess of York had given birth to another daughter who would be called Margaret Rose. The other event was a letter from England to tell us that my Uncle Harry had died.
Harry [Evans] was Mum’s youngest brother and I remember him as a happy young man singing “Till the sands of the desert grow cold” while my Dad played the organ. I also remember going in the bus with Mum to see Harry in Durham Hospital. He went through four years of war unscathed, then had his back broken by a fall of stone in the coal mine. He had a wife and child and they were all to have moved into their own home on the day of his accident. He had actually finished his shift, but went back inside to help his mates lift a tub when the roof caved in.
The log bridge built by Dad and Robert was a great success. Not only could I cross it and join up with other children to walk the three miles to 85 School, but Mum and I could also cross it to meet the cream truck [ie collecting cream from the dairy farms] and be taken to Margaret River for a day’s outing, or to get to know people on the other side of the river. It was quite a long walk from the house to the bridge and Mum would sing little songs to me on the way, or tell me of the days when she and her brothers and sisters were children in Spennymoor [actually Durham], and then when she lived in York.
We made friends with Mr Thomas, who told us his wife and little boy Chris would soon be joining him; and Tom Barnfield and his wife who I thought ancient because she had snow white hair. Mum invited Mr Thomas to come for dinner any night. We noticed that his house and ours were exactly opposite each other with the river in between.
[There was a big swimming hole]. All the females would gather there for a day’s outing. By then I had bathers, stripy ones, given to me by a neighbour, Mrs Fogarty. I decided to swim across the lake which was reputed to be 40 feet deep. Mum said to someone “Look at that kid swimming across the lake”. They replied “That’s your Elsie.” Mum yelled “Get her out, she can’t swim”. “She can swim like a fish” she was told. I could too. 1931 marked my 10th birthday and Dad told me “Now you’re in double figures”.
The Fogarty family left their farm in a melodramatic way. Apparently Mr Fogarty had told everyone he was going to take the tools with him [they were owned, in effect, by the Bank, as part of the deal to develop each farm, just as animals were provided initially] and the foreman got to hear of it. Mr Fogarty blamed Dad for telling the foreman, and bragged that he was going to shoot our family. We spent the night under the kitchen table, in case Mr Fogarty carried out his threat, and I’ve never been so scared in my life. The next day the Fogartys were gone and the Forester family moved in [probably a very typical story as the Depression really began to bite and these Group settlers were gradually being forced to leave their land, with nothing].
Edna and I had been told a little boy was going to live in the Fogarty house, so we both marched over to greet him. Bobby Forester was 14 and the only child. He had to work on the farm so couldn’t play with us and this disappointed Edna who was now 12. Mrs Forester was the first lady I heard speaking Aussie [ie with an Australian accent, everyone else they seem to have known at Margaret River were English settlers]. The family had moved to the west from South Australia and were very keen to succeed. Edna and I made some happy visits to the Foresters, eating and enjoying orange tea cake which was Mrs Forester’s speciality, and talking to and listening to their parrot which was called Cocky Forester.
As their property wasn’t too far away I often rode over to see them. I hadn’t got the pony I dreamed of but I rode Darkie bare back by leading him to a tree stump and climbing on to his back. If I rolled off, as I often did, Darkie would stand still till I climbed on again. One day as I was galloping around the homestead my chin hit a wire clothes line which Mum had accidentally left down and I somersaulted in the air and landed on my face. I can remember Robert rushing to pick me up and carry me into the house. I recovered but had sinus problems for years as a result. Apparently I had broken a small bone in the sinus and this also caused migraines.
1931 was the year the bush on the other side of the river was devastated by terrible fires. We were told, at school, to go back home straight away and to keep to the middle of the road. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the great flames leaping up and engulfing the trees and it seemed as though I walked between the flames. I walked along steadily on my own till I reached the log bridge. I crossed it and headed to the homestead to find Mum beating out small flames on the ground with wet bags. As I reached her she collapsed and I thought she was dead. Her action saved our house as the wet bags prevented the fire from spreading. The fires travelled to Margaret River and two children were burnt to death while cutting through the bush.
We had a very sad loss that year. Molly the cow developed lumpy jaw and had to be shot dead and burnt. This only left us with Blossom. I was allowed to attend Molly’s cremation and this was the first of many – I saw whole heaps of cows being burnt who had died of starvation. There was a sad air hanging over everyone. Life went on as usual – school, social get-togethers, visits to other farms, but everyone seemed unhappy and I heard a lot of adults discussing “The Depression” but I didn’t know what it meant. Mum and Dad were both very miserable and even the sight one day of a mob of kangaroos hopping right across the paddocks and down to the river didn’t brighten them.
We were invited to a meal at Barnfield’s. This time we went in the spring cart across the culvert and down the new road. All we had to eat was cold meat and pickle – nothing else. Barnfields talked to Mum and Dad about sticking together if and when we all had to walk off the property. Again I didn’t know what this meant. Where would we be walking to and why?
1931 died out and I hoped that 1932 would be a better year. My hopes were in vain, or at least hopes that things would be better on the farm. Straight after Christmas the foreman came around and told us, and everyone else in turn, that the Agricultural Bank had closed its doors and there would be no more money available to us. We would have to leave our farm, all the animals, and all the tools. We could pack up all our personal possessions and they would be sent on the train with us to Perth. We would have a week to find accommodation in a Perth suburb and the menfolk would have to sign on for Sustenance work [work for the dole]. I realised then what the Barnfields meant about sticking together. Mum, Mrs Barnfield and I went to Perth a few days later after packing all our goods and chattels. Mum saw an estate agent and he found us a house at 210 Rutland Avenue Carlisle. Barnfields would rent the front half and we would rent the back half. Dad and Robert stayed on the farm to hand over the tools and all our beloved pets.
Our dog Snooker and Ginger the cat went to Vellenders for a week, then Mum would send for them. When she wrote to ask for them to be put on the train, Jack Vellender wrote back that he had shot them as they were whinging too much. I hated him for that – to me it was murder. Snooker was my friend and guard. Snooker even saved me from snakes on the three mile track. He would see one and let me know and I would have to jump over it. [It is murder to me too, what a nasty piece of work Jack Vellender must have been - the astonishing thing is that the family remained friends with the Vellenders for many years].
Leaving the farm was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It had taken the place, in a small way, of the Home Farm [back in Stockton]. Leaving Edna was equally as hard and I know she felt our parting too. However, as always with me, a new world opened up when we moved into Rutland Avenue. It was (and still is [at time of writing]) a big stone house with verandahs at the front and sides. It had big airy rooms and there were long cords hanging from the ceilings. When I pulled these cords the rooms were flooded with [electric light] just as they were in the Girl Guide’s camp at St Mary’s school. Wonder of wonders there was a real bathroom – a big room containing a big bath big enough even for Robert. And over that bath was what I learned was a shower. I got undressed and stood under that shower singing “Way down upon the Swanee River” (I substituted “Margaret” for “Swanee”) and I wept while I sang these words “Oh Darkie [remembering her horse] how my heart grows weary far from the old folks at home”.
After getting dried and dressed I went outside to explore. I noticed a girl about my own age in a tree branch overlooking “our” place. She was Rosie Watkins who, in time, showed me the suburban way of life in Australia and became a good playmate while doing so. Rosie had an older sister, Florrie, and two grown up brothers Jack and Ronnie. These two boys became friendly with Robert [now 19] and introduced him to tennis. Florrie had a gramophone, not one like the Lows had, but a wooden framed instrument. The only records I remember hearing at the Watkins’ home are “Paradise” and “The Prisoner’s Song”. The Watkins house was comfortably furnished, not like the poor bare rooms in the Group houses. In the lounge was a table covered with a thick cloth and on this sat a bowl covered in objects such a thimble. This bowl always fascinated me and I would finger the stuck-on (they must have been cemented) objects with care.
A little further down the road from the Watkins house stood a brick hall. One Saturday just after we had moved to Carlisle I was playing in the black sand and clad in an old frock when I suddenly heard music coming from the hall. I was stunned to see a great many children, all dressed in fancy costumes, marching around the hall to the music being played on a piano. I have never before or since felt so humiliated in my whole life. I ran home tell my mother, but she had no idea how to comfort me in such a situation.
It was apparently school holiday time. Rosie told me she would be starting Perth Girls School and that it was a high school. I had no idea what this meant. My mother found out that the nearest primary school apart from Carlisle [?] was Mint Street Victoria Park so on the first day back, off we went, I wearing the school uniform I had worn in England and now much too short. I was formally enrolled and placed in Class 2. I told the teacher I was in Class 4, but she said they had to try me out as I had missed so much school since 1929. I stood alone in the assembly hall, knowing nobody. A choir was singing “Believe me if all those endearing young charms”. I looked up at the choir and saw a girl at the end who smiled at me. I said to myself “Oh I’d love that girl to be my friend” but had no idea how that could happen because I was in lowly Class 2 and she was in Class 6.
I marched into Class 2 with all the rest, and soon settled in (my poetry and story writing had helped to keep up my English work and before long I was in Class 3. From Class 3 I was put into Class 5 Special and there I stayed until moving to Swanbourne in 1933).
We found a small church in Carlisle. It was Methodist and so I went along to join the Sunday School. I was asked to take a collection bag and knock on every door to collect money for the missions. I did this even though I was a stranger and collected quite a sum. I didn’t particularly like this church however and told my Mother so. She then roamed far afield and found a big brick church in Duncan Street, Victoria Park [next suburb]. This was more like the church we’d attended in Spennymoor, and so on the next Sunday off we went so that I could join the Sunday School. We were told it was the Sunday School Anniversary [ie celebrated with a special event in all Sunday Schools] and so just for that day we would have to sit in the congregation. We did this and I settled myself down on a pew beside Mum before looking up at the children on the platform. When I finally did look up, to my amazement I saw the girl I had admired on the school platform and who I had hoped would be my friend. She did become my friend and from that day on she took me home from Sunday School. Her name was Ada Stricker and I never forgot her.
Mum and I attended the night church services. I loved it especially the hymns. We sang one called “The day thou givest Lord is ended” and when we came to a verse that said “The Sun that bids us wake is resting our brethren ‘neath the western sky” she bent down and said to me “That’s us”. I had no idea what she meant. I enjoyed my stay at Mint Street school. One of the teachers wrote my poems on the blackboard and set them to music. I was chosen as faction leader in a walking contest and my team won easily.
After being taken home by Ada a few times [I made a new friend when] I met Marjorie Storey. She was in my class (Class 5 Special) at school and lived in a big brick house. Her father was very high up in Wesfarmers [then just an agricultural company in WA], and to show how rich they were they had a set of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia. I was invited to go there for tea after Sunday School, and can remember Spring Onions standing in a glass of water.
THere was a school concert later in the year which Mum and I attended. We thought it was wonderful especially the song “Rendezvous” which was acted out, and another song called “Stay in your own backyard” and “Playing on your old banjo”. Ada told me that she could play “Rendezvous” and took her along to her home to play it for me. It was back with Ada after that and out with the Storeys who had decided by then I was a rude cheeky girl and unfit to play with Marjorey or eat at their place.
Robert had been doing a few odd jobs and Dad was working in the bush on Sustenance work. When we were all together we decided to walk into Victoria Park and look at the civilised world. I remember a hoarding advertising Maurice Chevalier in a new movie. We came to a shop labelled Hardware Hood – I thought this was the shopkeeper’s name. Robert bought Mum a glass dish for 1/- and a little manicure set for me. After that we walked to Como Beach [a beach on the river, not a seaside beach, Como was the next suburb again, but still a fair walk] for a picnic and enjoyed “Eskimo Pie” ice cream. I was amazed to see ladies on the beach wearing pyjamas and was told they were called beach pyjamas and not sleepwear.
My most noted memory of Mint Street is the loss of my yo-yo. They were in great fashion at the time and I was demonstrating it in the smelly toilets when it suddenly landed right in the toilet [bowl?] among the contents. Yuk. I hated those toilets forever after.
Mrs Barnfield plagued Mum and treated her like a slave. She had to go to hospital for a gall bladder operation and Mum nursed her. She grumbled at me if I collected the letters from Dad and Tom [don't know what this means] and she nagged at Mum for having a rest in the new cane chair Mum had bought for 15/-. She screamed at me even if I played ball with Rosie on the side verandah which was ideal for bouncing balls.
Dad was on Sustenance work and had to 4 weeks and then have 2 weeks off. He was home for my 11th birthday [March 1932], for which I had requested and received black patent [leather] court shoes. I was also given a sponge bag containing soap, flannel, tooth brush and tooth paste. They were wonderful gifts.
The Nesses had walked off their farm by then and were living in Belmont [2 suburbs away from Victoria Park or Carlisle]. We would walk to Carlisle or Victoria Park station, then walk to the house they now occupied. I remember huge oil drums filled with manure being burned to keep away the mosquitoes [Belmont being close to the Swan River], and Edna having a mosquito net draped over her bed on the front verandah.
Mrs Ness visited us in the same way, that is travelling by train to Carlisle. She was aghast one day to find Mum looking terribly ill. She heard Mrs Barnfield raving on with her abuse, and [Mrs Ness] told Mum she’d better move out or she’d die. She and Mum went together to another estate agent and were given tenancy of a house nearer the shops. We moved out of Rutland Avenue and into the new house which was very plain but peaceful.
Mr Storey had obtained a job for Robert in the bush at what they called “Bulk Handling” and was to do with wheat bins [silos?], but in the meantime Mr Barclay of the Methodist Church offered him a job as yard boy at Methodist Ladies College in Claremont [some 10km away, on the other side of the river and the city, a very long journey by train, and impractical by bus]. He was to work for a Mr Gable. We all trooped to Claremont for the interview and Robert was given the job.
Now of course another problem arose – how was Robert going to travel to Claremont every day? He couldn’t afford tram train or bus fare and he certainly couldn’t ride his bike all that way. “The only thing to do” said Mum “is to move from Victoria Park to Claremont”. Straight away she went to her friend the estate agent to ask if he had any houses to rent in Claremont. He told her that houses in Claremont [then and now a posh suburb] would be of much dearer rent than she could afford, but he did have one for rent in Swanbourne [then, and for some years to come, a much poorer area] which was the suburb nearest to Claremont. Mum agreed to take a key to the vacant house, which was in Mitford Street, and off we went next day, Mum and Dad and I, all the way on a train from Victoria Park to Perth and then on another train to Swanbourne. We had no map of the area so we had to keep asking directions. Finally we found the house in Mitford Street and it was horrible – plaster flaking off inside and out, small dirty rooms, and a garden overgrown with weeds. “Well, we’re not living there!” said Mum. We walked back down Mitford Street, took a short cut through a paddock [then, and for many years to come, an amazing amount of open land in this beach suburb] and arrived in Brassey Street. It began to rain so we raced on to the verandah of the nearest house [a shower of rain which set in place much subsequent family history in so many different ways].
Mum and Dad stood there, expecting the owners to open the front door. I wandered round to a side verandah and peeped through a glass door (what I learned later was a “French Window”) and to my surprise saw an empty room. I tried the door handle and the door opened. I called out to Mum and Dad the news and they followed me inside. It was a big room with an impressive fire place. We wandered through the rest of the house and found two front bedrooms and a small kitchen, and also a long enclosed back verandah, and this opened out onto a ramp that led to a big garden with two healthy looking fig trees, an outdoor lavatory, and a wash house. At the bottom of the ramp was a high tank stand complete with tank.
Mum was elated. An empty house – and such a nice one too. Who owned it? Why was it empty? Was it for rent? She went across the street, and, knocking on the door, learned from the lady that opened it that the empty house was owned by a Mr Bond who had a store at Canning Bridge. Mr Bond was a friend of Mrs Crump who lived at number 25, so why didn’t we go along and ask her the story? We all trooped along to number 25, and met, for the first time, a gracious lady who was to figure in many of my years to come. Mrs Crump told us that as Mr Bond had lost his wife, he and his children (Sally and Billy) and his aged mother had all moved to Canning Bridge to live in a house attached to the store. She would get in touch with him about letting us have number 15. We thanked her and went back to the station to catch a train back to Victoria Park.
Some days later a letter came from Mr Bond asking us to meet him at the house in Brassey Street and we could discuss the matter of renting it. A few days after that we made the trip once more and met Mr Bond who was a very large man, and his children who were plump and happy looking. Mr Bond told Mum she could rent the house for 15/- a week and after she had paid this for 5 years the money would be regarded as a deposit, and from then on we would be buying the house on terms (unfortunately nothing was written, only verbal).
We returned to Victoria Park and started to pack our belongings once again. I felt this was becoming a habit – but I looked forward to living in the lovely Swanbourne house which was to be ours.
Swanbourne here we come. How can I begin to write about the place in which I spent so much of my life, especially the growing up part?
We left Victoria Park around October 1933. One small truck carried us and all our possessions including a load of firewood and a Rhode Island rooster named Sammy (Sammy had been given to us the previous Christmas, presumably for our dinner, but he became our one and only family pet at that time and went on to be especially Robert’s friend. He would sit in front of Robert and watch as grapes were being savoured. Every now and then he would hop up and take a grape from between Robert’s teeth. He was, incidentally, very much like a rooster we had on the farm which fought successfully with a hawk which was pluck one of the sitting hens from her nest).
Our furnishings were very meagre – just the original double bed and two single beds, a wardrobe, table, four chairs, meat safe, and bath. In addition we now had the deck chair which Mum carried from Cottesloe to Margaret River and a second hand lounge suite and a bookcase which Dad had made out of one of the packing cases.
I don’t recall how we all travelled, but we must have all fitted either in the cab with the driver or in the back with the furniture. When we reached Claremont after a long trip from Victoria Park we suddenly noticed we were being followed by a man driving a car, and he was joined by another man driving a ute. They followed us right to the door of our new home, and after pulling up announced that they were firstly Mr Parker, a grocer from Claremont, and secondly Mr Birkbeck, a milkman from Cottesloe, both seeking our custom [a sign of the times, following removal trucks seeking new arrivals and new custom]. They were given it and both served us loyally, delivering orders to our door every week for years.
Mum opened up the house. The lounge was put straight into the French-windowed room, and I hopped onto it to watch Dad and Robert unload the truck. Suddenly two small girls in Guide uniforms squatted down in front of the gate. I hid behind the lounge. My Dad called out to me “There are two little girls who want you to come out and say ‘Hullo'”. I hid even further down. The girls called out “Little girl, little girl, will you come out and play with us?” By then one was putting Mintie [a lolly] papers through a hole in her black stocking. Finally I emerged and went shyly out to talk to the girls. They told me their names were Hazel Crump and Pat Ryan. I told them that I was Elsie Young.
Hazel and Pat begged me to go along to their houses. Pat said she had a lovely big brick wall where I could play ball. Hazel told me she had a parrot in a cage and a bulldog named Bogey. Now I had seen lots of brick walls already, but never had I seen a parrot in a cage or a bulldog, so Hazel won [and they would remain the closest of friends until Hazel died 70 years later], although as time went by of course I eventually did use Pat’s wall [not sure how long this friendship lasted, Pat may have moved away after marriage, but 20 years later Pat's brother Tom would be my teacher at primary school]. Pat showed me a big brick house opposite the one where Mum and I had first met Mrs Crump and told me that this was her home. Amazingly, Hazel pointed out number 25 and told me this was her home. She brought out the parrot, which was red and green and told me its name was Joey. I wasn’t too sure about the bulldog just then, so I didn’t get to meet Bogey that day. Hazel told me she had an older brother named Gordon and a very old sister named Joan who was 14 and went to work. She also had a piano on which she had to practise two hours a day. She also told me that she went to Swanbourne Primary School which was just up the road and was in Standard 5. I told that I too was in Standard 5, so there, and then it was arranged that I would go to school with her on the following Monday and that we would be best friends. Little did we know just how long that friendship would last.
The house at 15 Brassey Street stood on what was called a “double block”, although the house itself stood close to the left side fence and on that fence grew a lovely Cecile Brunner rose that clambered over a large area, and beside the rose grew a large colourful flame tree that was covered in sharp spikes and bright red peculiarly shaped blossoms but no leafage of any kind [ie at this time].
At the rear of the house stood two healthy fig trees – one covered in brown figs and the other covered in green figs [one in picture above, as is tank stand]. To the right of the house a wire mesh fence divided the block. This fence was covered by a creeper dangling scores of egg-shaped fruit that I learned were called “Passion Fruit”. Hazel and I in future days would sit for long periods of time gorging on the passion fruit, or high in the fig trees eating fig after fig, especially the sweet brown ones.
Finding Hazel was like suddenly discovering a long-lost twin sister. We had the same tastes and enjoyed the same simple pleasures. We put rugs on the grass beneath the high tank stand that stood near the rear entrance to 15 Brassey Street and made that into a cubby house. Hazel brought her large celluloid doll named Sally, and I had by then a smaller sized celluloid doll named June and we would play there for hours.
Our families in the days of the Great Depression had no mode of communication at the time of our settling in except the mail. Hazel and I discovered a very handy Peppermint Tree [a Eucalypt species common as a street tree in Perth] growing half way between my home at 15 Brassey and hers at 25 Brassey street, We would write notes to each other and solemnly deposit them in a branch of the tree to be collected alternately and then replied to (why we didn’t just deliver them to our respective letter boxes at our own gates I will never know).
As soon as we were finally settled in Mum made enquiries as to the whereabouts of the Methodist Church. We found it several streets away, and I was amazed to see not a huge brick building such as the one we attended in Spennymoor, or even a similar one we attended in Duncan Street Victoria Park, but a little brown [wooden] church just like the one I had heard in an old favourite of Mum’s “The church in the wildwood” (I sing it now, nostalgically, and in truth “no place was so dear to my childhood than the little brown church in the vale” except that instead of “vale” it should be “hill”).
Hazel and Pat, as we walked along Brassey Street on the day we settled in, both asked me “Will you come to Rechabites with me? Will you be my new member?” This astonished me and I replied “I’ll come with you but I can’t be your new member because I’m already a member.”
As was arranged I went with Hazel on the following Monday and entered the door to the most wonderful school experiences of my whole life. I was admitted to Standard 5 and introduced to a female teacher who I was told was Miss Silk. She immediately enthused over me, calling me from that day on “Ah – little English girl” (She called Hazel, for some reason, “Hilda” and Hazel hated it and Miss Silk). The headmaster’s name was Mr Atkinson. He had greyish white hair and I thought he was ancient. He had a daughter who attended the school. She had protruding buck teeth and her name was “Tinker”, a most unlikely name in my opinion for a girl with buck teeth.
It was October when we first settled in at 15 Brassey Street, just 4 years from leaving England and yet what experiences we’d had in that time. Robert [now aged 21] had quickly palled up with a few of the local boys and was asked to go along to the Royal Show and to sleep in the big pavilion to help guard it from vandals. Mum, Dad and I went along to see this Show. It was a long walk [2-3km] to Claremont Showgrounds but we finally reached there. We saw stalls with what they called Show Bags for sale at 1/- each. When my Dad enquired he was told the bags contained “samples”. This amazed Dad. In England we went to Shows and received samples but they were free samples, not 1/- a bag (he probably didn’t have 1/- for such a luxury anyway).
From then my relationship with Hazel soared. I went along with her and Pat and Francine Ryan to the juvenile Rechabite’s Tent meetings once a fortnight and this was a great event for us. About 60 children from 6-16 attended, and we enjoyed games and concerts as well as mammoth outings once a year when a complete train would be hired to take all our members and the members from other branches for a great train ride to Darlington [for example; Darlington is up in the hills] where we would spend the day in competitive sports such as running races, high and long jumps, sack races, egg and spoon races, and relay races. At lunchtime we would all sit in a circle on the ground and receive a bag containing an apple, an orange, a buttered bun, and a sandwich. We would all wear an enamelled mug on a length of elastic round our necks and solemnly hand these over to be filled with home made lemon squash or raspberry vinegar.
As Rechabite members we also enjoyed taking part in swimming carnivals, eisteddfords, and concerts in our own “Tents”. We learned to play floor [or indoor] bowls and eventually played “home and away” games. As we grew older, teenaged I mean, we travelled to Perth by train with our parents and enjoyed old time dancing in the main Rechabite’s Hall which stood (and still stands) in William Street. We were encouraged to bring along new members to join the Rechabites, and if we brought 5 we were awarded a silver medal. I dutifully went forth, dragged in 5 curious “new members” and received my silver medal which I still have. I loved those meetings and eventually became Secretary to Swanbourne’s “Victory Tent”.
With Hazel and Pat I joined the local Girl Guide company. I had been a Brownie in the Rosa Brook branch and had enjoyed a trip to Perth by train with many other girls from the South West … Because of my Rosa Brook membership I was able to transfer to the Swanbourne company. WE enjoyed similar pastimes to the ones I had enjoyed, mainly “tracking and stalking”, cooking sausages over a camp fire, and singing songs such as “Michael Finnegan”, “S.M.I.L.E.” and “Impsy Wimpsy Spider”. We learned how to tie knots and to flag wave in Morse Code and to give the Guide handshake and salute. We took part in local concerts but I was at the shy stage by then, and when I stood up to say a poem I giggled so much I was made to face the wall as I recited instead of the audience.
Hazel attended St Oswald’s Anglican Sunday School, Pat was a Roman Catholic. I was taken along to the Swanbourne Methodist Sunday School. Joining the Sunday School and Junior Christian Endeavour were both great experiences. The first of these was the Sunday School Anniversary which was nothing like the ones I had loved in Spennymoor. In the Swanbourne Church a huge platform was erected on which we all performed once a year; in Spennymoor we had all just sat or stood in the choir stalls. There were so many children attending during the Depression and World War 2 days that there actually three sections in the Swanbourne Sunday School – kindergarten, primary, and senior [photo below is 20 years later, where numbers were still high, the picture showing just the "kindergarten" section (under eight) in 1953. I am third from right on top row]. The teachers I remember the most were Dorothy Grandison, Edie Nutter, Ada Hume, Eileen McCosker, all kind, dedicated ladies. Miss Nutter’s mother ran the kindergarten section and this was held in a back room of the church. The kindergarten children were aged from 203 to 8. When they turned 8 they were promoted to Primary, and aged 12 to the Senior section.
Dad was now working locally on Sustenance work, mainly installing sewerage to the homes of Swanbourne and Cottesloe and this meant a great deal of trench digging. He was still only paid for 4 weeks hard slavery and then had to work on outside jobs for 2 weeks, such as gardening or wood chopping. These jobs were all in Claremont, Nedlands, Peppermint Grove, Cottesloe. Luckily he had by then a second hand bike so he was able to ride to his outside jobs. Mum worked at house cleaning, washing, ironing [ie for other people], but she had to walk to those same suburbs, do a day’s work, and walk home. Mum and Dad each received 10/- a day for their labour. This was a fortune because Dad still only received 21/- a week from the government [ie for the Sustenance work].
I showed Hazel how to play the favourite game I had learnt from Edna, namely “Paper Pictures”. We both loved it just as Edna and I had done, but in Swanbourne we had much more scope. We would visit, with our mothers, various other ladies, and the first thing we would do would be to make a beeline for the bookcase and seize the pile of “pattern” books which would inevitably be there. We would demand these books and refuse to go home without them. These books were our treasure trove. We would spend hours sitting on the floor of either number 15 or number 25, cutting out men women children and carefully storing them in a pretty box. We would range them into families, solemnly write their names on the back.
From late 1933 until 1934 were some of the best years of my life, and probably Hazel’s best years also. We took part in the Swanbourne Primary School Annual Fancy Dress Ball, each of us dressed as Ancient Greeks in typical costume [above - Elsie front right, next to Hazel; Willie Stafford back left]]. Hazel’s partner was Willie Stafford, whom she disliked, but who I admired greatly for his black curly hair. Hazel was to make his sandals, but I took over the job, and by doing so started a life-long friendship with the Stafford family.
We took part in plays performed in what was called “The Ampitheatre”, a structure built by the senior boys. That took place in 1934, the very best school year of my life. This was the first full year of school I had had since 1928, the other years that followed were interrupted by Diptheria, the trip on the Vedic, the bush fires and floods of Rosa Brook, removal to Victoria Park and school there, and lastly to Swanbourne half way through 1933. I loved 1934, and I loved Mr Turner, in my opinion the best teacher in the whole world. Under his encouragement I was able to make up so much of my lost time that I became top of my class and stayed there for the whole 12 months. Mr Turner encouraged his class to read good literature. He instructed us to say “Lay me serab” not “Les miserables” . He gave us “White Fang”, “Tom Sawyer” and others of the same ilk along with Shakespeare. I revelled in Shakespeare and learned much of it by heart. Whenever the [School] Inspector came around I had to stand up and recite “Friends Romans Countrymen” etc. We read Dr Doolittle for pleasure and loved it too. Mr Turner also taught us, especially me, the art of spelling by rote (Accommodation – ACC-OMM-OD-AT-ION for example has stayed with me ever since).
Hazel and I both loved music. She played the piano and I would stand by her window while she practiced, sometimes up to an hour and a half. We took part in Rechabite concerts, and we were members of the combined primary school choir – standing proudly on the platform in the Town Hall. We had no radio in that first year, but what we did have was an ancient gramophone – the box of which stood on the table, and a huge horn was held by a stand. We loved to play the long discs which always announced themselves – “This is an Edison Bell Record”. Our favourite pieces were “Lascar”, “The bird on Nellie’s hat” and “Cavaliero Rusticano”. This ancient music giver incidentally was given to us by our 7th Day Adventist friends the Deerings. The boxes that held the records were used by us to make our bush telephone.
Oh the halcyon days of 1934, all 365 of them. This was the last year of our early childhood, the last year before we would begin our journey into the unknown big girl world of high school. Hazel was my first best friend after Edna. They both contributed much to my life in Australia and I owe a debt to each of them. It seemed to me that Edna formed the basis of my life then [as it were] passed me over to Hazel and yet in between I had other not so close friends such as Rosie Watkins and Ada Strecker.
Hazel and I crammed a lifetime into 1934 with never a moment to spare. With the ringing of the school bell to farewell the old year [a bit confusing here, she is jumping back to the start of 1934 again] and welcome the new (a ceremony of our own) we [had] said goodbye to 1933 and hello to 1934. This was to be the best year of our lives, but at the time we rang the school bell to welcome it in we had no idea what pleasures awaited us. It was a Lucky Dip year in which we could choose a life package at random, and never come up with a dud.
We had the best teacher in the world and the best classmates, so going to school hand in hand was a daily delight and never a hardship. How we found the time for outside interests I will never know. We both attended Rechabites, Girl Guides, and Girls Friendly. I also attended the Methodist Sundday School and Junior Christian Endeavour. We swam 10 months of the year at North Cottesloe Beach and at Claremont Baths [a swimming "pool" based on an enclosed patch of the Swan River], which in those days had separate baths for boys and girls. We played in the bush at Girl Guide meetings, cooking our dinners over a camp fire. We attended the “pictures” once a week both at Swanbourne and Claremont [movie theatres] in turn. We built a cubby house on a vacant block at the back of Bellamy’s, and our little group of neighbour’s children – Connie, Angel, Ivan, Jean and Noel Clair – formed together a secret society, held meetings there, and shoved off anyone who barged in to sticky beak. We played basket ball and tennis as well as marbles, jacks, and our beloved “Paper Pictures”.
We walked in the Summer with our respective families (and the Ryans) to Peppermint Grove for River picnics. Mr Ryan would carry some of the food in his T-model Ford car – the cases of grapes, water melons, and rock melons – but we would carry the rest of the food, plus blankets, bathers etc between ourselves. We attended Sunday School anniversaries and swimming carnivals. We kept our rooms at home tidy and did chores as a pleasure not a task. I peeled the apples and potatoes for Mum and we gave the peelings to Mrs Crump for her chooks. She came down one day to give me a potato peeler as I was leaving too much potato on the peelings! Mrs Wallins [bakery?] gave Mum loaves of bread with only one slice cut off (supposedly for Mum’s own chooks, which she had by then, but Mum gave the bread back – it was too good for the chooks and not good enough for us; and besides, it was charity). We sat in the fig trees and ate loads of figs. We sat under the Passion Fruit vines and did likewise. We loved Rechabite’s meetings and outings and we mixed well with other children. In all we just loved and enjoyed life to the full, and I was beginning to love the idea of being a teenager [turning 13 in March 1934].
From my early childhood in Spennymoor my sole ambition was to be a schoolteacher. I had a desk and blackboard and would spend hours playing at “school” with my dolls and toys as pupils and myself of course as the teacher. All of those toys incidentally had to be left in England when we migrated to Australia with the exception of a doll named Betty Echo.
Standard 6 at Swanbourne School was the ideal place to practice my teaching skills. If the “babies” lacked a teacher for a day, I was the one chosen to fill in and I lapped it up. I dished out the milk that cost 6d per week per child. I lined everyone up with their savings bank books on “bank day” and I wrote lessons on the blackboard for the class to do.
Most people I’ve met through life have told me they hated school. I must have been odd because I loved every minute of every day. I loved the Friday tests. I sat in the “top seat” for 12 months and was never beaten out of first place. I loved exams and I loved every lesson, especially English and composition. Oh yes, my chosen path to a teaching career was firmly laid.
Stacey Turner was an insignificant little man, rather like a budgie to look at, and he was the best teacher in the world and the most encouraging [decided to leave all this repetition in]. I learned loads of Shakespeare works by heart and had to recite them for the Inspector. I acted as Portia and Lady Macbeth. and could say Marc Anthony’s speech at the drop of a hat.
1934 went by so fast we almost had to hold it back by force, but then the new glamour of High School began to loom on the horizon. Mr Turner told us we would have three choices – Private College (such as MLC or PLC – I longed to go to MLC), Fremantle Girls [ie the nearest public high school], or Claremont Teacher’s Training College [presumably in those days training teachers during their High School years, not after those years as happens now]. As MLC was just not possible because my Dad was unemployed so Teacher’s College it would be [I don't know why not Fremantle Girls, perhaps the cost of train travel]. At the end of 34 we had our final testing for High School. I passed with top marks into “Professional” which was the A grade for budding teachers, lawyers, doctors etc. Hazel only went for “B” grade which was for office workers, and also gained top marks.
We must have been fickle little girls. As much as we loved Swanbourne Primary, we didn’t seem to mind leaving its pleasures and moving on to a higher plane of education. We could hardly wait for our first day of High School to arrive, and at last it came. High School at Claremont, for the first year at least, was in the beautiful building known as Teacher’s Training College. It was the nearest thing I could ever have known to almost associate my mind with all the boarding schools for girls I had admired and identified with in my weekly “Girl’s Crystal” magazines plus “Schoolgirls Own” books and Annuals as well. Wonder of wonders I was instructed to wear a uniform [no uniforms at Swanbourne Primary]. This consisted of a navy blew pleated tunic with a white blouse, a navy blue blazer, and a beret. As there was no money available, Mum cut up her own best navy blue coat and made the tunic and earned the money to buy the rest.
Hazel and I walked from Swanbourne to Claremont Park on that first day in 1935, and then through the Park to Bay Road. We joined a large throng of girls in an assembly by a war memorial, and sang lustily “Land of Hope and Glory” and “God save the Queen”. At last our names were called and we were directed to our respective classes. This was the first time in 2 years we had been separated at school, but again we must have been fickle because it didn’t worry us, we were too interested in our new teachers and fellow pupils. Then of course, at the day’s end, we walked back to Swanbourne by the same route to reach our magnificent school. The biggest shock I had when I sat in my new classroom was to realise the fact that I had been top of all my primary school classes didn’t mean a thing, because all the others in the class had also been top and therefore the competition was great and overwhelming, especially with so many new subjects to be made familiar with.
My second great shock came in the form of the teacher Hester Hoad – she picked and chose her pets and I was not one of those. She screamed and called the class “asinine creatures” and “badly brought up savages”.
I still excelled at English, especially essays, but I didn’t fare too badly at French and Geography. During 1935 another important event took place. I started to attend the Anglican church/Sunday school with Hazel and we were confirmed together at Christ Church. And I got myself a job! Dad had been receiving [just] 7/- a week [each] for himself, Mum and me from the Sustenance scheme and we could manage as Robert had found work in the wheat pool [not sure what this means - presumably predecessor of Australian wheat board, pooling and common marketing of wheat. Robert would have been labouring at the wheat silos, as referred to earlier]. “Sustenance” found out (obviously Dad had told them as this was the law) and they stopped my 7/- and said Robert could keep me. I worried about this as Mum then had little to manage on. One day the wife of Dr Cook came to the school to ask if any little girl would mind her 2 year old every day after school and on Saturdays. “Hah” I said “that’s for me.” I went round after school and got the job. I started there and then and was 2 hours late getting home. Mum and Dad were searching the district till I turned up. “Where have you been?” asked Mum. “I’ve got myself a job” I replied.
From then on I had a delightful time taking Michael Cook out in his pusher every day after school and on Saturdays. If the weather was wet we spent the time playing games in the big playroom, sometimes joined by Michael’s big brother Brian who was ten years older. On fine days Michael and I would be accompanied by a big sheep dog named Barney. On one or two occasions Mrs Cook took us to the zoo, and also on occasion I was given dinner by the cook.
1935 was so full of happenings I can’t recall the exact chronological sequence so I will just give a few. Probably the most important was Mum’s stay of 6 weeks in Fremantle Hospital where she was operated on for gall bladder, [with] gall stones, and appendix removals. I was sent to stay at Vellenders, but for some reason I was offended and upset there after 2 days so I packed my bag and walked back home [a very long walk, though I can't remember exactly where in the country the Vellenders lived]. I spent the next few weeks keeping house for Dad and Robert and myself and also keeping away from school and Miss Hoad. When I finally returned to school I was given a month’s homework to catch up on. My mother’s reaction to all this was “Serve you right”.
I took part in my first and only swimming carnival. I had taught myself breast stroke, or at least was initially taught it by Edna, and was pretty good at it in the teachers’ and my opinion. I lined up with the Claremont mob in a stand at Crawley Baths and waved to Rosie Watkins who was in the Perth GIrls’ group. From the loudspeakers came music, mainly [of] “The man on the flying trapeze” and “Popeye” type. The team and I chanted lustfully “Who are we can’t you guess we are the girls from CCS, inky pinky (something or other) Claremont Central yeah yeah yeah”. Finally I was ready to dive in and do my stuff in the pool. I swam my fastest but in no way could I keep up with or beat one particular girl. I came second in that race and was only consoled by the fact in first place was an [future?] Olympic swimmer named Dorothy Green.
At school I was delighted to be told I could be in a cooking and housekeeping course. I had to take along some butter and some parsley. I bought the butter at a fruit shop in Bay View Terrace [Claremont] known as Clarksons. The next day I was taught to make parsley butter. I was also taught how to sweep a floor – never ever sweep a floor by pulling towards you, always away. After those lessons Hazel and I were told we had wrongly attended the “Domestic” classes as girls in the A and B grades had too many top subjects to do and had no time for menial matters.
We were having extra Scripture lessons at St Oswald’s Church in order to be confirmed as members of the Church of England. This ceremony would take place at Christ Church Claremont. Later in the year we went along with a number of other girls and boys on the big day. Hazel and I both wore new white dresses and white stockings and felt really grown up. Unfortunately we didn’t have our photos taken [together] on that day, Hazel had one of herself taken.
I wore my first long dress that year when I attended Irene Riley’s 21st birthday party. Irene worked at Boans [department store] on the biscuit counter and was Robert’s girl friend. Irene had three sisters – Joyce, Phyllis and Gerry. I made friends with Phyllis who was my age and often came down for weekends. We remained friends until the war when she joined the Navy [and afterwards moved to Mt Gambier, SA].
I became Secretary for the Victory Tent of the Rechabites and this was a good aid to my writing talent (two years as Secretary entitled one to have the rank of “Past Chief Ruler” so I was then able to at a later date take the Chair [think she is confused here]).
1935 seemed to go swiftly. Christmas brought Armstrongs [friends made on the Vedic] down from Kalgoorlie. During the year Ella [Armstrong] came down [to stay] with [the] Mitchells. I found in the Mitchells another family of friends and a new boyfriend named Rix [?] who replaced Willie Stafford in my affections [both fantasy "romances" I think].
I was given my first bike that year. Robert had put a deposit on a motor bike without permission [he was 22] from Mum and Dad. They told him to take it back. The firm refused to give him back his £10 deposit but he could have [cycle] bike instead. He already had a bike so got one for me and that is how I got my bike. I also received my first watch that year. I think it was for my birthday. It was a pretty little thing with a blue enamel face and pink flowers. Unfortunately it was lost later when the watchmaker who was to service it died and people [customers] were given the wrong watches [back].
A postscript to the Miss Hoad story [belongs here perhaps]. In 1957 she was the headmistress at John Curtin High School [probably just the Princess May part of it]. She discovered, from a visit by me, that David was my son. Remember how she treated me in 1935 and made me feel like an idiot? She started telling everyone in reach [? at the parent teacher night] that David was a bright little boy and just like me and how she taught me at Claremont and how great I was. Then she laughed, that horrible laugh, and said how she’d had us all fooled.
At training college I learned Science, French, Algebra, Geometry and strange [?] history and geography, and especially English Composition. I also learnt the words of a song called “The Isle of Capri”. We had little concerts from time to time and this song was rendered by a girl named Ida Wood – “T’was on the Isle of Capri that I found her, beneath the shade of an old Wanna Tree.” I didn’t know what a Wanna Tree was, and it was years before I discovered it was a Walnut Tree! I had been writing poems and songs since I was 8 so I still carried on with this in my spare time.
I attended church (St Oswald’s) on Sundays [mornings] with Hazel and Mrs Crump. I also attended the Methodist [church] on Sunday nights with Mum and Dad.
On Wednesday nights we, that is Mum and I, Mrs Stafford, [her son] Les, and grandfather Stafford all went to the pictures for family night. This cost 6d each. Grandfather always took a bag of lollies to hand around. I always fell asleep half way through and had to be dragged home. My ambition was to have a bed there and go to sleep when I was ready!
Close to Claremont Hotel was a small bakery run by a Mrs Gneill, She had white hair and a small daughter named Joy. I used to wonder how such an aged lady [ie with white hair she seemed old] could still be working. Mum loved her current loaves but could not afford 1/- for one. Mrs Gneill would put one under the counter so that I could, next day, buy it for 6d [and from then on and years after was known to us as the “Current Woman”]. Mrs Gneill also sold 1d Nestles chocolates. Hazel and I were collecting the pictures from these packets. We would demand to see the latest stock. If we had [the pictures on] all of those in stock we would decline to buy any.
Hazel and I [on steps below - Hazel lower, Elsie above, about this time or a bit later] walked to school via Butler’s Swamp [a short cut across, in those days, open country with some bushland] or Shenton Road [main road between Swanbourne and Claremont]. Then down Bayview Terrace, through the Park, to Bay Road. We followed the same route home. During our walks I would tell Hazel serial stories but would never finish one before starting the next [ie would leave one unfinished at end of each walk]. She would stamp and scream but to no avail.
For the first few months [at high school] we and others would go in our lunch break to Claremont Station. We had season train tickets which would use by getting on a train to Cottesloe [3 stations away] then rising back to Claremont. This little game was stopped when the teachers found out.
I don’t remember much about the lessons in first year except that I was discouraged by Miss Hoad. I was good at drawing maps and took a pride in my work but she never gave me more than 4 out of 10. I got sick of this so drew a map which I gave to another girl to submit, and drew an identical one which I submitted. Miss Hoad gave the other girl 10 out of 10 for my map and still 4 out of 10 for mine.
I think she [generally] praised my English but in one instance she hauled me out. It was the poem [WH Davies “Leisure”] that goes “What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare”. [I had put the emphasis on the word “we”] but was told this was wrong [which it was of course]. I never forgot this.
Sadly we completed our first year High at the end of 1935. We had loved our school, and one of our greatest loves was Assembly each day when we all gathered at the small war memorial, saluted the Union Jack [really? Possible I suppose], and sang “God save the Queen” and “Land of Hope and Glory”.
From First Year High we had to go to Claremont Central [School – I don’t understand this] and attend the Second Year High which was a rough and ready mixed class of girls and boys. I discovered I [had] worked better in Year 1 mainly because there were no distractions. I remember sitting on the side of a table [one day] flirting with the boys, but not much about science [lessons].
1936 was a momentous year – death of George Fifth, followed by abdication of Edward 8th, the Silver Wedding [anniversary] of Mum and Dad, and my 15th birthday. This last item was the greatest in my life, or at least in my adult life. When does a little girl become an adult? In today’s society not until the end of the teen world, but with me it was [at] just 15. My first assignment was to head for Perth and the big Department Stores Foys, Boans, Moores. They all employed young people as casuals especially at sale time. I was lucky enough to get first of all a job at Boans.
[And that, unfortunately, is that, the autobiography ends abruptly just like that. I don’t know why. Perhaps she grew tired of it, since I had not been encouraging. Perhaps this was the point at which she fell and went to hospital and never went home again. Perhaps she stopped because she had reached a point that was painful to her – precisely the reason it is unfortunate that she didn’t go on, at least for, say another ten years.
Over the next few years there were to be marked changes in her life. The first, and she refers to it here in the last sentence, is that she left high school and got a job. She resented this fact all her life. As she put it to me she had been essentially forced to give up her future career as a teacher because the family had no money, whilst her peers such as Hazel, considerably less gifted (as she saw it), were able to continue on to qualifications of various kinds.
Having read what she says here I now suspect the situation was a bit more complicated than that. In the first place this 1935-36 period must have been the time when something went wrong with their lease of the house in Brassey Street (she hints at this earlier) and they were both forced to move (just down the road as it happened, to the house the family were to live in for the next 40+ years) and lost the money they had paid in rent which they had been promised would count towards the purchase. I wonder now if this was the crisis that meant she had to get out of school and start bringing in money.
However reading between the lines at the end I wonder also if she was not doing as well as she always thought at school. Perhaps as a result of victimisation by Miss Hoad (and certainly as a consequence of her very disrupted school life) her results in first year may not have been good, as she suggests in passing, and this may explain the move to another high school (if this is what is going on here, it isn’t clear). She then also says she was slacking off in second year, and her parents might have decided, perhaps on advice, that there was no point in her continuing, especially given the financial circumstances.
Curiously perhaps she seems to have enjoyed her early (and indeed later) work days, made some more lifelong friends, took pride in her work. And, not least, as an unforeseen consequence, found work for her father through her first boss, work that was to be a turning point in getting them back on their feet. Although in turn it was a job that was going to lead, by chance, to her father’s early death at 62. So unforeseen consequences everywhere.
Other big changes included meeting my father, brought home by Charles and Robert, met while working on the roads for “Sustenance”. Would have been good to see her account of this. Also in the late thirties Robert got on a boat and headed back the way they had come, back to England. Why? Were there better job opportunities there? Did one of his mother’s brothers, living in Coventry, find him work, invite him over? Again, would be nice to have some background to this highly consequential move.
Finally in 1940 an awful tragedy when her equal best friend Edna, hero of the Margaret River section of her story, dies at the age of just 20 in 1940. I don’t remember what she died of (TB perhaps?), but it must have been a terrible shock and loss. Perhaps she couldn’t bear to relive those moments, but that bright young girl Edna Ness lives on in this account, forever that bright spark catching crayfish, swimming, cutting pictures out of catalogues..
Anyway, I wish, as we often do, that I had been a bit more encouraging about her writing.