4366 words
It was a big move. They sold the farm and moved to the Dunellan Estate on the south side of Brisbane. My father had been born and bred on the Logan, as had his father before him. His grandparents had emigrated from Schleswig Holstein in 1884, and had settled on those acres on the Logan River at Buccan, only to lose most of their possessions in the disastrous flood of 1887. By dint of hard work and perseverance, however, they survived and passed on the dairy farm to their daughter Bertha and her husband, who in turn worked the farm until their son Harry, my father, made it his own.

Times were hard during those Depression years, and Harry and his wife eked out a very precarious living. The cream cheque at the end of the month was often as little as one dollar, one dollar for a month’s work! He was once so disgusted with the amount, that he threw the cheque at his wife, saying, ‘You can have it! I’d rather work for nothing!’ Being a spirited city girl, she purchased her Box Brownie camera with the ten shillings, without which they would not have had any of the precious photos that have been bequeathed and cherished.

My father was young and fit, and eager to provide for his family. He would ‘shoe’ horses for a dollar in the three sided shed he called ‘The Smithy.’ It contained a huge anvil, a forge and some bellows. He had no farrier’s gloves, just held with his hands the horse’s hoof between his legs as he filed, cut and nailed. He would heat the horseshoe in the forge and hammer it to fit that particular horse’s hoof. Sometimes, understandably, the animal would flinch, the hoof tearing my father’s palms as it recoiled in fear. My mother would beg her young husband to forego the ‘shoeing’, as she bathed his shredded hands and bandaged them. ‘I don’t care if we starve,’ she would cry, ‘I can’t bear to see you hurt yourself like this.’ It was all in vain. Times were tough, and the ‘shoeing’ brought him in as much as a month’s milking.

Before I started school, I would follow my father around the farm. I was Daddy’s girl. I was even allowed to watch him when he worked in the Smithy. Sometimes he made stout chains to use when a cow became bogged in the creek in times of drought. At other times he would knock out the innards of old batteries that had been given to him, and melt down the lead frames that remained. In a large cauldron on the blazing forge, the lead would become a shining liquid that he would pour carefully into the old, empty jam tins that I would have ready on the bench. These he would gingerly lift with strong tongs and place in an old galvanised tub that contained a few inches of precious water. There they would sizzle for a moment, and would gradually cool and set. When he had time, he would cut the tin away, leaving an ingot of lead. On their annual trip to Brisbane, forty kilometres away, he would take his stash of lead and sell it for a few shillings, maybe a dollar or two.

One year, my parents visited the Brisbane Exhibition. We were excited at this prospect. We only tasted ice cream when we went to Beenleigh to visit the doctor, or perhaps when a dance was held at Logan Village, when the exquisite delicacy was despatched by rail from Peters’ factory in Brisbane. It would arrive at the station in a stout canvas bag holding the dry ice around the deep metal container of vanilla ice cream, to be later dispensed by my grandmother at the dance that night. She would sell it to patrons at threepence a cone or we could buy a penny ice cream served in a glass with one of her spoons.

But at the Exhibition, it was different. There we discovered strawberry ice creams with a real strawberry on top! Milk shakes with our ham sandwiches, and potato chips from the stall that had a great big picture of a Tasmanian potato on the parapet. We were invariably sick from all of this unaccustomed, rich food, and my mother’s cool hand on my brow felt comforting as I ‘brought up’ in a side alley. But then we felt better and trudged on to admire the wedding cakes, the young animals and side show alley. We were allowed one ride on the merry-go-round, but we only looked at the front of the various sideshows, marvelling at the World’s Fattest Man and the Daredevil Motorbike Riders in their Globe of Death!

For a special treat because I did not beg for fairy floss as my sister Joan had done, I was given a try at a game of darts. The prizes for special scores were various plaster ornaments. To my great delight, I won a large kookaburra sitting on a stump, painted in natural colours, all for sixpence! We had to lug the bird around all afternoon until we were ensconced in our ringside seats, watching the ring events before the big thrill for my parents, the fireworks! They had told us about this marvellous delight, but when the first bangers went off and the fiery explosions in the sky rained down, I was terrified, screaming like a banshee! They tried putting my coat over my head to silence me, as well as to prevent me from viewing the glorious sights, but in vain. I yelled so much, so loudly, that we were forced to pack up and leave.

I suppose it was inevitable that we leave the farm. My parents wanted to give us the education that had eluded them. There was a clearing-out sale where everything was sold, and we lived with my grandparents in Logan Village for some time. It was a happy period for me. Joan and I could simply climb through the sliprails to go to school, instead of the five kilometre walk, barefoot, from Buccan. Grandad had two cows on this lush acre or two, a horse called Dick, some hens and a duck pond. Dick was a piebald that would pull the buggy that my grandparents used in those days.

The Brisbane house in Bunya Street was very old, probably late nineteenth century, its wide chamfer boards painted a dull brown. Only about a foot off the ground, it was not in a very good state of repair. But there was a gas stove and a water tap. There must have been locks on the front and back doors, because my mother was a nervous type. They had brought their old iron bedstead, but we girls slept on the floor for some time. There was a table and chairs, but little else. It was like camping in a house. The best part was the corner store, where Mr and Mrs Allen sold everything, even sandshoes! The old house stood to one side of a thirty-two perch block, which allowed my father to commence building a new house on the vacant sixteen perches, number thirteen.

Soon after the move, my mother took Joan and me to the Dunellan State School, three blocks up the road. I was in grade three. The headmaster was brusque but kind enough. He called a big girl from the quadrangle below, and instructed her to look after me. She took me on parade where we saluted the flag by numbers, one, two, three! And then we marched into school. My class was quite big, forty or more students. It was all so strange to me. Coming from a small one-teacher school, I knew the geography of the seventh grade, the history taught in fifth grade, the poems from every School Reader, but to my shame, I did not know the first thing about mental arithmetic! We had never learnt it at Logan Village! Horror!

So I was made to sit in the front desk with the dunces. It took me some time, several weeks perhaps, but I finally caught on to this mental arithmetic. It ultimately came easily to me to add up the long list of given numbers and quickly put my hands on my head! Answers down! Mine was correct! Did you look on someone else’s slate? No, Sir! And of course those around me had the wrong answer anyway. And it was there that my upwardly mobile journey really began. I continued to do well at school, and finally topped the class.

My father was struggling financially. It was 1937, the Depression was easing a little, and we had moved into the new house, my mother’s pride and joy. Bunya Street between Dunellan and Juliette Streets was no longer a dirt track, but was a sealed road. To have this was a rare privilege, and perhaps the proximity of the corner store was considered by Council in this undertaking. The clothes prop man was a reality, the milk was delivered fresh (from his dairy down the road) by the milkman driving his horse and cart, the ice-man called if you were lucky enough to have an ice chest, and the suburb had been renamed Greenslopes. The old brown house was eventually demolished, and my father stretched his resources enough to build, with help from a carpenter friend, another house on that block, to be sold. He hoped for a cash sale, but that was not to be. A family purchased it on time payment. They were as poor as we were, had no deposit, but they could repay three dollars a week as the husband was an employed butcher. This enabled us to live, but the overdraft remained. My father had no trade, and work was scarce.

My aunt owned the Haigslea Hotel, a small establishment on the Toowoomba side of Ipswich. She employed my father to build a hall next to the pub. The pay was poor, but it included his ‘keep.’ My mother kept reading the ‘Carpenters Wanted’ advertisements in the Courier Mail, and finally phoned a builder who lived at the Thompson Estate, the next suburb. Cyril Hornick. She made an appointment with him for one evening, and we trudged down Juliette Street, over the creek, past Bill Hall’s dairy farm and up the hill to Cyril’s home. We took it in turns to carry my baby sister.

Cyril was expecting my father as well, but after our mother had explained why he was at Haigslea, that he knew how to build houses despite not having a ‘ticket,’ that he was strong and willing and a good fellow, and that he desperately needed the work, Cyril remarked that if her husband had half the gumption that his wife had, he would willingly employ him as a labourer, and would even assist him in achieving carpenter’s status. He was to present himself on Monday, 7am.

While Dad was making his successful journey in the building trade, my mother ran an efficient household. She kept poultry in the small backyard, and it was my hateful job to take surplus eggs in a deep brown suitcase, with a handle in the middle of the lid, to sell to the shopkeepers in the shopping centre on the tramline, across Dunellan Street from the school. I was short sighted even then and suffered from glare, but nobody knew, because I told no-one. I would squint my way up the street, avoiding other children, lugging my heavy load, feeling wretched but dutiful. When I received the payment from the designated shops, I was allowed to spend one penny, which invariably went on a milk-orange ice block that I would suck and savour all the way home, the empty port not now so ungainly and burdensome.

Occasionally I was given threepence to spend on lunch on a school day. It was difficult deciding what to buy. The proprietors in the row of shops adjacent to the school all vied for our custom. There were home made penny iceblocks at the first store, the Black and White, which was tiled with appropriate colours on the outside. Further on there was a milk bar, where a milkshake cost twopence, a rare extravagance for me. It consisted of milk and flavouring only, no ice cream and malt like the fourpenny malted milk; but it was delicious and worth the occasional sacrifice. Then there was the fish shop, where potato scallops were two a penny, good value, or a tasty rissole for the same price. A cake shop followed. The new owners once asked me for advice on how to price and sell their wares. They wanted to do well, naturally. I advised a whole buttered scone for a penny, or a small cupcake or bun. They made a concoction out of stale cakes, mixed with sultanas and flavouring, a thick slice that they iced pink and sprinkled with hundreds and thousands and called ‘Chester Cake.’ They cut the huge slice into large portions which were very good value, especially if you were hungry!

On the other side of the road, stood the ‘paper shop’ and a butcher. If you were allowed, you could cross the tramline and buy for a penny, at the newsagents, a small meat pie, steaming hot, made in a muffin tin. A regular sized pie cost fourpence, but was made in a factory. The little ones were made by the owner’s wife as a sideline, and I loved them! If I had spent only a penny on a scone that I often bought because, after all, it was my recommendation, then I could have a pie and a milk orange icypole at the ‘paper shop.’ If I had any money left on my way back to the school, there was always the ice-cream man who parked his horse and cart on the corner, near the school gate. He made the ice-cream himself. It was a little like gelato, made from custard I think, and he spooned and shaped it with a spatula on top of a large cone, for a penny. Sometimes the horse made a nature call, and the smell of horse urine or dung did not mix too well with the vanilla.

I discovered singing, or did singing discover me? Mr Jim Williamson had us for singing once a week, from grade four onwards. We sang in parts. Wonderful songs that I still croon to my toddler grandchildren. There was ‘The Nightingale’:
Nightingale I hear you singing,
In the woods your voice sweetly ringing,
Come once again and tell me true,
Can I stay and li-ive wi-ith you-oo-oo,
Can I stay and live with you?
Or the beautiful ‘To a Miniature’:
Dressed in your gown of blue brocade,
A rose upon each dainty shoe-oe,
Lady in loveliness arrayed
I want to dance with you.
Perhaps my favourite was ‘In The Springtime’:
There was a lover and his lass
With a hey and a ho! And a hey nonny-no
Who all the green cornfields did pass
In the Spri-ingtime, in the Spri-ing time!
In the Spri-ingtime, in the Spri-ingtime,
The only pretty, pretty ring time,
With a hey-a-ding-a-ding,
And a hey-a ring-a-ring…
Sweet lovers lo-o-ove the Spring!
It was all so thrilling and I sang with gusto. I could keep a part, either soprano or contralto, but our teacher needed a good ‘alto’ to help the others keep their part, because the sopranos invariable sang the melody, which was easier. He would bend his head and place his ear near our faces to hear if we were in tune or not, give you a thump if you were off-key, or just move on if all was well. He noticed me, or rather my voice. For our breaking-up concert, two other girls and I sang, in parts, on the verandah, ‘Three Little Maids from School,’ from ‘The Mikado.’ I was Yum Yum.

Probably due to Mr Williamson’s promotion, our school was asked by radio station 4BK to record a programme to be aired sometime. We were all excited, and I was to sing, as a solo, ‘To a Miniature’. Another girl was to sing the wartime song ‘We’ll Remember.’ The choir filled in the rest of the half-hour. But on the day, the other soloist had a sore throat and could not sing. I was asked if I could do both items, and of course I could. It made me sad, but I loved ‘We’ll Remember,’ and had often wished that it were my song:
We’ll remember the meadows,
And the fields of waving corn.
We’ll remember the music ,
And the land where we were born.
We’ll remember the laughter ,
And the sunshine after rain,
And we’ll grin, grin, grin
Till we win, win, win…
And they come back again!
For years, at odd times, Radio 4BK played the Greenslopes School Choir’s programme. Once, when I arrived home from school, my mother was in tears. What was the matter? She had been listening to 4BK when she was stunned to hear we were ‘on’, including, of course, her young daughter’s rendition of the two songs, in the clear, pure voice that my mother knew so well. She was overcome.

In 1941, there was held in the Brisbane City Hall, a State Schools’ Patriotic Concert. All of the metropolitan schools trained their choirs to sing selected songs, and the resulting performance was magnificent, so everyone said. I was chosen to sing a duet with another girl. My mother’s best friend, whom we called Aunty Greta (Doyle) came down from Ipswich to make me a special white dress for the occasion. It was of crêpe de Chine, a flimsy fabric which she cleverly pintucked. On the bodice, there were pintucks that formed small squares, and in the centre of these, we embroidered a pale pink daisy with two pale green leaves. It was very pretty. On the big night, as my partner and I came out to sing, a voice behind my parent’s seat said, ‘Gee! That kid’s not nervous!’ But I think I was.

The grounds at our school were stony, with hardly any grass. The vigaro pitch and basketball court were asphalted, which meant a badly grazed knee if you fell over. There was a cricket pitch for the boys, and a very basic swimming pool with no filters or accoutrement of any kind, but there was no tennis court. A group of keen tennis players, including my sister Joan, would hit the ball around in a quiet area in the school grounds. A neighbour of one of the boys lent them his tennis court at times, and they advanced in proficiency to such an extent that they entered the inter-school tennis fixture competition. My mother offered to be their chaperone when they visited other schools to compete. They practised on the bitumen road outside our home in Bunya Street, while someone looked out for approaching cars, and would warn them to clear the road. Having no home court, they were not able to host a game. No matter, for they went on to win the fixtures, each of the four players receiving a silver cup, the only sporting trophy to ever grace our home.

I knew my eyesight was not good. I could not read the writing on the blackboard from the back seat. I had complained when in grade three, and my mother had taken me to an optometrist who prescribed glasses that were most unsuitable. My eyelashes brushed against the glass, and he said to cut the lashes off! I could not see through the glasses at all, and I felt it was thought that I had whinged unnecessarily, because I would not wear them. I pretended that I could see well. But at school, it was a different matter. I was a bright student, but was hampered by this lack. So I wrote a note, replicating my mother’s handwriting as best I could, saying, ‘Could Doreen please sit down the front, as she cannot see the board properly.’ My teacher in Grade Four gave me a funny look, I thought, but he allowed me to sit in the front seat, where I remained until I was in Grade Seven, when the School Nurse made a visit. Horror of horrors! Individually, our eyesight was tested, and I could not even read the top letter on the chart! The nurse was shocked, and wrote a nasty letter to my parents ordering them to take me to a specialist immediately!

An appointment was made with Dr Lockhardt Gibson on Wickham Terrace, and my father stayed home from work the next day to take me to see this nice man, who prescribed the necessary glasses to correct my deficiency. When I received the spectacles several days later, my world changed. Dad and I walked from Wickham Terrace down to Queen Street, and it certainly seemed a lot clearer to me on the way. It was when we wheeled into the main shopping area, with the coloured neon lights, that my fairyland vanished. In my myopic state, the lights blazed, diffused into magical beams, colour meeting colour, dots appearing to be radiating stars, lines a dissemination of hue that had no meaning. That day, with my new glasses on, the tinsel had gone, and the lines spelled out ‘PENNEY’S’ or ‘ALLAN and STARK’. No magic, just signs. But of course, the blackboard at school became a joy to read, and I was able to take my proper place in the back seat.

When I completed the Scholarship Exam at the end of Grade Seven, I won a scholarship to The Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School and looked forward to achieving my dream of becoming a journalist. I took the necessary subjects of English, French and Latin (three languages being mandatory to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree, which a journalism career required) plus the usual Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry, Art, Geography and History. Because I had a spare period I also took Physiology.

Our idyllic days did not last long. The war in Europe had been raging since 1939, but it was over there. When the Japanese entered the fray, it was different. Two Japanese planes over Gympie resulted in an air raid alert Brisbane-wide. We were all huddled in our slit trenches at schools on two occasions. My father and a neighbour dug an air raid shelter between the two properties, stocked it with provisions and roofed it with corrugated iron, which was in turn covered with soil at ground level. Steps led down to this little dungeon that was made as comfortable as possible with a couple of chairs and a rough bench. Both families of five could squeeze into it if necessary.

With the threat of an air raid hovering over our city, it was deemed too dangerous for children to go to school, and all the schools were closed. In no time, I was despatched to boarding school, St Catharine’s in Warwick. By this time, my Dad was an established house builder, and could afford the fees. I was happy there, but homesickness saw me home after six months, to recommence my studies at the Grammar School. At the end of 1943, however, the position was dire, Brisbane was a garrison city, and the war was very close. After passing well in the Junior Examination and obtaining an extension scholarship, I was nevertheless taken out of school and became part of the ‘war effort.’

My father had been called up to be a member of The Civil Construction Corps, building army camps at Logan Village and Wallangarra. It seemed that money was again an issue in our family, and I was cheerfully manpowered into working at the United States Army Post Office in the old South Brisbane Library. We worked hard and long, shift work, 7am to 3 pm, or 3pm to 11pm. When I was on the late shift, I would find my mother, with my father’s overcoat over her pyjamas, waiting for me at the tram stop at Shipley’s store on Logan Road. A young woman in the Northern suburbs had been murdered while walking home one night, and all of Brisbane was paralysed with fear.

I was fifteen and shortsighted. My tortoiseshell glasses looked ugly, and I would not wear them. A dear girlfriend would tell me when my tram, Greenslopes or Holland Park approached. But what to do at work? I memorised the fifty or so pigeon-holes into which I sorted the letters home. From a slow beginning, I ultimately sorted 2000 letters an hour, a good average. Our letters were weighed in bundles, and a tally kept.

A year or so later, an Army officer came to me as I stood sorting, and asked me to go with him. I was bewildered, as he drove to a Quonset hut in Victoria Park, number 4. Inside was an enormous pile of books and papers, and a lot of shelves.
‘We want you to sort this lot out,’ he said. It took me weeks, but eventually, I had neat rows of Field Manuals and Technical Manuals stacked on dozens of rows of shelving. I became a librarian at age sixteen, despatching to army personnel, manuals that had been requisitioned from all over the South West Pacific Area. It was there that my thirst for knowledge flourished, my feeling for books developed.

After the war, my vision of journalism had gone. A BA degree was out of reach. Adult education had not been heard of. After some sorties up a few dry gullies, I went nursing and had a successful and rewarding career in that field. It was only when I was 71 years of age that I plucked up enough courage to further my education. By assessment of my life’s efforts, I won entry into an Arts degree course at Griffith University, majoring in Creative Writing and Indigenous Studies. This was followed by a BA Honours degree. My hunger for learning continues, along with my passion for educating the young.