I realised with shock and horror that the house was on fire

social enterprise history seniors

What better way to end our Stockland sessions than with this great lady.  She has lived all around the world and those experiences were triggered by this one.  We hope you enjoy her story and have a fab long weekend. 

I was born in South Africa in 1931.  I met my husband but we weren’t allowed to get married until I was 18.  I turned 18 in April and we got married the same month.  After I had my daughter, we had a house burn down and I lost all of my photos.  Fortunately the photographer from our wedding had a picture of me as a bride in his window as a showcase, and a few others from the wedding too.  I asked him ‘can I please buy it’ and he let me.

We were given a radiogram as a wedding present.  Ours was underneath a set of curtains.  There was a short between the set and the wall, which caused the fire.  My daughter woke up in the middle of the night and said she wanted water.  When I brought her back to bed, I glanced at the wall and saw a light, which was a reflection from the fire.  I thought the light reflection was strange as there were no lights outside.  I could hear a slight noise too.  Then I realised with shock and horror that the house was on fire. 

We should have closed the door to stop the fire from spreading but we thought it was more important to call the fire brigade, so my husband’s back got badly burnt.  I stood at the back door screaming my lungs out asking for help and the minister next door let us use his phone.  By the time the fire brigade came it was too late. We lost everything except the night clothes we were wearing. 

We’d always wanted to travel but we’d never done any until then.  So we re-built the house then decided that now is the time to move to England.  Since then we’ve lived in South Africa and Australia.

I still travel, every year at least.  As to advice I’d give others – follow your instincts.  If you want to travel, travel, as you can’t learn anything from books that you get by actually going to countries and visiting different people.

On the box was a label that said 'Donnybrook apples, WA'

social enterprise history seniors

Now in his 90s, this amazing man has an incredible memory and sense of humour.  We didn't want the session to end.

The titanic had sunk in the Atlantic.  We had a boy who’d lost his father aboard the ship just two doors away from us.  Every time the boy came into the house he’d take my chair, which rather annoyed me.  I was only knee high to a grasshopper then but I’d be told to shut up and sit on the box over there.  I’d been told by my mother that we’d be looking after this boy while his mother was at work in the hospital.  My first introduction to Western Australia was sitting on that red box, which was made of wood too hard to chop.  On the box was a label that said ‘Donnybrook apples, WA’. 

I ended up with a job as a navy cadet on the RMS Windsor Castle. I looked after the three wires operators. I would tidy their cabins, organise their meals and take around the telegrams.  It was the best job for a boy. I did two trips on board that ship. 

Later we went to West Africa, in convoy to the Azures.  The war had been on a while then and there were bangs in the night, with ships going down.  I was frightened; a very young man - not even 19, then.  We lost four or five ships in that convoy.

Back at home for a visit, my brother persuaded me to go into South Hampton for a few beers.  On the way back, we walked passed a recruitment centre.  Men cajoled us in with a bed for the night and the promise of eggs in the morning.  The next day they signed me up to the navy and I was carted off to the east of England where I joined a royal navy patrol force, mine sweeping. 

I was on a nightshift one day when I picked up a newspaper and saw an advert that said ‘Become a ten pound Pom’.  I was keen because it always seemed to be raining in England!  I have since been to Donnybrook, to see the source of the apple box, quite a few times.

The best advice I ever received was to marry my wife.  She was a wonderful woman, fortunately for me. 

My first teacher had a monkey

social enterprise history seniors

There was so much to say that we decided to publish both audio and a written story.  We hope you enjoy them!

Army trucks used to come up the hill during the war and my grandma used to make lots of cups of tea and coffee for the soldiers.  I remember standing on my tip toes holding up mugs as they drove passed.  I was most frightened during the war when going to and from school because you might be half way there and the sirens would go so you’d have to run to a safe place where you could hunker down.

My first teacher had a monkey.  If we learnt our tables she’d bring in the monkey the next day as a treat. It had a chain around its neck and would sit on the teacher’s desk.  We thought it was absolutely fantastic. 

My grandmother, mother and sister all played the piano but I learnt the violin instead and was the youngest member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  I remember the emotional feelings of being part of a big sound like that. 

Overall I was a hopeless case.  I made myself fail my high school exams because I didn’t want to go to the same school as my sister.  I just didn’t give the right answers.  It was easy.  Also, I was given a new iridescent light green racer bike, which I thought was fantastic.  I used to ride my bike to school and I had to ride it on the canals where the gypsies used to be.   One day the gypsies knocked me off my bike and tried to steal it.  I was screaming and crying and wouldn’t let them have it.  My mother was very strict and I was always in trouble – I remember her tearing up the stairs with a hairbrush to smack my bottom.  So when the gypsies tried to take my bike I was too scared to tell my parents what happened.  I used to ride an extra two miles out of the way so that I didn’t have to pass the gypsies.  I was punished for being late home from school every day.  To this day I have never told them why I was late!

We came out to Australia when I was 13.  I hated it.  School in Australia was awful.  You were forever being called Pommies and teachers were unkind, in a sense, because they assumed you would know every single thing that came up about England.  But we only knew things about the area that we lived.  One day when I was supposed to be at school, I got on the bus to Perth and got a job, telling the agency that I was 14 when in fact I was still 13.  When I told my mum, she nearly had a heart attack on the spot.

I was supposed to find an appropriate person to marry, and was engaged.  But I couldn’t go through with it and ended up eloping with somebody at work, two days before that wedding was due to take place.  So yes, I do believe in love at first sight.

I went out one night and there was a fox

social enterprise history seniors

So many stories were floated during our session that it was very difficult to whittle them down to this.  We are grateful.

There’s a show called ‘Call the Midwife’, which shows you exactly what our flat in Rotherhithe was like.  We lived there until 1953.  At primary school we had the cod liver oil tablet, spoon of malt, bottle of milk and your school dinner. They were trying to build up our systems because we were still on rations. 

In the winter time the fog was smog.  You’d have one foot on the curb and one foot on the road and had to work out where to walk but you still had to go to school whether it was foggy or not. 

I was excited when we sold up and moved to Australia - an adventure.   But in late 1967 foot and mouth disease had hit and people weren’t allowed to fly so there were 400 extra people on our ship, without their luggage.  Poor people. 

My ex got his first job on a farm in Babikan.  We had quite a big cottage actually.  The only problem was there was a toilet out the back. I went out one night and there was a fox.  That was it, from then on we had a bucket in the shower.  If I saw that fox, what else was there out there! 

The farmer should never have taken us on.  He didn’t like Poms.  He made it very difficult for us.  Eventually we just got in the car and drove back to Perth, made arrangements and said ‘we’re going’.  We ended up in Boragoon.  My ex actually got a job with this guy who got four men go build a house in the country for a farmer.  He’d paid for all of the goods to be delivered.  The workers went out to start building but never saw the guy again.  He’d nicked off with the farmer’s money.  For a week I didn’t even know where my ex was, as there were no mobile phones in those days.  The farmer helped him get back to Perth. 

Mum was working for a curtain mob and the boss said she wanted someone to do some sewing but she didn’t want someone to do full time.  So I got into curtain making and soft furnishings, working from home; I had been a dressmaker in the UK.  Eventually we bought a house in the new estate in Whitfords.  It was a flattened sand pile.  Waneroo Road was still a country lane.  While we were there I met my husband.  We ended up with six kids; three of mine and three of his.  We worked together to have schools built in Kallaroo, Padbury, Craigie and Hilarys. 

I just walked in, walked around and left again while sleeping

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One of the nicest people we have spoken to yet.  We are so grateful that he shared his stories with us.

I was born in the cellar of our house in Cardiff in 1940 because there was an air raid siren on at the time.  I remember, after the war, having a wonderful time playing on bomb sites in the streets.

My dad was the clerk to the Mayor of Cardiff.  The Mayor would come round often for meetings.  At that time I used to sleep walk.  Apparently once when they were having a meeting in our lounge I just walked in, walked around and left again while sleeping.  The Mayor just watched. 

At school I was the laziest thing on two legs and a bitter disappointment to my father, who had ambitions for me to become an architect.  I left school and got an apprenticeship in sign writing.  I got quite good at it and did a lot of sign writing for the Commonwealth Games, for example, in the late 1950s. 

I learnt ballroom dancing at that time.  My mum had taught me some in the lounge room at home when I was younger.  I had a partner and we used to enter competitions.  We won a few, and had some good times.  My favourite dances were the quick step, fox trot and the waltz.  We drifted apart eventually but at the time she was brilliant.  It came naturally to her, I could throw her all over the place.

There was a huge great winter in 1962-63.  The streets were lined with five or six feet of snow and there was no work in the building industry whatsoever.  I, like everyone else, got laid off.  By that time I’d married and had my first child.  I decided to think about emigrating.  A friend, who was raised in Cottesloe, agreed to sponsor us.  We got it all arranged and came over in May 1965.    

Coming here was a disaster at first.  We were supposed to be staying with our sponsor but his wife told us ‘F off, I hate Poms’.  My ex never recovered from that and eventually we divorced.  I met my wife at a meeting about a new school in the Whitfords area.  We were both very involved with our kids.  We formed a friendship, then we realised that there was a lot that we respected each other for.  We got married in 1977 and have been together ever since. 

He swapped two and a half acres for a radio

social enterprise history seniors

No more genuine a person. With our thanks.

Some of the kids had many miles to walk to school.  It was a special thing to have a bike, not many kids had one in those days.  I remember my first one, it was blue.  I rode it everywhere. There were lots of skinned knees and elbows. 

Our home had a veranda all the way around it.   I think my father built it, from what I heard.  It was on a slope of about 45 degrees and we had about two acres.  I think dad owned more land than that originally but he swapped two and a half acres for a radio! 

There was a beautiful view out of my bedroom window. From the foot of the Blue Mountains, I could see, on a fine day, the skyscrapers of the city.  It was quite isolating, but I made the most of it, spending lots of time outside with my dog and discovering nature.  I used to wake up to the sound of bell birds every morning.  When the paddocks were covered in grass I used to go running through them and then flop down on my back.   You’d have a wall of grass all around you and just stare at the clouds.  It was wonderful.  I always appreciated it.

My childhood was the smell of rain after an extremely hot day, the smell of the bush, the smell of fresh water trickling through earth. If you’ve never smelt that you are missing out. 

When I was older I moved to Sydney but went to visit my parents every second weekend.  I got there on my motor bike.  I first decided to get a bike because my father didn’t drive very much; I’d catch the train, then he’d collect me from the station.  To get in the car with my father once he was that age was to take your life and nerves into your own hand.  He’d sit right back and only just be able to see over the steering wheel.  He’d be wearing glasses he hadn’t cleaned for months (to say the least) and they were hazed right over.  He wouldn’t stay on the road but would start to veer.  So I knew I needed transport as soon as I could! 

It was only then that I got called up

social enterprise seniors history

You missed out on chatting with this legend, who's sense of humour is second to none.

Saturday mornings we’d go to the cinema to see comedies and old westerns.  We’d buy a rabbit. My mum would skin it and I’d take it to the Barbican, Plymouth.  I’d get 4d for the skin, which would pay for the cinema.   Mum would cook the meat.

We had to share our school during the war because the twin school in the town was bombed.  When the siren went off during school hours we had to go to the shelter.  I went to a boys’ school.  The only time we would meet with the girls’ school was in the shelter.  We didn’t mind those times as that was when we got to converse with the girls. 

I was evacuated for 12 months to my uncle in Scotland.  While I was away the house that we had previously been living in in Plymouth was bombed.

After school I became an apprentice testing arms. I was in my third year as an apprentice, when the war ended.  Ironically, it was only then that I got called up to the navy.

I went out with a girl in Plymouth quite a few times during that period.  One night when I came back from the ship I had a date with her but her friend came out to tell me that the girl couldn’t make it.  The friend took a fancy to me and we went out instead.  That girl’s friend and I were married for 65 years.

Everyone in the street knew that we'd be together

One of my favourites.  Such a good memory, and such an eye for detail!

One of our favourites.  Such a good memory, such an eye for detail!

My father was a cinema fanatic.  On a Saturday we’d go to one picture house, then to M&Ms to get my mum her favourite sweets, then we went to another picture house for a second picture.  I was very close to my father.  He was a gentle man.  I loved him a lot and I miss him. 

On the 13th and 14th of March 1941 the German blitz destroyed us. I was only 13 at the time but it shook me pretty hard.  I knew people that got killed. 

People used to say that Hitler was a Catholic because all the Protestant schools got burnt but the Catholic ones did not get touched.

Everyone was told to clear out of the town after the first day of the blitz.  But we left it until the last minute and when we went to leave the sirens went off again so we had to stay.  There were only a few liveable houses left in Clydebank by then.  Almost everything had been destroyed.

Clydebank to Aberdeen is about 400 miles but they could see the fire from the blitz of Clydebank in Aberdeen.

My wife was the only girl in the street.  She joined the gang when I was 14 and she was 11.  That was the start of everything.  We decided we were going to be married and what our two boys would be called very early on.  We never considered girls names, it never crossed our minds.  Everyone in the street knew that we’d be together.  It was taken for granted.  She was exceptionally bright and I couldn’t have done without her.  She came all over the world with me, she was my back bone.  She is my idol.

I was shot at

social enterprise history seniors stockland

One of many to come over from England during the 1950s and 1960s, we loved this lady's frank account of life in both places.

I was born on my mother’s birthday.  As she was in the labour ward she told the nurses ‘I don’t want it til tomorrow, I don’t want it til tomorrow!’. 

I was near Croydon, Surrey, through the war.  Even though I was only three or four years old, I used to dance with the soldiers.  Also, I was shot at.  I was playing in the garden up near the gate, and a German bomber had dropped its bombs and was coming back and an air raid warden grabbed me and shoved me behind a fence. 

Generally, we wondered around everywhere and it was just a question of ‘if you hear a siren, jump in a ditch’.   

My dad was in the regular army.  Wherever he was, he’d correspond with me by postcards with camels on them.  I was very fond of camels.  Dad spent a lot of time in the Middle East and Burma and had malaria as a result.  He also had shot tendons in the back of his legs.  They used to play up in the winter so the doctor advised him to move to a warmer climate, so we came to Australia in 1952 and stayed at a camp in Midland.

One day a truck meant for Midland abattoirs broke down and about six big pigs came running through the door of the dry cleaners where I worked.  And that wasn’t unusual.   There were often animals running around.

At that time, if you went to Perth you got dressed up – hat, gloves, stockings.  But once I met my husband I didn’t really want to go anywhere else.

The one piece of advice I can give is something that my husband and I always used to say; ‘if you want to do it, do it.  Don’t put it off.’

The smell of dead cats

sociali enterprise history seniors

Thanks to Stockland we were able to speak to some fantastic people at the start of 2016.  We are now proud to be able to share their stories with you. 
This lovely man has such a way with words.

A distinct memory from my childhood in North Fremantle is the smell of dead cats.  Wherever I went I could smell them.  I always knew there was a dead cat somewhere.

In those days you were dammed lucky if you wound up with an education. Us students were asked to put up our hands if we wanted to read and write.  Those who wanted to learn raised their hands.  I was one of those people.  Those people who didn’t raise their hands just didn’t learn to read and write. 

In those days you also had to share your lunch.  I gave kids at school all my lunch because I wasn’t very hungry and I was a little better off than them.  I never told my parents, I just gave it to them. 

When we weren’t at school we used to make up go karts. This one kid went right to the top of the bridge and rode his kart down.  By the time he got to the bottom there he had no kart left.  We also used to dare each other to run over the wooden footbridge just after a puffer train had gone underneath it and the bridge was smouldering. 

In later life, one of my sisters introduced me to a lady at my home in Bicton.  She attached herself to me and the next thing I knew we were getting married!  We enjoyed life as best we could but after five years or so she got sick.  I know what she was thinking at the time she passed away.  She was thinking of me.  I put two love locks on a chain for her at the bell tower, saying ‘Until we meet again.  Sleep well my love.’  We had 14 years together and I am grateful for that.  She, from the early days, is my idol – she had the biggest impact on my life.