I was born in 1934 at a maternity hospital in East Perth. I went to Christian Brothers’ College down on St Georges Tce from second standard to tenth standard, which was sub-leaving year. My brother and I got in to the College on singing scholarships. We were in St Mary’s choir and our school fees were paid by the Archbishop. After a few years we complained to our mother because we needed to go to choir every Sunday while all of our friends were playing football. So – and I don’t know how, as we had no money – we came off the scholarships and our mother paid our school fees instead.
I still remember my teachers. In second standard (during World War Two, and following a recent re-emergence from the Depression so no one had anything anyway), I was very thin and skinny. Sister Mary used to send me down to the cook house in the convent for a mug of coco every morning.
On the corner of Coode Street and Mill Point Road there used to be a big Chinese Garden. Sometimes I’d go and stay at Eddie’s in Forrest Street so I’d walk down to the Coode Street ferry and catch it up the river, then walk to CBC. I’d walk passed the Garden that was there, and would approach and ask for a little piece of sugar cane – then chomp on it as I was on my way. Beautiful garden, beautiful vegetables. It doesn’t exist now.
The war started when I was five. I was inching to get into it before it finished but of course I was far too young so never did. The Americans were in Perth during the war. They were very friendly, very pleasant. They once put on a huge event at the trotting ground at Gloucester Park, with ice creams and chocolates. It was a huge party for families and kids. Just a one off, as I remember it. Probably for relationship building.
We lived in Leonora Street, overlooking the Canning River, then. An aeroplane flew up very low over the Canning River and I remember that my mum made me go and get under the kitchen table. I said ‘What for?’ and she said ‘Oh, that’s a Japanese aeroplane’. The media kept it from us, but the war was a reality, not just a threat. The Japanese were bombing up north and we didn’t really know that they were about to invade. That said, in Perth they dug communal air raid shelters about 10ft deep and 30ft long and covered them with sand. Our next door neighbours also dug their own one. And during the war there was no pollution because the City collected everyone’s tin and cardboard for use in the war effort. Big bags were stationed all along Canning Highway as tin and cardboard collection points and as far as I know everyone contributed to them. Plastic – of course – hadn’t been invented yet. At school we had to have a cotton reel around our necks, and if bombs fell we were supposed to put the reel between our teeth to prevent us from biting our tongues.
I was a bit blasé about it all to be honest; it was exciting.
My parents spent a lot of time with us. Every Sunday we’d go to the beach – Coogee or Port beach mainly. That was quite unusual, people didn’t really drive that far in those days. I didn’t like the system where the wife did all of the work in the home – and so the wife never gets to stop working. Whereas the husband goes to work and gets paid and then comes home and sits on his hands. That was the reason I didn’t get married until very late in life. My parents didn’t fight about it; that was the way things were. My mum didn’t have an outside job so her job was the house, and she did it very well. She could make my clothes without a pattern, she made all the curtains, was a great cook – she would have saved us a lot of money. My dad was probably in charge of the yard (though I don’t remember ever seeing him or anyone else mow it) and he also looked after the car. The three of us kids used to do the dishes on rotation – one washes, one dries, one puts away. Apart from taking us out on a Sunday my dad didn’t do an awful lot around the house.
Due to my father’s work and my mother’s health we moved around every couple of years after my time in primary school. We ended up in Carlisle, where I finished off doing my Junior Certificate at Kewdale High. All of the travel would have slowed me down academically and allowed for the fostering of insecurity, knowing things would be changing every few years. It in fact set a pattern in my life for a long time. I used to change my job or my boyfriend every two years as it was just what I was used to.
When I was about 16 I was in love with someone. They wanted to buy me a friendship ring and I could just see the engagement ring and then the wedding ring around the corner, then I’d be a wife and would have to stay at home forever. At that stage I just didn’t want that for my life. In those days once you were married you didn’t have any other option.
I went back to study when I was 25 years old. At about that time I bought a unit in Maylands. As it happens I would have been happy to stay in that unit (and perhaps break the pattern of moving around all the time) but I had a nutter upstairs, who was obsessed with me, had guns, used to sit and watch the car park to see if I had any male visitors and had this idea that my nephew was our son. He was actually rather timid, but he was a jealous person and I was more concerned for any male visitors than I was for myself. I’m sure he told other people in the block (like the caretaker, who I was quite friendly with) about all of this, as they told me. Because he was an owner not a renter no one could ask him to leave. I tried to get a restraining order against him but because we were in the same apartment block I couldn’t get one. So I sold my unit, which worked out really well, because I bought a much nicer unit in Cottesloe around six months later.
At about the time I bought that second unit I also went back to study for teaching. I taught for one year, but had already met John by that time so quit to go sailing with him. We have been together ever since.