My dad was a refrigeration expert. We moved up to Perth when I was about three. I had eight brothers and sisters, and I was number six. My sister Roma was the oldest girl but she passed away.
My earliest memories are from living in Bulwer Street, Perth, where we lived for approximately 12 months. Ours was a little old house with a very big yard. That’s where we were living when Roma died and five of us were in hospital – the Children’s Hospital, Subiaco – after contracting gastroenteritis. I don’t have any memories of being sick as such, but I do remember it being lonely in hospital. I remember Roma going in first, then me, then my younger sister Norma and two of my brothers. Norma had her first birthday in there. Roma had never been a strong child. The doctors told my parents to hold off on Roma’s funeral because they thought that I was going to die so it would be better if they waited to do us together.
Then doctors approached my parents to ask whether they could trial a new regime on me, which I believe was a drip into the ankle. I still have a scar from it. My aunty Sal was there with my dad at the time that the drip was trialled and they heard me cry out loudly once the drip had been in for a while. My aunt declared I was going to live, after hearing that stronger cry – the strength of the cry meant to her that the drip was working.
I was in hospital for nine weeks in total.
After Roma passed away the Catholic Church refused to bury her in consecrated ground because she wasn’t christened. But at that time my parents had eight children and were moving from country town to country town with my father’s work, so they didn’t have time to christen all of their kids. I assume eventually the Church agreed to the burial but as a result of their initial treatment on this issue my whole family turned away from all religion. My oldest brother died three years ago and he flatly refused to have any religious service when he passed away. He’d never forgotten. He’d have been 10 when Roma died.
My parents couldn’t stay in the Bulwer Street house after that, the house held too many memories. They moved to East Perth. I think my mother also blamed the ice works, next door to the Bulwer Street house, for the disease. Later I met someone who had also lived in that house growing up, whose brother had also died there of the same disease. They had blamed his death on a well in the back yard, which I didn’t know existed when we lived there.