Our father had been recommended York as a place to live by another doctor friend, who said that if he had to be a GP in a country town, York would be the place. We stayed at the Castle before finding a house on the corner of Elizabeth St and Avon Terrace. Our parents had to convert part of it into a doctor’s surgery and waiting room. There was already a doctor here, who was far older, and whose number plate was 'York.1'. In those times it was usual for an incoming doctor to pay ‘good will’ but our parents didn’t have any money for that.
There was a bit of a difference of opinion about the doctors. Our father was young and very good looking. Young people here liked having a young doctor but the older people really resented him coming in without paying any ‘good will’, and squatting (as they called it in those days). This was especially the case for the matron in the hospital, who took a dislike to mother and called her ‘the skinniest woman she’d ever seen’ – and she was a very big woman herself. She then spread rumours, saying all of the doctor’s children were the ‘skinniest children’. Dad said to mother ‘Why didn’t you say to the matron ‘Well, you’re the fattest woman’?’ Later on Dad did pay the ‘good will’ and things settled eventually, but it took a while to stem the rumours.
We had a really happy childhood. We had the biggest garden in this dilapidated old house, with cats, dogs, chooks, rabbits, pigeons, guinea pigs, lambs, and budgies. Lesley: We learnt to drive in the garden in Esmerelda - an Austin A30. I learnt to stop by banging into a tree. Jill: And we used to walk to the old hospital. We used to go there to catch pigeons with Dad at night time. We’d go with Dad on his rounds and (Dale) slide down the bannisters and have morning tea with the sisters and the matron (a different one by that stage). Lesley: We’d also help roll up the clean bandages over a knife; they used to sterilise them all and re-use them in those days.
The hospital sewerage (as well as that from pig farms and other places upstream) went directly into the Avon River. And as dad was the medical officer, he banned swimming in the river, especially the area with jetties near the new bridge, at times when the river was not in high flow. He wasn’t popular for the ban but he used to see so many ear, nose and throat problems. But what he didn’t know was that we used to walk down to this gorgeous sandy part in the river below the bridge called ‘the Sandy’, and we used to swim there and catch gilgies along there too. Lesley: He did know – he caught us there one day!
Mum was a really hard worker. She and Dad gave a lot to the town. With four girls, the pets, unruly garden, helping out in the surgery, she worked on lots of committees, always seemed to be on a cake stall somewhere. She was strong in her views, and conservative in a way that might today be seen as racist, which would upset her now, but reflected the social situation of the times. That said, because the surgery was at our house, at all times of day and night we would get knocking on the door with ‘Doctor, doctor you see me now’. So there was quite a lot of humbug that would happen at our house and Mum would get really exasperated as Dad would have to work late into the night and sometimes all weekend, mainly serving Aboriginal people out of hours. Jill: I can remember taking home a friend of mine and Mother not so tactfully saying that it was probably best if I didn’t bring her home again. She was a young Aboriginal girl but to me she was just another young girl. That’s what it was like when you were young. Dale: The girls used to teach me words in Nyoongar and we used to play with them at school. They were the best runners and I used to be so jealous. Lesley: Same. I used to sit next to an Aboriginal girl and I was impressed by the way she could cut her fingernails with a razor blade. She had beautiful handwriting.
Lesley: I also remember being at Sunday school at the Methodist church and the minister would say something like ‘I have to announce that we have taken so and so children to Mogumber mission because their parents can’t look after them, and they are being looked after now’. And I was a little girl at the time and I thought ‘That’s nice, well they’re being looked after’; I had no idea.