My first memory is of drowning at Paloona; a blissful feeling with bubbles coming out of my ears, no need to struggle, submerging three times. My mother’s white sandals dripping with water as she carried me back up the riverbank remains a question: ‘Why didn’t you take them off’?’ This experience at the age of two, removed my fear of death. That feeling of euphoria drowning remains with me. Death is something to be welcomed when the time is right.
My grandfather Frederick Henry (‘Harry’) Haines built ‘Yarandoo’, (our home) 29 Victoria Parade, Devonport, opposite the mouth of the Mersey River, for his young bride Chloris Janet McFie. They were married on 21st October 1914; Chloris was nineteen and Harry was thirty-five. Six children were born to them in this house, before Harry built another home for his family at 6 Ronald Street. This was on higher ground where he thought it would benefit his asthma.
Harry’s round cheerful countenance emanated good will. A watch chain stretched over his large protruding paunch symbolizing his success in business. My grandmother was taller than my grandfather, rounded too when I knew her, with a loosely twisted grey bun, held together with clear plastic hairpins, which shed themselves frequently. Her feet were knotted; she had special shoes made in Melbourne to accommodate her bunions. I thought they looked like a witch’s feet. She was a soft and generous woman who grew shorter as the years progressed.
When Grandpa travelled by car, all anyone could see was his hat sitting above the steering wheel. People would say,
‘There goes Cocky Haines,’ with an affectionate inflection. He’d often drive in second gear, Henry, his son, would say,’ Shouldn’t you go up a gear?’
‘I don’t think so!’ and soon after he’d surreptitiously progress to the next gear. He did like to go fast over the railway line, especially if his in-laws were in the car; he’d try to get them to hit their heads on the roof. My brother, Angus, inherited not only his good looks but also his naughty nature.
No.29 was given to my parents as a wedding gift on 6th March 1943. My father had been living in Melbourne during the war, helping to build aeroplanes. His skin condition, psoriasis, had prevented him from joining the air force. Two of his brothers joined the army, and they ended up as prisoners-of-war. His third brother joined the navy. Barney wrote a book called ‘A Kind of Cattle’ in 1986, describing his four-year experience as a POW in Germany and Austria, with which he won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award/ Peace Prize. Barney also wrote ‘Where’s Morning Gone’, about his childhood, which won the Tasmanian Bicentennial Literary Award in 1987; these were two of the ten books he had published.
My mother had been a nurse before enlisting to be an army nurse, leaving Tasmania for the Middle East, much to her parents’ dismay. She had done her training at the Devon Hospital, Latrobe, where she met her future sister-in-law Judy Roberts. Judy took Brenda home, and that was where she met my father, Frank. The farm didn’t have electricity at that time and my mother remembered going to bed at ‘Currajong’, still feeling for the light switch with a candle in her hand.
During the war Brenda fell madly in love with a doctor in the Middle East, but she thought her parents wouldn’t approve. He was a Pole and a gambler. They enjoyed a close friendship during that time. He returned to work in Victoria after the war as a psychiatrist. He married and had only daughters, whilst Brenda had those coveted sons.
On her return to Tasmania, my mother chose to marry Frank Roberts who was handsome, reliable and had a dry sense of humour. Grandpa employed Frank at his building firm, after bringing my parents back from Melbourne after their marriage. Frank did night classes in accountancy at the local technical college. He’d previously done a fitters and turners certificate. Frank was a very practical man, good with figures and machinery. He made many things around the house including a myrtle record player and a standard lamp from black wood. But he always hankered after the dream of returning to the land; having been brought up on a farm, it was in his blood.
Dad had left his boyhood home, Currajong, to find work because he was the eldest and the depression was affecting them on the farm. He realized that he, his sister and three brothers wouldn’t all be able to stay on the farm, so he looked further afield for work.
He went up to Queensland where he mended fences and did other odd jobs like making and selling ink, before getting to North Queensland where he cut sugarcane. There he worked with some Italians and had his horizons widened by tasting new foods and hearing their life stories.
I believe Brenda and Frank had a happy marriage, though they chose to go their separate ways some of the time. In the end I think they were grateful for one another and pleased that they had stuck it out through the tough times.
They had five children, all born at Meercroft, a cottage hospital in Devonport. Clive was a difficult birth. Judy, Dad’s sister, was Matron when Clive was born. He was in the breech position, and whilst waiting for him to be born, Judy told Mum to have a bath whilst she, Judy, went off to bed. Next morning she appeared and was horrified to see that Mum hadn’t had the baby. The doctor was called for. His comment was,
‘Thank God, they are both alive!’
This incident was never forgotten. Clive was born on 18th April 1944. The war finished on 2nd September 1945. I was born on 25th February 1946.
I loved having an older brother. The only time I saw him smacked, on the leg by my father, I cried so much that Dad didn’t ever smack any of us again.
When Graeme was born, 24th October 1949, Clive and I went to stay with neighbours, Ted and Nance Clemenson. We were treated kindly, and read stories, though I did wonder why we couldn’t go home. Childbirth was not discussed with children in that era. There we ate whitebait patties that were exquisite. Ted was a great fisherman. Their children, Libby and Jenny, were older than us. They had a white cockatoo that squawked ‘Caught any fish Ted?’ every time it heard the gate click. Libby was part of the neighbourhood gang that formed in later years, when we spent the holidays building our annual bonfire. Christopher Pyett was also part of this gang.
Graeme was a placid baby, though his asthma and eczema were trials my mother took in her stride. She had us all fitting in around her busy schedule of house and garden chores, committees and social activities, which included visiting relatives. In those days we walked for miles. We’d stop and chat to those we met in the street. Time was more leisurely and the days seemed longer. There was a feeling of space and our close-knit family/community gave me a feeling of acceptance and belonging.
Mum had quite a large group of friends as well as her committee commitments. The hospital and Eskleigh were her main interests. Eskleigh was a home that my grandfather helped establish, finance and build for the permanently injured or sick at Longford. Girl Guides would come to the house to do their first aid badges, until I broke the thermometer.
Afternoon tea was very popular and quite a formal event. Delicate china on an auto-tray with an assortment of home cooked scones, cakes and biscuits, covered by a delicate embroidered ‘throw over’ was the norm. The milk jug and sugar bowl were also covered with a crochet cover with glass beads around the edge. Our grandmother always had at least scones, shortbread and cream cake on the auto-tray. We children were given lemonade at Grandma’s, whereas at home we’d get homemade lemon cordial, milk or water.
When we visited the Miss Norton-Smiths their ruby coloured beads tinkled as we entered their impoverished but elegant drawing room. I was small; Mum would sit me on her knee and let me drink her tea, as she really didn’t want to be rude and refuse a drink, but she never liked tea or coffee. Addicted early, I was pleased to help.