In January 1967, I went to a Quaker retreat at the Grange, Oatlands, and then onto the Quaker Yearly Meeting in Hobart. It was at this time that I was trying to decide whether I should marry Umberto. I had to decide before I knew if I was pregnant or not. My period was well overdue. Good fortune followed me, I wasn’t pregnant.
When I’d attended the book group in Hobart, I met Louise Townsley, Professor Townsley’s wife. They had lost a teenage daughter, and as a consequence she became interested in astrology, as she was trying to discover if her daughter had completed all that she’d come to earth to achieve. I asked her if she’d draw up my horoscope, that she completed and gave me. It is, overall, a positive one. It alerted me to the dangers of alcohol and drugs, something to remain mindful of. Patience, a quality for me to learn throughout this life. It also predicted that I’d have more than one marriage. This I didn’t believe.
Because of my uncertainty about my relationship with Umberto, I asked if she would do his too. The horoscope for Umberto arrived in the week we were announcing our engagement. It is a horrid one. Louise wrote it thinking that this was an ex-boyfriend.
I wrote straight back, believing his future could not possibly be as bad as she’d portrayed; to tell her we were engaged to be married. Her next letter said, ‘At least you are not going into this relationship with rose coloured glasses,’and, ‘Remember, don’t ever make him jealous.’ She also said he was to have a violent death, but I told myself that he might be ninety when that happened.
I hid the horoscope and never showed it to Bert, half believing/ hoping it couldn’t possibly be true.
After I left Sydney, Bert worked the Christmas holidays and surprised me by saving up for a magnificent solitaire diamond ring he had had designed for me. It was unique and very special.
1967 found Umberto teaching again at the Hobart Art School full-time. He lived in the staff quarters at Hadleys Hotel, which was owned by Italian friends of the family. This was the year the terrible fires burnt out of control around Hobart. Several friends lost everything. The sky in Devonport was red-orange and frightening, 180 miles away.
Bert and I visited each other at weekends and sent lots of romantic letters and cards. This was well before e-mail existed. In February I had my twenty-first birthday party at home. My grandmother followed me up stairs to my bedroom. Geoff Winspeare had given me a marquisate necklace. My grandmother said, ‘It’s a lovers’ knot!’ in a rather loud voice. I think she thought I’d made the wrong decision choosing Bert, and she was testing me. ‘What did Albert give you?’
My reponse was, ‘Umberto gave me a Lady Remington electric shaver.’
‘That’s not very romantic is it?’ she persisted.
1967, having left art school, I taught at the Devonport Technical College. I was filling Christopher Pyett’s position, as he had gone to England to marry Priscilla. They travelled around Europe that year, returning to his position at Devonport Tech the following year.
It was a cushy job. I taught painting and drawing, mostly at night, with an art history class that was attached to the pottery course. I was also expected to fire the kiln. The first night, I followed Chris’s instructions on firing the kiln and nearly burnt the place down. The next morning I arrived to smoke billowing out of the room. Fortunately it was only the pots that didn’t survive.
My mother was on the Technical College School Board when they were moving up to a new building a few years later, and it was mentioned that the kiln had almost burnt through the floor. My mother kept very quiet but knew that it was probably my doing. How lucky no one was hurt by a kiln falling through the ceiling, or burning the building down!
My leisure time was spent painting or sewing dolls and frogs to sell at the local gift shop. I also prepared serviettes and cloths to put in my trousseau.
The wedding was to be 21st October that year, my maternal grandmother’s wedding anniversary. The date had been brought forward from 10th December, because Bert had won an Italian Scholarship to study in Urbino, Italy. Annie Learoyd came up from Hobart and stayed with my parents to teach the last few weeks of the year at Tech. Getting jobs was so casual in those days.
Annie was one of my bridesmaids. Libby Hallett was another, and my cousin Mary Elizabeth was the third. Susan Gott, who turned five just before the wedding, was our flower girl. Libby had boarded with me at Mrs. Spencer’s. Hobart had been such a special time, and Annie and Libby had shared it with me. It was hard choosing bridesmaids, as my cousin Helen Sadler was doing midwifery in Devonport that year. Also, there was another close friend living nearby, Judy Whitelaw, another nurse, who had been at boarding school with Helen and me. Three bridesmaids were enough, I didn’t want it bigger than Ben Hur.
Mrs. White from up the street made my wedding dress. Her house always smelt of stale cigarette smoke, and her husband was in trouble from time to time for taking illegal bets at the pub. My mother helped Molly out from time to time. The dress was made out of soft cotton lawn with guipure lace around the cuffs and hem. It was gathered under the bust and hung straight down. A triangular scarf of the same white lace replaced a veil.
I’d found this and the material for the bridesmaids’ dresses in Sydney, both the same quality, but theirs had tiny blue and green flowers on a white background. Mrs. White made all the dresses. We found some picture hats, cutting the crowns down and trimming them with deep, blue-green velvet ribbons, with a bow and tails hanging down the back.
Umberto had asked Geoff Parr to be best man. Roberto, his brother, and my brother Clive were also to be in the wedding party. Our invitation had a Chagal image on the front with a bridal couple floating in the sky. Symbolically that was us with our heads in the clouds.
The lily-of-the-valley in the garden had only just come out in time. My mother chose this for me to carry, as it was so light compared to the heavy gladioli she had been forced to carry for her own wedding. There was enough lily of the valley for the whole wedding party.
We, the girls, went to have our hair done in the morning, probably to get us out of the way. My mother had organised the reception at home with some help from the Scouts’ catering group. Umberto sent a bunch of yellow broom. I can’t find that in The Language of Flowers, but at least it wasn’t the yellow Carolina Rose, meaning ‘love is dangerous.’