Category Archives: Enduring Threads

Enduring Threads: part 13


Dad bought ‘Elphin Grove’, East Sassafras about the same time as Uncle Henry bought ‘Cheverton’. To my father’s chagrin, Henry made a success of farming whilst Dad had to sell ‘Elphin Grove’ after many difficult years. Dad’s farm was run down, and Henry’s was in top condition, this may have had something to do with it.

Clive, Graeme, Angus, Nigel, Barbara and Frank at 'Elphin Grove'

Clive, Graeme, Angus, Nigel, Barbara and Frank at ‘Elphin Grove’

The farm was bought before Angus was born. Mum found this a formidable period with two households and a baby. At three months, Angus became ill in Devonport, and Mum didn’t ring Dad at the farm. She asked me to hold Angus whilst she brought in enough wood to keep the fire burning throughout the night. As I held him, he lay perfectly still until he’d jump almost out of my arms. This was due to his high temperature. The doctor was called, something my mother didn’t do lightly. He didn’t know whether Angus would make it through the night. Next morning Angus had spots. He had measles.

29 Victoria Parade after top floor was added

29 Victoria Parade after top floor was added

The upstairs three bedrooms and bathroom were built-on whilst I was still at primary school. This was a point of disagreement between my parents, as the arrangement was to have been: build-on or buy a farm. It turned out to be both. Dad had asked a wealthy cousin, Graeme White, to go into financial partnership with him to buy the farm. My mother was not pleased, especially finding herself pregnant. She wanted us to continue going to the local primary school in Devonport wishing to stay in town, but the farm was about a twenty- minute drive out of town, considered a long way then.

Greens Creek running through 'Elphin Grove', East Sassafras

Greens Creek running through ‘Elphin Grove’, East Sassafras

Dad practised mixed farming. In this photo you can see the thistles surrounding the sheep. We used to all go out with a hoe to try to eradicate them. An unending job on 500 acres. My father was against pesticides and farmed organically, not popular in those days.

Angus became the baby who soon learnt to get his own way, and my mother’s frustrations grew. He learnt to swear at the age of two, and many people remember him having tantrums ‘up the street’; Angus lying on the pavement, and my mother resorting to jelly beans to quieten him. Travelling to the farm we had a little pale blue Commer van. It was my job to nurse Angus, as there were no car seats or seat belts then. His head felt so heavy when he’d fall asleep and my arms would ache from holding him.

Angus sitting in Auntie Mynie's driveway.

Angus sitting in Auntie Mynie’s driveway.


Eric Pyett and Angus outside the old house at the farm


On the farm, he roamed with just a rather dirty-looking nappy on his tanned body. He was ten years younger than me. During his toilet training period there was the occasional hose down at the end of the day. Once he crawled up to the bee- hives and was stung. He was duly treated with the bluebag from the laundry. We loved hearing his prayer at night, as instead of ending with ‘For Christ’s sake, Amen’, he’d say,       ‘For Christ’s sake, come in!’

The Russell household remembered Angus’ urinary contributions to the rain gauge. David kept the official records for the weather station, and Angus’ contributions were not welcomed.

Angus rejoiced in eating lipsticks. Auntie Mynie lost one, before she realized that Angus had a fetish for them. He also ate Auntie Judy’s new Revlon, and she did not take that quietly. Angus, Nigel, and Graeme stayed with Auntie Mynie at times during the years Dad had the farm. Being away at school, I was unaware of this, even though Mum wrote weekly.

Our youngest brother was canny, if money were to be found, Angus would find it. Mum made him take it to the Police Station when he found a note of some worth. He’d wait and it was always returned to him.

The Advocate newspaper photographed Angus, and it incorrectly stated that he was collecting pinecones for the aged. Some children were, but Angus was bringing his sack home. One of his ‘sculptures’ was also seen in the newspaper, a log adorned with seaweed, looking like a woman. The headline: ‘unknown artist’, delighted him.

A story in The Examiner (29th March 1989) describes Angus’s endearing naughtiness: ‘When young, Angus Roberts set his school pencil case adrift on the Mersey River for him and his school mates to pelt with stones, it wasn’t until it was about 10m from the shore he remembered it contained his school report card.’ This article was about Angus becoming the first Devonport- born sea captain returning to the Mersey for some time. Angus’s quote: ‘My bedroom overlooked the river, now my bedroom is the river.’

In 1956, the year Angus was born, Clive was sent to board at Scotch College in Launceston. He took to it and excelled in everything, becoming head prefect at fifteen, a position he held for two years. His first Christmas holidays at home in Devonport he said,                                  ‘Mum, I’m playing in the tennis tournament.’

Clive, 1950s

Clive, 1950s

Mum responded,                                                                                                                               ‘Do you know how to play tennis?’

Clive returned home with a brand new tennis racquet having won the Junior Section. I basked in the shadow of his popularity.

Apologies for the lack of quality of the box brownie photos!

Enduring Threads: part 12

Friends and Neighbours

As I have mentioned, Penny Russell and I were constant childhood companions. Her family, though I didn’t know it at the time, was a split family. Her mother had two girls before marrying David. Later in life, Penny found out she had a brother in England from her father’s previous marriage. David, her father was probably schizophrenic; he had huge mood swings. When Myrtle Russell was away, her children stayed with us. Penny’s sister, Kaye, would sit on our gatepost to wave to her father on his way home. He’d pass without a glance in her direction; she was begging to be acknowledged and he’d ignore her. Her sorrow was palpable. Penny’s sisters left home as soon as they were 15 and moved to Melbourne. Penny always dreamed of moving to the city too, which she did as soon as she could. She lived with my parents for twelve months whilst her parents went overseas and I was at boarding school. My mother could see her potential and offered to pay for her university education. This offer was not accepted. Penny later went on to higher education as a mature student. Her diabetes, inherited from her father, was a major disappointment, especially after the devastation of loosing her first, and only, baby soon after birth.

Elspeth, who lived next door, lived in a very different family. Her father was bedridden. Her mother entertained her friend ‘Uncle Bert’ in the next bedroom, and we accepted this as normal. My mother did say to us, ‘I don’t like you calling him ‘Uncle Bert’, he’s Mr. So and So.’

He was a bank manager, and when Mr. McKintyre died, ‘Uncle Bert’, couldn’t be seen for dust, as he applied for a transfer.

Elspeth would come over for breakfast when her mum wasn’t up. She’d put things on the tab at the local shop. Elspeth and I consumed a whole Neapolitan, pink, white and brown, ice-cream family sized block, only once, as we felt guilty about this, even though we were not sick. Sometimes she’d bring over jelly crystals, and we’d eat them straight out of the packet, hiding behind the greenhouse. When I was sick with mumps, Elspeth used to hop in my window and finish up any food. Mum was amazed that Elspeth didn’t get the mumps until six months later.

Elspeth came to school with me one day; usually she went to the Roman Catholic school next door. When we arrived home, her sister Ruth was crying. Elspeth was supposed to have gone with her sister and mother to Hobart, but instead Mrs. McIntyre had left Ruth at home because Elspeth was missing. Ruth had to grow up quickly to take on the mothering role.

When  Dad was out at the farm, there was a fire in our backyard. The conversation of our eccentric neighbours, Joan and Noel Hammond, who lived behind our house, up the lane, went like this: ‘Joan, Brenda has firemen up her plum tree!’

‘ Noel, get back into bed, you’ve had too much to drink.’

In fact, Noel was right, there were firemen up the plum tree. Mrs. McIntyre entertained the firemen afterwards, and my mother just thought it was a party. It wasn’t until the next morning that she discovered that it was the hot ashes from our Raeburn on our compost heap that had started the fire and burnt down the back fence and our wood-stack.

The Hammonds enjoyed parties, and one New Year party they decided that the space wasn’t large enough so they brought out the sledgehammer and knocked down the wall between two rooms, with the help of the guests.   The place remained in that state for a long time. My mother and Margaret Pyett occasionally played cards there. One night Joan came in with supper. ‘I had to rescue it from the rats, they were running right over the food!’   There was one particularly fastidious woman called Bette Shrosbee who paled and refused to eat. The others tried their best, so as not to hurt Joan’s feelings.

Noel suggested to Bette Shrosbee, when she was telling them how she had to keep boiling everything to sterilise it for the baby,

‘Why don’t you boil the baby?’

The Hammonds’ outdoor dunny had worn weatherboard walls that backed onto the back lane, and Joan complained, ‘I can see eyes looking at me through the cracks!’ Noel would turn the lights on in his ancient Jaguar to give light to anyone needing to relieve themselves, as there was no electricity out there. Noel tried to repaint the Jaguar with a powder puff, though the job was far too tedious to complete.

Margaret Pyett was another individual who was idocyncratic and was very fashion-conscious. When she admired Joan’s outfit, Joan said with her smoker’s raucous laugh, ‘I’m wearing Mrs. Webb’s corset!’ Mrs. Webb was older and bigger, so everyone thought this a huge joke, most of all Joan. She worked as a stenographer for the court system and was renowned for her quick and reliable shorthand. If there were a thunderstorm, Joan would be found hiding under the stairs in the cupboard. Everyone, including the police magistrate, would be at her parties, as Joan had such a wicked sense of humour she was popular with everyone.

When they needed the roof painted, Noel paid their son Peter to do the job. Peter paid someone else half of what he’d been paid to do it. Of course, it didn’t get finished. Noel was very proud of Peter’s enterprise. The roof remained half-painted. When the fence needed repairing between our house and their front lane, my father chose to do the job himself. Noel came to help him measure it. When Dad had completed the fence, he received a letter from Noel’s solicitor, saying that Dad had taken a few inches from the lane. When Dad discussed this with his lawyer, the man laughed and said, ‘Let him sue you. He’ll never win. He let you do all the work.’ Of course, nothing happened. From then on my father had little to do with Noel. Joan died young of cancer, and Noel went on to have a relationship with Pat White. Pat was pronounced Paat, as she had a large plum in her mouth.

Noel moved into the house that my grandfather had built for his parents in Nichol Street. Before he bought it, it had belonged to Dickie Dobby, the police magistrate and his wife Kitty.

They were famous for turning up at parties without an invitation, saying; ‘We knew you meant to invite us!’ The Nichol Street house was later sold and restored to its former glory by an enthusiastic young couple, putting a large fountain in the front yard.

Dr. Budge, the optician, lived nearby. He and his wife had a child late in life, Sandy, ‘my hhhobby’, stuttered Alec Budge. He was a wise man who recommended to my fiancé, ‘let her hhhave hhher wwway 98% of the tttime, and you jjjust ssstick out ffffor the imppportant 2%.’

When he had a puncture with Sandy in the car, he went to the bushes and waited for some nice young man to come and help attractive Sandy. He then appeared, thanking them for their help.

Sandy had her 21st birthday party at the charming Lane’s Grand Hotel that was later demolished.

Dr. Budge said,’ My analogy of mixed feelings is, seeing my Holden utility being driven over the Bluff by an Englishman.’ Then he’d added, ’This does not include you Eric,’ to Eric Pyett, a good English friend.

Enduring Threads: part 11

I feel uncomfortable about how these snippets of ‘Enduring Threads’ will be perceived. My aim has been to depict the carefree childhood of the 1940s and 1950s. The uncomplicated life of children who were privileged to have a mother at home; the freedom of play without the imposition of parental supervision, and an extensive wider family who enriched our lives.

Awareness of the present generation, our grandchildren, who are growing up with very different perceptions has inspired my recollections. They have the stress of both parents working and the development of technical devices that negate their close affinity with nature. Being driven to school, free play limited and computerisation changing the simple task of, for instance, writing a letter. My sharing of my own experiences through life will, in time, seem the antithesis of their own childhood. So, I continue to write:

Maternal Relations

Exciting holidays with the Roberts-Thomson family were spent in Launceston, at Great Lake, and later in Adelaide. Our cousins came to stay with us in Devonport too. One early incident: I tried to step on a floating object in their fishpond thinking that it would support my weight. Of course it sank and so did I. An early physics lesson.

Barbara, Clive, Peter and Mary Elizabeth

Barbara, Clive, Peter and Mary Elizabeth

Uncle John was a keen trout fisherman. When we were out fishing on Great Lake, he’d say, ‘Can you spot a bunyip?’

Uncle John’s hobbies were: making flies, photography, woodcarving, playing the violin and astronomy. He built his own telescope and taught himself to play the violin. He was accepted into the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra before his arthritis became problematic. My father joked, (because John was a minister),

‘He can do all that because he only has to work one day a week!’

Auntie Lillian played the piano. Girls were not encouraged to succeed professionally outside the home but she had worked for the family firm before her marriage.

Lillian must have been very frustrated as a housewife and a minister’s wife. She resorted to

Peter and Mary Elizabeth 1949

Peter and Mary Elizabeth

disciplining the boys with the wooden spoon, and on one occasion it broke when she spanked Clive. All her life she wrote letters weekly to her siblings. After my mother’s death we exchanged letters, keeping up to date with the news of the wider family, until her death at the age of 98.

Cousin Peter ‘s enthusiasm for his environment made him an interesting guide when I visited them as a teenager. We’d cycle to visit the Adelaide Art Gallery, the astronomy observatory, plus sights up in the hills beyond Adelaide. Mary Elizabeth and Peter topped Adelaide University in Medicine. Mary went on to become a paediatrician and married Adel, an Egyptian, against her father’s wishes. Adel later became a professor of nuclear medicine in Canada. He found Australians racist, so they left for America straight after their wedding, later to live in Canada.

Peter R-T went to Oxford after completing his medical degree. He later became a professor at Adelaide University specialising in rheumatology.

Mark R-T always wanted to be a pilot. His parents insisted, ‘ You must do a science degree first, something to fall back on.’ He did this and then became a pilot.

 Auntie Mary, Mum’s younger sister, married in her thirties. She travelled overseas on her own prior to her engagement. My parents went to Sydney to welcome her home and the Pyetts moved in to look after us. Clive and Christopher were away at Scotch and Grammar Schools in Launceston. The sweet corn was ripe. My parents sent me a cooking set from Sydney for my birthday. It had miniature cake tins and a small frying pan that I could cook with. Grandma gave me a crystal set (radio) with headphones. This meant I could now listen to 7AD, the local commercial station, and become familiar with top of the pops music. Eric Pyett helped set it up for me in his kind and practical way.

Auntie Mary’s welcome home afternoon tea was organised for her friends to hear about her travels. I had been asked to put out the sugar, which she’d brought back from all of the countries she had visited. I started tearing the packets emptying the sugar, quickly to be told they were to remain in their packaging. How foolish I felt.

? Jane D, Bob and Mary Gott, Henry, Barbara and Mary Elizabeth 2-11-57

Dick Frazer, Jane D, Bob and Mary Gott, Henry, Barbara and Mary Elizabeth 2-11-57

Auntie Mary married Bob Gott on 2nd November 1957. Mary had previously refused to marry Bob and live with his mother, as she and the mother didn’t get on. Fortunately Mrs. Gott died. Cousin Jane was their bridesmaid and Mary Elizabeth and I were the flower girls. My tooth was capped, so that I no longer had a toothless smile; the previous cap I’d swallowed. This wedding ceremony was the first to take place in the newly built St. Columba’s Presbyterian Church in Devonport, followed by a reception at 6 Ronald Street.

Mary Elizabeth, Barbara, Dick Frazer, Jane Donohue, Bob and Mary Gott

Mary Elizabeth, Barbara, Dick Frazer, Jane Donohue, Bob and Mary Gott

Auntie Mary took down the flying ducks on the walls and made 124 her own. Timothy, Robert and Susan were born in quick succession.


Auntie Mary, Susan, Timothy, Robert and Uncle Bob Gott

Cooking was something that Mary learnt, but it didn’t come with the innate ease that my mother seemed to have. Mary and Brenda mixed in different circles, though that could have been due to their age difference. Both appeared very confident people and attracted many people into their orbits.

Uncle Bob bought the newsagency in Rooke Street, and I was able to work there in the school holidays. His eccentric habit of wearing his Scottish tam-o’-shanter brings a smile to those who remember him.

Enduring Threads: part 10

Paternal Relations

Grandfather Roberts would come to stay with us once or twice a year. He, too, was a short man, like Grandpa Harry, but Grandfather K was very strong. He would cut the hedge, right up until just before he died, in his eighties.

Uncle Hong and Auntie Alex came to stay when she taught me ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, so I must have been very young. As she bathed Clive and me, she’d say, ‘Let’s take those potatoes out of your ears.’ I thought of Alex as exotic as she spoke English and  French. They lived on a cocoa plantation in New Guinea, and later adopted two children, Anne and Timothy.

Staying at the Sadler’s farmhouse with five cousins was fun. We played in their beautiful

Cousins: Ruth, Duncan, John, Margie and Helen  Sadler

Cousins: Ruth, Duncan, John, Margie and Helen

garden and the extensive orchard. At that time ‘Alandale’ was a dairy farm. When their son, John, took over, he diversified into vegetables and flowers.


Helen and I were the same age, and so we linked up again in later years when we were at boarding school together. Bringing the cows in, we’d chatter as we avoided the fresh cowpats. I found the rhythm of life on the farm even slower than our life in town.

Helen and Barbara in BHS school uniform

Helen and Barbara in BHS school uniform

Uncle Loch and Auntie Judy Fran lived at ‘Currajong’, with a creek meandering through the property. They had five boys and one girl. Penny was one year older than me, and she also went to Broadland House School as a boarder. I sat beside her at table in my first year. She and Helen both went on to do nursing at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, after finishing school.

At ‘Robin Hill’, Uncle Barney and Auntie Jean’s children were a little younger than me. They had three boys and one girl, Jill. Theirs was a dairy farm, plus pigs. The white wisteria over the front veranda was thick and lush. The baby grand piano in the lounge room gave it elegance. The warmth of their hospitality was captured by the smell of Auntie Jean’s bread wafting through the house. Barney wrote poetry and stories and in later years he let Bruce and Max take over the farm, so that he could write full-time. Bruce is also a poet. The eldest, Rod, became an economist and joined my brother, Clive, as one of his partners in buying Waterhouse Island, the only privately owned island off Tasmania.

In their retirement, Barney and Jean built a rustic cottage with timber from the property, where Barney and Jean both wrote in their book-lined cosiness, dispersed with paintings. I loved going there to visit them in their idyllic setting on the hillside with platypuses in the nearby creek. Instead of saying, ‘Come and see my etchings.’ Barney would say,

‘Come and see if we can see a platypus.’

Barney had the same initials as me, B.K.Roberts, and once I knitted a tie that was ridiculously short. I sent it packaged with my name, on the back and Jean thought Barney must have another wife somewhere.

Barney and Jean both died on the farm and were buried on the property in a place that they chose to be together. They were an inspiration to me in their contentment. Throwing daffodils onto the grave has etched a lovely memory.


Enduring Threads: part 9

‘Currajong’,’ Robin Hill’ and ‘Alandale’

Dad’s family lived on dairy farms at Flowerdale, near Wynyard. New Year’s Day picnics were spent there with lots of cousins, (the full quota, twenty two cousins, but two lived in New Guinea). Early on the picnics would be by the creek at ‘Currajong’ at Loch and Judy Fran’s. That was when we were all small, but not small enough not to be included in a game of cricket.

Middle years tasting the homemade plum wine at ‘Alandale’ produced a rather loud cheery gathering. That was at Dad’s sister, Judy, and Bob Sadler’s. The orchard beyond the house and garden was abundant. In later years gatherings were held at ‘Robin Hill’, Barney and Jean’s farm where we’d sit out on the grass tennis court. Our numbers, including the next generation, were quickly increasing.

When we first had a car, Dad fixed the brakes before departing, knowing that he could use the brakes only once. We made the whole journey without him using the brakes till we arrived home. This was an incredible feat as the road was hilly and windy around the coast. It was all done with gear changes and slowing down.

Dad was the eldest of a family of four sons and one daughter: Frank, Judy, Lachlan (Lock), Bernard (Barney) and Henry (Hong, or as some called him Hank, after the war). His parents Amelia (Amy) and K (short for Knyvet) Roberts lived on the farm ‘Currajong’ at Flowerdale, which passed on to Lock and his wife, Judy Fran. We were all given Knyvet as a second name. The name lives on at Cradle Mountain too, where K did a lot of exploring and the Knyvet Falls were named after him.


Grandfather K Barbara and Clive at the Devonport Show 1950/51

Grandfather K
Barbara and Clive at the Devonport Show 1950/51

Dad’s grandfather had come out from Norfolk as a Church of England minister and had thirteen children. They lived on a farm called ‘Woodrising’ which is now the Devonport Golf Club. He was instrumental in having the Devon Hospital built.

The story of his father finding a snake in his bed, grabbing it and tossing it to the other side of the room, made me nervous about getting into bed when in the country.

Amy, Frank’s mother, was from an Irish Protestant family that had settled in the Sale area in Victoria. She had been a teacher before marrying K. Her cousin Mary Fullerton had written several books, and I have a copy of one called Bark House Days, about the pioneering days in the Sale area. It has very dated language but is interesting in an historical sense. Amy had instilled a love of language and books in her children; subsequently that love passed on through my Dad, who encouraged us, by making up stories, reading to us, and later, talking about the books he was reading. My mother read to us too, sitting by the study fire as the clothes dried nearby. ‘Winnie the Pooh’, ‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’ and ‘The Magic Pudding’ are instant reminders of that time.


(Apologies for my absence. Family commitments have taken me away from blogging… )







Enduring Threads: part 8

Family Christmases

Magnificent Christmas days were spent with my maternal grandparents. The gatherings began with four generations.

One year I counted twenty-eight at the dining table. The miracle was where did all the food come from? The oven wasn’t huge, but like ‘The Magic Pudding’ there was always plenty of delicious food for everyone. Roast turkey, ham, and crunchy baked vegetables with freshly shelled peas from the garden. Raspberries and strawberries also from the garden, plus plum pudding with threepences and sixpences hidden in it, with an abundance of cream and home made ice cream. Uncle John R-T always had the parson’s nose, and he always made a fuss about getting a coin in his pudding, although, on occasions he swallowed the one my grandmother strategically put into his piece.

X'mas at 6 Ronald Street

X’mas at 6 Ronald Street


‘Washing up time children, and remember, …( the usual refrain), the water has to be very hot! Start with the glasses and they must be left upright after drying them, until they cool, before putting them away!’ We children washed up with excited anticipation. Decorating the tree outside followed, before Uncle Henry brought out the movie camera and presents were opened. We didn’t receive presents from everyone, nor were they expected. It’s hard to think of my mother being young, but together with her sister Mary, on film, they are flaunting their new, almost strapless, flared skirted sundresses, looking very young, playing up to the camera.


Brenda and Mary (Mother and Aunt) Christmas in the 1950s

Brenda and Mary
(Mother and Aunt)
Christmas in the 1950s

The regular visitors who came for Christmas afternoon tea were Grandma’s brother, Hector McFie, (the politician), his second wife, Toni, and their daughter Helen. Great Uncle Hector was viewed with disapproval after Nana and Papa’s deaths due to his rapacious dealings with the will. This was something that was only spoken of in hushed tones, so the children wouldn’t hear.


The Wells from Latrobe would drop in, as well as the Jennings and Volprechts. The tins of sweets the Jennings family gave us each year were always appreciated. Auntie Mynie’s single friends would often be there. Voluminous forms filled the circle of fold up director’s chairs on the lawn. Uncle Percy’s permanently bent fingers didn’t stop him holding a cigarette. Henry’s films show the ‘Greats’ gradually diminishing in number, and eventually Christmas days moved to 29 Victoria Parade, where my mother presided over the cake-cutting ceremony. My grandmother was caught on film cutting the cake for three consecutive years wearing the same dress. My mother decided she wouldn’t make this mistake.

X'mas afternoon, 6 Ronald Street

X’mas afternoon,
6 Ronald Street


Miss Jean Nichols, a spinster neighbour took Miss Benjafield’s place, after she had died. I’m sure Jean was in love with my mother, but Brenda just pretended otherwise and allowed her to be part of the family.


On 2nd November 1957 Auntie Mary married Bob Gott, and later their three children, Timothy, Robert and Susan, had their own Christmas dinners at Steele Street. This meant alternating afternoon teas between Victoria Parade and Steele Street, which lessened the burden of the main meal with the growing numbers.

My father was never very excited about Christmas. One year we went along to St Columba’s Presbyterian Church; my parents with their five children sat in their usual pew, quite close to the front of the church. My father only attended annually under sufferance to please my mother. On the way out, the minister said, ‘And who are you?’                                                      My father answered, ‘Give you three guesses!’ and walked on.

Another Christmas on the way home from Ronald Street, we stopped at the Pyetts’ home. Dad and Eric went off to inspect the bees that Dad had given Eric. Dad had become allergic to their stings. That day he received five stings on the head. We rushed home, Mum driving and Dad seeing double. On arrival, Dad passed out in the passage and Mum couldn’t get a pulse. I rang Doctor Endelmanis, who came down. Mum had told me not to bother him on Christmas Day, but I thought it was more serious than that. By the time the doctor arrived, Dad had vomited, so we knew he was alive. Doctor Endelmanis asked me to make really strong coffee. We didn’t have proper coffee in those days; so I made a brew with lots of powdered coffee. Doctor Endelmanis stayed for two hours to see that Dad would survive. How we appreciated him giving up so much of his time on Christmas day.



Enduring Threads: part 7


Chloris and Harry Haines 1914

Chloris and Harry Haines

I’d sit on my Grandma’s knee and snuggle, encompassed in her warm, substantial breast. I felt loved. She encouraged me to sing to her. I’d watch her cook Scottish shortbread, always her favourite. She’d sit on a stool to relieve her arthritic legs, saying, ‘ It is always better to sit, rather than stand, so sit here beside me.’ I’d perch up next to her on another stool.

At seven I started music lessons. This meant that I stayed with Grandma two nights during the week as she lived closer to the music teacher’s house. Walking to school afterwards, I’d have to hurry not be late for school.

We’d have sardines on toast, or asparagus from the garden, with milk coffee for tea, (supper). That meant warming the mik and putting the coffee grains in the milk before straining. Sometimes we’d have coffee and chickory essence, the sweetness still appeals to me, even though I drink black coffee unsweetened now. Getting scared in the night by my grandmother snoring and haunting noises, such as the stairs creeking, would wake me. I’d lie awake in that soft bed with the blue feather counterpane looking at the shadows, waiting for a ghost to appear.


Chloris Janet Haines (my Grandmother)

Chloris Janet Haines
(my Grandmother)

At nine I was given my first bicycle that had belonged to Auntie Mary; it had bent and rusty handlebars. I was so grateful to have a bike, that it didn’t matter that it wasn’t new like my friend Penny’s. This now meant that I didn’t have to stay with Grandma, I had a choice; whether to ride in the pelting rain, holding out my arm to turn right, wobbling, feeling water drip down my neck, or stay at Ronald Street. Keeping a balance, dividing my time, that felt best.

I enjoyed music but really wasn’t motivated, so I didn’t achieve much progress, though I did get a distinction one snowy morning, with frozen fingers playing for my Preliminary Exam. Snow fell twice during those school years, though we did get many severe frosts. Putting a saucer of creamy milk out at night, to collect it frozen next morning, was a popular thing to do and it tasted wonderful. A boy at school lost an eye, being hit by a snowball with a stone in it that snowy day.

As I got older, Grandma demanded more of me, ‘ Wash up the glass first, cutlery second, then plates, with saucepans last. Make sure the water is very hot!’ her repeated refrain. I loved her, so it didn’t matter. I didn’t mind running messages, as she’d say,

‘Your legs are younger than mine!’

Penny and I stayed with her at Uncle Henry’s farm at Deloraine, where Penny couldn’t believe it when we were asked to redo the washing up. Penny wasn’t nearly as accepting as me and muttered under her breath,

‘She can’t be serious, the old cow!’

In later years my mother became very tired of having to visit her, especially as her visits were

Sisters Mynie and Chloris (great aunt and grandmother)

Sisters Mynie and Chloris
(great aunt and grandmother)

never considered long enough. As soon as my mother would get up to leave, Grandma would say, ‘I’m sure there was something else I had to tell you. If you wait a while I may remember.’ Or she’d say,

‘You’ve only just arrived, you can’t go yet!’

Being habitually late had been one of her ways of taking control. When she was older and sedentary this was no longer possible. Instead, she remained the matriarch from her chair or bed, in other ways.




Enduring Threads: Part 6

Melbourne Gardens

Melbourne Gardens

Childhood Pleasures

Two trips were made to Melbourne, the first when I was 3. We stayed with Ruth Meek, and all I remember was being sick with measles, so spent my time in bed, combing teddy’s hair. The iceman came, that impressed me, as we didn’t have an iceman in Tasmania. We were lucky enough to have a fridge.

Barbara and Helen Captain Cook's Cottage, Melbourne

Barbara and Helen Captain Cook’s Cottage, Melbourne

The second flight at 7, I sat beside Christopher Pyett on the plane,  we watched the wings shake, as our mother’s chatted together. Chris was on his way to Sydney to visit his Grandparents. I was going over to the dentist. We stayed at the Windsor Hotel with my cousin Helen and her mother, Auntie Judy. We were taken to the zoo and to visit Captain Cook’s cottage in the Fitzroy Gardens. Breakfast was our biggest treat, Helen and I, alone, went to the dining room where we thought we could order what we liked; we were soon informed of the restrictions. My eyes, as usual, were bigger than my tummy. The sausages were fat and filling. Afterwards, we had a race in the lifts, here again, to be reprimanded. ‘Lifts are not play things!’

 The family holiday we had when Graeme was a baby remains vivid, as family holidays were rare. We went to the Marrawah Hotel to stay whilst my father went walking on the West Coast of Tasmania for a week, starting at the Arthur River. We took him to the punt to cross the river and got bogged in the sand on the way back to Marrawah. Grandma stayed with us and read Little Black Sambo and other books to us each night. As we were the only people staying at the hotel, the owners were very friendly; they would bring us red cordial when we couldn’t sleep at night. (That would be frowned upon today!) They served seafood, crayfish mornay and scallops, which Clive and I enjoyed; only later both of us became allergic to crustaceans. The days were spent at the beach playing, the trees protecting us from the westerly wind. The North West corner of Tasmania is isolated, but an ideal family holiday location.



The forties and fifties allowed children so much freedom. We were allowed to wander on the parade under the old pine trees with their swollen, rough, cobwebby trunks without parental supervision. The fine needles softened the ground underfoot and we would gladly collect the cones as they dropped, to take home to burn on the open fire. It was captivating when the sea was rough and the king- tide brought the water right up over the path. The force of the elements entranced me without being scared of the inherent dangers.

A stranger came along and asked me to show him the way to the Bluff. I just said, ‘Follow the path and you’ll find it.’ Perhaps there were paedophiles, but we were expected to use our common sense, and luck prevailed.

We could climb trees and make cubbies. The boys played a lot of cricket. In the summer there was a natural swimming hole where we’d swim. My mother did come when we were swimming. Collecting shells and odd shaped stones was a constant activity. I’d put them in a box under my bed, and they would disappear, nothing would be said and I’d go and collect another lot.










Enduring Threads: part 5

Childhood Memories

As a child, everything seemed bigger. The cherry plum trees seemed enormous. When my brother Clive was mean to me; I’d go into the house and put on a Fair Isle beret and come out assuming he’d think I was a different person. I’d meet him under the plum tree expecting him to be nice to me again because I was someone else. Sometimes it worked.

Clive and Barbara

Clive and Barbara

Nigel was born on 15th September 1953; I then went to stay with my best friend Penny Russell’s family at the Harbour Master’s residence. They had three girls who welcomed me and made me feel, at seven, part of the female fraternity. (That doesn’t translate to the feminine, maternity). My eyes were opened seeing them groom themselves; eyebrows being plucked, something I’d never seen before.

Unfortunately, my mother had forced me to have my plaits cut before Nigel’s birth. She had chased me around the house the night before and given up, but the next morning she’d just chopped off each plait. My front tooth, that I’d knocked out when I was two, had regrown without enamel. After the freshly enamelled tooth treatment, at great cost, it was knocked out again, playing on a broomstick. Looks were never something I felt confident about. Myrtle Russell tried valiantly to give me confidence, telling me I had beautiful eyes. No one in our family believed in giving compliments to children.

Penny listened to 7AD (the local radio station) and there was a popular song at that time, ‘How much is that doggy in the window,’ which we all sang with great gusto in the girl’s bedroom. I loved learning this song, as we didn’t have 7AD at our house. Penny was much more worldly than me because she went to the cinema, or as we called it, the pictures, every Saturday afternoon. I had seen about two movies before I started High School. ‘Snow White’ was the first. I was lost when Penny talked about film stars, trying to soak up what she told me. My Mother wasn’t one for wasting money on magazines. Though she did break this rule after the Royal visit, so that I could make a scrapbook for school. This was a large hard covered folder with brown paper pages, devotedly completed using the home- made flour and water glue to stick the latest photos and decals of the Royal family.

Penny and I both collected swap cards. Our mothers played cards and so we were off to a good start, as we collected the jokers that were not needed in the packs. I was fortunate, too, because Auntie Mary gave me her swap cards. The older cards had gilt edges, some were textured, or had gold and silver added to their designs. The new Coles swap cards had many sets, but didn’t compare to the older cards. So when one had doubles, one could get several Coles cards for one older style, if it was in good condition.

I was upset, when my father picked me up to take me to tell my great-grandparents that my third brother was born, as I had hoped for a sister.

Mother’s two weeks rest at Meercroft Cottage Hospital was the norm after a baby was born. There she had double doors that opened to the outside, so that we could visit her. Children were not allowed inside, so we crept in very quietly.

Clive, Barbara, baby Nigel and Graeme

Clive, Barbara, baby Nigel and Graeme

At 2, Nigel’s blonde curly hair was quite angelic. He was soon climbing into my bed in the early mornings to snuggle up. I remember the warmth, and then the bed would go cold – wet. I did love having another brother.



Our father would always get up first to put on the porridge. It was quite a tradition that he used ‘chicken feed’ and oats soaked overnight. My mother would bathe, as breakfast was well underway.

When I became a little older, I decided I hated porridge, and vomiting back into the bowl  proved to be the only way I could convince my parents that I no longer needed it. They then accepted this. Dad would often have eggs and bacon after his porridge, then toast and tea before pedalling off to work on his bike. We would all have eggs at the weekends; having chooks, eggs were plentiful. Tea replaced milk to drink, and I enjoyed toast; the homemade grapefruit marmalade made me sneeze repeatedly, every morning.

Building our bonfires in the May holidays for Empire Day 24th May was another tradition. Victoria Parade at that time was not manicured as it is today. We’d drag home dead branches from the whole neighbourhood to the empty block of land opposite. Old tyres were kept until last in case another gang burnt our bonfire down before the night. Eventually we invited the Stone twins, the rivals, to share our bonfire, to save it from destruction. My mother made red toffee apples for everyone in the neighbourhood on bonfire night.

The year Angus was born, we organized the bonfire a night early. Pregnant Mum, after distributing the toffee apples, had another tray for everyone to put their crackers on so that they could be dispensed throughout the evening. Unfortunately, someone put a live cracker on the tray, and my mother dropped the lot as they all began to explode. Flowerpots and spinning wheels along with the penny bangers all went off at once.

This set off her labour. Angus was born early next morning, on 24th May 1956. What a cracker of a baby he was.

This time, my mother had organized a housekeeper to come in and look after us all. She was called Mrs. Roberts, no relation. Immediately taking charge, ‘I don’t need any help from you, I’ll find things myself.’ I felt very put out, as my mother had asked me to help her. When we came home from school, ‘Here’s a biscuit and drink. Now, stay outside and play, I’ve just cleaned the floor!’ her pommy voice resounded. The meals were dreadful. One in particular stands out: boiled vegetables and meat surrounded by watery, fatty soup. It was neither soup nor a ‘proper’ meal, as we knew it. Even our unfussy father was perplexed, but diplomatically said nothing. We were all relieved and delighted to have Mum home two weeks later with little Angus.

Penny Russell, Jill Brooke, Barbara Roberts at a fancy dress party.

Penny Russell, Jill Brooke, Barbara Roberts at a fancy dress party.

Penny Russell and I would play for hours after school and holidays, mostly outdoors. One play space was in the outside laundry with the copper. This was before my father built the playhouse around the plum tree, which had white-framed windows on two sides and a door at the front, the whole house was painted in sump oil. At this time I asked my mother, ‘Why do girls marry boys?’ I thought Penny and I would be quite content to live together as adults. My mother wisely said, ‘Just you wait and see.’

Nigel had invisible friends.                                                                                                           ‘Mum, stop the car!’ Nigel would cry,                                                                                            ‘Stop! Santa and Robber have been left behind.’                                                                   Stopping, opening the front gate to let them out, before putting them into the car was a regular ritual. Nigel’s best friend was Sandy Budge. We would listen to them talk about their future. ‘When we get married, we won’t go to Holland for our honeymoon because we don’t want any Dutch babies.’ They must have fallen out with their Dutch friend at that time.

Graeme’s inventiveness didn’t lead him to become a scientist as we expected, with his



pottering about making experiments in the outside laundry. One Christmas, I unwrapped a soap shaker for washing up, consisting of old bits of wire and some velvet soap encompassed by mesh he’d scrounged. I was thrilled, as we children didn’t give each other presents, so this made it very special.

Besides Penny, I played with closer neighbours, Elspeth McIntyre and occasionally Valery Gray, though she was a year older. Elspeth and I hid in the broom cupboard as Mrs. Gray complained, ‘Those girls are being mean to my Wallie.’

My mother remonstrated, ‘I don’t get involved in the children’s scuffles. I’m sure they will sort things out for themselves.’ Mrs. Gray left feeling thwarted. We crept out of the broom cupboard when they had gone to the back door feeling elated. I was proud of my Mum for standing up to scary Mrs. Gray. Elspeth and I would always run on our way past the Grays because she would sometimes shout and swear at us. Her behaviour was bewildering; in retrospect, was she was menopausal?

Not accepting rides with strangers was one of the rules we abided by; even when Tom O’Meara, a close neighbour offered to bring Clive and me home when it was pouring with rain.   He was the local bookmaker. He was a kind man and must have been amused by our reticence. His children went to the Catholic school. In those days there was a division between Catholics and Protestants, though I didn’t understand why. I was fascinated by some of the Catholic paraphernalia, such as little cards of the Virgin Mary and writing in green or purple ink. At our house the ink was either black or blue.

Birthday parties were held and sometimes school friends were invited. Whilst at primary school, my mother made a magnificent birthday cake with a doll in the centre with a decorated skirt of icing.   I was delighted and my Mother was particularly proud of this effort. She also made cone shaped biscuits folded to contain cream and jelly, creampuffs, lamingtons, fairy bread and the table was laden with food.

I seem to remember other people’s birthday parties more than my own. Moments like, the dentist’s son, Stephen, who had been deprived of sugar, picking off all the icing off the cakes and having a wonderful party before being discovered. We saw quite a bit of our cousins that lived in Launceston, as they would come to visit our grandparents.

Graeme, Mary Elizabeth, Clive, Barbara and Peter

Graeme, Mary Elizabeth, Clive, Barbara and Peter

At that time there were no supermarkets. Our general store was the Don Store, where everything was weighed out into paper bags. My mother bought flour and sugar in large sacks. Some people bought their biscuits by the pound, but we always had homemade biscuits. Bought biscuits were considered a treat. Homemade butter was available, and it was always a deep, rich yellow. At the Don Store the money was put in a container that was fired on a wire to an accounts office raised above floor level in the centre of the shop, pulpit-like. Any change was sent back by the same method. Mr. Atkinson with his rounded glasses and large white apron, almost to the floor, wrote pencilled dockets and practised mental arithmetic.


Enduring Threads: Part 4

The Haines family


Chloris, Lillian, Brenda Front: Henry and Mary

My mother, Brenda, was second in a family that had five daughters and one son: Lillian, Brenda, Chloris, Marian, Henry Charles and Mary. Marian died very young and was seldom spoken of.

Brenda, Lillian, Mary, Henry and Chloris

Brenda, Lillian, Mary, Henry and Chloris

In my mother’s childhood, my Grandmother was a shy woman. When someone came to the door, she would tell the children to be quiet and pretend no one was at home. A visitor’s card was dropped through the letterbox in the front door to let them know who had called.

When my mother was two, she fell off a chair and became paralysed. She remained so for a year. The doctor didn’t know what had caused this, writing to International journals about the case. My mother screamed when there was noise, so straw was placed on the unsealed road outside the house to minimalize the noise. Brenda demanded a crystal glass to drink from. In later years Brenda thought that the skull bone must have been pressing against the brain, which gradually shifted, releasing pressure, allowing her to learn to walk again.

Chloris died at the age of twenty-one in Melbourne whilst she was completing her studies to be a pharmacist. She was thrown from a horse. The Devonport police rang my grandparents and asked them to come to the police station to be told the news. Henry heard the news when the Melbourne undertaker’s rang him at home, and so went to pick his parents up, knowing that they would be in no fit state to drive home. Recently, my cousin, Peter, found a newspaper cutting about Grandpa donating a wing to the maternity hospital at Meercroft named the ‘Chloris Haines’ wing’, after this tragic event. No one seems to know of this, nor know what happened to the brass plaque that was mentioned in the newspaper article, as Meercroft is now a large old peoples’ home, totally changed.

6 Ronald Street, Devonport 1940s?

6 Ronald Street, Devonport 1940s?

My grandmother held that pain in her heart, as we discovered in 1969 when we found Chloris’s things, emptying the attic at Ronald Street. There were boxes of new underwear that Chloris hadn’t even worn. My Grandmother moved to live next door to her daughter Mary who lived at 126 Steele Street; a big break with the past.

Chloris Janet Haines (my Grandmother)

Chloris Janet Haines
(my Grandmother)

Grandma wore an apricot-coloured corset that had to be laced up the front. Her body was curvaceous. (I inherited her hump on her upper back, and Auntie Mynie shared this too). Chloris and Mynie’s children missed out on this defect, lucky for them, and were proud of their straight backs. Long white hair was twisted into a bun at the nape of her neck where the clear plastic hairpins attempted to hold the bundle. Black and navy shoes were polished daily, and handbags and gloves had to match the shoes. The array of hats: wide, tall or sometimes snugly fitting, decorated or plain were always eye catching. If only we’d kept them. Osteoarthritis caused her to hobble slowly, leaning from one side to the other using a walking stick. Her swollen knees, ankles and fingers were distorted and must have been very painful, though she never complained, nor believed in taking medication.

The first morning task was to always red-ochre the fireplace before setting the fire. Farting as Grandma painfully knelt was part of the ritual. She also whistled, though denied that she omitted these noises. I pretended that she neither farted nor whistled, unless there were brothers or cousins about to share some giggles. Mornings were not her best time, as she would rather have slept in, preferring to sit up late into the night. Silence was her kingdom, and the radio was seldom used. This was before television. Talking was her entertainment. She made scones for her own aging mother and delivered them daily, till Nana died. The daily paper and the telephone brought any news. Grandma’s annoying habit was to ring at teatime, when Mum was busy preparing tea. Fridays Grandma would arrive with a welcome basket of fruit and chocolate for my mother, as Mum was a chocoholic.

Mr. Harman was the gardener for many decades. Grandma always took out his morning/ afternoon tea in a rainbow coloured jug with the milk and sugar added, accompanied by biscuits/ scones on the tray. It wasn’t until he retired that Grandma found out that he didn’t take sugar in his tea. He’d been drinking it all of those years without saying anything. When he retired Mr. Sharman took his place.

Grandma played contract bridge with her friends. My grandfather would sometimes arrive home before they had left. He’d place one of their hats on his head and embarrass my grandmother by saying,

‘Haven’t you got homes to go to?’                                                                                                     He was always full of fun. Grandpa loved to act (taking the part of a fat woman in the local        Cof E hall performance of a Charles Dickens play) and he also enjoyed singing.                       Bowls and rowing were two of his sporting interests.

When my grandfather was offered a knighthood, he refused, saying,

‘I was born Harry Haines and will die Harry Haines.’

He also hinted that his wife was proud enough, and he couldn’t bear for her to be made Lady Chloris. In those days, she wouldn’t let anyone use her Christian name, apart from a very few, who could be counted on one hand.

One of those was Miss Vera Benjafield. When Miss Benjafield went into hospital, she asked the nurses, ’Where are my teeth?’ They looked high and low to no avail. Finally they found out she hadn’t brought any with her. Such a dear old soul!

 Grandpa visited us often when I was small. He used to take Clive with him on his trips to the Dulverton Brickworks in Railton or to one of his many timber mills. I was not included on these trips, as I was a girl or perhaps considered too young. Once I hit Clive on the head in frustration. My grandfather expounded,

‘You can’t buy a new head at a shop, you have to look after them.’

Harry Haines

Harry Haines

He was a kind man, and ahead of his time. He arranged for his employees to have superannuation when they retired, long before it was law, so that he kept most of his employees for life. In the beginning F.H. Haines P/L did building work as well as selling building materials. Later he realised it wasn’t fair to other builders and so gave up the building side of the business and just kept the timber mills, timber yards and brick works, plus the hardware shop in Best Street down by the railway. The firm had a whistle that went four times a day, letting the whole town know the time of day.

When my grandfather had a fridge delivered to our house, my mother objected, being proud, ‘We can manage,’ and it was six months before she turned it on.

Harry Haines realised that his son Henry didn’t have his heart in the business, so he sold the firm to Kauri Timber Company in November 1951, a fortnight before he died. Henry managed the business for Kauri Timber Co. until June 1956. Then Henry bought the farm ‘Cheverton’ at Deloraine, surprising the farming community by making a great success of it, never having lived on a farm before.

L I H 11

Grandpa suffered from asthma; he wasn’t a strong man and died in December 1951. My mother, 34, cried, something I hadn’t seen her do before. She was devastated. I felt, at aged 5, detached, as I wasn’t close to my grandfather and couldn’t understand why my mother was so upset. Only now, as I learn more about him, am I sorry I didn’t know him better. It was after this that I started going up to Ronald Street to stay. I’d look at Grandpa’s shaving equipment left in the bathroom cabinet and it gave me conflicting feelings of discomfort, intrigue and distaste; a dead person’s things.

When we were a little older we’d play with Grandpa’s billiards upstairs. On the walls at Ronald Street Grandma’s children’s pastel drawings were framed and displayed. I was intrigued by the fact that one of the aunts was dead. This added to my belief that the house was haunted.