Tag Archives: Enduring Threads

Pondering Memoir Writing:

Antique rug taken on my i-phone

Antique rug taken on my i-phone

This morning in the shower, my mind reflected on Memoir writing. How can one be true to oneself and yet protect other people? There is a fine line between sharing one’s life and treading on others’ toes.

 In ‘Enduring Threads’ there are many things I excluded because of my own children’s feelings. For instance they wouldn’t want to know about all of my nocturnal and sometimes daytime liaisons/entanglements. In fact, many have seeped into the never never regions of my brain, never to resurface, which is probably a mercy. Phew!

 ‘Enduring Threads’ is about to be pawed over by an editor. I have feelings of relief and anxiety. I wonder how much more is necessary to get the m/s into a readable, interesting story. It is so hard to know what a stranger will make of it. When I read it, I see all of the characters in full colour. Have I made them alive to other people and are they of interest to others?

 Irene Walters shared a wonderful post about names. Should one use real or made up names to protect people? The general consensus seemed to be that most writers prefer to include real names in a memoir; firstly it makes it easier to write, and secondly it is acknowledging other people who have had influence or have been important to you. I liked Irene’s inclusion of part of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with their dilemma regarding names. If you’d like to read Irene’s post with the many following comments, it can be found on:

‘Call me anything but don’t call me late for dinner: I think not? Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

 Names are important. How many of you don’t like a name because of someone you didn’t like in early childhood, or a nasty adult? Naming children has become a creative exercise in itself. Having been a school- teacher, I found names do make a difference. If a child has to explain a name every time they meet someone new, it is a disadvantage; or names can nurture self- esteem. In story writing, it is a freedom we’re faced with. Making up names can be fun.

 I have used real names in this m/s, as I wish to acknowledge and respect the importance of individuals in my life. The symbolic threads they represent weave, or are stitched into the colourful tapestry of my life, creating ‘Enduring Threads.’

Antique rug taken on my i-phone

Antique rug taken on my i-phone

 

 

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Break from ‘Enduring Threads’ and Canadian Billboards:

imageA quick note to let you know I’m working on ‘Enduring Threads’, to get it ready for a professional editor. I am really enjoying working on it, and have decided not to put any more on the blog at the moment. You have had a taste of what is to come!

I have decided to make Monday the day to put up a painting, or progress of paintings. Thank you all for your visits and comments. Here are just a couple of billboards to make you smile.

Canadians have a de-LIGHT-ful sense of humor,as is evidenced in this selection of billboard images from across their country. We have taken the FUN out of Life in America with our supposed focus on ‘rightness’; as if you could ever legislate morality. Have a good laugh at these billboardsimage-18 image-17 image-16 image-15 image-14 image-13 image-12 image-11 image-10 image-9 image-8 image-7 image-6 image-5 image-4 image-3 image-2 image-1 image

Enduring Threads: part 20

Seductive Sydney 1966

I flew up to Sydney in the summer holidays and stayed with the Aureli family. Bert had finished treatment, including shock treatment, at a Mosman medical centre. I believed he was better. The weather was warm, and my relationship with Bert blossomed. We’d take Tino’s little motorboat for picnics to all sorts of hidden nooks around the harbour. One day we were swimming in the warm waters of a deserted cove when a fisherman called out,

‘I saw a shark swimming there this morning! It is their playground.’                                              We shot out of the water so fast and after that were much more careful.

Elfie was working in a smart Italian shoe shop. Bert and I arrived – with garlic breath, each with many love bites.

‘Off you go, before you frightened the customers away!’

The sub-tropical warmth of Sydney, our youth and the giddiness of undiluted lust and love intoxicated us both.

The house at 39 Killarney Street, Mosman was filled with paintings and Italian treasures. Elfie’s special gift to make everything look sophisticated and yet homely where- ever she lived, made their home unique and appealing. Her knitting and embroidery abilities were top class. She had knitted me a jumper and crocheted me a magnificent cape in dark green wool with black trimmings whilst living in Hobart. She also crocheted a black and rusty red carry-bag that I loved and carried for years. Elfie’s handiwork had an Austrian influence, as she was brought up in Tarvisio, which was in Austria before the First World War. Tarvisio then became part of Italy after the war, and so, German remained her native tongue and Italian her second language.

During the Second World War when Umberto was a baby, (born in Turino, 1939), Elfie told a story of going to get milk. When a German soldier intercepted her pointing his rifle at her, she shouted at him in German. This saved her life.

Tino, Umberto’s father, was born and brought up in Rimini, Italy.  I only found out about his story after Bert and I separated, when Bert’s parents came to stay with us at Easter time in Devonport in 1976. There were many surprises ahead, but when Umberto and I became engaged officially in February 1967, I was blithely unaware of any of these family secrets.


Enduring Threads: part 19

Art School 1964-66

Hobart is a beautiful city tucked in under Mount Wellington and wrapped around the port and River Derwent. My mother made arrangements for me to board in North Hobart. Mrs Spencer, (mother of a friend of my aunts), was a widow and took in four young people. She was caring and an excellent cook, so we were all well looked-after. I had my own room.

Art School was more than I had hoped for. I was consumed living in another realm drawing and painting. Here I met Umberto Aureli, or Bert to his Australian friends. He was my teacher for first year lettering, a subject taken only that year.

The first week I went out with a different boy each day for lunch or dinner. My mother told me it sounded like the United Nations and that she wasn’t going to tell my father or else he’d bring me home. On the Wednesday, Christopher took me to a shop where they sold Vienna sausages in rolls with a choice of mustard. He suggested I go out with Bert, as he was part of their group. Chris was in a relationship with Priscilla, who had completed her art studies and was now teaching at Collegiate C of E Girls School.

The German, the American and the other boys (men!) were exciting, but I soon decided Chris was right. So from then on Bert and I became an item. I had my eighteenth birthday party at his parents’ house in Lenah Valley. Elfie cooked the most beautiful Black Forest cake. She cooked in the Austrian tradition for cakes and the Italian tradition for meals. Bert’s romantic Latin ways made me feel cherished, and I was treated like a princess. Kissing me in the street or anywhere else was perfectly normal for him. He also had a great gift for choosing appropriate presents (a talent his daughters later inherited).

Umberto in the late 60s

Umberto

Bert had come to Australia at the age of twenty-one. His parents had arrived a year earlier; the same year Bert won a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Bologna. He did first year medicine and then his parents encouraged him to migrate to Australia. Bert came, not realising the enormity of the change. As he’d learnt some English he started by picking out the words he understood in lectures. He soon realised that his ability and love of art out-shone his will to become a doctor. His father was furious, as every Italian father wants his son to be a doctor.

This caused a ruckus in the family. Bert attended the art school and continued belonging to the university ski club, where he also shone. Bert had a natural ability for graphic design and he excelled. His brother, Roberto, like me, was seven years younger than Bert, but still at school. It was Roberto who fulfilled his parents ‘dreams by completing a dentistry course at Sydney University, when his parents moved with him to Sydney.

The teachers at art school were professional artists. Jack Carrington Smith had just won the Archibald Prize with his portrait of Professor James McAuley. Miss Dorothy Stoner exhibited as a colourist and was a rather vague but charming painting and drawing teacher. Miss McCulloch was a rather intimidating character but full of amazing knowledge. One day she stormed into the drawing class after she’d discovered a student in the act of stealing drawing paper from the teachers’ store. ‘I’ve just discovered Chris Fooks rifling in my drawers!’ she exclaimed. Everyone burst into laughter at the colourful image she invoked. She was not amused.

Our main model was Mrs. Mead. She was a rather shy and reserved person but a very competent model; she had a rounded figure full of rhythm and was ideal to draw. In the cold weather, a little heater would be placed near her, and she’d slowly turn red in one patch until someone moved the heater before she actually started to cook. One day Tony Bowering  brought some chocolate to class as well as a very similar-looking laxative. ‘Would you like some chocolates Mrs. Mead?’ who took the proffered laxative, thinking it was chocolate. Very embarrassed, she soon had to excuse herself to Mr. Smith, several times. Of course this amused us all, not having any thought for the sensitivities of Mrs. Mead.

Geoff Parr became head of the Graphic Design Department and was a very good friend to Bert, appreciating his abilities. They had worked at Cadbury’s Chocolate Factory together in the holidays. When I started art school, Bert began his first year teaching lettering and completed drawing, the last subject for his diploma.

I decided not to tell my parents in advance about an early weekend away. A group of six of us went to the West Coast to stay at Trial Harbour. The first night was at Lake St. Claire in the free bunks available there. Next day, we travelled on to Trial Harbour.

Umberto's photo of Barbara knitting a tie.

Umberto’s photo of Barbara knitting a tie.

Bert and I were in his green VW Beetle, which broke down. We stopped some locals to ask about a mechanic, and it was the first time I’d heard such broad Australian accents spoken. I found it difficult to understand, as did Bert. ‘How’s yous goin?’ ‘Whatch yus want?’ They turned out to be helpful and friendly.

We had tents, which was rather brave considering the westerly winds that tore in off the ocean. Chris and Priscilla, and Robyn and Tony, put up their tents. The West Coast of Tasmania is known for it’s ferocious winds, and walking along this turbulent coastline was invigorating with the waves crashing and the froth flying onto the rocks and into our hair and faces. Listening to the turbulence and the tent flapping, as we snuggled up together in our sleeping bags for the night, was like being tossed by the sea. The final night we stayed at the parents’ house of a fellow student, Wendy, as Bert and I had to wait for the postman to take us back to Hobart in the early hours of Monday morning whilst the car was left to be fixed in Queenstown. We survived the scariest trip with the postman, who drove around those mountainous bends at top speed.

Art school was absorbing. We worked five full days and four nights a week, entranced by drawing and painting. They had other subjects like perspective and cast drawing, history and design, and modelling in first year. Hobart was a vibrant place to live, after the North West Coast. There were exhibitions and concerts to attend. They also had a cinema at North Hobart that showed alternative films. Clive joined Bert and me for movies. We’d know if he considered it a bad movie, as he’d sleep through it. Clive and I went to hear Segovia play, and he gave thirteen encores! What a brilliant guitarist, so modest. In contrast we went to see Nina and Fredrik, folk singers of recorded popular music, who were very disappointing in person. Perhaps they had a bad day, as we did like their recorded music.

Clive was very dedicated to his engineering course and studied hard. He lived at Christ College up behind the university, and we would visit him there. Once he told us about his latest prank, writing to Oral Roberts, a radio evangelist. Clive wrote about his sick sister, asking for money. He received an answer, ‘Dear Brother Roberts,’ with no money enclosed.

At the end of the first year there was an Art School Ball, a big affair. We all went to the Royal Theatre Costumier to hire costumes. I remember finding a frock with a fully gathered spotted skirt and decided I’d go as Mary Poppins, though I had no idea who she was or what the story was about. It didn’t matter. The costumes and wigs made us look magnificent. Taking on a role made it all the more mysterious; make-up gave us masks. It was good to see the staff fully participating and dressed up too.

Bert won several prizes whilst in Hobart; one was to design the tax stamps for the Tasmanian Government, another was for a poster competition. He continued his interests in rock climbing and caveneering. There is even a rock face on Mt Wellington named after him.

In my first year of portrait painting, a model chose to buy my painting. I was delighted as she paid me ten pounds ($20) and that was enough to buy a paint case full of oil paint. My parents had to pay for me to attend art school, so I was thrilled to be able to do this on my own. It also appealed to me because John Hayward’s sister was the model. John was head of the Art Teacher’s course, and he didn’t like me; and he had to hand me the money. He later became head of the whole school.

I guess I should tell you why John didn’t like me. There was competition between the Fine Art students and the Art Teacher students. John Hayward arranged an exhibition with Rothmans, (a cigarette company), with a monetary prize for his students, who were bonded to the education department and on a small stipend.

I wrote a letter to the Mercury newspaper asking why the Fine Art students were excluded, especially since we were a small number and we had no subsidy. John blamed Willy, a German student, and so I had to own up. He had it in for me from then on and was responsible for me failing one subject at the end of my course so that I did not receive a diploma. I had completed the four- year course in three years, but for one subject. I found it hard to forgive him for this, though it taught me a valuable lesson – not to be outspoken with people who can affect your study prospects.

One holiday break I arrived home and told my mother that I had invited two students to call in before catching the Princess (ferry) that went to Melbourne. I thought I’d better warn her that they were lesbians. My mother told me later that she had to go and look up ‘Lesbian’ in the dictionary. She didn’t know that they existed. That shows how little I knew before attending Art School.

The previous Christmas holidays, the boys from art school had taken jobs: raspberry picking and another year at an army camp. After I met Bert he would come and stay with our family, as he worked at Edgels factory at Quoiba with Christopher, packing peas. Christopher has many stories of this time: putting sweets in with the peas, and a note wishing people on the other side of the world a ‘Happy Christmas.’

I worked in Uncle Bob’s newsagency. Most of my pay went on green Penguin paperbacks. The Maigret series was a favourite.

In Hobart our group met Uto Ughi, a young and handsome violinist. Because he was Italian, and Bert’s mother, Elfi, worked with Mr. Bini, the Italian consul, we were given the privilege of entertaining Uto. Bert and I took him to Tony Woods and Chris’s studio in the city, where Uto freaked out as he had a phobia of birds. This surprised me for someone so famous and world-travelled. We played tennis on the Wrest Point tennis courts. That night we all attended his concert and Tino, Bert’s dad, took me back stage to get Uto’s autograph.

Scan 2

Whilst in Hobart I met Edith Holmes, a painter, school friend and contemporary of my grandmothers. She was so totally different from my grandmother, having bright red hair. Edith was devoted to her painting. I found her inspiring. She made me question: did I want to be a painter or a mother? I didn’t think it was possible to be good at both, and I didn’t want to be a mediocre painter. A dilemma.

My life at art school was probably schizoid, divided between being a mad party-loving student and attending Quaker meetings. When I first went to the Meeting House, there was a discussion group before the meeting. I happened to be in Margaret Wilkinson’s group. I asked if Quakers believed in reincarnation. She told me that she believed in reincarnation, but that Quakers had no set doctrine. She then asked if I’d like to join a Sunday afternoon book-reading and discussion group at her home. These discussions could be quite animated and helped develop insights into divergent ways of thinking. I liked the Quakers because they were not judgmental like many other Christians I’d met. The Meeting House became a refuge where I could gather my thoughts; calm could be restored. Bert would come with me to meetings. It was wonderful when someone would ‘speak to my condition’, as they so often did. This means that the person is moved to speak about something that is particularly meaningful, helpful or poignant to another’s inner need or problem. It’s as if telepathy is happening within the Meeting House.

An example of a simple message given during this time: an elderly woman stood and described her contemplation of a strong weed growing up in a cement crack in a footpath. She likened it to the strength of a prayer.

Annie Learoyd, an art student friend, was an orphan and lived with an older cousin who was interested in séances. There was so much to discover. It became quite scary when a friend of Annie’s was so scared that she couldn’t sleep without a light on. The cousin practised automatic writing and was looking up information she received in trance at the library. They seemed convinced that they had contact with ‘the other side’. Annie was sometimes reckless, driving through red lights.I wondered if losing her parents meant that life was less precious to her. She’d stop the car and let me out when I said that I’d prefer to walk.

One of our favourite haunts was called the Bistro, below street level. We’d all go there to drink the house red. We had no money for food other than bread, and that wasn’t adequate to sop up the alcohol. The owner was said to be a sadist, leaving his wheelchair-bound wife at home when he joined us to go to parties, so he didn’t object to us taking up space and getting drunk in his Bistro.

As students we would arrive at any party not knowing whose house it was. The first time getting drunk was disgusting; waking up, having been sick in bed. At least I didn’t ever vomit in bed again. The next day I arrived at art school looking very pale; the hangover took some getting over. I still can’t look at cherry brandy. I did avoid parties that were known to be drug parties, as I didn’t want to get caught up in that scene.

I am sorry that I have none of my paintings of this time. Not even photographs.

 

 

Enduring Threads: part 16

Salt and Salts

I was fourteen when I housekept in the holidays for my Uncle Henry at ‘Cheverton’. This holiday helped me develop my cooking skills. He shared my grandmother’s habits and rituals, so I attempted to do the right thing. For instance, when I cooked pineapple meringue tart it was considered far too extravagant. With my wings clipped, I no longer tried to cook the extravagant; I’d complete the most obvious chores and then read. ‘Jamaica Inn’, was one of the novels I found on the bookshelf, followed by ‘Rebecca’. To cover my lack of interest in cleaning, I’d arrange flowers to make the house look more homely.

Outside we’d pick up the frozen newborn lambs that had been rejected and bring them back to the house to put them in the Aga warming oven till they thawed. They had to be bottle fed, and then we’d take them back and smear them with mess from another dead lamb, to give the right scent, so that an unsuspecting but accommodating ewe, who had lost her own lamb, would take one or two on as her own. I loved feeding the lambs.

Henry invited an old friend over for dinner. I put the leg of lamb in early to make sure it would be cooked. Henry had warned me that if it cooked too long it would shrink. It was nerve-racking guessing how long to cook things. Mint sauce made, gravy made, and potatoes crispy – it all looked perfect until we tasted it. The salted beans had not been rinsed enough. Not only were they salty but the gravy was also contaminated. I felt so disappointed. The men laughed and drank their way through dinner, as I squirmed, knowing it tasted briny.

Taking morning tea to the shearers the next morning didn’t improve my status. There were jars in the cupboard, all white. I’d hurriedly taken the unlabelled Epsom salts jar instead of the sugar for the shearers to put in their tea.

Henry’s bachelor neighbour, Mr. Brown, had never seen the sea. Henry decided one day to take him to see the ocean at the Bluff at Devonport. When he arrived, Mr. Brown was silent. Henry said,

‘Well, what do you think’?

Mr. Brown drawled, ‘It covers a lot of land.’

 

 

 

 

Enduring Threads: part 15

Angus

Angus

A Reprieve

Nigel, Barbara, Angus, Clive and Graeme. Robinson Studio photo 1958 (Barbara cutting her fringe as usual before photo)

Nigel, Barbara, Angus, Clive and Graeme.
Robinson Studio photo 1958 (Barbara cutting her fringe as usual before photo)

Looking forward to holidays made the school year bearable. We’d go to the farm at East Sassafras where we children would stay in the old house, whilst our parents slept in the new house. We helped paint the old house inside; yellow and grey in the boy’s bunkroom, and pink and blue in my room. How hideous it sounds now, (fashionable 50s colours). The open door to the outside veranda let the possums in, with their shiny black eyes reflecting in the firelight. Both bedrooms had a fireplace that I delighted in lighting. That love of an open fire remains with me. There was magic about the place. The gnarled old apple tree was the backdrop to our lunches outside in the sunshine. Winter days I picked masses of yellow daffodils growing wild. Arranging these inside radiated a warm glow, brightened the very dark kitchen with the camp oven. The windmill overgrown with an old-fashioned pink cabbage rose filled a fron garden.

One sad holiday, Rummy, our Cocker Spaniel, who was getting old and slow, didn’t manage to keep up with the Land Rover. It was one of the few occasions I remember Clive crying. It was a wet, cold month, but the daffodils bravely flowered.

Frank, Clive and Barbara Graeme, Brenda, Nigel and Angus on the farm.

Frank, Clive and Barbara
Graeme, Brenda, Nigel
and Angus on the farm.

Christopher Pyett

Christopher Pyett

There were always plenty of jobs to be done. Milking I decided not to be good at, as I really didn’t want that responsibility. My father milked the cows by hand. Feeding out was something

Angus and Nigel

Angus and Nigel

we all enjoyed, throwing hay from the back of the Land Rover. Learning to drive was fun, and we learnt as soon as our legs were long enough. Once I drove Uncle Bob, (before he married my aunt), to show him around the farm. I took him over Greens Creek and ended up bogged, and both of us had to walk through the mud to organise the tractor to rescue the Land Rover.

Only once do I remember my father getting angry. We children had all gone around the swampy area with firebrands, burning what we thought was just a swamp area, but Dad had just finished planting out new trees, and we managed to destroy them. I can’t remember any consequences, though knowing Dad was angry was enough to subdue us for some time.

Christopher often used to ride his bike out to the farm for the holidays. He says it was about a three- hour ride, though he is inclined to exaggerate. We’d play Monopoly and Ludo by the fire in the old house on stormy days. Clive and Chris would cheat, and Clive had a terrible temper if he didn’t win. Chris was also competitive, so it was always interesting. Christopher would

Baby Angus on the farm

Baby Angus on the farm

sometimes creep into my bedroom after the boys were asleep. He’d lie on top of the bed, sharing my pillow as we quietly talked into the wee hours, watching the shadows from the fire play on the ceiling. He introduced ideas I’d never heard of, like ‘pop’ music. Our fathers only listened to classical music. I had so much to learn.

Walking around the farm we’d sing songs, pick mushrooms, burst stomachs of dead sheep and collect wild flowers. Mary Mayguard helped housekeep for Dad and Graeme White whilst they were living at the farm when Mum wasn’t there. Mary helped around the farm too. We called her Mary Mudguard as she rode a motorbike.

Scan

The Mersey River with Princesss, (ferry) passing our house on Victoria Parade.

Sometimes the first long weekend in the year fell on my birthday. There was an Apex carnival held in Devonport on Victoria Parade that weekend. The man who ran the Ferris wheel would give us free rides before the carnival officially opened. It was always very exciting, and during my school years I was sad to be dragged away to return on the bus to school in Launceston.

Graeme boarded with (Great) Auntie Mynie for part of this time, so that he could attend the primary school in Devonport whilst Mum went to the farm. As a middle child, he probably felt undervalued. He was good-looking and clever too, like Clive. He excelled at school and became a prefect at Scotch College and then went on to study engineering at university, also like Clive.

Nigel and Angus went to Scotch, following in Graeme and Clive’s footsteps. The new principal was a single man. During their time at Scotch, a fire broke out in the boarding house. The house- master’s paedophile activities were uncovered by the discovery of photos hidden in a wall, of him-self with some of the boys. I don’t know if Angus and Nigel were involved but they were brought home to the local high school. Nigel’s best friend committed suicide. It was a terrible time, especially for Nigel.


 

Enduring Threads: part 14

Broadland House Church of England Girls Grammar School 1958-62

Sleeping on an open veranda with six other girls, with a canvas blind to keep the elements out was my introduction to boarding school. On frosty mornings, the icicles would drip from the tin roof onto our beds. The fog penetrated not only the room, but under the blankets. Heating, who had heard of that? Discovering my flannel pyjamas covered in blood that first year didn’t help. The other girls soon taught me how to deal with ‘the curse’, as we called it.

Helen, Prue, Robin and Mandy wrapped against the cold.

Helen, Prue, Robin and Mandy wrapped against the cold.

A test in the first week made a division in the E class, (first year High School). I was put in the dummies’ class E2, a smaller group. E1 had the brighter students, my friends were to go on and leave me behind, as I had to repeat the year. One consolation was that my cousin, Helen, was with me in E2. From then on, I hated school. My progress was: E2, E1, D2, C1, B2. (The 2s representing failure). C1 was a large class where I sat in the back row drawing, not even taking notes, so naturally I ended up in B2, a smaller group that suited me better. Talk about labelling children! Self- confidence and belief in oneself totally destroyed.

 

Clive

Clive

I couldn’t compete with Clive’s success. I hated being confined by so many unnecessary rules; and my life, regulated by a bell, made me feel like Pavlov’s dog. One was not encouraged to think but rather regurgitate others’ thoughts, learning by rote, that I mostly refused to do. Now I understand that rote learning does have a place in expanding the pathways of the brain. I also chose not to be confirmed, (in the church), as most did. No one thought of making our education interesting. Only once did a young relief teacher come into an English class and inspire us. She had us spellbound, talking about ‘Twelfth Night’. The plot with Sebastian and his twin Viola dressing as a man, and the complexities of love; the subject we were all besotted with. She spoke of one person always loving more than another; perhaps from her own young experience, but we were totally enraptured with her discourse.

The highlight of my first year was attending the Grammar School Ball with Christopher Pyett. Exciting, even though I had to wear the pink bridesmaid’s dress that I’d worn for Auntie Mary and Uncle Bob’s wedding the year before. The dress had been Auntie Mary’s choice; it had a three quarter length skirt, (knee length was popular), with flower embroidered, gossamer fabric with a pink taffeta petticoat and puffed sleeves. I tried not to dwell on that, so it didn’t hold me back. Chris and I tried to out-lap the others on the dance floor. We had such fun together. The balls were very formal; one had a program on which the boys could add their names to reserve a dance. Demure, I was not.

Sleeping on the veranda, I prayed that one day I’d marry Christopher. Be careful what you wish for; though, I was lucky in this instance. It was just a matter of being patient!

Of course we had fun! Libby, Angela and Prue in the bath.

Of course we had fun!
Libby, Angela and Prue in the bath.

 

To break the boredom we’d escape, ‘break bounds’, and as a consequence I was often ‘gated’, which meant I couldn’t leave the premises for three months at a stretch. Clive would often visit me at Broadland, though I knew it wasn’t only me he wanted to see. He’d come with Robert Marshall so that he could see Robert’s sister, Jill. I liked Robby too. Clive was always generous, and he even gave me his unspent pocket money on a couple of occasions. Being confined at an all girls’ school made the majority of us boy mad. Most of us wrote letters to boys, and then when we met them we were totally shy and overcome. These letters passed via the day- girls who lived near the boys’ schools. Such acronyms such as: SWALK (sealed with a loving kiss), were the things that kept us going. I also wrote to two pen friends,

Ceri in the UK, and Shakaf Hassan who lived in Malaysia. Shakaf wrote in an even script in ink.

Shakaf Hassan

Shakaf Hassan

I’m sorry I didn’t keep his letters now, as they were on the lightest of papers and so beautiful. He stopped writing in his late teens when he joined the army; whereas Ceri continued to write and we met up in Cornwall some years later. Being young I didn’t ask Shakaf about his religion, nor did he ask me.

At 14, we went to a ballroom dancing class for one year. This was held on Saturday nights. Our school linked up with Scotch College. Saturday night tea was one large red Frankfurt; that had a habit of eructing at the most embarrassing moment. I ended up refusing to eat such a fatty, gristly, disgusting, unpalatable excuse for a meal and ate stale bread and butter instead. The excitement of the night soon overshadowed the meal, or lack of it. The food was generally dreadful. Mary Sadler removed Alice and Jane because of the poor food, and sent them to PLC in Melbourne.

Saturday nights were otherwise a good night, as after tea, when not going to dancing class, we’d have a movie in the school hall. This was always something to look forward to.

As I wasn’t good enough to be included in any team sports, I chose sports where there was no competition: badminton, swimming and ballet, all of which I loved. These activities enabled me to leave the premises. I put my name down for ballet without getting permission from my parents, who didn’t cause a fuss. As I was the only boarder to do ballet, this meant that I could unofficially wander about the city on Saturday mornings. One morning, I met the headmistress and the deputy in the draper’s store, McKinlay’s. I just greeted them normally, and luckily nothing was said. In those days, one was not permitted to just wander about on one’s own. Ballet was my main love and probably saved me from my vague suicidal thoughts. At night I’d consider the consequences of stepping off the third floor roof. Would it be fatal? Finally, I decided it wouldn’t be fair to my mother; I would just have to put up with being in this hellhole and make the most of it. We did have many good time too, so it wasn’t all bad.

Robin, Prue, Barbara, Mandy, Sue and Helen relaxing on a Saturday.

Robin, Prue, Barbara, Mandy, Sue and Helen
relaxing on a Saturday.

Sitting up writing lines because someone else had spoken after lights out seemed a ridiculous consequence. I was at Miss Street’s table for meals the year she caught my mother and me crying in the locker room because I didn’t want to stay at school. Miss Street wrote to my mother that night telling her that I had recovered. She observed me putting salt into my neighbour’s glass of water but didn’t let on to me that she’d seen this. My mother appreciated her note and her thoughtfulness.

Miss Street, the deputy principal, died in the bath, in the boarding house one evening during my last year at school. The day after she died, I heard that my name was in her diary for me to see her that afternoon. Unfortunately, I had gone into town. Miss Street was going to help me with some English studies. I felt distressed when she died, and her funeral was overwhelming. The hymns were broken by sobs. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ still evokes that sad day. We trudged in a long crocodile, the whole school walking to and from St John’s Church.

Miss Ethel Street was a strict but fair teacher, and I felt she understood me. She was one of those spinsters whose fiancés had died in the First World War. I guess it was her influence and her confidence in me that led me to become a teacher later in life. She always kept a dictionary next to her bed so that when she was reading she could look up any unknown words. I think of her when I do the same thing.

The last two years at school, I was in a dorm with seven girls: Amanda Radcliffe, a second cousin, Prudence Jackson, Roberta Nichols, Angela Gaby, Libby Henry, a second cousin, Sue Archer and Helen Sadler, a first cousin. We were a happy group; though I was always first to bed and last up, if music practice didn’t intervene. I found out some years later that I was suffering from anaemia, so that was why I was tired all the time.

Jill M, Helen, Angela and LIbby

Last Sunday at school, Jill M, Helen, Angela and LIbby 1962

After the evening meal we’d go to the hall and dance, while Anne Nicholson, a talented student, played the piano before prep. Prep was doing our homework, supervised. On Sundays we’d write a letter home in the same class- room with whichever teacher was on duty. They would ask to see our letters before they were sealed. There was a total lack of privacy with everything we did.

An example of this lack of privacy was when I received a letter in the mail from my brother. The head mistress called me to her office. She handed me the envelope and asked me to open it. I was relieved to see Clive’s handwriting. In the envelope there were two letters. I took the slimmer one and then read it to Miss Rooney. She then took the envelope from me with the other letter; Rosemary didn’t ever receive that letter. I felt guilty and cringed thinking what Clive might have written to Rosemary.

Last Sunday at school Helen, Sandra, Angela and Barbara Ibbott 1962

Last Sunday at school
Helen, Sandra, Angela and Barbara Ibbott 1962

Only once did I leave the premises and meet up with a boy. I arranged to go with Sandra. We tagged along with another girl who was going out legitimately. It was the day of the rowing race; Head of the River, so we felt with so many people going out we wouldn’t be missed.

We met the boys at the Head of the River and then went off to a movie called, ‘Where the Boys Are.’ After the movie, which was all very innocent, Sandra and I decided to go to my mother’s cousin, Janet, for tea, leaving the boys. As this was a surprise visit, Janet heated up some preserved tomatoes, fed us and sent us back to school in a taxi. Then the tricky part started. We’d been missed at tea- time. That night there was a ball for the senior students, and we thought with all the confusion we could sneak in unobserved.

We stupidly hadn’t worked out a story, in case we were caught. I just hoped that Sandra didn’t mention the boys. We were grilled separately. I told the truth, just omitted that we met the boys. We were gated, and treated like criminals.

The head mistress liked my mother; otherwise I probably would have been expelled. At one interview, Mum complained that I’d been put in B2, the lower group, and didn’t have the Level 2 subjects to help me get the necessary points for a career. Miss Rooney told her that she shouldn’t worry, saying, ‘Barbara will marry as soon as she leaves school.’ My mother was furious as she was paying for an education and this was the ignorant attitude perpetuated at the school. Admittedly I was boy mad.

My mother promised that if I passed the exams that year I could leave school. I managed thirteen points, where seven were required to pass the School’s Board. The only problem was I only had one point for English, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to do Kindergarten teaching, my first choice as a career. What a relief to leave school and enjoy a year at home. The consequence of this failure didn’t worry me until later in the year, when I tried to get into teachers college. English 2 was a prerequisite.