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Friday, 13 July 2012

30. Three Score Years and Ten

Bert turned 70 in 1961, the year before Doll's visit. On 2nd June, 1962,  while Doll was staying with them, Bert, Nell and Doll went out to lunch with Albert. After they got home, Bert, still the fixer and maintainer, climbed on to the roof of the house to do some repair work. This time, however, like his father before him, Bert suffered a heart attack and fell - from the roof. He was dead when he hit the ground.

Doll and Nell managed to summon help. Telephones were not common in every house in Australia in 1962. Albert had one for his business, but no other family members had a telephone until later in the 60s. News of a death was delivered by the police going to the homes of next of kin and passing on the news.

Albert arranged the funeral and cremation at Woronora Cemetery. Sylvia and Grace's children were deemed too young to attend a funeral and were not allowed to go. Irene and Ray went.

Sylvia was rocked by her father's death and took some time to come to terms with it.

Bert's ashes were scattered in a rose garden at Woronora. When Nell died, many years later, Sylvia's children had memorials for both of them installed in the rose garden where Nell's ashes are buried, at Woronora.

In his lifetime he had done his best with the hand dealt to him, worked hard, served his country, reached out to new things, seized the opportunities that came along and provided for his family no matter what. Although he placed no importance on education, he was enterprising and prepared to take risks. He built a better future for his descendants.

Doll stayed on for a few weeks after Bert's funeral, then flew home to New Zealand. During the flight, somewhere over the Tasman Sea, Doll also suffered a heart attack. She died on the plane. She was 69.

Fred 1962

Fred lived another three years, but on 24th September 1965, he too died of a heart attack. He was 64.

Syd visited Australia and New Zealand later in the 1960s and died of a heart attack in 1972, aged 76.

May, Fred, four grandchildren, Barbara and Ian c. 1981
Les lived until 1985. He saw his daughter married in England and return to New Zealand.  He visited Australia again in the 60s. He had four grandchildren, including twins, when he died, aged 82.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

29. Retirement

Nell (right) and friend at Heathcote house
In 1956 Bert retired and he and Nell drew the Australian aged pension. They had been planning and saving. Just before his retirement, with some help from Albert, they bought a house at Heathcote, then a small town on the rail line beyond Sutherland, south of Sydney, now a Sydney suburb.

There was a shed for Bert and the house was comfortable. It was not connected to the mains sewer and had an outside toilet, with a weekly collection service by the local council.

Bert's Holden looked like this
They established a garden and grew their own vegetables. Bert also bought a new car prior to retirement  - a green Holden.
They were closer to Fred and Clare's than they had been in Botany and it was an easy drive to visit Albert at Banksia. They could go for their drives to the bush without going through the Sydney traffic - now becoming busier and slower. None of Bert's children had cars or drove in his lifetime.

Fred, Clare & Nell on excursion
Sylvia, Len and their children visited on Sundays about once a month, catching the train from Sydney's Central Station to Sutherland, then changing to the small motor rail that went down the coast to Waterfall.


Irene with her father
Beryl, Bert and Nell at Irene's wedding.
When Bert's eldest grandchild, Irene, married Ray Baker in 1961, Bert enjoyed attending the wedding and looked forward to great-grandchildren.

Albert's photography business was successful, and Albert enjoyed his work. Irene had worked colouring photos in the business but wanted to phase out as she had children and as colour photography took over.
Syd and Grace took advantage of the expansion of Sydney's power stations in the Lake Macquarie area, north of Sydney to buy land and build a house at Toukely, north of Sydney. With the opening of the Wangi and Munmorah Power Stations in 1958, Syd was able to transfer from the Bunnerong Power Station on Botany Bay  where he had worked since the war.

Sylvia had taken a part-time job at Qantas to help out with uniforms and books when her elder child began high school in 1959. She took advantage of staff travel concessions to visit New Zealand in 1961 and catch up with both Les and Doll and their families.

Nell, Clare, Bert, Doll and Fred in Australia 1962

In 1962, Doll made the trip by plane from New Zealand to Australia to visit her brothers, Bert and Fred. It was a very happy reunion. Doll met all the family and stayed with Bert and Nell.

It was to be their last time together, and the last photo taken of both Bert and Doll.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

28. News from England

Amongst Bert's papers there are eight letters from his mother, Emily, between 1947 and 1952 and one Christmas Airgraph letter from 1943. In 1943, Bert's brother Syd is still in the Army, along with his son, Sydney and Doll's son, Jack. Emily is living with Les in Hendon, but visiting Hounslow often.

It would seem that few of Emily's letters to Bert were answered. Grace wrote to her grandmother during the War and sent her food parcels but Bert, although quite literate, was a poor correspondent. Emily's letters are a mixture of family news - mostly about her brothers and sisters - news about rationing in Britain, questions about Bert's family and pleas for more news and photos.

In 1947 her letter is sent from Stan's house at Prittlewell, Southend-on-Sea. From 1948 to 1951 she writes from Brookfield, the home she bought with the sale of the mineral water business, now leased by her brother Charles and his family. From 1947 until 1952 Emily lived with her brother, his wife Kate and unmarried son, Charlie. When Kate died in 1948, Emily kept house for Charles and Charlie.

In 1947, aged 79,she writes : You will be sorry to hear that Aunt Kate passed away 26 July. She had been a great sufferer for some years but we all miss her very much. Poor old Uncle seems lost without her. Young Charlie is still single and living at home. I do the cooking for them at present. Glad and Ted come in to do the rough cleaning,  and washing Glad takes home to do, but I really do not want the job now. I feel too tired now to do much work. I still have a lot of muscular rheumatism and I find the stairs trying.

She passes on news of her family - the Keens, her sister Alice, brother Dick and Charles' son Arthur.

Doll lives nearby and sees a lot of her mother. She has news of Les from New Zealand when he moves there in 1947. By 1949 Les has bought 2 acres of land and is starting out on his own.  Syd and Stan are sporadic in their visits and she yearns for news from Bert and Fred. What news she does get comes mainly from Bert's daughter Grace and very occasional letters from Fred and Bert.

She has news of cousins' children marrying, and uncles and aunts aging and her own activity.

In 1951, news of her sister Alice's death is overshadowed by the death of Doll's husband, Fred. He had been ill and in hospital, but expected to live for some years if he took things carefully. Doll's grief is exacerbated by her daughter, Meg, moving to New Zealand in 1952, along with her family. Les put them up until they bought land and put up a garage they could live in while building a house.

Emily would like to be independent herself, but sees no way of achieving it.
She organises, through Grace, for Bert's signature on a document that allows her to cash in an insurance policy she held on her children's lives.

Rationing was in force in Britain until 1954. In 1951  Emily reports: We are still rationed to meat, and only 3oz butter, ¼ lb marg, and 6 oz sugar, 3 oz bacon, 3 oz cheese a week, some weeks 1 egg and some 2. Are you able to get plenty now? What we miss most, I think, is sugar, or at least I do.

She complains, as the years go by, of rheumatism, bronchitis and a bad back. Before Christmas 1952 she has moved to live with her son Syd and his wife Flo and has been confined to bed for some weeks. She was, by then, 83 years old.

In August 1952 she sent Grace a photo of herself in the garden. She says it was taken by Maud, presumably her niece, Maud, or Molly, Keen.  She asked that Albert reproduce it for her and provide it to both Bert and Fred's families so their children 'can see what their Gran is like'. Albert obliged. He retained memories of staying with her as a boy, when she bought him a pair of trousers and put a penny in the pocket, telling if that if he left it there he would never be broke!

In spite of her news and cheeriness, her letters have a sadness and pain.
She very much wants news of her family, of their daily lives, of the small news of their hopes, fears, tribulations and joys. She asks again and again for photos. She is grateful for surviving, and getting by, but she pays the price of a mother whose sons migrate across the world for a new life in an age when telephoning is a luxury and travel is slow and expensive.

On 20 May 1953 she writes to Grace wishing her happy birthday.  She is lucid and alert - commenting on the Coronation plans and on Sylvia and Len moving into their own home.

On 21 November 1953 Doll wrote to Bert to tell him their mother has quite suddenly developed dementia and has not known any of the family for six weeks. Doll has gone to stay with Syd and Florrie to help with Emily and Stan calls in each week. Eventually Doll took Emily to live with her but, within a couple of years, could no longer cope and Emily moved into a nursing home.

Doll left Southampton on the Southern Cross  in September 1959, arriving in New Zealand on 26 October. She travelled as a tourist, but never returned to England. Her son, Jack, followed on the Rangitane in February 1960 with his wife Kathleen and daughter Sheila.

Of Emily's six children, by 1960, two were  in Australia, two in New Zealand and two in England.
Emily outlived her son Stan by several months. He died of a heart attack while drinking at the Bell Prince Hotel, Southend-on-sea on 21st January 1961, aged 61.

Emily died in the nursing home towards the end of 1961, aged 91.

Monday, 2 July 2012

27. News from Les

In October 1946 Bert had a letter from an old school friend in Hounslow, Ed Button. Ed had obtained the address from Bert's brother Les, who had visited been visiting his cousins in Hounslow. Ed had been working for Mr Sparrow, owner of a paint and glass merchant business, since 1918, and had taken over the business when Mr Sparrow retired. Bert's aunt, Alice Chitty, was a regular customer of Sparrow's.

Ed sent Bert a photo of the wedding of his only child. The crosses on the bottom mark Ed with his wife, Ed's son and his bride. The cross at the side marks Ed's brother.

In March 1947 Les wrote to Bert from New Zealand to give his new address and news of his family's move from England.

His letter says, in part: Well, old chap, we only stopped at Fremantle for  few hours, it was sure grand seeing Australia once more. I came out as 2nd cook on the T.E.V. Hinemoa, a new ship for the Union Steam ship Co. for ferry service between the two islands here. My wife May and daughter Barbara came out last May. All her people are here. We had been living with May's sister, had been trying to get a house around Wellington but impossible, housing shortage is as bad here as in England, so have taken on the job as gardener and caretaker to Sir James Elliott, at his weekend home. We are rally lucky to get this, its a grand place. He has a nice house set in eight acres of grounds with several lawns and lots of flower borders. We have our own cottage, well away from Sir James' house. There's fowls, one sow and a fine large vegetable garden. Our cottage is furnished and I get five pounds per week. You can bet I find plenty to do, but suits me OK for the time being anyway, but I still have hopes of starting my own nursery sometime. There's money in it here. One thing here, I'm my own boss, as Sir James and Lady Elliott only come out weekends. He is the leading doctor in Wellington, but is getting on in years now.

Les says that he is 'as good at writing as the rest of the family'  meaning not good at all, and exhorts Bert to write to their mother. He goes on:  I never expected to see this side of the world again. We were lucky to come out alive, had some pretty close calls during the war, feel none the worse for it now, only some older. Mother stuck it wonderful. She was very well when I left, but worries a lot over not hearing from you or Fred. A few lines would make her really happy. So do just write her an airletter,her one hope day by day that she might hear from you. She was overjoyed to  hear from Grace, and for her parcels. She is living with Stan now, I will give you the address in case you haven't it.

Les was the one who tried hardest to communicate and keep the family connected by mail.

In 1954, when working as a carpenter on the Napier wharves, Les lost one hand in an accident with a circular saw. He had a claw-like device fitted and got on with his life. He could roll a cigarette with his missing hand, using a mechanical roller.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

26. Into the 1950s.

By the 1950s Bert's life was settled and more comfortable than it had been since the years before his father died. He was wiry and active. He had given up smoking. The only beer he indulged in was Horehound Beer, a non-alcoholic drink purchased every now and then from a stall in Sydney's Central Railway. His children said this was all Nell would allow him, but Bert was a follower of health foods, and Horehound had a long history of association with the English mineral water business that Bert's family had been a part of.

Bert also had raisin sandwiches, banana sandwiches and bread and honey most days - certainly his own choice, not shared by anyone else in the household. He had a 'fizzy drink' each day after his evening meal - Alkasetzer - to aid his digestion. On weekdays Bert drove to work early. On his way home he often stopped to see Grace, still living in Mascot, and estranged from her mother.

Nell had the evening meal on the table at 5.00pm. If Bert was late, his meal was in the oven of the coal-fired stove. Bert was mostly home before 4.00pm, working in his shed. Just before 5 he would come into the house and wash-up in the large bathroom, scrubbing his hands with solvol, lathering again and again, pushing the lather down each hand until it was clean.

After the evening meal, he and Nell retired to the sitting room, in front of the radio. Nothing came between Bert and the radio serial, When a girl marries. 

There were celebrations with the Harris's - their friends from the Orontes - or with Fred and Clare - around the pianola.

Bert had a permanent booking on Saturday nights at the Botany Empire Cinema - upstairs, first row on the right, a double seat. He and Nell rarely missed.

On weekends there were still the drives into the bush. Sometimes Nell would spot a plant in the scrub and call for Bert to stop. She would dash into the bush, dig up or snap off enough to try growing it in her bush-house. Bert still grew vegetables and flowers for home consumption and Nell kept chickens.

Bert paid for Sylvia's two children to be born in the Pacific Private Hospital in Brighton-le-Sands, perhaps hoping to prevent his daughter having the difficulties that had plagued Nell's pregnancies.

Bert badly wanted a grandson. When Sylvia's first baby, born in 1947 was a girl, Bert refused to look at her for a week, and called her 'Sonny Jim' for 16 months until Sylvia obliged with a boy.

He was always kind to his granddaughters - but in his world a boy was what counted.

He had no time for women drivers, women in public life, or education for women.

Albert's photography business thrived in the 1950s, leading to Albert becoming the photographer for Woolworths in Sydney, near the Town Hall. He had a small studio there were he took photos, which he developed in a darkroom near Central Railway. Irene learned to colour the photos and Beryl served as receptionist.

Grace and Brenda Grace

Grace and Sid had a daughter, Grace Brenda, born in 1949. Sid worked at the Bunnerong Power Station, near the Botany Bay heads.
Bunnerong Powerhouse from Banksmeadow School 1940

In 1953 Sylvia and Len bought their own home in Livingstone Avenue Botany, the same street that the family had lived in when Bert worked on the Banksmeadow retaining wall. Bert and Nell drove over to visit on most Sundays, sometimes staying, sometimes taking everyone on the routine drive to the bush.

In the school holidays Nell and Bert would take Sylvia and her children on day trips to places like the Captain Cook landing place at Kurnell.

On the way home, Bert always stopped to buy ice-cream for everyone - vanilla between wafer biscuits.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

25. Bert in WWII

Bert's life during the Second World War could hardly have been more different than his life during WWI. He was now a civilian, on the other side of the world, with a grown family. By 1940 his two elder children were married and independent. Sylvia still lived at home, but was working and contributing board.

Bert with his dog, Teddy, 1940s
Hard work and frugality had resulted in a modicum of comfort for Bert and Nell. Their home was comfortable.  In their sitting room  they had a large mantle radio that Bert liked to listen to in the evenings, and they had a pianola with a collection of pianola rolls that became the centre piece of evenings with friends.

The local factories were short of labour as young men enlisted and went to war. Bert's son, although he did not enlist, was not interested in the nursery business. Bert was too much a product of the Victorian era to even consider that his daughters might be business partners in the nursery, even though both of them were interested in plants and cultivation. Women, in his world, raised children, kept house and helped out. They weren't partners, and they weren't the future of a business.

Men working at Textile Dyers and Bleachers 1940
Bert responded to the call for older men to help keep the factories working, closed his nursery, and went to work for Textile Dyers and Bleachers in Mentmore Avenue, Rosebery. He worked there until 1956. The company eventually specialised in a form of winter cotton, similar to Viyella. Workers could bring home the ends of the rolls of dyed fabric that were cut off before the rolls left the factory. Sylvia and Grace turned these into clothes and Nell hooked strip rugs for every room in the house.

Bert exchanged his nursery truck for a car. When he wasn't at work, or driving the car, he was cleaning, adjusting or tinkering with it.

Grace, Syd & Sylvia WWII
Grace's husband, Sid Molloy, had joined the Australian Navy and was at sea for much of the War. Sylvia frequently stayed with Grace while Syd was away.

In her waitressing job in the city, Sylvia met many servicemen on leave and went out with some of them. If she liked the look of the English servicemen, and they were in Sydney over a weekend, she would invite two or three of them home on a Sunday. Bert would take the group for a drive to La Perouse, Kurnell, Cronulla, Jannali and accessible 'bush'. Nell would kill and cook one of her chickens, and the evening would be spent singing around the pianola. It was a touch of 'over home' giving them news of places and developments in England.


                                                    In 1940 Bert became a grandfather with the birth of Albert's daughter Irene. Bert liked children, and enjoyed taking Irene and her parents on excursions in his car, to places like the small sanctuary at Doll's Point where you could pat a kangaroo.

Letter writing rarely made it to the top of Bert's priority list. His mother wrote and asked for news. As time went by, Grace took on the task of writing to the grandmother after whom she was named.

In 1945 Sylvia met Len Haynes, a young British sailor in Sydney while his ship, the Formidable,  was repaired after kamikazi attack. They corresponded when the Formidable returned to sea, and when the War ended, Len chose to be demobilised in Sydney.

Sylvia was 20 when she and Len married in January 1946. Bert grumbled, but gave his permission when Sylvia said she would wait until she was 21 and marry him anyway.

The couple went to Lake Burrill for two weeks honeymoon, then moved into the front room of Bert and Nell's house at 98 Banksia St. Botany. The post-war housing shortage in Sydney meant they lived in this front room for the first seven years of their marriage.

At the end of the war, Albert persuaded Frank Hurley, the war photographer, to take him on as an unofficial apprentice in his photography studio in Sydney. Albert went to the studio after work each day and worked with Hurley, developing and printing photographs, learning the trade. Albert then began to photograph weddings, to do some street photography and within a few years, established his own business as a photographer. It was not what his father had envisaged, but it did display the entrepreneurial spirit of Bert's father and grandfather, and of Bert himself in his nursery business.