In sixth class dad sold the cottage and moved north to a mining town in the Hunter Valley. He was there to help get the Liddell Power Station going. It was a horrid place with a lot of air pollution from the mines. I was always sick with chest infections, ear infections and sore throats. The doctors constantly gave me horridly painful penicillin shots.

It was the first time since I started school that I was by myself but I have no memory at all of the school. My sister started high school that year, and she absolutely hated that high school.  I do remember our Aunt S and Uncle E and family visiting as regularly as before as we were even closer to them there. I loved to be near my mum and aunt on our Sunday post lunch walks but in those days it was very much adults first, children last and my mum would shoo me away. I was a fair bit older than my aunt’s girls and of course my sister would not walk or talk with me and my cousin S did not talk much to girls so I usually just walked by myself.

I liked looking in shop windows, admiring the fashion and quality of the clothing in the few boutiques. I had always been a very good seamstress. I made myself shifts and a skirt and had started on a shift for mum, by hand. I had made clothes for my dolls well before attempting anything for myself. I loved clothes, though I only had a few pretty things. My sister was more comfortable in Levi’s and shorts and as she was a tomboy they suited her.

After six months or so dad’s job assignment was up and he was off to the next one. It was quite a way up north, true country and I absolutely loved it. My school was wonderful, my teacher was a tall male and he was very kind and helpful to me. Particularly with gymnastics. I detested the vault and somersaults. They made me incredibly dizzy for hours afterwards. One day he came across and said that he loved how I tried everything, even if I was frightened of it or felt I could not do it. If only he or my parents had realised it was a sign of a lifelong neck condition that would limit a lot of my enjoyment of life. I did not just not like these things, I really should not have been doing them at all. Ever.

To start with we lived in a house which was set back a long way from the road. We had a long walk to the road and a very long bus ride to school. My sister went even further to Inverell as there was no high school in town. The bus driver was a gorgeous lady, treated us all like her own. Mum however was very isolated, with a toddler it was very lonely for her and she was also frightened to be by herself.

We were only there three months and during that time mum conquered a lifelong fear, learning how to drive. Dad took her out in his ute and as long as she stayed on the quiet country roads she was fine. She might have inspired me to try something as well, I had always wanted to ride a bike, it was a way to escape for a few hours, visit friends. I was always too dizzy and it was the same though I persevered for months, my neck again. Turning to check for traffic etc was a trigger for major vertigo.

Eventually we moved into staff demountable cabins for the beginning of the extremely hot summer. They were spacious and had air conditioners, unheard of in those days. No expense spared for the workers families while they built Pindarri Dam. Mum and dad used to go out visiting work friends and my sister was always out. I babysat my brother while he slept and for the first time I felt a real surge of sexuality. I do not know if it was the previous abuse, or that I was mature for my age, or the attention I was getting from a lot of the workers. When I was alone I took my top off, and my teeney bra, and stood against the screen door and rubbed my tiny breasts and nipples repeatedly against it. I then stood there half naked feeling the cool breeze on my body. I actually hoped a man would see me, half hoped, and had no idea what I would have done if they had. Thank God I was more afraid of getting into trouble with my parents than with a man seeing me like that, because I stopped after a few weeks. They were a very exciting few weeks for me though.

I was told repeatedly not to walk through the bush to the bus stop but I loved the whole country and bush feel. We had regularly gone to rodeos as a family over the years but this was the real thing! However one day I was confronted by a snake that stood up high and swayed its head at me. Tongue flicking in and out. I was petrified with fear but managed to stay very still and then I backed away and ran home.

Towards the end of November the job folded for dad and we returned to the Central Coast. The same way we had gone up there, with my sister and I in the back of the ute. This time dad was stopped by a policeman and sternly lectured. He made me get in the front and my sister stayed in the back.

Once we found a place to live I returned to my old Primary School where I became incredibly popular with the boys I had known for years. It was strange. Even though one of them told me he preferred me without the freckles I now had he said he would like to dance with me at our barn dance last week of term. Mum actually bought me a lovely dress, it had a bit of a cutout at the back, perfectly modest but flattering. I remember it was navy with white and worked well against my tan and freckles. I had a wonderful time at the dance, one reason being that my sister was not there to undermine my confidence. I also had so many boy partners it was dizzying. A lot of them were boys who had shown me theirs and obviously I had not shown them mine years before. They always thought I would and of course, once under the desk they never did get to see anything. Think I was too young really to be a tease. The boys just never learned. Plus I was Irish Catholic with a Victorian mother. Sex was dirty and privates, especially boys, considered really dirty.

We ate lots of toffees and drank squash and one of the really nice popular boys told me he had always really liked me and had missed me. I said I liked him too and went off to dance with another boy. This was very unlike me, though it was probably more like me in UK, flirtatious and funny, not at all uncomfortable with boys.

In the last week of term I was told it was too late to sit exams and as everyone had been graded they arranged for me to go into High School anyway. My parents did not seem to mind I would be assessed differently to the others so I was not worried. We spent a lot of time outside gardening that week and I told the boy gardening besides me to look at the gorgeous spider on my hand. Luckily my teacher overheard and held my hand very very tightly until the richly patterned spider had gone. She then called the class inside, looking very shaken up. She washed my hand and had a good look but it was simply a close call, with a Red Back spider. I was very fortunate, much like with the snake.

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