A few days before Christmas I checked the two large suitcases I was taking up to my parent’s house into the checked baggage department at Central Railway Station. I was moving things up to Noraville preparing to move in with them while I worked out my options for the future. As always I walked up the other end of the gorgeous station to the cafeteria to get a pot of coffee and a sandwich. While I was there I heard a voice saying “Kate” at the top of her voice. Turning around, I saw my school friend Ann, I had not seen her since I left nursing two years before. We were so excited. She had just got off the train and told me she was working at Paddington Women’s Hospital doing Obstetrics training. I filled her in on my news and we caught up on our families. She told me she had been on holiday to Surfer’s Paradise and met the love of her life and she knew straight away. I was so happy for her, she was mature, happy and following her dream career. Eventually though I had to get my train and we parted ways, but both with contact details for the future. I had never lost touch with her as mum and I always went to her parent’s house for a piece of Christmas Cake and a glass of port. As we did with Stuart Cameron and the Cadogans, our wonderful neighbours from Gorokan.
I caught the bus to The Rock Pool where I ran into Linda, my friend from school and nursing. She was home from Darwin for Christmas and her birthday. So exciting to see her so happy and indeed content. She came over to see us at Noraville and invited me to her 21st in January. She sat on the floor and made me show her all the clothes I had brought up and insisted on the long white dress for her 21st. It was very pure looking however when it was on it looked a little like Sonya McMahon’s dress as it had splits right up to the thighs.
While up at mum’s after Christmas I invited my teenaged cousins down to celebrate the New Year and to explore Sydney for a week. My flat mate was away so the girls could use my bedroom and I could sleep in his, it was a really luxurious flat with plenty of room. They raced around getting ready, while mum and I were visiting them in their home in Lorne, in Maitland. I had asked my aunt if they could come and assured them I would look out for them. One of the girls taught Sunday School at the local Anglican Church and their parents had brought them up very well, and they trusted me. It was a wonderful feeling.
Once they were packed we piled into the car with mum and headed for Noraville. The girls quiet with excitement in the back. Once back there we stayed for the night and then headed to Sydney the next day. The girls ordered take away Pizza and tried all sorts of different foods. Ann met up with us and we went dancing at The Top Of The Town Nightclub in Kings Cross. Ann looked stunning as did my cousins. Ann and Jayne immediately were invited to dance and as always I was not. My other cousin was not either so we danced together. I admired Ann’s openness and ease with chaps, I was still uneasy with strangers who were men. Especially in packed clubs etc where body contact was considered the norm.
I took the girls to Rodney’s new hair salon to get their hair cut. Louise became a blonde Cleopatra and Jayne a tousle haired faery. Just such an amazing experience for them. We walked around Centrepoint for hours to get the girl’s outfits for New Year’s Eve. Louise immediately agreed with me that the white cotton fitted boiler suit in the window of one boutique was just her. It was perfect on and she was quietly delighted. Jayne was much harder to please, being very slight and unused to expensive choices she was overwhelmed. I told her I had stunning dresses and sandals she could borrow so we had a final trip to my favourite Italian styled coffee shop at the back of Myer and then caught the train to Edgecliff and walked home.
New Year’s Eve we pampered ourselves while we had pizza, mine without cheese, and then we dressed. Jayne borrowed my newish Italian leather wedged sandals and one of my maxis. Louise wore her boiler suit. Their hair was outstanding, I knew I had to keep an eye on these two girls in the huge crowds at the Opera House. Jayne was only 16 and Louise 15, it was quite a responsibility, especially with the migraines I had twice a week. Though I was determined not to show any discomfort in public, with my hostess training it was easy. Ann met us and we all headed to Edgecliff Station. And then on to the Opera House. It was a wonderful evening though Jayne found the sandals too high to walk in for too long. I encouraged her to go barefoot. She was stunned at the thought then delighted! We had to watch for broken glass etc but I took my red high heeled sandals off too to show her anything was possible in the big city.
An unforgettable evening for all of us and one that left me with a shocking migraine due to the noise and crowds. We managed to get home and then the next day started our New Year by going back to our parent’s homes. Mum and I always visited Auntie Shirley weekly and she loved seeing us but this time, the look on her face as she looked at her daughters, so chic and stylish and beautiful, was unforgettable. And she hugged me for so long and cried. As did I.
Linda’s party was not long after, her family and a few friends at their home and I remember having lots of chats with her dad. He always loved my outfits and styling. Afterwards I slept over as I had so many times in the past, snuggled under the granny rugs crocheted by Linda and Kaye’s grandmother. I felt safe and so at home.
Ann then had her party, we all went to a restaurant with her family and a few close friends. She opened her presents there, I gave her a gold Oroton Mesh cigarette case as I had seen that she had a wallet to match. I slept over afterwards, it was like being at school again. Ann always read several chapters before turning her light out. I read two and liked to go over what had happened that day. We chatted, we laughed and talked through the walls to her sister Helen and her lovely parents. An unforgettable experience of being with my second family right through school, different to New Years Eve but no less unforgettable.
Mum had a huge operation and lost a lot of blood. My friend Ann later told me she was told to prepare theatre with the necessary instruments etc for a really high risk patient. She was surprised at the resuscitation equipment that was needed and knew this was going to be a risky operation for someone. Then mum was wheeled in and she was stunned. It never showed though, my mum never forgot how my old friend, one of my best friends ever, had looked after her. She said Ann was so tender, so kind, so professional. She said Ann promised her she would be okay, that she would look after her. And she did though I did not see Ann again for some years.
My mum’s previous Pulmonary Embolism nearly killed her and they always expected it to happen again. Mum never knew, apparently when she had her gallbladder out the same preparations were made. Denise Lethbridge also told me about it years later. Mum really suffered a lot with her surgeries and arthritis and her “nerves” and was never 100% in good health.
Dad drove my brother and myself to visit mum in the evenings at Gosford Hospital. As soon as I walked into her shared ward the first time I saw James who I knew from Terrigal. He waved and after mum got a bit tired I went over and said hi and recognised the patient he was visiting as one of my girlfriends I used to know from around Terrigal. She gave me a huge hug and was so pleased she had seen me as I had basically disappeared from the pub circuit. James and Jennifer were together which was wonderful, though her having miscarriages was not. They were so perfect together, and gave me their phone number.
Dad rarely said anything at the hospital, in fact mum and dad rarely spoke in front of their children so it was always a strain to visit mum as I did most of the talking. I found myself going back into nurse mode very quickly and helped mum get comfortable and introduced myself to the other female surgical patients. Some of the staff were girls I had worked with and some I had gone to high school with. It was all very familiar.
Once mum was home it was hard to get her to relax and recover. Nothing I did was done the right way. She tried to do the washing which was downstairs. I decided the time I was there would be an unpaid job and tried to get things into a routine to suit mum but she slipped into a really deep depression. I managed to get my brother off to school in the mornings and be ready for him after school. Mum filled her day with watching Days Of Our Lives and The Young And The Restless. I used the time to read or sew. I also drank a lot of coffee to fill me up as I needed to lose the ten pounds I had put on because I was not using up the kind of energy I had been using up with nannying and nursing. The weight came off with long walks to the beaches and down to Canton Beach and to the shops and library at Toukley .
Mum was recovered physically but emotionally was another thing. It took all my tact and love to cope with everything. I was beginning to feel despondent myself. Seeing my nursing friends, an old boyfriend having moved on and all living their lives made my own seem empty by comparison. I knew I could have a great trip with Daphne and family early next year but I wanted a proper long term career.
I applied to The Navy and also answered a full page advertisement in The New Idea for Ansett Air Hostesses. One day just after I had applied I was walking back from Jenny Dixon Beach and as soon as mum saw me she came outside and told me three Naval Officers in a Jeep had been to see me! They knew that an older school friend of mine, Narelle Halverson had been in the Navy and that she had told me a lot about it. Mum was so excited, she said they looked fabulous in their uniforms and came in for a cup of tea and the tea bread I made especially for dad. At the same time I heard back from Ansett to go for an interview in Sydney next month.
I chose to go to the Ansett interview before I went on with the Navy. Mum was disappointed, though she thought I would not get in with Ansett. The interview was in a hotel near Hyde Park and I walked through the park afterwards on the way to shop in Myers and Centrepoint. It had seemed to go well, they seemed more interested in how happy and jolly I was than anything else. And how I would respond to people who were not pleasant to me. They actually scorned nursing, as if it did not matter the demeanour one used on ill people.
Once inside Centrepoint I went to see Daphne and Des in their shop to let them know I might not be able to come back. I remember saying to Daphne that I wanted to do something important, to have a career. She said that I was important to her and to Des and the children. I was so immature to say that to her and apologised instantly. She understood and we had a lovely long chat.
I heard back from Ansett that they needed me to come in for a second interview. This time I wore more makeup and a figure revealing dress. It was summer so they could see I was the right weight and could hold a conversation. They said they had been a little worried about my self confidence last time but had no issues now and wanted to offer me a place in the next intake.
Cannot even begin to say how excited I was, and even more excited than me was dad. He had been asking me weekly how my diet was going! The next intake was not for four months so I had to let Daphne know I could not come back to them or go on their trip. She said to come for the weekend and I had a lovely time with the children, and babysat so the adults could go gambling in Double Bay again. While I was there Daphne told me my sister had come to see them when I first left them to look after mum. She said some really nasty things about me and said it would be better if she took the job and went overseas with them. I guess I should have not been hurt but I was. She always wanted what I had but we had different personalities. She would not have patience with the children or the adults for that matter. Daphne said she let her have it and told her that I was a friend not just an employee.
So over the next four months I helped mum and babysit my young cousins, including the little toddler, born when I first went nursing. Their mother had just gone back to work hairdressing and mum loved this little girl so much, it also helped her depression to have her there each day. I knitted jumpers for winter for my brother and an all over cabled 8ply camel wool coat to wear in Melbourne as I imagined autumn would be cold. I could have used the camel coat Daphne and Des had given me but I had given it and the bag to my sister when she had gone on and on about how I did not know how lucky I was to have such things.
I did however know that I deserved this opportunity and I was not going to squander it.
The day finally came when I joined my friends at Gosford Hospital. Linda met mum and I at the nurses dormitory and she told my mum not to worry that she would look after me. It was a lovely affirmation of our friendship and I felt comfortable letting mum go back to Noraville knowing that I was in good hands.
Training was fun and within a week or so I was made the person in charge of my class. The instructors were fascinating and I remember seeing a recently arrived and severed liver, care of the not infrequent road accidents on the Pacific Highway. There was one instructor that always impressed me. She wore a high wimple and was tall and fairly clumsy. Very kind and gentle though.
I loved it when we finally were placed on the wards. My first assignment was the Children’s Ward, not sure if that was because I had a young brother or had extensive babysitting experience but I thrived there. One day I got a dreadful shock when my old friend Francine Fordham was talking to the sister in charge. When she had a minute we had a hug and she told me her little toddler had pulled the electric jug off the counter and scalded herself really badly. The toddler was in a bad state and might even have been transferred as when I came back from Noraville and my days off she was no longer there. Another surprise was our English teacher, the red headed bearded one I had in my last year at Wyong High School. He remembered me straight away and deferred to me immediately in the care and comfort of his asthmatic toddler.
I was then transferred to Women’s Surgical and became quickly infamous for my accidental throwing of stainless steel bowls full of soapy water all over the floors. Everyone would start laughing saying is that Nurse C again? And the ladies would shriek at me to stop making them laugh as it hurt their tummies. I just could not get a grip on the slippery things. We used bars of soap and finished the ladies off with talcum powder. It was a recipe for disaster!
The other little habit I had was of flinging thermometers across the room as I shook them down. The sister would faux sternly say that I was going to have to pay for those if it kept up. I believed she was right and tried harder.
We lived in Nurses Quarters where we had to have a late pass if we were to be out past a certain time. The whole floor were nurses from my intake. I do not think there was one girl that I did not get on with. Margaret who used to work in Katies in Gosford was my intake best friend. And I saw Linda and Ann and a surprising number of girls from Wyong High School. There was one chap in our intake, a lovely gentle fellow with blonde hair. He lodged in a private home.
I regularly took friends back to Noraville if our days off coincided. Mum loved to spoil them and dad was only home weekends so it worked out quite well. We went to Budgewoi pub, which consisted of two rooms. I preferred the darker one, better music and not so much chat. Some of my friends went horseriding with my friend Denise Lethbridge who had left nursing about six months before I started.
She had ended up working in our sister pharmacy in Toukley and kept trying to put me off nursing. My mum had a gall bladder operation while Denise was a nurse and loved her as she was so gentle. She had a boyfriend who she had met while we were out partying one night. Such a lovely kind girl, with the most smashing, loving family. None of us had boyfriends so her boyfriends kept trying to set us all up. Fun. We went to pubs, dances and sometimes parties.
There was a strict order to the way things were conducted at the hospital. Anyone more senior had to get on the elevators first. The day the new intake started was brilliant! However the doctors just ignored this and chatted up any interesting to them junior nurses. My path crossed a lot with an anaesthetist who was really sweet but everyone knew he was in an affair with a trainee in her third year. She was an officious chilly rather beautiful girl in her twenties. She was especially chilly with me as he decided I would be replacing her before she left the hospital at the end of her training.
I had trainees telling me he told everyone and sundry in surgery that Nurse C has bedroom eyes. And he apparently raved about me. I was not quite eighteen. We had regular long conversations in corridors, in the cafeteria and he was very interested in my future. Assured me it was normal to feel some anxiety about certain aspects of nursing. He said he had been very anxious as well during his internship.
After six months two nurses from my intake Jenny from Bathurst, Margaret from the Central Coast and the male nurse and I rented a house. Jenny had a lot of friends from motorcycle clubs and various pubs and we always had a lot of strange men staying over. All were lovely and behaved like gentlemen and had girlfriends back home.
I was totally out of my element. I tried dope for the first time and LSD twice. Heroin once. Did not like any of the heavy stuff so left the others to it. There was a lot of music and parties. We would invite nurses from the hospital as well. And Jenny invited a lot of the Gosford guys from the local pubs. There was always loud music going on into the night.
When we were short of beds we would double up with the chaps who knew to keep their clothes on and not try anything, and there was always another girl in the room as we had two single beds in each room. One chap had stayed over before and seemed okay and as my roomate was on night shift slept in her bed or he was supposed to.
At some stage he came over and got into my bed. He started kissing me and I tried to get him to stop. He would not. He was very strong and I could not get him off me. The music was on at the other end of the house and nobody could hear me or the noise he was making.
He raped me but that was not the end of it. I went to work after I had a shower, not telling anyone. I completed my shift though the patients on Men’s Medical said I was very quiet when I did not respond to their morning rendition of I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen. So they tried KKK Katie which I had always loved.
I loved the ward full of elderly chaps and the middleaged chaps, they were all so cheerful, so helpful, so kind. Some of them were father’s of my school friends. Another was a young chap who had severe diabetes who had taken me a few weeks before for a night picnic on a beach. So sweet and tender and kind. Nothing like what I had just experienced. Not that anything had happened with him beyond kissing. I was a virgin, old fashioned and intended to stay that way until I married. Or I had.
I became very anxious that the chaps on my ward were going to die under my care. Two died two days in a row from hypertension. I offered to lay them out as I had been very fond of them, they were long term patients. It got so that I was so anxious that I dreaded doing anything new.
The worst of it had been the men turning up at our door. My rapist had told everyone at the pub I was easy. Fair game. And they called me names, drew filthy things all over my wardrobe and windows. It was relentless.
Our yearly exams were coming up and I had to try to concentrate to study. I studied at Noraville a lot on my days off. My period came and I was relieved though I had felt safe on the pill. I sat through several of the exams and in the end I just could not do it. I had to get away. I resigned and asked mum to come get me. I never told her what happened, just that I had to leave. She did not question me, just helped me pack my things in her car, bless her.
I loved working in the chemist and quickly settled in as part of the team of girls and women working there. The pharmacy assistant was a fiery red headed divorced mum in her thirties and we quickly hit it off. She drove to work each day from The Entrance and picked me up so we were able to come into work together. I was quickly put in charge of photography and film and everything to do with that. The owner was not a pharmacist but was very friendly and encouraging and arranged lots of extra courses to help our skills along. I went to Revlon makeup courses and Kodak courses at night somewhere in Lake Macquarie which was only an hour north. We met lots of other girls from different towns and had a lot of fun.
Each year at Christmas the pharmacist gave the staff a treat at the hairdressers just down from us. We had a wash and a semi permanent and a set. My hair was pretty long by then, I started to grow it after we got back from the UK. Never having had a colour before and happy with my own hair we went with a colour wash called Black Tulip. It was very witchy and I upped my lipstick and eye makeup accordingly!
We girls got on very well, the only fly in the ointment was the tradie husband of a woman in her thirties who was our senior. He used to come early every day to pick her up. It was always when either myself or another young assistant was up a ladder getting stock down from high cupboards. It was the days of the minis and we did not have to wear tights in summer. So he got quite the eyeful as we stretched to get the stock. He used to position himself almost right under me, slightly to the side and blatantly stare at my bottom in my undies which were exposed when I reached up. His wife seemed oblivious, as she was to most things, and as we tried to be especially towards her bruised face some Monday mornings. We did not say anything to her, just gave her space and made her extra cups of tea.
As I was single I was assigned all the Public Holiday work and though I enjoyed the extra time off in lieu of pay I did not feel it was particularly fair. It meant I missed the get togethers out at Soldier’s Beach with the extended family. We used to sit at the picnic tables at the top and after lunch go for a walk on the rocky side of the beach. If we felt frisky after our massive meal of cold beef and vegetable pie and pork pie and salad had settled a bit we would go for a swim, running up and down the steps to the beach helped us work off our food. Afterwards there would be trifle and cake and laying around on the grass, chatting with the cousins. And this year was extra special because during the year my mother’s younger brother and family joined us in Noraville. They migrated and actually flew out here. We had met them in 1970 so were thrilled to have more family here to love. My parents rented them a house and I often babysat the two boys and during the day mum had my aunt come over each day to make sure she was not homesick.
Linda and I had such an incredible time in Sydney in February 1972. Her parents had asked mine if I could stay the night before the Led Zepellin concert with her at her grandparents house near Centennial Park. My parents actually agreed and Linda and I walked across the park early to the venue and managed to get right up the front of the concert. I adored Jimmy Page and was transfixed by him and his playing. When the show was over some of the audience were beckoned back towards the stage. Thank goodness I was with her and not Ann as the band were famous for their parties, drugs and groupies. And Jimmy Page for loving witchy looking girls, he was heavily into Satanism at the time.
The work was full on as it was holiday season and until March it was really hectic. Then once school and work had commenced it became very quiet. Halfway through March the Pharmacist said he had to let me go. I was stunned and the girls furious. We used to meet at some of the girl’s homes and they said he had hired me as holiday staff without paying me properly. They were very upset for me as by then any shop jobs had been filled. Mum and dad were annoyed too but I started babysitting again and in the daytime kept active by cutting through the bush to Jenny Dixon Beach, reading lots and also writing things down in notebooks. I also liked to strip off my little sundresses that I had made and bathe naked, it was weekdays so very few people were around to see me.
I was still having problems with my periods, the owner of the chemist had been very understanding about my menstrual migraines and the pain. Used to tell me to go inside and get a cup of tea when he saw me at work. The doctors next door would give me a Buscopan shot and I would do pricing work from a stool until it worked. By then I was almost used to this. But mum said I should not be and took me to a female Gynaecologist in Gosford who said all this talk that the male doctors had told me of it all going away when I had babies was ludicrous. I agreed and told her I wanted a career in nursing, and had done so all my life. She booked me in for a D and C. Mum was horrified as she said I would be interfered with and stretched so no man would want me. Incredible ignorance of the female body and also she knew I had been using tampons since I was fifteen. The extra security of tampons with pads gave me more confidence on my heavy days. Mum thought them dirty but I never looked back after I first got the hang of getting the things in there, though I did have to go to a maxi for absorption. I became quite the expert.
After a few months Sharon Bull who had walked with me from the school bus down the long road to our rented house the previous year popped in to see me. She said she was about to go to Morrisset Hospital to start her Psychiatric Nursing course and her job in Coles packaging meat was available. She said the pay was good, guys were nice and it was only until the intake at the end of the year so I applied and started as soon as she left. Straight away I was treated like a snob, a stuck up bitch too good for them. I have no idea why they thought that, maybe that I did not laugh at their filthy jokes and insinuations. I was the only girl with a lot of males.
But that was not the biggest problem. I had a real reaction to the meat that they got me to repackage. It was usually near it’s sell by date. The butcher would use methods of covering really nasty smelling meat and I had to discipline myself not to retch. The worst though was the pork. It was slimy, especially after being in Glad Wrap for days. Mum used to say she knew when I had been handling pork because my face was white as a sheet when I got home.
The head butcher was a real bastard, he delighted in seeing me suffer. His big thing was saying that he knew that I really needed this job. It would have been so easy to quit and coast for six months until I was old enough for my nursing intake but I had a strong work ethic. I was not staying because I needed the job but to show that bastard he could not hound me out of there. Ironically my old boss left the pharmacy and the girls told the new boss and he immediately offered me my job back. I accepted gladly and within weeks was in charge of lots of different areas in the shop. The girls were saying I would be head girl in five years, but it was the last thing I wanted. In five years I would be overseas nursing or in the RANC nursing somewhere.
I loved doing my camera and film work and increased the sales of Revlon for the pharmacy as well. Linda’s mum said I wore too much smokey eye makeup and lipstick without anything else but I was happy with the look and it went with my then incredible masses of hair. One day one of the older girls Jasmine who regularly bought makeup from me asked me what my last name was as I had told her I had a sister who had been in her year at school. When I told her she looked so stunned that I asked her what was wrong. She told me that my sister described me as a really ugly witch. I joked well I have the hair and makeup but this girl was very upset. She even started popping in on me at home at the weekends when my sister was not there to say hi and have some of mum’s tea and cake.
One of the fun jobs was for me to redecorate the huge front window with gifts etc. I was told I was very creative and it was left completely to me. One day I turned slightly aside to get something else for the display when there was an almighty crack and then a cascading crash of glass shelves with gifts falling down as well. Something made me close my eyes, instinct or fear I do not know. I remember standing there speechless when my boss came across and very carefully extricated me from the shattered glass I was standing amongst. He took me to get a cup of tea with sugar in it and arranged for me to be taken home. I was terrified I would be in trouble however it was faulty fixtures so he was obviously worried as it could have been a much worse outcome. And he assured me insurance would pay for everything.
A much older lady had been hired at the same time as me and she was an unsettling influence on a lot of the workers. She was low in seniority but expected to be treated as the senior, by me especially. She eventually reported me to the boss for being rude. I was simply being assertive and not playing her deferential games. I got into big trouble. And worst of all I was told to go home if I had a migraine and stay home until it had gone. The owner had not agreed with that but I had my instructions. I had a lot more severe migraines now as the gynaecologist had put me on the pill for my period pain. It worked brilliantly for that but I had a solid week of migraines each month.
One day this lady’s husband rang us to tell us she was terribly ill. It was only a month or so until I was due to go nursing and I do not believe in holding a grudge so I asked if I could visit her. It turned out she had developed a kind of Smallpox from a vaccination she had for an overseas trip. She was very upset and weak and worried about how the chemist shop would manage without the two of us. We already had lost one girl to a new baby, though we still visited her regularly at her home. So I asked the pharmacist if he would like me to stay on over the busy period until the next year to cover for her and he said that would be terrific.
Christmas was a lot of fun, by now my newest aunt out here was pregnant with her third child. I met them at the beach after work a lot and continued to babysit. One day my sister came up as usual but this time when she went back asked me if I would like to look at her hospital in Sydney to get an idea of what was involved. She had arranged for me to meet nursing sisters and go to the cafeteria. It was great fun and we really bonded. She drove me back late that afternoon and we were very excited however when she pulled up, dad came out of the house in an absolute fury.
We had not even got up the steps when he launched himself at her and literally threw her down the stairs. She started screaming and he was shouting at her that she was to never come back. And she was never to take me anywhere again or there would be trouble. He shouted at me to get inside the house. He then ran to her car and pulled the distributor out and threw it in the bushes. She was crying and ran to find it and I could not stand there any longer. I said dad she was helping me. She did not do anything wrong and he went for me. I was so frightened as I stood there behind the screen door but I would not shut up. He shouted at me if you do not go to your room now you can go with her and never come back. My brother and mother were crying, it was awful. And I could hear my sister sobbing as she searched for her car part. She had given me the greatest gift that day, the gift of an older sister looking out for her younger sister.
Eventually she found her needed part and drove away. I stayed in my room that night and until dad had left for work and I was ready to be picked up by my work mate. Once there I worked in a sort of a trance, and finally I went outside and stood besides some toilets and sobbed my heart out. My boss came out a while later and asked me what was wrong, when I told him he said you cannot stay out here. Come inside and we will get you a cup of tea. The girls all hugged me and were fabulous and got me to do pricing in the back room. Along with getting me caramel tarts and Rolos to have with copious cups of tea. Over the next few months until I went nursing they also invited me to their homes a lot for meals so that I was out a lot when dad was there. I also went to my aunt and uncle a lot, anything to not face that lonely, unhappy house. It was so beautiful outside yet so empty of love inside. I could not bear it anymore.
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We moved into a short term lease on the main road in Toukley. Dad went back to work and we adjusted to being back again. I saw my friend Linda almost daily. She was so happy I was back, as was I. One Saturday I joined her to keep her company while she played golf. This was a new experience and neither mum nor I knew much about it. The golf club was interesting and being the daughter of major business owners in Toukley she was well known. Her family were also very involved in the Catholic Church. Unfortunately I wore medium heeled shoes which were not suitable for the golf course. I padded around in my stockinged feet, feeling really stupid, but fascinated at seeing Linda in a different light.
My sister found a job very quickly in a factory in Wyong sewing clothing and my father set me up with a hairdressing apprenticeship. Just like that. No discussion, no consideration of my finishing my School Certificate the next year. Basically told to toe the line. I had learned how to cover my feelings and also my facial expressions by then. I did not want to go do an apprenticeship. It meant being stuck at home another three years. No nursing, no career, no travel possibilities. After a few days I waited until dad was in a good mood, or at least not looking angry, and I asked him to let me go to school. I told him I had the uniforms already and I could get a job to pay my own way at school. I flattered him, I did whatever I had to do to convince him that he would not regret letting me go back to where I belonged, where I needed to be. He eventually agreed though he repeated his mantra of me moving out as soon as I found a job and turned 16. In a little over a year’s time. He had always said this, he had left home at seventeen himself to go to England to work.
It was so fabulous to see my friends and teachers again. And strangely, a little like in sixth grade, I became very popular with some of the older and slightly younger boys.
Graeme Berry had a much older girlfriend who had already left school so he was much easier to get on with. My friend Stuart Cameron was the same as ever, very easygoing and funny and popular.
By Christmas we had moved to a small rented house in Noraville while we waited for our huge new home to be built. It was quite a hike to the bus stop and on the way Stuart and his younger brother joined me and also Sharon Bull. Along with another nice girl at the top of the road who was unfortunately shunned as she was short and extremely obese.
I sat with her and developed a friendship based on study and encouraging her to socialise more. She was very difficult socially and became quite possessive of me. Another friend on the bus was Denise Lethbridge, a friend of Sharon’s, a quiet deep sweet girl I liked immediately. Often the bus was standing room only so I got to know other students from different years. One afternoon Stuart’s brother surprised me by patting me on the shoulder from behind and asking me where I had been for five months. I said “around the world” and immediately felt so stupid. I quickly said we saw our grandparents etc and that is how the ship we were on went there and back. He smiled and we gradually became firm friends. He was a year younger than Stuart and I thought it ironic that he really liked me and I really really liked his brother and he was not interested in me. That I could see anyway. Another interesting thing that happened was that there were several girls doing their HSC on the bus. By the time it got to Toukley Bridge the bus had emptied out a bit and I often sat with them. One of them commented several times that by the time we reached the bridge all the light had gone out of my eyes, my face. They were right I was much happier at school, it was my salvation.
My friend Alison brought a letter from James in Sydney to school for me. He had an address now so we communicated back and forth. I also made a new friend Ann who lived in Wyong. We had already been friendly as were in Advanced Needlecraft together and English and History. The old circle of friends were a bit put out however Ann and I won them over by sitting with them for lunch half the week. The other days we sat way across in the bushes near the road. Lovely and peaceful there and we spent our lunchtimes looking up at the Senior boys and wondering what it would be like to make out with one of them. Nothing was off the table conversation wise with Ann, she was witty and much older than her age. Self sufficient, she had worked in a newsagent on Saturday’s for many years. We were both prolific readers, I was known to prop a book on the taps as I washed up, I also read at the table as there was zero conversation at our home over meals. We both decided we needed some Sex Ed so we read every Harold Robbins book and were a bit surprised about being kissed down there. The idea of kissing a penis seemed far more reasonable to me anyway.
By the end of the school year we were finding it difficult in our tiny house. It was so small my sister and I had bunk beds in our parent’s bedroom. Not much fun sleeping like that at fifteen. My sister was always out with her friends and often slept over all weekend at her friends houses. My brother had a tiny room to himself. I spent Sunday’s at the beach with anyone from school who was out at Soldiers Beach. After school I spent a lot of time at Ann’s house in Wyong, I adored her parents and her younger sister Helen became a firm friend too. We often saw Glynis and Llewelyn and their parents, our neighbours from Gorokan and mum’s brother’s family visited often, as we did them in Maitland. We checked in on the building of our new family home often, and impatiently.
My brother started school at the new Catholic Primary school attached to the new Catholic Church at the end of our road. He found it very hard, had never really had playmates, so he did not know how to make friends. It was a difficult year for me at school in certain subjects. English and History etc I flew through. I read historical novels voraciously. I was a tad obsessed with the Cromwell era. With King Charles 11. The letch. I actually had fantasies about being one of his mistresses. The main issue I had was in Technical Drawing. I was given no extra help at all or work to catch up on.
The year before I had struggled with maths and I asked the lovely fatherly teacher if he could help me. He smiled and said he was wondering when I would ask. He gave me work for home and one lunchtime a week he brought his lunch in, as did I, and he tutored me, truly a gifted teacher. His biggest gift was the one of giving of himself. We really liked him as a class and had for years. This last year at school I was up to date and had finally lost my knee jerk reaction to anything new in Maths. I always worked it out, but usually after fretting for half the lesson. Now we had a wonderful female teacher and I think she helped me in some way with this. I usually had at least ten minutes left each lesson and as we were allowed to read I brought out my Alistair Maclean books. Our teacher was really excited and told me he was her favourite author. We chatted at the end of each lesson and we exchanged books that we had not read yet. She was a joy.
Socially it was a fun time and I had some nice clothes from the trip to wear to parties. Lots of spin the bottle which seemed a bit tame after my experiences on the ship with the sailor and hairdresser. However I was not uncomfortable and enjoyed the games. During the weekends I babysat to earn some money and I sewed, took in repairs and made clothing.
At some stage of the year we moved into our new home. It was two story and had four bedrooms. My sister and I had to share a room and she was very particular about me keeping to my half. She was rarely in there all night though because as soon as dad left at 4.30 am she would quickly run and get into bed with mum to keep her company. I liked having our room to myself so did not have a problem with it, just thought it a tad bizarre. During the year she moved down to Sydney to become a cadet nurse at Rachel Forster Hospital in Darlinghurst. She came home on her days off, bringing lots of girl friends who were studying to be registered nurses. They spent their days off driving from beach to beach in various Volkswagen’s, talking to surfers and smoking copious amounts of dope. Dad helped her buy a Mini Minor, she had learned to drive years before and loved this car, was so proud of it. Dad also bought an off road bike which the nurses used to use and also take my young brother out on.
Across the road from our house was a vacant lot with a lot of scrub. My brother set fire to it with matches and it took off straight away and the Fire Brigade was called. Mum and dad were told to deal with him but nothing happened. Just a brief shake of the head from dad. If it had been one of us girls we would have had bruises and that would be the least of it. Sometime during the year dad thrashed me again, same thing with the knickers. I could not work out what I had done wrong, was clueless.
Ann and I went up to Newcastle for her to apply for a nursing course once she turned seventeen. While up there we met up with a young man who had formed the Neil Diamond fan club. We went up to Newcastle to discuss this several times. Ann was flirtatious and got on well with him. She had a different social life to me as we were on the coast. Hers involved smoking and long walks by Wyong River with lots of locals. Each Monday I would ask how her weekend was and what had she done. It was nearly always the same and then one weekend she said she had sex for the first time. I was stunned, she was so matter of fact that I thought she was joking, especially as she normally told me every detail of her exploits. She was not going to talk about it. Just said it was okay and would get better.
Half way through the year we were tested by Vocational Guidance. Mine came up as only one option. To be a Computer Programmer. I was stunned as computers were huge mainframes, I had seen them on television. Ann was recommended several career options. The rest of the year went quite fast as we prepared for the School Certificate. A week or so before we sat it my Needlework teacher suddenly asked if there were any advanced students in the class. Ann and I and one other girl put our hands up. The usually kind sweet natured teacher shouted at us that we should have told her. That we had not covered the whole syllabus. Bit late then, we were on course for completing our formal outfit, which went a long way to our points. Most of the girls made quite formal gowns. I however chose a Vogue Designer pattern of wide legged pants with a calf length floaty vest in white crepe. It was complex in its simplicity and I was enjoying the challenge immensely.
The exams were not difficult for me, I had a little trouble in Science as we had an appalling teacher. Technical Drawing I had absolutely no clue what I was doing so I left the room with my drawings incomplete. Later that day I was surprised by how many boys came over and asked if I was okay and they were so sorry I was not well enough to finish. I let them go on thinking I had been ill.
Stuart arranged a dance at the end of the year in a hall in Wyong. Ann and I danced to Deep Purple, and other heavy rock songs. We chatted to friends of all ages. Ann, Linda, Coral, Carol, Stuart and many others were staying on for their HSC while the majority were leaving for Technical College etc. There was not a lot of work in our area so training was the best way to get ahead. Or staying at school. I was pleased I had made it to the end of this year. Mission accomplished.
We left Southampton docks bound for Australia via Las Palmas, Capetown, Durban, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney. Mum had managed to get out and phone her sister in London and two of her sisters came down to see us off. Before we left though they asked mum to stay, with us children, and leave dad. She had no money of her own and was very confused and upset and did not know what to do. They seemed to come to some kind of an agreement though and mum decided we would go back to Australia.
I do not remember Las Palmas but I do remember loving Capetown. I had a little spending money and everyone laughed when I bought postcards and some writing pads. I showed them where it said made in South Africa on the back of the writing pads! Table Mountain was incredible, I loved everything about that stopover.
Some time during the first leg of the trip I met three young chaps who were migrating to Australia. They were in their late teens, early twenties. From the north of England so we formed a really solid friendship, me in particular with the oldest one. He was like a big brother to me while not really being one. His friends were fabulous and funny and all around great innocent fun.
They had a talent contest for the younger children and my brother was dressed up as a Swagman and he won! I was so excited to see him in the parade and it was really crowded in the large area where it was held and I sort of got knocked backwards into James, my friend. I had nothing to stop my momentum until James stepped forward to break my fall. I threw my hands out to save myself and encountered a bit more than I had expected. His rather interesting penis in his cord pants. I had gripped onto it as I did not know what part of him I had grabbed, and it felt rather nice I must say. I apologised while blushing once I realised and of course he said no problem and that he had rather liked it, as I might have noticed. So my first experience of a male with an erection was James, my confidant and friend. Of course I knew he was interested in me but he was lovely and knew my age and also saw how vicious my sister was to me, and mum and dad for that matter. They were enraged the whole trip. When I was not with James and friends I was taking my brother places to get him away from the toxic atmosphere between mum and dad. I even took him about with James and friends.
Sometime during the trip mum saw me sitting with my friends having a lemonade and she knocked on the window and beckoned me out. I muttered something and James said do not be angry with your mum she is looking out for you. When I got to the cabin my sister and dad and my brother were there. Dad screamed at me that I was a slut and various other things. I was totally baffled and really frightened.
He then grabbed me hard and threw me over his knee. Pulled my panties down and proceeded to thrash me and he would not stop. I could hear people going by and so I screamed, it hurt a lot but I did not scream from pain, I hoped someone would come to find out what was wrong but nobody did. I kept screaming so he hit me harder. When he had finished I could not sit. I had huge welts on my backside. Mum is the one who got him to stop, she was crying by then. I cannot remember what my brother and sister did. I was too humiliated to look at anyone. I lay down on my bunk with my back to them and curled up in a ball. My dad went out of the cabin and mum put some Nivea on the welts. She said dad is worried about you with those men. I quietly said we did not do anything, that she knew I would not do anything. That they did not trust me. She just cried.
The next day dad saw me continuing to sew fabric over my plain white bra for the Lua night. I had bought the fabric and made a sarong skirt and painstakingly hand stitched it all. I could have shown it to my sewing teacher and been awarded first prize I took so much care with the work. Dad grabbed it off me and threw it and said and you will not be going out anywhere in that either. I was extremely modest, only ever wore a one piece costume and was already nervous about parading in this costume and he made it seem really trashy, not the clever ensemble mum and I had worked out between us.
I put it away and went out for a walk, forbidden to see my trio of friends. I had nobody to talk to, kids of my own age seemed really immature and there were not many of them anyway as everyone was at school. I just walked around the deck repeatedly, thinking about how much school I had to make up when I got back and how I was going to study hard so I could go nursing and leave home as soon as I could. Eventually I ran into the friend with long black hair and he walked and talked with me a bit and said he would have a talk to James.
My sister was dressing up for the Lua so my mum convinced dad to let me go. She told him I had worked hard and that I was a “good” girl. And I was, only because I was too afraid of dad to be anything else. But he could not stop my thoughts. My mind. He said it’s up to mum what happens then and went to smack me across the face for the look he said was there. I flinched, his whacks across the face hurt my neck as well as my face. I believe the look was in my eyes and my mind, he could not control that but I decided to hide my thoughts in future from him.
I finished the costume and it was really pretty, I rarely wore yellow but it looked pretty and bright. Mum had found me some yellow coral beads. They did not cover my bra area like the leis others wore but I had nothing there to see anyway. I remember my sister had left me alone over those few days and so it was not as difficult as I thought to parade in the outfit in front of everyone. James and friends cheered as I went by, in a non leering way, they were lovely.
When we reached each port I sent my friends postcards, I wrote them like serials, telling them of the wonderful places we had seen and of James and his friends and the Greek hairdresser who was all over me. And my mum trusted him with me! I was trapped in a lift with him once and he started undoing my lace up bodice of my dress. I left the postcard serial at that point, knowing the girls would be wanting to know what happened next.
On the way back to Sydney we stopped at Fremantle where dad had a good friend, a past work associate. We met his family and had a lovely few days with them. The next port was Melbourne, James and friends and I had continued to be innocent companions and they asked if there was an address they could write to me as they were worried about me. They even offered to help put me up with a nice family somewhere until I left school so that I could then go nursing in Sydney where they were going to be living. I gave them my friend Alison’s address knowing she would be fine with it. She was actually allowed boyfriends. In her actual bedroom. And she was allowed to make out up to a certain point, and no further. She was trusted. I knew she would get it.
At some stage after thrashing me dad had sort of apologised. He said he had not wanted me to get into trouble. As mum had. He wanted me to marry a doctor. And I needed to save myself for him. But he said it like I had done something already with one of the chaps. He did not trust me. Before this I was open and honest with him but I knew I had to play him carefully, until I was old enough to leave home. And I knew I would never, ever forgive him for the shame, the humiliation, in hitting me like that. I was hit to supposedly stop me having sex, yet he humiliated me in front of others by pulling down my undies. It was almost a sexual act. It felt really wrong.
We reached Sydney, I said a tearful goodbye to the boys, James was miserable and worried about me but I told him I had a lot of friends and we would keep in touch. I also said goodbye to the hairdresser, and his wife. And eventually we found our way back up the coast to Toukley.