|I was born in St.
Arnaud, Victoria. My family lived in Redbank, where they had been for three
generations. I was the youngest child of four, and had a sister who was
11, a brother aged 9 and another brother age 2. We had had another sister
named Wilma Margaret who died of prematurity 3 days after her birth in
1949, and I believe my mother also miscarried a child after her.
Early life for me was basically a tragedy.
My mother became ill soon after my birth, entered hospital in St. Arnaud
when I was six months old, was transferred to Prince Henry's Hospital in
Melbourne and died there in 1958 when I was 18 months old. At the time,
nobody knew why. The full story may be found on my parents page
My big sister looked after me most of the time when mum was in hospital.
She'd feed me on lumpy custard - which I still love, do her best to keep
me clean, and her and my oldest brother would cart me around everywhere
with them. Some of the time when they were at school I'd stay with our
next door neighbor Mary Egan, and I know she nursed me once when I was
very sick, she said I was sicker than any of her kids had ever been, but
I'm not sure what was wrong.
My earliest clear memories are of loss and
fear. I remember being told 'no' to a piece of fruit cake; being left on
the caravan shed roof by my cousins when we'd climbed up there on a ladder
and they'd taken the ladder away; and going home and leaving my brother
at his house up the road, and wanting to stay to play some more. I have
very foggy memories before that of myself crying in a cot with a wet flanellette
nappy on, and of snuggling on the lap of a lady with very large, soft breasts
(probably Mary Egan). My next real memory is of standing in the car next
to the woman I later came to call 'mum' while my dad went into my cousin's
house to get my brother.... and we went 'home' to a new house I'd never
seen before, but my big sister was there too.
I had gone to my 'Auntie Doss' and 'Uncle
Col' in Avoca for two years after the death of my mother. (Doss is actually
my first cousin, but grown with children of her own at the time. Like many
of dad's neices and nephews, she was only a little younger than him.) My
youngest brother had gone up the road to my cousin Elvy, and my sister
to Western Australia to my mother's sister Maisie. My oldest brother went
to another cousin, Neil Gemmill, and I was not to see him again until I
was 9 years old.
When I was almost four my cousin Doss went
to Melbourne for a short holiday, and had an argument with her mother before
leaving, because my auntie wouldn't let her take me with her. She only
found out the reason why on her return - and I was gone. Dad and Auntie
Ella had cooked it up between them that he'd come get me while she was
away, because she wanted to keep me. She had three other young children,
one of whom was my age - perhaps they thought I was too much, perhaps dad
just wanted me back, I don't know. But I believe I'd probably have had
a happier life if I was just left where I was. I lost my second mother
in two years, and she was heartbroken at losing me.
Dad met Freda cooking in a pub in Maryborough,
and she agreed to move in with us as a live-in housekeeper. She refused
to have my oldest brother, as she didn't want troublesome teenagers...
unfortunately for her, she took my sister because she thought she would
look after us younger children, and I'm afraid my sister proved troublesome
to her as well! Very little credence was given to the fact that we were
very damaged kids, my sister had needed a lot of nurturing and love, which
was not forthcoming from Freda, and she stood up to her until she left
home at 16. Many people have said over the years that Freda was wonderful,
to give up her life to look after us kids, but I saw too much of the seriously
twisted woman who physically and emotionally abused us to give her any
real thanks for this. All I can say is that she did well out of the deal.
Freda stayed with us in the first house in
Chewton, then to another house in Castlemaine where we stayed until I was
seven, then to our next long-term home in Morwell West, on the other side
of Melbourne, hundreds of kilometeres away. She stayed until I was eleven,
and when she left I felt free. Dad moved around a lot in those early years,
worked for the Main Roads Department when we were in Chewton, on to the
Ordinance Factory in Bendigo while we were in Castlemaine, to Altona in
Melbourne and Lake Eppalock where he worked on a pipeline, while Freda
and us kids stayed in Castlemaine. He drank heavily for the early part
of these years, then stopped when I was six. Soon after, he got a job in
the Yallourn Power Station in the Latrobe Valley working for the State
Electricity Commission, and we moved into an SEC house in the country at
I have many memories of the years before
moving to Morwell West that I can see now are rather unique. Although we
were well into the second half of the 20th Century, I remember deliveries
often being done by horse and cart. Always the Milko and the baker, but
also the 'Rag and Bone' man who collected old clothes and items too good
to throw on the tip, but not good enough for further use by the families
he collected from. Then there was the 'Bottlo' who came around to take
away the empty jars and beer bottles - 1960's horse drawn versions
of the op-shops and recycling teams of later years. Both had horses and
carts and distinctive calls so you could hear them coming for streets before
they got to our house. The Milko's horse fascinated us kids because he
knew his way around, and didn't need to be pulled up at customers houses
because he knew them as well as his human 'driver'. There was also the
night-men, who came in the early hours of the morning, and sometimes woke
me as they ran up the back of the house to get our can and empty it into
their truck ... known to all kids as 'Stan, Stan the dunny-can man'! They
lasted until the new porcelain toilet was connected to the town sewerage
in about 1962.
I remember the first television in the street.
It belonged to our over-the-road neighbor, and they'd put it in the window,
and have chairs set up in the front yard so everyone could see it. Soon
after, we got our own TV, and had to hide it under a tablecloth from the
man who came around to check licences - which we were supposed to have
at the time... but dad conscientiously objected to! We'd go to the local
footy on Saturday afternoons, where us kids would collect bottles that
we could get the deposit back at the milk bar to put in our money boxes,
then we'd go home and eat saveloys or tomato soup and crumpets, and watch
The Flintstones on TV. On other nights dad used to watch the Mavis Brampston
Show, which I couldn't watch because it was rude, and we'd all sit up for
Bob and Dolly Dyer's Pick-a-Box. I remember seeing future government minister
Barry Jones winning the lot!
I started school when I was six, because I'd
been too small and backward to start at the usual five. I'd walk the mile
to Winters Flat School with my brother. Sometimes we'd put stones on the
railway track to 'derail the train' - which luckily never worked! We also
terrorised the train drivers by throwing stones off the railway bridge
at the train going underneath... I very clearly remember the day I took
the 'short-cut' over the train bridge and the train came and I had to run
as fast as my little legs would take me - terrified the train was going
to run over me! (Karma for the stones maybe?) I also very clearly remember
the short-cut I took through the 'paddock with long grass' that I was certain
had snakes in that were going to bite me... God it's hard work being little!
I'd pick rocks up with yellowy-brown stains in them and constantly carry
them home to dad to have their gold-content checked. Unfortunately the
gold content was always extremely low. (For 'low' read non-existant!) I
remember sitting outside the pub waiting for dad to get through the 'six
o'clock swill' and walking home with him when the pub closed for
the night. In those days all the pubs shut at six and didn't open on Sundays,
or ever on Christmas or Easter. The banks and Post Office were both open
on Saturday mornings, but closed at 12 on Saturday along with all the other
shops, not to re-open until 9am on Monday morning. The mail was delivered
once on Saturdays, and twice on weekdays.
In all those years I'd sleep curled up at
the foot of my bed under the blankets in a foetal position, and have nightmares
every night, usually wet the bed, and I was terrified to get out of bed
because there were 'snakes and monsters' under it. I was terrified of the
shadows the lace curtains made on the wall, but wasn't allowed to have
the light on. I could hardly talk, was severely undersized, was unable
to make eye-contact, and did not show affection for anyone. I usually played
alone, and when I got to school finally, was unable to make friends. I
taught myself to read aged four and escaped into books when I could get
away with it, but wasn't allowed to read much because there were 'more
important things to do'... like housework. My most constant game was wearing
another of the same lace curtains over my head and 'make out' I was 'going
up Mt Macedon to get married'. I could see the large white cross on the
mountain from our house in Castlemaine and was fascinated by it.
I played that game every day. I was very obsessive, and got in trouble
for swinging on the monkey bars at school until I got blisters, then going
on them again with blisters until my hands were hurt so badly I couldn't
hold a pencil. So I got banned from monkey bars... but I'd surreptitiously
swing on them when I went to the toilet in class time anyway.
We moved to Morwell West on the 2nd June
1963. It was also Freda's mother's birthday. We drove in Freda's 1948 Morris
10 - a huge journey. We stayed with her friend in Melbourne for the night,
then he drove us through Melbourne the next day, she wasn't game to drive
in the city traffic. Dad went with the furniture truck. Our trip ended,
after a full two days driving, going through the 'Haunted Hills' near Yallourn
and us kids swore we could hear the ground moving, which made the haunted
sounds... we actually did hear it many times afterwards, but I don't think
we did that night! The road, the Princes Highway, which is now a six lane
freeway, was then a skinny two lane dirt track with single lane bridges
in that area - the main road from Melbourne to Sydney! We had our first
glimpses of the 'dredgers' that dug coal out of the huge open-cut mines,
lit up like Christmas trees in the distance, then down Toners Lane to Morwell
Our new house was in Kaye Road, Morwell West.
The house was leased from the SEC where dad had begun work a few months
earlier. It was three miles from Morwell, in the middle of dairy farming
land. Our house was in the middle of the one remaining spot of natural
bush in the area - all the rest had been cleared for farming and the gravel
quarry next door. We lived on about four acres, bordered by a distinctly
horse-shoe shaped billabong on three sides that was dry for much of the
year. We had an old apple orchard to one side, big blackberry bushes to
the back of the house, a double garage and tankstands to the side.
The house itself was a mixture of old and
new. It was huge, and had been three separate residences at one stage,
but we had it to ourselves. The older area had the bedrooms, and an old
kitchen, bathroom and laundry/shower room. The newer side had the lounge
room, kitchen, a big hallway, and newer bathroom and laundry to the rear.
It also had something I was fascinated with as a little girl, a toilet
out the back yard in a converted water tank! I was VERY impressed that
we had three bathrooms... although two of them were never used as such...
One of them had a big old claw-footed bath, that was covered with a board
and only used to store apples and my grandmother's 'treadly' Singer sewing
machine. The old kitchen was pink, and was probably my favourite room in
the house. Pink lino, walls, curtains.. and the 'push and shove' cupboard,
that had sliding doors that never stayed on their tracks, and gave it it's
name because it was very hard to open! The back entry had a big verandah,
with a wooden slat ramp leading up to it... underneath was one of the best
play areas in the house. Another favourite play area was under the house
itself, a space about four feet high - just the right height for kids,
but hard for adults to get into. My brother and I would take cars under
both places and make roads everywhere. We had whole townships and racing
tracks built under there.
The very best play area, though, was the bush.
Allowed to remain as natural bushland, it was an oasis for native birds
and animals. We would spot blue wrens and robin red-breasts daily. There
were wombat holes in three separate places... we'd see the poo, but not
see the actual wombats, because they only came out at night when we were
in bed. There were snakes. Copperheads are among the most deadly snakes
in the world, but my brother and I came to take them a little for granted....
in a very wary fashion. We'd carry big sticks to kill them if we had to,
but usually they'd hear us coming and hightail it away from us before we
got close... or we'd see them and forget all brave thoughts and run. The
area near 'the gully' as we called it had maiden hair fern growing wild,
big old eucalypts, wattle trees, and was covered in bracken. We found 'bush-tucker'
there before the world had heard of it... a type of wattle with edible
gum and a little tree that we called the 'wild cherry' tree... some type
of casuarina with tiny edible red fruit. There were quite a few patches
of blackberries, and apples and pears in the orchard. A tiny 'secret' place
in the gully had a soft sandy bottom, and a little trickling stream fed
by a waterfall... truly a beautiful place. I don't know if the adults ever
knew it was there.
Over the other side of the gully was the 'gravel
pit' - a huge quarry that was being mined the whole time we lived there.
Trucks would go in and out through the weekdays, all the local kids would
go in and out after school and at weekends. It had a brilliant billy cart
track entry down a big hill, huge cliffs to climb, and was bordered by
the Morwell River on the far side. Over the river was the 'open cut' coal
mine... complete with dredgers. The river was THE swimming spot for the
The front of the house was accessed by 'the
lane' - which went through the orchard on one side, and the 'Recreation
Reserve' on the other. This was a big open space, with a small playground
with swings and slides near the road. Neighbours at that time were old
Mrs Fields at the top of the lane, Tuema's had the post office and shop,
Crozier's farm was on the other side of the post office. Old Mr and Mrs
Hussen lived a couple of blocks away near Lockie's dairy farm, whose daughter
was my age and sometimes friend. MacKenzies lived across the paddocks near
the school. There were other people but I can't remember the names... Dorothy's
family down from Croziers, an old lady who had a Nissan Bluebird and ate
a lot of garlic! The family who lived on the corner of Kaye Road who had
a boy of similar age to me that went to school with me for a couple of
years until they moved away. A little further afield were Godrich's; the
Jenkins family with their six boys; Yeoman's who were my friends; and a
lady with a very ethnic name whose son Nicky was also my good friend down
near Toner's lane; an old lady whose niece (grand-daughter?) Susan came
to visit in the school holidays... more I'm sure, but not many more. In
all, the families in the area had enough children to have about a dozen
kids in the one room school.
The school was a large block away, about fifteen
minutes walk for my little legs. The teacher's residence was next door.
Mr Reilly when I first went there, who still to this day numbers among
the most influential men in my life, Mr Beggs after him, who was young
and very friendly. Between the two I had a very good grounding in education.
They encouraged me to read, write, sing and have an active imagination!
Under Mr Reilly's care, I learned that I could write beyond my years, that
I could spell among the very best. He corrected my very messy handwriting
by having me teach the 'bubs' their letters on the blackboard. By the time
Mr Beggs came along, I was approved to skip Grade Five and move straight
into my age group in Grade Six... largely I'm sure due to my compositions
about fairies with 'clouds of fluffy hair and gossamer wings' :-) I was
frightened of doing long division and convinced myself for the next 30
years that I couldn't do maths... I covered the entire floor on the left
side of my desk with ink-blots from my habit of shaking my fountain pen
to make it work... There was a row of pinetrees down the side of the school
in which my friend Wayne and I would swing from branch to branch in the
tree-tops until he fell and broke his arm. I thought it was quite unfair
that I hadn't fallen and broken MY arm, but wasn't allowed to do it any
more either... We had a maypole at the side of the school to which I transferred
my earlier obsession with monkey bars, wearing out shoes at an alarming
rate. Freda was very pleased when it was also deemed 'dangerous' and pulled
Writing all this it sounds idyllic... and
it should have been but wasn't. I was painfully shy, had no social skills,
was always at a loss with the two girls of my own age at school and was
bossed around my them. Freda kept my hair so short that people continued
to ask me if I was a boy, and dressed me in clothes so old-fashioned that
I was embarrassed by them constantly.
I could go on a lot more about Freda, just
attempting to set the record straight. Her version when talking to people
was to tell them how selfless she was in looking after us kids, and a lot
of people thought she did a wonderful job, because we were so well mannered.
We were just plain bloody terrified. She was a seriously unstable woman
mentally, with almost zero parenting techniques beyond 'children should
be seen and not heard' and 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. Instead
of the nurturing soul it would have taken to help my brother and I over
our losses successfully, we had a woman who practiced child abuse unknowingly
and unthinkingly. The most major damage I can think of was her telling
the two of us over and over from when I was four that our father had killed
our mother. I didn't find out this wasn't true until I was in my thirties
because I was too frightened it might be true to ask anyone. She was emotionally,
physically and spiritually abusive on a daily basis. My dad's role in all
this was very simple... he believed child-raising was woman's work, and
he either didn't notice or didn't know that it wasn't OK, and besides,
where would he have been without her? He was distant from us always - the
modern term for it is emotionally unavailable. When she went home to care
for her parents when I was eleven, all I could feel was freedom.
Her parents were wonderful people, and memories
of them were among the best of my childhood. No history of my times could
go by without mention of them. I called them Nana and Pop, and they were
the only grandparents I knew as a child. See link below to them and their
family - Bullock's in Australia.
More to come soon....
family from Emu, Victoria
Back to Lindsay
and Evelyn Burge
Back to Burge-McLean
Main Index Page