Archive number: 1902
Date interviewed: 29 March, 2004
Child during WW2
You are listening to the interview audio
Okay, so we'll start with the book sleeve about Dulcie Toohey:
I was born in Murgon in 1930 and grew up on a farm. There were nine in the family and I stayed there for a number of years
until I went away to school. I went to Ipswich Grammar School after doing a year of secondary school by correspondence. After three years at the grammar school I went to teachers’ college for two years, then was appointed to a school at Tingoora, which is between Murgon and Kingaroy. It was a two-teacher school. From there I went to Paringa, which was a similar sort of situation. Paringa was on the Darling Downs.
The school there has since burnt down, and so is the hotel where I stayed. From there I went to Gayndah, which was a one-teacher school at Barambah Creek and stayed with a family by the name of Slack. I had three happy years there at Gayndah, then was transferred to Wondai, which was closer to my home, and I was there for a year teaching infants.
From Wondai I went to Murgon to take on a class of sixty-six children, in two drafts. They were Years 6 and 7. In the following year I took the twenty-eight ‘sevens’ onto scholarship. That was a very small class for the time, but they sat for the scholarship exam. While I was at Murgon my husband came to relieve the principal, who was going on long service leave. And that’s where we met.
I was married in 1962. We first made our home in Bundaberg for a few months until Jim was given a school at Yorkeys Nob, which is outside Cairns. We had a couple of years there. From there we went to Widgie, a school just outside Gympie, and from Gympie to Mulgildie, then Stanthorpe,
and finally Ipswich. Our four children were born – one in Cairns, two in Gympie, and one in Monto. In 19 … Ooh, I’m stumped … Sorry … It was before we left Stanthorpe. My husband, who had been in the air force, suffered a massive heart attack from which we did not expect him to recover, but he did. He had a yearning to return to Ipswich, which had been his home;
and so we built a house in Ipswich and moved there. In 1983 … No, I’ll have to go back a bit … After being in Ipswich for about six months with not much to stimulate me, I suppose, I returned to teaching at Mount Crosby. That was a two-teacher situation. From there I went to Blair and had a number of years there. In that time
Jim had retired because of ill health, and I remained in teaching while he did the house. He died in 1983 and I felt that I could not go on teaching whilst dealing with four teenage children, so I retired. But in that time I finished my BA [Bachelor of Arts] degree and then an opening came up for me at St Mary’s College in Ipswich, where I did some temporary work. Later I was
employed part time. I stayed there for seven years working part time, and following that I did voluntary work for a couple of days a week. My grandson was born in that time, so I took to minding him. That was at Merrill Street. From Merrill Street I moved to my present address, where I continue to mind the grandchildren.
Lovely. All right, let’s go back and … Dulcie, what is your very earliest memory as a child?
My very earliest memory is my third birthday party. All the kids from the neighbourhood were there. I sort of remember playing ‘Drop the Hankie’ and that’s about all.
Can you explain that game for us?
Well, the children sat in a circle and one child had a handkerchief, and ran around the circle until they dropped the hankie behind someone. Then that person – when they’d discovered that the hankie was there – had to jump up and chase the dropper . If the dropper beat him or her back to his place and sat in it first, then they became the hankie carrier; and so it went on.
And you played that at your third birthday?
Did you win?
I don’t think so. Probably the other kids let me win.
So, growing up in Murgon … How would you describe the Murgon that you knew then?
Well, I didn’t go to town very much. This was the situation in those days, because we were nine miles from Murgon. The usual trips for the week
were a big shopping day or the women went to a CWA [Country Women’s Association] meeting. But there wasn’t very often an occasion for me to go into Murgon, except to go to the dentist or to get new shoes or something like that. My earliest memories are mostly of the farm, not of the town. It’s a one-street town with a very wide main street – Lamb Street.
The yarn has it that it’s such a wide street because the bullock wagons would bulk there in the early days, and they just kept going around each other, which is the reason why they had such a wide street through the township.
Do you know how big Murgon would have been back then, population wise?
I’ve no idea, but I can tell you that they had all the old trades – the baker, the butcher, the blacksmith, chemist, two hotels, primary school,
now a high school … police station and churches of course. That’s what the extent of it was, but as for population I can’t really recall.
The farm that your family had, did it have a name?
It was ‘Sunnyside’. We actually worked on two farms. Sunnyside belonged to the family and the other farm – which didn’t have a name; we used to call it ‘The Ranch’ – belonged to my uncle.
He lived in Ipswich, and we worked his farm on half shares. But we coordinated the two farms all through that time.
So the family actually lived on Sunnyside?
Two of my brothers slept at The Ranch. There was a little old cottage there. It was unpainted, and I think that was the clue
that sort of gave us the idea of calling it The Ranch. It was always open – front door to back, and anyone passing through could always go in for a drink of water. My sister Mabel always knew when there was a visitor there because the mug that she kept there had always been put in a different place. She say, “Someone’s been through here today.”
There was a little room at the back. It had this strange bunk bed made of two poles slipped through corn bags, and any of the young blokes who had too much to drink in Murgon the night before, they’d bunk down there rather than face Mum and Dad. The rest of us lived on the main farm, and the boys came home for meals. Except for breakfast. But they slept there.
Can you describe Sunnyside for us?
Well, I thought it was big at the time. But it wasn’t really. Both farms had about a hundred and sixty acres. The house there was much like any other house in Ipswich – verandah on the front, with a hallway through, and a very large kitchen. There was the boys’ bedroom added on the back. There was a wide set of stairs where my father
would sit and smoke a pipe after tea … and think about things.
Do you know how it got the name ‘Sunnyside’?
Not really. I suppose it was the sunny side of the hill or something like that.
What about the farm? Was there a long driveway up to the house?
No, but there was quite a long ‘track’, as we called it. Halfway along that track there was a beautiful crows ash tree.
One of the things I can remember is sitting there reading the paper – or trying to read the paper. I’d collect it from the cream box. And I can remember eating the bread – the fresh bread, where the two loaves had been joined together – and then going on home. There was a slip rail at the end of the paddock on that track, and then we went round
to the back of the house. Everybody came through the back of the house – as they do through my house now.
Tell me about the family. There were quite a number of children?
Four boys and four girls plus myself. Charlie, Elsie, Percy, Louie, Rosie, Mabel, Edna, Vince and me.
Now I don’t know if you’ve been told, but I was really more or less adopted into the family. One of my older sisters was really my mother. But that’s how I remember it as a child. We were a pretty lively sort of family – very talkative. Most of our time was spent in the kitchen, around the kitchen table. It was a very big one.
We all had our certain place where we sat. Charlie was always beside the teapot – a huge one. Dad sat at the end with Mum of his left, and the girls lined up on one side and the boys on the other.
What were meal times like? Were they boisterous?
Yes, that’s what I was leading up to.
Very talkative. There was always something. You were always talking over each other. I’ve heard from people who later visited that it was very confusing because you didn’t know who to listen into. There were so many of them going on at the same time, and they marvelled at how my father could keep track of the lot, and put a spoke into each of the conversations. After tea – that’s what we called it then –
after tea at night he always sat right beside the wireless. He was partially deaf. But he’d sit right beside the wireless and listen to whatever programs were on; the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Commission], that was his after tea ritual. The rest of us would just be chattering away. I’d be doing homework, at least later on when I got to the homework stage. Then Charlie and Louie would leave and go over to The Ranch for the night.
So that was most evenings. We very often had visitors. There were a number of cousins around there. A great grandfather or someone like that had taken up a square mile of country when it was selected. So he divided this amongst his sons – not his daughters! – so there were a number of cousins there. We were in and out of each others’ houses quite normally.
So there was never any lack of things to do or people to listen to. And I think because I was so much younger … as kids watch TV [television] today and soak up stuff, that’s what I did. That was my sort of entertainment; listening to all these conversations going on around me.
How much younger were you than everyone else?
Ten and a half years younger than Vince.
And do you know how old the oldest one was?
I can’t really think. They were all fairly close in age.
And so who was the one who was your natural mother?
It was Rosie, and that’s an interesting tale to tell about her. She was born at Marburg.
My grandparents had a farm out at Coolana, which is a very popular place for acreages nowadays. But when Mabel was born, she was only two pounds or something. She was a premmie [premature] baby and the hospital at Marburg. Well, it had nothing like the hospitals have now. The matron and the doctor there put her in a shoe box which was lined with cotton wool
and covered her with olive oil and kept her warm. I don’t know how old she was – probably a couple of weeks – when she was taken back to the slab house at Coolana. Because the grandmother thought that it would be too much for her to look after Rosie – who was only fifteen months older than Mabel – she took her to live at Haigslea for five years. And when
the family moved to Murgon, Rosie was quite upset because she was put in a railway carriage with this strange family that she’d only seen before on odd occasions. She said she cried all the way to Murgon.
So that ties back into the story with you … So … Sorry, I’m just trying to get it straight in my head … So …
It’s a bit hard, isn’t it! Rosie was my birth mother, really. It’s a strange
case, because I now know who my father was. I have no wish to … Well, he’s gone, anyway. See, if anyone wanted a helping hand, then it was Rosie that would help out. So if this man’s wife was going to have a baby in Murgon, then Rosie would be sent to do the milking and help with the housework, and … let’s just say that he assumed that she was there for other purposes as well.
I know what we class it as today.
Did you ever speak about it with her?
No, I never spoke with her about it at all. I’ve spoken about it with my stepfather and with cousins. It was a strange situation. My grandparents wanted to adopt me legally
but they were too old at the time. So I think they did a bit of social service themselves and through the church. They did a little ceremony and I joined the family as the little sister. I can remember when I was told about all this, which is rather strange. I was seventeen and my grandfather
– who I called Dad – he was in hospital, dying. And my grandmother and Rosie came home, and my grandmother said, “Sit down. We’ve got something to tell you. Rosie isn’t your sister, she’s your mother. But it’s always going to stay the same as it’s been, so don’t worry about it.” And after that I didn’t think much about the difference until Rosie was dying and I went to see her in the nursing home. And they said, “Now, we want the legal situation. Are you her sister or her daughter?”
My stepfather was overjoyed though, because he had sort of felt that I should recognise her as my mother, but there’s no feeling of her being my mother.
So, the stepfather that you referred to …
Morris, who just rang a while ago …Yes, that’s Rosie’s husband. She married later on, when I was grown up.
So before they told you when you were seventeen, had you ever heard whispers or anything like that?
No. That’s the amazing thing I have about Murgon. Everybody knew – well, not everybody knew … one of my cousins told me that his parents knew, and it seems that most knew.
But I was never made to feel any different, and I think it was pretty courageous of the family. Usually the girls were just sent away back then and that was that. And it was in the Depression also, so an extra mouth to feed was not all that welcome.
Did you ever hear what the family thought of Rosie’s situation, and with the pregnancy?
No, not very much. Only when she’d had a stroke, later. When I visited her she mixed me up with my grandmother and she said, “You told me. You said you thought I was pregnant.” So the mother must have realised
before Rosie did that … See, sex education just did not exist. So, that was all very strange. The only thing that I can remember being told was that they were a staunch Lutheran family, and the pastor was very much ‘in the household’. He was the one who more or less said, “Right, you’ve all got to handle it this way …”
I remember speaking to one of my cousins later on – just a few years ago – after Rosie had died and I became the daughter … the stepdaughter that he had always wanted. And of course, going back to Murgon and visiting, I wasn’t. I said this to Myrtle, and Myrtle said, “Oh, Dulcie, I wish you’d never found out. We went to so much trouble to keep it quiet.”
So throughout the whole district it was known, but all the time I had no inkling.
It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it?
Well it is. In a small town, it is.
So the man that is your natural father … have you ever had anything to do with him?
No, but I have danced with my half brother, and I’ve taught my nephew.
He was a lovely boy. I’ve wondered … but I don’t much about the other half of my family, but I’ve wondered whether they knew or not, because his father never came to parent-teacher interviews – only the mother. So whether he was a bit embarrassed or what, I just don’t know.
Do you know if there was ever any repercussions with that man, from your family?
No. I think the pastor sort of wanted – after everything was arranged – I think he wanted my father to shake hands with the man. And he said, “Not Ever!”
What did you think when you were told that?
Well, I’ve only learned about all this in the last ten or so years – more about it. It was like Days of Our Lives.
But I had to go back to school. And my father died and I went to the funeral. And I went back to school where I had friends who had visited the farm – they knew my brothers and sisters and me and the family, and life went on. I just didn’t think about it.
Did you discuss it with your friends?
Do you know what it was that made them decide to tell you?
I think because of the legal aspects. My father had died and there would be a will and everybody else in the family got a share out of it, but I did not. I think that was the reason.
And it worried my grandmother very much that they had told a lie.
And after that day, did she discuss it often with you?
No, no, never. Not until she was dying. She didn’t really discuss it then though, because she didn’t know what she was talking about.
Did she talk about it at all?
No, not really. I think it was deep at the back of her mind. She was conditioned to the sister role. My mother had made it quite clear that she was to have no more to do with me than the other three sisters. So they all had to do their thing. The story goes that Edna broke my bottle while she was heating it up, and
I never drank milk after that. I went to live with my eldest sister, Elsie, when I came to school here, and I can hardly distinguish between my feelings for her and my feelings for Rosie, because she mothered me for three years. And when she lived here, quite close too.
It’s quite a remarkable family story isn’t it?
I suppose it is …
I’ll just go back and ask you more about meal times in the house. It sounds very boisterous and fun. Were there rules about who could speak when?
No, it was just that if you had something to say, then you said it. And that’s how it was. As I said, my father would chip into whatever conversation he was tuned into at the time. There was always something – whatever was going on in the farm,
that was discussed. Politics, they were greatly into that. They were the only Labor voting family in a strongly National Party area.
Do you know why that was?
I think because my father’s side of the family had come from the north of Germany.
That was close to Denmark and the socialist Scandinavian countries. They were more liberal in their outlook than my mother’s side of the family, which came from the south of Germany where they were more conservative. So, I think that’s what put us on that road. I don’t think we’ve left it since. But we didn’t really talk about why they came here.
We only knew that they came because they’d had enough of war. It looked at the time that my great grandfather or something may have had to fight his brother because of the way the lay of the land was divided up. He was not having any of that so he brought his family out here. On my mother’s side, they were also taken into military service so that the family there
decided to send half of their young people to America and half of them to Australia. So they were very anti war. War was the reason they came out. They were anti war.
Was that World War 1 or previous conflicts?
That was previous to World War 1. They came here in the 1860s, the original families that settled around here.
Being so much younger in the family, were you included in the conversations or did you just listen?
I mostly listened, but if I had something I could say, I said it. My wise old neighbour made a comment one day – she said, “But Dulcie’s never been a child, has she!” So, it was pretty equal terms I think.
And what sort of things were the family eating at meals?
The butcher used to call on a Saturday, and we’d get a supply of meat. I can’t remember what, because every weekend we killed a duck or a chook and they were dressed and on the table for Sunday dinner, which was the big occasion of the week. Every Tuesday we sent to the butcher in Murgon
our order for twenty-five pounds of corned round, and ten pounds of steak. That was our standard order. We’d have the steak for dinner that night and then … I suppose we munched on it for days after that. Before the war the baker called, but he didn’t afterwards. Vegetables of course we grew, except in drought years
but always we seemed to have enough in the vegetable line of things to manage. Of course, milk and cream and butter, we had that on hand.
What do you remember of the Depression years?
I don’t remember it being the Depression years at all. In fact, I’m amazed when people come on television programs and say, “But we were so poor; we had nothing!” And I think, “Well we didn’t have much either.” Our house was very basic
and we didn’t have refrigeration. We had wireless. That was the thing we valued most. A number of people did not have wirelesses in those days, and we’d have neighbours come down to listen to the cricket, especially when the Australians were playing the English over in England. It would be a cold winter’s night
and the kitchen would be full of people from the neighbourhood who’d come over to listen to the cricket. And of course we all thought it was absolutely genuine when we heard the bat hit the ball – but it wasn’t at all, was it? The other services we had were quite basic, I suppose. We didn’t ever make bread in the house, though baking day was usually Wednesday; and washing day was …
Washing for nine people was a fairly big task. The boiler had to be got ready the night before, and the tubs all put out, and the work clothes soaked in. Then next day there were three girls all lined up with a tub each – one for the washing, one for the rinsing, and one for the blueing. My mother would be there at the boiler with a stick, prodding the things
that had to be boiled up. Tuesday was ironing day, and Wednesday was baking day. On top of the dresser that we had in the kitchen – do you know what a dresser looks like? It’s got a cupboard underneath and a number of shelves. On top was a line of cake tins, and those were filled every week with cakes and biscuits – enough to last us for a week. Every afternoon we’d have afternoon tea
and those were what was on the table for afternoon tea. A number of people in our dairying area, they had to have a fire to boil up water. That was to sterilise the equipment that was used in the separating process. And people in the farms, a lot of them would have toast and jam on a fork before they started the milking. We didn’t ever do that until the war,
when we found that the milking took a bit longer. But breakfast would be on once all the farm jobs had been completed. It was mostly eggs and something … eggs and bacon, or egg-over-meat which was the remains of the corned round. Or there was eggs done like an omelet, or just fried, or poached. It nearly always included eggs.
The family would eat the main meal in the middle of the day. That would nearly always be meat and potatoes and whatever vegetables we could get. When I was going to school, of course, it was sandwiches. Then I’d get to eat my main meal when I came home after school. My mother would heat it up for me and I’d have it then.
Then, what we’d call ‘tea’ at night, that was whatever could be rustled up in a hurry. Sometimes scones, or what was called ‘pastalunas’ in its German name. That was fried scones. The work was very evenly divided into male and female occupations. The women did the housework and the laundry, and the men did the farm work.
They crossed over in milking – both sexes would do the milking, of course. Minding the cows – which we often had to do in the drought years. We had to keep them in a special section of the paddock where they would eat. It might not be fenced off, and we’d have to stop them from getting into a cultivated area. We did all that as girls. I remember that my sister Edna knitted two dresses whilst sitting on a horse, minding cows.
I’ll just go back and ask you about the laundry process. It sounds quite intense. Can you run me through that again?
The boiler was got ready the night before. It was a big copper boiler. The fire was built underneath, and that would be all laid out on Sunday evening.
The boiler would be filled with water and the fire lit on Monday morning. Then mother would scrape the soap – just ordinary bath soap – and that was put into the boiler. Then you’d boil that up and it let come to a thick, fudgy composition. There was no actual laundry as such. We did this around the side of the house between two big tanks. There was long bench there with three tubs – round, galvanised tubs. One
was for washing, and for lightly-soiled clothes that didn’t need boiling. Dresses and light things went in first, and then dirtier things went in later. Next was the rinsing tub for after they’d been washed. We didn’t ever have those washing boards – Mother didn’t believe in those. You washed with your hands. That was the way we learned to do it.
So then the washed clothes were wrung out and then put into the rinsing tub, and you’d go through that process. Then the light things and the white things went into the blueing tub – Reckitts Blue – it came in knobs. It was a really royal blue colour. I suppose it brought up the whiteness of the whites. They used a lot of white things – tablecloths, sheets,
good shirts. There was always a lot of white washing that would have to go through the blueing. And then of course it all had to be hung out to dry. There were two clotheslines outside the house yard. They were possibly fifty metres in length and held up with two props cut from young sapling trees. They had a fork in them and they were joined with straps. So the washing was hung up there.
It was always a very sad thing in winter, or when it was dry, to see a whirlwind go along the clothes line or to have an animal or something knock the line down. Then you’d have to go through the whole process a second time.
How long would the process of doing the laundry for nine people take?
Well, they started straight after breakfast
and usually everything would be done by about one o’clock. Then it all had to be brought in and folded, and the ironing sorted for the next day. Oh, and they had to do the milking after that.
And what was the ironing process?
Those were irons that stood on a wood stove to be heated up. They had
separate handles. You’d could clip thing handle onto the iron. So you’d have several irons heating up on the stove but you’d only have one handle. It could get quite hot, and you’d have to have a little pad to hold it sometimes. That was the only form of iron we had for a number of years, until petrol irons came on the scene. They are the most dangerous things I can think of!
They had this little tank on the back of the iron that was filled with petrol, and a little coil underneath that you lit. That heated up. So you ironed with this little tank of petrol being gradually used up. So that was an advance that made things simpler. And I can remember – talking about the division of labour –
and I can remember, on a very hot summer day, the men of the family lying on the verandah with cushions underneath their heads, listening to the cricket, while my sisters were inside ironing in the kitchen. That was on the western side of the house, so was quite hot. So that’s one division of labour that’s quite vivid.
Was there ever any bone of contention about the division of labour?
No. It was the accepted thing. That was simply what we did. My
daughters say, “Why didn’t they protest?” but that was what you did.
So, Dulcie, what sort of games did you play?
Well, being on my own a lot as a child, I played a lot on my own. I think I had the most dolls of any girls in the district. I had all this family who sometimes went away, and they’d buy me dolls.
So I played a lot with dolls. I played at dressing them more than mothering them. Rosie was very good with the sewing machine – she was an accomplished sewer. She’d have been a designer in today’s world. So I always had lots of dresses for these dolls. I’d change them and play with them, and I’d push them around and things like that.
And I had a cat, which I could also dress up and push around in a pram. It didn’t protest.
Interviewee: Dulcie Toohey Archive ID 1902 Tape 02
So we’ll pick up from where we were. You were talking about the things you used to do as a child to entertain yourself. So you had all the dolls …
Yes, I had all dolls, and dressed them, and I used to play with the cat. I’d push them around, and I’d teach the cat. The cat would sit there and I’d go through the process of playing school with it. Stick horses – we had horses of our own, but stick horses were still okay. You galloped
around on a stick with string through a hole that someone had bored for you. Cob horses was another one. When corn was thrashed, the interior of the dry cobs was really very colourful. It could range from quite a deep reddish colour through to a pale, pinky colour.
This was common amongst all the children – we’d have our own teams of cob horses. We’d link them together with string, and then put another string on them, and we’d drive them. We gave them all names, usually the names of the horses that were on the farm. We played ploughing, and harvesting, and …what other games?
At school we played rounders … I was talking about this to a lady the other day …
For people that might not know, can you explain what rounders is?
Well, very much like softball. We were trying to work out it out last night with the family. Tee-ball is probably the closest modern game to it. And we played cricket. All the kids were in the team. There was a tennis court at the school where I went. It had been built by the people
of the community and they had social tennis there, as well as tennis for the kids at school. But I never really learned to play, because during the war you couldn’t get racquets or balls, so it was just more or less abandoned. What else? We used to visit each other on Saturdays. We’d play dolls, ride horses, and also take part
in whatever was going on at the farm at the time. Later on we realised that it was really work that we were doing, but at the time we thought we were having fun and playing. We were dipping cattle, and some of the harvesting. It wasn’t until the war came that we ‘had’ to do it.
But when the war came, then we really had to do those jobs, and to do more of them.
Tell us about your … The person who you called ‘Mother’ … Effectively your grandmother, but really your mother. Can you tell us what she was like?
She was a very strong-minded woman. Very German natured, but very
hospitable. We had a huge table, and she always set an extra place at it. Very often that extra place was filled. She was the one who made most of the rules in the household and she was the first to voice her own opinion about anything – if anyone
stepped over the line. But Dad had the last word, always. You might listen to it for a while, but … Somehow, she took it from him, but if we answered her back, she wouldn’t take it from us. She must have been a very hard worker because she raised eight, well, seven children
in a slab hut out in the bush and then went to Murgon and raised another one – me. She was a very firm believer in God and the Lutheran church – very staunch. She was a chatterbox though, and very interested in local affairs.
She was in the Red Cross and the CWA [Country Women’s Association] and the Show Committee … anything that was going on, she liked to be involved in. Other people have always spoken of her well; she always put on a good table and others liked to visit her. But she ruled the roost.
I can remember before the war … My brother Louie was feeling frustrated. He wanted to get away and become a policeman but he was too short. He went to the Exhibition in Brisbane where they used to recruit and he came away disappointed. And she voiced an opinion about it, and he said, “Well, I’m going to go somewhere anyway.” And he walked off.
And she was saying, “No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to come back home,” and this was a man of twenty-five she was talking to. So, she was always ‘right’ I think, in her own mind.
And what about father, what was he like?
He was wonderful. He died at sixty-three and yet my memories of him are … He’d only gone to school
for a few years because his father had died early, and they had a little farm out here at Haigslea. But he was a great reader. One of the last things he did … When I was in my senior year at school I had decided to take ancient history because I was very interested in that sort of thing. The textbook that they
prescribed – there’s one on the shelf in the workroom over there – was Brestead; it’s about this thick [gestures]. And he read right through it while he was recovering from illness. That was shortly before he died. Anything – magazines or … There were always lots of magazines in the house.
One of them was put out by the ABC, and there was another one that was printed on very plain paper … I can’t remember the name of it. It was a really good magazine with a wide range of subjects. We were related fairly well to the teachers who came into the district. More often than not we had to board the teacher
because no-one else much wanted to. And I think he really appreciated the input he got from those young people – as we all did. Then also, teachers from the surrounding schools would also come over to our place because we had the local teacher there. Dad was a great listener.
Radio was really what he loved. And he was a very fair man. I can remember him being visited by an uncle. He came from Ipswich. And Uncle Guy was sitting at the table and Sam Chambers – he was an Aborigine who was a drover – and he used to go around when a dairy farmer wanted to sell off an odd cow or two that was past their prime
and Sam would go out and collect them from all the farms. We were sitting at the dinner table – it must have been a Saturday because I was there – and Charlie looked out of the window and said, “There’s Sam,” and he called out, “Hey Sam, you’re just in time for dinner!” And Uncle Guy said to August – that’s Dad’s name – he said, “He’s not going to eat with us, is he?” And Dad said, “Of course he is; he’s a friend.”
He was very tolerant of the Aborigines. At that time the act that confined Aborigines to the reserves was not being enforced. It had been passed, but it wasn’t yet enforced. But they would come from the Aboriginal settlement near Murgon – it was called Cherbourg – and do some work for the farmers around the place. Very often it was clearing away undergrowth in the scrubby areas that were still left on the farm, or they might do a bit of digging
for fence posts and that type of thing. But the women, they always camped in our scrub. We had a patch of scrub that my father insisted should never be cleared – he said it was shelter for the animals, both the native animals and the cattle as well. When it was cold or there was a storm, then they could get into the scrub.
So they used to camp in there too. I can remember playing with their kids. They were always very welcome and made to feel … My mother, too, she was also very tolerant of them. They’d come out and … I can remember when they enforced the act and the women came out to the farm and they … They’d never come into the house yard that was fenced off from the farm. They wouldn’t do that; they’d only come to
the fence or the gate. But I can remember this woman coming to the fence and throwing her arms around my mother and saying, “We can’t come here any more.” And the two of them just cried. They had been coming for so many years and camping in our scrub. We got quite involved with them, but now they wouldn’t be able to do that any more … What else can I tell you about my dad?
He was a Labor Party worker who used to hand out how-to-vote cards in a Country Party area. But he was also very friendly with the local Member [of Parliament]. And although he wasn’t an educated man, he was someone that others always seemed to come to for advice. There were people who’d come around back then selling various scams – you know, shares in this
and that sort of thing. He was caught once, investing in a New Zealand company. It was supposed to be New Zealand Forestry, and he thought at the time that would pay for my education because it was supposed to mature in so many years. But it was a scam, and I can remember that he and some of the other neighbours talking together when they found out that it wasn’t
genuine; and they came to Dad and said, “Well, what will we do?” I don’t know what happened about it. I think they went to the solicitor. But I can remember them coming to him for his advice first. The morning of an election day, he always presented the cards to me and explained the voting process; he’d tell me
about what had to be done, and how the vote would affect my life, and how hard it was to get the votes. He’d say, “Use it.” That’s the sort of man he was.
What did he say about how hard it was to get the votes?
Well, a number of people had never voted, and unless you owned land … it was men only for a start. Although the family was divided for work – strictly male-female – he was always very tolerant that the girls got their fair share. A number of families distributed things like an inheritance so that the girls got nothing.
But he always made sure that the daughters got treated as well as the sons. He sort of said, “Women had to get the vote. It took them a long time to get it.” He’d talk about the suffragettes, and he knew about the voting age issue – the voting age for women was
once about thirty-four, I think. It was in the thirties – I’m not quite sure – and then it gradually got down to being twenty-one. He talked about how long that process had taken. So he was quite well informed.
Who was the disciplinarian, mother or father?
Mother, I think. But we didn’t always take notice of her. I can remember
getting a smack once from Father because I refused to play with a child who came visiting. I’ve never forgotten that. It was the only one he ever gave me, but it was a good one and it was for a good purpose.
You mentioned before that mother made the rules of the house. What were the rules?
Well, I suppose I was so used to them that I didn’t know they were rules at the time. We always had to be very well dressed. Language was carefully controlled – we didn’t use any bad language.
What would have been considered ‘bad language’?
Oh, ‘bloody’ – that was considered bad language back then. And ‘being open with strangers’ – she insisted on that. Because you were in that time – the Depression – and there were men who had to travel a certain distance between jobs in order to qualify
to get their rations. They would often end up at our place because there was a crossroad nearby. We sort of lived on a corner of that crossroad. The school was next door, and there was a shed – we called it the Cream Box, because that’s where we put the cans of cream to be picked up by the carter. So the men would come up to the house and ask permission to sleep under the school
or in the Cream Box, which was large enough. And father, who was the secretary of the school committee for twenty-one years, he’d always give them permission. I don’t think the Department of Education knew. It was called Public Instruction back then. And mother was always able to produce a loaf of bread and butter and jam for those people. They’d often be going on to Gayndah – the signpost to Gayndah
was right at the corner. And they’d ask how far it was to Gayndah and things like that. So we’d tell them it was sixty miles, and there wasn’t much between here and there, and that sort of talk.
What do you remember about those men?
Very polite. Sometimes they would want to do work. Of course, there were enough of us on the farm to do anything that had to be done.
I can see him out at the wood heap as we called it; woodchips everywhere – and Dad would be sitting there smoking his pipe and talking to this fellow who would chop some wood for us in return. One of the boys could have done it quite easily but
Dad would let them cut some for the dignity of the person who was asking to camp under the school or in the Cream Box.
The Aboriginals whose children you played with, did you play different games with them?
I can’t remember much … it was mostly drawing in the dirt. And eating what they ate, which now horrifies my family. The mothers would hand out things.
Do you recall what it was that you were eating?
No. Obviously it was Aboriginal food. In the scrub at that time there were things like bandicoots and birds and other … wild food of various descriptions – berries and things like that,
because it was still a natural wilderness that hadn’t been tampered with. There were wild plums and all sorts of things.
Can you paint me a picture of what the visiting Aboriginals had, and what they wore?
Well, most of the women wore dresses and looked much the same as you see them today on TV – you know, the people who are way out back in the settlements at the moment. The women always wore dresses. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Aboriginal woman in pants. The men just wore rough
clothing, probably handed down from the white population to a certain extent. They wore the same clothes that the other men on the farm wore – dark coloured shirts and pants held up with braces or cord. Sometimes they had shoes on, sometimes they didn’t. More often they were barefooted.
And that conversation you mentioned earlier between your father and uncle, about whether or not …
Sam was going to use the table …
Do you think that attitude was commonplace, or do you think your family thought differently?
I think that was why they camped at our place – because they knew they’d be treated well.
Do you recall being aware of that at the time?
Not really. It was just part of the scene, you know.
You don’t think about those sorts of things when you’re a kid. You just take it as it happens. I think though, that I was shocked when Uncle Guy said Sam wasn’t going to eat at our table because Sam had done it before.
How old were you when you started school?
Not yet five. There were two other children in the district. One had turned seven and the other was five. Two was not really enough to start a class, so they said, “Well, you might as well go.” So that’s how I started.
On the first day, when they asked me what I’d learned at school, I drew a rectangle on the slate I had at home. I drew some scribbles on the side and at the top … they laughed, and I didn’t know why. This was a one-teacher school and I was more interested in what the other kids were doing. They were doing mensuration, of course, so that was what I thought was the most interesting thing that happened during the day so I drew the rectangle and put the measurements on the top and the sides.
I loved school. It was great. On wet days we used to light a little pot belly stove in the corner of the school. We’d toast our sandwiches on it. Quite a few of the other children wouldn’t come to school when it was wet because it was too far. So the few of us who were there would have a lovely day
and … I can remember also – not long after I’d started school – I remember going off to school and two of the big boys were playing tennis. And when I got to the tennis court, one of them said, “There’s no school today, Dulcie. You can go home.” And I look at them suspiciously and they said, “That’s right – no school today.”
So I went home. And when I told them this yarn – I can’t remember who I told – but I can remember Elsie saying, “But you are going to school.” And I said, “No, Colin Bates said it was a holiday.” Elsie said, “Well, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Well, I dug my heels in. And there was a peach tree near the gate and she broke a stick off it and said, “You’re going to school if I have to take you all the way.”
Which she did, with a peach switch behind me. The second time I got there, there were other kids there, and one of the boys apologised afterwards – many years afterwards. He said it was an awful thing they did that day.
How many kids were at the school?
Around thirty. That was always the number when I was there. Teachers at that time were allowed to accelerate or retard things in order to make the sizes of the class more manageable. Most often it was acceleration. I can’t really remember anyone being held back. The ages would range from five to fourteen.
And so it was the one teacher?
One teacher, yes.
How did classes work like that?
It was easy … [laughs] … No, it takes a special kind of teacher to do that. Every classroom has the same set-up though, since there could be four or five or thirty different abilities in there.
But when we went into school in the morning, the blackboards would be filled with work to be done. The older children would …. Well, first of all we lined up and saluted the flag and sang ‘God Save the King’. Then we marched into school to a gramophone record of ‘Colonel Bogey’ or some such song. And as soon as we got in, it was sit down
and the upper school would immediately get to work at whatever was on the board for them. The middle school would probably be operating with a monitor – that’s one of the better pupils. They’d have a group out on the verandah or somewhere else, and there we’d be rote learning tables and that type of thing.
Meanwhile the teacher would be engaged with the lower school. Then it sort of swapped around. Sometimes the monitor from the highest grade would take the lowest grade with rote learning or reading, or something else that could be easily overseen. The system still operates the same way today, I think.
What was the typical school day like later on in the day. Was there a morning tea?
Yes. We had half an hour at eleven o’clock. And then a hour later for the big lunch. And that relates to one of my wartime stories closely, too … Anyway, the morning session was mostly Maths, English … the middle
session would be more English or Reading. And in the afternoon we did Nature Study – Science – and some Drama. That was role playing, or whatever. Then there was more Reading. We had a Project Club too. The first Project Club that I participated in was a milk-testing project.
We all came from farms, and we had this Babcock method for testing milk for butterfat content. We had the centrifuge and all the things that belong with it. So we tested milk every week, taking it in turns to collect milk from the different farms.
And we kept scrapbooks for our animals’ progress – from calf to heifer to cow. We gave lectures on what was happening with our particular animals. That was an afternoon activity.
Did you have particular animals on the farm that were yours to look after?
Yes, sort of. We didn’t have many pets, as such. You see, dogs on the farm were working dogs. But you had clutches of chickens and ducklings; and of course the cat – it was expected to do a bit of work in the barn, I think.
There were certain things we had to do. We had our routines.
What were your routine jobs?
Feeding calves, chickens, hens, ducks … collecting eggs and shutting them up of a night-time
so that foxes wouldn’t get in. Those were the things that most kids have to do.
When you were at school, did they teach you much about World War 1?
Not a great deal. But there was a huge, great picture on the wall. It dominated the wall. It was of the landing at Gallipoli,
and it was a horrible picture. It would have been the size of that side wall over there, and it hung there all the time. The teachers that I had were not prone to dwell on it; but the one that had been there in the twenties, he had purchased that picture and hung it there.
Nobody dared to ever take it down. I don’t know whether we got used to it because it was there or what? We didn’t learn a great deal about World War 1, but we still saluted the Union Jack and we sang ‘God Save the King’. And our singing lessons were mainly wartime songs from either the
British heritage or from the American Civil War: ‘The British Grenadiers’, ‘Old Black Joe’, ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ – they were all dismal sorts of songs, really.
Do you recall the songs now?
Could you give us a little rendition?
Oh dear …
Well, ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ went like this … [sings]
‘My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf
So it stood ninety years on the floor’;
… I forget the rest … and ‘The British Grenadiers’ – I can remember the tune but not the words. And ‘Old Black Joe’ … can’t remember the words of that, either.
If they come back to you, let us know; we’d be really interested in getting that …
I’ll think about it.
The picture of Gallipoli – can you describe it?
Well, it’s been shown on television. It was one of the ‘great pictures’, like the monuments, and was pretty widely distributed.
It showed the soldiers falling into the water, the boats as they came in; and you could see dead soldiers lying on the beachfront … It was horror, that’s the only way to describe it – horror. It was the real landing atmosphere.
The other picture at the school, which was above the door, that one was called ‘Menin Gate’. It was in France somewhere. I loved it. It was a French archway, much like Marble Arch in London, and all around it were these red poppies. And of course I knew about poppies because we used to get poppies for Remembrance Day.
I was looking at that one day and the teacher came along and said, “Do you like that, Dulcie?” And I said, “Yes,” and he said, “I don’t think you’d like it if you saw it up close.” And he reached up and brought it down, and I looked at it, and every one of those poppies turned into a bleeding soldier. It was one of those two dimensional pictures that changed when you looked at it from a different angle.
So those were the two pictures of war that were in my mind when the war broke out.
What do you recall about war breaking out?
Being scared. The first day I can remember distinctly. I think it was at night when we first heard the news – when it was announced that Britain was at war and that we were at war, too. I can remember the
dead silence in the room, and I can remember my father looking up with this worried look on his face that I’d never seen before. It was tea time – news time – and as I said before, we always had all this chatter going on around the table, but this night there was just dead silence. We all just sat there waiting for
the repetition of the broadcast from London on the radio. Then the next day, I was up in … I had a little nook, a little place near the boundary fence and the road. It was just one of those lovely little places where there were shrubby trees and womba vines and little birds that would flit
in and out. Sometimes there might be a little bird’s nest in there somewhere. It was a place where I often used to go and just sit by myself there, and think about things. And this day, I had this feeling that I’d better go back to the house because horrible men might be coming … and soon. That was the feeling I had, but then nothing happened.
I sort of expected that something was going to happen in the war, immediately.
Was there a discussion early on in the family about any of your brothers joining up?
Not really. There had been discussion about Hitler in the early years because one of the neighbouring farms was owned by a widow
who had four sons. One of them was a bit of a tearaway and he was a great admirer of Hitler. They were a family of German extraction as well. My parents – they spoke both English and German – and my father used to listen to the news from Germany on a short wave radio, and I can
remember him talking to the mother of this boy, and he was trying to get him to change his attitude, because this was not good. Of course, war was something they had tried to get away from in the generation before, so they thought the situation in Germany was not good. The strange thing was that, when I was young,
I thought the Napoleonic Wars were just ages ago; but now that I’m so much older I’ve realised how recent they were, I mean, when I was young. Europe was being carved up and all this, and their grandparents had gone through it. They didn’t want to have it again. Anyway, my brothers weren’t interested but there were a number of boys in the district who joined the Light Horse [Australian Light Horse Brigade] –
the soldiers on horses with the bandoliers and jackets and an emu feather in the hat. And the horses! They were gorgeous. They had the best horses, and they were groomed and shiny, and we used to see them ride off. They’d ride in on a Friday night – in Murgon – and some of the things they did on their horses … the tent pegging, and bending races and manoeuvres on horses
were things that we thought were just great. So we really admired these fellows. At the outbreak of the war, the sons of those from English descent went off to war immediately. They were what my stepfather called the ‘flag wavers’. But that was their feeling – they were attached to
England and therefore their sons immediately joined up. Ours weren’t so eager to go at that time, because … well, Europe was a long way away, anyway. But my cousin Bill, who was killed later, he joined the CMF – the Citizens’ Military Force – and he used to go to drill on a Friday night too. He used to walk the nine miles into town sometimes, just to go. So he did a route march before he got there!
And we as kids, we thought he was mad because he didn’t have a horse. We thought, “Why would you join the CMF when you could have a horse?”
Interviewee: Dulcie Toohey Archive ID 1902 Tape 03
Being from a German family, how did that play a part?
Definitely, it was one of the first effects that we found at school. You’ve seen the photos of the kids.
Talking about the games that we played, we loved arguing. We belonged to a modern school, and we were all in the debating club. But when we got bored we’d pull out some topic and divide into two sides and have a debate. It is about whether Dodge cars were better than Chevs [Chevrolets], or whether Ford cars were better than something else; and I remember one story, of a child who had a new car in the family for a fortnight, couldn’t tell anyone about it – because that would mean they’d have
to change sides in the debate. And that was a very hard secret to keep. There was a debate about whether Illawarra cows were better than Jerseys, or vice versa. So we’d check our results from the Project Club to prove which one was better, and so on. One of the boys actually added cream to the milk sample one time in a way that made Illawarra’s look much better than anything else. I think the cow was tested at about twenty-five. After war broke out, the debate suddenly shifted.
The German side, and there were a number of us from German descent, and the others, who were not German descendants. This is something that not many people realise. We talk about the postwar migration but at Wellwood school at that time there were families of German descent and a family of Italian origin, and one of Dutch origin, and one of Chinese origin, and a couple of English.
And there was one German woman who had married a man named Smith, and they were quite safe from everything. But that was what happened. Suddenly, the school was split in two. It was pro and anti German. And we didn’t know what Germany was, having left it about four generations ago. We had no ties with Germany whatsoever.
But that went on. One of the English men in the district actually proposed to the parliament that German descendants should leave their farms. They were proposing that we should become more or less employees, and not be owners any more.
Fortunately, the man was intelligent, and he rebutted that one, but there was a distinct feeling of a split in the community. I think that mellowed after Japan came into the war. Then the division disappeared.
What did you learn of what was going on in the war at that stage?
Well, we had a big map up on the wall, and every morning the teacher used to ask the bigger children to pinpoint where the war was at that stage and what was going on. They went through the quick advance of the Germans across Poland and whatever. So we knew that something was going on over there.
The men who left from our district, they went to North Africa. So we followed the 9th Division, we followed them there on the map. But apart from that we didn’t take too much notice of what was going on. My father continued to listen to the news from Germany and we were worried that this would lead him into an internment camp.
But he refused to listen to us and kept on doing it. But my mother was still scared of the fact that he did this.
What was your knowledge of internment camps in Australia?
Well, in World War 1 a number of the Lutheran pastors had been interned, so we knew of that situation. Our particular pastor’s wife was of German origin. She had migrated with her husband when she married.
Their family was very much afraid that their mother might be taken and interned. So we sort of had an idea of being shut up with barbed wire around us. But by the time Christmas came things had sort of settled down, and the 1940 Christmas I can remember vividly.
It was one that never happened that way again. In a small town, everyone knew what everyone else was doing; it was common knowledge. Our family had always celebrated Christmas, sometimes at our place, sometimes at another uncle’s. This year it was at Uncle Carl’s.
So that was where all the preparation went on; all the families contributed something, and it was a great day for eating and meeting everyone. And at that time, the only late night shopping that was allowed was on Christmas Eve. So it was very exciting to go to town and have a few drinks and buy the last Christmas presents, and so on.
I didn’t take part in that though, because I was too young and had to go to bed. I had done my shopping beforehand. I’d done it all at Coles [department store], which was fairly new in Murgon at that stage. But they had the prices on everything whereas other shops didn’t. I didn’t like asking because I mightn’t have enough money. I’d sold a calf for ten shillings prior to Christmas, and that ten shillings was to buy presents for the family.
So I went to Coles and bought presents for everyone, and debated how much I was going to spend on everyone; so I had done my Christmas shopping. In the morning, you wouldn’t have known that it was Christmas day, because we all had to go and do the milking. I wasn’t milking regularly at that stage, but was doing the other little jobs.
So we came in and had our breakfast, and then all of us – I don’t know how we did it – but managed to bathe and get into our semi-good clothes; and then we opened our presents at home, before we left to go to uncle’s place. Of course, at uncle’s place there was a crowd. Everybody was there
and we were welcomed in. One guest who was there that day was a fellow named Billy Needy. He was one of the ‘Dan Kelly Ghost People’ … Nobody knows what happened to Dan Kelly, but he was one of the people who was represented as Dan at one stage. But he had a little sulky. It was polished up beautifully and was drawn by two little grey ponies
named Jack and Jill. All the leathers on the sulky were red, and it was absolutely beautiful. Sometimes, he would give us rides in it. Not often though; because Billy was very shrewd, and if he gave a ride to this person, and didn’t give a ride to that person, then he was in trouble. But I can remember on that Christmas at Uncle Carl’s, he gave rides to all the kids. And we loved it. And we had this huge table set up on the verandah with thirty people plus.
There was duck and goose and chicken – ‘chook’ as we called it – and all the vegetables we had fresh from the farm. We had a lot of China Flat peaches that grew on Uncle Carl’s tree just near the kitchen window and there were lollies and nuts that the grocer had given us with our order – he always included those, free.
So we had a wonderful day, finished off with plum pudding and custard and fruit salad. After that, we kids used to disappear for a while. That was because we didn’t like the fetching and carrying and cleaning up after the big feast. The women, of course, had to do that. The men stayed on the verandah and talked. That was their privilege. After the cleaning up was all done … I don’t know what we all did – sang a few
carols, I think. And then there was the obligatory cricket match, where everyone joined in – even the aunts, they were all in. The pitch was bounded on one side by the barn and by the house on the other; and we played. And it was probably hot. We also had this dog that had been given to us by some people from Wondai. It was a town dog
and not a country dog, but he was a very faithful dog and he could catch cricket balls. So we didn’t have to do too much running after cricket balls – Rob brought them all back. Then after that we had afternoon tea – Christmas cake, biscuits, the lot. And then we went home to milk. Everything seemed quite happy. We had good rain; everything was fine – 1940 Christmas. It was a sort of really carefree Christmas
the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever experienced since. Now, in 1940 they’d started to take an interest in training Australian men for military purposes. Men had to register and be medically examined and so on. The letters came, saying that one of the men had passed A1,
and my mother would tense up, thinking that he was going to go tomorrow. So, throughout that year they came and went. It was quite fun really because we went to see them off at the station, and we went to meet them when they came home. So it was just like having Christmases one after the other, as they came and went.
Then in 19 … Now, that was the year that we had a relieving teacher. Our teacher – Jack – he was called up, and we had a relieving teacher for three months. His only problem was that he had never been in the country before. He had taught at a [Christian] Brothers’ School, and had very little teacher training. So he took the place of this teacher that
we absolutely loved. Jack had been a townie too, but we knew that he had taught at Normanton in the Gulf country, before, and we knew that he had been a lifesaver – although we didn’t quite know what lifesavers actually did since we’d never seen the sea. And he was just … we just loved him. I think we were
quite popular with him too. So, we were sent this substitute teacher for three months. When Jack left, he went with the mail man, and the mail man delivered his replacement. It was nearly half past ten and we’d been playing and waiting for this to happen. We went into school at about half past ten, and Jack
had put the work on the board, so we started with that. The little ones seemed a bit agitated, but we didn’t really take any notice. After a while some of the boys were pointing at the clock … it was morning tea time. So someone was delegated, surreptitiously, to put up his hand and tell the new teacher, “Please sir, we have our little lunch now.” And he said, “You’ve only been here for half an hour.”
So that wasn’t a very good introduction on the first day in our eyes. It didn’t give him much reputation in our eyes. Following that he taught us his way, which was mostly by rote learning. Some people can learn by rote and some can’t; like, you were given a page in a history book and told to learn it, then you’d have to stand up and say it; and if you couldn’t, then you’d get a punishment like having two hundred words
to write out. And this went on and on. I was fairly good at rote learning and I was a good reader, so I didn’t have too many words to write out. But eventually I found myself joining with the others and not knowing it. So we had all these words piling up and we’d sit in the classroom at lunchtime and scratch away,
writing these words out on slates. At last, some of the kids had thousands of words to write out, and they were getting sick of it. So we decided to go on strike. We’d have our lunch as usual, and then write out the words after school. And he’d have to sit there with us. But there was one implication that we were a bit scared of – we all had to be home at four o’clock for the milking.
So we were there scratching away and the clock was getting closer to four o’clock; and the little infant classes, they were there under the school, waiting for their older brothers to take them home. And then we heard an adult’s voice, and a tramp, tramp, tramp on the steps. And this voice said, “What’s going on here? You’ve got two of my milkers in there; the missus is home in the yard on her own, and I bet some of you others should be home as well. Come on, get home.”
And the teacher, who had been sitting at his table, jumped to his feet. And the kids who were missing from the cow yard jumped up, and the rest of us jumped up, and out we all went. We didn’t have any words to write out after that. So we didn’t gain all that much, even though it was a bit of a victory for child labour.
Can you tell us a bit more about Jack? As you’d said, it took a special kind of teacher to teach thirty kids at once?
Well, I had two Jacks, but the second one I remember mostly as the one who was relieved at that time. He was a very quiet, patient man. You really felt that when he was teaching you, he was really teaching you.
He got around the school very calmly; nobody was ever punished or caned or … You’ll hear this story from most people of that time about how terrible the teachers were. But Jack was just the opposite, and, to quote one of my contemporaries who was
at the school at the time, also. She later went on to become an Inspector of Schools, and she said she’d later realised that her teacher was one of a kind, that she’d never seen many like that since. She said that he was one of a very few teachers like that. He joined in our games and we made cubby houses, and he’d visit us, and we’d make him tea. The mothers were
even in on this because they’d send in cakes for little lunch. He didn’t board with the families. He boarded with one family and then they had to use his accommodation; so we offered him our place, but he said he’d rather go into Murgon and stay in one of the hotels. He used to ride a bike; that was nine miles of corrugated road. But he rode the nine miles in the morning and in the afternoon.
He loved milk and I used to take him his bottle of milk every day, for which I earned threepence. So he was just a favourite with all of us. After he left to go into the army he wrote to all the families. I have a letter that he wrote to me just before I was married. And he sent us a coconut from New Guinea. We’d never seen a whole coconut in the shell, with husks. And he sent us
Japanese cigarettes, and Japanese invasion money – the money they were going to use when they invade Australia. When he came on leave later on he visited us. He was just a part of the community; a very special part of the community.
Would you say that he was a big part of your love of school?
I think so. I speak to some of the people
that I was at school with and they just say what good teachers we had. I think that’s probably why I became a teacher, myself.
It must have been quite devastating when he joined the army …
Oh, it was … We could do without our brothers and we could do without our uncles, but not our teacher! I recall that on breaking-up day, the big
girls were around behind the water tank stands sobbing into their handkerchiefs, and the boys were scratching their heads and wondering who was going to take his place. We’d heard that it was going to be a woman. But we just didn’t think we could cope; and having had this experience
with the other fellow made it even worse – we thought we could get someone like that again. And a woman, well, that was unheard of. Women just didn’t go to one-teacher schools.
Was Jack called up or did he enlist?
He was called up. Most of them were called up, but they enlisted then, straightaway, almost. When they had to go, they went the full way. They didn’t hesitate about it. That’s what happened to my brothers.
So what was your brothers’ reaction at the outbreak of war?
I don’t think they worried a great deal about it, and they really enjoyed their three month training camps. When they were called up I … well, I had this vision in my head of my older sister Edna going for the mail, and finding in it a brown envelope with OHMS [On His Majesty’s Service] on it, addressed to one of the
brothers, and throwing it down on the kitchen table in front of Mother, and saying, “He’s going off for three months to Brisbane, where he can go to the pictures, and to dances, and eat chocolate …” When was she ever going to get a chance to do that? That was her reaction to it. But the boys really enjoyed their training.
It was fun seeing them off too, and meeting them when they came home. But everybody of course – from all around the district – there was a couple of them like that from every family. So we were partying from one day to the next, with send-offs and homecomings. But then, when Pearl Harbor was bombed and the call-up came, Jack went and Louie went – he was the one who wanted to be a policeman –
and so he was quite happy to go into the army. Suddenly, the dads in the district were doing what I call ‘cow sums’ – right, that’s fifty cows between five milkers; that’s ten each. And fifty cows with three milkers, then that’s a bit of a problem.
Can you remember hearing about Pearl Harbor?
Yes. I think that really … that was another landmark. We knew then that the war in Europe and Africa was another part of the world altogether, but this was nearer home. Now there was a real purpose in going. My brothers felt that.
Were the brothers considered to be part of a protected industry, being on the dairy farm?
You were allowed one man per farm. My father had only one kidney, so he applied to have his youngest son – Vince – exempted. But they didn’t take into account his state of health, so Vince went all the same. But he didn’t join the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. He remained with the CMF, but still served in
Borneo [Dulcie meant New Britain]. Of the other two who joined the AIF, Percy ferried ammunition to ships in Brisbane, and Louie helped to build the Mount Isa to Darwin road. He was stationed in Mount Isa. So the two who were prepared to go overseas stayed in Australia; and the one who was digging his heels in a bit, he went to Borneo [New Britain]. But that’s bureaucracy at its …
Well, maybe I shouldn’t be expressing opinions, but that was the situation as I saw it.
So how would you have heard what had happened in Pearl Harbor?
I think it was on the news. It was a bit like September 11th – that sort of feeling; because it was the Pacific, and that was nearer to home.
You spoke of the shock and the silence at the dinner table when war in Europe started …
I can’t really pinpoint the Pearl Harbor experience, but I do know that it changed our viewpoint almost immediately. We felt as though we were more or less back from the situation, and now we were right in it.
And it also changed the way society was looking at the war against Germany?
That’s right. Everyone was in, now … So Christmas 1941 was a dead contrast to Christmas 1940 because everyone was going and we didn’t know for how long; and of course
all the mothers had them dead and buried in their minds almost immediately. They were very anxious. So I can’t remember much about that Christmas Day being much of a Christmas Day at all. It was very sombre. But in the January following the replacement teacher arrived. Her name was Miss Mulhearn, and she was nineteen years old.
I’ve got a letter from her, recalling her stay with us. She’d lived in Toowoomba all her life and had never been on a farm. She was quite unprepared for what she was facing, and she’d never seen a one-teacher school before. She’d gone to a convent school. So we were wondering what we were getting. All around the district these
young girls were coming to replace the male teachers. Teachers at that time were quite high up on the social calendar, and one of the ladies in the district, her husband went off to meet the replacement teacher. I can remember her grilling him about how he must behave and how his manners must be perfect and how he must wear his suit; and he must call her ‘Miss’ all the time.
Her name was Betty Eagle. So he went and met her at the station and welcomed her, saying, “You must come and live with us, Miss Hawk.” And he called her Miss Hawk all the way home. Betty laughed about it later. So they made their homes with us, these young teaching girls. At school, the first thing we noticed was that Ruth couldn’t quite handle the four/five class situation. So the bigger girls used to take it on themselves to go and do
what Jack would have done in the situation with the infants’ school. Gradually she got the rhythm of it though, and she ended up doing very well.
What was the homework situation?
Not very much. I can remember doing quite a bit for scholarship a couple of years later … there’s an example of a scholarship paper over there. In
the early years there was very little homework set at all. I think the teachers realised that we had quite a bit to do on the farm. And we didn’t have good lighting. Most people didn’t have electricity – they managed with just a kerosene lamp. My father though, he was always very insistent
that we have as good a light as we possibly could. There was another type of lamp – one with a mantle. There was something else you had to put in it, but we couldn’t get it during the war. In the base of this lamp there was like a big sponge. It soaked up the fuel, and then you lit it. It had a mantle, and it blazed out
this quite bright light. So we got the next best thing, which was a Coleman lamp. You can still buy them. They’re the lanterns people use for blackout experiences. But this one had to be pumped. You had to put the pressure into it. Rosie was always the one who lit the lamps. She would leave the dairy situation early to go home and light the lamps and help with the evening meal. So she’d prime
the lamp and pump it and have it going by the time the rest of us came home. So there wasn’t much homework.
Did you have daylight saving time then?
Yes we did. And that was … I lost my hair through that. I had long plaits, and I was milking on The Ranch at that time. I’d get up in the morning and ride my bike over
to The Ranch, milk my ten cows, come home, have breakfast – which Mum would have ready for me – and then get ready for school. Sometimes she’d be doing other jobs like feeding the chooks – we didn’t have the time to do lots of the little jobs like feeding the fowls; she’d often do it for us during the war. So I’d be getting ready for school
and running around with two ribbons and a brush and comb in my hand, trying to get somebody to plait my hair because I couldn’t plait it myself. So one morning – Rosie had really had it – she said, “I’m sick of this!” And she went into the … She led me by one plait into the room where she sewed, took out the scissors and snip. And I had a bob from that day on.
But we were so rushed for time because of the daylight saving. We had to have our cream ready for the cream carrier, and for the butter factory, which was also running on daylight saving time. The mornings were a real hassle. I can remember riding through the frost in the mornings – Murgon and Kingaroy can be quite frosty. It was so cold; and getting into the cow yard to milk the first cows of a morning – you could hardly move it was
so cold. Ah yes, daylight saving … It wasn’t a good thing for dairy farmers.
Can you remember when they reverted back to normal time?
No I can’t really. I suppose I was at high school then, and it didn’t make so much difference.
Did you understand why they had introduced it?
Very few people knew that they did. We used to have a school day from nine thirty to three thirty, which was a blessing. To get there by nine would have been even more of a struggle.
So what about rationing? When did it start?
I’m not sure about that, though I know that I must have been in primary
school; aged about twelve, I think. And the first thing that we really noticed was the shortage of elastic. That was a big thing. And also the shortage of materials fit to be made into underwear. You could buy singlets at the counter, but you couldn’t buy children’s knickers … because all the mums made them.
That was part of … they just bought the soft materials and made them. The store that we supported got in a large bolt of yellow head cloth – pretty stiff, cotton material. My mother and one of the other mothers bought yards of it, and they managed to get some elastic – it used to be put away under the counter –
and she’d say, “Psst, I’ve a bit of elastic in this week; you can have three yards.” And the ladies would say, “Oh yes please, that’d be good!” So Kathleen and I had these horrible bright yellow bloomers. And because of that we couldn’t have a swing for the entire duration of the war, because if our dresses blew up, we’d be showing these horrible yellow … by the end of the war they were just about worn out!
I can remember, too, getting extra coupons for being an outsized child – I was a fairly early developer, and was over five foot tall. If you were over five foot you could get extra coupons. Well, I was five foot tall at age twelve – and I never grew after that. But these were the sorts of things that were done at school – Ruth had to measure us
and send away whatever sort of application form was required. And she had to do surveys for possible evacuation of city children – all our houses had to be measured: the number of rooms, the size of the rooms; estimates of how many people we could bed down, and all of this. It caused quite a stir because some of the women said things like, “I told my brother that if it got bad in Brisbane I’d take in his wife and kids. I don’t want these other people.”
So, that exercise was not very popular. We had to say what sort of car we had so they could work out how many people we could carry. One family had a Huptmobile – do you know what that is? It’s one of the early model cars that was very high at the back. The two seats in the front were fairly squashed. It was one of the German families,
and although they were third or fourth generation, they still had a little bit of a German accent; and I can remember Kevin saying, “Da Hupt can take thirteen.” And Ruth looked at him and said, “Are you sure?” And he said, “Yes, when we went somewhere there was thirteen of us in it.” So he wouldn’t be budged from that because he had once carried thirteen.
What sort of car did you have?
A 1939 Dodge. Everybody was very car conscious, you know. You had a ’39 Dodge, a ’38 Chev, whatever. Fords, Chevs, and Dodges – they were the three makes of cars that were most popular.
Can you ever remember hearing about the Brisbane Line?
Oh yes. That was another bone of contention in the district – were we going to be above it or below it?
And would it be a straight line, or would it follow lines of ranges and rivers. It was a very worrying sort of proposition for our people. Yes … another thing … at that time the city schools, they had to dig slit trenches and that sort of thing.
They’d been doing that for some time. Anyway, they decided that all schools had to have slit trenches, so the committee met one afternoon under the pepperina tree at the school – I think one of them brought a shovel – and it was black clay soil around the school. He put the shovel in and said, “This is a waste of time. What’ll we do about it?”
But there was a gully that ran across the corner of the school yard and one of the Dutch dads – Bill Bligh – he said, “No, they can go in the gully! What’s the use of trying to dig anything out.” So they gave it away; went and had a yarn under the school, then went home.
Were there people talking about what might happen if the Brisbane Line eventuated – like, if there was a scorched earth policy, would they then have to go south from there?
There was no indication of what would happen to us. That’s what caused most consternation because we didn’t really know what our position was, and we didn’t know what would be expected of us. We were doing these surveys to take evacuees, but we didn’t know whether we were safe or not.
Do you know if there was any sort of civilian defence organisation in Murgon?
Yes, there was a ‘Dad’s Army’. A couple of the farmers; most of the ones of English descent went into that. There wasn’t much interest in it from the others. They were a bit of a joke really, I think. That was before Dad’s Army[television comedy] was written, yes …
‘Broomstick warriors’ they were.
Did you have to black out your home or anything like that?
Yes. We had to black out the home and black out the car.
Interviewee: Dulcie Toohey Archive ID 1902 Tape 04
We were talking about the blackouts ...
Yes, the blackouts. In the early 1940s there were a number of staging camps in the Murgon – Wondai districts. There was an air force camp at Kingaroy and army camps around Murgon and Wondai. The ladies in town decided
that these poor boys so far are way from home – they were from Victoria and New South Wales – and they couldn’t get home on leave because they were so far away – and so we should introduce hospitality Sundays. So everybody in the district lined up to take two of these fellows on a Sunday. And they’d come along in a military vehicle, a truck or whatever, and they’d be dropped off at the gate – two of them. So we got to know quite a few of these locally established
young men. One night, my father was sitting on the steps puffing away at his pipe, as he usually did, and he said, “There’s a light out there.” We were all blacked out, and to be in the country when it was all blacked out, well, it was really dark. And we watched it for while; we all went over to the door and we watched it.
It was going to the right to and left, and then suddenly it disappeared; and then we saw a flash of light on the dairy. And we could hear a truck or car, and then the next minute they pulled up at the back gate. So that was the first of it. They would get a truck and some of their mates and come around to our place, where there were four girls and lots to eat.
So after that they came regularly of an evening, to play monopoly and cards and singing; and to have a good feed for supper. And they wanted us – the girls – to go to the local dances and pictures with them. But we didn’t have enough petrol. Petrol rationing was very strict. And so they talked it over with Dad
and they said, “Will the girls be able to go if we can get some petrol?” And I remember now that army petrol was a bit different from normal petrol. It was a different colour. But by that time we had a tractor. It was powered by kerosene, but it was started with petrol. So they worked out that if anyone queried it, they’d say it was the ration of petrol for starting the tractor.
And my mother walked out to the shed one day and said, “There’s an extra drum of petrol out there.” And Dad said, “Yes,” and she said, “Where did it come from?” And Dad said, “It’s for the tractor.” He knew perfectly well it was pinched petrol and that it was going to be used in a car – to give the girls the opportunity to go to dances and the pictures with these young men who’d been visiting us. They got quite close …
One of my sisters, I think she really lost her heart to one of them. She wrote to him but we heard no more of him. I think he might have been killed, because we heard no more of George. And of course his people – goodness knows where they were in New South Wales – it was like being on the moon in those days; so she went through a rather sad time and never looked at another after that. But we wrote to them all.
We did a lot of letter writing, both to our brothers and to these young fellows that we’d got to know. We wrote to Jack O’Hearn – every night we wrote letters. The mail deliveries then were severely cut back, too. Our mail then, it went with the cream carrier, which was a reserved occupation. Somebody had to cart
the cream. So Bill became a general carter. Up to the war he had brought us the Tuesday meat; but as the war went on, and with rationing, he just became everyone’s carrier – he was treated as the mailman; he took our cream; he took the bags for bread and meat. The women had got sugar bags and lined them with
flour bags – that’s hessian lined with white cotton – and they’d roll these up and put a label on them for the meat or bread order, and put them on top of the cream cans. So when Bill came to collect the cream cans he also took away the order for bread and meat. And then gradually, it became, “Can you get this? Can you get that?” Parts for the tractor or … you’d just ring it up and Bill would bring it. He’d be running around the town all day,
doing all these jobs. So it was a really reserved occupation that grew with the war.
Poor Billy; he must have been thinking, “I didn’t sign on for this!”
He was a tall, rangy fellow. He never put on any weight. On Saturdays the lady teachers used to go to town for the day with him. And there was another young boy up the road from us who’d joined the air cadets, and he used to ride in the back
of the truck sitting on a cream can. And of course anybody else along the way that needed a ride. The lady teachers though, they had the first … the seat in the front. But everybody else had to ride on the cream cans. It must have been a devil of a ride; very bumpy and hard.
How do you think your dad coped with letting his daughters go off to dances with these young … defence people? Was he worried?
Quite happily, I think. He was very good at summing up a character. And of course it was always Charlie – the younger brother who had stayed at home – who had to drive. Girls didn’t drive. So he could keep an eye on the clutch of them, I should imagine.
When Charlie was at home, did he ever get any white feathers or any of that nonsense?
No, there was nothing like that, no.
So, did you sit around the radio every night for news?
Oh yeah. Hmm. And at school. We kept track of the war every morning early, and we started war-savings stamps and we had
a chart on the wall with our targets. We had a list of all the fellows from the army who were in the war, up on the wall – where they were, as far as we knew; it was only generalised because you could get censored for that. But that was part of it. And of course, letters that you’d get would be censored heavily – you know, they’d say, “I’m well,” and then there’d be big pieces cut out of them.
They might as well have written seven words and been done with it … that was especially from Vince, when he was in Borneo [Dulcie meant New Britain]. There was no indication of where he was or what he was doing …. Some of the others too, they … The local blokes were involved in the Shaggy Ridge campaign. There’s a picture
of one in jungle warfare gear, and so they had a really torrid time. Bill was killed at Salamaua, before the Milne Bay offensive, I think. He was a sergeant, and his officers had been killed.
There weren’t too many of them left, and he rallied them, and they captured a Japanese machine gun post; but he was killed in the process. That was the detail they gave to his parents later.
Can you remember how you heard about his death?
Yes, it was one afternoon. We were doing afternoon things …
mostly writing; Ruth was reading to the younger ones. A car went down the road by the side of the school, and heads popped up. Then another car went down; and there were whispers around … “Who’s going to town today?” “Were you going to town today?” We were all absolutely puzzled, because we all knew what everyone else was doing. If we
went to town, we sort of put the hat around in case anyone needed anything that we could bring out. So we were puzzled for a while. Then there was a knock on the door. It was Charlie, actually; and Ruth went out to the door, and they talked for a bit. Then she beckoned to the two older boys who were on flag duty that week, to run the flag up.
By that time we were all craning our necks out of the back window towards the flagpole. They ran the flag up, and then lowered it to half mast; then she came back in and said, “Stand up all those of you who are related to Bill Eisenmonger.” I suppose about fourteen of us stood up. Then she said, “I have to tell you that Bill was killed at Salamaua.” And that … well that brought
the war right home … right home. And everybody in the district – some of them were related, but all of them had gone round to Uncle George and Aunt Margaret’s’ … And she went from being just the jolliest aunty, who you went round and made biscuits with, to … She became very different for quite a long time.
She set up on her sideboard what, sort of … like a shrine, with all photos of Bill growing up, and she had flowers and … I don’t think she really got over it till after the war. She and uncle George went to New Guinea to see his grave. Whether it was his grave or not, that’s debatable too, but she was satisfied after that. It made a big difference to her.
Were there similar occasions? With so many people being away, was it even a regular occurrence?
No. Not among the people we knew from our own community, but there were … there was a sailor that went down with the [HMAS]Parramatta, and I seem to recall that most of the others
came back, somehow or other. Of course, Willie and Percy were on home soil all the time.
Was the lack of young men in the district noticeable?
Yes, definitely. I’ve got a photo of a cousin’s wedding, and when you look at it you can see that there’s all these uncles and aunts, and a group of kids,
but nobody in between. See, when the girls went to dances it was the fellows who were stationed in the area that they danced with – all the locals were gone. And then, as things started to get worse, they started to go. It just drained the whole male population in that age group.
Can you recall hearing about the fall of Singapore?
I don’t know when or what, but that was amazing because Singapore was our stronghold and that was never going to fall, or so we thought. The next place after that would be New Guinea and Australia. So that was getting closer. Then there were submarines in Sydney Harbour, and the bombing of Darwin. They were all pretty traumatic for people.
People were wondering how much further they were going to come. And like, being in Sydney, that was a bit … though Sydney to us at that time was a long way away. I think we felt closer to Darwin than we did to Sydney.
Can you ever remember your mum and dad having conversations about ‘what if’ the Japanese invaded?
No. We just hoped for the best. They possibly did, but not in my hearing.
Besides the young men who’d turn up for the dances, did you see anything else of the military in the area?
Convoys. It was early one morning and Edna was looking for a stray cow.
It was really foggy; very thick fog. And out of this fog came what they used to call a ‘Don R’ – a motorbike scout. And she was there in short shorts and just an ordinary shirt, I think. And he was all rugged up in a blanket, because the early mornings could get very cold
in Murgon. He wanted to know the road to Gayndah because one of the things they did early in the piece was to take all the signposts down. So he had to find out which was the way to Gayndah so he could point the convoy in the right direction. So she gave him the information and offered him a cup of tea.
She took him up to the house where mother was in the kitchen and she fed him up and … It was a day we were having a district picnic. It must have been a public holiday – Labor Day or something – and we always had a picnic in the school grounds. It was a general community get-together. We’d decided to still do this even though the blokes were away – or rather they decided, not me.
So we went along with the usual picnic, with trestle tables underneath the school and absolutely laden with food. That was despite rationing, because we had our own butter, eggs … and flour didn’t seem to be a thing that was hard to get. So, after he’d been fed by mother, Les went back to direct his convoy on, and we all went down to the school. It was right beside the road.
And he didn’t leave all day. He just waved them on, and every now and then somebody would stop and come in and have a cup of tea; and then the next lot would go on. That was the first of the convoys. After that, there were lots of them. We used to count the trucks. That was one of our pastimes. We’d sit on the fence and count the trucks. And if it was afternoon and we had to go home, we’d say, “You finish counting Miss, we’ve got to go home now.” So Ruth had to go on and count
how many trucks had gone through. That was going north. Later on there were troop trains, but that was later on when I was going to school here.
What can you tell us about ‘Digging for Victory’?
Oh yes; ‘Digging for Victory’ … In 1942, I think it was, we got an edict through the Government Gazette that every school had
to ‘dig for victory’ – up until then we hadn’t taken much notice of it. The town schools had already started in a way because they were short of vegetables and so on. So they turned their flower gardens into vegetable gardens and they used to sell their produce to the housewives. But we
hadn’t bothered much about it. Then this edict came out. This was while Ruth was there. So we tried to dig this hard clay that was the school garden. We’d tried to grow things there before, but had always failed. 1942 was a fairly wet year; that was when it happened. And we got Charlie or one of the others to bring
in a plough and plough it up for us first of all. Then we spent the lunch hours breaking up clods and adding horse and cow manure. We did all this and tried to break the soil down and plant our vegetables. Because it was a wet year, surprisingly they grew. So when they matured we decided what we had to do with them. Every farmer had
a big vegetable plot and they were all producing, but we were supposed to sell these vegetables. So we took them home and our parents paid us for them and we duly sent the money off to where it was supposed to go. But it was a ridiculous thing to expect country children to grow vegetables on top of what they were already producing on the farm. But we
did take it very seriously; seriously enough that Ruth mentioned it in a letter in later years … ‘Digging for Victory’, just so different, because we had everything.
Were there any other things along those lines that were promoted at schools for the war effort?
Well, there was the savings stamps, and the ‘Digging for Victory’ and … I
can’t think of anything else. We brought along our money each week for these war-savings certificates.
Can you remember being involved with ‘care packages’ or anything like that?
No, not as children, no. But the adults were. They knitted frantically
and … That stuff began quite early in the war, before Japan came into it. They all started knitting socks left over from World War 1, where they had to fight in trenches and they needed all these woollen socks. We thought it was rather silly sending them woollen socks when they were going to New Guinea, but in hindsight, that would have been the best thing they could have worn,
those woollen socks inside their boots. But that was one of the things they did. See, my mother had been involved in the Red Cross in World War 1, and she was involved in other things like the Comfort Funds. The town women took on most of that because the country women couldn’t always be relied on to get into the meetings; so they sort of dropped that a bit.
You talked about getting things from Jack. That must have been quite a day …
Oh yes, that was really exciting – especially the coconut. We got this off the mail van and we didn’t know what it was, really. Ruth thought it was a coconut, so when it arrived, I can remember the whole school trooping up to our house. Our house was quite close to the school; it was actually just a little bit of our paddock that was surveyed off.
So we all went up and showed it to Dad, and he looked at it, and said, “I think it’s a coconut, but how do we get into it?” So he got an axe, and of course it just bounced off. And we were looking at it, and one of the neighbouring boys who was home on leave from New Guinea happened to arrive
on the scene, and he said, “Where’d you get the coconut?” We told him it was from Jack O’Hearn, and he asked us if we wanted to open it. So he drove a stake into the ground and drove the coconut on the sharp stake, and lo and behold the outside came off – and there was the coconut. And getting the Japanese cigarettes, they went all around the district. Everybody smelled them. They came in a little basket. I’ve got one
in there that I have tea in. But the smell had gone right into the basket. I had the basket for years but it just sort of crumbled. And the Japanese money, well, we weren’t too worried about it because we knew that Jack was up there fighting these Japanese and they weren’t going to get here after all; so we weren’t going to use this Japanese
money anyway. So, I don’t know where they got to, or which families kept them, or what. But when you think of it, he was in the thick of it, yet he had the time to send those things to us. He thought we’d be interested in them. It always brings to mind something that I heard at a seminar once given to beginning teachers, and the person who was giving it said, “If at the end of a month you don’t think that you’ve got another family,
then teaching isn’t for you.” It’s very true, and it’s what makes a lot of teachers work very hard. That’s how we thought about Jack – he was part of our family too. And we were part of his.
Did the school or class ever write letters?
Oh yes. We wrote back. We did it in school, and we did it at home. We always made sure that he had lots of mail. But that was what we
did for all of them, because we knew how much they treasured letters. So every night around the kitchen table we’d be writing letters.
Once you got the coconut open, did you eat the flesh or drink the milk?
Oh yes. We got at it. Though some of the kids wouldn’t take the milk, no, it didn’t look like milk to them. We tasted the coconut, and it was the first one we had ever seen.
How far was school from your house, on the farm?
Not very far at all, unfortunately for me. It was … I couldn’t ride a horse, like a lot of the others did. I suppose it was about the length of a city block. But too short to ride a horse. I used to like it when I spent an occasional
weekend away at a friend’s, then I could double bank on the horse and we could have a picnic on the way home. Apart from that, I lived too close to the school. Sometimes I’d walk with the others up the road, and then walk past and come back through the scrub.
And the school itself; was it out of town?
Yes, nine miles out of town. There were several in the district like that. I think they worked out that a child could be expected to walk three miles to school – about four and a half kilometres. So they placed them for that. There was Sunnynook on one side of us,
and Cloyno was further on, and Windra, and halfway to Murgon was Oakdale. They were all little schools, all around five miles apart.
Did you ever have anything at all to do with the other schools?
We played games against them, yes. And we had sports day once a year. We all came in, and it was
a really big carnival – at Byee – which had a sports ground. And those of us who were fortunate to ride in Clarrie Upton’s truck – it had no sides, and we used to like to sit up there and dangle our legs over. We’d squeeze as many on the back of that tray back as we possibly could. They’d have a fit now if you transported kids that way!
And we did win the district shield one year. It was a great effort, and we were very proud of that. And we did actually get to wear shorts! But they had to have pleats so they looked like skirts. That was in Jack’s time; he introduced that. It was about the last year he was with us. But then, we were only little girls. The big girls, it was different matter for them. They had to have them right down to the knees.
Can you remember what particular sports you played?
Hmmm … not much of anything during the war. We played basketball, which was closer to today’s netball than basketball. There were competitions with that. And we’d meet the other schools for cricket
Was it boys and girls, everyone in?
Yes, mixed … and at the athletics there would be running and high jumping and pole vaulting, which was a rather scary experience. It was just two poles with a stick across, and the kids used the biggest pole they could find in the scrub. I think one of them did fourteen feet once!
And what was he landing on after fourteen feet?
Sawdust; a heap of sawdust. It’s a wonder we didn’t break our necks. And tennis; before the war we had tennis tournaments. Sunnynook and Millwood used to play quite a bit of competition tennis, but that died with the war because
we couldn’t get tennis balls.
Did you ever go swimming?
No. There wasn’t enough water to swim in.
No creeks or …
Not really. Every New Year’s Day we had a district picnic at Barambah Creek. But I’m terrified of water. I saw the sea at age sixteen
for the first time at Wynnum; funny place to see it. The older ones in the family learnt to swim in the dams on the property – there were three or four dams on the property – but not anything like the size of the dams these days. Percy decided that I should learn to swim so he threw me in once and that was the end of it. I didn’t want to swim after that till I got to college.
I didn’t even attempt to swim before that. Then you were supposed to qualify in swimming in order to become a teacher. I think it was only because the lecturer pulled me out by the hair that I met the requirements of the department and got on and become a teacher. I taught kids to swim though. I had a cub troop in Murgon for quite a while. I could go through all the motions,
and they could put their faces in the water and learn to breath. I could show them what to do, but I can’t do it. So no, we didn’t swim much. And the dams weren’t the cleanest of things, either.
Was there anything like Girl Guides or Brownies when you were a girl?
Yes, but I lived too far out. I loved all the books; I read all the books – ‘Brownies All’ and all of them.
I just absolutely loved them – them and the school annuals. I really soaked them up. When I’d done scholarship and couldn’t go to school, that was really hard for me to take because I’d read so many books about what it was going to be like. I found it very hard. But then I got to school and the
first week was a misery. That was because we’d been digging up potatoes the week before and I’d been wearing a shirt with no sleeves on it and I got badly sunburned. So I had to wear a long-sleeved blouse that week, when everyone else had short sleeves on. You couldn’t buy the sort of hat you needed – a Panama hat – so I had a different sort of straw hat. So I felt
like a fish out of water. The school seemed so very big and I didn’t know where I was going. My sister Elsie had enrolled me. She was living here in Ipswich at the time, so she took me up on the first day to introduce me to the headmistress. And she took my details, and said to me, “I think, Dulcie, that we shall put you into Sub-Junior.”
And I looked at her, because I’d already completed Sub-Junior; and Elsie protested, but the headmistresses said, “Oh, we’ve had these girls before from off stations; they don’t measure up; she’ll be better off …” So I was feeling shattered by the minute. But Elsie dug her heels in and the headmistress agreed to put me on a trial for the first term.
So that was okay. If I got through first term I could stay in the junior year. And I went into the first lesson, and it was her lesson, and it was a Latin lesson. She had glasses like mine, and she looked at them and said, “You – new girl – you read.” So I stood up and tried to read Latin aloud. I sort of knew it, and I could write it, but I couldn’t pronounce it. The whole class of course
thought it was hilarious. But I never felt so much like sinking through the floor; and I made a vow then that I’d never humiliate a child like she did to me. But I got an ‘A’ for Latin at the end of the year. I felt very different, very humiliated.
You mentioned earlier that it was the Union Jack on the flagpole. Where would they fly Australian flags, if not at school?
We didn’t have Australian flags. I was teaching at Barambah Creek in … I think it was the coronation year; and we were all issued with Australian flags. Up until then, all we had was
Obviously a lot of the English background families would have had this association with the mother country, but what did your family have?
Well, we considered ourselves Australian. The others talked about ‘home’, by which they meant England. They’d say they were going ‘home’ to visit aunt so-and-so
but not to us. To us, Australia was home. We never thought of Germany as ‘home’. Never. My parents started to teach the older ones to speak German, to try and make them bilingual. They found out that Elsie got a bit too cluey, and when they wanted to talk things over in private, in German, she’d understand it,
and long before they thought she could. So they stopped doing it. They didn’t worry about it again until I was born and then they decided that they’d teach me. Apparently, I could chatter in either language until I was about age three. My little granddaughter is about that now. I remember getting a visit
from the uncles down here and singing a German song for them, for which they were very proud. But when the Hitler thing came into it, it was stopped. I can’t remember much of it at all any more. I know all the stupid words that the Germans spoke; and when Louise and I visited Europe, we could make out what the signs meant in French and Italian – because I’d studied Latin –
but when I got to Germany, I couldn’t make sense of much at all. Anyway, they stopped talking German at home, and that was why they were worried about listening to German radio. That seemed a very risky thing to do.
Early we were talking about what you’d seen of the army – the convoys and the trains. Did you ever see any aircraft flying around?
Not a great deal. Kingaroy was a training area, and occasionally the Tiger Moths [light aircraft] would fly over, but not very often. It was more confined to the other side of Kingaroy, I think.
The only time I think I ever saw airmen was one night when I was allowed to go to the movies, and some of them were there. ‘Blue Orchids’ the army boys used to call them. We didn’t have much to do with them at all.
So there was a cinema at Murgon?
Yes. A big barn of a thing, with an upstairs that had normal seating that was two rows of canvas seats at the back. And downstairs was all-canvas
seating – you know, the old deck chair type of thing. But I didn’t really get into movies very much until I came down here to Ipswich to go to school. I hadn’t been taken much when I was at Murgon. In Ipswich there was one of the girls who lived not far from where my sister lived.
She was in my class at school, and we used to go to the Rialto Theatre at North Ipswich. You couldn’t get anything to eat there, so we used to open a can of condensed milk and fill a little jar, and take spoons with us. That’s what we ate while we were watching the movies. And the newsreels … I can remember
being enthralled by them. That’s how we kept track of the war, through newsreels. They were always so … they had the same voice. And the films that we saw of things like the ‘landing at Iwo Jima’; and all those great Yankee ones … ‘The Glen Miller Story’ and all those wartime ones. We thought they were just great.
There was one about Stalingrad, I think. It was also a very vivid portrayal of the war. Whether it was true or not you didn’t know, but it certainly brought us up to speed with the reality of the war and what people were going through.
Interviewee: Dulcie Toohey Archive ID 1902 Tape 05
I wanted to ask you, Dulcie, when your brothers left, was there a big farewell for them, a big send-off?
No, not really. They all went at different times. They didn’t all go together. It was one week, and then another week, one at a time.
Would they have left by train?
And did the family go to the station and see them off?
Yes. It was different to waving them off when they just went to training camp. After Pearl Harbor you knew that even if you did see them come home again, it might be the last time before they went somewhere else.
Were they big, teary farewells?
No, I don’t think so. I think my mother was teary; and all the aunts that
were there. The rest of us were just sort of … yeah …
I was going to ask you how your mum coped with having three of her boys away?
Well, she was always looking for the mail, and I think when the telephone rang – we were on a party line … do you know about party lines?
I do, but for people who don’t, maybe you could explain?
Well, you had several subscribers on the one line, and each one of them is given a morse code signal for their own particular call. We were 65B, so we had a long and three shorts – which is ‘B’ in morse code. If it was just a local call you
didn’t have to go through the exchange. You just rang each other on the line. And if Mum got the feeling that there was a phone call from – not just someone on the line – but from further away, she’d get a bit jittery because she was expecting it might be a telegram. I suppose we all sort of lived with the apprehension
that something could happen. But we knew that Percy and Louie were up in Australia, so it didn’t really hit us like it did other people whose sons were overseas. My cousin Myrtle, her husband, he had a three day leave; and he came home one day, and the wedding was the next day, and they both went back the next day. We saw them off at the station for their one-night honeymoon.
He went off on a ship to New Guinea, and she came home on a train. I felt that, more than I felt for my brothers, because I was quite close to her. I knew that she was very sad and apprehensive.
Did she know him before he went or was he …?
Yes, he was one of the Light Horse boys. Yes, she’d known him quite a long time.
And what the experience of that wedding like, being in a time of rationing and all?
Well, it was a country wedding so the reception was held in a barn. It was late winter, and everything left in the barn that had to be fed to the animals, the farmers took home and brought back. I think Rosie did most of directing the catering for it. Mabel and Edna
also. Work was just sort of dropped for a few days and they prepared for the wedding. There was the usual sort of Sunday dinner menu for the wedding – geese and ducks and hens and chooks and vegetables from the farm. Plum puddings and fruit cakes …
They were very good at making plum puddings. There was an iced wedding cake in three tiers – one to be eaten, and one to be sent away to people you liked; and one to be kept for the christening later on, when the child arrived. That was the usual thing. But Myrtle didn’t have what you’d describe as a wedding dress. She wore what, up till then, had been called the ‘travelling’ dress.
Every bride had to have two outfits – the white outfit with the veil and whatever, and then a travelling outfit to change into: a smart dress, hat, gloves, handbag, shoes … to wear when they set out on their honeymoon. But she and a number of others made that concession – the travelling dress became the wedding dress.
And there’s two pictures – one of my sister-in-law, who I didn’t know then, and Myrtle, both in the same colour pink travelling dress. They had the handbag, with the posy attached, and a smart hat and gloves. So this was how a wedding went off. But the photo reveals that there were older people there – uncles, aunts, and children – but no-one much in between. The girls, of course, the girl
cousins were the caterers, who operated behind the scenes.
And did the groom marry in uniform?
Yes. Norman did, but Tony – my brother-in-law – he didn’t. He wore civvies. I don’t know why. I’ve never asked Eileen. But yes, Norman wore his uniform.
And so was there a lot of pitching in to make the wedding happen?
Oh yes. Everybody did something and brought it along. Everyone roasted a bird or made a cake or did the fruit salad – those sorts of jobs. That was no problem at all, and probably arranged on the party line.
Was it a somewhat formal affair, with tablecloths and …
Yes, all the white tablecloths had to be borrowed from round about. There was a big kitchen table or dining table; and there was the equipment we used for picnics at school – the trestles and tables; they were always on loan to somebody. So they were set up and covered with the white tablecloths. And white damask serviettes … and the barn was decorated up a bit with greenery
and flowers – whatever was available, to make it look more festive.
What about music?
Not really no, when I come to think of it, no.
You mentioned that your sister had got a bit of a broken heart from one of the servicemen there. Did anyone else end up marrying any of the service personnel stationed there?
Did you have a special connection with any of them?
My first romance; yes, very short, very sweet. No … I don’t know what happened to him. He was only eighteen and I was pushing thirteen I suppose; and he milked my cows and put my cat up a tree … I don’t really know if that was significant or not.
He put your cat up a tree?
Well, because I was very fond of cats at the time and he was six foot six; so he took great delight in putting the cat up there where I couldn’t reach it. It was a silly game; and he was not much more than a kid himself.
So how did that sort of little romance develop?
I think just because he was younger than the run of the mill. Most of the boys were aged twenty-one
or upwards, and he was only eighteen. He just got into the call up.
And did he write to you after he left?
No. I think my mother would have frowned up on it.
You mentioned earlier when we were talking about your sister becoming pregnant, about how there was very little sex education back then. How did you learn about the birds and the bees?
I don’t know – observation of farm animals, partly. Magazine articles too, they began to be written about that time. I was approaching puberty when these articles started to be written. And my sister Edna,
she was a little more forthcoming with information.
And she sort of gave you the talk?
Hmm, yes. Now and then a bit would come into it; never any real talk, but a little bit of information here and a little bit there.
So it was never discussed at school …
No, never. It was never discussed at home really, too. You just had to sort of … I don’t know what.
What about being so much younger than the older girls. Did you ever overhear them?
No, not really. You didn’t talk about that sort of thing.
What about menstruation? How was that dealt with?
Oh golly! Horrible, square flannelette rags, I guess you’d call them.
Well, not rags, because they were sewn … but they were folded, and you had a horrible belt around your waist with safety pins on it; and they were pinned up. They were very uncomfortable to wear. I’d have rather been in the later-twentieth century I think.
How did you learn about that?
When it happened.
So who did you go to when it happened?
No, well it was Rosie who dealt with it. I don’t know why. She just said, “Oh, you’re a woman now.” And that was it. She showed me what to do. It was all very matter-of-fact.
What sort of clothes was the family generally wearing – you mentioned the bloomers and that, but what were the men wearing on the farm and outside the farm?
Well, every man had a three-piece suit that he wore to church and to dances and if he was going out anywhere.
Sometimes my father would wear his three-piece suit just to go to town. They were tailor made; you didn’t buy suits ‘off the hook’ in those days. On the farm the men usually wore what they called ‘cotton twist’. It was not quite like denim, more a cross between denim and chino; that sort of casual material you see today.
Dark coloured shirts, too. We used to be regularly visited by travellers from places like McDonald & East, and from Bayard’s. That’s where most of the ordinary, everyday clothing came from. A big van used to pull up and they’d open up the sides of it, and there would be all the things that you wanted.
Dresses were all home made. Nobody bought a dress. And there were no dresses off the peg. Everything was home made, out of good material. So we were always very well dressed. I used to love it when the traveller came, because at the end of it he’d give me a little book of samples. If there was something that you particularly liked and
it was not on his van. They were in a little stack and stapled onto a card. He’d give me one of those I’d flick through it, and dream of things. And I can remember my father buying a new hat. He always wore a … I can’t think of the name of it … Like an Akubra, that sort of hat.
He said they were useful for belting a bull over the nose with, or you could have a drink of water out them, or fan himself on a hot day. Gradually it would get to the floppy stage, and then he’d sacrifice it for a new one. But it was always bought from the traveller.
What did the boys wear when they were out working?
The cotton twist and the dark shirts. They didn’t wear shorts because we had a very hot summer. And when they were engaged in activities like haymaking … this was just when shorts were beginning to come in … so they were absolutely sick of it, and one of the sisters got the scissors and cut them off at the knees.
For Percy and Vince and Louie, this was fine. But Charlie was a redhead, and he got such a proper sunburn that he couldn’t do anything for a week. It was just absolute murder. So they wore shorts before the girls wore shorts. Up till the war the girls farmed in dresses. You had your good Sunday dress, and when that was
a season or so old, it would become your second dress – like the one you wore when you came in from doing the milking. We didn’t have a bathroom in the house, we just brought one of the big tubs into the bedroom and had a bath there – provided there was enough water around – otherwise you just got by with a lick and a promise.
We’d change into clean clothes anyway, just to have tea at night. And those were the sorts of things we wore on a Sunday, or to go and visit cousins and the like. Then, when those were beginning to get daggy, then they became work clothes. You’d wear them for your work around the place. And even for the everyday clothes, we always wore a black apron over the top. That was no doubt to help
with the washing, to help keep everything clean. And the girls wore stockings too – lisle stockings, a cotton mixture. And garters. They were always crinkly, and they were always pulling them up. When the boys left, Edna, the most outspoken of the sisters said, “Well, if I’m going to be a farm hand, then I’m not going to do it in a dress.”
She said to Mum, “You can get some material and Rosie can make us some shorts.” There was a great furore over that. Mum wouldn’t have it. She said, “That’s fast; only fast girls wear shorts!” But Edna stuck to her guns and some navy head cloth was bought in reams, and Rosie sewed shorts and overalls for us – the overalls for the winter
and the shorts for the summer. But we also wore sun coats, and this was before melanoma was really … before it was heard about. I didn’t wear them much because I thought they were too hot. But the others did. They always had a jacket that they put on over their shirt, if they were going to work out in the sun.
It was called a sun coat.
When your brother got sunburned, was there a home remedy for that?
I can’t quite recall … no, I don’t think so.
Can you recall home remedies for anything else? A gentleman we spoke to the other day was talking about kerosene and cotton wool …
Oh, yes, my husband used to go on about that. He’d say that if you got a sore throat, then you got swabbed with cotton wool dipped in kerosene. No, but my father had an ulcerated leg, associated with this kidney problem he had. When he was a young man he fell in the scrub
and injured his leg. It had never healed and became ulcerated later. My mother used to go around and pick leaves off a weed called marshmallow plant – that’s what she called it. But she would pick those and then layer them over his leg, and bandage it. Somehow I think it worked, to an extent, even though his leg was always
bandaged. That was what she did for it, anyway … what else was there … Edna became very ill with pleurisy; something to do with pneumonia almost, I think. Well, she got very sick and so mother made these things with brown paper layered with mustard.
Rawleigh used to be the traveller who came around with various home remedies – or semi-home remedies I should say – she used to get the mustard in a tin and spread in layers. It was a poultice. And she’d put that on the area that was affected. I don’t know if it did any good either,
but … what else did she do? Even among the plants that grew wild she used some that could be eaten. In dry years, when there was a shortage of green vegetables, she’d put them in salads or in soups. She knew which ones would
work and which didn’t.
Do you know where she learnt that?
I don’t really know.
When all you girls started wearing shorts, was that a trend that took off in the area, or was that still unusual?
Most of the married women didn’t, and I can’t remember Rosie ever wearing them. But one of the other girls in the area did, and she was considered to be quite fast. She wore them out. Some of the other cousins slowly took them on; but not quickly.
I can remember a story where one of the aunts had said, “That Edna! She’s always got those really short shorts on; I don’t know how her mother can let her wear them!”
And how short would these really short shorts have been?
About to there, I guess.
So once the war was well under way and the young men left, how did life on the farm change for you?
I had to do more than my little share of work. Most kids had to learn to milk between the ages of seven and nine. I had my first milking lesson at age nine, I remember. It was the second birthday party I had, and there was a very bad flu epidemic that year,
and everybody in the household except Percy and Louie … they were not too bad. So Louie went and worked at The Ranch, and Percy milked at home. And I had invited all the kids from school to come to this party. My mother and Rosie debated about it, but they said in the end that they’d put the food out and let them come.
And I remember it was the first time that Violet Crumble bars had appeared on the menu. They had bought one each for the kids. So they came and had their feast and took their Violet Crumble bar and went home. After they’d all left on their ponies, Percy got up and said, “You’re coming to the cow yard tonight.” Which I did; and he chose a cow for me,
one that I was fond of, named Carnation. And I sat there with a bucket between my feet and I cried while he went on and milked all the cows that had to be milked. But at least I was sitting there to his satisfaction. And after that I got to the stage of milking two or three cows that were considered easy milkers – Carnation was one of them. So I could milk; but when
the men went I started going over to The Ranch to milk , and then it was either nine or ten cows I milked, twice a day. Then I would have to rush home and do the feeding; or at least, whatever feeding Mum hadn’t found time to do. There was just so much more to do. Especially in the cow yard. I had to spend a lot more time there.
During the war, when you were at school, what would have been a typical day for you?
Well, I’d get up in the morning about five and ride across to The Ranch, by which time Charlie would have yarded the cows – about forty of them to be milked by three of us. I’d do my ten cows
and get on my bike and ride home again. My mother would have breakfast ready, and then I’d have to get ready for school. I’d race off to school, and the school day would proceed as usual. Then after school, as soon as I got home, I’d change clothes and then yard the cows – it was my turn in the afternoon to do that. Then I’d milk the ten cows again, then go home.
I’d get home, get changed, and then we’d have the evening meal. The weekends were different because we helped each other. Farmers helped each other a lot, especially at harvest time and when there was hay to make. One of the other cousins from one of the farms that bordered ours, he would come over and help Charlie; and then Charlie would go over and help him the next week. Everything that happened sort of had to be dealt with
at once – corn had to be picked and threshed, and everyone’s hay had to be in at the same time, so people mucked in and helped each other through that time. They’d leave their own farm and go and help the next door neighbour. We did a lot of corn picking – that’s maize, not like what you buy in the shops, but matured and ripe. If it was Saturday then Edna, Mabel, Ruth and
myself might go into … we had a little wagon, a wagonette really. It was just drawn by one horse – Captain. He loved pumpkins. And we’d do this in one paddock of corn; we’d plant a couple of rows of corn and then a row of pumpkins, and then more corn. The pumpkins would be harvested for eating and feeding the animals
and this little wagonette fitted neatly in the pumpkin area. So the pumpkins would be ripe, and we’d set up a ribbon, and somebody would be picking on one side and someone on the other. And they’d be tossing the corn into the wagon. Then someone would wake up to the fact that there was no thud when the corn landed. Captain would have discovered a nice pumpkin further
up the row, and he’d creep up there to it and have a feast on it. So there’d be this whole pile of corn left there on the ground, where the wagon was supposed to be. That was Saturday. And we’d also have to dip the cattle at the weekends, and we all helped each other with that. The kids loved it too, because it would involve chasing cows and horses. It was quite enjoyable, even though it’s work.
When war broke out, how did things change for the older girls on the farm?
They had never done things like ploughing or scuffling – which takes the weeds out of the … see, using farm implements, that was men’s work. It changed most for Edna because she was the youngest and tallest and strongest of the four.
She didn’t particularly like housework, nor sewing, and she wasn’t the contented, stereotyped girl. She would rather be outside. And she was very good at sport – a very good tennis player. So she became Dad’s right hand man on the farm. But she used to plough with four Clydesdale horses,
and if you’ve seen Clydesdales at the Exhibition, then … well, they’re giants, but gentle giants. But she had to harness them and if you had to lift a horse collar, well, there was no need to go to the gym to do weightlifting exercises. She would have to put the four collars on these horses and finish the harnessing of them; and link them up to whatever implement she was going to use. She did that from then on.
The others … Mabel was the one who was always in charge of the dairy, and the cleanliness of the dairy. You had to be very careful with milk because it goes off; and cream goes off. You had to do a lot of scouring. The factory used to grade our milk and cream, and if it was the least bit tainted then you didn’t get top price. It was always the aim
to get what they called ‘Choice Grade’ cream. There was Choice Grade, First Grade, and Second Grade. Well, I don’t think we ever got a Second Grade, but we had a couple of Firsts because sometimes when it rains the cows eat a lot of weeds, and that gets into the milk. That’s why I don’t like milk to this day. I can smell it, and I think of it; the weedy smell of cows who have just fed on strong smelling weeds – it taints the cream and therefore they
won’t give you the top grading. So that was her responsibility. She had to see to all that. She never did any ploughing that I can remember, but she did help with the picking – potatoes, corn; and chipping weeds in the vegetable patch. My mother did a lot in the vegetable patch. She had to do that too.
And feeding pigs … I can see Edna with two four gallon kerosene tins. Kerosene tins were put to a number of uses on the farm; they used to poke one end out and hammer the edge tightly so that it wouldn’t cut you, and they’d put wire handles into them and that was the first stage of processing the milk. These kerosene tins – which were boiled and sterilised – stood just outside the cow shed,
and as you came out your poured your bucket of milk into these four gallon tins, until they were almost full. And from there, they were carried up to the dairy. It wasn’t very far, but still. It was about the width of this house, I’d say.
There they’d be put through the separator, where the cream would come out one spout and the separated no-fat milk the other. That was mainly used for feeding the animals, and I can see Edna carrying two of those four gallon cans, one in each hand. She’d carry them from the cow yard to the dairy, and then from the dairy to the piggery, which was a fair way away.
With all this going on – all these new experiences and responsibilities – do you think many of the women enjoyed these new challenges?
Yes, definitely. 1942, when all this happened, it was a good year. There was plenty of rain.
We grew a crop of potatoes like we’d never grown before. Edna was really stoked, because you know, “The men can’t produce a crop of potatoes as good as we can!” She really adapted well to the outside though. I can also see her baking. Rosie took over most of the
baking; but up till then Edna had been the one to make sponge cakes. She was always good at it. Beside the table there was long stool – a form – that we girls sat on. The boys sat on chairs on the other side. Why, I don’t know. And Edna used to sit astride this form with a huge mixing bowl and a hand beater
and she would go so fast. She’d produce a mixture that almost rivals an electric mix, so she would always make a good sponge cake. That used to be shared amongst three of them. But I suppose the need for this baking wasn’t quite as much when the boys left; but then the army came in. I can remember
Dad saying, “Mother, girls, are the cake tins full, because I can see the army coming?” The funny thing was that our cars were all blacked out, and theirs weren’t. So, you knew definitely that if you saw that light in the distance, it was the army boys coming from camp. Nobody else would be driving with that bright light on.
To jump right ahead for a minute – how did the girls feel when the war was over and the men came back?
I think the one that most affected was Edna. She had done what they did; and in her mind – and perhaps in mine too – she had done a better job. But the dynamics of the family changed very rapidly, post war.
In 1944, I had the year on correspondence. I couldn’t go away to school. By that time, things were looking better in Europe, and also in the Pacific. Louie had been at Mount Isa, and try as he might, he couldn’t get out of the place. He’d applied for transfers, but didn’t get them. So at last he wrote home and
asked Dad to apply for him so that he could work on the farm. At the time they were demanding higher production because of the American soldiers here. We were also supplying England with butter; whatever butter they could get across to there. And also foodstuffs. So they wanted a lot of farm products
and were willing to release some of the men. The highest demand that they put down … this is a strange bit, but they made it legal for boys aged twelve to be exempted from school. So the boys in my class stayed home and went farming. At age twelve. I spoke to one of them a few months ago, and he said to me,
“Dulcie, you actually managed to finish school; we never did.” It was only what they learned up to age twelve, because they never went to school again. There were several of them that just dropped out like that. Anyway, Louie was eventually exempted – I think the local doctor had something to do with that – so he came home, and I was able to
go to school. I couldn’t get a boarding place at the grammar school here, but by this time Elsie was married and I stayed with her for three years, going to school as a day girl.
You had to go away to go to high school?
Yes. The year that I went away was the founding of the Murgon High School. They started in a couple of rooms of the local town hall. It was only going to go to Junior, and I wanted to go on to Senior
so we thought about it. No matter which way we went, I’d have to go to town to board. Petrol rationing was still on so I couldn’t come home for the weekends, so they thought it better that I moved down and stayed with Elsie here. That way I could go right through to Senior.
Was it expensive to go to the grammar school?
I was a ‘scholarship’ girl. If you had passed scholarship – which was a state examination, not set by the school – then the school was paid your fees, plus a boarding allowance if you had to board. In my case that boarding allowance was paid to Elsie. However, anybody could go to a private school or a state high school
in that way.
Interviewee: Dulcie Toohey Archive ID 1902 Tape 06
So you were telling us that scholarship wasn’t considered for girls at that stage?
Not really. There had been one other girl before me who had passed scholarship from Merlwood, just one. Edna had sat for the scholarship I think, but had gained a high school scholarship. There was a bit of a difference because you had to go to a state school, but if you
passed high enough you got an open scholarship for either a private or a state school. So she had gone to school at Kingaroy for a year – a state school – and then she went to the Lutheran school in Adelaide for her second year of high school. Elsie had also got the same scholarship, and she did six months of high school in Kingaroy,
but every time my mother saw her off they both cried like mad, and she gave it way; for which she was later very, very sorry. But it wasn’t usual for girls to go very far with education. I can remember when I was going away to school, one of my classmates said to me, “How long will you be at school there?”
And I said, “Four years,” and she said “How long before you become a teacher?” It was five years at that stage, and she said, “You’ll be eighteen. I’ll be married by then.” And she was. They just didn’t think it was worthwhile educating girls very much.
I think my family was a little bit ahead of most in trying to educate them. Boys didn’t really seem to be interested though. I don’t know why they didn’t ever have a go.
So what was the expectation for girls at that time?
They got married and had kids. I don’t know … they’d just keep on doing the washing and the ironing and everything. There was a sort of feeling that,
as the conditions were then, that’s the way they’d always be; not the sort of change we’ve lived through in the last thirty years. There was a feeling that said, “This is the way life has always been, and this is the way it’s going to be.”
So how did the female teacher who replaced Jack influence you?
I don’t really know, and
doubt it made much difference. I was helping out at the school before she arrived on the scene. I’d read all the books!
Were there any other ladies in the district who worked outside the home environment?
I forgot about that … Elsie and Mabel had worked before the war broke out. They’d worked in Murgon. Elsie, the eldest, had worked for the doctor there as a … well, some sort of
general dogsbody. But she worked in reception in the morning, and she worked in the house with Mrs Davidson in the afternoons. She was just generally regarded as part of the family, and did all those things and lived in with them. Mabel had worked for a bank manager’s wife. She was really
just the maid who did everything. But she was very well treated. I think Elsie earned twenty-five shillings a week, and Mabel, fifteen. And then Elsie married in 1939, just after the war broke out, and when the boys went, that was when Mabel had to come home. I forgot to mention that before. And then she worked at home
You mentioned that you did a little bit of secondary correspondence school?
I’ve done most of my education by correspondence, I think. I’d set myself up at a desk in the brightest spot in the big room, which was usually known as the ‘Boy’s Room’. It looked out over the back of the farm. I had a little table there with all my books, and the lessons
would come by mail. I’d open them and see what had to be done. I was given a timetable and I stuck strictly to it. Nobody demanded that I stop and go and do something else. That was my school time and I stuck to it. And then I posted back and forth the work that I’d done.
I did … in those days they used to do Australian history one year, and then English history the next year. I was unfortunate in that I did English history in my first year, and the grammar school that I eventually went to, had done Australian history. So I had to pick up one subject on my own
after I went there. But the teacher was very good. She was an excellent teacher and helped me all the way through.
You could have done it twice and blitzed it …
But I don’t find it hard to apply myself that way. I did scholarship homework with everyone around me at the kitchen table
and with the wireless going, and that sort of thing. I can switch off from what’s going on around me. My mother and father would say, “You should switch that off,” and I’d tell them that I worked better with it on. So I got used to doing it that way. But I stuck strictly to the timetable. That was the main thing.
And how different was it when you went to Ipswich Girls’ Grammar?
The change was … the number of teachers
was and still is daunting for the kids when they leave primary school and go to high school. But to have a number of teachers and a number of different rooms to go to sometimes, and … I soon got used to that though; I really liked it.
And how did you get to Ipswich?
My sister lived here, and I had to travel by train. If we travelled by night then we left Murgon at about half past seven. We’d make a connection at Gympie in the middle of the night, then get to Brisbane at about six. We’d make a connection there, and then we’d be home here by about half past seven.
It was an hour and twenty minutes to Brisbane in those days. But the trains didn’t always run on time during the war. Sometimes we had to wait longer at Gympie than necessary. There was a railway cop. We knew the railway cop. Tex Morton wrote a song about him, and he was a true character. My father knew him, knew him personally, and I always got the instruction
that if I had to travel at night, “When you get to Gympie, find Wingy. He’ll look after you.” There was a group of girls – some of them went to Brisbane schools; Somerville House, and Brisbane Grammar. They were boarded there from Murgon. And we’d all have the same instruction – we’d find Wingy and he’d take us into the waiting room, and there’d be a pot belly stove there, all stoked up. And he’d make cocoa for us and we’d wait there until
we caught the train we needed. There were troop trains going through there all the time, and they didn’t stop. But the trains we needed, we didn’t worry, because he’d put us on board. Sometimes it was very crowded. There were troops on leave and there’d be delays because of urgent troop trains that had to go north.
I remember one morning we got to Brisbane – we’d missed our connection anyway; it was well past our time to get that connection – and it was bright daylight and … I’d been to Brisbane once before, and the other kids had. So the Brisbane members of our group, they all went off to their schools. But there were a few of us from Ipswich Boys’ Grammar and a few from Ipswich Girls’ Grammar. We decided we’d have a bit of a look at Brisbane while we were there. The tallest building then was the City Hall. So we got in the lift
and went up the top of the City Hall tower and had a look over Brisbane. After we’d done Brisbane over we found a train and got into Ipswich at about four o’clock. I got a tongue thrashing from Elsie; “Where have you been!” She knew that there might be delays, but would have expected me by midday at the latest. And the boarders got into a bit of trouble at school, too,
because they could have been there much earlier. But we had a good day.
So when was the first time you ever went to Brisbane?
Once when Vince was on leave. I don’t know how it happened, but someone must have been staying with us who could milk Edna and my cows. Or maybe it was in the winter season when there wasn’t a great deal of milk being produced? Anyway, went and saw Vince off,
and the train trip was pretty horrendous. It was really crowded and had a lot of troops on it, and there were people lying in the corridors and up in the luggage racks – anywhere you could scrounge a bit of room. I think Vince put his kitbag down in front of the seat and I sort of lay across it and stretched out. We got to
Brisbane and if you can imagine what Ipswich was like before the mall was developed; that was what Brisbane was like. There was the town and the City Hall and … and there were Yanks everywhere – Americans everywhere.
What was your impression of them?
Well, they just looked different – very smart, with beautiful uniforms; not like our old daggy khaki things that the men were expected to wear. Yes, they were much better favoured. But we had a Yank of our own, because we had … the original family, as I said before, had sent half their children to America and half to Australia
and my mother had kept in contact with one particular branch of the family. They wrote letters and received them regularly. And we got a letter saying that one of their grandsons was coming to Queensland; that he was a soldier and was going to Queensland; and could we get in touch with him. They gave us the address and Edna wrote to him. She sent us a photo of him, which Edna promptly put up on the dressing table, because the cousins in Brisbane, well they would go out with Yanks all the time;
but at least she had one to put on the dressing table. So we were going to meet this visitor from the US [United States of America]. We found that he was stationed in Rockhampton, and that he didn’t know how to get to Murgon. So we didn’t think that he was too intelligent, because we reckoned he could have worked it out if he wanted to come and visit us.
There were plenty of them down in Ipswich too, from the air force base at Amberley.
So, if Brisbane was like Ipswich, then what was Ipswich like? It can’t have been too far behind?
No it wasn’t really. When you think about it, they layout of the inner city was much the same.
They had the old memorial hall, and TC Burns, and the Bayer .. no … well, there were some wonderful big department stores there, for those days in Ipswich. The Town Hall wasn’t as big; there was just the main centre. And the grammar school
was only the one big building – that’s in each case, the Boys’ Grammar and the Girls’ Grammar. St Mary’s Church was there, of course, and the Church of England in Lynton Street, Queen’s Park. There were more picture theatres – one at North Ipswich and one at The
Gully in Marsden Parade. The Winter Garden – that was the huge Ipswich theatre. And then they built another one … the Rialto – no, not the Rialto; it had another fancy name like that … The Ritz, that’s right. So we had four theatres to choose from at that time.
So how did you fill in your time? Suddenly you’re in Ipswich and you have your sister, but you no longer have that whole farm life?
Well, she thought up a few jobs for me to do. I suppose it was different, but I had a lot more homework to do, too. When I worked on my own I did all my work during the daylight hours, and then I did my milking, and then I was free. I didn’t do anything after that. But when I was at school, then I had about
and hour or an hour and a half of homework to do every night. The first thing of a morning, I’d get up and iron my uniform. It had to be ironed every day. I don’t know whose idea that was – Elsie’s or mother’s. Then I’d get ready for school and catch the seven o’clock bus into town. And depending on the state of my pocket money, I’d either walk up the hill to school
or catch the connecting bus. We started at quarter to nine, I think. I’m not quite sure. It was daylight saving time then too. And we knocked off a quarter to four, so it was a longer school day.
What do you remember of the military build-up that occurred in Ipswich at that time, compared to say, Murgon?
Well, as I said I didn’t go into Murgon all that often during war. We were used to having the boys come over to the farm, too. But you’d see people in the street all the time – military people everywhere, both in Brisbane and in Ipswich. On Saturday morning they’d all be standing around in the main street, chatting, and eyeing off the girls, I suppose.
It was a much bigger presence of military people, anyway.
And over the course of your schooling, did you notice things changing much – like the writing implements and things like that?
Well, in primary school we had slates and pencils, and that didn’t change – especially because of the war. We had books that we used to write in –
they had to be the ‘correct’ style for the time. I think I got my first fountain pen when I passed the scholarship, and I used it for doing my work for that year. And of course I carried it on for the rest of my school days. Biros didn’t come onto the scene until … they were very
rare, even at teachers’ college. And I remember we used to use a tiny fine pen for mapping; we printed with that. That was grammar school, and one of my subjects was geography. We used the fine pen for that.
And having gone into a teaching career, do you look back on some of the things you did and think, “Oh my God! I can’t believe they taught that!”
That’s interesting, because I did maths 1 and maths 2 for Senior. And I have never used maths, except to teach my kids how to do maths, which they too have never used.
It was really a pointless subject as far as I was concerned. I liked maths 2 more than maths 1 – which was pure maths. But we had a succession of teachers with that, and it was hard to get teachers at that time. So we had a lady who had been on the staff and retired, and she came back to teach us for a while.
She came in and looked at the textbook on the table, with her glasses on. Then she’d take them off and go to the blackboard and pause at the blackboard; then put her glass back on and go back to the table; and she’d go back and forwards between the blackboard and the book. Eventually she’d get whatever she was looking at up on the board. I vowed that if I ever got to that stage I’d retire. So we had her for a couple of months,
then we had the retired principal from the Boy’s Grammar School for a few months, and his method of teaching was to write it up on the board, then turn round and ask you, “D’ya understand that?” And we’d just look. My friend one day plucked up the courage to say, “No, sir.” So he laboriously rubbed it off and then wrote it out again, and said, “Do you understand it now?” We didn’t. Then fortunately, just before the exam was due, we got
a good teacher, and she put us through the whole year in three months, and we scraped through. That was an experience. But I really don’t understand school maths. I’ve never been a mathematician, perhaps because of that erratic schooling I had.
Do you remember when it was, in your own mind, that teaching was for you?
I think it was always there at the back of my mind that I really did like teaching, but my father sort of had an ambition for me. He thought that pharmacy would be a good course to take because you could set up your own business and that sort of thing. When I went on to do correspondence I couldn’t do science subjects. So that limited me in what I could go on to do. Teaching was one of the things
I could do, so I sort of resigned myself to it then.
Had you ever thought of anything else?
There wasn’t much else. I didn’t want to be a nurse, and I knew I didn’t want to work in an office and be surrounded all day by four walls. Teaching was the other option.
Let’s go back and talk about the agricultural shows that you mentioned earlier?
Yes, they were the great event of the year. Our family was very heavily involved in them. He was on the Show Society committee; and my mother was involved in the catering part of it. All the older members of the family worked on it in some way – they were stewards in the cattle section; Louie was a steward in the ring; Mabel was a steward in the fancy needlework section;
and Rosie was in the catering with my mother. I can’t remember what Edna did, but I think she had something to do with it as well. It was the most exciting event of the year, of course. We would live from one show to the next, and we’d enter items from our school work, and also from the farm. I can remember getting a calf ready to show. And also, my father
had a little bit of a bent for breeding Orpington poultry, and so we’d penny up a few hens – feed them up and get them ready to look really nice so they’d put on a good show. The first day would always be judging day, which was a bit of a non-show day, really. There’d just be the few people who had to go in for that. Then
Friday would be the main show day when everybody went. We’d let the cows go in, in the evening. But all the displays seemed to me to be so wonderful. You look at them now and they pale in comparison to that stage of my life. You’d look at all the big farm pumpkins and vegetables, and all those things were very interesting to a kid on the farm
who knew how these things grew and developed. Of course for days before the girls would be busy making cakes for things they were going to enter. There’d be several cakes that they’d make …because the big old wood stove, it demanded brigalow wood, because that burnt consistently,
with the same heat. Our farm was a brigalow district. So the men had to supply brigalow for the stove for the week. And they had to cook them. This or that one wouldn’t be up to scratch, and they’d call that a ‘sod’ and they’d keep that one for afternoon tea. Then they’d try another one, until they got the perfect thing. And the car would be loaded up on a Thursday morning with all these cakes to enter; and corn, and heavens knows
what – there’d be a chook in the boot, probably. So you had to go round then, and see what prizes you’d won; and if you’d won anything in the schools section. That was exciting. And of course, the sideshows – they were something unbelievable. I had a postcard for years with a picture of a St Bernard dog on it. I’d visited that sideshow about three times. We had the retriever on the farm that
used to catch cricket balls; and the St Bernard dog just looked like a big version of Bob. That was pretty good. We all loved watching the horse events because we were all interested in them. But I never, ever rode in show. That was one thing I always wanted to do, but the war sort of interfered around the time I was able to handle a horse properly. War broke out and we didn’t have shows for a few years.
I was pretty good at working the system then, because all the other members of the family were installed in various parts of the showground, and I knew that I could find Louie at the ring, and Percy in the chook pavilion, along with Dad. I knew I could find my mother in the catering pavilion … I knew where all of them were. So I used to go around and con them all for a shilling every now and then so that
I could go into all these sideshows – two or three times. They were always good for a shilling. But it was a wonderful day. Then at night they began to have fireworks, and that was just … and there’d be the Show Ball on the Friday night. We all had new, long frocks to wear to the Show Ball, and the fellas of course would wear their suits. And there used to be a travelling show come, before the war.
It was called Thorley’s. It was a stage show, like a review type thing. My father was very interested in that. He and mother and I would go to that, while the others went to the ball and danced. I think I picked up a bit of a love of theatre because of that. For a country kid it was a great experience to go to that.
Can you remember the sort of sideshows that you would have gone to see?
You’ve heard about the St Bernard dog; and there would always be the fat lady; and the boxing tent,
and the ring of death where the bikes went round and round. There were rides, but I wasn’t a daring rider on any of them. I only went on a few of those.
What sort of rides were they?
Oh, the merry-go-round and the chair-o-plane, as they
called it, which was like plough seats attached to chains which whirled around … I think there were little trains also; and one year there were little boats you could go round on. There wasn’t anything really daring, but then I wasn’t a really daring person. I was quite happy
to ride on the merry-go-round and perhaps go on the train; and the ring was always interesting.
And were the dolls on sticks a big thing then?
Oh yes, the kewpie dolls. You had to get a kewpie doll. They were great. I had several of those, and expected a new one every show; but I was told, “No, you’ve got enough.”
There were the sticks for sale … what else was there to eat … honeycomb, I think. It was wrapped in paper at the bottom. Waffles … they still appear the Exhibition. That was interesting from the point of view of the Aborigines. They used to bring them into the show.
They’d be standing like sardines in the back of a truck when they arrived. These trucks would bring them in from Cherbourg. They would be everywhere. They really liked the show, too; and they always came to the pavilion where you could have a proper lunch, a two course
proper lunch. And there was a little window at the back where my mother served made-up sandwiches, and the Aborigines always came to that window. She knew them all, and they knew her from show to show. They’d come up and say, “This is the baby I had this year, missus.” And she’d compliment them on it. And they’d all be sitting around having their picnic-style lunch on one side
and all the whites would be having their sit-down meals at tables on the other side.
What sort of impact did seeing that segregation have on you?
I think it was just … it was just natural, and I didn’t really realise that it was segregation. And I didn’t realise that my mother was being exceptionally … ah, you know, friendly. I just thought that it was the normal thing.
That’s how they came up in the truck, anyway. But then, at the same time, later on when I was teaching and we went to sporting events, the local carrier used to get two school forms – the long six seater ones – and put two or three of them in the back of his truck for the kids to sit on. Off we’d go to
Proston or Wondai, and we never had any accidents; no-one fell out.
Did they have recruiting tents and things like that at the show?
Yes, I think so. I think that’s where Bill originally joined up; at the show. Because there was a recruiting unit there.
Can you remember any other propaganda during the war?
Posters, maybe. Not really. Though I can distinctly remember the one from
the First World War that was always being flashed around. But I can’t really recall anything from the Second World War. I don’t think they were as … how do you explain it … ? I don’t think they were as ‘compulsive’ or something; I think there was a more liberal attitude to enlistment. There was nothing like white feathers
or whatever, and the feeling against people of German descent, that abated; it just didn’t carry on. When I think back now, I’d say the newsreels were the most powerful things. What we were shown was not always the truth, but definitely aimed at recruiting and keeping people on side. Yes, the newsreels
would have been the most powerful things.
So, with the war, was the show pretty much cancelled straight away?
I think so. I don’t think they had one in ’42 at all. ’41 would have been the last one, and they didn’t resume until ’46, I think.
Do you know of any other things in town that suffered the same fate?
No, no, I can’t really think of anything else that just stopped. There wasn’t a lot there to begin with! Let me think …
No, I can’t think of anything.
So, amongst all the mail you got, did your father get a newspaper or anything?
Oh, definitely. He always got the newspaper. The Daily Standard used to be printed at that time. I don’t know when it finished; maybe after the war. But after that we got the Courier Mail. We had the Telegraph for a while, too.
They might be a couple of days old when we got them. But newspapers and magazines around the house were always in plenty. I was always cutting out maps and pictures and that sort of thing for school.
Would newspapers be recycled once they’d been read?
In the toilet, yes!
So you had an outside ‘thunderbox’?
An outside thunderbox; that’s right. We also used the newspapers for wrapping and things like that. They’d be torn up into nice neat little
square and put in the thunderbox area. And anything that had to be wrapped and sent somewhere, it always had newspaper underneath, and brown paper on the top. Everything was sort of … I can remember a bag that hung on the back of the door. It was filled up with old bits of string. You’d take it off parcels and then put the string in there.
Sugar bags – they were always recycles for bread and meat bags. Sometime aprons were recycled too. Clothes were cut down and … there weren’t many hand-me-downs going from one person to the next, exactly the same. The thing was altered a bit, so that it wouldn’t look quite the same.
Rosie was very good at doing that. And we always got the Ladies’ Home Journal, which had a number of models on the front page – not lives ones, they were, you know, drawn … graphic. They’d show what styles of dresses were going to be the in thing for this year. So they piled up. Rosie had learned at rural school. That was the colourful side of their lives and educations –
they all went to rural school. That was a day a week for children aged over fourteen, which was the leaving age for primary school. The girls learned cookery, needlework, housekeeping, cleanliness, and laundry – all the sorts of subjects you found later on in home economics,
and the boys learned blacksmithing, carpentry, tinsmithing – smatterings of trades that were very helpful on farms. You’d often have to turn your hands to things of that nature because there wasn’t anyone around to do it for you.
We did have a saddler call regularly. He’d make his rounds of the farms with his cart. He’d spend a day or two mending harness and that sort of thing. We had a tea man who used to call, too: Edwards & Company Teas. There were big tins. His name was Mr Dux and he wore a grey coat.
He’d drive his van as far as the slip rail but he’d never go beyond it; and he’d just take out all these tins and balance them on it. You saw this row of tins with the little legs coming out from underneath. But he’d spend an hour or so at the table with Mum and Dad, and they’d sample these teas and whatnot. And of course he’d have a cup of tea and cakes with them, and then eventually they’d get around to the dealing
and the transacting, and there’d be a tin of tea and a tin of coffee; then off he’d go to the next place. But when war broke out, all those things went – the traveller groceries, the tea man, the saddler, all those who used to come out to the farm.
Can you ever recall listening to any of the serials on the radio?
Oh yes. ‘The Search for the Golden Boomerang’; and I loved ‘The Argonauts’ – but I didn’t get to hear that one very often because it was milking time when it was on. I used to come in at the end of it, and it would be, “Row, Row, Row,” and it would be over. But every night I listened to … my father and I used to listen to a show about a racehorse called Mittens.
That was serialised. And later on … no, it was still during the war – I remember because Mabel was very much annoyed – somebody made a remark about ‘Dave and Mabel’, which was a bit of a slight … so ‘Dave and Mabel’ were on, and … there was another show with a Mrs Bottomley in it. It was … ‘something Corner’ I think. Anyway, they were radio serials. And at midday we
also had ‘Blue Hills’, or the predecessor of ‘Blue Hills’ – I can’t remember what it was called. That followed us around the country in later life; it’s still going.
Interviewee: Dulcie Toohey Archive ID 1902 Tape 07
Dulcie, could you tell us about the funeral that you were talking about, off tape?
Not long after Bill was killed at Salamaua, we had a telegram to say that one of our uncles had been killed while crossing the road with cattle. That was down at Haigslea, near Ipswich. And of course my father and mother wanted to go to the funeral, but it was deemed to not safe for him to drive at night.
His sight wasn’t really good. So Charlie had to go to be the driver. The first thing we thought about, of course, was how we were going to manage the milking. Fortunately, one of the neighbors sons was on leave, and a quick call on the party line fixed that. Another neighbor’s son who was about nine years old was volunteered too.
The two of them took up the milking load. So they set out from the farm at about four o’clock to drive to Ipswich or almost to Ipswich. At that time, the car was fitted with blackouts on the lights. The lights on the 1939 Dodge were not good at the best of times
and with the blackouts on them there was hardly any light at all. They got to the top of the Blackbutt Range at about nine o’clock, and there was a heavy fog on the range, and you couldn’t see ahead. So father decided that he would drive, and Charlie got out with the torch to show the way.
They weren’t making much progress at this walking pace so my father decided, “Well, if it’s good enough for the army then it’s good enough for us – take those blasted blackout things off the car,” which they did, and then they had another couple of hours to Ipswich. It was just like trying to find a pin in the dark trying to find your way down that range in the dark. Those were the main things I remember about that; the effects of the blackouts and of having to be away from the farm
and arrangements having to be made for the milking. But people were always very helpful; they’d help each other.
When Bill was killed overseas, was there are memorial service held for him at home?
Yes, but I can’t remember much about it except for Aunty Margaret crying – that’s all I can remember. And I can remember all the older women in black, of course.
Once you moved to Ipswich Grammar, the dissemination of information you were getting about the war, how did that become different in Ipswich than back at home?
Well, I saw newsreels. I saw the odd one in Murgon, but didn’t really get into the pictures all that often. But once I got to Ipswich then I went to matinee – the Saturday matinee – more often, with friends.
And all the war news was on newsreel, so I had a better idea of what was going on. But it was all vividly portrayed that we sort of had the upper hand, even though my later reading revealed that at the time we didn’t really.
It was only towards the end of about 1944 that the tide really began to turn and we got better news.
Did you follow maps of war progress in Ipswich like you had in primary school?
No. With secondary school, teachers came and taught their subjects and that was it. We had an assembly in the morning but it was very stereotyped. There was no departure to mention anything about the war. It was just normal acknowledgment of the king, and answering the roll
and then we went. Not even in geography and history lessons did we have any current affairs.
Amongst the girls though – was there much discussion about what was going on?
I don’t think many of the girls had relatives involved. Most of the girls there, their farmers were miners from Ipswich, or they worked in the railway workshops there. Grammar school was a much more egalitarian place then
than it is now. And those mining and railway workshop people were reserved occupations. So even their brothers – who had been apprenticed in the railways – didn’t have to go to war, because the railway was manufacturing munitions to a certain extent. Some of their ironwork that
they were turning out. And the miners of course had to produce the coal, so I can’t remember any of them speaking about uncles or brothers or fathers who went to war.
Your brother who was serving overseas, what information were you getting about what he was up to?
Very little. We knew he was in Borneo [Dulcie meant New Britain], that’s all. He was a sapper attached to the engineers at that stage, but that’s about all we knew. He never mentioned anything about what he’d done. But fortunately nothing happened to him. I think he went there just after the main fighting had
taken place and … well, as I say, he never talk about it.
When was it that you became aware that the tide was turning and the war was possibly …
When VE [Victory in Europe] Day came, when the victory in Europe came. We’d heard about D-Day and the [military]offensive and that sort of progress. But it was through the newsreels and radio news,
rather than doing anything at school about it. We sort of felt that now everything would be concentrated on our area of the war and that things would get better.
What do you remember hearing about VE Day?
Mostly the dancing in the streets of London, with the king and the queen
dancing among the people. Strange.
So, knowing that was going on in London and Europe, what actually changed here?
Well, Louie had been released from the army. But there
wasn’t a great change here except for more movement of troops. Now they were more going towards Japan. But our bases were going further away from Brisbane at that time. I think Townsville became more important than Brisbane.
And the campaign in New Guinea was starting to end, so the bases there became more important. Then they were the jumping off point for the next … progress.
Do you recall the day you heard about the atomic bomb?
Yes, but I don’t think I realised that it was as horrible as it was. We just thought, “Right, the war is probably going to be over.” We didn’t realise
what had happened … hmm. That was just … we believed the story that was put across, that this was a means to an end, and that by using these bombs we were saving so many Allied lives. That was the way it was presented to us, and that was the way it was accepted. It wasn’t till afterwards that we realised the full power of what had happened.
So what did you think of it afterwards?
Oh, the horror of it. People burning. People burning in any sort of conflagration gives me the shudders, and I think that’s what was what hit home – the fact that so many people could have been burned. Why?
And how long after did you learn that?
I’d say quite a few years afterwards.
So when was the defining moment for you, that war was over?
Well, the day that the grammar school bell rang for the first time in five years. And we could hear music in the distance because the Boys’ Grammar cadet band had marched from their school across to our school and were coming in the gate. We were having a Latin lesson
with my original Latin teacher, and she wasn’t going to be swayed by any bell or band or anything like that; so she struggled on for another five minutes until the boys were in the courtyard and everyone had become very restless. So she picked up her books and went. And so did we. We just went out and followed the band down to
Brisbane Street and Nicholas Street, which was just absolutely crowded with people. We danced and we sang, and somehow or other I must have gone home and changed out of my school uniform – I can’t remember how. But I can remember being there until very late in the evening, still dancing and singing and carrying on like an idiot. And none of us were high on drugs or anything either!
Was there a lot of speculation about what would happen next, or was it just celebration at that stage?
Celebration. Nobody thought about what was going to happen afterwards.
When do you think that happened – speculating about what would happen next?
I think it took a while for it to sink in … a couple of years, because
they had to bring these men home from all over the world. My husband came home in 1946, so that was quite a long time after the fifteenth of August, 1945. They had to bring them all home, and they had to get them all into occupations, and I don’t really know … Most people thought,
“Right, I’m going to go back into the slot where I came from.” But they didn’t realise that that slot was no longer there. On the farms it was sort of like that. But the men were not happy with that slot either. My brother Percy meanwhile had attached himself to a cousin of ours.
He had very bad asthma, and there was no treatment for it at the time. And it was getting worse and worse. So as soon as he was demobilised he joined that family. They went up onto the Darling Downs to try and bring Alf some relief from the asthma. The climate here must have had something to do with. So they sold out of the property there, and bought in at Texas,
and then later moved to Chinchilla, which is a different atmosphere. So Percy didn’t come back to the farm. Louie came back – he was already back – but he sort of wanted more say in how things were done and run. When my father died he actually took over his share in the farm with my mother, so that he could do
some of the management. He actually had to do all the management, really. It was not just a wage situation. But talking about wages – most farms were just subsistence level up until World War 11. We were always well dressed and well fed, and had money to spend when there was something on; but as for people being paid a wage, well, there was no such thing. People in town
were paid wages. They got wages every week, but we didn’t. We just sold our produce and paid our bills, and whatever was left over we just shared amongst us. It was really just subsistence farming. And after the war, all that changed. The men had got wider horizons and had different experiences. Even if they didn’t go overseas they were still
looking toward things being different. It took the old people some time to realise that that was the way things were going to go.
Do you recall big welcome home parades for the men?
No. They came back in dribs and drabs, and I think this is something that may have been blown out of proportion. I think there may have been parades in
Sydney or somewhere that I saw on TV, but nothing strikes me memory here for Ipswich or Brisbane – nobody turned out to welcome anyone because they came back in such an erratic fashion. Like, Jim was a navigator in the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force], and he just came back with a bunch of other people and went to a staging camp.
So did Morris – he was invalided back from New Guinea and went to a staging camp at Redbank, and then went home. The fact that there was no welcome homes and no saying thank you, is something I think that has been blown out of proportion.
Your brother who was in Borneo [actually New Britain] – how long did it take for him to come home?
I was at training college then, so it must have been in my senior year; so it would have been 1946. It would have been mid 1946.
And did you notice a big change in your brother through his being away?
Hmmm … it was a different situation I think. When he left, I was a child; and I regarded them from that light. They were the ‘big blokes’ and they teased me and bought me things, and sometimes they’d give me a shilling, but afterwards
I’d grown up, and I suppose I’d grown away from them. And they’d grown away from the old style of the family as well. They weren’t going to be told what to do any more.
Did they ever discuss their experiences with you, or with the family?
No. Well, we knew what Louie did with building the road to Darwin; and we knew what Percy did … trucking around Brisbane. There was one thing that he did tell me, and I’ll reveal it now … You know the Centaur, that ship that was sunk off the coast of Gympie … it’s always been held up as something of a sacrifice; as a great …something terrible … as a hospital ship that should never
have been bombed. Now I don’t know if it’s true or not, and I don’t know why he would have said it if he didn’t do it, but he said he trucked munitions to that ship for two days.
What did he say about it other than that?
Well, he just shook his head. It was horrible. He said he felt when he was doing it that something would happen.
So does he think that perhaps it wasn’t sunk by the enemy; that it was just …
Yes, it could have been an explosion on board ship, or the Japanese could have know that there were munitions aboard it. I think something similar happened with the[liner] Lusitania in World War 1. It was carrying
ammunition, too; though I’m not quite sure of that fact, but I think I have heard it.
Of the young men coming back from overseas, would you say that many of them came back very different?
Let me think … I think they
were more sure of themselves. And they were certainly glad it was over. Apart from that I don’t really know.
When you met your husband, did he discuss his wartime experiences with you?
All the fun things … assorted stuff in the cupboard; and his trips on the liners of the day – the Fontaine, the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth; travelling to Canada; being in New York and London, and going to all the theatres in the West End. But never anything about the war, not until they began to show that documentary about World War 11 that the ABC put together.
And over at Merrill Street we this model of a Liberator [medium bomber] strung up hanging from the wall, over the TV. John had made it, because that was his aircraft, and he loved his Liberator. He just thought it was the greatest thing that ever flew. He told us of one experience when he … they were strafed, and he got a nick in the leg – his ‘war wound’ as he called it.
The plane was fairly shot up, but he managed to navigate it home, right down to the runway. The skipper and he made it home. But apparently he told his brother that they were ditched at one time; and I always wondered if he was ditched, because the only thing he was ever frightened of was the cold of the North Sea. He wasn’t frightened of being shot down – that was nothing –
but he was afraid of having to ditch in the North Sea, where you froze; that was the thing they were all scared of. And according to Tony, he did ditch once. The day he died, he went through all that process of getting out of the plane that had ditched.
When the war finished, how long do you think it took before things started recovering?
Not a long time. Once people were home there was plenty of work to be done, and although the men didn’t go back into their same occupations they very soon got work somehow. The government did run rehabilitation courses
for them, and some of them had also been trained in trades. For example, my stepfather, Morris, he was trained as a fitter. He was a carpenter when he went into the army, but was trained as a fitter also. He didn’t ever use his fitter’s training, but he’s got a fitter’s mind. So that trade has been very
handy for him. My cousin’s husband – Norman – the one from the military wedding in the barn, he became a carpenter after being a farm boy. I think he went to a rehabilitation course and then later got a job with Public Works. Later on he set up a business, building in Murgon.
I think they did things that they wouldn’t have dared to do before the war, partly because of the sort of parental control – it was always a scandal to hear, “Oh, so-and-so’s son has cleared out.” Left home. That was an absolute disgrace to think that your boy would leave your home voluntarily; that must be terrible.
I think that Mum was worried about that with Louie – that he was going to clear out and that she would be somewhat disgraced somehow by that. So I think they learned to take risks. And there was quite a building boom after the war too, because a number of them had married, and the bride had kept on living with her parents – even when the children came along.
So there was a high demand for building materials. There was very little available, and it sort of had to be rationed out, because there were so many people wanting to build new homes. But the material wasn’t coming in quickly enough. The teachers who came back … of my own experience of knowing Jack O’Hearn, he just slotted back
into where he’d been. He did marry, just after the war. But he came back to Merlwood and just went on with the job. Jim did the same. He just went back there and slotted in. I think most of the teachers did that. They did give them a few weeks of
training. I was actually at college when Jim did his retraining. But our paths didn’t cross then. They did a short course to bring them up to date. Not that the syllabus had changed. It was still the same syllabus they were teaching when they got back, as what they’d been teaching when they left. So it didn’t take them long to pick it up again.
With your knowledge of the education system, how long would you say it was before they actually started teaching about the war in the schools?
Teaching about the Second World War? When I was teaching in my first teaching period, we had these books that were issued by the department, for use in departmental schools. And one of those – I think it
was for Grade 6 – it had a section on the World War. But it was only a sketch of the battles and where they won. It had nothing in it about how the war affected the country or the people, or what had been done behind the scenes. I think I can remember a picture of women working in a munitions factory.
On the other hand, you’d see a picture of a Land Army girl, and from that they sort of generalised that that’s what women did for the war: they became Land Army girls or they worked in munitions factories. Those books would have been published about 1950 or 1951, I think. I’ve got some on the shelf over there.
There’s been a lot of talk about how men were affected when they got back from the war, how do you think women were affected? Like … how they settled in again …
Well I don’t really know of any
person who had problems. I know that Edna was not really happy to give up the farm life and go back to doing what she was ‘supposed’ to do – cooking and sewing.
And did she?
Well, she went out to Texas where my brother Percy was, and she helped out there for a while. She was living on the farm there, and she married
not long after. That sort of changed her life. She married a teacher and went interstate with him. I don’t know of any particular problems that I can personally relate to your question.
I wanted to ask you too, about the Italian POWs [prisoners of war] that … did you see many of them around Murgon?
There was only family who used them – only one family in the district who employed Land Army girls; they were of English descent and they had always had some people employed on their farm. Very often they had
wards – wards of the state – and they could go out and work for people for little more than their keep. They had two Land Army girls there. But we had nothing to do with them. They kept pretty much to themselves. The other family had the Italians. I was walking home from Sunday School one day and they offered me a lift.
I wouldn’t get in the car because I was scared of them. They wore these horrible reddish-looking uniforms; they were the same as the Australian khaki uniforms but theirs had been dyed this horrible red colour. There were lots of people going through. The dog I mentioned earlier – Bobs – he was the one who took my sister and I
across to The Ranch. Every morning he took my sister across and, or if we went over he took both of us. He escorted us backwards and forwards all the time. And there were … you know, young people fooling around one day, and he thought that somebody was being hurt and went for who he thought was the perpetrator … we had to grab him
by the back of the neck … so, I don’t know what he was aware, but he was aware that there were strange people in the district. What came to him through the this business, was the idea that he had to look after his own.
Do you know what happened to those Italian POWs after the war?
No, no idea.
So when did you meet your husband?
And had the war had a big effect on him?
Yes. He came home … I don’t know this, but I’ve heard it from his sisters, that he was never really well after he came home. They said he was not 100%. He had wanted to go back
to the family farm, but it had been sold in the meantime. It was his uncle’s farm. And that upset him a bit. But he went back to teaching quite happily. He sort of withdrew into himself. I can remember his sister and my other sister-in-law saying to me, “How ever did you get him to propose to you?” I said that he did it himself, and they said, “But how? He wouldn’t say boo to a goose.”
He was happy at school.
When you look back on it, six years is a long time to have your life interrupted like that. How do you look back on those years?
Well, first of all, it was rather exciting; different from the usual. And then after that, after realising what war was really
all about – which occurred when Bill was killed at Salamaua, and with what happened afterwards – then the war just seemed a bit of a waste; a waste of six years of peoples’ lives. Some of the changes were for the good, of course. The women I think gained something for having worked in that time
but … you don’t sort of … when you’re living … I don’t know how young people think today … but you thought at the time, that your times are any different from what’s gone before, or what you expect to follow. It’s only when you get to be … when you get to the end of the scale that you look back and think, “Well, that was a waste of time.”
But then, we got contacts with a lot of people that we wouldn’t have met otherwise. We exchanged views with them. It was good for mixing social attitudes, but we still all went on living. It wasn’t an entire interruption of our lives – we just went on living.
How do you think the war affected the rest of your life?
I think that having to start myself off on correspondence school really disciplined me as a student. I did most of my degree through external studies
and I think that was the beginning of it. And of course Jim’s death made a great difference. I attribute that entirely to the war. It made him a different sort of person. He became a chain smoker … he was smoking before the war, like most men did; but after it he became a chain smoker, and that
was not good for his heart. I think also that he was a casualty who didn’t own up to what he’d been through. He just wanted to get out. That’s what they all said – they all just wanted to get out. They didn’t want to stand around doing medical examinations …
Being that this is a time capsule of sorts, what message would you have for young Australians?
Keep out of wars. I’d say, “Think very carefully before you commit yourself to something that may or may not be worth fighting for.” I think that in this case there was something worth fighting for. We had to stop the Japanese at the time. They were a different type of people and their
ambitions were different from ours. Maybe there’ll be another time similar; but I think that we’ve got to get to know each other better. I think it’s better to talk to each other than to fight each other.
There’s about three minutes left on the tape. Is there a story about Jim … something about your cousin?
Well, it was at Murgon, and there were two of us there – two of the senior teachers were there, Lilly and myself. Lilly was a tall girl, and I was short. And we’d heard that the principal was taking six months’ leave and that Jim was stepping in and taking his place. And we just jokingly said,
“Well Lilly, if he’s tall, you can have him. And if he’s short, I’ll have him.” And I did.
So was he short?
Yes, very short. The children still complain about it, “Grandad Jim was short.” They say, “Why didn’t you marry a tall fella?”
What are your thoughts on Anzac Day?
Hmm … two ways … Jim never went to an Anzac parade until John was in the air training corps
and marched in it; and then he thought, “They’ve got to know so they won’t let it happen again.” I think the family … we’re proud of what he did. We wouldn’t have that [gestures] up on the wall if we didn’t. We think he gave his life in a different way for us, and we’re
proud of what he did, but we can only hope that no-one else has to do the same thing again, for the same purpose.
Does someone else in the family now march with Jim’s medals?
No. We’ve got them, but John hasn’t ever.
As some of the poets and songwriters have got it … “I was only nineteen.” I can think of some of the war poets who write so vividly of what war is really like, and I think it is hard for some of us to appreciate.
Do you have any final thoughts for the archive?
I hope this is useful. Some day, somebody may use a part of it, or view it and find it interesting.