I was born in Mount Compass, South Adelaide. My grandfather, my father’s father, bought the land, and as the boys left school, they went down and cleared it and developed it. I was born in Victor Harbour Hospital—the person who delivered me was Dr Douglas, who is the grandfather of Ali Douglas here in Robe. My father came from Semaphore in Adelaide. They were brought up in the city and went to school there and then he was on the land since he left school, clearing and developing it. Then in due course he met Mum. He was in New Zealand jackarooing for his uncle and that’s where he met my mother. They got married. My mother was actually born in Australia but brought up in New Zealand. They spent some time there and then they moved back to Mount Compass.
I was born in Box Hill in Victoria and was only days old when we shifted to Millicent where my Mum grew up on a farm outside the town. My Dad worked for Stratfords. He carted the limestone building blocks which they took from Mt Gambier and my Mum worked for Eudundas in Millicent—it’s now the IGA. Then we shifted here to Robe when I was a teenager, but I did go to primary school in Millicent. In my first year in primary school I was chosen to present a posy to Lady George, the Governor’s wife. I was chosen because I was the smallest in the school. It was between me and Ren DeGaris’ daughter. He was a politician. Of course there was quite a degree of disappointment when a little nobody got picked to present the posy!
It took me almost 50 years to find my own voice and say exactly what I thought. My father had a nervous breakdown at nineteen—he was the only mechanic when they were breaking up a lot of country at the back of Keith, towards the Coorong. It was called Bruce's Plain and of course this was before trace elements were discovered, long before then. Dad broke up that country driving 24 hours around the clock. He just lay awake waiting for the machinery to break down and he was the only mechanic. So he was packed off to South Africa. Later, if he got up in the morning and said black was white because he hadn't been able to sleep and he had taken numerous whiskies, hot and cold showers, and so on, I learnt to agree, to keep the peace.
My childhood was hard. I was born in Robe, 1948, at Millicent Hospital, only just made it there, in an old tin Ford ambulance--they had to stop and fill up the water all the way there, so I just made it. I started at Kingston, I think, and ended up having to go to Millicent, Mum had me there. Dad was a fisherman, my Grandfather was a fisherman, he was the one who was instrumental in getting the cutting through. My grandfather on Mum's side too--because my Nana was here and my uncle was here, he had a big boat--don't ask me the name of it, I can't think of it now. They all fished. There was a big boatyard--I'm not sure whether they built the boats here--but they had to fix them up, when they came up, when the wind came up.