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.
They used to row out to their boats, they were moored by the jetty. They got SAFCOL going, and you used to be able to go down and bring boats in, where the units are now. There used to be a big factory, and you could go there and eat all the crayfish you liked, because they just threw the bodies away, so you were always eating crayfish. It’s $140 a kilo now—they weren’t getting that then!
He and his brother-in-law fished together, three boats—went sharking, too. It was hard work, really hard work. Dad was always coming home grumpy. He didn’t like sharking—and I didn’t like it because the foul weather when they'd come in, all the ladies and kids would be watching the fellas come in and around the Obelisk--it was pretty scary as a kid, whether they were going to make it.
One of them, their boat went down just as you come in around the lighthouse, around that cove, and their boat went down in there. My uncle went out and he never came back. There's quite a few that never came back. I had another uncle who used to work with Dad on the boat, he never came back. There was always two or three on a boat. Some were lost overboard. One boat came round and got caught on a wave, I think he was too close in.
I went fishing with my father when I was little, probably five or six, I think--used to go out with Dad, and Mum would pick me up and I'd be asleep in the bunkhouse on the way home. I used to throw a line out and sit out the back and catch fish. Not in the storms, just nice weather. But you won't get me out there now, I’d never go out there now.
The boys would have gone out a bit more. Dad didn't have any sons, though. I've got two sisters-- I had a brother but he died at birth. Papa fished for a lot of years till he got too old, and then Dad took the boat, him and my uncle--he fished for years and then he sold it, went caravanning with Mum.
I lived where the shop is now, there was a flat there. The Housing Trust built them—full of asbestos—probably what Dad died of, I think, asbestosis. They didn’t know in those days—we were probably playing with it ourselves. All this was just scrub we used to play in, here. We had forts in there, it was where I had my fort. I was a tomboy. It was all sandhills, big sandhills. And lots of trees, which are disappearing fast.
We spent a lot of time outside—went swimming, down to the beach, spent a hell of a lot of time on the beach. The Bay’s all right for a swimming beach. We were always down there, even when I was older and got married, I’d bring the kids in and sit there. Dad was always on the beach, and Mum, we’d all go down with the cousins and play.
Nana lived in Port Augusta. She ran a hotel. I used to go up there holidaying with her. I was very close to my grandmother, she was a beautiful lady; grandmother on Mum’s side. I was close to my other grandmother, she was lovely, too. I used to stay with her and my aunty sometimes, in Adelaide. Another aunt lived at Port Adelaide and I’d go down there and stay with her, too.
I’d go up by bus, or be taken up. It was a hairy drive because the road went right on the edge of the Coorong--can you remember driving along there in a high tide? I can remember driving along there in the high tide and the water was coming in through one door and going out the other. It used to take about six hours to get to Adelaide--you know--I never went there much, not that much.
So I used to go up to Port Augusta, and I used to love going up there. Just around the hotel. I had aunts and uncles up there, too, and at Wilmington. Mum and Dad used to go up as soon as fishing finished. They were funny days.
I’ve got quite a family actually, a big family. A lot of them are gone; one aunty, she was the funniest little lady. Nana had seven children, lost one, three husbands. Mum’s dad got drowned at sea, off Kangaroo Island, only young. I had lovely grandmothers. When Mum’s mum got older she came back here and she lived in the little cottage opposite the golf course. Once I was married I used to have to come into town a lot to get my husband out of the pub, so I used to go and sit with Nana. I couldn’t sit with my parents because I didn’t get on much with my father. Papa wasn’t very nice, though, not to Nana. Men weren’t very nice back then—not very nice to grow up with.
The women would all go to the pub and they’d sit out in a little room out the back, ladies weren’t allowed in the front bar. So they’d have their little spies and as soon as they saw the boat coming in, off they went home; by the time the boats had got in and taken their crayfish off there was time to get home.
I can’t remember a lot of my childhood—I must have blocked it out. I think that’s why I got married—all the wrong reasons, nineteen, very young. You look at the nineteen year-old kids now—my grandkids, I look at them and they’re older and do things that I would have never dreamt of doing.
The school here has always been good, but I didn’t enjoy it, I had a horrible teacher, a man. I remember a girlfriend, she and I used to get into trouble. She went out and slammed the door—you know, one of those big thick doors—and she split it right through the middle, I think the split is still there. I can remember that—and I can remember getting the cuts, you know, behind my legs, and when I went home I could hardly move, I could hardly walk properly. Mum couldn’t drive, but she went up over that hill and blew the teacher up—because I’d come home all swelled up. They wouldn’t dare do it nowadays.
Most of my friends went to Adelaide, around there—they married away—they used their brains and left Robe. One of them is still here, in the same house—they were the most beautiful family, I was always down there, eating the fudge—their mother made the best chocolate fudge. It was a happy place to be. There was a heap of them, all of them in that little house together.
I hated school—now I regret it—but it was so hard. When I was 16 Mum and Dad said, if you can get a job you can leave; so I got a job and left. I should have left Robe, instead of staying here, but I was so shy. I stayed around and got a job as a telephonist at the telephone exchange, all hand operated. And when that finished I should have gone with my job somewhere else but I stayed here and got married. I was too young.
There weren’t many places to work. One was smallgoods and ice-creams—I pinched an apple once and he came behind me and said, my girl, if you want something to eat, you ask. I wouldn’t have dared to tell Dad—I would have got a thrashing, we all knew what Dad was like.
I was 16 when I did my deb. My cousin partnered me. We were presented at the Institute, probably to the Mayor. I can remember going to Mt Benson to dances. That’s where I ended up living when I got married.
I’d still love to be on a farm, have animals. He was farming out there—drank even then—mostly sheep, some cattle, and cropping. He had a big family farm. We had other blocks, too, and when his father got too old he gave him the land at Dairy Range so we moved out there.
I enjoyed it when I was on the land: I liked it, I liked the freedom. I got horses, my Zippy when I was 19—that’s her photo, there. She lived until she was 30. And the white one, that’s her foal; I gave her to a friend because I couldn’t handle her. And that’s my old cat that lived till she was 30, too, and she was reincarnated as old Darkie that we got when we came in here.
Zippy was my first horse. I just sat down and held onto the saddle; that’s how I learned, one hand on the rein and one hand on the stock saddle—I’d never ride an English saddle. She was so good. She was only two when I got her, just broken in. She had Arab and Connemara in her. Her mother was a tiny little horse but she could jump; she was in the Adelaide show. That was my escape from the children: when they played up I’d just saddle the horse and say, I’m going away for an hour and you can kill yourself when I’m gone if you want to. I’d go down along Long Beach, because we lived out that way, and then I could ride into Robe. It didn’t take too long. And when you turned them for home they were allowed to go; if she went too fast I took her up into the soft sand.
I did a few led events at the Kingston Show, but never riding. They had a pony club at Kingston, still going, but I couldn’t get the kids there—he wouldn’t buy me a float. The best part was once we started those weeks away, once a year. We’d meet up with the Australian Stock Horse Society, all friends. The first time, we had no idea what to bring or what to do. When we arrived there was a big coach, an old fashioned one, like a stage coach. So we're all saddled up ready to go; the next thing, he's gone on, and all the horses took off, flat out--so we just held on! But when we got over the hill they were all right; they settled down a bit after 3 or 4 k's. We did it for years, every year, me and my friends--we used to have a ball--my week away, of sanity. I left the kids with him—maybe I should have taken one of them but I never did; I thought no, I’ll have my week away.
I had my first child when I was 20, and then two years in between, three of them. The first one, he was a bit bad but lovable. He was into the drugs by the time he was 12 or 13, I think. It was around, it was all in Robe, I even know the boys who brought it in. The kids went to school in Kingston. I would have brought them into Robe but the government wouldn’t let you. My kids didn’t like it.
Wool was pretty good in those years. I thought we were doing all right. He’s got plenty of money now, houses—I haven’t even got one. The first home was really beautiful, little old stone cottage—but it’s pulled down. Then he built another square box and I didn’t want to move out of my little cottage. I’d love to be out there still on that little block, with the old house, if I’d have had my time again. He could have left—I should have told him to—kids and I are staying, you can go.
He bought this pedal tractor, I can still remember. I’d only just had my second and I was sitting there feeding her, and suddenly the older boy, my first, was gone. And I thought, where in the hell has he gone—he’d got on that little red tractor, out the gate, down the road right to the beach. We found him down there, sitting on the beach; he would have been about two. He could have drowned himself. He was a terror! One day I came out and he was right up the top of the implement sheds, running along. But my husband didn’t do anything; he’d go out every night; out in the pub, every night. He didn’t do anything with the boy; well, his dad didn’t either. Fathers are a lot better now, they do more things together, more involved; they weren’t allowed to back then, I think. We didn’t do much with my father; we went to the footy, I learned how to yell at the footy. I used to be bad—when I think back what I was like, oh!