I was born in Mount Compass, south of 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. We lived about a mile out of Mount Compass, towards Tooperang, near a milk factory. Me and my cousin used to play on the footings of the factory when it was being built. The building is being used now as a studio by an artist. I had a cousin who lived in Hindmarsh Tiers and we used to ride our horses to each other’s houses.
I went to primary school in Mount Compass and then when I got to the end of Grade 7, it was a question of going down to Victor to high school or Willunga but Mum and Dad decided to send me up to Girton, as it was then, Pembroke now. I was thirteen. When I was in Grade 7 it was the year the Queen was crowned—I can remember the celebrations going on at school. Mum and Dad were trying to make up their minds whether to send me to Girton or PGC. Some friends of ours, the Hutchens, who lived down Tooperang Road, had a daughter who had just finished at Girton and she had the whole uniform so that decided it. That is the reason I went to Girton.
Boarding didn’t worry me—it wasn’t a big boarding house and there were a lot of people from different parts. Kings College was just down the corner. My girls, Serena and Amelia went to Pembroke, but not until Year 10. We had monthly exeats where I would come home for the weekend and I suppose I caught the bus. Of course you would go and stay with different people for exeats.
I have one sister. I did have a brother, Peter, but he died when he was only a month old, in 1943. My sister was born in 1945, four years younger than me, so I was the boss. She went to Girton too.
I loved Mount Compass and the school was really good. The other day we went to visit a cousin of mine who had some land at Hindmarsh Valley which she was selling, so it was a kind of farewell and I took the grandchildren up there to see the old school. I think they were chuffed to see where I went to school and of course it’s quite near the oval and I showed them where we used to do things there. Compass has grown a lot. Children do like to know their family history and especially our eldest granddaughter, actually; in fact all of them really do like to hear what went on.
I really enjoyed being on the land. We ran sheep and cattle and Dad used to trap rabbits—sadly we don’t do that any more. Dad showed me how to pull the rabbit out of the trap. You put your foot on its head and pull. We used to hand-milk the cows and I can milk a goat too. We used to separate the milk too and Mum would make butter. We just thought it was one of those things, and of course we sheared the sheep too.
Grandfather was in the bank in Port Adelaide and there was a building up there somewhere which they brought down, and that was Mum and Dad’s house. Back in 1940 that would have been quite a thing – amazing really. Eventually they built onto it which all worked well.
We felt closer to Victor Harbour but Dad was closer to Willunga because he liked all the markets there and it was closer for him to go and have a beer with his mates. But we would go to church at Victor, St Augustine’s, which was in the middle of the town.
We went into Victor mostly, not really to Adelaide. We did all our shopping there and Mum was a great one for church, so we’d go down every Sunday and Dad was involved in the community. He was on the Council at Gawler, the representative for Mount Compass. He and Mum were very involved with the community.
After I left school, I spent a year at home with Mum and Dad and then Mum said to me “you can either have a deb’s dance or a trip to New Zealand”. A deb dance was a big thing in those days, but I said “I’ll have New Zealand please”. So I went to New Zealand the following year and visited my mother’s family over there, going from pillar to post, and catching up with all of them. Then I came back home and I was going to do a course in full-time nursing course but I thought I’d fill in the time before it started and do a Mothercraft nursing course – helping mothers when they have their babies. It was a three-month training course and I got so involved after that, going here and there helping new mothers, and in the end I didn’t get around to doing the full-time nursing course.
I also got very lucky because I got a job with Geoff Dutton, the author, when they had second child at Mount Lofty. Geoff was doing a lot of lecturing at different places and he had a lecturing job to go to in America and he asked me if I would like to go with them and help with the children. Of course I said yes—that was in 1961. We had to fly, and of course in those days it was very expensive, so Geoff said would I mind being a member of the family, because back in those days, if you were employing someone you had to pay more. Of course I said yes! We flew to Sydney, then an over-nighter in Fiji and then to San Francisco. He was lecturing in the middle of America and so I was with them for a semester. It was wonderful. He was also writing a book on Edward Eyre so we went to Jamaica with the family. We went through Mexico City and stayed there a night there. He got all his information there and then I went to England with them. I was with the family for about nine months. They were coming back to Australia then and they said if I didn’t want to go back with them I could stay on. I had a few friends who were doing trips to the UK, so I stayed on.
I stayed in London and also went to Belfast where we had a very good friend called John Williamson. We met him though my Uncle Sim who was in the air force and billeted a number of pilots from England when they were in Australia. We billeted a few of them. John Williamson was one of them and he became a very good friend of ours. He was from Northern Ireland and I went and stayed with them. I had a fantastic tour, how lucky I was!
When I came back in due course I did some more Mothercraft nursing down in Mount Gambier and then another friend and I went to Western Australia and did some Mothercraft Nursing. I came back but then had to go back again after a short time because I had another job there. Then Verity’s grandmother rang me and said “Mary, could you go down and help Verity, she’s just had a second baby and they are busy shearing” and I said “Mrs Martin, I can’t…” and she said “You have to go down and help Verity” and so I came down and that’s when I met Ian, so yes, just one of those things! I came from Adelaide down here to Robe and stayed with Verity and Mick. I knew Verity back when, I met her when I was working for another relation of hers and she came along to announce her engagement to Mick. That was in Adelaide.
Ian had just bought a property out where we are now and so, in due course, here I am! We got married at Mount Compass and then moved down here and it all sort of ticked over. I did do a bit of work as well, working as a Mothercraft nurse at Kingston Hospital on night shift. Ian had a job at a crayfish place at the Marina. And then of course we had the two girls. They were born at Millicent, not at Kingston, because you could go to Kingston and find the doctor away and then you’d have to go to Naracoorte, so we went straight there and that is where we had the girls, and they all turned out okay and all grew up. They went to Primary School here; Wilf Springel was the headmaster. Wilf left in the early 1980’s after the girls left because he felt that Robe school was going to fold, it was getting so small. Back then there would be no-one here from Christmas to the Easter long weekend. There was no supermarket. You had the bakery, the newsagent, which is where the Project is now, and the butcher round the corner, and up where the Chinese monument is now there was a bit of a hardware store. The main things were the fishing and the bars.
There was nothing here in Robe really, and it was hard to get to. As a child, when I was about 10 years old, my parents and about four other families, including the Stewarts (I grew up with Di Stewart) and the Lalors, we came down and stayed in the Robe Hotel. I can remember playing there in front of the hotel under a bit of a cliff. They would have come down on the old road, a dirt road.
There weren’t many holiday makers then, maybe just at Christmas time. When you look around Robe now, it’s amazing, all the buildings. I remember the cinema was built by Peter Doerr, and there was a backpackers’ place, and a garage, and next door to the cinema was a grocery store. You really had to go to Millicent or Kingston to shop.
I still keep in touch with Wilf Springel, I get the odd email from him. Back then Wilf and Barb slept at the school. Where the offices are, that was their house and there was a library there as well.
Back then there was a Country Women’s Association, and school welfare, the church, and a council. I’m pretty sure the Council Chambers were where they are now. At that time a lot of councillors were getting rid of a lot of old buildings and when we came Harry Wehrmuller organised a lot of boys who had a year off after they left school to do odd jobs around the town and he got them to build the footings of the old gaol. They were going to pull down the little building next to the Council by the roundabout and there was a big fight to keep that there. Karatta House was built as a Governor’s residence and then it was bought and people stay there. Evidently the roundabout was one of the first in South Australia. Lake Butler wasn’t there then. Back in the mid-1960’s that was, when they cut the channel through. Before that when the boats weren’t fishing they would be pulled through by a cable up the hill.
I think people started to discover Robe as a holiday place in the 1990’s. We get a lot of Victorians coming down and now people from Adelaide as well. In November 1999 we had our first Village Fair. I was on the Committee and it was really good band of workers. They even brought in sand in front of the Post Office. We had three village fairs and then someone came along and started telling the committee what to do. David Smith (Kelpie) had got amazing people to come and sing and there was a small price charged. This person really ran Kelpie down and David said, “well you run it” and then no one came. Then the next one, it rained! When we had our first Village Fair, we had vintage cars and a big marquee.
I feel more and more people are discovering Robe. I’m very pleased for the town. I think it is going to grow more and more. Have you seen Brad and his recycling?—it’s incredible what he is doing down there.
I think the fact that people can drive onto the beach, especially at Long Beach, is a plus for us. I can remember driving down on the first ramp. We would all have these bonfires down on the beach. Ian and Mick would drop wood down the beach and the children would all have their own little bonfires.
Mick and Verity are incredible, Mick’s brother Bill too. Bill was Chairman of the Council in the 1970’s and he really fought hard to keep the old buildings. I think it is just criminal to get rid of the old buildings. I was involved in quite a few things but was never on the Council. Of course we had the Southern Ocean Art Group too and we had the first art show and there was some amazing art. When that finished we started up the Southern Ocean Art Prize. I don’t do art but I can appreciate it.
There are so many young people in Robe now--young families, who are all very busy. When they get more time they will step up and take it forward.