Australian Biography - Lily Ah Toy

Shot Vision Audio In Point
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Film Australia animated Logo

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fade up

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Australian Biography Logo

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WIDE Chinese temple

Chinese music

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WIDE Lily in temple lighting incense at altar

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CU Lily in temple lighting incense at altar

Lily v/o: I was born in 1917, the war was still on.

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WIDE Statues on altar

And father said,

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MWIDE Lily in temple lighting incense at altar

..."Well, the war's on and another girl." He didn't even bother to register my birth.

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WIDE Lily in temple - walks towards brass pot waving incense

One more daughter. In those days, you see, girls are immaterial. And there was a Chinese lady in Darwin...

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...who has six sons and no daughter. She wanted to adopt me, but my mother said no.

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CU incense

Lily v/o: So I was very lucky.

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Title fades up:

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Lily Ah Toy

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"Born Darwin, 1917"

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Northern Territory pioneer

Chinese music

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Dissolve to

Lily v/o: My mother, well she was born in Darwin. She...

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MWIDE B & W photo - Lily's mother

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...being the eldest girl had to help her parents, or her mother in the household duties and she was, she wasn't allowed to go to school. So she can't read or write English. But she persevered and she trained herself to read Chinese, which was very clever I think because I tried to learn Chinese once and I couldn't.

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MWIDE B & W photo - Lily's mother

Robin o/s: How was her English?

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Lily v/o: Her English, she understands but she doesn't speak it which is a pity.

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CU Lily interview

Robin o/s: What was your father's English like?

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Lily sync: A bit rough you know, not clear.

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Robin o/s: Very simple?

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Lily sync: Yes, very simple. He understand, he understood what you say to him and all that, but he can't write it.

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Robin o/s: Was that a big handicap to the Chinese people living here then?

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Lily sync: Oh, yes, because they have to beg people to do all the letter writing and attend to matters, any certificates or papers. They even have to beg people to go and register their children's birth.

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Robin o/s: Did that ever led to any problems?

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Lily sync: Yes. Because the surname of the father is different to the surname of the child. The people who go to register leave out the surname of the father.

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CU B & W photo - Lily's father

Lily v/o: My father was born in China.

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Robin o/s: And what kind of Chinese background...

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...was he, what was he called, what kind of Chinese?

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Lily sync: Haka. All that area in Southern China are all Hakas.

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WIDE B & W photo - group of Haka

Lily v/o: They are guest people. They all come from the north. And the north...

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...was so dry and arid and living was hard so they walk from the north down to the south to the lovely green area of southern China and they settled there.

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WIDE B & W photo - men working on railway

Lily v/o: My father came to work on the railways and he was made a foreman...

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...or ganger. And when the railway finished, he go onto the gold mining and he become quite successful there.

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ECU Lily interview

Lily sync: Mother - this was after he married mother - mother said they had a big chest in the house and, it's like one of those sailor's chests with a dome shape and a heavy brass padlock, the men keep the chest locked, and every day when the day's work's done they would bring the, all bearing gold back there and put it into this chest and they lock it up.

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WIDE B & W photo - Group standing outside Chinese building

Robin o/s: Now why didn't he go back to China?

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Lily v/o: Because he's married...

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CU Lily sync:

Lily sync: ...and he's have children already. You see it takes a lot to take a family to go to China. And not only that, my mother refused to go. She said she's an Australian, her parents are here and she wants her children to be living in Australia. In Darwin. So she wouldn't go.

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WIDE Lily interview

Robin o/s: What did you eat as a family together?

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Lily sync: Chinese food, rice, meat and vegetables. And occasionally we have an egg, specially if it's our birthday. That's a big treat to have a boiled egg for breakfast.

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WIDE B & W photo - Lily's mother with her children

Lily v/o: My mother always careful that we don't eat too many of the hot stuff, you know, the blood heating stuff.

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: So we have cooling stuff, watermelons or cooling soup. And, other pine melon soup which we hated. And sugar cane water which we loved.

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WIDE B & W photo - Chinese gardeners

Lily v/o: The sugar cane, we buy it from the gardeners. They cut into pieces and split...

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...and put it into a saucepan of water and simmer it for hours. And then we had to drink that and also chew the sugar cane but by then it was pretty tasteless. All the sugar gone into the liquid.

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Robin o/s: And these were suppose to cool the blood?

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Lily: Your blood, yes. And for fever they have a special, the bitter melon vine, they boil that, and bathe us in it. Just warm bathing and all this sort of cooling stuff.

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WIDE B & W photo - Chinese extended family

Robin o/s: Was your family religious?

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Lily v/o: Yes. They go to the temple and pay their respects to the different deities.

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WIDE B & W photo - Chinese temple

Robin o/s: How often did you go to the temple?

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Lily v/o: Only on festival days, special days.

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: For Chinese New Year, we have a new suit of clothes, always, new pair of clogs, made out of the wood and painted red. Also, they made all sorts of cakes...

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WIDE B & W photo - Group of Chinese children. PAN LEFT to children carrying dragon

...and special food. We have chicken and pork and crackers. And we upheld all the ritual, religious ritual.

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Robin o/s: As a child did you encounter...

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WIDE B & W photo - Darwin street

...any discrimination at all against the Chinese in Darwin?

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Lily v/o: Well not as far as I'm concerned.

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: But there were discriminational, but it's typical of children. The children from the rich family used to look down upon us poor children. Well for instance now, they dress dressed up in lovely ironed shirts and shorts and socks and leather shoes. And we just go bare-footed and I only owned two dresses. So they used to come along and stand on, stood on our toes. Well that wasn't very nice.

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Robin o/s: Because you had bare feet and they had shoes.

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Lily sync: Yeah we all had bare feet. Well we can't afford to.

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Robin o/s: But these were rich Chinese children?

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Lily sync: Yeah. Rich Chinese children.

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EWIDE B & W photo - School photo

Robin o/s: How old were you when you went to school?

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Lily v/o: Seven.

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WIDE Lily interview

Robin o/s: And you spoke no English at that point in time?

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Lily sync: Hardly. Hardly. Because we speak Chinese at home.

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EWIDE B & W photo - School building

Robin o/s: How long did you stay at school?

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Lily v/o: Until I was 14.

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: I couldn't leave school quick enough, as soon as I was 14. Up to seven grade.

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MID B & W photo - Lily with school book

Robin o/s: What did you imagine you would do when you left?

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Lily v/o: Stay home and help mother.

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WIDE Lily interview

Lily sync: Because I always been helping her since I was nine-year old doing all sorts of things.

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Robin o/s: And so you were looking forward to that?

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Lily: Mm.

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Robin o/s: So what in fact did you do when you left school?

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Lily: Well I got a job as a housemaid. Start at half past seven in the morning and finish after lunch. After I wash up after lunch. Seven and six a week.

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CU Lily interview

Robin o/s: How many years were you there in that house?

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Lily sync: From 14 until - 3 years I was there.

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Robin o/s: And why did you leave?

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Lily sync: Well, my husband was courting me and we'd become engaged at 18. And we got married at 19 - when I was 19...

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CU B & W photo - Jimmy Ah Toy

Lily v/o: ...and he was 21. He was hawking vegetables.

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: A minute, a cousin of mine married his older brother. And we used to go and visit.

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WIDE B & W photo - market garden

Lily v/o: They had this market garden out at the two and half mile. That's how we met.

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CU Lily interview

Robin o/s: What was the marriage ceremony like?

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Lily sync: Chinese. We had to get up early in the morning at certain hours. They choose a day. They have to choose a day which is suitable, you know, everything, the sky is right. There's a book there that they go through.

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CU B & W photo - Lily

After that, they dress me and I have to wear this mirror...

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...hanging around my neck as a sort of a necklace, and this mirror must face outwards, as I go out, because that would dazzle the evil spirits. And then they must throw rice. There's a devil rooster, so they throw rice to distract him. You know all that sort of thing. Until we got to the groom's house and then the lady who lead me turn the mirror round face that side, shining side face towards my body. And then she lead me in through the house. And there won't be anybody there in the house. They be all around the back because it's unlucky to face a new bride coming into a house. This lady take me straight in to the bridal chamber. Bridal room.

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WIDE Lily interview

Robin o/s: When you married your husband was he still living in Darwin?

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Lily sync: No, he was living in Pine Creek.

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Robin o/s: Where is Pine Creek?

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WIDE Map - Australia showing Pine Creek. Sepia photo of Jimmy Ah Toy's store

Lily v/o: Pine Creek is 156 miles south on the railway line, or now it is 220 kilometres.

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Robin o/s: And why did he go and live in Pine Creek?

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Dissolve to:

Lily v/o: Because his parents were going to live there, and also they just bought this business...

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WIDE B & W photo - Pine Creek

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WIDE Lily interview

Lily sync: ...and they want him to go down and run it. That was in 1935. We got married in 1936.

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Robin o/s: What kind of a business was it?

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Lily sync: Oh, just a little country shop...

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WIDE B & W photo - Jimmy's store

Lily v/o: ...you know, groceries and bits, odd bits and stuff.

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CU Lily interview

Robin o/s: How soon after you were married did the children start to come?

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Lily sync: Well Edward, eleven months after, the first year.

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Robin o/s: And so did you come home to your mother to have Edward?

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Lily sync: No. No. I didn't. I stayed in Pine Creek and as it happened it was the Moon Festival. And I was helping my mother-in-law to bake a moon cake, you know, for the religious ceremony. We get on very well she and I. And of course the labour started and I went over to the hospital and it happened to be a day the Doctor Clyde Fenton come.

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WIDE B & W photo - Clyde Fenton

Robin o/s: The famous Doctor Clyde Fenton who was the flying doctor.

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Lily v/o: That's right. He came...

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...and he stayed to deliver Edward. Dr Fenton. And to think that I had never been to see a doctor or a nurse for anything before. But I, like I said I was a strong healthy girl and I work hard all the time so I was all right.

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Robin o/s: It was a straight forward delivery?

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Lily: Straight forward. No trouble. But poor old Dr Fenton, the next day he flew back to Katherine and then he flew onto somewhere and he got lost. I can remember we were all so upset. And I said, "The poor man. To think that he delivered my son...

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WIDE B & W photo - Fenton with plane

Lily v/o: ...and now we don't know where he's got to." But he was all right. They found him.

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CU Lily interview

Robin o/s: Was your marriage happy from the beginning?

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Lily sync: Yes. Except when my mother-in-law died, that was a bit of a shock.

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Robin o/s: When was that?

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Lily sync: Two years after we were married.

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CU B & W photo - Lily's in-laws

Lily v/o: She had meningitis. This was at Pine Creek.

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: And then she left two young girls, daughters.

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WIDE B & W photo - Lily's mother-in-law's children

Lily v/o: One was only a little over two-year old and the other is five. The two-year old was really...

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...really sad because she wasn't weaned. She was looking up for the mummy. And of course I had Edward and I had plenty of milk and I felt sorry for her, so I fed her. Let her have my breast milk. And one day my father-in-law walked in and saw me with the, like one at each breast, and he hit the roof. He really hit the roof. He said, "She is old enough to eat rice and broth and stuff, save the milk for my grandson." But I said, "I have plenty to spare." "No." And we gradually weaned her off, of course, we had to hide then, never let her see me feeding Frances. It was so, you know, to see this poor little girl wandering around looking for mummy and for a drink of milk.

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ZOOM in to ECU Lily

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"WIDE B & W photo - Lily, Jimmy and Edward"

Robin o/s: Now how many children did you have of your own? Altogether.

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Lily v/o: Five.

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Dissolve to:

Robin o/s: How did that fit in with running the store? Did you help much in the store?

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"WIDE B & W photo - Lily, Jimmy and five children"

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: Yes. I just helped wherever I can. I just help to unpack and serve and to clean and all the rest of it. There's no, "You do this, and I do that." Of course he do all the ordering and the book work.

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WIDE B & W photo - Jimmy's store

Lily v/o: My part I think was to help people. When the pensioner gets sick, well I go down...

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...or send my man down. Same thing when that man was lost out at Umbawarra. He was tin scratching out there and he didn't come in. Send the truck out and they found him crawling around in circles. He could have died if we didn't go out and...

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WIDE B & W photo - Pine Creek street

Lily v/o: ...fetch him in to the hospital. And on one occasion

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ECU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...a buffalo shooter send a note in and written on the back of a mirror, and to this day I'm very sorry I didn't keep that, they took the back of the mirror off, and you know that red colouring, and they used, or he used a 303 bullet to write a message: He's out of food, waiting at the East Alligator River for the boat to call in to pick up the hides. Could I please ring so and so, a man called Fitzgerald in Darwin, and tell him to come urgently.

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Robin o/s: Because the boat hadn't arrived?

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Lily sync: No. Right behind ?? they were stranded down the bank of the river. So I did, I rang Darwin and I go in touch with Ted Fitzgerald I think. He come through Pine Creek in his big bliss truck full of stuff and went out and rescued them. But that message was brought in from the East Alligator to my shop from an aboriginal man on foot. He walked in.

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Robin o/s: How far was that?

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Lily sync: Oh, over a 160 miles I think.

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EWIDE B & W photo - Jimmy's store

Lily v/o: The shop has always been the hub.

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ECU Lily interview

Lily sync: For instance, an aboriginal boy was sick, a child, and this aboriginal medicine man, he works as a lines man for the PMG and he was carrying this child and he rushed up to the shop, "Missus, Missus, quick, quick. Baby sick." And the child was in a fit, convulsion fit. And in our shop there we had a nursing sister, so both of us just rush inside the bathroom, filled the bath with warm water, we had the hot water system on, and dunked the child in and he came to. But it was funny, a witch doctor, medicine man, rushed to us for help.

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B & W Archival - wartime Darwin

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(4 shots)

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Super:

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DARWIN 19 FEBRUARY 1942

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Lily v/o: After the bombing of Darwin and Pine Creek, we watched the planes fly over in formation of trees.

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WIDE Lily interview

Lily sync: And my brother-in-law who was in Darwin, he was only a school boy, he came down and he called me, Soldie, which means sister-in-law in Chinese. "Soldie, they are Japanese planes, look, look." I said, "Don't be silly, how can they come in here. We're so far in." He said, "No. They Japanese planes. I saw them in Darwin." Nobody would believe him. But the police rang and said, "Look out, Katherine's been bombed and the planes are heading back towards Pine Creek." Of course we scutter.

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Robin o/s: Where did you go?

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ZOOM in to CU Lily

Lily sync: We, all hop into whatever vehicles or trucks available and drove up the hill to the Enterprise Mine tunnel. We sat in this tunnel. Fortunately that tunnel had an added, or shaft way back so that there's a circulation of air going through and it's quite cool. We sat there until somebody said, "Oh, well, that's all right now. They gone. They didn't come to Pine Creek." And we came back again. It happened several times.

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B & W Archival - train

Lily v/o: Notice come to evacuate.

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ECU Lily interview

Lily sync: Well we travelled all night and arrived at Burden, they might have stopped at Katherine, we don't remember. They arrived at Burden daylight. And that's where we all told to get off. And I've got a photo there showing the railway line and the one-eyed Chinese chap...

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WIDE B & W photo - Chinese man beside railway line

...sitting alongside his worldly possessions.

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MID Lily interview

Lily sync: And, then the next morning on the army convoy truck to Eliot for our meals, and then to Barrel Creek.

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B & W Archival - Convoy

Lily v/o: We stayed the night there and the next day on the convoy again to Alice Springs. And finally in to Adelaide.

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(3 shots)

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Dissolve to:

Well we found a house and we all move in to it. My mother and my sister in one room.

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WIDE B & W photo - Lily's house in Adelaide

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MID Lily interview

Lily sync: My other sister with her four children in another big room. Mrs Fong and her four, and later on five children, in another room. My in-laws, the three girls, they were in one room. And the two boys slept in the place which normally is the lounge. We had only one kitchen, one laundry and one toilet. But we managed.

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WIDE B & W photo - Jimmy with the children

Robin o/s: What year did you come back?

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Lily v/o: 1945. We had a rather rough trip back...

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WIDE Lily interview

Lily sync: ...so when we arrived in Pine Creek I was really pleased and happy, at last we come home. But when we look around the yard, it was, you know, rubbish everywhere, grass right up to the window. So we unload everything into the middle of the empty shop building and Mrs Robinson across the road invited us out, over there, to have the evening meal. And that night when I set up the beds for the children, and there was this big snake crawling along the window. And I don't like snakes. So I was upset. I wish I could pack up and go back to Adelaide where there's no snakes. Which was rather silly. It took us some time to settle back...

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WIDE B & W photo - Jimmy's shop

Lily v/o: ...and reopen the shop.

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Robin o/s: So you were starting from scratch?

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Lily: Yes. Starting from scratch.

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WIDE B & W photo - Jimmy

Robin o/s: Jimmy, your husband, was greatly respected in the district.

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WIDE Lily interview

Lily sync: Yes, he was the one who come to Darwin to see the different officials, demanding this, that and that we done like, better conveniences, and medical, health-wise, water, electricity. School. But one of the men of the saying, "Jimmy, if you don't come and annoy us and tell us what you want in Pine Creek, how do we know in Darwin." Which is quite true, you've got to tell them.

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CU Lily interview

Robin o/s: Did you put a lot of emphasis on education?

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Lily sync: Yes. Absolutely.

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Robin o/s: Did Jimmy share this view?

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Lily: Yes. Yes. We both do. That is why when they go to High School, of course, the first son and the second son came up to stay with my mother. See my brother was in partnership with my husband in a Darwin shop. And later on he said, "Well we cannot keep on sending them up to your mother so he bought a block of land and built this house."

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Robin o/s: And that was for their high school education?

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Lily: Yes. And I came up.

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Robin o/s: They couldn't go to High School in Pine Creek?

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Lily: No. No High School in Pine Creek. No High School anywhere, only in Darwin. So I came up then to look after them while they go to High School.

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WIDE B & W photo - Ah Toy children on back steps of house

Robin o/s: In putting so much emphasis on educating your children...

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CU Lily interview

...what were you hoping for them? What did you want for them?

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Lily sync: So that they can have a better life.

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WIDE B & W photo - Ah Toy children

Lily v/o: Well they wouldn't have to work as hard as we did, my husband and I did.

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ECU Lily interview

Lily sync: Working 16 hours a day for years and years and years.

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MID B & W photo - Lily's daughter's wedding photo

Robin o/s: Did you want them to marry...

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Dissolve to:

...people of Chinese background?

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MID B & W photo - Lily's son's wedding photo

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Dissolve to:

Lily v/o: Well not, well I would preferred it but it didn't matter you see.

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MID B & W photo - Lily's child's wedding photo

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Dissolve to:

As time goes on if they liked the chap, they loved him...

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MID B & W photo - Lily's daughter's wedding photo

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: ...well that's all right.

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WIDE Colour Archival - Cyclone Tracy aftermath

News: This is the national news from the ABC, read by Peter Young. All of Australia is mobilising to help the victims of the cyclone which flattened Darwin yesterday. The federal government, the Armed Services, police, volunteer groups and private enterprise are all contributing to a massive land and sea relief operation. The official death toll now stands at...

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"Super: DARWIN, 26th DECEMBER 1974"

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Robin o/s: Were you here in Darwin for cyclone Tracy?

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Lily v/o: No. Luckily it was Christmas...

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CU Lily interview

...otherwise I would have been. We go home to Pine Creek for Christmas because the family down there they can't leave the place. And, that's when it happened. My son said, Lawrence said, "Mum I'm not coming down," normally we all come down for Christmas eve. He said, "I'm not coming down because Darwin expecting a cyclone. There might be a few sheets of iron blown off so I'll stay." And he stayed. Of course he lost his shop and this whole house collapse on him. He and his friend were in the kitchen.

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Robin o/s: Was he all right?

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Lily sync: Yes, yes.

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WIDE Colour Archival - Cyclone Tracy aftermath

Robin o/s: So what was Darwin like?

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Lily v/o: Well it's just so, a mess that's all. Just a mess.

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: We accepted it. Our Darwin shop is gone and in fact Jim and I helped to clear some of the rubbish.

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MID Lily interview

Robin o/s: What's the worst time of your life?

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Lily sync: The worst time was when Jim was taken so ill. Before that of course it was just my brother killed in an accident. And that was a blow. He stayed with me for three years and he was very good to me and he got killed so I was really upset about that, couldn't do a thing. And then when Jim got sick with cancer, and he had to be flown backwards and forwards to Adelaide.

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MID colour photo - Lily and Jim

Robin o/s: When did Jim die?

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Lily: 1991.

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Robin o/s: Was he someone...

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ECU Lily interview

...who was very valued by the community?

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Lily sync: Oh, yes. Particularly the Pine Creek community.

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MWIDE B & W photo - Jim receiving MBE

Lily v/o: He done so much good work that he was awarded the MBE.

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Robin o/s: What year was that?

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Lily: 1967.

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ECU Lily interview

Robin o/s: Was that a great proud moment for him?

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Lily sync: Well it was absolutely astounding. I tell you why, he was the first Australian-born Chinese to be awarded the MBE.

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MID B & W photo - Lily and Jim

Lily v/o: And we had letters, telegrams from all over Australia. From West, right round Australia.

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ECU Lily

Robin o/s: Do you still miss him?

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Lily sync: Yes. Or there's no one to talk to to discuss a problem. We'd been with one another for so long there's always something cropped up and it's good to have someone to talk to.

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WIDE B & W photo - Lily and Jim outside store

Of course we used to argue too he was well. I'm not a yes person.

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Robin o/s: What was the worst argument you ever had with him?

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WIDE Lily interview

Lily sync: I couldn't say which was the worst one, but we had lots. But we always make up.

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WIDE B & W photo - Lily and two female friends

Robin o/s: Now at your age now, you're 77.

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Dissolve to:

Do you still look for a little bit of adventure in life, Lily?

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WIDE B & W photo - Lily

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Lily v/o: Excitement.

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CU Lily interview

Lily sync: My son-in-law have an ultra-light plane, a Sky fox. They call it ultra-light because it's so, a small light plane. And he always say, "Mum come for a ride." And I say, "Oh, no. You won't get me into that little thing." So one day they have this, the ultra-light club, have a big picnic, a sort of social thing way out in Wyman River. That's a beautiful place. So I go. And we had to stay the night. Booked in. There were 60-odd people there, you know wives and all the rest of them. And in the morning they said, "We have to fly early because it's nice and cool." And Bill said, "Are you coming for a flight?" I said, "Oh, no thanks." Then I thought you know, why am I such...

24:44
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WIDE photo - Lily's son beside plane

...a wimp? Frightened to go on display. And I made up my mind, "Yes, I will." A lot of people wouldn't go up.

25:29
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WIDE Lily interview

Lily sync: They just too scared too. I accepted the thing that if anything happened to me, what will be will be. The good Lord will look after me, I have good trips, and I come back safely.

25:35
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Robin o/s: So you believe in fate?

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Lily sync: Yes.

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Robin o/s: You think when your day has come that will be it?

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Lily sync: It will happen, it will happen.

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Robin o/s: That's part of the Chinese belief isn't it?

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Lily sync: Yes. Yes. What they call it Jing-Chin in Haka. What will be will be. Same as whether your life is going to be a hard life, or whether you are going to have money or you're going to be sick, or what. It's all part of your life. The moment you're born, you cry, that's it, your life is destined. All is destiny.

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Robin o/s: And you believe that?

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Lily sync: Yes. Absolutely.

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CU Lily lighting incense in temple and placing on altar.

Chinese music

26:21
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CU Chinese statue of deity.

26:35
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Credits roll

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