Australian Biography

Zelda D'Aprano - full interview transcript

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I wasn't very happy about my mother's adoption of communism, only in as much as she forced it down our throats. I never questioned her on the terrible injustices that existed, because apart from experiencing them ourselves, we could see it all around us. So I couldn't deny that, the injustice around us. It was just that Mum was so dogmatic, and it didn't matter if we brought our friends in or anything, they all had to have this compulsory lecture, which was very embarrassing. And [laughs], and I also felt that it led to a lot of dissention in the house, and [when] friends would call in, Mum would give them — think that she had to enlighten them all. It was sort of like a real religious fervour. And so from that point of view, there was two sides to it. On one was the injustice that I was aware of and I could see, and the other was the dogmatism that I didn't like.

And what about your father, was he a communist too?

No, no, Dad wasn't a communist, but he was sympathetic to people. He understood and he could see the injustice all around, and recognised and acknowledged all that. But he wasn't interested or involved in the Communist Party.

And you were reading these romance books. What was actually happening in your relationship with boys at this time? As you reached puberty and started to develop, did you find that your relationship with boys changed?

Well, my relationship with boys, I found very rapidly, it wasn't like those in the romance novels. And [laughs] it was quite a shock to me because nearly every boy that I knew, and there weren't many, I always seemed to finish up in a wresting match. And so that wasn't very pleasant at all.

So what would happen? You'd be asked out on a date?

Oh yes, you'd be asked out on a date. And then the groping and all the — their insistence, sort of, on having sex. I mean it wasn't just on. And added to that was the fact that there was no contraception, there was no anything. And the only reason I learnt about all these things was because I was 'all ears' at work. My mother told us nothing. But at work, whenever the older women would talk about anything, I was all ears, because this was the only way I was going to learn anything. All told, boys [behaved] in a manner that didn't sort of fit in with the romance stories of the time. I don't know what they're like today, but at the time they certainly didn't fit in. And the only thing left was having enough to buy nice things. And how long can you just sort of be satisfied with that. But then I was to meet my future husband when I was 15. And I fell madly in love, as only a 15-year-older can. And then I was in a situation where I wanted to have sex, and I wanted to do these things, and I was too afraid. And so, Mum gave permission for me to get married, and I found myself married — just six weeks after I turned 16 years of age.

And why did your mother give you permission to get married at such a young age?

Magistrate's consent. And so I applied, or we applied; I don't remember exactly the routine that you had to go through. And we had to face the magistrate. And without me being present, the magistrate asked Mum, 'Why are you allowing your daughter ...' Oh, first he said, 'Is your daughter pregnant?' and I wasn't and Mum said, 'No.' And he said then, 'Why are you allowing your daughter to get married at such a young age?' And this is where Mum's common-sense came in and she said [laughs], I can just imagine her saying this, 'If I don't let her' — in her broken English — 'they're going to do it anyway. It. And if they do it, then all sorts of troubles could come.' And she said, 'So I thought let them get married: if it works it works, and if it doesn't, it doesn't.' And so he said, 'Well, you're taking a pretty intelligent attitude towards it' and that was it. And so permission was given. And that was her attitude.

And who were you marrying?

Well, I married a man called Charlie D'Aprano. And he was Italian-born. And it was a wonderful romance. It really was. And I could then express myself emotionally and sexually and physically, and no holds barred. And it was just wonderful to be in that situation without being frightened. But, at the same time, being aware that I didn't want to conceive too quickly, I had to concern myself about contraception. And — because I approached Mum for advice, and Mum said I just don't know what to tell you, go and talk to a doctor — and this is where, you know, the real worries came in. And I did conceive after seven months of marriage. And all the time, up until that seven months, I was always worried about it. And so we used different methods, which were pretty primitive in those days.

What was available in those days?

Well, the doctor that I went to advised me to get a man-sized handkerchief, soak it in oil and insert it. And he said, 'Nothing will pass that oil.'

A doctor told you this?

Yes. Yes. And I ultimately used a little cap, the Stopes, Marie Stopes cap, but it obviously didn't work as it should have, because I conceived. But at that stage I was happy to go ahead with the pregnancy, and even though it was an unplanned pregnancy, it was a wanted pregnancy after it happened.

You were 16 years old when you got pregnant, and 17 ... ?

I was 17-and-a-half when Leonie was born, yes.

And what was it like to become a mother at that age?

Well, it was quite interesting, because my mother was terrified for Leonie. She came up to bathe her, because she didn't think I'd be capable of bathing her. And she did this for two or three days and then I don't know what happened, but Mum couldn't come. She missed a couple of days and so I did the bathing of her. And when Mum did arrive: 'How is she? How is she?' I said, 'She's fine, why shouldn't she be?' 'Did you bathe her?' 'Of course I bathed her.' And I think that I was quite a responsible mother in looking after the physical needs of her. I wouldn't say, at that age, that I was a hundred per cent as a mother, on the psychological side of it. I doubt whether anyone as young as that can be. And because of my youth, I was impatient for her to grow. I thought, 'Oh, won't it be wonderful when she can sit up' and 'Won't it be wonderful when she can walk' and 'Won't it be wonderful when she can read so I don't have to read to her.' And so, to a degree I was wishing her life away, because I was impatient in that regard. I was very loving and caring and warm and affectionate, but I missed out, I think, when looking back, on watching her development, because I was too ignorant and unaware of those sort of things, and when I saw how my daughter was with her daughter, it even more so came to me how much I missed out through being too immature.

How old was Charlie when you married him?


And so, what kind of an economic base did you have for marriage?

Well, we had just what all other working people had. He was in uniform at the time, like he was in the same Labour Company as my father was, at the time. And so, that was what, five shillings a day or whatever it was. But after Leonie was born, the war came to an end, and then he had to go out into the world and he had no trade. One of the chaps in the army, he came out, opened up a little case factory, and Charlie went to work for him in his case factory. And luckily, after five years, we got a housing commission house, which was an absolute joy. I could have kissed every floorboard in that house, because up until the time we moved in there we were living with relatives and in rooms, and it was very, very, unpleasant at times. And so getting this house was just so wonderful. And so I was a housewife, stayed at home with my daughter. I didn't have any choice anyway, because there was no child care, it was only half a day a week. And I wouldn't give her to anyone else to look after. I mean, I suppose I could have chosen that as an alternative and go to work, but I wouldn't do that.

At that time, were there many women who would have gone to work anyway?

No — not a great lot. But there was still terrible hardships there. And living in a commission area, everyone that came in, came in with children. And there was poverty there. And very few of the women went to work. But as soon as she was reaching school age I had it all planned that I was off to work. And the day she started school, I started working in another factory. And in the clothing trade. And I used to have to travel all the way from West Heidelberg to Fitzroy by public transport. And in those days it meant changing from a bus to a tram and the same coming home. And it was a long distance. And I did it, and those days, because of the full employment and the desperate need to get people to work, they needed people so badly in the factories, I was able to work part time. But it was still a tremendous effort to do that.

Now, could you describe what life was life in a housing commission development at that period, just post-war, with working-class people who'd moved out into the housing commission, with children, and so on. Could you just describe what life was like and what their aspirations were, what it was like for the women, what it was like for the men, and what they were focused on as the things that they valued and hoped for from life?

Well firstly, for the men, there were very few cars. People didn't have cars in those days. And they lived a long distance away from factories and workplace and it meant a lot of travelling. And that could be a damn nuisance, because so much of your time was spent travelling to get to work, and then travelling all the way home. And my husband was in that situation. And he used to have to catch public transport to work and it was a long way, and then all the way back. So it wasn't easy for them. On the other hand, the wives were stuck at home with no money, no cars; isolated. As far as aspirations were concerned, there were almost nil. Very few women had any aspirations in those days. They just, sort of, lived day by day and did the best they could under the circumstances. There was a lot, I think, of depression. And I can remember feeling so cold, and we couldn't afford to have any heating on. And I used to wrap myself in a blanket and sit and knit or do needlework. I embroidered so many doilies, I think that there'll be enough for the next 10 generations, you know. I gave some to my daughter. I've still got them. I mean, no-one uses them these days anyway. But I had all these doilies of all sorts and even made aprons, totally covered in hand-work. I mean, you know, what a waste, for an apron, for goodness sake, you know. But these are the things, you know, that I did to fill in time. And feeling terribly isolated and depressed, just, you know, sitting there — wrapped in a blanket.

At that time, when you got married, were you relieved to be able to give up work? Did you think 'Good, I don't have to work any more'?

No, I didn't. And I went straight to work and I got a job as a waitress part-time. But I had to seek part-time work because I wanted to do the right thing as a wife and prepare my husband's tea and all that sort of thing when he got home. And I did. And I still went from job to job, because I was very dissatisfied with the different types of jobs that I had. And I went to work in a factory because I wanted to learn to sew. And it was when I went to work in this particular factory that I became pregnant. And so I worked until I was seven-and-a-half months, and by the time I finished there, I was sewing some of their best dresses, which was good because I had learnt a good skill. And so I was happy as far as that was concerned. After the baby was born and then eventually when we lived in the commission area — well, I think we moved there when Leonie was three-and-a-half, and I had to sort of travel out to work — and the jobs were just as frustrating. And even though, I mean, I could sew and I could make ladies' overcoats and blouses and dresses and all that type of thing, it becomes very mundane and routine. And I was beginning to get discontented because I found myself feeling I could have done, could be doing, something more interesting, something better. And so I'd get very bored with the jobs and I'd leave them. And then within two months I was so bored of being home, then I'd go back and get another job. And in those days, there were plenty of jobs available, so I could do it. But what was interesting is that on the one hand while I got bored with them, on the other hand it was good to have the money, because we had a home, and we needed things for the home. So I was flat out buying stuff. The first thing I can remember we had to get was a refrigerator, because we had an ice chest. And because we were both busy and forget to empty the drip tray underneath there'd be a flood all over the floor. So the very first thing we had to buy was a refrigerator. So it was the first refrigerator we had. And because we had to pay it off, everything was on hire purchase. But going to work had some meaning then, because I was helping to get things for the home. But even with that, I'd become discontented and I'd leave and then start somewhere else a few months later. And this was a pattern that was set in, you know, until eventually, through joining and being in the Communist Party I was beginning to talk to educated people and professionals and all that sort of thing, whom I'd never mixed with socially before or in any other capacity; here I was in that environment. And they encouraged me to try and get work somewhere else. And so I applied for a job as a dental nurse in a psychiatric hospital. And I was just so eager to get this job. And I actually got an interview, and I was so nervous and I still remember the superintendant interviewed me. And he did say that they preferred to have a single woman, because they wanted someone to be more or less there permanently. And I assured him that, you know, I wanted to have a permanent position. And I got the job. And I didn't find out until later, the only reason I got it was because I was the only applicant. But I was so thrilled that I landed the job. And it meant so much to me. And I was anxious to learn, and eager to work. And I can recall the day when I had to go and get my white uniform. And I put it on, because I had already been measured up for it — no, I picked it up and I raced back to the surgery and I had a wardrobe with a mirror on the door. And so I opened it up and put it on and I just felt as if I had become a human being. Even having that white uniform added something to my sense of self-worth and confidence. And I felt, at last, you know, I was going to be something, and I was going to do work that was important and valuable. And it brought around a whole sort of new change in my life. Not that that was to last for very long.

But when you were working in a factory you were conscious, even though you didn't socialise with people who might have looked down on factory workers, you still knew that you weren't in a position that was respected? How did you know that?

This seems to come right from your beginning, not even in the factory. It goes well before that, you know, your family environment, the poverty, the insignificance that your parents even feel. I mean they were migrants without English, and migrants were only brought here to do the dirty work. And they very rapidly learn that. And it's something that sort of passes to the next generation, depending of course on your parents' backgrounds and social standing, education, everything else. And of course my parents were just working people, and so they brought that with them, and it gets passed on to you, unless they themselves push you because they want you to be in a different situation, which has happened a lot in more recent years. I mean, the migrants have been anxious for their children to be educated and improve their lot, you know, so they don't have to work in the type of jobs that they've had to do. But that didn't happen because my parents were in the Depression era.

How did you come to join the Communist Party?

Well, that was very interesting, really, because at that stage my husband was also in it too. And I started to organise a group of women in the locality, over the increased prices. I was so annoyed because we were struggling, everyone around in the commission area was struggling, to make ends meet. And the price of gas and electricity were both going up. And people just didn't know how they were going to cope. So I went round and door-knocking, you know, to try and get a group of women together to see if we couldn't do something about it. And we started to meet and we started writing letters— to the gas board and the electricity board and all these places — protesting about this increase in prices. And sooner or later, you know, we got a doctor to come and talk to us on the health scheme, different people to come and talk to us. And then eventually we ran out of ideas and so the whole thing faded away. But in the meantime, looking back, I think the local branch of the Communist Party felt that here was something going on that they didn't have any control over or knew nothing about. [laughs] And so two men from the local branch came and paid a visit and talked to me, and asked me if I'd like to join the Communist Party. And I said, oh yes, all right, and I signed a little paper and there and then I was a member, and that was as easy as that. And of course, when my husband came home I told him. And he said, 'Why didn't you let me join you up?' and I said, 'Because you never asked.' But it wasn't difficult, there was nothing secret about it. It was very simple really. So there I found myself a communist.

But with your husband a communist and your mother a communist, it wasn't really an unfamiliar scene to you. You make it sound quite casual that you joined. You must have known what you were doing. Did you?

Well no, not really. I hadn't given it any deep thought or anything. And — but it was a different scene where I was, because nearly all the people there were educated. And whereas in Mother's day they were all working people in Carlton, there was no educated people there, university graduates or professionals. And yet, in this branch there were. And perhaps if I'd known I wouldn't have joined. And yet going there, I felt so ignorant when I used to go to the meetings. I felt so terribly ignorant. And then, when one woman told my husband that he should teach me to speak English, I mean that really set me off, and I really went berserk. I was quite emotional about it. I mean, because I thought communism was supposed to benefit the working class, and you know, here I am a worker, and they tell my husband, who was a migrant, who didn't come here til he was 14, that he should teach me how to speak English. I was devastated. I was terribly hurt. But there were, I suppose, a handful of working-class people there but in the main they were middle class and educated people.

And these were the people who encouraged you to leave, really, the industrial proletariat and become …

… better myself.

How did that fit with the communist ideal?

Oh, there was a lot of things that were contradictory. I mean, there were communists who were in business and here they are exploiting workers in their factories and going to meetings and being great theoreticians, you know. It's like all these isms and religious organisations, it doesn't matter what the adherence and members do, as long as they say the right things and hand in the money. And it doesn't matter what they do out in the world.

But you weren't as cynical about it then. Did you feel quite idealistic about what the Communist Party could do?

Oh, very much so. I really believed, you know, that it would solve all the problems of economic disasters, it would give everybody a good life, that it would prevent wars, that people would stop killing each other and live peacefully together and I mean it was the answer to everything, and I genuinely believed it, yes, very much so. In fact, what was the alternative? I mean, you know, what was the alternative?

You felt a little intimidated and inferior to the other people in the branch. How did you deal with that?

I didn't very well. It was only after some years, because I was in the Communist Party 21 years — it was only when I started to think about women's position in society and at that stage I was beginning to get crapped off with the Party …

… Can I go back, though, to when you first joined and you were going to your local branch and they were telling you that you'd have to learn to speak better English and this sort of thing. I mean, could you describe what that was like for a working person to be in that situation, and how you dealt with it. Did it make you seek education? What did that do? So could I ask you that question again?

Well, it didn't make me seek education, but they had great libraries of books. And I was forced to look at myself, and recognise that I was ignorant. And there was so much I didn't know and that I had to learn. And so I started to borrow books from these comrades, from their extensive collections. And I started off with books like Charles Dickens and Scott [Sir Walter] and they were all novels. But they were novels, they were a full book. Even to read a full book requires discipline and it's a process that you have to learn to develop because I was only used to short little articles in magazines, and prolonged reading takes — it's a new form that you have to learn. And so, I started to do that, and I started to lose myself into these books, just like I had done with the romance books earlier. And I'd start reading one after another. I wanted to know desperately; I wanted to learn so much. And I went to classes in the Communist Party too, and learnt about economics, and what was happening in the world and how capitalism worked and how socialism was going to work. And all these things. I can remember on one occasion, when I disagreed with someone, and they said in a very cultured voice, 'Zelda, how can you disagree with Marx?' I didn't even know I was but anyway [laughs], I can remember being upset when she said that. And I said something to the effect that I disagree with Stalin too, if I don't agree with him. Why shouldn't I? Or something like that. And the tutor was very good. And he immediately came in and said, 'Look, it's important to say if you don't — what you really feel and think and it's important to disagree if that's what you believe. We don't want yes people in the Communist Party.' And I don't think he ever knew what he did for me, because saying what he did made me feel so much better because at the time when she said that, you know, I felt like crawling under the mat on the floor. And so this is the sort of thing that I had to put up with, but I think I stayed there despite that, because I felt I had so much to learn, and that I could learn from these people. And that's one of the reasons I think I stayed there.

And so you were getting an education from the Communist Party; in a way that was where you really started getting your education. What was happening on the work front with the dental nursing?

Well, that was interesting, because I had all these great hopes and I thought, 'Oh, this is something.' I was really going to do something important here. I mean, you know, I'll be doing something to help people. And the dentist that was employed at this hospital was a man who'd only come there to work out his retirement. He only had a few years before he was going to retire. And so I didn't mix a filling in the six years, five or six years, he was there.

Didn't the patients at the psychiatric hospital need fillings?

Of course they did, but if it was too bad he extracted. And of course what happened was that the nursing staff used to hop into me, and tell me how they felt about this. But I used to say to them, you know, I'm only the nurse. I have nothing to do with this, you know. If you've got any complaints, you take them elsewhere. And I became very disillusioned with the whole scene, because no-one said anything to him, and he stayed there til he retired. And then, fortunately, they got a young dentist in. He was wonderful. And so he encouraged me to go and do a nursing training course, dental nursing training course, which they had just started for part-time nurses, took place at night at the Dental Hospital. And so, I immediately went there and did a dental nurses' course, and learnt the skills that a dental nurse required, and what's more they were practiced at the hospital and it was really great.

Now, in the general environment of the — well, they were called mental hospitals then, weren't they —mental hospital where you were working, did you get involved at all in union matters?

Yes, I did get involved in union matters and that was an education of my life because I believed in the trade union movement, and I still do, despite the problems, I approached — I made inquiries and found out who the shop steward was, and told him I wanted to join the union. And would he please let me know when the next meeting was on, general meeting. And I waited and waited and waited and waited. And I kept sort of asking him, you know, 'You haven't forgotten to tell me when the next meeting is on?' Oh, no, no. And ultimately he told me about this meeting that was on. And it was the first meeting that the union had had for 18 months. And it was called because there were three vacancies on the executive of the union and they needed to be filled. And so they called this meeting to fill these vacancies. I didn't know it at the time but I found out later that there wasn't even a quorum there. And to add insult to injury, we had to elect three people to go on the executive. Now, I'd never been to a meeting before, and it covers the whole state of Victoria. And here I was, I had to vote for three people. How could I vote for people I didn't even know? And I told them this, you know — I found out in the meantime they were supposed to have quarterly meetings -- and I explained that I've come here to this meeting, and I've got to vote for three people, but I don't even know you, except for the shop steward from my hospital was the only one I knew. And it just wasn't good enough, that the rules say that you have to have quarterly meetings and you should start doing this. Of course, they began to realise that they had someone in their midst who was going to push them. And I did this. And the battle was on. And it sort of was like they saw me as the enemy, and they ultimately brought busloads of people to the meetings from all over the place to attend the meetings, and [when] we finished up it wasn't unusual to have sort of hundreds at a meeting. But what happened was, at that stage there was the big problems in Victoria with the DLP and Catholic Action and all that type of thing was going on at the time. And they controlled the union.

And you were seen as a communist infiltrator?

Oh, I'm sure I was, even though I never said anything and I never said I was a communist. But I remember this shop steward saying to me, 'But you want the members to control the union.' And I said, 'Yes. It's their organisation.' He said, 'But that's communism.' And I just sort of looked at him and I said, Well, it's their organisation. Surely they must have a control of what happens there.' 'Oh, no,' he said, 'it's the executive that has to control it.' And so they used all their skills to retain power over the union. And they did nothing. And we had to force them to do everything even when, for example, the nursing staff were entitled to so many uniforms a year. And you would think that would be routine in government-run institutions. I mean, it was written down in laws and rules but you had to fight to even get the uniforms that they were supposed to be entitled to. You had to fight all the way. And that was something I was shocked at. I'd always worked for sort of small, private enterprise before and you know you've always got to hassle with the boss. But when I started to work for the government I really thought it would be straight down the line and they would always do the right thing. That shows you how naive I was. But I soon learnt. And the battle was on and so you're fighting the government on the one hand, because they won't do anything, and then you were fighting the union because they wouldn't do anything either. And so the battle was really on.

What union was it?

It was the Hospital Employees' Union, number two branch. Number one branch was general hospitals and number two branch was the psychiatric hospitals.

And was that union executive, were they Catholic Action Group people?

… Controlled.

... controlling it? So you actually were a communist infiltrator, weren't you?

Oh yes, as far — I wasn't [an] infiltrator because I wasn't in the union and they wouldn't let me get in. Not that I had any ambitions. That's — see that's another interesting factor. I wasn't interested in getting on the executive or holding a position in the union because I really felt that I was incapable of holding such a responsible position, which is very interesting. And yet, when I looked at some of these people, they were such dumbos, you know — a blind elephant could have done a better job. And yet, I still didn't have the confidence. So I always fought them and made them work on behalf of the members. Mind you, I couldn't have done this if there wasn't any discontent on the job, because there was tremendous discontent on the job, and with the union. And it's only because the people who were discontented came to the union meetings that made the changes possible. I mean, I gave them every assistance and there were others who came in and started fighting as well. So I just didn't do this alone. No-one can do anything alone. And so the members got more interested in their own organisation and started to play a more active role. And it was only when someone criticised me for always being an attacker, 'you never stand for a position', that forced me then to nominate, knowing full well they wouldn't let me there anyway. But at least I had taken that step. And I did, I nominated for a position and they — of course they defeated me. And so I never, ever got on the executive. And I knew they wouldn't allow that.

How many women were on the executive at the time?

There were two women and they were both DLP Catholic Action. One of them knew so little about unions she asked at a general meeting how you went about getting I think it was toilet rolls in a ward or something to that effect. I mean, you know, that's how ignorant she was. But she did what they wanted her to do and that's all — the only reason she was there for.

How many men were on the executive?

I can't remember the exact number on the executive, but I would have thought there would have been about 11.

I'm just wondering, there would have been mostly women employed in psychiatric hospitals at that time? Were there?

Oh, no. It was about 50/50, because all psychiatric hospitals at that stage were half male, half female. And so you had the nursing staff on both sides dealing with their particular area. And in my hospital, I became the shop steward for all the female staff. And that was all the female staff apart from the administration. Because it was what they call an industrial union. In other words, the union covered the whole industry apart from the administration.

How long were you at that hospital?

I worked there for 15 years.

And as an agitator in the union, in that 15 years, what were the things that you feel that you accomplished?

Well, I saw the union come from nothing to an active organisation. And the staff were at a point where they were prepared to fight for what they wanted. And this was the most important step of all. I never at any stage took up equal pay as I should have. In fact, I never saw myself at that stage as having any individual problems as a woman. And when I think back, I think 'oh my god', you know. But at that stage I fought totally for conditions irrespective. I can remember — and rightly so — standing up and saying that men should be able to retire at 60, the same as women did. Because I saw a definite deterioration in the last five years in the health of men on that job. I was very aware of it. And I was pushing for men to have the choice to retire at 60 as well as women. But I never saw women's individuals problems as something to fight for. And that sort of came later.

What did Charlie think of your union activism?

Well, Charlie never prevented me from doing anything I wanted to do in that regard — my involvement, whether it was political or social or industrial. And he always was supportive. And he was active in the union himself because at that stage he was working in one of the hospitals as a painter. And so he had been very active in it too until I encouraged him to go on and be educated, which he did, and finished up leaving the hospital and becoming a teacher. But while there he was always supportive.

You were at the mental hospital for 15 years. Why did you leave?

Part of my duty was to go two days a week to a retarded children's centre. I spent three days at an adult psychiatric hospital and two days at a retarded children's centre. And of course, I'd been going there 15 years. And I reached a stage where I was beginning to lose patience with these children. Now, some of these children were twice my weight but, of course, they were retarded. And I had to fight with them in the chair, and some of the littlies would wet and I'd have to clean it all up. And I was just beginning to get tired of this. And I thought, oh, this is no good. Also, added to that, is my marriage had broken up. As a single woman again — this happened when I was 37 —living alone out in suburbia wasn't in any way positive for me. I needed to be closer to the city where there was more life and more things happening that I could go to as a single woman. I had to change my whole way of life. So between my personal situation, living situation, and losing patience with these children, I thought it would be better for me to undertake a total change and that meant going back to live in Carlton if possible, and changing my job and getting a job elsewhere.

Why had your marriage broken up?

I think there were many factors to this. We were both married very young and a relationship developed like as if we grew up together. And what happened was we sort of became like a sister and a brother. And I personally, anyway, reached a stage where I felt as if we'd given each other all there was to give and there didn't seem to be anything else left. And we drifted apart. In fact, the whole thing became very boring. We were polite and respectful, but it became boring and there was no sort of life or vivacity or anything left in it. And whereas I would have found it more difficult to go because of insecurity, Charlie wasn't. And so he left.

Did he talk about it much before he went?

No, no. He didn't talk about leaving, no. I just found a note on the table to say he'd gone. And I was extremely devastated. And I was frightened. I was very, very, frightened as to how I was going to manage. I had never, ever, been on my own. I'd gone straight from sort of childhood into marriage, and so I never knew what it was to be alone.

What do you think you were frightened of?

I don't really know looking back. I think, possibly, it's because I didn't know how I was going to cope. Now 'cope' covers a big sphere — in which area I'm not sure. But I was frightened, I suppose basically, of being alone. And yet looking back I was such a strong person anyway; in a sense sort of contradictory. But this is what happens to people, you know, human beings. And that's the situation I was in. And luckily at the hospital there was only one psychiatrist that I could approach. And he was a little deformed man who had been in a concentration camp in Germany, and by all accounts of Hollywood standards, he would have been considered a very ugly little man. And he was the one that I could approach and he was really lovely in being supportive to me. And he started telling me about his marriages. [laughs] And he really bucked me up and made me laugh, and he was really wonderful. But all I wanted, really, and all I went to him for was because I wanted some sleeping tablets, because I was so distressed I just couldn't sleep. For several nights I hadn't slept at all, and I knew I couldn't keep going if I didn't sleep. And he wouldn't give me the sleeping tablets of course until he found out what the problem was, which is understandable. And then he, having spoken to me, knew I wasn't going to sort of do away with myself or anything like that. So he gave me the tablets. But he said, quite clearly, 'You won't need them for long. You'll be right.' But he was really wonderful.

You said that you'd encouraged Charlie to educate himself. In what way did you do that?

Well he, like me, and like most working people, was very dissatisfied with his job, and unhappy. And he had far more capability than the job that he was doing. But having come here at 14 and never having gone to school in Australia, he felt very inadequate to the task. And so I was very supportive in encouraging him to go. And at that stage it was possible to do your studies at night, which he did; he started. But there were about three other men we knew who were working-class men who also were doing the same thing at the time. And so they were supportive to each other as well. And they all finished up becoming teachers, the three of them. And Charlie was one of them.

Primary school teachers? [INTERRUPTION]

… So what kind of education did Charlie get?

[end of tape]

Proceed to Tape 3