|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: November 15, 1995
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
How would you describe your relationship with your father?
Well that is ... as a role model to me in his ways. Very quiet, unassuming sort of man. Worked every day of the week, nearly, and on a Sunday he played cricket, he captained a cricket team at St Peters for many years. And somewhere amongst the family they've got a hat-trick for bowling and stuff. And cricket blazers, I think, gave ... went to one of the cousins of mine, after he died, who was named after Dad, his name was Henry. He had a surly sort of expression, like real stern, but he was a fun guy when you got to know him, you know. I think all the pressures of him and Mum's break-up and that left him sad and mad, in his own way, 'til he found Mum Joy and a new life started for him again. 00:02:02:21
Do you think he really loved your mother and missed her ... ?
Oh yes. I know he did. I found ... I found ... when I was only a teenager up there in Bonalbo, I rung once to get his shaving gear out of his suitcase one Christmas, I found this photograph of this beautiful woman sitting there with a big white picture hat on and sitting on a stool, and I looked at her and I said, gee she's beautiful, to myself, you know, and I must have been taking so long to get this stuff because I was busy looking at the photograph and I turned it over and it had on the back of the photograph, ‘You are my sunshine, Love Evelyn.’ And I knew it was my mother. And just then Dad come in and caught me, didn't he? And so, he said, ‘Couldn't you find my shaving gear?’ And I said, ‘No, I've found this photo — this is our mother, she's beautiful, Dad.’ And he said, ‘Yes, she was beautiful. Let's put the lid on the ...’ — and never said no more. But he'd never talk about her to us, you know. It was only when they came in contact with one another, when they used to have the blues when we first came to Sydney in 1949, as I said. But afterwards they became good friends, you know. And I know he did care for her. And she for him, too.
Was he always there for you?
Always. He was the only one that was there, always there. He worked and supported us and looked after us, you know. And even when I went away to the bush, when I was having the babies and working up there, he'd send boxes of ... of clothing for the little ones and for myself. Up to the nearest railway station. I'd write to them, you know. Because he knew we were living in hardship in the bush. And that, and struggling, and working from place to place. Always be a letter come along from Dad and Mum Joy. Go and pick up a parcel, you know, there'd be a great big box full of all this ... all the goodies for the kids and for myself. He was always a good father. Yeah.
And how did you lose him?
Well, Dad had a heart attack. He had a couple, as a matter of fact. The second one took him. He had a clot in the heart valve.
How old was he?
That was young for that to happen.
Too young, but the stressful life that he lived through the break up of him and Mum, and struggling to keep us kids going. He used to ... at that place he worked, Henderson Federal Springs in Alexandria, for 10 years he worked, and he used to lift a blacksmith anvil so that white men could win money on just to show how strong he was.
They bet on him?
They bet that he could lift it. And he did, you know. And ... and to the detriment of his health. I guess that would have happened. You know? But he was a good man.
When you got news that he was dead, what effect did that have on you?
Well, in my own turn, it sort of like knocked the guts out of me. Here I was a woman that had these, all these children, and I went away so I wouldn't bring shame on Dad, and to hear of his death two months after he was gone, you know, it knocked me for a loop ... [interruption ... Yeah ... you don't see him very often, but look at this. They go and look around, check it out to see if it's been looked after. Well it looks pretty good to me. Mmm ... Now where do we go again?]
I'll ask you a question.
So when the news came through to you that your father had died, what effect did that have on you?
Well, in one way it sort of knocked the guts out of me. You know. Because I left Sydney in the first place when I was a young unmarried woman. To go away to the bush and I hadn't been back all those years. And to lose Dad like that, you know. I mean it was two months after he'd been dead and buried 'til I found this out. It really knocked me for a loop. You know? So, me and Peter had to sell the car to come back to Sydney. Sell the car and we caught a train from Mundingburra, got back to Sydney, went to 19 Phillip Street, Alexandria, it was, where Dad lived with Mum Joy. And stayed there, then, with her. You know? For a while.
Now it was while you were staying there that you thought you'd have to give your children up?
Do you think the loss of your father made you lose heart for a little while?
Oh, yeah. Yeah. 'Cause, I mean, in the long term he was the only person that really cared about us. You know? And he was always there for us. Always. We could count on him. He was like a pillar of strength. Always there. But it wasn't that way with Mum, you know. We never knew where she was. Or she'd never connected up, or sought us out. But he was always there. You know? And I vowed to myself that when I had children of my own I'd never leave my kids, either. Coming from a broken family.
And you never did?
Do you think one of the reasons that Peter asked you to marry him was because he felt that, he kind of sensed that you needed a bit of stability?
I wouldn't know. He might have been feeling a bit lonely. Who knows what he was thinking, you know? But it came in just at the right time. For me, it meant that I didn't have to give my children away, you know, and I thought, well, being married and stable it might turn right, you know what I mean? But it didn't.
Did it turn right?
So what happened with Peter, what went wrong there?
Well, we went back to Coonabarabran, where we went back to take Mum Rube's daughter home, Brenda. And we stayed in Coonabarabran and there was a few jobs around, but nothing after a while, so he left me, as I said, in a tent, a leaky tent, on the Gunnedah Hill while he came back to Sydney looking for more work. And, just never came back. But then again, his father was a fly in the ointment, he disapproved of me, being a woman that had many children by other men, marrying his son, you know? Yeah.
So had you had enough of men by then?
Well, running ... getting pretty sick of all the, all the ... oh, what can I say? All the not ... not caring stuff, like, you know, looking after and providing ... being a provider and stable. I think this is what I saw in my father. He was always, as I said, the standing strong one that always provided, and there was nothing like that in any of these men. The only thing that they did good was plant me with my children, you know?
How many did you have with Peter?
Oh, I had two with Peter, that's Ellen and Pauline. Ellen was born in 1960 and it was the same year that my Dad died. She was born in April, on the 22nd, my father died in February of 1960. You know? Yeah. And Pauline was born in 1962, because I was pregnant with Pauline when my husband left to come back to Sydney to look for the work and never came back, you see, yeah.
And that was the last you saw of him?
Yeah. For many, many years. When I did finally come back to Sydney and got a housing commission home of my own, he showed up 16 years after and wanted to ... wanted to have another go at getting back together and I showed him the door. I said, ‘How dare you,’ you know? Well, it wasn't ... let go of some swear words I can tell you. Showed him the door and said git.
Now there you were with eight children by this stage in a leaky tent and nobody there ...
Seven camp dogs to warn me if anybody come. I used to sleep with a butcher's knife under my pillow ... [laughs] ... My toilet consisted of three pine trees with a hessian bag all around. And a pan that the council left and changed one day a week, and an umbrella on a branch in case it rained, so you wouldn't get wet ... [laughs] ...
And were you all in one tent?
Ah, we were until I managed to get another tent. There were two army tents that I bought off the butcher up in town. And I paid some of the young men from the mission, which was 200 yards away over the road, over the road from where the track was — bush track, you know, coming up on the back of the mission — and I paid them I think it was about 10 dollars or something like that to put it up for me, and they rigged these two tents up, and the first wind storm that came around blew it right down on the top of us, their arms and legs, kids sticking out, trying to get out from underneath the tent, you know, and I went and cut a big branch off a tree and I went down and I got ... these two young fellas, so they saw me coming, I said are all ... fell down on top of us, well you get up here and fix this and you know, they run. But anyhow, two of the old fellas there said, come on missus ... we’ll fix it up for you, and they set the tents up beautiful. They even put drainholes down the side with tin near so that if it rained, the water would run down and not come inside the tent. It was ... put it real good, it was, you know? Yeah. But oh dear ... [laughs] ... Never saw those two young fellas for a good while there. They kept a long way from my tent.
And how did you manage for money?
Well, in those days I had the endowment for the children and nothing else, and no support of course coming in. I issued a maintenance order for Langford, but they never caught up with him, anyhow, for years and years, so nothing come in there and we had to go to the police station to fill out forms to get the dole because of this, you see. And with the endowment book, I could sign the endowment book after one, two and three months in advance, and you'd just get foodstuffs from the shop, and they'd hold the book that I'd already signed and collect the money, so I'd pay for my bill, you know, there. And with the food order that you got from the police, you'd get so much groceries, and then you'd get one little order for a bit of fresh meat from the butcher and it was mostly on the cheap cuts, you know? Like neck bones and stuff like that to make soup and such.
So you got good at cooking cheap meat ...
Oh yeah. And used to ... I used to set rabbit traps on the hill there. I used to set rabbit traps to catch a rabbit. And besides, I'll ... poor old Mum Rube' s old husband, Harold, he used to be a rabbit trapper and every time he finished his rabbit run he'd bring in rabbits for us, so there was always plenty of that stuff, you know? Sometimes the boys would go hunting for roos and that there, too. So there was always kangaroo tail, to make a big soup and stuff.
So the kids never went hungry?
Perhaps you'd taken on the role that your father'd had ...
Somebody's got to do it.
Did you ever get maintenance from any of the men?
No. Never. Never got maintenance. Never ever.
So had you finished with men?
Well, there was another big, tall handsome fella walked past my tent, you see, and waved at me.
And you were a goner?
I was in love again ... [laughs] ... One day I was out, washing outside of the old tent, you see, you got your washtub sitting up on drums so that I could reach the wash, and I could see this fella going past on the road, going up to Mum Rube's, up the top of that hill, and he waved, and I thought, gee that looks like Sammy, but it wasn't Sammy. Anyhow, I never took no notice and I'd ... by then I'd had Pauline and she was the baby and she had a bit of a heavy chest, so later on in the afternoon I trotted up the hill, got the biggest ones to look after the bub while I run up to borrow some camphorated oil off Brenda to rub Pauline's chest with, see? And Pauline ... Brenda's living in the little tin shanty too, see, her and her husband Reggie with their little baby, and next minute this big, tall fella walks in there, knocks and walks into their house and she introduced me, ‘Oh, this is Lance Marriott. This is brother Bruce's friend,’ you know? I shook hands, ‘Hello, how are you?’ and then we had a talk and a yarn and she gave me the camphorated oil and I was just about to leave and he said, ‘Goodbye, shorty’ and ... 'cause I'm only short, you know, and rubbed, patted me on the head, and he's about six foot two. I slapped his hand away from me and I said, ‘Don't you dare manhandle me!’ And walked off in a huff, see? Next day, who's coming down the road carrying an axe? He said, ‘I didn't mean to be insulting, missus, I heard you were living down here by yourself with the kids, could I cut some wood for you?’ And away he went, I said, ‘Okay.’ I give him a mug of tea. Before long he came back each night with his guitar and sat at the open fire and serenaded me, didn't he? And all the kids from the mission would come up and sit around listening and singing with the music. And I was gone again. But that was the last one. Definitely the last one ... [laughs] ... Yeah.
Did you have any children with Lance?
I had one child to Lance.
Was he more reliable?
Well, he loved my kids, I told you I was a sucker for anyone who loved my kids. And he was, he was, he was a good man. Oh, and we came back to Sydney after we started living together and Pauline was still a baby, because I had to have an operation from all that gutbusting and scrub, I had a ruptured navel myself. And it used to come out like that, you know?
That was from fencing?
From heavy lifting. And of course having babies one after another. The old people used to say to me, ‘You're a woman, you shouldn't be doing this hard work.’ But nobody else was going to do it for me. They were my kids and my responsibility, you know, and somebody had to do it. Couldn't just let it, let it go. And so I came to Sydney to have that operation because they couldn't perform it up there. The day we were leaving to come to Sydney, we had our ... we ... the train ... I think the train come in about 2 o'clock in the afternoon and in the morning there was Neddy my old mate helping me make sandwiches for the trip, and Lance was there shooting the dogs and burying them because we couldn't leave them there to starve. I gave all my camp ovens and cookware and tent stuff to Brenda because she was only in a tin shed and it'd be falling down soon, she'd need something else anyhow. And on to Sydney we came. And by that time, Mum Joy had left Phillip Street [in] Alexandria and was living across from the Big E, the Empress Hotel on top of an old coffee shop, and that's where we stayed with her until we got a house in Ann Street in Surry Hills, and Lance got a job on the Water Board. But first me in the hospital to have the operation and my Mum come to see me, all dressed up, beautiful she was. When I was in hospital, giving me ice to suck because I was so dry in the throat. I was only there for about eight days and they sent me home. Everything fine. As soon as I got back home to Mum Joy's place, between her and Lance looking after the kids, then all the kids were come down with measles and I never slept for a week. After coming out of hospital. And you got the laundry downstairs, we just had to wash everything, you know, and all these sick kids ... [laughs] ... I really don't know how I survived, you know, I tell you. Good spirits up there looking after me. And still doing it. But oh ... and from there, then my Auntie had a house that she was leasing over in Ann Street, Surry Hills, and she said, ‘You and Lance need a place for your family and he's working, right,’ so away we went and saw the lady about the house and she just signed the lease over to us, and we moved in. It was a three-bedroom place, Lance working on the Water Board, I went back into the machining and Ann Street in Surry Hills, there at the big Silk Knit factory making Reuben F Scarf suits for a living. And that's how we lived.
So things began to look up.
Began to look up and with both of us working, and had a cousin come and stay there in the back room, so that we could look after the littlies while I worked, you know? Yeah ...
And did the kids settle in at school there?
The kids settled in at school, went to Cleveland Street school.
So how long did that go on for? Did anything go wrong? I'm getting hopeful that things will get good for a while.
... [laughs] ... Oh, well. It went alright until I sort of found him out with my best mate.
With your best mate?
Mmm. And here I was a silly old woman that trusted people too much. That's the biggest problem with my life. Is I trust people. And take people as I find them, if they're good to me and blah blah blah. But there's a lot of ulterior motives in lots of people's minds, too, I guess, the same with everybody. You don't really know what they're like until you really live with them then you find out. You know? And I was real naive, I guess. But anyhow. When I found that out, it was the beginning of the end, even though we made friends afterwards. I caught her out at the Big E, at the Empress, and I pulled her out and then I belted her and they carted her away in an ambulance. You don't get broken knuckles like that for fighting for nothing, you know? And I was a woman that was taught Christian ways, to turn the other cheek. But there's times in your life that you can't walk away from so much shit being put on you, you know? So I hit back. You know? It was the first time I'd ever raised my hand in anger to another human being.
So you hit her, not him?
No, I belted her. I got him later ... [laughs] ... You're having fun with this, aren't you?
How did you get him later?
Oh well, when he's tall, the way's to bring him down with a saucepan or a frypan ... [laughs] ...
Was he ever violent to you?
He was the sort of man that'd ... would like to be dressed up and lovely, if we went out together. I'd dress up and there was days I was nice, good looking young woman, you know? Put the make-up on and the perfume and go. The nicer I looked the better he'd like it, he was so proud, he'd stick his chest out, but you let some man come up and put his arm around me, then it'd be on for young and old. He was jealous, you know? But it was alright for me to be the nice one doing the right thing and being faithful and truthful and while he was doing the other thing, you see? Was a ... I must of had a sign put on my forehead from way back then, ‘Fool,’ you know? This is what it made me feel like in the end. And you think to yourself that, hey, what's wrong with me? Then after a while, a good while of thinking things out, what'd I do wrong? I realised it wasn't me. It was them. You know? It was them. 00:23:12:15
But it took you a long while?
It took me a long while, yeah. It took me a long while.
It hasn't turned me against men. There's still ... some good ones there somewhere. It's only just that I don't have the chance to get around and socialise and look see any more.
Did the men who were with you ever knock you about?
Yeah. We had our fights and rows. Lance was pretty good with his fists. Well, as I said, I could bring him down.
Hit him on the head with a saucepan or frying pan, whichever was the closest thing. As soon as he went down, to my size.
Were you always successful in stopping your beatings?
Well, not always successful. I ended up with the worst end of the stick, you know?
When was the worst time?
Just being scarred about, I had ... being hit in the mouth and broke my dentures and I'd had a top plate then and it cut my lip wide open. I've had chairs, flagons, and even a guitar over my head at one time or other. So I'm still lucky I've got a head even ... [laughs] ...
What made him do it?
Drink. Violence. And his lifestyle, too. You know? Where he comes from. I think it leaves them with scars.
Where did he come from?
Down the grape growing country, down Wentworth. His mother ... he lost his mother through cancer and his brother ... my youngest fella's named after his brother, Jefferey. He died of cancer too. He was only 20. And he was on the road, too, when he was only a bit of a kid. Only 13 or 14. Round and round looking for work.
Did you have any children with Lance?
Lance ... I had one child, and his name is Lance Jefferey, but he never refers to himself as that, his name's Jefferey. He didn't like to use the other name. That's his second name. In actuality it's his first name.
And that was ... was that then soon after you got together with Lance?
No, no. It took about six years for me to fall pregnant and have Jefferey. I think it was nearly six, let me count it up. Pauline was born 1962, and Jefferey was born '66. But I miscarried before I had Jefferey. I lost another child.
So was Lance pleased to have a baby?
Oh, Lance was ecstatic. Yeah.
He liked kids ...
Oh yeah. He thought it was wonderful to have a son. I mean, I had eight kids normally, and the ninth by caesarean section. Because when you have your baby through like caesarean section, kids are not allowed to come into the hospital, King George V was where I had him. And so the girls and that, they're not being old enough, they used to have to put lipstick on and ... and high shoes to walk in and make out they were big teenagers, you know, so they could come to see me ... [laughs] ... And I only lasted 16 days in there and then I signed myself out because I was worried about the kids. Well, when I went home, back to 2 Fitzroy Street, Newtown, where we lived at the time, the kids were off to school, floor was scrubbed, and we had no gas but there was an open fire burning and it was great, you know.
This was Lance?
Yeah. And he loved the kids in this respect, that once there was a fella exposing himself to the kids, the girls down in the park where they used to play. Little corner park, and he just chased that fella, gave him such a thumping, you know, and dragged him off to the police station. But he was always protective of the kids. And we lasted for about, nearly 10 years, I think. Nine or 10 years, something like that.
So what led finally to breaking up with Lance?
Well, after he assaulted me that time, I'd had enough of being knocked around. And it was because I'd found him out with another woman and he was bound down to keep the peace and stay away from me. And he circled around where we were living at the time in Portland Street, Waterloo. For days on end he circled around and then he was gone. You know? And I never saw him anymore, then. And I moved from Portland Street, Waterloo up to Riley Street, Surry Hills, where my kids ... this was after the deaths of my two kids.
Tell me about that.
I lost Pearl when I was in Portland Street, Waterloo, in 1969. She made history being the first Aboriginal to dance with any Prime Minister in Australian history in 1968. It was John Gorton at the time.
How did that happen?
Well, they were having a Debs ball, which Charlie Perkins organised it when he used to be the administrator of the Aboriginal place down in Foundation, in George Street. Yeah. And with that ball, like I think there were 22 girls that were making their debut. And, gosh, didn't have any money, had a little old sewing machine that's a second-hand portable one. Went to the Smith Family and asked them did they have any white gowns and the only white one they had was a size woman's fitting and Pearl was a size eight. So I pulled that to pieces, remade it, got halfway through sewing it, pawned the machine, finished the rest by hand. Then off to the ball we went with a ticket Charles gave for me so that I didn't have to pay any money. And made headlines of her dancing with the Prime Minister. 00:30:06:04
Did you see that?
Well, when I was coming back from the toilet, I could see them dancing, and I said, ‘Who's that grey-headed old man dancing with my daughter,’ you know? They said, ‘Oh! That's the Prime Minister!’ Oh, dear ... [laughs] ... Ah, anyhow, it was a wonderful occasion, you know. She was really excited about it, my Pearl. And then in December of '69, she got hit by a car walking along the footpath. Going to the swimming pool with a transistor in her hand and a towel over her shoulder, and a taxi and a Kombi van had a collision at an intersection in back of her, the taxi hit the Kombi and the Kombi went that way and hit her up against a brick wall. And she went into a coma and she never recovered. And I buried her on Christmas Eve of 1969, and then eight months afterwards the eldest boy, Bill, with epileptic seizures. He was washing his trousers in about eight inches of water and he took a seizure and that's where I found him, but he was already dead. I pumped and gave him mouth to mouth but he was already gone. This was eight months after. So I had to go past one grave to bury the other, you know? And it really ...
Why did he have epileptic seizures?
Well, he had meningitis when he was a baby, you know, 'cause we were living at Muli Muli Mission at the time, when he was only just about two and toddling, he was, he was lucky to live. Oh, he would've grown out of it, he had just scarring of the brain tissues, 'cause I'd had brain scans and that done, and it was just scarring of the tissues, that would've grown as he got older. Yeah. And he took the seizure and he was gone. Just eight months after Pearl. And they were real close, you know, 'cause she used to always look after him when he went to school. If it ... if your brother takes a turn, go and get somebody to help, you know, 'cause your brother's sick. And she'd do that. But it was hard for him to understand too that he had epilepsy. 'Cause I used to have to fight with him to get him to take his tablet each day, you know. To control these seizures. Hmm ...
How ... you must have felt extremely puzzled that this had happened to you, to your children in one year. Did it ...
It was unbelievable to me for quite a while and I don't think you ever recover from losing ... I still count heads. And some member of the family in some way, now Ellen with the way she laughs, is David, and Nob with his talk sometimes, Bill, you know. So they're there, there's continual reminders. And not only that, with our way, there's names. I've got Jefferey David, these are grandchildren, you know? Jefferey David, Christopher David, Tyson David, I've got Roberta Pearl, Nikita Pearl, so the name lives on, you see? And these things ...
So Pearl died in this freak car accident, and Billy died from an epileptic seizure ...
And Dave from a drug overdose. In 1984, the year I picked up pen to write that first damn book, Don't Take Your Love to Town. Yeah. And I buried him on the first of December, 1984, and he was the father of two little kids, you know, through a drug overdose. So I know what it's like to lose. But life goes on.
What happened to your other children, how did they get along?
Well, with Pearl, my other kids were all the way in Melbourne, with Harold Blair at the ... they had holidays that they used to take underprivileged Koori kids down there and billet them out to families, you know, so they'd have a good Christmas with people, and my younger ones were down there when I lost Pearl, with the exception of Jefferey and Pauline, they were too little, and they were staying with a friend of mine when I buried Pearl. But the bigger ones were, you know, down there. I said, ‘No, leave them down there, don't let them have to come home to face this.’ And with David, ah, it was terrible ... Billy died.
What happened to the other children?
Well, they were mostly there, and with Pearly, Nob was brought out of the children's home for Pearly's funeral in handcuffs, from the boy's home. And I think it was in the boy's home when I lost Bill, too. And he was brought again. You know, in handcuffs. So these sort of things have a disastrous effect on my family, Nob's never been able to accept the fact of deaths in the family because they were all very close. The kids ... and I always taught them to care for each other, you know? Because I used to say to them, like that song, united we stand, divided we fall, you know? And this was how I taught them, to be that way, and they were good kids to one another, I'm real proud of them. I've had compliments from people about ... even my doc ... my family doctor. Can you believe it? They were coming home from school and it started to rain and the doctors had lived just up the corner from me in Fitzroy Street, Newtown ... pulled up to give my kids a ride home in the car, this was raining, and Pearly said, ‘No thank you, Doctor. My Mum told us we're not allowed to get in the cars with strangers.’ These are the sort of kids they were, you know? ... [laughs] ...
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