I recall that I was a four-year old child and that my mother was in the St. Arnaud hospital dying of cancer. Her sister, Molly Walsh, with whom I was temporarily staying, took me to the hospital to pay a visit. January 1937. On Mum’s bedside was a jar of black and white humbug lollies. As an exploring four-year old, I could not keep my eyes off them and made it obvious. Mum noticed, and whether it was in exasperation or not, said “alright! You can have one”. A poignant memory, but the only memory I have of my mother! She died on the 31st day of that same month.
On Mum’s death there was a shuffling of my siblings to the care of relatives. My six-year old brother, Basil, and I, remained at home with my older brother Pat (16 years old) and my father.
Dad was out in the paddocks and had the responsibility of giving Basil and me a bath. There was no water connected to the bathroom and Pat had boiled water in the copper in the wash house, way out the back. He poured the hot water into the bath, then, telling Baz and me to ‘stand clear’, went to the outside tank to get some cold water. Baz ignored his advice and, saying “watch this”, leant over the bath to show off. To my horror he fell into the steaming water and scalded himself severely. He carried the scars for the rest of his life. Pat has been haunted by the memory.
Dad’s sisters then came to the fore and both Basil and I were housed with Aunty Mary until other arrangements could be made. With the aid of another sister, Elizabeth (Mother Augustine of the Sisters of Mercy in Ballarat), it was decided that we both should attend Villa Maria, the nuns’ primary boarding school for young boys, in Ballarat East. This was a realistic decision. But Basil and I didn’t appreciate the move. We, and in particular Basil, found the nuns not to be loving people; caring perhaps, but not loving. Sisters of Mercy, what crap!
I believe that the aunts, in taking us away from Dad’s care, had placed us among, in today’s terms, the realms of the “Stolen Generation”.
There were, undeniably, some good days at Villa, but I am sure that both of us really hated most of the time we spent there.
After seven and a half years at Villa I was able to win a scholarship which provided me with four years accommodation and secondary education at St. Patrick’s College, also in Ballarat.
In my long lifetime, I have never been able to find the right words to describe the emptiness of a life without a mother. Having finished my education at St. Pat’s, it remained for me to fill the subsequent void, and I quote… “…whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, que sera, sera!”
However, I feel that I accomplished much and have coped ably.
My childhood, now, is nothing but a memory.
27 May 2021