Such a couple were my Uncle Doogie and Aunt Janet. I could never understand just where we were related but they were childless and took an interest in me. I did not complain. Aunt Janet was a generous person who I knew treated me with affection and Uncle Doogie treated me as a mate. In fact he often called me his mate. But this was mostly when we were alone. In public he referred to me as his Cobber.
One of my earliest memories are of me sasying “Are we Cobbers”. He must have started asking me this when I was quite young.
He was the only person I knew who used this phrase. He had been in the First World War and had apparently picked up the saying in the trenches.
Uncle Doogie liked to go fishing. He had a three hook licence. But he liked to cheat a bit and would attache another line on a special stick. This had to be a piece of dead stick from a dead tree or a dead branch on a live tree. Its colour was always grey. It had be a medium sized stick. My task was to get these sticks. I would climb trees and break the dead sticks off the branches. He would pick the best one and give the second best to me to use as my rod. He would put his in a camouflaged spot in the bank with line attached and give me the second dead stick with a small line attached for me to fish with. His dead stick would always stay in the river overnight.
Once I was with him when he was telling a friend that he had just bought a new rod and was describing its virtues when a thought struck me. I interrupted and asked if I could have his old one. He looked at me and said
“Are we Cobbers”.
For some reason this took me aback. I didn't know what to say. I said yes but I didn’t get his old rod.
Aunt Janet was a member of lots of groups. She was Secretary of the Church Committee. She was in the CWA. She was in the RSL Auxiliary. She ran the Masonic Auxiliary. She kept an immaculate house. She liked having people to visit her and stay. She had lots of people from Melbourne visit her. I liked visiting her when she had people staying. I could always observe and overhear interesting things. She knew lots of important local people. She was friends with the wives of many prominent people in Wangaratta. She liked to take me to cultural things. Libraries. Concerts. Houses - where she would talk to other grownup women. I did not complain. I liked snooping in others houses. I made sure I had a good look at everything when she was talking.
She had a certain status in society. People respected her. Her good opinion was important.
My father once let a poor family use a hall that he was in charge of to have their daughters wedding reception/ breakfast. The wedding was a genuine shotgun affair where it was on record the two families involved had spent one full weekend together deciding which brother would marry the very pregnant girl. I was there because my father had to oversee the proceedings to ensure that the hall was kept intact. Amongst the guests there was a lot of smirking behind hands and a lot of nudge nudge wink wink talk. I didn't quite understand what the joke was but I could see it generated a lot of talk about the girl. Even at my young age I felt shame and sorrow for her.
Towards the end the proceedings telegrams were read out. These all contained messages of silly humour and innuendo. Then unexpectedly a telegram was read out from my Aunt Janet. It was addressed to the girl directly and it complimented her on her marriage. It wished her well for the future. My Aunt said she could only envy the girl on the journey she was embarking on. She said she was happy for her and looked forward to what achievements the girl would have in the future. My Aunt said that she would be contacting her and having her call for tea when the girl returned from her honeymoon. She did not use the word bride but mentioned the girl by name.
This somehow changed the whole atmosphere of the situation. Suddenly the girls reputation was enhanced. It was saying the girl should be taken seriously. It did not matter that it was shotgun wedding and a dodgy one at that. Silly humour was suddenly irrelevant. The girl deserved respect. My Aunt was giving it to her. She was telling the people smirking behind their hands they should have felt ashamed. Suddenly I could see they did. Everyone knew Aunt Janet.
My Uncle Doogie was in WW1. He pronounced Ypres as Wipers. It was said, however, that he enhanced his war records. He did have a reputation as a skite. After all he never shut up about his exploits in WW2 where he organised the local Home Guard. And we had all heard that he had taken part in the celebrations over the lifting of the Siege of Mafeking.
Or so we thought we knew it all.
In an electronic age where records cannot be covered up - long after someones death - complete details are available for anyone to see if you know where to look. Such are Uncle Doogies. You can even look up the records of the hospital where he was treated prior to his being invalided home. They are very specific. He was first shot in the arm near the elbow. He was patched up and sent back into the line. He was then shot in the head. He was repatriated to England where he spent some time in hospital recovering. When he recovered he was sent back to the front line where he was shot at close quarters in the leg above the knee. The wound was fairly severe and he was repatriated home to Australia just before the Armistice.
He never mentioned any of this. This was new to me.
But records being records they can include some unedifying details. Buried towards the end there is one page devoted to the treatment he received for a sexually transmitted disease. I wont say what but it is rumoured that several leading politicians have had the same affliction.
This could have contributed to my Aunt and Uncle having no children. I just don't know.
70 years after these exploits this completed my childhood memory.