What the Butler did

A collection of writing by Brother Tony Butler

Chapter Eleven – Malcolm George Butler and Honor Delores Whittaker November 25, 2008


And so we come to the objects of our quest, the subjects of our enterprise, the descendants of all those who have gone before, Malcolm George Butler and Honor Delores Whittaker and their children, Paul, Anthony and Adele.

Honor’s happy childhood amongst the pumpkin patch and smiling young men of the boarding house, the children she delighted to nurse, and the rocksalt and molasses parties, comes to an end in 1926.  It is marked with a gift of a book from her dearly-loved parish priest, Father O’Brien: Varieties of Irish History from Ancient and Modern Sources and Original Documents by James J. Gaskin, Dublin 1869.  It is inscribed “To Honor Whittaker with best wishes for the future.  James O’Brien, Condobolin.  30th January 1926”.  (It is also inscribed “Michael Casey 1872”.) Gladys, Honor and her brother Douglas moved into 28 Gosbell Street, Paddington.  Doug went to school at the Christian Brothers’ School at Darlinghurst, and Honor went to Business College.  It could only have been for a short time, for on 22 September 1926 she receives a letter from the firm that was to become a household name for future years: “Dear Miss Whittaker, We have decided to engage you and would like you to call along tomorrow the 23rd instant prepared to start work. Faithfully yours, Bray and Holliday Ltd.  I. Coburn, Chief Clerk”.  The letter was typed by Ann McNulty whose family were friends of our family in the Condobolin days and for many years in Sydney. Miss Coburn’s influence on her “girls” was very strong and long-lasting and helped shape Honor into the excellent telephonist and receptionist she was to become.  Not that life was all hard work and no play during those early years in Sydney: Honor was a vivacious, life-loving young miss.  There were picnics, parties and outings to the theatre, to Neilson Park, to Wallacia.  The “Mucky Kids” in the photograph taken at Wallacia, Easter 1928, are your bright young things of today.  The attractive Muriel Mann and Honor were great friends and smiling girls, and soon drew the boys.  Max Butler and Sam Sudlow were on the horizon.  Sam writes: “Muriel Mann was going to a dance at Kogarah and invited Honor, so I found out from Max Butler and attended the dance and started to keep company . . . Our company lasted twelve months and the question of religion in my home arose and I made the break”.  Honor was a visitor to Sam’s home at Belmore in 1927 and 1928, and Mrs. Sudlow liked her, but religion was in the way and that was that.  Sam and his wife, Edna, were to become firm friends of our family in later years, and when Honor died in 1983, Sam told me: “There is a part of my heart that is still in love with your mother”. Sam had been serious about marriage.  I was long under the impression that it was his mother who discouraged the match.  Sam told me that on one occasion when he was walking down Boundary Street from Oxford Street on his way to work at Bray and Holliday and he passed opposite the paint and spray garage where Jack Whittaker, Honor’s father, was working.  Jack called Sam across and spoke to him, saying in effect: “I’m not a Catholic, yet my marriage to Mrs. Whittaker has been a happy one. Religion has never come between us.  If you want to marry Honor, don’t let religion stand in your way.” But it was not to be.  Nevertheless, Sam remained devoted to Honor.  In fact he made for Honor’s twenty first birthday a glory-box, handcrafted, polished and quilted, with a glass lid.  Sam’s little secret was that he had placed in a hidden compartment his first week’s wages for the woman he loved.  We still treasure that glory-box. One delightful episode from their period of courtship occurred at the Kings Cross Cinema, a very respectable, not to say plush, place in those days, with its own orchestra.  (It stood somewhere near the present Darlinghurst Road entrance to the Kings Cross Underground Station.)  It was company policy with Bray and Holliday that office girls were not permitted to go out with the male staff and this was firmly policed by Miss Coburn.  Sam and Honor had gone to the cinema at Kings Cross for the evening, only to find behind them, at the interval, the redoubtable Miss Coburn.  The reader will be relieved to know that nothing was ever said; and that the two lovers eventually went their separate ways had nothing to do with her.  Sam’s devotion to Honor and her family is displayed in his oft-repeated statement: “I had three mothers – my own, Mrs. Whittaker and Edna’s”.  There could hardly be a lovelier tribute, except for him to say to me in 1985 “I am still using one of the two hairbrushes your mother gave me when I was twenty one”. Soon after the break with Sam Sudlow, Honor met George Hansen, an officer in the U.S. Navy.  The relationship went on for a couple of years.  There are some photographs of George, one of which shows an incomplete Harbour Bridge in the background, which, observing the progress on the Bridge, would put the picture at about March 1930.  Within the year, Honor and George are engaged: her parents of 28 Gosbell Street, Paddington, “announce the engagement of their daughter Honor Dolores [sic] to Mr. George A. Hanson of Berkley, California, U.S.A.” The Gosbell Street address is pre-1933.  But, according to Sam, George ran into the same problem with his parents over religion and broke the engagement.  Another version of the story is that Mac Butler, left by trusting George to take care of Honor, took more care than friendship would have considered necessary and eventually married the woman.  Honor’s recollection years later suggested more than a touch of untoward pressure on Mac’s part. Whatever the facts – and Honor’s story was an oft-told one, never intended for the public arena – Mac and Honor were married 26 September 1936 at Saint Canice’s Church, Elizabeth Bay, by Father J.F. Donovan.  Mac had become a Catholic in order to marry Honor, but he never practised the religion – the conversion had been a token gesture.  Roy Chater and Dorothy Jones were witnesses.  In later years Dorothy was to marry Doug Whittaker and  become our aunt; Roy was to marry Rene, and their daughter, Robyn, married Paul and  became our sister-in-law. There is a very revealing photograph of the Bray and Holliday staff taken outside the building, probably after Mac and Honor were married.  The way Mac is staring at Honor in the photo is obvious for all to see and so obvious as to demand comment from anyone looking at the photo.  Honor sits in a typical pose, mouth a little tight, as is one fist, and one arm holding the other.  It is an interesting study in relationships. [In October 2011 I received the following emails from Richard Selleck:  20 October 2011 – “I have just read on the web with great interest and profit the introduction to your family history. I started reading it because I am trying to write a family history of my own, then I got interested in it because I found it moving. I got even more interested when I noticed the appearance of the businessman, Patrick Bray, who is a great-uncle of mine, on my grandmother’s side. She was born Catherine Bray and your Patrick was her brother – half brother actually, as Catherine’s mother died when she was a quite young, her father(John Michael Bray) married again and Patrick was one of the product of that marriage. Pat Bray and his wife, Ida, moved from Melbourne to Sydney abut 1915, eventually started the business with Holliday and remained in Sydney until his death. I was interested in the comments you made about his business, and would be most interested to hear any comments that your mother made about him.” Mum often referred to a Father Selleck CSsR with great affections and respect, so I asked Richard whether he was related. In response to my question, Richard replied: “Father Richard Selleck was my uncle, and one of whom I was very fond. I was named after him.” In hindsight I believe Father Selleck was Mum’s spiritual director.  She held him in high regard and it may be that he helped her through the difficulties of the marriage, giving her the advice that strengthened her to stay with it.  We will never know, but it make a lot of sense that Mum listened to, valued adn acted on his advice. Father Selleck preached a retreat for us as Juniors at Bowral in 1954 if my memory serves correctly. 23 October 2011 Richard wrote again: “I have been re-reading the introduction to your family history this morning. It is still more moving on the second time through, partly because of the carefully understated way in which you tackle the difficulties of writing honestly about yourself and your family while also preserving family dignity. It is very hard to do both, especially, in my case at any rate, when I am sometimes writing about people, such as Patrick Bray, whom I met only a few times. Of course I heard a lot about from his sister, my grandmother, Catherine née Bray, who was the mother of the Redemptorist, Father Richard Selleck. If I may say so the honesty and gentleness with which you write which you write about your family is very moving. Even more so on a second reading than on the first.”] The lots of these two people are now thrown together for them to make a life for themselves and bring a family into the world.  Who were they? Mac, or Maxie, as some of his friends called him, was a man of great charm by all accounts.  He was working at Bray and Holliday where he learnt his trade as a French Polisher, and he was a good one.  He and his workmates made a four piece bedroom suite for Honor as a wedding present: hand-made, a beautiful walnut veneer which deepened with age so well was it polished by Mac, and the joinery masterly.  That bedroom suite – double bed, wardrobe, lowboy and dressing table – was part of this family for forty-five years and should have remained an entity and become and heirloom, such was its craftmanship and beauty. Mac was a man out of a cold family, his mother died when he was young and his father seems to have been a distant man.  He never seemed to have any of the softening touches that marked the women – our mother and our two grandmothers – in our lives, and we could not approach him.  Contact, in our relationships, was aggressive not gentle.  How he felt towards us we never knew; whether he yearned for our warmth, or hugs and goodnight kisses, we could not tell.  Whether he was a possessive man – the look on his face in the Bray and Holliday photo suggests that thought – or whether he was a cold man, or whether he was simply unable to show his affection, I do not know.  His friends found him charming, but in the family circle he was an outsider.  Did he start that way; did he grow that way; or did we make him so? Honor was beautiful.  I did not realise that when she was just my mother, but in time I came to realise it: photo after photo attests to it.  She was also a splendid dresser.  Her wedding dress is a calf length skirt and a coat which reached to just above the knees.  The skirt was pleated in front and the jacket had wide lapels and side pockets.  Her hat was close-fitting with bunched ribbon at the front and a mere wisp of a veil.  The ensemble was cream, and Honor knew how to make the most of it.  In fact the coat did service for some time afterwards: that was typical of her, for she had a lot of clothing remodelled for further use; and when she died, we came across a skirt and coat in a houndstooth pattern that she had had for at least thirty years.  She had innate good taste.  She posed well for her wedding photos as she did for every photo taken of her, and I never knew her to dress with less than good taste when she went anywhere – to work, to the theatre, a function, a wedding. She was a reserved, modest woman, which probably added to her attractiveness.  She used to say she had no “man appeal”, but she certainly had “it” in her younger days.  I never knew any man to be attracted to her after Mac died, and I could never understand why.  She simply never set out to use her beauty to attract.  It was as if twenty five years of marriage was enough of that sort of thing, thank you very much. Honor left Bray and Holliday, probably soon after her marriage.  Mac stayed on for many years, though I have a recollection that he worked at Clyde Engineering early in the War years – but I’m not sure.  I know I went there with him once, whether it was while we lived at Stanmore or after he returned from Japan, I do not remember. Honor and Mac settled down to married life first of all in Boundary Street, Paddington, above the fish shop, second from the Liverpool Street corner, in the set of shops opposite Number 43 where her parents were now living.  Their first son, Paul Edward, was born 14 July 1937.  There was a move to Bondi – where, I do not know – and at some time a move to 91 Cavendish Street, Stanmore; they were still in Paddington, however, when I, their second son Anthony Malcolm was born, 18 July 1940. This made a whole set of “July birds”, as Honor called them: John James Whittaker and Paul on the 14th, Honor on the 16th and Tony on the 18th. There were happy times.  What a beautiful photo it is of Mac, Honor and Muriel Mann – a close friend of Honor’s who died, if I remember rightly, of consumption – outside Repin’s: Honor in black and cream (that wedding coat again) and matching simple hat, Mac in a dark suit and light hat looking very swish, and a broadly smiling Muriel with a fur flung over her shoulder.  And another happy photo of Mac and a smiling Honor in close contact on the Genoa velvet lounge in Stanmore. Honor’s brother Doug married Dorothy Jones, 28 June 1940, and Doug was whisked away to war in the Merchant Navy.  Dorothy settled in Merchant Street, Stanmore, just around the corner from us in Cavendish Street; and in those troubled days of the early ‘Forties we had many people to care for us.  Dorothy and Doug have remained close to our family ever since, in many and varied circumstances. Dorothy May Haynes was born 10 June 1912 in St Kilda, Melbourne.  Her father was David Haynes and her mother Mary Anne Jones.  Her maternal grandparents had a farm, “Ganmain” near Wagga Wagga.  Mrs Jones (senior), known as “the Mater”, had thirteen children including Annie, Dorothy’s mother; Tom, who married Truda (a Middle European woman who once understudied to Pavlova); and Dick, who married Nell.  The Mater would never countenance Annie’s marriage to David Haynes whom Dorothy described as “a complete rotter who had many women”.  Nonetheless Dorothy was bitter about the treatment of her mother, and used to recall a story of two women approaching Annie on a tram and telling her they were the daughters of one of her sisters, who had recently died. Dorothy had a brother, David, who had nothing to do with Dorothy for many years before he died in 1996.  I remember Mrs Jones: she lived in Dillon Street Paddington for many years, under the name Jones, not Haynes. Dorothy and Douglas had no children.  He died. having gone quickly and quietly, 14 April 1986.  She died in the Nursing Home at McQuoin Park, Waitara, 5 July 1995.  I had arranged for her to move from the Legacy Hostel at Norah Heads where she betook herself after Doug died, and where she spent six or seven happy years.  I was her only regular visitor over those last years, though there was the occasional visit by other kind folk. It was at Stanmore that I first came to consciousness of life around me.  My earliest recollections are of a visit to Condobolin perhaps in 1944: I remember rushing home – wherever that might have been – to beat the approaching dust storm.  There is a photo of a dressed up little boy in his Grandmother Butler’s hat and apron.  The same little lad walked the streets of Stanmore in his singlet and was led home by a cattle dog which promptly adopted us – our much loved Bluey, my dog (so they say – I have no recollection of it at all.)  And the splinter from the front fence straight up my buttocks: promise not to cry when I get it out and you can have an ice block.”  I still remember my chagrin because Adele got an ice block, too, without the agonies of the splinter. Adele was born 15 November 1942 at Braeside Private Hotel (Cambridge Street Stanmore), as we children impishly called the private hospital for years.  A year or two later something had gone wrong: Adele was being taken care of by Dorothy; Paul and I went to St. Joseph’s Orphanage at Croydon.  St. Joseph’s was a cruel place for us as little children, not through any fault of the Sisters, who did their best in the War years.  I remember the pea soup that first night, the lonely dormitory, brothers separated, scary tricks, mixed-up tooth brushes and being made to spend the rest of the night in soiled pyjamas, bread and jam for the afternoon tea – I can still taste the jam.  The child’s memory is sensitive.  I was never so pleased to see my father as when Sister came down the yard that afternoon to tell Paul and me there was a visitor for us in the parlour – well, there was one other time. Paul and I had been admitted to the orphange by Sister Mary Winifred 6 May 1944,  taken there by Mum.  Her occupation was given as Home Duties; she paid 10/- per week for each of us and was to provide our clothing.  Dad’s occupation was given as AIF (Australian Infantry Forces) and his address as Overseas.  Dad, of course, was not to go overseas until he went to Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in October 1946.  He certainly collected Paul and me from the Home, 22 July 1944 (four days after my fourth birthday), according to the records – and my memory.  I believe Dad was living with his step-mother in Womerah Avenue, but he must have moved back to Stanmore around that time, because my memories are starting to become clearer then, and he was there.  I had always been led to believe that Mum was in hospital during these six weeks, and that may be so; but then it may also have been a period of some kind of breakdown for her. So life resumed at Stanmore.  I remember playing the priest saying Mass: a candle in a biscuit barrel, green vestments and my sister serving.  Dad blew the candle out and closed the service, not  so much for fear of fire – temporal or eternal, I’m afraid.  I remember my fifth birthday: the three-piece jig-saw puzzle, walking down Merchant Street past the house with flowers for sale, and watching the boys play football beyond the wire fence – that was Newington.  Adele recollects her broken leg and the quaint picture she made in the pram; and rushing home from Dorothy’s house in Merchant Street (Stanmore, where Dorothy lived, around the corner from us in Cavendish Street) in such a hurry that she had her two legs in one leg of her pants. Amongst Dorothy’s effects left when she died I found some charming photos taken between about 1939 and 1945.  Several of them feature happy picnics in the Blue Mountains and include Mum, Dad and Paul with Dorothy and Doug, and two beaming pictures of me at Merchant Street. In 1946 I went to school at St. Michael’s across the other side of the railway line, and Paul was sent off to Saint John the Baptist’s boarding school at Hunters Hill.  Mac was not on the scene, and three children were a lot for Honor to manage, so Paul went to boarding school and Honor had to work.  I think she must have started those cleaning jobs she had for some years, for she was not at Bray and Holliday. My next recollections are of being at Kensington in a small goods store in Anzac Parade almost opposite the old Doncaster Theatre.  I went to school at Our Lady of the Rosary just up the street, and was in the Preparatory Class in 1946; I know that because I have a certificate for “First Place in Religion” for that year.  I was the only man in that household which consisted of Honor, Adele, Dorothy and a friend Meryl.  Meryl was a mystery: she was known as Miss White, but was really Miss Gilmore, and was eventually to marry Dorothy’s brother David.  She was part of the family scene for another twenty years, but that is a different story. We could have been at Kensington only about twelve months, probably late 1945 to late 1946.  I remember one of my Christmas gifts, a large sweet in the shape of a fish, pale green.  And there was a tremendous hail storm during the year, too, severe enough to make the headlines.  There were problems at Kensington, and Honor decided to move out because the atmosphere was hostile.  I remember it as Dot and Meryl against Mum (my memory of one violent encounter is crystal clear fifty years later – Meryl holding my mother up against a wall with a carving knife while Dorothy looked on.  Adele and I were standing there as well) though Dorothy remembers the whole business differently.  Mum gathered up Adele and me one night, we walked along Anzac Parade to Alison Road, caught the tram to Taylor Square and walked down to 41 Boundary Street where Gladys was living.  Adele and I remember the night with some clarity: the ringing of the doorbell, the matresses hastily arrranged on the floor.  It must have been late in 1946 or early 1947, and we stayed there until 1956. Where was Dad at this time?  It seems that he was back at Womerah Avenue with his step-mother, though he did harass Mum at the back fence at Kensington.  Dorothy Whittaker said in later years that we “did not give him a hearing.”  She also expressed disapproval of Honor’s move to Darlinghurst, saying Gladys should not have “interfered” in affairs between Honor and Mac, as she had done when they lived over the fish shop in Boundary Street some years before.  She was blunt enough to say (August 1993) that “Gladys should have refused to allow Honor to stay and sent her back to Kensington to face things and sort them out.” Mac joined the Australian Army 14 March 1946 for a period of two years.  He spent most of that time as a Private, but was promoted to Lieutenant Corporal for about six weeks.  He served with the 21 Works Company (Engineer Unit), 67 Battalion, and Headquaters 34 Brigade.  He embarked per “Kanimbla”, 31 October 1946, for Kure, Japan, and was to stay there till he re-embarked per the same “Kanimbla” 9 May 1948 for Sydney.  He spent two periods of about a week in hospital suffering from eye strain and later with pharyngitis.  I have no idea of the nature of his work in Japan, but the surviving photos show a great deal of fun and familiarity with the local people.  All in all it seems to have been a not unpleasant tour of duty.  He was discharged from the Army 13 April 1948, by which time Mum, Adele and I were settled in 41 Boundary Street, Darlinghurst. Adele and I began school at St. Canice’s, Elizabeth Bay, in 1947 with the Sisters of Charity.  I remember being moved from First to Second Class in that year, being taught by Sister Eleanor and Sister Francis Xavier; and in Third Class I met the first of my great mentors, Sister Ursula.  Adele was taught in Kindergarten by the aged Miss Keneally and got herself into trouble for calling the playground the back yard!  She redeemed herself in time sufficiently to play Mary in the annual Christmas pageant, but it was more because of her long fair hair than from any recognisable incipient virtue.  Paul was still in exile at St John the Baptist, Hunters Hill, and we would catch the tram to Salter Street or the ferry to the Figtree Wharf to visit him every month or so.  Then there was the long haul up the hill and an occasional visit to Saint Joseph’s College across the road and an adventure into the dark recesses of the grotto of Our Lady, (it was a replica of the grotto at Lourdes, and is now demolished) or up the high tower (not so accessible to the casual visitor now).  And I remember Sister Clothilde dandling me on her knee and letting me fall through the folds of her habit. Things settled down as we made our home at 41 Boundary Street: Pop Whit remained in the front room, occasionally setting it on fire with his pipe which had an impressive will of its own; and Nan Whit moved into 43 which she let upstairs to the Moffats upstairs – a dour, unsmiling couple – and a room dopwnstairs to two delightful Maltese migrant lads.  Upstairs at 41 was let to the Hamilton family, so our privacy was not even relative. Honor was now working at the Goldhills’ and for Mrs. Fiaschi.  Mr. Goldhill was a wealthy Jewish bookmaker who lived in Wolseley Road, Point Piper, with his wife and her father, Mr. Norman.  They were a lovely couple and were very kind to Mum who cleaned and washed and ironed several days a week: we children were always made welcome and invited to have a bottle of Coca-Cola, which they purchased in crates, whenever we went to visit Mum out there – we were not encouraged to do so, for Honor always had a strong sense of the propriety of things.  It was the same at Mrs. Fiaschi’s wine bar in Little Hunter Street where Australia Square now stands.  Honor used to paste labels on bottles in what would      be described as Dickensian conditions, but in those days it was atmosphere and no one complained, least of all Honor.  She had a little table under a high, dusty, barred window, and would mix her own paste ready for the bottles which had been filled and corked and trundled along by Mr. Hunt: bottles of sherry, port, muscat, frontignac and aleatico, magical names.  And how we enjoyed playing there, being made much of by Mrs Kay and Mr Hunt who would let the little rubber tube ‘accidentally’ drip wine into our hands between bottles, and even being allowed to touch Mrs. Fiaschi’s typewriter: “It’s alright Mrs. Butler they’re not doing any harm”.  Her husband had been a well-known doctor at Sydney Hospital, and Il Porcellino that stands outside the hospital was erected in his memory by his daughters. Doctor Fiaschi had eloped with a Sister of Charity from St Vincent’s Hospital where he worked.  The Mrs. Fiaschi we knew was his second wife, Amy Curtis.  She was a real lady who lived in the Astor flats in Macquarie Street; she always made us children feel special, and that has never ceased to amaze me.  And she loved and respected my mother, as did the Goldhills. The story of Doctor Fiaschi, his benevolence, his marriage and his vineyards out near Richmond and now operating at Mudgee under a different name (Stein’s, I think) is fully told elsewhere. There was regular church, for we grew up in a very Catholic atmosphere which I took for granted and never found oppressive.  I made my first Communion at Saint Canice’s, Elizabeth Bay,in October 1947.  St Canice’s is a beautiful little Gothic church modelled on the cathedral of the same name in Ireland.  I found it dark and not very appealing as a child, but I have grown to love its quiet and its dusky light and peace. I started piano lessons, too, with Miss Carmelita Hayes, a black haired beauty who still enhances the Gladesville social scene to this day (1986), though no longer black haired.  I met her and her son at a function at St Joseph’s College in 1985, though she had no memory of me.  She was the first of a long line of music teachers who included, among others, Carmel Lutton of the Newcastle Conservatorium and for a short spell Sylviane Huguenin of the Fribourg Conservatorium in Switzerland, and a very humble lady, Sister Cecily Coaldrake in Newcastle. Home was a place where we were educated in spelling and good values.  Honor was an excellent speller and insisted that we spell properly – she taught us fascinating words and could tell us how many letters in a word as quick as a wink; she taught us quaint ways of remembering “Parramatta”, Mississippi” and “Woolloomooloo”.  But more than anything else she taught us the value, reinforced by Gladys’s words, of devotion to little things and loyalty to a job.  Amongst her papers are bits and pieces of verse and good advice from the radio or the Readers Digest or magazines which she continued to collect all her life.  In a prominent spot in our kitchen, a framed verse stood: Keep forgin’ ahead though the going is tough; Keep tryin’ – you’re sure to win – Keep swingin’ along when the trail is rough And fate seems a crook web to spin. Keep smilin’ when others are wearing a frown, Keep up your spirits, be gay, Keep in the swim, only feeble ones drown: There’s blue up above the gray. Life may be a gamble, but play the game fair; Keep up your chin, and you’re sure to get there. E. Gailer It’s not Shakespeare and it’s not religious, but those values lived out in a very positive way in Honor’s life became our values, and good ones they are too.  She used to quote often: “A still tongue is a wise head”, and I think in living out that precept she kept many things hidden which would have been easier if shared.  She chose to keep them close and thus she suffered.  Nevertheless she was a happy woman who sang a lot: she had a song for nearly everything we said. We were happy in those days of post-war ration books: we ate well and were neatly clothed, even if some of the clothes were patched or hand-me-down.  We always had shoes.  We had good, simple food, and were not permitted a lot of soft drink or cooked food from shops – hamburgers and chips were not allowed.  I, who had a delicate stomach, suffered the pains, and the joys, of scallops clandestinely bought and hastily eaten. Adele once, on an outing in an open car from Kensington with some of Dorothy’s male friends, let the side down unwittingly when she failed to gobble her hamburger quickly enough: she also avoided the indigestion.  But all is long since forgiven! In April 1948 Mac returned from Japan with a sword and some beautiful dolls, lots of stories and a dozen Japanese words.  I will never forget the day.  Adele and I were at Saint Canice’s school, mother arrived early to take us home – and I knew.  We went to Nan Butler’s place in Womerah Avenue and he was there.  I was so overcome with the joy of seeing him that I had to clasp the newel post at the bottom of the stairs to control myself.  It was never like that again. There was a picnic at National Park – the only time I can remember all of us being together.  On one occasion he took Adele and me fishing in Rose Bay; I remember he had to leave his watch (an old Jewelux, not worth much, but I still have it and it still keeps excellent time). I caught a leather jacket, and Adele was afraid he was going to drown us: not a successful day.  So off he went to work, back to Bray and Holliday and called out that first morning “sayonara”; we all dutifully chorused “onara”.  But after that there was a slow decline in family life as he had all his teeth extracted and would never wear false teeth; and the drinking grew steadily worse, we began to dread the hearty whistle through the letter box in the front door, the tantrums and abuse and the taunting. At the end of 1948 Paul was ransomed home, and the next year he and I went to the Marist Brothers’ High School on Darlinghurst Hill.  It was touch and go: I nearly went to the Christian Brothers at Rose Bay, but I did not like the atmosphere on a preliminary visit. Darlinghurst was a wonderful school and the Brothers in their black habits were giants of men and were good to the core: Brother Edmundus (long since a priest and still a dear friend [he died a few years after this was written]), Brother Michael Naughtin, (these two had walked down to St Canice’s and, dressed in their habits, encouraged us Third Class boys to attend the school on the hill), Brother Honorius who produced “Trial by Jury” and the “Pirates of Penzance”, the saintly Brother Cyrillus (now Brother Brian) who ‘mistook’ Honor and Gladys for sisters, and the delighful eccentric Brother Wilbred (John Norman) for whom I had a lot of affection.  There were others, all of whom left their impression.  They were good men. Adele and I grew closer, playing in the back lane (Lindsay Lane) with Kenny Gold and the Restuccia boys, racing down the hill in a billy cart which might or might not take the corner at the bottom, playing hidings in Woods’s huge backyard like some moated grange, twice five miles of fertile ground.  We would ring doorbells and run away down to Rushcutters Bay, do a spot of fishing and dare each other to enter the storm water channel where Bea Miles was supposed to camp: we never saw her in there.  There were explorations of the factory dumps in McLachlan Avenue looking for biros and rubber plugs and Christmas decorations and crayons: it was at the crayon factory that I first learnt I was a philanderer, whatever that was.  We would also go to Redleaf Pool, but that wasfull of “reffos” so we preferred Bondi.  Out we would go on the tram, the sight of the water as we crested the hill was coolness itself.  We always swam in the Baths: I swam better than she did, but she was a better diver.  I didn’t want her hanging around but we were close; and though we fought, I also entertained her with dramas performed under the piano stool set up with curtains.  The actors were the Japanese dolls and the primitive scripts depended on dreadful puns concerning “flied lice”.  Paul in the meantime was off with the boys, Dominic Alfano, the Italian boy from the house behind us, and Bobby Morris, who was not quite good company for a boy of Honor’s. Paul also moved into 43, to a room of his own, partly because of space problems but primarily to give him a break from Mac who was very cruel to him.  We had a small room built off the kitchen which became mine, and a throughfare.  Adele slept in our parents’ bedroom. One Sunday afternoon while Honor and Mac went off for a rest, we were playing in the backyard.  I harnessed some ropes to two big old garage doors leaning against the back shed, and drove these horses wildly till they came crashing down on my legs: two of our neighbours hung over the back gate (which had replaced the wild horses) rather amused, mother and father were rather disturbed and I ended up rather sore in bandages for six weeks. Meantime life went on with anger and hurts because of Dad’s drink.  We went to school, we went to church, we attended the Saturday night novena when Dad was not too contrary to let us go. I don’t know whether he disapproved of religion, though he had become a nominal Catholic to marry Honor, but he certainly did not take to it.  We must have appeared very odd to him, and I’m sure he never understood my decision to become a Marist Brother.  I just don’t think religion had any meaning for him, even though his step mother was not only very religious, but also a very good woman.  Cardinal Freeman was right: Dad had no religion. Honor returned to Bray and Holliday in about 1950 and remained there till 1959.  She and Gladys took a holiday in Tasmania for two weeks in about 1950 or 1951 and they lived on the memory of that for many years.  Gladys was not the one to take many holidays – the occasional few days with her sister Stella in Katoomba, a trip to Perth on the Indian-Pacific probably about 1966, and a farewell visit to Condobolin on 1972. Anger at home turned to battle, I being very defensive of my mother who suffered greatly.  She often used to scare me by saying: “You children will be the death of me.  My brain will snap”.  One day beforewe left for school she collapsed in the hallway and I had visions of the brain finally gone.  During lulls in the storm Mac would take one or other of us (generally me, as I recall) to the Great Wall Chinese Cafe on the corner of Victoria and Sussex Streets: it seemed like spite at the time, because our food at home was very good, but he was also looking for our support and affection. Our music lessons went on: Adele and I learnt the piano, she from Sister Roseanne (still alive and well at Auburn in 1998) at St Canice’s and I from Sisters Anastasius and Christopher at Sacred Heart.  Paul learnt the banjo-mandolin from Mannie Piers who was rather well known then.  Adele was to take up athletics later, and ballroom dancing.  Honor was very conscious of the need for a good education for her children and she worked hard to supplement Dad’s income, which was slowly being drunk away.   She also continued to instil in us the very strict  values by which both she and her mother lived.  Once I took one of my little journeys by public transport – I loved getting on the tram for a ride to Erskine Street or Watson’s Bay or La Perouse, on the bus to Palm Beach, the train to Hornsby or the ferry to Manly – and on this occasion having got to Manly, I went to Narrabeen by tram.  I ran out of money, having bought some Lifesavers I couldn’t afford, so I approached a gentlemen in the street for the sixpence I needed for the trip home.  He gave me a shilling.  My mother felt constrained to send him some postage stamps to repay him – she had taken the trouble to look up his address.  He was kind enough to reply: 26th August 1952 Dear Madam, I acknowledged the receipt of your letter of the 25th inst., and I can assure you that I never at any time suspected that Tony was up to any ruse to obtain money.  As an instance, after a short conversation with him when he asked me what the fares were from Narrabeen to Manly, I guessed what his trouble might be, and offered him 2/- which he stoutly refused to accept.  I can assure you that I had to persuade him very forcibly to accept even l/-. I take this opportunity to congratulate you on the excellent bearing of the boy and his display of good manners and right training. I might add that the old school tie which he was wearing first attracted my attention to him. Yours faithfully, J.0. Williams One wonders today what a boy would be doing wearing his school tie on a day off, though casual clothing was not common for children in those days: your best clothes were your school clothes. I met Mr. Williams many years later at a Darlinghurst ex-students reunion. Mum’s values were quite powerful and counter to the common.  On another occasion years later, just before I was about to enter the noviciate of the Marist Brothers, Honor, Adele and I went with a group of Darlinghurst parents and friends to a New Year’s Eve Dance at the Presbyterian Church at Peter’s Corner at Randwick.  As midnight approached, the minister invited us to attend a little ceremony in the church to mark the occasion.  In those days it was forbidden for Catholics to worship in the churches of other denominations, but to my mother’s credit she insisted that we join in what was a very suitable acknowledgement of past blessings and future hopes.  It was a lesson I never forgot and an action that was intuitive on her part, not planned. During my years at Darlinghurst I began visiting Sister Ursula who had taught me at Saint Canice’s.  It was a very strong friendship and in retrospect an unusual one: I was ten and she was three score and ten and probably more, but it was a very natural and affectionate relationship.  She was born Mary Ethel Leary in Melbourne, 28 September 1878, and was professed as a Sister of Charity 26 September 1903 aged twenty-five.  She taught in various schools in Melbourne and Sydney and died 25 September 1959, three days short of her eighty-first birthday and one day short of her fifty-sixth year of religious profession. I would walk to Saint Vincent’s at Potts Point after Mass every few weeks to talk to her and walk around the grounds; there would always be a cup of tea or a glass of soft drink and some biscuits which I had to consume under the affectionate eyes of a half a dozen old nuns called Mother Saint Peter and Sister Scholastica, because they were not permitted to eat in front of lay folk.  Even when I visited her in St Vincent’s Hospital over the years, I had to eat my ice-cream in the corridor while she ate hers in bed.  I was bitterly disappointed when she died in 1959 not be permitted to go to her funeral because my Superior at the time told me “Brothers don’t go to nuns’ funerals”.  I had been faithful to her for many years at Pott’s Point, at St. Vincent’s Hospital and at the Sisters’ house at Lewisham. Her letters were couched in the beautiful piety of the time and reinforced the lessons of our home.  Her first letter to me was a model of the expression of the  pre-Vatican II church and nonetheless dear now: The Sisters of Charity St. Vincent’s Convent Potts Point June 13th, 1950 Dear Anthony, Today is the feast of your great patron and yours! I wish you a happy one.          There is no sunshine and rain is falling heavily, but I hope there is sunshine in your heart – the result of having it filled with God’s grace and being free from sin.  Where God’s grace reigns there is always happiness. It is a long way down to Potts Point but I cannot forget your kindness to me while in the hospital.  Your visits were bright spots while I was there, and for them I am very grateful to you.  In holiday time you may be able to get a chance of calling in at the Convent.  Some Sunday afternoon your mother might bring you down if she is not too tired.  I would like to see Del too. I am enclosing a card with a prayer to St. Anthony on the back.  Try, from reading it constantly, to learn it by heart.  Then all through your life call on the help of your patron by saying it when in any difficulty.  He will never fail to come to your assistance.  It is a nice little prayer and very efficacious. I do hope you are working well at school, Anthony, and practising your music well.  What you will be in the future depends much on how you devote yourself to your studies now.  You ought to be filling your mind now with thoughts of what you would like to do for God when you grow up.  No matter what sphere of life you work in, your work may be done for God whether as a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer or a priest, even a labourer of any kind.  To enter heaven we must become a saint.  Only that St. Anthony became one, he would have been forgotten hundreds of years ago and would have received none of the honour that has been his. Don’t say this letter is a real sermon, Anthony!  I do want you to be good – to try to be a leader in what is good.  You have it in you to do this and will always have the help of my poor prayers. Again, a happy feast day!  May joy, happiness and goodness be yours always. Sometimes say a prayer for Your old Friend in J.C. S.M. Ursula Remember me to the boys! In 1953 change was on the way again.  Paul left school and went to be apprenticed as a boiler-maker at Nichol Brothers, Balmain.  He was sixteen. And I decided to join the Marist Brothers’ Order: I was twelve and a half and about to enter the second year of high school. My decision to join the Brothers was probably a hard blow to Mum who apart from saying No orginally never stood in my way.  It was only many years later that she told me how she wept inside for a long time after.  I made my decision in July 1952, quite definitely at school one day, and that afternoon I met her bringing Adele home from her music lesson.  I told her immediately that I was going to join the Brothers at the end of the year, she replied “No you’re not”, I answered “Yes I am”, and that was that.  I knew better than to argue with my mother.  She presumed it was a passing fancy, but at the beginning of January 1953 we went to see Brother Andrew Power, the provincial of the order at that time, at Saint Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, to make final arrangements.  His letter of 20th December 1952 had us as little monks already.  We were encouraged to say our morning and evening prayers better, to attend a few extra week-day Masses, to say an extra rosary every day, to be more helpful and docile at home, to make a careful choice of our amusements during the holidays – and me every bit of twelve years of age. Off I went on the 4 p.m. train from Central Railway, Wednesday 28 January 1953, in the company of twenty or thirty other potential Marist Brothers to continue our secondary schooling.  It meant giving up many things, but in time the things that mattered most were not knowing my family as we all got older and not being permitted to continue my piano lessons. In 1954 Adele went on to St. Vincent’s College, Potts Point, walking up to the Allans’ in Kings Cross Road and on to school with Juliana, sister of my school friend Peter, Gerard and the beautiful Leonie whom I’d have married once I’d gotten over Caroline Shorter in Third Class.  Adele continued to go to Katoomba for her holidays, loving Merriwa House as much as I did, sleeping in Room Six above the kitchen stove, walking around those splendid tracks to Echo Point and into the valleys.  Holidays were a regular feature of her life: it was off to North Haven when Stella Sivyer moved there from Katoomba, and travelling by car with Mum in the years after she left school.  She continued her music for several grades, and became a good athlete: Sister Ursula writes, 27 September 1954, “the Sports Day of the united schools of the Sisters of Charity takes place at the Sydney Sports Ground 10th October.  Del should do well.  She is a live wire and keenly interested in sport”.  To this day she still plays tennis and badminton, and has won prizes for pistol shooting.  She loves watching tennis on the television, as does Paul: this brother, on the other hand, has no interest in sport in any form. I spent two years at Bowral with some eighty other students, under the severe eye of Brother William Molloy, given the job as a reward for many years of devoted service in the education of youth: he was a good man but too old to have any real flair for the task.  It was Brother Cyrillus, our old friend from Darlinghurst days, who kept the place livable by his own patient hard work and personal goodness.  God alone knows how he coped. After two years at Bowral, having completed my Intermediate Certificate, I moved on to Fourth Year and Leaving Certificate at Mittagong.  The two years at Mittagong were difficult years for me because of my lack of interest in sport, and people who spoke my kind of language were not easily understood.  For fifteen months we lived in fear of doing wrong, and little genuine growth took place.  It was Brother Owen Kavanagh who made sense of life for me, displaying a sensitivity without words, which I only appreciated years later.  There were, of course, regular visits from my long-suffering family and regular letters from Sister Ursula: happy birthday wishes in July, “Your last letter surprised me so wonderful was the writing (for you)” – I had been a shocking writer and she had nicknamed me “Smudgy Butler” in Third Class.  She says “I saw Dell this morning.  She has grown very much but is very thin.  Believe she looked very nice at the ball last week and danced very well.  Someone told me she was most graceful.  Hope your studies are going well.  The results you sent along were very good.” And after the Leaving Certificate exam she writes, 30 November 1956, “Am pleased you found the papers so easy . . . you seem quite joyous over your entrance to the Noviciate.  There you can have a very happy time if you enter into the true spirit of things, and this I am sure you will do”. I did, indeed, in spite of the warnings of Father Tierney, administrator of Saint Canice’s ringing in my ears: “Don’t take it too seriously”.  I did not understand the common sense behind his message.  If I had, the noviciate might have been even better.  As it was, it meant an encounter with one of the most wonderful men in my life, Brother Ethelred Ferguson: he was erudite, urbane, charming, witty, a genuinely cultivated man, holy and practical in an era when so many of these good men could not allow their humanity to shine forth.  I came to say of him, as Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare: “I worship that man this side idolatry.” So Mittagong became, and remains, the womb: it has provided on several occasions a life-restoring retreat for me. Towards the end of 1956 the family moved to 22 Coolena Road, Elanora Heights: Gladys and Jack, Honor, Paul and Adele.  Mac would not go.  He chose to live in a room at Rushcutters Bay with the Fraser family whose children were old school friends of ours.  We found it a little embarrassing.  Things began to fall apart for Mac at this time: the drinking increased, he was to lose his job at Bray and Holliday through various indiscretions.  Adele recalls some years before when she and Ken Gold went fishing down at Rushcutters Bay that they discovered Mac doing his own spot of fishing:  they were promptly told to take themselves off.  He had been sprung, as they say.  He eventually found himself a job with O’Brien Glass, and ended his days with them. Life at Elanora may have had its advantages but it made for long hours.  Gladys walked every morning of the week down to Narrabeen to catch the 6am bus to town; Paul drove Honor and Adele in later.  Adele would go to the A.N.Z. Bank to help Gladys with the cleaning until it was time to go to school; Honor was at Bray and Holliday till early 1959; Paul was at his work and going to technical college in the evening.  That meant either a bus ride home for Honor and Adele or a long wait in the car till classes finished for Paul.  Still, the hours were sometimes lightened with waffles and fresh cream from a shop near Central Railway (I can still picture that shop from many years before) and purchases of squill candy.  Squill candy had been a favourite of Nan Butler and could be purchased at the Cross or Taylor Square, but nobody has heard of it today, nor of the barmbrack we used to buy at the breadshop at the top of William Street.  Alas, the pleasures of our childhood. Honor returned from Bray and Holliday in February 1959, with this complimentary letter from her old friend Pat Bray (though it was always “Mr.  Bray” to his face): Seventeenth February Nineteen fifty-nine. Dear Honor, With pleasure I make this record of your long association with us extending over many years.  You have always had the company’s interests at heart and proven to be most capable in the duties of telephonist, combined with clerical work. On many occasions we have received very complimentary messages concerning the efficient way you have treated our clients, sellers and my personal friends. We are very sorry indeed to lose your services, and we do miss you very much.  Attached hereto is cheque Pounds 26.0.0 less tax, being your usual bonus. Warmest of good wishes, Honor, and please visit us when you have the opportunity. BRAY & HOLLIDAY PTY. LTD. The next six months were a bad period for Honor: she was experiencing tension and bad health and undoubtedly suffered a slight breakdown, which may have occasioned her leaving Bray and Holliday; but I think the bottom was falling out of that business – they were manufacturers of shop-fronts and show-cases, and life was not so elegant any more.  I do not know the details of these difficult days. Before she found work with the W.B. Lawrence Advertising Agency, she turned to various businesses, and survived on her savings – she knew nothing of sickness or medical benefits.  She began with W.B. Lawrence 3 September 1959 and stayed until January 1975.  It was a job which suited her talents and allowed her to mix with a very different class of people from the solid, old-fashioned, but eminently reliable, Bray and Holliday group.  W.B. Lawrence personnel were brilliant, arty personalities, witty and creative, charming but febrile.  Honor fitted in well because she herself, though she could not be described in all the above terms, was charming, cool and competent, providing a stability these fascinating people appreciated.  Till the day she finished most of them called her “Mrs.  Butler”, only a few of them being close enough to address her as Honor. In the meantime I had received, 2 July 1957, the habit of the Marist Brothers Order and the religious name, Brother Placidus, and gone on to make my first vows exactly twelve months later, in an impressive ceremony held in the huge chapel at Saint Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill.  My first teaching appointment, a green, unshaven lad, two weeks short of my eighteenth birthday, was to St. Augustine’s College Cairns, a boarding school.  It was not quite an unmitigated disaster, for the six months’ experience taught me what not to do in a classroom.  During those six months, from July to December in 1958, I was well looked after by the Brothers, who made sure I visited whatever was within the bounds of the Rule and possibility.        They packed me off to Sydney in December to the next stage of training, the scholasticate at Dundas, with Ten Pounds in my pocket.  So it was there I began my four years at Sydney University and Sydney Teachers College, leading me to a Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Diploma of Education. 1959 was a big year for three of us: Honor left Bray and Holliday and began at W.B. Lawrence, Adele sat for the Leaving Certificate and I went to Sydney University.  The details of these years will be left to another time if not another chronicler, but they are well documented in letters, cards and memorabilia and await only the right moment for the telling. The big shock which began 1960 was Dad’s death.  I had seen him at the Marist Brothers Scholasticate, Dundas, where I was studying, in September 1959 for the last time.  He did not spend Christmas with us.  Dorothy Whittaker saw him at Christmas dinner in a city hotel.  Early in January he appears to have returned to his room at the Frasers’ on the weekend and engaged in some fairly heavy drinking which presumably killed him.  On Wednesday, 6 January, he was discovered, having been dead for some time; the police called at Elanora Heights to break the news to Honor and the family – we had no phone.  The next morning they contacted me at Mittagong where the young Brothers were holidaying: we were down at the coast for a picnic, so I did not get the message till that evening; and I travelled alone to Sydney next morning for the funeral – a few dozen people and a three or four Marist Brothers to see him across the Styx. He left a better impression in some hearts than he did in ours, regretfully.  His drinking mates at the Bayswater Hotel, Rushcutters Bay, put up a plaque: MAXIE (EUCHRE) BUTLER FROM STAFF & PATRONS OF THE BAYSWATER “Its [sic] monotonous being Perfect” This presumably was a favourite saying of Mac’s, and there is no doubt his friends believed him.  They were still there in 1986, drinking, in the same spot, Les Jorgensen, who had the plaque inscribed and erected, and Roger Murphy – they remember him fondly still and recall his prowess at cards and darts, a bonzer bloke all round.  I can see his gummy smile and his arm around his mates.  It was a picture of my father I was unaware of till I discovered the plaque there in November, 1985, advised of its presence by Paul. Adele, having gained her Leaving Certificate, went to work at the British Institute of Engineering Technology, where our future sister-in-law, Robyn Chater, was secretary to the director, Mr. Alex Carter (a former Marist Brother).  Having worked there till August, Adele began her preliminary training at St. Vincent’s Hospital – a difficult time, “nearly the end of me, but I survived”, as we all were taught to do.  Something of the Cant in us, I believe. In 1962, Paul went away to sea as a ship’s engineer.  He wrote regularly while he was away, which is mentionable simply because he is a self-confessed poor correspondent.  His early leters are newsy and excited and everyone of us gets a mention, particularly Dottie, his long-standing girlfriend Dorothy Ford, who later became Dorothy Knox and stayed very devoted to Honor.  But love pops up unexpectedly and in May 1963 Paul is set to marry a Scottish lass, Marion Low.  Whatever it was, it passed, and Paul returned to Sydney to marry not Dorothy Ford but Robyn Chater.  The wedding took lace at Saint Canice’s Church, 23 October 1964, just a couple of weeks before Jack  Whittaker died. The old gang was beginning to split up.  Adele graduated at Saint Vincent’s, 29 July 1964 and after a holiday at Canowindra, began “specialling”, which meant moving around hospitals and private patients as required.  On one of these jobs she encountered an old flame of the Prince of Wales, Edward, later Duke of Windsor.  And on New Year’s Day 1965 she left for Adelaide via Melbourne to study midwifery.  We remember that day well, for we had been out on Middle Harbour with some friends of mine for the day.  I was enjoying my first holiday home since Christmas 1956, and we returned late in the afternoon to such a tirade from Gladys about the irresponsibility of not being packed and ready to step onto a train for Melbourne, that Adele and I are still quite bewildered by it. Gladys was matriarch to the end: Adele and I at that stage were twenty three and twenty five years of age; she had completed her nursing and was working as Sister Adele Butler; I had been teaching High School for several years and was Brother Placidus Butler – but none of that cut any ice with Gladys, it was still “Do as you’re told.  Don’t argue with me!  Look at the time!”  Gladys’s wrath was something to be reckoned with: I remember once at Boundary Street that I locked myself in the toilet to escape it, but was ultimately so afraid of it that I meekly opened the door and gave myself up rather than make it worse. I had completed my Bachelor of Arts Degree, majoring in English and History, and had taken the same subjects for my Diploma of Education.  Having graduated at the end of 1962 I was happy to see the end of ten years in training institutions and can say the only years I really enjoyed from 1953 to 1962 were my noviciate under Brother Ethelred’s mild and magnificent eye, and my Diploma of Education year at Sydney Teachers College, when I had the time and freedom to enjoy my studies as well as to write poetry and music and produce “The Pirates of Penzance” with my fellow scholastics.  Beginning with “Trial by Jury” in 1961 there developed a tradition of annual Gilbert and Sullivan operas at Dundas, with an all male cast, which lasted for fifteen years: I was to be there at the beginning and again at the end, having provided the accompaniment for the last four productions, concluding with “Ruddigore”.  They included some of the best Gilbert and Sullivan productions I have ever seen. For two years I taught at Villa Maria, a little day school opposite Saint Joseph’s College, for Third Grade to Intermediate boys; in fact, 1953 was the final Intermediate year for N.S.W.  Villa Maria was a delightful little school of about 250 pupils, very homely, very friendly, very close-knit.  One of the little primary boys once said: “At our school there are six Brothers and one man” – that “man” was the lay teacher, Doug Sellars.  The mothers in the canteen would vie with each other in providing big lunches for the Brothers and I grew. Penshurst was my next appointment: it was similar to Villa Maria but growing, as all schools were in those days, with increasing numbers of pupils and lay teachers.  The old order was passing. At the end of 1965 Adele returned to Sydney with Leonard Bruce Davey whom she married at Narrabeen, 12 January 1966.  They returned soon to Adelaide as Len was with the Air Force and had only a short leave. By 1967 the Elanora Heights property had become too much for two women to handle, so Gladys and Honor sold up and moved to Neutral Bay, into a lovely unit which in those days looked straight across the Harbour, up Macquarie Street and to the War Memorial in Hyde Park – but if you buy units for views you will soon be disappointed, and of course the inevitable happened in time.  They were happy there for a number of years: it was a comfortable, convenient place which served them well, and their neighbours were of their own kind. That same year I moved to Eastwood and was teaching senior English and Geography in the newly constructed Wyndham Scheme for N.S.W. high schools.  They were heady days in education, exciting for a young man, stimulating, challenging, productive; besides, we were fighting for state aid for our schools.  I was also studying theology several nights a week at the short lived Holy Spirit Institute of Theology, set up under the wing of St Patrick’s Seminary.  I did four out of the required five years.  I later joined Proscenia Theatre, a group of amateurs who produced excellent Gilbert and Sullivan, and Offenbach operettas.  I performed in “HMS Pinafore”, “Iolanthe”, “The Yeomen of the Guard” and “Utopia Limited”, among others.  Proscenia Theatre was something of a training ground for folk who went on to greater things, people like David Russell, choirmaster of the St Mary’s Cathedral choir, Richard Divall, who became well known in the Victorian Opera scene, and Brian Stacey as a sought-after conductor (he was killed on a motorbike just before the opening of “Sunset Boulevarde” in Melbourne in 1996).  I had always taken an interest in concerts and the theatre and had done a lot of work in that area in our training days and in the schools: some old friends still ask me if I am still producing dramaticals. Adele and Len moved to Katherine, Northern Territory, where three of their children were born: Bruce Timothy, 27 July 1966, Wayne Anthony, 22 July 1967; and Neill Malcolm, 7 October 1968.  They left the Territory in May 1970 and travelled to Perth via Mount Isa, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Port Augusta by car with the three children and the cat (which was lost, found and air-freighted to them in Perth).  They took the train from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie, and eventually reached Perth.  They settled for a while at Armadale where Kathleen Grace was born 5 August 1971, and moved to Pinjarra in May 1972.  They were to spend some years at Dwellingup on a five acre block with their own home and a menagerie of cows, sheep, dogs, cat, geese and chickens – it was a good life for those years.  In August 1984 they returned to Pinjarra. Paul and Robyn moved about a good deal, too: Bondi, Box Hill, Freeman’s Reach.  Their son Michael was born, l0 December 1972.  Their marriage broke up for a time, they came together, and finally they agreed to part.  Paul remained in Melbourne where they had moved to try a new start, and Robyn returned to Sydney with Michael who attended Saint Gregory’s College, Campbelltown, for several years, to complete his School Certificate. At the end of 1969 I was transferred to Auburn where I became the English Coordinator in the school.  Auburn was a tough area but in my seven years there I grew to appreciate the wonderful quality of family life which marked the people of the surrounding suburbs that fed into the school.  It was in some ways the peak of my teaching career though it began with a period of breakdown that was to be the making of me.  This period began at Christmas 1970.  I spent about five months at the Noviciate at Mittagong, recuperating, and gradually took up full time teaching again in 1972.  I was transferred to Newcastle in 1977 and spent almost five years there amongst very likable people.  It was a rewarding experience to recommence piano lessons after twenty five years, with the gifted teacher, Carmel Lutton, of the Newcastle Conservatorium.  Her husband, Bob, was the nephew of Dorothy Cant née Lutton. In June 1981 I left Australia and travelled overseas for the experience of a lifetime: Tokyo, Moscow, a month in England, which was like coming home, a five months’  course in spirituality in Switzerland, a country of clean streets, well heeled citizens and time-tables that ran to clockwork precision: I loved it.  It was there that I began a very beautiful friendship with Madame Rita Schneider: two genuine soul-mates. I spent two weeks in Rome and a week in Jerusalem concluded my journey.  I returned to Sydney and was appointed to Pagewood where I continued the work I had been doing since 1970: teaching senior English, co-ordinating the subject within the school and involving myself in the lives of senior students.  Pagewood was an apostolate very demanding on the soul and I began to feel myself more and more at odds with the environment I was called to work in.  That did not stop me achieving at long last my Associate Diploma in Piano Studies – and engaging in the research and writing of this family history. The history of these good people, our forebears, draws quickly to its close.  At Easter in 1972, Gladys, Honor and I went to Condobolin to contact the past.  Later that year Honor went overseas, leaving at the end of May, spending most of her time in England and some time on a tour of the Continent.  She returned 10 September 1972, the trip having turned a touch sour for one reason or another.  Life in fact was to become something of an uphill battle for Mum in the next ten years.  In 1974 she and Gladys made arrangements to go and live in Western Australia, closer to Adele, going so far as to put a deposit on a unit in Mandurah.  Gladys at this stage broke her hip, went into hospital and never came out again: after protracted negotiations, Honor was able to cancel the purchase and reclaim the deposit. This experience left its mark on her and she began to show signs of a severe nervous breakdown which threatened to end in senility.  It was tragic to watch a good woman deteriorate in this way. On 16 January 1975 she was forced by circumstances to terminate her employment at W.B. Lawrence after fifteen wonderful years.  She was genuinely and deeply loved at that place.  When she had a spell in Sydney Hospital in 1968 there were wonderful expressions of affection, cards which their artists drew, flowers: Max Fulcher, Vic Mahoney, Theo Woods, Sue Lawrence, Betty Wilson and so on; four girls doing her work while she was away (so they encouraged her) and the red carpet out when she returned in September.  It wasn’t just show: for years later they remembered her, wrote to her at Christmas, invited her to parties.  And there was a beautiful floral tribute when she died, from Brian Bona and Max Fulcher, even though the firm had folded up by then. The loveliest tribute is the simplest one; Lynne Amanda Gee’s little poems say it all: Christmas 1971 To my Dear Mrs. Butler, Thank you for all the happiness you’ve brought me through the year, You bring me lots of everything – like happiness and cheer, Whenever there’s a problem and I’m away from home, You always help me out with it, and never leave me alone, You’re warm, funny and friendly and really nice to be near, So I wish you many joyous days, for now and the coming years. Tons & Tons of Love, From your little switch girl Lynne Amanda Gee There once was a nice little switch lady, Who was always nice to people, She had a nice nature, So no-one could hate her, She’d laugh and she’d smile, ALWAYS – not just a while, It’s a pleasure to be with her, The friendliness she gives, OH Boy!  I’M glad she lives. L.A. Gee Miss Coburn had taught her well those many years before: she took the lessons she learnt to heart and applied them with all the solid values ingrained in her by her mother.  Honor was a true Cant, in the mould of her cousins.  Her notes concerning switchboard manners are succinct and common sense and well worth repeating: A switchboard is the FRONT DOOR to a business and it is important to treat each and every call as important and urgent.  Messages are important.  Do not keep people waiting, without going back and apologising etc. or getting the person they are calling to phone them back. Be at all time courteous and obliging. No slang Ask for the name of the person who is speaking – for Directors, all executives etc. and say when connected. Be prepared for people entering to be attended to in a bright manner.  Try to learn a personal attentive manner to all – at ALL times. 1975 was a bad year for Honor: it was twelve months in and out of hospitals including Saint John of God,Burwood and culminating in a long spell at Mount Saint Margaret’s, Ryde.  I can only say that it was love that pulled her through.  She spent the next few years quietly at Neutral Bay, but was never the same again.  She visited Gladys every week in the Loreto Nursing Home at Strathfield, enjoyed the company of her old friends and cousins, went to the opera with me – we grew very close in those years. Gladys died in 1979 and 1981 Honor decided to go to Western Australia at last.  It  was an unfortunate move, made with some bitterness in her heart and perhaps    some misunderstanding – she would never discuss it.  Understandable as it might be in the circumstances, she did some sad things in moving: gave away old family treasures (the word is relative), split up the bedroom suite, retrieving twenty-four dollars for what was priceless. Her time, in Mandurah was mercifully short – she was dead within two years. She died quietly and, like her husband, alone: she was found next morning.  The two years were full of bitter herbs and salt tears, and she did not know a moment’s happiness. It was not a fitting end for this woman and it was not deserved: she had been too personally good and too personally giving for that.  If she had a fault it was that she bottled up her feelings, including her love, so she could not receive love in return.  She gave till it hurt and the hurting destroyed her at last.  I can only conclude her life in the words I spoke at her funeral in Mandurah, 8 September 1983, at which there were two dozen acquaintances from the Day Care Centre, all her children and grandchildren and, as at her husband’s funeral, a scattering of the Marist Brothers she had grown to love deeply: Br Alexis Turton, a close friend of mine, and several elderly Brothers from the Melbourne Province, who were holidaying a little south of Mandurah. Now is the time to praise good women. Most of you have come to know Mum only recently, and saw much less of a happy, capable woman than we knew. She was christened Honor Delores.  For years I spelt her second name Dolores presuming some connection with the word of sorrow in Latin.  Somehow it seemed apt, for she had a lot of sorrow in her life: and a less than happy marriage, bringing up three children on her own, closing herself off from remarrying after Dad died in 1959.  “I have no man appeal” she used to say, little realising what an attractive, intuitive, capable good woman she was.  She lost herself in her work – she was a superb receptionist – and she centred her life on her mother. She was a woman of exquisite taste: she loved good cut glass, fine linen, her cedar china cabinet and a magnificent walnut bedroom suite.  She let lot of these things go, because she felt she had been abandoned by others.  What she could not see was that so many people tried to support her: her family, the Marist Brothers, her friends in Sydney, and latterly here in W.A.  She loved good paintings; she loved opera – “I don’t know as much as you do about it, dear, but I thought Sutherland was not quite her best tonight” – and she’d be right. She loved people, and I have often seen her the centre of attention and attraction at parties.  A lot of my ex-students used to comment on her wit, and the interest she took in people; and she could hold up her head amongst all manner of folk. She was a fussy woman: I remembered how she abhorred ice in her drinks!    And how much she liked finely cut lettuce. She was a woman of great value, who never appreciated her value.  She loved the Marists, who loved her equally well.  She centred her life on her children and tried hard not to grasp.  It was hard for her to let us go, and I think the effort to do so cost her her life, for she died of a broken heart.  “I’ve done the wrong thing” she chorused even to the last time I spoke to her. She never knew her own potential in life: sad, but true, to say it is only now in eternal life with the God who created her beautiful self, that she will realise what a beautiful person she was. Mandurah, W.A., 8 September, 1983


Chapter Ten – Lillian Gladys Cant

Filed under: FamilyHistory — Tony @ 3:07 pm
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The Book of Proverbs’ Valiant Woman

“Who shall find a valiant woman? Far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her.
(Proverbs 31:10 – Douay translation)

The first born child of William Cant and Anne Wessler was Lillian Gladys. Her birth and death certificates give her name as Lillian Gladys, but she called herself Gladys and “came to be called” Gladys. She was born 9 December 1889 at Lithgow Street, Goulburn, her parents having been married but two days earlier.

Her first four or five years were spent in Goulburn, her younger brother Francis John Henry born 18 July 1892 and younger sister Stella being born in Mundy Street, Goulburn in 1893. There must have been a move to Morundah near Narrandera, for that is where Anne Cant died in October 1895, leaving a husband of twenty-eight with three children of six, three and two years of age. It is easy to understand why William Cant remarried the following June: a wife to his bed and a mother to his children, he being on the move from place to place with his railway work.




William Cant

These two photos, from an album belonging to Yvonne (Cant) are said to be of
Willliam Cant as younger men







It was at Jerilderie that Francis made his first Communion in 1905 and was confirmed in 1906, aged fourteen. At this time Gladys was almost seventeen and close to leaving home.

Gladys seems never to have got over the early death of her mother: she spoke of her with affection and sadness, though she could have remembered little of her, being only six when her mother died. Her memories were no doubt heightened by her lack of fondness for her step-mother. It was only a few years before her own death that she told us her mother had been adopted. My mother and I were simply stunned, because this news had been untold for so long – like the existence of her youngest step-sister, Molly. At the same time Gladys gave me a photo of her mother, a fine looking woman, if a little severe, maybe even regal, with drawn-back hair and penetrating eyes. For me, the mystery of her background is strengthened by, I believe, the distinctly aboriginal cast of the face. I still recall Doug’s reaction to seeing the photograph (as if for the first time) the day of Gladys’s funeral: “Ah,” he said, “a touch of the tar-brush there!” And I still deeply regret that I never asked my grandmother for any details of her mother’s background – which I have never been able to discover. We are working on DNA currently.

Anne (Wessler) Cant

In some ways Gladys became mother to the family, more so in later days when so many people looked to her for support and attention. Perhaps she was compensating for the difficult times she had with her step-mother. What those difficult times consisted in is not clear, but Gladys left a strong impression that she did not get on well with Sarah Grieves, who, she thought, treated her with less justice than a step-daughter deserved. The story of the late music examination fee symbolises all that was ill in those far-off days of Gladys’s youth.

William Cant met Sarah Grieves in Jerilderie, but their wedding took place in Goulburn. The children may well have been at Goulburn, perhaps with William’s parents. The next we know of the family is that they are in Cootamundra where William junior, the first child of William Cant and Sarah Grieves, was born in 1897. There seems to have been a more permanent move back to Jerilderie for some years: next son Clarence was born there in 1901 and the youngest child, Mildred (Molly), in 1904.

Sarah (Grieves) Cant

Nevertheless Gladys must have had a sound education: she was a beautiful writer and had a head full of all those sorts of things that primary education used to insist on. Besides, she was obviously well enough qualified to become a tutor to several private families. It seems that she taught the children of several families for some months when application was made for her to become the teacher of a subsidised school in South Yalgogrin.

The relevant Act stated that
“REGULATIONS in connection with the Granting of Educational subsidies in Thinly-populated Localities.
55. In very thinly-populated localities, where a private teacher is engaged by two or more families in combination, such teacher, if approved by the Minister, may be paid subsidy at a rate not exceeding £5 per pupil per annum on the average monthly attendance, such aid not to exceed the sum of £10 yearly, provided:
(a) That subsidy shall be paid only on account of children five years of age and over.
(b) That the number of children in the locality is not sufficient to warrant the establishment of a Public, Provisional, Half-time, or House-to-house School; that no existing school is within reasonable walking distance; and that the conveyance of the children to an existing school, either with or without aid from the Department, is found to be impracticable.
(c) That all children of five years of age and over in the locality unable to attend existing schools, shall be entitled to attend the school so subsidised. ·
(d) That the teacher shall not be required to render service of a non-educational character, except such as may be undertaken for a separate remuneration.
(e) That suitable accommodation is available for the teacher.
(f) That five hours of each school day, in accordance with a fixed timetable, be regularly devoted to the instruction of the children, in accordance with the Syllabus of Instruction.
(g) That the school be subject to inspection by an officer appointed by the Minister.
(h) That records be kept and returns furnished as required by the Department.
56. Such fees as may be mutually agreed upon by the families concerned and the teacher, shall be paid to the teacher as a supplement to the subsidy granted by the Minister.
57. Necessary supplies of reading books will be granted.
58. The regular school vacations and holidays will apply to Subsidised Schools. If, however, the prescribed instruction be not given on any school day, and such omission has not been sanctioned by the Local Inspector of Schools, deductions will be made from the amount payable as subsidy to the teacher.
59. The subsidy may be withdrawn if any of the foregoing provisions be not observed, or if the character of the instruction be considered by the Minister to be unsatisfactory.
60. Persons employed to teach in Subsidised Schools will not be regarded as teachers within the provisions of the Public Service Act, 1902.”

In a letter of 4 August 1908 signed by P. Board, Under Secretary of the Department of Public Instruction, addressed to Mr. V. Norris, c/- E. Pope, Esquire, South Yalgogrin Narrandera, we read: “Sir, Referring to the application dated 20th ultimo endorsed by you and Mrs. B. Goodwin, from Miss Gladys Cant, for the position of Teacher of the Subsidised School at South Yalgogrin, I am directed to inform you that the Minister of Public Instruction has approved of Miss Cant being recognised by this Department as Teacher of the above school. Payment of subsidy to Miss Cant will take effect from the date of her entry on duty, provided that she then taught the children of the two families. Copies of the regulations are forwarded …”

From an extant account, she received for the period of 23 June to 31 July 1908, for teaching an average of ten pupils per day, the splendid sum of Five Pounds, four shillings. She was to teach there for eighteen months, till December 1909.

Her elegant Composition Book is inscribed with several places and dates: “Rosemead, Easter 1908”, and “Melrose Valley via Condobolin [written back to front – Gladys was quite adept at this kind of mirror writing, as some of her extant postcards attest] 15 April 1909”. Her Composition Book probably served as a lesson notes to be copied onto the blackboard or dictated. The writing of the eighteen year old girl is firm, mature, impressive – so indicative of her character and of a style that did not change even till the last time she signed her name.

“Salt”, she writes, “is a mineral. There are three kinds of salt …” “Water is a liquid because it takes the shape of the vessel that holds it …”. “Clouds: It is pleasant to watch the clouds and observe their different shapes and colours”. Flax, sugar, air, are all written up for the children to learn. There are poems and proverbs too: “A bad workman quarrels with his tools”, and “To labour is to pray”. These simple lessons were taken to heart for she was a woman who practised what she preached. There are “CXIV” (114) pages of notes and poems, the last one being dated 17 December 1909. She was married 16 February 1910, and the next few pages of the book are used – undoubtedly in the early years of her marriage – to write recipes for soap, yeast, ginger cordial, hop beer, linoleum cream and furniture polish. This is indeed the “valiant woman” of The Book of Proverbs.

In 1908 the Cant family was living at Yass Junction and remained there till 1914 when they moved to Granville. Gladys had left home to make her own life and marriage, but in some ways she never left because she always kept contact through letters and visits and retelling of stories: the Cant family was our family in a very real way that Butler family never were. Everybody returned. Doug even bicycled from Darlinghurst to Granville to visit the family there.

Many of the postcards are still in existence: Stella left behind a whole album full which I found at her daughter Jacqueline’s Glenview Street house in Paddington. They are an invaluable insight into these few years of Gladys’s life. There were nineteen written by Gladys between 23 July 1908 and 18 March 1920, fifteen to Stella, the others to Will, “Mater” (ie, the stepmother Sarah Grieves) and her father. They reveal something of the woman behind them, but also indicate how much she hid: talk about the weather and things she did, but most of all requests for letters in return – she was quite bossy in her requests, yearning, it seems, for family contact.

The first four postcards from Gladys to Stella are addressed “c/- E. Pope Esquire” to Stella c/- Railway Station Yass Junction”: Gladys was living with the Pope family at South Yalgogrin. “It is raining”, she writes, 23 July 1908, “but the grass is only fair”. She did not get “either” of Stella’s postcards till the previous Monday; and “don’t forget to answer by return of post. Love to all at home”. The postcard features a pretty ribbon arrangement of the name Kitty – Kathleen was Stella’s first name.

“Dear Mater” (Sarah) is the recipient of the second card, 20 October 1908. It is “just a line or two in haste hoping to find you all well as this leaves me at present”. No time to write, shall do so, all is well, enjoy your holidays. “I remain yours in haste, Gladys”, and a coloured view of the Ocean Beach, Manly. Keeping in touch, dutifully! “Mater” is a very formal address to her step-mother (and a word that I would not have expected Gladys to use, it being so “English”) but it may have been a family usage: her aunt, Mary Hunter, her father’s sister, uses it in her correspondence, and after all the Cants were of English background.

Stella’s card arrives and is welcome, 3 November 1908, but “I notice you don’t forget to keep me waiting long enough for an answer. Mind I want an answer in a week”. Seven weeks to Xmas, lovely weather, “It is that hot it will nearly bake you”. “Would like to be back at Yass. I suppose it is cool there.” The postcard shows the façade of Sydney University, and a note is added: “… this is the best I have so you will have to do with it.” A touch curt perhaps.

There is a lengthy card on 15 December 1908. She will not be home on Saturday, “tell the Mater” in that expression so uncharacteristic of Gladys, but then it keeps a suitable distance from Sarah Cant. She is to close the school on Wednesday, go to Kildary till Saturday and return home on Monday. The weather is very hot. “I shot an iguana on Sunday and wounded a crow” – it is hard to imagine her with a rifle in her hands, let alone killing anything. “Ciss Cant wrote to me on Sunday. … Thanks for Mona’s photo.” (Maud and Ciss were Gladys’s Uncle Martin’s daughters.) This is the third or fourth postcard she has sent and “got no answer, but wait till I come home, you will pay the penalty.” And ps: “W.F. wrote to me last Sunday. Is D.R. still at Yass?” Pursuing beaux? The card is amusing: it takes the form of a cheque from The Bank of Good Fortune for the sum of 365 Happy Days with a witty addition of Gladys’s: “I would not be greedy so I put a halfpenny extra on.”

In the New Year she moved to West Wyalong, c/- Mrs. J. King, Stony Flat, 1 February 1909. It is not so close to the South Yalgogrin Subsidised School. She arrives safely and “met two or three I knew, they were very glad to see me back”. There is news of Mr. & Mrs. Goodwin whom she had stayed with in Kildary, of Mrs. Hartigan and Lillie O’Connell. She saw Mother Philomena who “wishes to be remembered to you”, and “says you ought to go back to school”. Mother Philomena must have taught the Cant girls in Goulburn or Yass and kept that typical interest in them that Sisters do. An urgent message: “Write very soon please.” She adds “s.a.g”, pious Catholic custom – Saint Anthony Guide – just in case the Post-Master General failed in his duty.)

The twenty year old girl is lonely and as anxious for news as she is full of it: Fred and Mona, her Aunt Mary’s children, have the fever badly, she writes 23 February 1909. She has had a letter from Aunt Mary (Mrs John Hunter, William Cant’s younger sister). She has not had one from Stella and “though you say you sent one I can safely say that I did not receive it. I was vexed to think you did not have the good manners to answer my p. card, but if you sent one, it must have gone astray. I suppose I will forgive you this time”. She won’t be home for Easter. There has been lovely rain.

This postcard could not have had another word written on it; it is packed with news: “I had a letter from (Aggie) the other week. She is in (Coota). I see things are altering about (her) John again.” (The bracketed words are obscured.)  She concludes: “Son Hall sent me his photo, so did Jack”. Son Hall was a cousin and the son of Aunt Sarah Cant who married James Hall. Love is in the air: Jack was undoubtedly the man she was to marry twelve months later, John James Whittaker; and at this time Stella was probably seeing Charles Murray, for their son Jack Cant was to be born the next December. Stella and Charles Murray did not marry.

The card features a picture of Rita Martin, an Edwardian beauty holding a rose in her mouth.

The next couple of letters become a little more agitated in tone. She writes, 27 March 1909: “Are you going to the Yass show? Have you any exhibits. I did not like the p.card you sent. Why did the boys not have the good manners to answer theirs? I am going to a coffee supper on 5th April, if I am alive and well … Excuse scribble as I am very tired and in a hurry”. And in the ps: “What was the dance like. I hope you did not go to it. I am not going down at Easter, it is too far. Write soon and tell the boys to do so, too, please.”

The boys were Frank – I presume – and William and Clarence. As for Stella’s postcard, who knows. However, the card Gladys sent to Stella was surprising: a black and white photo of a Miss Kitty Mason, a prominent Edwardian Actress, very beautiful, with shoulders bare down to the breasts! I wonder whether it was a covert allusion to Stella (Kathleen – Kitty). The stamp cost a penny – NSW Postage.

Miss Kitty Mason

The wider family is obviously important to her: Maud and Ciss, Uncle Martin’s daughters; Aunt Mary’s Fred and Mona; others unknown.

In June 1909 Gladys is writing c/- Mrs. J. Whittaker, Melrose Valley via Condobolin. This lady, Elizabeth Whittaker (later Granny Smith, as my mother called her. She married Billy Smith after her husband John’s death), is soon to become her mother-in-law. She is enjoying “the best of health”, she writes 22 June. “This is one of the Condobolin photos. What do you think of it? The winter so far has been beautifully mild. Has the excitement about the Federal City died out in Yass? I am glad the Mater has taken a holiday. Which of the Cants do you have visiting you? I have no news to tell you as you are not interested in anyone or anything about here.” A little brusque – what has happened? Even her new-found love – for by this stage she must be getting serious about John James – does not ease the trouble. She concludes: “Give my love to all”, adds “yourself included” and finished coolly “Yrs. respect. Gladys”. The card features the Court House, Condobolin.

Her card of 28 September 1909 seems a mixture of excitement at her own situation and chagrin at Stella’s taciturnity. Stella’s card was very welcome and very pretty and “you will think I am a very long time answering it. I have not had much time.” Mrs Whittaker had been away in Parkes for eleven weeks with a bad leg. Gladys was in town at show time, and had been to the Vermont Hill Hospital picnic. There was a ball that night, “but I did not stay for it. Dancing is not in my line these days.” Has Stella been to any amusements lately: “When you write to me you tell me nothing I ask you. Why don’t you answer any question I ask you? One would think I did not know anyone about there. This is all the news this time, so don’t forget to write soon and let me know all. I remain Yours truly Gladys.” The card features the Goolong Creek above the weir, Condobolin.

By the end of October Gladys is probably pregnant with her daughter to be born in July 1910, so the cards over the previous month or two may reflect something of the tensions in her life at that stage.

Gladys sent cards to young Will also, and several have survived. An unaddressed card dated 8 November 1909 reads: “Dear Will, [now aged twelve and a half] Just a few lines in the hope of finding you in the best of health. How are you getting on at school? I will send you a real nice p.card next time. This is the only blank one I have. Write soon. Love from Gladys. Tell Molly and Clarrie to write to me. (s.a.g)” Clarrie and Molly were every bit of eight and five years old! Gladys had written twelve months previously, December 1908, “How is your arm?” she asks. “I should not send you a p.c. you did not answer the last one I sent you. Are you having a concert at Christmas. If so, are you in it?” The December date is conjecture based on evidence from the following letters of Mary Hunter to Stella. None of them are dated, but the reference to Mona and Fred’s illness also referred to in a dated letter of Gladys, gives us the clue; and other evidence suggests the dates December 1908 to February 1909.

Aunt Mary, William Cant’s next younger sister, seems a lovely lady – all care and a touch of fluster; not quite refined but very good natured. It is said that when she did not have enough washing to make a good impression, she would add sheets and pillows cases from the cupboard to make up a full line. In her letters to Stella, when she refers to her brother William and his wife Sarah Cant, she oddly calls them “Pater” and “Mater” – this unAustralian term seems to be the family custom, probably picked up from their English father, Francis. There are five postcards to her niece Stella in this period and they are very homely: “Miss Stella Cant, c/- Mr. William Cant, Ganger, Yass Junction. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year with best love from all to all. M. Hunter” for Christmas 1908.

Within a few weeks, probably after Christmas, she writes: A Happy New Year and “we will be pleased to see Gladys at any time. Did not know anything about William breaking his arm.” Before the end of January she writes: “I hope all the people got home alright and enjoyed themselves at Cooma and Sydney. I suppose Gladys will soon be leaving again for school.”

By mid-February two of her children, Mona and Fred, have the fever, she “a hundred and two yesterday and Fred was 107 on Monday. Give our best love to your Mater and Pater and all the family. I had one letter from Gladys since she went back.”

In early March Mona and Fred are improving, “The Dr. said they are going as the general run of fever cases. Mona and Fred has [sic] had their hair cut off. We are very sorry to see [it] coming off … How is Willie’s arm getting on?” Her husband, Jack Hunter, visits Sarah and William Cant in Yass at this time. Mary writes: “Tell your mother I cannot thank her enough for her kindness to Jack. Well the children are just as well as can be expected. It is such a lingering illness. They only take boiling water and milk and talk about been [sic] thin. They are something terrible. If you are writing to Uncle Martin [her older brother] tell him about them but don’t say I told you.” Very curious!

The last we hear of Will’s arm is in a letter from Stella dated Yass Junction, 21 – 1909, obviously January or February. “Mrs J.Hunter, Reynold Street, North Goulburn, NSW s.a.g. Dear Aunty Mary, I sent you a P.C. last Tuesday and have not yet received an answer, but I think it must have gone astray because I only addressed it to Goulburn. The doctor said he cannot do Willie’s arm any good now. Write soon and let me know how Mona and Fred [are]. Love from Stella.”

The last of Mary Hunter’s letters that we have could have been written at any time: “Dear Brother and Sister”, she writes to William and Sarah Cant, “Uncle Abraham’s Sarah has been down here for a holiday and is going home on the mail train Wednesday morning. I thought you would like to see her, she would like to see you both …”

Abraham Cant was the ninth of the thirteen children of William Cant who married Susanna Curtis; he was a younger brother of Francis (the fifth child) who married his second wife Bridget Horan, the parents of nine children: Sarah Ellen, 22 June 1859; Jeffrey James, 8 July 1861; Francis Patrick, 23 May 1863; Martin, 30 April 1865; William (Lilian Gladys’s father) 14 June 1867; Mary (Mrs. Hunter) 6 October 1870; Bridget, 26 April 1873 – died aged 13, 18 December 1886; Thomas Joseph, 4 June 1875; and Gertrude Matilda, 4 June 1877. Martin, William and Mary we are now familiar with. Abraham Cant married Catherine Martineau and they had thirteen children, including Sarah; they lived originally at Dingo Creek and later moved to Carcoar.

We next hear from Gladys in Sydney: there are two postcards dated 4 January 1910, one to Stella and one to her father. Things have moved quickly. There is no indication in the letters of any excitement or special news; she is simply in Sydney, on holiday, seeing the sights, with Mrs Whittaker (a lady of fifty) – and, if we read between the lines, a friend. The friend must be Gladys’s soon-to-be husband, the handsome John James Whittaker. By now they were pregnant with their daughter.

She writes to Stella 4 January 1910. The card is a New Year card with a 1910 calendar on it. (The date and address are assumed from the following letter to her father, dated 4 January 1910): “I am having a bit of a holiday. Will be home next week. Might bring a friend with me.”

To her father she writes, 4 January 1910, c/- Mrs C.W.Brown, “Kerribree”, Hereford St, Glebe Point: “You will be surprised to hear of me being in Sydney. I came down with Mrs Whittaker. She is going home early next week, so I will go home then. Will you be willing for me to bring a friend home with me … They will only stay a few days” – convenient and ambiguous “they”, who had come down from Condobolin on Sunday morning. They went to St Andrew’s on Sunday night – the Anglican Cathedral where John James’s father had been christened in December 1848. The postcard features St Andrew’s Cathedral. On its right hand side are the original gates of the Sydney Town Hall – they now grace the grounds of St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill.

On the Monday night they went “down to the Quay and out to Callan Park”. The Callan Park visit was not out of mere sight-seeing curiosity: they visited John James’s father, John Whittaker. John died in Callan Park Asylum for the Insane, 9 July 1910, at the age of 61. He had been a “general carrier”. The carrier was finally himself carried off by phthisis pulmonalis, a progressive wasting disease of the lungs, probably tuberculosis. His mind must have been badly affected, hence Callan Park. John James was present at the Church of England cemetery at Rookwood three days later to witness his father’s burial.

They went to “the moving pictures” and were to go to Manly that day, “not coming home till the last boat.” On Saturday they were to go up to the Hawkesbury Bridge. “So you can see”, she concludes, “we are having a good time”. It was one of the best holidays Gladys ever had. My grandmother was here not for a good time so much as spending her time looking after others. There were occasional short trips and a holiday with Honor in Tasmania around 1950, but life was hard for Gladys and she bore it gladly – like her name.

The friendship with John James included more than sight-seeing: Gladys at this stage was some two months pregnant. No doubt it was at this time that John James bought her the exquisite engagement ring: it is utterly simple with three sapphires and two diamonds set into a plain arched band of gold incised with several simple scrolls. My mother gave it to me in 1974 and I wear the ring now.

Gladys and John James Whittaker were married 16th February 1910 at St. Augustine’s Church, Yass, her family’s home place: he was thirty one and a handsome man, she was twenty and winsome. The wedding must have been a family affair because William Cant had given his consent, Stella was a witness if not a bridesmaid, and the wedding photo is a work of art. A hand painted photograph cut out and pasted between sheets of glass, with a painted background to give a three dimensional effect – all in an oval frame. The wedding dress was elegant, high-necked and embroidered, and John looked splendid in a dark suit and patterned waistcoat: it was no slap-dash affair.

Gladys Cant and John James Whittaker at their wedding 16 February 1910

The photo appears to be from the same time


This photo is cropped from a picture taken of some Cant Family members
probably late 1920s at Merrylands
At this time John Whittaker would have been about 50. He has not aged well

The marriage certificate indicates that the marriage took place 16 February 1910 between John James Whittaker, bachelor, aged 31, farmer of Condobolin, born Cowra NSW, his parents John Whittaker (by now in Callan Park) and Elizabeth Stephens, and Lilian Gladys Cant, residing with her parents, Yass Junction, spinster, aged 20, born Goulburn, her parents William Cant and Anne Wessler [deceased]. They were married at St Augustine’s Church Yass. There is no indication that John James was a Catholic, though the officiating Minister was (presumably Father) John Leonard. There was no consent given by parents for John James; however, William Cant gave his consent for the marriage of his daughter. The witnesses were Patrick Shiels and Stella Cant.

All of that makes it very hard to understand Gladys’s next letter to Stella. Dated 26th April 1910, it begins: “You know my address … I have not been too well lately. Jack is having fairly good health”. She goes on to say: “I wrote to Mrs. Lang and sent a letter for you in with hers. If I write your letter to Yass Post Office, would you be able to get them. Let me know as I want to send the photos to you if I can. If you can’t get them from Yass let me know and I will send them c/- Mrs. Lang. Jack is going to write soon. … I had a letter from Aunt Sarah, [her father’s oldest sister]. Mary Goodwin sent two postcards to me at Yass Junction, did you see anything of them?” She concludes: “Hope this has more luck than the others.”

There was no address, to or from, on the card. The most intriguing thing is that the writing is back to front: hold it up to a mirror and the writing is perfectly legible. It was an art Gladys had cultivated: there is a small example of it in the Composition Book. But why all this seeming secrecy? Gladys’s marriage was not a complete surprise to the family; there was a month’s warning; the events surrounding the wedding seem normal enough. Did the early pregnancy worry them? It may have been an embarrassment for Sarah Cant, though William Cant and Anne Wessler’s marriage was just in the nick of time: two days between their marriage and Gladys’s birth. Maybe Stella was out of favour over the birth of Jack Cant out of wedlock; but yet she was a witness to Gladys’s wedding. Whatever the cause, the back to front writing is fascinating – and very skilful.


Post Cards 26 April 1910 – back-to front writing and reversed

And the cause may well have been both those matters: Jacqueline was to tell me 11 November 1986, after this story had been originally written (1986) that her mother, Stella, was indeed out of favour: she had to seek refuge in the later stages of her pregnancy or perhaps after Jack Cant’s birth, 16 December, 1909, at the Salvation Army Home at Marrickville. Sarah Cant may have been mortified by the untoward pregnancies of her two step-daughters. One might imagine a to-do, especially if Sarah’s husband himself had married a part-Aboriginal girl and taken her to the altar a mere two days before she gave birth to their child! This can only be speculation and may be far from the truth. It may be too easy to paint Sarah in a poor light, for she cannot speak for herself; and it is to her eternal credit that she was prepared to rear the children in the faith of their father.

Gladys’s postcard of 21 June 1910 is the last one for six years, and things seem to have returned to normal. Stella is again at Yass Junction, (I have no idea who was looking after baby Jack Cant). “Jack and I are in good health at the moment” [though she is a month away from her confinement]. The weather is beautiful; Yass is very cold – though the winter has not been a cold one; any news of the Cants in Cooma? Condobolin show will be held in August this year. “Jack is going to write every day, but he keeps putting it off” – and Gladys is getting to know the man she married!

The card features two kittens and the inscription: In Kindness and Sincerity, for Friendship and for Memory. Greeting! Whatever storm seems to have marked the previous card, all seems to be back to normal.

Gladys and Jack’s two children were born fairly close together: Honor Delores Frances was born at Condobolin 16 July 1910, and Douglas John 8 March 1912. [It would be interesting to know where Gladys – presumably herself –got these names from: there is no Honor or Delores or Douglas in the family background that I am aware of.]

Life must have been hard for Gladys, but she was tough and certainly not afraid of hard work. I suspect that she had to work to make ends meet: John James had no trade or profession, having worked with teams of horses at an early age and being involved with timber getting. In one of her letters she refers to him “ploughing his crop” (26 April 1910) and on Honor’s birth certificate he is described as a carrier.

I know from Doug that at some time the family was living in a tent in the bush and there was trouble with biting camels and mischievous horses. Gladys told a story of leeches attaching to her leg and out of fright she sliced them off with a sharp sickle, which left its mark for the rest of her life.

Doug used to delight in saying he was born in Cowra “at the foot of Billygoat Hill”, (which I discovered was where the hospital was situated!). But whatever the sequence of events, the family were back in Condobolin in 1916.

No doubt there were other cards, but her next extant letter of 11 November 1916 is written from Orange Lane, Condobolin. Its glancing reference to World War One is touching, and the letter also shows her devotion to Stella: “I am writing once more to let you know I got the parcel safely yesterday evening. What a long time it took to come. I will try to have your skirt done and sent back by Tuesday. I was surprised when I saw the length of the tear. I imagined it to be something like the others but I will fix it up for you. Send along anything you want done. I will gladly do it for you. I must thank you for the nighty [sic] and the camisole. They are very nice and won’t take me very long to work them. I must try to have them done before Xmas if possible. The fur is very nice now and so are the photos. They are very like you. Mrs Mc [possibly Mrs McNulty] says the one of the bust is just what you looked like the day you were dancing around with ‘Bimbi’. [This is probably a nickname for John Sivyer whom Stella was to marry in 1919 – he was born in Bimbi.] I have a terribly bad headache today. I can scarcely see to write. Did you get two letters this week? I sent a short one on Tuesday and a long one on Thursday. I have to scrub the kitchen and back veranda now, then go to the train with this. I have to go to my lesson at 2.30 today. [What lesson? Was it the piano? She was denied the chance to continue with the instrument some years before.] I went yesterday but they were entertaining someone at afternoon tea. Twenty boys are going away today. I will be able to see them off, won’t I. No more. Love from Gladys.

A fascinating card! What kind of lesson was it? Whose place was she scrubbing? She would have known a number of the boys going off to the First World War. Where are Jack and the children? And how anxious she is to do that sewing for Stella. Gladys’s needle work was beautiful and she tried to pass on her skills.

The card features a girl sitting on a man’s knee. It says: “I am holding my own in Parkes.” The girl’s hand has “Stella” written on it, while “Gordon” is written on the man’s hand. This is not in Gladys’s handwriting – Stella may have written it in later.

Another undated letter (my guess is 1919) to “my darling” Stella from Condobolin refers to the dust storms every day. She asks after Jack – either Jack Sivyer whom Stella was to marry 24 May 1919, or young Jack Cant, now aged about 10 – “How is Jack? He must be very lonely.” Gladys feels the heat – “It was frightfully hot … I thought I would peg out [now, that is a Gladys phrase!] We have had an awful dust storm every day. Picture how it disheartens you when you clean up. PS: Give my love to the girls and tell them to write [whoever they were].” This card speaks volumes about Gladys’s bountiful affection and willingness to do whatever hard work came her way – that was the Gladys I knew from the 1940s till she went into a home for the aged in the early 1970s.

I recall a similar dust storm in Condobolin when I was younger than five, let’s say 1943 or thereabouts; the adults said “We’ve got to rush home, there is a dust storm coming.” I have recollections of them stuffing newspaper at the bottom of the doors.

Another card is addressed Orange Lane, Condobolin, but no date though I guess 1920. She keeps working for her sister: “… I sent you your coat today. I do not know whether it will suit you or not. I could not do any better because there was not enough material. I think that had Mrs. Smith [Gladys’s mother-in-law, the former Mrs. Whittaker, who married William Smith in 1919] not joined the pieces I could not possibly have got it at all. I had it done by Thursday but your boy did not call for it. I don’t know what I did to him. He calls every other time. I stayed up till one o’clock on Wednesday night so that it would be done. I hope you like it”. It is addressed, as is the last card, “My darling sister”.

The last card we have from Gladys to Stella is dated 18 March 1920 and was sent from Condobolin. It tells us a number of interesting things. “My darling sister,” it begins, “just a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and doing well. I get very good health now. I only hope it lasts. I have no intention of going under the operation just yet. When I tell you I have my boarders back you will know how I am. They were very pleased to be able to return. They did not care about McInnes. Jack [husband Jack] is on Wright Heaton’s lorry this week. Mr Byron is very ill. They are going to take him to Sydney. I suppose you have quite settled down in your new home. I guess Jack [Sivyer] had everything in apple pie order and was pleased to get you home. Did you go out to Granville when you were in Sydney? We have had some awful dust storms. How do you feel after your holiday? I suppose you miss being at Katoomba. Fancy Jack (“The Greek” [?]) being down here. Peter is trying to sell out. Well dear I must close. Long letter next time. Love to you and Jack from Gladys.”

An email from Rod McInnes 20 October 2016 tells me: “On 22 March 1922 there was an auction of furniture belonging to Neil McInnes at Myra Cottage, Orange Street, Condobolin. Neil’s wife, Christina née McKenzie, had run a boarding house for some years previous. I wonder whether Gladys was in competition with Christina McInnes at Myra Cottage, not there herself (at least prior to 1922). This might explain her [Gladys’s] statement in March 1920 that “They [the returning boarders] did not care about McInnes.”

She ran a boarding house called Myra Cottage – in Denison Street, I think – in Condobolin for some years, and it was to become a bone of contention: John James was inclined to jealousy. Stella was now married to Jack Sivyer, reputedly a fastidious man who was bound to have everything “in apple pie order”. The holiday at Katoomba is beautifully captured in a photo of Stella and some friends below a waterfall. The reference to “Jack ‘The Greek’ ” is intriguing, but obscure, and uncharacteristic of Gladys.

The Cant family had moved to Sydney by 1914 to provide opportunities for the younger children. The next Easter Gladys’s favourite brother, Frank, died; but there are no extant letters with any reference to the death. I wonder whether she travelled to Sydney for the funeral.

This photo of Frank came into my possession only 12 September 2017

I believe there is a similarity between Frank and his father as a younger man
Until then my grandmother, Gladys, had only one fabricated image of her beloved brother

The final card in this fascinating package of letters from Gladys is as unexpected as it is vague: unsigned, even the addressee’s name is incomplete – “Mrs. J. J. Whitta–” – and a scrap of verse which speaks for itself:
Though far away Dearest I’ll never forget
The love I have borne since the moment we meet [sic]
Though smiling I mingle
In throngs of the gay
And I silently pray that a blessing may rest
It has a cute image of two young ladies stepping across a stream, skirts hoisted, showing their ankles, with the phrasing: “We’re Picking up alot [sic] in the Town, and having a most El-leg-ant time.” Everything points to John James, and my sister says the writing is his.

On that happy note we leave Condobolin. It was 1926. Gladys had been running a boarding house for eight or nine years. The children were growing up. Gladys was thirty seven, Jack forty six, and he looks every bit of it from a photograph taken about that time of a group of boarders on the front steps of Myra Cottage: he is there with Gladys and Honor.

Boarders at Myra Cottage, Condobolin c. 1926. Honor in front, Gladys with Jack back centre

The youthful good looks have faded; the prospects of employment for the children were unpromising; Jack was jealous of Gladys with the boarders, and he was probably not all that close to the family, the romance of 1909 having long since passed. Gladys was the centre that held the family together and she decided it was time to move to Sydney.

Honor and Douglas in Condobolin

A beautifully composed photo of Douglas and boarder Miss McNamara, Condobolin

The decision having being made and everything packed, Jack could not make up his mind. Gladys and the children went; Jack and most, but not all, of the goods followed. How much of what was valued and treasured has been lost in the many moves that the family has made. In more recent years it was to be expensive cut glass and bedroom suites hand-made and French polished by Malcolm George and friends, Japanese dolls and a Japanese ceremonial sword, among many other valuables.

The Sydney sojourn begins at 28 Gosbell Street, Paddington: J. Whittaker is listed at that address in the 1927 Sands Directory. Honor goes to Business College and Douglas to the Christian Brothers School next to Sacred Heart Church, Darlinghurst, and their story is told in another chapter. Gladys must have taken on many jobs, mainly cleaning, but I am unaware of the nature of these during the 1930s. Soon after Jack arrived he became involved in a garage business in Boundary Street, Paddington, between Campbell and Coombe Streets. It was not a success by all accounts, and was eventually to be burnt out. He was to take up work with a vacuum cleaner in time and saw out his working days in the homes of various folk around Paddington, setting off in the mornings with his cleaner strapped to his back.

Honor at Gosbell Street Paddington

Boundary Street garage – Jack Whittaker 6th from left

Gladys was a good business woman and invested in properties. She owned the Boundary Street house and she had properties at Manly Vale and in the Blue Mountains. She made no money, to speak of, from them. She was a hard working woman for whom hard work was second nature. When I became aware of her in the 1940s as a youngster I was awed by the amount of work she did.

The following information comes from the archives of the Sydney Town Hall, courtesy Graeme Shirley December 2016.

YEAR  NUMBER    STREET       TENANT                    OWNER or LANDLORD
1933     41                 Boundary      Ernest J Ingram       George Wirth
43                Boundary      John J Whittaker     Edward Thomas West
1936     41                Boundary       Les Mommertz         George Wirth
43               Boundary       John J Whittaker     Edward Thomas West
1939     41                Boundary       John J Whittaker    George Wirth
43               Boundary        H Buttler*                 Edward Thomas West
1945    41                Boundary        Gladys Whittaker    Mrs Lillian G Whittaker
43               Boundary        Myrtle A Kent          Edward Thomas West
1948    41               Boundary        Lillian G Whittaker Mrs Lillian G Whittaker
43              Boundary         Ada Kent                    Mrs Ethel Maud Mary West
*I presume this is my mother Honor Butler but I do not know what lies behind this note.

From this chart it appears that John (and Gladys and children) lived at 43 Boundary Street Darlinghurst (with the lovely name Camira) from 1933 till moving into 41 Boundary Street where they were living in 1939. By 1945 Mrs Lillian G Whittaker is living at and owns (I believe) 41 Boundary Street. In early 1947 Honor moved into her mother’s 41 Boundary Street house with two of the children, Tony and Adele, while her husband Malcolm George Butler was in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces, and the oldest child Paul was boarding at St John the Baptist Boarding School at Hunters Hill. Gladys moved into 43 Boundary Street probably in late 1948. Meanwhile Jack stayed in the front room at 41 while the rest of the bottom floor was occupied by the Butler family (Paul still at Hunters Hill) and a family named Hamilton lived upstairs. It is hard to imagine many families living that way these days, though there must be plenty of such families around the country.



Boundary Street houses  – 43 (1994 ) and 41 (2011)

Mrs Ethel Maud Mary West, presumably the widow of Edward West, lived in a house in 160 Barcom Avenue, immediately behind the 41 Boundary Street House, between the Alfanos and the Whartons. My recollection is that she kept very much to herself and we children thought of her as a recluse. Many years later, probably in about 1960, my sister Adele nursed her in St Vincent’s Hospital and found her a gentle old woman, grateful for the attention.

Gladys began working at Bathurst House in Castlereagh Street, next to the Fire Station, in 1929, according to a reference dated 15 June 1933, from Ernest Steele, the long-time caretaker and friend. He says that “Mrs. Whittaker was employed by me at the [Bathurst House] address for the last four years.” She is “straightforward, honest and a very good worker … who holds the respect of myself and every tenant in the building”.

Gladys must have been applying for some new job, maybe at the ANZ, for there are several references written in the month of June 1933 from, besides Ernest Steele, F.W. Marlin of the Condobolin Steam Saw and Planing Mills (he gives her address as 43 Boundary Street), Thos. B. Watson, Universal Providers, Condobolin, from B.J. Dunphy the Shire Clerk of the Lachlan Shire Council, and from Hon. H. C. Moulder M.L.C. They all attest to her good character, “very honest and trustworthy, a fine citizen of Condobolin whom we could ill afford to lose (and her family were like her goodself), a woman of splendid character, a good Mother bringing up her two children in the manner that reflects the greatest credit on her, respected citizen of the town, capable, energetic, highly recommended”. They certainly reflected the woman we came to love as our grandmother. These are further written tributes to the “valiant woman”.

She was up at four or five o’clock in the morning and would go to the city, often enough on foot, and work at cleaning during the day. She would clean and polish the ANZ Bank in Bathurst Street, between Castlereagh and Pitt Streets (later moved to the north-western corner of Castlereagh and Bathurst Streets) and be finished before the bank opened.

Then she was off to Bathurst House, where she cleaned a number of showrooms in that building. She worked for such names as Pankhurst who sold buttons, for Paynes who sold glassware and crockery – she found her niece Yvonne her first job there – and McGillvrays who sold Rondon shoes, and whose son Allan became the cricket commentator. Those floors and corridors were spotless and she did them by hand: she could never manage the electric polisher which got away on her, so she went up and down with a padded broom weighted with lead. The employers treated her with respect and affection and a touch of reverence.

On a number of days a week when she had finished at Bathurst House it was off to the Pickwick Club in Pitt Street near Hunter Street where she was employed to make hors d’oeuvres – savouries we used to call them. None of your Jatz crackers and French Onion dip: this woman started from scratch. Fancy shapes of bread cut out by hand, deep fried and drained, special toppings made – cream cheese (at home it was made several days before a function and hung up in muslin to drip, in the lean-to which was the laundry), gherkins, anchovies, coloured pickled onions, sliced and curried boiled egg, and the inevitable paprika. She worked for hours on these concoctions. And there must have been cleaning involved because she sometimes arrived home at midnight, having to face another rising at four. On a bad night she would also be faced at that late hour with Jack, “dying” yet again, who had to be taken to Dr Waddy in Darlinghurst Road or to St. Vincent’s Hospital. Jack was always dying.

Her hours seemed long, and while there is always danger of romanticising those we admire, she certainly did rise at that early hour, and on many nights she arrived home very late. This went on during the Forties and Fifties and into the early Sixties. Even when the family moved to Elanora Heights in 1957 she walked the three miles from home to Narrabeen to catch the six o’clock bus into the city to continue her cleaning jobs. She was seventy.

She retired from the ANZ Bank early in 1960. A letter from the manager, 16 March 1960, says “we will all miss your cheerful good morning as we come to the day’s toil. I would like you to know how I personally appreciate the way you looked after and kept the premises and especially the way you always had my room spick and span and ready for me. The Chief Manager also desires me to convey to you the Bank’s appreciation for your long and faithful service”. She received £141/10/11 for Long Service Leave and pay in lieu of holiday leave: the 11 pence mattered in those days.

A hiatus hernia and prolapsed uterus put her in Royal North Shore Hospital and an end to her working days. She was over seventy when she finally retired: it would have been a brave employer, a foolhardy union or a stubborn government who told her that women retired at sixty. In 1964 she had an operation on her eye to repair a detached retina. It was unsuccessful. She sent a Ten Pound donation to the Convalescent Hospital at Concord, and the Matron replied: “We were as disappointed as you were that the operation was not a success. You certainly did your part; you were such a good patient.”

The woman was meticulous in her duties and we were taught in the same way. Corners were for cleaning in, starch was for being made by hand and with a beeswax candle to stir it – that gave a shine to the finish and I can still see the candle that was always used, tapering down to a slim end where it had been melted away. Sponge cakes were made with perfectly creamed butter and sugar – how we hated that, and no Mix-Masters allowed. I once tramped Taylor Square and Kings Cross for pimento only to be sent back a third time because she had meant paprika all the time. You didn’t dare complain that it was her mistake – she didn’t make mistakes! I carried trays of savouries, now you know how they were made, each one with attention to detail and with threats, up Liverpool Street to the Marist Brothers High School on Darlinghurst Hill, with her imprecations ringing in my ears: “You drop one and I’ll skin you alive.”

I was eleven and much as I loved her, I believed her. I once hid in the toilet from her and was so afraid she would bash the door in that I meekly gave myself up. She would never have laid a hand on me – the words were admonition enough. This same fearsome woman also bought me a picture of the Sacred Heart to hold pride of place in the kitchen, with an oil lamp and a supply of mineral oil to burn before it, much to my father’s amazement and the accompaniment of smoking wicks. She may have seen something in me at that time that I did not realise.

She was the valiant Woman of Proverbs: she sought out linens and worked them, she made waistcoats and dolls’ bedspreads; she brought food from afar and cooked it magnificently; she rose in the night and attended the household – her husband, or on one occasion rushing me to St Vincent’s when Id cut my finger badly while preparing supper for the Misses McNulty, Biddy (I once said Bridget and was roundly reprimanded!) and Anne. She laid her hand to the spindle and the distaff, and sometimes to our bottoms metaphorically speaking; all her household was well clothed in good garments; her husband was known in the gates when he sat with the elders of the land, and she did not quite approve.

Strength and honour were her clothing, she opened her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue was the law of kindness. Her employers and those who knew her as a friend had tremendous respect for her, because she was an honest woman for whom the job was a sacred task. Socially speaking we were ordinary middle class in those days, but Gladys could hold up her head in any company. On one occasion she held a party at Boundary Street for the Pankhursts who were wealthy enough to have an apartment at Gowry Gate in Macleay Street, Potts Point. It was a pre-Christmas function and Gladys prepared everything for it, with our help, of course, though we children were not permitted at the table. I remember bringing in the champagne in an old aluminium bucket – they had the grace to laugh and I got away with it, even after the guests had departed!

Her brothers and sisters and nieces seemed to look to her, for support: she seemed to be the centre of the family. She could wring out sheets for Jacqueline if her wrists were too weak to manage, she would encourage Clarry to have a twenty-first birthday for his daughter; she would make cups of tea for Jack Cant when he arrived somewhat the worse for drink. Her own daughter felt she took second place to these people when their needs seemed greater. That was Gladys – if others needed it, she gave, and we gave too, not because she did not care for us, but because that was simply the right thing to do. Of course this may have left some feeling neglected or overlooked, but in the long run we were better people for it.

We missed out on nothing. When I went to Bowral and Mittagong to join the Marist Brothers, the family, having been to early Mass at Sacred Heart, would arrive six or seven times a year by train or bus, laden with food and cakes and gifts, and spend the day with this youngster who wanted to be a Brother. Gladys was always there with the support of her love and prayer and cooking.

She was a holy woman, not in any showy way but with a quiet, humble, almost Jansenistic piety. She was a devoted Catholic and brought up her children to be the same, while her husband could not be said to be a religious man. Sunday Mass was a happy obligation which she would neglect at the peril of her soul, yet she never went to Holy Communion – some Jansenistic streak in her which would not allow her to approach the Blessed Sacrament until very late in her life. You would not dare to ask a question like that. She was always devoted to the novena to our Lady on Saturday nights: we all went, whether we liked it or not, though sometimes our father would put his foot down and say we weren’t to go – but he would change his mind and we would rush out, probably just for relief from the tension in the house.

In the early Fifties, Gladys and Honor bought two pieces of land at Elanora Heights. We had been living in 41 and 43 Boundary Street, Gladys having moved back into 43 when our family moved into 41 in 1947: there was news that a freeway would go through the property so we sold and moved to Elanora Heights. The Kings, the Golds and the Restuccias stayed, even till quite recently; the houses are still there, the freeway still to come.

The new house at 33 Coolena Road was one I never liked: single storey, stained weather-board, and open spaces inside. I felt ill-at-ease in it. I was there only during occasional holidays, but the family was there from 1957 to 1967. Gladys, again, held the family together: our father never moved, and he died three years later in Darlinghurst; Jack Whittaker pottered around, gave up his pipe and tried all manner of things to ward off the intruding breezes till he died in 1964; Paul moved away to sea; Adele went to Adelaide to study midwifery in January 1965; Honor was ever faithful and in the background: who knows how important her support was to Gladys’s centrality.

In 1967, after managing for a few years on their own, Gladys and Honor called it quits at Elanora Heights and bought a unit in Neutral Bay: Unit 8, Gladstone Court, 10 Lindsay Street. It was one of the nicer kind of units put up in an age of average quality.

At Easter in 1972 Gladys, Honor and I took a nostalgic trip to Condobolin. As we travelled through Parkes we were able to meet her old friend Mrs Glad […] at the station, a lady Nan talked about with affection. (I cannot remember the surname.) We stayed in a motel, walked the town, visited Aunty Mag, the pisé house (occupied by Bill Oppy, son of Jack Whittaker’s sister Doll) and the cemetery, as well as spending time with Ted and Doll Oppy. It was wonderful time for us.

Ted wrote to Gladys, 3 May 1972, to express his hopes that she had recovered from a fall she had in the Condobolin Motel while we were there.

In 1974 Gladys began to deteriorate. She had been a strong woman and a powerful personality, and did not give way to the flesh. The flesh itself began to give way: she had always suffered from headaches; she had a hernia operation in 1963; in 1964 she lost the sight of one eye because of a detached retina. In 1974 she broke her hip and that was the beginning of the end: some time later in the Mater Misericordiae Hospital at Crow’s Nest, the onset of senility; into a Nursing Home at Cremorne; then a few years in the Loreto Nursing Home at Strathfield. Honor visited her regularly and seemed to communicate with her; I could get no response. On Adele’s visit from Perth, after an hour of conversational chatter she said “I’ve got four children. I’ve been a busy girl, haven’t I!” and Gladys responded “You certainly have.” That is the last thing I know she said.

They were fitting words for Gladys. She was not afraid of hard work – she enjoyed being busy and approved of others being busy: the notion of four children to be reared and educated and cultivated would have appealed to her. And she was always wonderful in support. It is no wonder that Adele’s statement elicited the approving words of this woman: “You certainly have”.

Three generations: Pinjarra c.1973 – Gladys with Honor, Adele and daughter

Gladys was a peacemaker and did much to heal the rifts in family relationships: she could keep in touch with Uncle Bill when his marriage may not have been popular; she could support and encourage Stella’s children, the outsider Jack and the fondly-regarded Jacqueline; she could push Clarry into doing something for Von; she made contact with Molly after a rift of many years; and she wished at the last to be buried with her beloved Frank. Von and Jacqueline still glow when they talk of “Aunty Glad” – nobody else in the family elicits such a response.

So the valiant woman went peacefully after lunch one day, 20 July 1979, “in my ninetieth year” she would have said. She was buried from the Sacred Heart Church, Darlinghurst, where she had faithfully worshipped for so many years, her lamp finally gone out in the night. She had opened her mouth to wisdom; the law of clemency was on her tongue. She had looked well to the paths of her house and had not eaten her bread idle. Her children rose up and called her blessed and in his own way her husband praised her. Many women have gathered together riches, but she surpassed them all: may she have the fruit of her hands, and may her works praise her in the gates.

Adele’s Graduation St Vincent’s Hospital 1964
Honor, Tony, Gladys, Adele, Paul

Tony Butler
October 2017