Wednesday, January 21, 2015

MUM'S STORY (1920s)

We left mum, dad and Len on their way to Australia aboard the "Euripides" and spending a few days in South Africa.

Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME" by Gertrude Ruston (pp. 48-51)  (I have added photos, some of which are my own)


Landing in Western Australia

Approaching Albany we found the rocky terrain rather awe-inspiring and had some slight understanding of the feelings of the early settlers when they arrived from overseas and were thrown very much on their own resources in a difficult and hostile environment.  No houses were visible and no people; the sea was rough and deck chairs were being thrown about from one side of the ship to the other.

The ship could not go into the jetty so we had to go down a rope ladder into a small boat.  Harry had been presented with a silver clock, duly inscribed, as a farewell gift from the Royal Commission on the Sugar Supply, just as we were leaving.  Young Len needed his father's help to get down the wretched rope ladder, so I as given the precious clock to carry while I made my very nervous and shaky descent.  I nearly lost the thing several times. as I found two hands quite inadequate for holding onto the ladder, my handbag and the clock.  However, we all landed safely in the small boat with our parcels and were taken to the jetty where a large group of people awaited us."  (Note:  I never saw that silver clock as, of course, it was destroyed when their farm house was destroyed by fire before I was born).

"I had been told that it never drizzled in Australia but rained heavily an then stopped suddenly.  Imagine my disgust to find that we had arrived in the midst of a Scotch mist!!

Of the people awaiting the ship we particularly noticed one couple because they had a most beautiful Collie dog.  They spoke to us later in Albany and we became very good friends for many years.  They were Annie and Jim Dakin, and they had been out from England for many years.  Jim was choirmaster at the Anglican church, a charming old building in York Street, one of Albany's main streets."  (Note:  This is truly a very beautiful old church.  It was initially built by townsfolk and completed in 1844.  In 1851 the tower was added by soldiers stationed in the town.  When completed the church could hold the entire population of the town - 170 people).

This photograph (also taken by Trevor Bunning in 2012) shows the interior of the church looking toward the alter:

"First of all, of course, we had to seek accommodation and were recommended to a boarding house in York Street called "The Clifton",  handy and reasonably priced.  We settled in there together with a number of other passengers from the ship.  By this time it was getting dark and the evening meal was being served."

This is an old photograph I have of the Clifton where mum, dad and Len stayed after arriving in Australia.  It appears in the photo the boarding house is either in the process of being demolished or renovated.  I have no idea where the photograph came from but I do know I've had it for many years.  You can see the name CLIFTON HOUSE on the board behind the two men.

"The majority of boarders appeared to be from the outback, such as farmers and miners.  They were all very pleasant and told us something of local conditions.  I was, of course, very young, and some of the old timers decided to have some fun with me and warned me to beware of fearsome wild animals in the bush.  There were some very weird noises going on outside, and the men told me these were really dangerous and to keep inside.  However, I noticed that people were going in and out of the boarding house without any special precautions and, by asking a few questions discovered that the 'wild animals' were only frogs.  I pretended that I was really frightened the men were pulling my leg and I was pulling theirs, and we eventually had many laughs together over it.

We stayed at the Clifton for a while before deciding what to do and where to go.  This enabled us to enjoy the scenery, the different varieties of trees and the countryside, so different from England.

Later we learned that Mr and Mrs Elsegood from Holborn, London, who had been with us on the ship, had bought the Clifton boarding house and we always stopped there whenever we were in Albany and we became firm friends."

This is a photograph I have of Mrs Beech, who was formerly Mrs Elsegood before she was widowed.  She is with her grandson Peter.  If I remember correctly she had both grandsons, Peter and his brother Brian, live with her for some years.  I don't know remember the full story as I was very young at the time.  I do vaguely remember Mrs Beech as a very kind elderly lady and I do vaguely remember the two boys but I was probably only 5 years old when we visited them in Albany from our farm in Narrikup.

"What were my first impressions?  First of all the beauty of the Albany district and the friendliness of the people, the lack of twilight, with night following so closely after day; the way heavy showers resembled the sudden tipping up of a bucket of water, confirming what I had been told in England; the differences in the types of shops and articles for sale; the simple clothes worn by both men and women; the way men foregathered at functions and local hotels and left their wives on their own; the deadly quiet of the bush at night; the comfort of a wood fire in the boarding house soon after we arrived, during the chilly dampness of May; the way in which so many people, children particularly, went barefoot, the latter even doing so when going to school; the different manner of greeting people -"goodday" taking the place of "good morning" or "good afternoon", and the change from "good evening" to "goodnight" due no doubt to the lack of twilight; farmers with horsedrawn vehicles in town collecting supplies and very few cars; the depth of gutters in York Street, allowing for drainage of the heavy rain from the hills.

Wandering around we found a small park nearby and were playing ball with Len when Jim Dakin looked over his fence and invited us in for a cup of tea.  They were very hospitable and had an attractive home.  We gathered they had no children and had adopted a boy who was killed in the war.  I do not know the facts, but believe he was not a baby when adopted, and it was a great blow, particularly to Jim, when they lost him.  They had a boarder, a young man named Thompson (nicknamed Tompy) to whom Jim transferred his affections.   He became almost like a son to them and was with them for a long period."

This photograph of Annie and Jim Dakin was taken some years later outside their Perth home.  With them (on the left) is Annie's mother.  I remember "Auntie Annie" and "Uncle Jim" very well as a quite old fashioned elderly couple; they probably once would have been described as "genteel".  Jim Dakin worked for the AMP Society all his life.   The last time we visited them (I was still quite young) they were living in a caretaker's cottage belonging to a very large house in Dalkeith, one of Perth's very posh suburbs.  The owner was away at the time and the Dakins had been given permission to entertain in the big house in the owner's absence.  I imagine Annie would have felt right at home among all the beautiful appointments in that big house.  I do remember being given a cup of tea in a very lovely cup and saucer with matching bread plate and the difficulty I had trying hold both without having an accident.

"We did not wish to take Len straight from his boarding school in England to a small school in the bush, where we understood there would only be one teacher and a handful of pupils.  We decided to board him in Albany so that he could attend the local high school and placed with a Miss Burt, her sister and brother-in-law, well-known residents, and descendants of early pioneers, who had been recommended to us.  They were nice people but past middle age and extremely prim.  After a short time we found that it was not a suitable hom for a small boy and Len was not happy.  Jim and Annie Dakin offered to take him and he was with them for some years until, in fact, we came to the end of our money and could no longer pay for him to remain in Albany.

Annie Dakin was a very clever needlewoman and an expert at making curtains, cushions and bedspreads.  She had become well-known in the district and received orders from shops, hotels and many regular clients.  Years later, when they moved to Perth, she made the large stage curtains for the Ambassadors Theatre in Hay Street, Perth, when it was built.  This theatre had a ceiling painted to represent the sky at night and was, I believe, the first theatre to install the latest in cinema organs."

The Ambassadors opened in 1928. I remember seeing films in this theatre and always felt quite proud that I knew the lady who had made these beautiful curtains:  (The theatre closed on 2 February 1972 and was eventually demolished to make way for the Wanamba Arcade which included a new theatre).

"Annie had a great love of beautiful things and Jim worshipped her and nothing was too good if Annie wanted it.  She had a quantity of good china including a Crown Derby dinner set.  On one occasion, when she was washing up after visitors had left, she asked Len to wipe up the dishes.  He, poor child, no doubt being too careful, dropped and broke a plate.  Annie lost her temper and took the reminder of the Crown Derby set and threw it out of the door, smashing the lot.  Jim came round the corner at that moment and you can imagine his reaction!

 I blamed Annie, not Len, for the accident, as she had no right to allow him to handle such precious things.  I offered to make good the broken plate and try to match it which I am sure would have been possible, not knowing at the time that she had smashed the remainder in her rage.  I apologised for the breakage but pointed out that Len was only a small boy and requested that, in future, he should not be asked to perform such tasks.  Annie admitted that she was at fault and the matter ended by Jim replacing the set.

Their home was very beautiful but rather untouchable and a great contrast to our "necessities only" farm house.  I would have loved to know their impression when they stayed with us on the farm in later years."

So we now have the little family enjoying Albany (it is so beautiful you can't help enjoying it) and deciding what their next move is.   Join us for the next installment and find out what they choose to do with the rest of their lives.


  1. What a wonderful thing to be able to make a fresh start and sculpt your life anew.

    1. Yes, but what determination they had to undertake such a venture. We all tend to cling tenaciously to what is familiar but of course in this case it was dad's health that caused them to make the fresh start.

  2. Fascinating.
    It is giving me a fresh appreciation of my mother too. Her arrival was later, but she left so much that was familiar behind. Forever.
    Thanks Mimsie.

    1. Thanks EC for your continuing support of mum's story.
      It is only when we know someone who has undertaken such a journey that we can have an inkling of what it meant to them. I know mum missed her mother very much and was devastated when she learned of her death in 1938. I can remember mum crying when she received the cable and my mum was not one to shed tears very often.

  3. Hari Om
    OH those first steps on new much ahead, so much behind... YAM xx

    1. Hi Yam and thank you too for continuing to read about mum's story. Those first steps into new territory must have been quite mind blowing. Everything so different to them. xx

  4. Smashing a whole dinner set because one plate got broken?? That's astounding.
    Had a good laugh over the frightening monsters being only frogs, what a trick to play on a newcomer.
    I can well imagine the difference between a busy English dockside and the rocky seemingly empty coastline of Australian Albany, seeing no houses or people at first would be a bit worrying.

    1. I remember mum telling me that story when I was about 11 and I thought she was joking but it was true. Annie was quite an old fashioned little lady but obviously loved her precious things so much she couldn't bear to see a piece broken. I think Jim indulged her a little too much but perhaps not having children caused her to love her possessions so much.
      There are lots of frogs in Albany. I remember years ago (back in about 1950) when holidaying there going for a walk one night and the sounds of the frogs was quite amazing.
      The coastline along our south coast is quite amazing and as they approached Albany mum and dad probably wondered just what on earth they had to come. It is very beautiful but would be quite daunting to newcomers.
      Thank you too for continuing to follow mum's story.

    2. I just realised I used the word 'much' three times almost in the one sentence. Tch Tch!!