Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I didn't purposely put Dad first but gave him precedence as he was the older of the two.

My adoptive mum (the one who chose me to be her daughter) was born in London, England in 1897, towards the end of the Victorian era. Her father was a lawyer and from what I can make out (and after re-reading some of his letters from years back) I feel he was somewhat of a snob. He was for many years involved in Freemasonry and was a Grand Master and mixed with very high ranking people throughout his life. I googled Percy Rockliff and up came pages and pages of history of the Masons that involved Percy throughout those many pages.

Mum had a sister 7 years older than herself and a very gentle, quiet mother who eventually, with her two daughters, was forced to leave the family home because it would seem that she was nor suitable as a wife for her husband Percy. I think he kept them for many years and educated his daughters but had his wife sign an agreement that she would never sue for divorce as the Masons did not believe in divorce. I doubt that piece of paper was legal but he went on with his wonderful life whereas his wife lead a very quiet life on her own. Those were the good old days (for men anyway).

Mum had a good education and found employment in the Sugar Commission where she was secretary to one of the head of the commission. This is of course where she met dad not knowing at first that he was a widower or had a small son. From what she told me she fell in love with this much older man (she was 19 and he 31 when they first met. They married in December 1917 in South Tottenham and as England was still involved in WW1 there were many photographs could be taken (not sure why) and they were able to get only a few days for a honeymoon.

Family members came down with the Spanish 'flu which swept through the world after the cessation of hostilities and dad was very sick as was mum's sister Amy. It was only procuring oxygen that saved Amy's life. She had worked for an oxygen company and mum appealed to the boss of that company who made the oxygen available.

To cut a long story short dad was told that his health was failing and it was suggested he emigrate to a warmer climate. The decisiion was made to come to Western Australia and so mum and dad sold their home and possession and along with dad's young son sailed on the "Euripides" and disembarked in Albany in May, 1920.

Their object was to take up farming and you must remember these two people had come from good homes and good jobs and had absolutely no experience of farming. Obviously they considered it would a healthy lifestyle but they had many trials and tribulations through the ensuing years which included the Great Depression, being burnt out and flooded out to name a few.

When I was 4 mum had a major operation and developed thrombosis in both legs so was bedridden for some time and she and I spent some time in Albany while she convalesced. Eventually the doctor told dad that he couldn't guarantee mum's survival if they didn't leave the farm. I am not sure anyone in the Western world today could imagine how hard the work was back then and the long hours they worked. They grew potatoes which is a backbreaking job when you sow the seed potatoes by hand and only have a a horse and plough to dig the furrows.

The hard decision was made for us to move up to Perth...I don't know the financial details but I feel that medical bills and mum not being able to work on the farm had meant perhaps borrowing from the bank. All I know is that they walked off the farm with very little but their clothing and aboud five pounds in their pockets.

All this after 17 years of really hard yakka must have been devastating but they seem to have taken it in their stride regardless of what they had to go without. I know mum only had one good dress and very little else in the way of clothing but somehow I was always well dressed (mum made my clothes...possibly borrowing a sewing machine) and I have a photograph taken when I was 7 of a very smart little outfit she had made me.

As told in dad's story he eventually found a very good job but I have never managed to work out how they managed to send me to college from the age of nearly 6 until I was 15. At no time was I ever made to feel we were poor...they were two very proud people who would never allow their poverty to be evident. I don't think I ever thanked mum for all she did for me and perhaps haven't realised this fact until after her death when I've had time to really consider it all.

In 1952 we moved to a new home dad had subconstracted to be built and very comfy it was too. It was while living there that I had celebrated my 21st birthday, my engagement to H#1 and my marriage. I later learned that mum had to borrow a little money from my half-brother to help pay for the wedding. Even then she was still battling 'cos dad had just not wanted to work after he sold the shop in 1947 so I think building the house may have incurred a mortgage.

I have to go back a few years now as I have somewhat jumped the gun here. When dad sold the shop in 1947 the rate of inflation in Australia hit an all time high so they were left with insufficient money to live on. Dad said he had retired and didn't intend to return to work so mum set about trying to find herself some type of work. She was still a skilled shorthand typist so looked around for something entailing secretarial work. The Women's Service Guild was seeking a part-time secretary which paid an honorarium of three pounds a week and she accepted the position and from there her life changed quite remarkably. The President of the Guild was a Mrs Bessie Rischbieth a wealthy woman from Peppermint Grove who worked untiringly for women's rights and those of the downtrodden in the world. They became fast friends and I am sure it was Bessie that got mum's mind on social work.

I had just begun work as a secretary when dad sold the shop and I was paying a small amount of board each week out of my two pound eight shilling weekly wage which I have always hoped helped mum a wee bit with the housekeeping.

Mum was still involved in a lot of social work when we moved to Joondanna (in the house they built there) and I somehow felt she needed to branch out on her own to pursue her interests and this may have been the foundation of her decision to tell dad it was time they separated.

Mum of course then had to find fulltime employment and this she did without any trouble. She was a very well spoken Englishwoman and impressed people when she first met them as being very competent, which she indeed was. He first job was as private secretary to the manager of Bouchers Industries in Osborne Park and when that firm I think was taken over by a larger firm (don't quote me on that) she then found a secretarial position with APT Shipping in Perth.

This is becoming a very long story but Mum's life had so many components which needs to be told. I will continue this in the next few days while I gather my thoughts about what happened in later years in this fantastic woman's life.

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