Stories

Daphne Garner

Daphne Garner

91, Cohuna Village

I was one of 13 children because Dad had 6 children with his first wife. Amy died and he was left rearing these children, with his mother’s help. Then he met Mum. Mum was from England and they just adored each other (I was so glad that I had a husband like that – who thought I was marvellous, even when I wasn’t). When Dad married Mum, they had 7 daughters. There was Dorothy (Dorothy died when she was 10 months old), Mary, Margret, Cath, Patricia, me and Rosemary. They don’t know why Dorothy died. Mum said she was always such a quiet baby, never moved and one day she just collapsed. They think maybe she had a heart attack. But they didn’t really know those days. Pat died when she was 5, she had cancer of the stomach (I was 7). In those days they used to have dances and fancy dress balls to raise money for town improvements. About 6 months before Pat got sick she was entered into this baby show. You could enter children up to the age of 5 – it was to raise money – Pat was awarded champion baby. It wasn’t long after that she was just lying in bed one night and projectile vomited. Mum said it was just shocking to see. She took Pat in to see Dr Stuart in the town and he said there was no hope, he knew what it was. It was a very rare thing. Pat hadn’t complained of pain and Mum said the thing she couldn’t get out of her mind was that 6 months before that she had been awarded the champion baby. She was in hospital for about 6 or 7 weeks before she died. I remember it was very hard for us to go over to Echuca hospital. In those days there were no trees on either side of the road and I think cars only travelled flat out at about 30 mile an hour. A neighbour who was a mechanic, he had made a sort of a car and a friend drove all of us children over to see Mum and Pat. I remember the sun was burning down and when we got to Echuca we found out the Duke and the Duchess of Gloucester were coming to Echuca that day. She was pretty. As soon as we arrived, someone grabbed us and said “Come on over to the station because the Duke and Duchess are arriving!” They were standing on the front of the train, hanging onto a rail at the front of the train – they didn’t get off. Everybody waved their flags and things and as kids we thought that was just the most wonderful thing to see. Royalty right up close.

When Pat died, Dad was home with us. Somebody rang one of the neighbours, because we didn’t have the phone on. They said that Patty had passed away. I was sitting and watching Dad. He was digging something, he had a lovely big strawberry patch. The neighbour came over to tell Dad and he turned and said, “Patty’s gone”. I remember the tears running down his face and as a child you never thought that fathers would cry. He continued to dig around these strawberries and this neighbour, he just took Dad inside to talk. In those days you made a cup of tea for everything. If you broke a leg, you have a cup of tea until the doctor came, that sort of thing.  Dad knew there was no hope for her, but Dad just loved us all so much, loved his kids.

My husband and I were involved in just about every organisation you could think of. There was no ambulance. One day when my mother had to go to Bendigo the only way she could get there was with the school bus driver, Frank Stanton. Jack, my husband, said to me “This is not good enough. There are all these people that need help but can’t get it!” So we started to raise money to buy an ambulance. We’re very proud to think that because of are two stations, two cars, two ambulance men and a house for the ambulance officers. We did all that.

We decided when we were working that we would like to save up and go to the outback for holidays, so we did! We roughed it because we believed if you were going to do something like that you did. We had a lovely time, year after year. We had a lilo each and when the bus pulled up it was a case of grabbing your lilo and pumping it up. But many times we were without water. The first time we went I got caught out because there would be no water at the next place. Only just enough to drink. And you get pretty messy when it’s so hot. There was an elderly man there – he was 85 I think – and he used to travel each year. He said he did it after his wife died. I said to him, “I’m going to miss having something just to wipe my face”, and he said, “Oh, next place you go to see if you can buy a hot water bottle.” I would then fill that up if we were somewhere where there was a bit of a stream or tap. We were limited as to what we could each carry and you couldn’t have a shower or a wash or anything like that –they told us that before we went.

Jack could put our tent up in 3 minutes! So he ended up putting everybody’s tent up. One lady said to me, “Oh Daphne you always wake up so bright in the mornings, how does that happen?” and I said, “Oh, well one of the reasons is I have a lovely cup of tea”, and she said, “But the cook doesn’t come on until later?” and I said, “Well Jack has asked and they allowed him to work the pump up thing, and he could boil the water and make me a cup of tea”. So one of them said, “Do you think he would make me a cup tea when he does yours?” I said “Yes, of course he will”.  So you used to see, I think there were 20 something cups or mugs spread out and ‘that’s mine Jack, that’s mine, and I have a bit of milk in mine’, you know, and he’d knock on all the tents with a cup of tea for each one.

There was a young lass from South Africa who came back and stayed with us – we kept good friends with a lot that came through.  I remember getting a letter once from her that said, “I’m sorry this letter got torn, I was away and when I got back a lion had been through my tent!” And it was ripped. That was when there was trouble in South Africa. One time she just didn’t write back, so we sort of lost track with her.

The worst thing on these trips were the young fellas who would think, “Oh this is going to be great, there will be a lot of girls out there. And I’ll share their tent and all of that.” Jack and I had been several times at this stage and we got to know the driver and the cook pretty well. We stopped somewhere for morning tea and Jack and I sat down on a log and having a tea and a lass very shyly came over and said, “Excuse me, could I sit here with you?” I said “Yes, by all means”. Turns out she was from overseas and after that she sort of came with us all the time. Anyway, we were at Coober Pedy and they used to say it wasn’t where women should go on their own. This man, about 40, had come on this trip and kept siding up to the girls, so Jack would always make sure he was in between him and the girls. Anyway, they wanted to go to this dance, and one of them said, “What are you doing tonight Daphne?” I said I was going to sit by the camp fire with Ray, then I’ll go to bed. I asked, “Why?” And they said, “What’s Jack going to do?” I said, “Well I suppose he’s going to do the same thing”. So the four of these girls said we wanted to go to the dance but they told us, “Girls don’t go on your own, do you think Jack could come with us?” I said, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him”, and Jack said, “Yes I’ll go, but I won’t dance, but I’ll be there with you”. He came back after, having a laugh saying, he would be standing there and the girls would get up and dance together and when they’d finish, they’d go back all around Jack. The other fellows thought they wouldn’t go near him because he was a big beefy bloke! Anyway, another night we all had to sleep together on the ground on this concrete in the shelter. And of course you’re lying with your lilos close together and if somebody snores that’s tough luck! This particular night the girls had gone out and Jack hadn’t gone, he stayed with me. The girls had gone and said, “We’ll be alright, there’s four of us together”. Anyway, I woke up – I’m a light sleeper – and I could hear this arguing outside. We had a man who had got on the bus in Melbourne and he’d said he was a medical man and somebody said, “Oh he must be intelligent if he’s a medical man”. And I said, “Well he’s not a doctor and he hasn’t got the brains to be anything else. He’s got to be a porter, you know, who either sweeps the floor or does something like that”. Turns out he was mad. He just wanted to get with these girls all the time and they weren’t bothered with him! So anyway, I could hear this sobbing outside and so I reached over and I said to Jack, “You’d best go out and see what’s wrong there”. So he climbed out of bed. This man wouldn’t let the girls into the shelter until one of them went off with him. Jack went out and next thing these girls came and they were crying. I said to one of them, “Look, my bed’s warm. Hop in here, you can have a sleep on the side of the lilo”. I’ll never forget it. People came and went and they usually grizzled early on in the piece, “I never thought it would be like this”, and then later they realised that’s what it was like.

Jack had Parkinson’s, his mind was clear until he said his last words. Jack was paralysed, he had a lot of pain but like I said his mind was clear and talked right until the end. The last thing he said to me was, “I love you”. Our girls were with us, all three girls and their husbands. He loved them all and they loved Jack. He never left the house or kissed me goodnight without saying “I love you”, and I’d say, “I love you, Jack”. It was our thing. We were happy, he was a wonderful man.

In one of the prayers I think it says, “To thine own self be true, then you cannot be false to anyone”. Do that and be honest always. It used to annoy Dad when people owed him money, they would be out with a brand new horse and hadn’t paid what they owed him. I think Dad’s advice is good – if you haven’t got the money, you don’t buy it! But I think the first most important thing is to be honest. Because then you are honest with your children and they learn to be honest and you’re not going to be doing something to hurt someone else. And to be respectful is to tell the truth and to respect other people’s ideas. Not everybody has the same thoughts and same ideas. You don’t have to agree but you can respect them and listen to what they have to say and still respect their ideas. And hopefully they respect yours. I think people today can be a bit inclined to be selfish. They think, it’s not my concern if you see someone sitting on the roadside, no one around and it’s a hot day. You can think, “Well, I suppose he needs a drink of water but it’s not my worry.” That’s being silly! But I think it’s just a different world, it’s changed. But you have to go with it because where else would you be?

The good thing about the world these days is people are more learned. You know, they have the facilities to learn. I mean we have those brilliant doctors. Like those doctors that operated on those conjoined twins in Melbourne the other day. There are some brilliant people in the medical world. It’s also good as far as travel goes now because in my day to travel you had to go on a ship and sometimes they sunk. That was terrible – and I’m going way, way back – but it’s changed. Things have changed in my 91 years. I don’t regret that we were a big family, a lot of people had big families. I don’t regret that because we’ve got a big family and when something is on, we all gather together still.  And I’m still in touch with people, even though they’ve had to move away to make a living. I don’t regret that we were poor. When I say poor, we just didn’t have money. We had plenty of food and love, we were warm and we had log fires. Always clean and tidy and scrubbed up, you know? You just passed the clothes on, they just kept going down, and being passed on with alterations. Mum always said she felt people were more demanding now, you know, they’re expecting more, for less work. The shops are full of this and that, it’s just a different world. A much different world.