Stories

Jackie Dermody

Jackie Dermody

72, Wellington Views

My husband and I met on a pub crawl actually [chuckles]. A girlfriend and I were – I suppose I was about 20, 25, I suppose, 25 – and we were between boyfriends and we decided it was New Year’s Eve and we’d go on a pub crawl. And we went to St Ives which is in Sandy Bay Road – I don’t think it’s called St Ives anymore. And we went in there and there were these two blokes playing pool, and Helen said to me “oh they’re eyeing us up” and I said oh no way, I said let’s move on. So, we went up to the top and they followed us in [chuckles]. Anyway they came and asked us to dance and that was it, we were an item for the evening. But as soon as I met my husband, I knew I was going to marry him sort of thing, he was the one, and he felt the same, I think. I think we sat up all night watching the sun come up from his car you know sort of thing in Battery Point, yeah so, we were together right from then, so it was just an instant thing.

I just sort of felt I was totally trustworthy of him, you know sort of felt he was a nice guy, he was the sort of guy that you could trust and you’d want to be the father of your children sort of thing. Although I wasn’t focused on kids, I had my – they call it a bucket list now – but when I was young I had this bucket list of all the things I wanted to do. And one of them was to go back to Africa, to where I was brought up, and I had always felt it was my home, and I wanted to go and I wanted to do some travelling. I wanted to have a really good job and I wanted to have my own flat and a car and all that sort of independence. So, I wasn’t focused on kids then, and we were together seven years before we had children. I was 30 when I had my first one. But we’d done all our travelling by then and gone back to Africa and sort of did all that, and our first two children were born there and we came back here because of the terrorist war. But he was British; he was out here on a working holiday as young men used to, to travel around Australia. There [were] no visa restrictions then, if you were British you just came into Australia and in and out of Britain, if you were Australian you didn’t have to have this 100 points and things.

So, he was here and his friend Les – and Les married a Tasmanian girl, it was funny, he went out with my friend Helen for a while and then he moved on and he was going on to Western Australia and Brian decided to stay here. And we moved in together, and it was the days before you lived together, you know it was really sort of sinful if you lived with somebody before you got married. And anyway, we took a little cottage in Bathurst Street that was 100 years old, and if you dropped something on one side of the room it rolled to the other side because all the floors were out of warp and everything. If I knew my mother was coming to visit, I’d have to rush around and hide everything, hide his toothbrush and anything that belonged to Brian I had to hide. So she didn’t know that he’d – I don’t know if she ever knew, she never asked me so I don’t know. Anyway, after a couple of years we got married and then we went overseas and we came back here, we went overseas in 1974 and back here in 1978 with two children and had a third one here. But I’ve never regretted it, I love Tasmania, I think it’s the one place – well maybe not the only place – but you can bring up children here in a safe atmosphere, safer than some anyway.

My old friend Judy, we’ve been friends for 47 years. She’s a gem. She never says anything nasty about anybody, she’s just lovely. I don’t know we’ve just always got on so well together. She’s older than me, she’s ten or twelve years older than me, but it never seems to be like that, she’s never had children but she’s sort of been like an aunty to my kids, she’s always sent them birthday cards or been involved in birthday parties and things like that. And she comes every Monday and she’s done it for a number of years, because she came to visit me in the unit regularly on a Monday afternoon, and she says she loves it too because we just switch the TV off and we make a cup of coffee, and we just talk and it just flows you know. We talk about all sorts of things, and things in the past and the future, and what we’ve seen on TV or what we’ve done during the week and it’s just amazing, and I think good friends are like that. I’ve had a few good friends in my life, a few I’ve lost through death, but Judy would be the oldest. I first met her when I went to work at the Uni and she was the map librarian and I was in the office, yeah so, it’s a long time. My friends have always been older than me for some reason, maybe I’ve always been looking for a mother figure, which I didn’t get a lot of support from my mother. Even when we came back here with two children, I thought that might make a difference, that she might want to be involved with them more, but she didn’t. And when I went to confirm the pregnancy for my third one and I came back and I was pleased as Punch and said yes, we’re having another, ‘oh I don’t think I can cope with another one’, and I thought you don’t do anything anyway. I mean she very rarely ever looked after them, and if anything, she used to take my daughter out and spoil her and bring her back with bags of lollies and crayons and colouring books, but nothing for the boys. And after a while the boys started to notice, and Conor said to me once ‘why doesn’t Nanna like us mum?’ and so I had to say something. I spoke to my father, and I said look you’ve got to convince her she can’t play favourites, and what she gives to Stacie she’s got to give to the others. And anyway, she took exception to it so we lost contact for a while, but no she wasn’t ever an influence, in fact she suffered with depression as well, and I always thought that’s the one thing I want to avoid is depression. Whatever happens to me you’ve got to put a good face on it and for the sake of other people around you, because she was a real misery guts.

You need to make the most of what you’ve got at the time I think, it goes so quickly the years. Like when you’ve got children, young children, all the time you’re trying to think of them reaching the milestones, like the first time you go out without the nappy bag and all the spare clothes and the bottle and all that sort of stuff, and you think wouldn’t it be lovely when we can go out without the nappies and things like that. Or the first time you’re not going to have a tantrum or something like that, and then suddenly they’re teenagers, and then you can have problems with them if you don’t keep that communication up, you’ve got to keep talking to them – because it must be a lot more difficult now because kids expect a lot more from you as parents I think. But I think you’ve got to enjoy what you’ve got at the time as much as you can, because you can’t help the disasters that happen. And I guess most people experience – you very rarely get through life without having some sort of trauma, an awful thing that happens to you. But I don’t know, I just have learned to put it out of my mind, and also I often give this advice to people if they’ve got a lot of grief to deal with, is to think of it in a box that you put it away and you shut the lid, and then you take it out every now and then and grieve and then you put it back. Because otherwise you inflict it on other people and then you’re not such a nice person to come to be near, and you’ll alienate people if you’re the miserable one. Because I saw years of my mother being miserable and depressed and I never wanted to be like that, but sometimes it takes a bit of effort, you have to do it. We’d only arrived in Tasmania in late December 1966. So, I came down here -my family were in Brisbane and my father got a job at the Hydro, but my brother was at the Brisbane Grammar School and my mother wanted him to finish the term. So, she stayed up with him in Brisbane, and I came down with my father to choose a house and everything. So, he chose this house along Acton Road which it runs between – well now it runs between the highway out to the airport and across to Lauderdale. And it’s up on the hill Mount Rumney, which was the old way before they put that highway through, you used to have to come up Mount Rumney and down Mount Rumney, then down to Cambridge and back out as well. And our house was sort of tucked underneath that hill and it was an internal block with a narrow driveway right up to the back, and it was a bush block, and it was the worst spot. I would never live anywhere like that now after experiencing the fires. But I remember the day of the bushfires. We were all working in town and the atmosphere, the sky, everything turned yellow. You knew there was smoke and everything too, the sun yellow blazing down and it was really weird. And all the radios were saying if you can get home to secure your place do it now, if not, stay where it’s safe. And all these warnings – and they were evacuating the schools and everything and taking the children to places of safety and all that sort of thing. So, after that we decided to go home because we had animals at home – my dad and I showed dogs – and anyway we wanted to get home to make sure they were okay. So, we drove home, and up this Mount Rumney. It was like a column of cars creeping up because the electricity lines were down, someone must’ve run into a pole or something, there wasn’t any fire there. But there was a man standing in the middle of the road sort of holding up the electricity line so we could get underneath, and we got back to the house and we spent all night watching the fire. And they had the prisoners from the jail up on Mount Rumney trying to beat a fire track, and my father was up on the roof with the binoculars. And the fire actually burnt down either side of our property and went on and wiped out most of Cambridge and then burnt onto Midway Point, and everywhere just blackened fields, and all the sheep were all lined up – were dead against the fences where they’d stampeded and got trapped in the fences and got burnt to death. It moved very quickly, it was the noise of it that really frightened me, and even now I get very nervous if I see smoke anywhere or anything like that, I go through it again. I’d never live in the bush though, never, because of that, yeah. And we were so lucky because there was only one entrance and exit out of our place, and the house that my father bought was a timber house on a bush block so it could’ve gone up like anything. Because it was a timber house, it was painted with linseed oil so you can imagine it can’t you? The aftermath was awful, because the radio all night was going with parents trying to find their children, because the teachers had evacuated them to the nearest place of safety but the parents didn’t know where they were and it was really horrible.

When I was a child, we’d moved around the world such a lot, and I never had a continuous time at a school that I’d gone all the way through school. So, I’d made lots of friends but I’d left them behind, and we had no extended family, I mean my parents were here, but I didn’t get on with my mother very well. And even after I had children, I thought that might bring us closer together, but it didn’t because she was pretty critical about what sort of mother I was, and I was pretty laid back with my kids [chuckles]. Anyway, I think the fact that my husband and kids, we were sort of a close family and we stayed close even when our kids became teenagers – my daughter she stayed living at home till she was 24, and then she went off travelling to Europe and England where she met her husband, in the town where her father came from. Then our youngest, he was 23, he bought his house and he saved really well and bought a house and moved out. But the last one was 27 when he left home, so there [were] always people around, because they always had their friends call in and things like that, so we always had a house full of people. And there [were] also two boys that lived next door that didn’t have a mother and they used to spend all their time with us. They’d come home from school with mine, they were in the same classes, and they’d just come straight over and spend the rest of the day, and they grew up in our house sort of thing, because their father would just yell for them at six o’clock when it was teatime. So, we always had a house full of kids and I always had lots of animals as well, you know because I used to breed and show cavies [guinea pigs], I used to show dogs before I had children, but we couldn’t afford it afterwards. We had rabbits and we had an aviary full of doves and budgies and cockatiels, and we had bantams, and we had a couple of ducks that had been hatched out – I love ducks. And the place was like a zoo. In fact, the school, the Glenorchy Primary School – we lived just on the hill just above there, and they used to bring classrooms of kids up for an excursion. To Mrs MacDonald’s backyard [chuckles].

My kids used to laugh at me because I dropped my daughter once, or I put her on the bed to change her and turned to get the nappy and she rolled off [the bed] and went plonk onto the floor. Oh dear, and she screamed and screamed and screamed. And then once I took her out in the pram and no reins on the pram or anything (straps on the pram) and I was looking at some clothes, had my hand on the handle of the pram, but I was looking at some clothes on the rack. And she took that moment to stand up and reached towards me, and of course fell forward and the handle of the pram went into her mouth and knocked her teeth in. And oh dear, my kids always said I experimented on Stacie before I had any more [laughs]. But they bounce [chuckles].

Yeah, I suppose they’re the happiest times, I think. And I was very involved in community stuff then because I didn’t work, I had three children under five, and it wasn’t worth putting one or two of them into childcare, it’s very expensive – it’s even worse now. So I did a lot of community work and then I got involved in the Safety House organisation and I don’t know if you know what that was? But people were approved, you had to be police checked, and they wore a little yellow plaque on their letterbox with a smiling house. A child could go into that house and you knew that people were safe to ask for help. Well, I was the state secretary of that for 27 years. I was also national president at one stage. The trouble was that as time went by more and more mothers were working so there wasn’t anybody at home in the houses. And a lot of kids went to after school care or they had mobile phones or they went to a neighbour’s house or something like that, there wasn’t the need for it. And after we lost our youngest son I just lost heart, I went [through] a bad period then because my husband got sick as well at the same time, and so it was a bad time. So yeah, we had to recall all the signs and stuff, and once I did that I just handed it over to the police and you still occasionally see a sign around, but it was a good idea, but you don’t see kids on the streets anymore really, not young ones.

The saddest time of my life would be losing my son I suppose that went missing off Clifton beach. We think he was trying to save another boy, he was – what do they call it? I don’t know if they call it a carer? But anyway, these were children– Wards of the State – that were taken off their parents, and they were put into group homes, and then there were teams of carers that went in over 48 hours and spent the night with them and looked after them. And Brendan was a team leader and he was called in on the Saturday because someone else was sick, and he took these two autistic boys down to [the] beach, to give them a walk on the beach, because they used to fight when they were in the home. One was younger than the other, and the big boy, his name was Jackson, he had actually been handed into the department by his mother, she actually took him physically into the department and said I’ve had enough with this, he’s 15, he’s a big boy. And he was starting to molest her, he was starting to grab her and push her up against the wall and manhandle her, and she said ‘I can’t handle this anymore you have him’, so he was a bit of a handful. And they shouldn’t never have put two autistic boys in the same house, but anyway that was their decision. And nobody ever knows what happened, but a woman walking along the beach saw the youngest boy just standing in the little waves where they were breaking up to his ankles, and he couldn’t talk, and he was just pointing out to the sea. And then they found Brendan’s sneakers and his mobile phone and his keys in a line down to the water, like he’d been discarding things as he ran. And we think Jackson ran into the water and Brendan went after him and they got caught in the rip, and they’ve never found any sign of any of them. Nothing, nothing’s ever been washed up or seen. And people scoured the cliffs and the beaches and everything for days afterwards, and lots of his mates all turned out over that weekend to look for him. Because we thought they might’ve been washed up onto the cliffs or the rocks and couldn’t get back, you know that they might be isolated somewhere. Yeah that was the worst thing because he was 28, and he was a big fellow, well both my boys – one is 6 foot 5 and the other’s 6 foot 4. Brendan was 6 foot 4, but he was very athletic and he was very keen on the outside activities, and he was all for getting these kids out of the house and doing things, bushwalking or playing a sport or something. And you just couldn’t imagine him going just like that you know, but they say that rip – once you get caught in it – and if there’s somebody hanging around your neck fighting you for it, so you wouldn’t have a hope really. It’s something that never leaves you when you’ve lost a child. And I still see him, you know there could be somebody driving past and it’s just the set of their shoulders or the sunglasses or something and I think oh it’s Brendan, you know it’s not, and it’ll never be. But I’d like to think he was still around, but yeah that was pretty awful, and then of course my husband went down, I mean he’d had a stroke, he was in hospital while this was happening.

The story gets a bit worse, because my daughter had been out here with her husband and the one granddaughter. They’d been out here for three weeks holiday, and they’d been staying with Brendan and his fiancé Erin in their house, and they went back on the Tuesday morning and they were flying back to England, and we were all going to the airport you see to see them off. Anyway I went to wake Brian up and said to him ‘you have to get up now Brian, we’ve got to get going’, and I could tell something was wrong because he couldn’t talk sort of thing and the side of his face – [I] immediately knew it was a stroke. So, I rang Brendon up and I said ‘don’t tell Stacie because she’ll be upset and she’s got to fly all the way back’, and I said ‘just say that he’s not very well and just come around here to say goodbye’. And anyway, so she flew off and I thought I don’t know whether she’ll ever see him again so that was pretty awful, and then as soon as they’d gone, I rang the ambulance and got him sent to hospital. So he was in hospital when all this happened on the Saturday afternoon, and it was a couple of years later that my daughter in law Katie (Conor’s wife) was taking him somewhere, out to an appointment or something, and out of the blue he said ‘you should’ve come and got me’, and she said ‘what? What are you talking about Brian?’, and he said ‘you should’ve come and got me’. And she said ‘what do you mean?’, and he said ‘when you were searching for Brendon I should’ve been there’, and she said ‘but you were in hospital, you’d had a stroke’. And he said ‘it doesn’t matter’, he said ‘Jackie was there’, I was in a wheelchair but I was sitting in the backseat of the car, in a carpark at Clifton beach, while everybody was searching, I was there. And he said ‘I could’ve been there too’, and he never ever said anything, but it had obviously played on his mind. So, after that he developed leukaemia and bowel cancer and died, so I was all alone and I’d never ever lived on my own ever in my entire life. I had never lived alone because I lived with my family first as you do, and then moved out, and I shared flats with other girls, and then I moved in with Brian and we married and we had kids. And I’ve always had people around me sort of thing, and suddenly I was so alone, and especially after his funeral, because people came back to the unit and everything and had cups of coffee, but eventually they go home. And it’s so quiet and especially in the mornings, I hated getting up in the mornings, no one to talk to sort of thing, yeah so that’s one of the reasons why I moved in here, because apart from my deteriorating health the fact that there’s always someone around.

The rheumatoid arthritis I sort of got in my 50s, my brother had had it, he developed it six years before me, which was terrible because he was a musician and it deformed all his hands. And he could hardly play the guitar anymore, it was really sad, so I knew what to expect and there’s no cure for it, it just keeps getting worse and worse. So, I thought what is the point of battling on by yourself, and if you can’t get out and about and participate in stuff your friends fall away, because they expect you to be able to do what they can do, go out for lunch or – and you start to get isolated, especially when you like to be around people. And here it’s lovely because there’s always someone here, the carers are lovely, they all seem to genuinely like their job and like people. And I hear them talking to some of the more disabled ones and they’re always so kind, they always speak nicely to them, there’s no bullying or a bad temper or anything like that with them. And they’ll do anything for you, I mean even the catering staff, I mean they always make me a cup of tea exactly how I like it; you know little things like that that’s really nice. And I sort of developed a funny stomach, after being here they concluded that I was lactose intolerant, so I sort of miss out on some of the desserts and things like that. But even the cook, if they make a bread and butter custard, she makes me one with lactose free milk, so I’ve got my own little bread and butter pudding and it’s so lovely, you know it’s really nice. And I find – well apart from having the help too as well, because I need help to get dressed now and showered and everything. But just the fact that there are people, I can just ring the bell and somebody will pop along, and I’m a night owl, I stay up till two or three o’clock in the morning. Yes, and then I read, sometimes it’s four o’clock before I go, I only sleep for about an hour or so.

I feel a bit guilty about my mother. I think if I had been a bit more understanding – I think if I’d been, if I’d known what depression was like. Because, I mean I did go through it myself after Brendon went and I sort of battled to deal with it, if I’d been a bit more supportive of her, I think, a bit more understanding, maybe she could’ve gone through it a bit better. My father reckoned it was clinical depression but there wasn’t a lot that they could do about it except medicate her, and she refused medication. It was the days of the Valium when they used to treat women with Valium and they were doped out of their brains most of the time, and after a while she just chucked it and said she wasn’t having it anymore. And I think she went to a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist told her that she was punishing men – because her father and mother had orphaned her, they’d died and she’d become an orphan, and she blamed her father and – apparently he had an affair or something – and so I don’t know whether her mother committed suicide and then he had a heart attack. But she had this thing about her father, she wouldn’t talk about it much. I only learnt about bits from my father. And then she’d been put into a foster home and she’d been interfered with by the man in the household, so she’d had a pretty awful time, she was only about 14 or something. And I used to see the way she treated my father, she used her illness to control him, you know like if they came to visit us and dad would be having a lovely time playing with the boys and romping with them and everything, and then she’d say ‘oh this noise is getting to me, it’s giving me a headache I have to go, I’ll have to go’, and so she’d make him go and take her home. If I’d been a bit more understanding maybe instead of – I always thought that I knew best you know [chuckles]. You do when you’re younger I suppose. I wanted to protect my children really, when she started playing favourites with my daughter that got my maternal instinct reared up, and I’ve never forgotten Conor saying to me why doesn’t nanna like us very much, I thought that was an awful. But anyway, we didn’t see much of her and then she died when she was 64. I didn’t even know she was ill, my father rang me up and just said your mother died last night just like that.