Stories

Tom Davidson

Tom Davidson

89, Wellington Views

I didn’t like school at all and I don’t think I was particularly bright, but I must have had a fairly good knowledge of mathematics and physics and I suppose I relied on that a lot in my business life.  I was 9 when the war started and 15 when it finished, so I lived through the war. We never got bombed, we lived six miles from the big town that got hit hard – it was a ship building town. My wife lived just out of that town and she remembered a lot more of the bombings than I did. Her father was a specialist constable in the First World War – but he was too old for the Second World War – they used to do patrols with the regular policeman. I was proud of my Dad because he had a good job. We lived in a coal mining town and most of the coal miners were either on strike or they were on the dole or they were going to work in the dark in the morning, in winter especially, and coming back at night literally coal black – and there were no regular baths in those days. I was the only one at school that didn’t get free milk because my father had a job. All the other kids in the class got free milk but I had to pay for mine! My father was virtually on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My father was a chauffeur for a doctor, the doctor wouldn’t drive himself. My father would be known in the town, he would be seen driving around in these flash cars with a uniform on, whereas the rest of the town were going to work down the coal mines. Dad was a hard worker and good gardener.

I went into the Airforce for two years when I was 21. I’d just got married, finished my apprenticeship and about to go onto adult wages and they whizzed me off into the Airforce. So I really didn’t appreciate that! But I made the best of a bad job. I called my autobiography “Opportunities”, and looking back on my life, I’ve had a lot of opportunities and I’ve taken advantage of those opportunities. When I went into the Airforce, I made the job the best of the best there was. When I came to Australia, same thing. I said I’d settle anywhere in Australia – but I didn’t know a thing about Australia! We chased the jobs and the money. Because we arrived in Australia – my wife and three kids under six – and you couldn’t get a house to rent in Melbourne. People used to camp outside The Herald office on a Friday night and get the Saturday’s paper and go through the houses to rent and ring them up at 1 o’clock in the morning! There were 30,000 on the list in front of me for a three-bedroom house – that was 60 years ago! So, we moved to Ballarat to get a house and worked for a manufacturer there.

While I was in Ballarat, I met this guy that we started the business with. We rented this factory for $3 a month, and we eventually bought him out and we took a third partner in and he bought some capital into the business for us to start. Peter, the new partner who put the money into the business, he was being the salesman then, and he didn’t like being a salesman. He was a farmer actually, he sold his farm and moved to Ballarat after he separated from this wife, and he tried being an insurance agent but that didn’t work, so that was when he bought into our business. We were making a corner back then for rendered plaster over concrete or block work and things like that and Peter took these samples around with him, and the more people he showed to them, the more said to him if you come up with a corner for plasterboard, which is used in every house in Australia just about, then you’d be onto something. So, we got our heads together and we designed the one that would be for plasterboard. We handmade a section of this and we bent them on a rounded piece of wood in a vice and drilled the holes with the drill and Peter carted these samples around that were handmade. Then out of the blue, on a Friday, I remember it was a Friday, we got an order – would we send twenty, nine-foot lengths to a hospital in Melbourne. We didn’t have a machine to make them or anything! The strip that we used for the sample was four inches wide and they needed three and a half inches wide and we didn’t have any coil! So, we finished up building a machine to cut twenty times nine-foot lengths with tin snips down from four-inch-wide to three and a half inch wide and we worked every hour that god sent over that weekend! By the Monday, we were rolling it, but it would come out any way but straight! There were no books on the subject and in the yellow pages in Melbourne, there was only two roll formers listed, and one of them just did guttering and ridge capping, and the other one was just for cupboards and things like that! So, we were pretty new at it and there weren’t any books, but we eventually finished up delivering the twenty lengths on the Wednesday, and they were that pleased with how they finished up they ended up ordering a total of about seventy-odd lengths! Plasterers don’t refer to the edge of a wall as a corner, they refer to that as an external angle, so that was where I thought of the idea of calling the product “X-Angle”. And you can Google that name today, you’ll find it lists all the different strips, some of them that we made, and other ones that they’ve added since! And I’m very proud of that fact! My friend and I started that business without any money, we were both living in housing department houses, we were both driving 10-year-old cars on hire purchase and both fresh out of England. Ree had two kids, we had four kids and we just managed to get job with the family we worked for and had only saved about a month’s wages. We rented this little factory for three dollars a month and it snow balled from there.

Dorothy [my wife] reckons – or Dorothea as she was – that’s complicated. She was born Dorothea, christened Dorothea, married Dorothea, and we lived as husband and wife and called Dorothea until we landed in Fremantle, and then she decided from now on in Australia I’m going to be called Dorothy. So, everything that we did in Australia was called Dorothy, except the government things she would write her name was Dorothea, but she was always called Dorothea in any legal things, after that we went Dorothy also known as Dorothea. She had advanced dementia, and when we came to book in here she said my name’s not Dorothy my name’s Dorothea. So here she was – actually if you look on the registration she’s registered as Dorothy, but she insisted on being called Dorothea [Chuckles]. But, Dorothy died two and a half years ago and she was down in Harry’s House, and I suppose I only came in here because Dorothy wouldn’t come in unless I came in. And we had the people – I think it was called CETS, C, E,T,S, I think it was called. It was an interview, people to decide whether you qualified to be in an old people’s home, it had this name like CETS or something like that. You know what I mean, yeah it was an acronym. So, while they were there interviewing her, I tripped over a carpet or something and they said I was liable to falls [Chuckles]. I used to use a walking stick, I’ve still got the walking stick there. And I’ve had two bad falls since I came in here and that’s why I use the walker, I don’t go anywhere without the walker, I’ve lost my balance since I had the second fall.

Dorothy says we met because she saw me on the upstairs of a double-decker bus, but I don’t remember that. Apparently, we were going to a church convention, and I was passing through the town where Dorothy lived to go to a third town that had the convention, and she was waiting for the bus that I was on. And I must’ve been up the front of the bus, and she was looking at this bus coming, and then she looked up and thought to herself well he looks a bit of alright [Chuckles]. So after that we met, I think I was booked to go on a holiday to Scotland, and there [weren’t] any telephones or anything in those days, normal people didn’t have telephones. But somehow, I’d been out with Dorothy just once or twice, and then I had to go on this holiday to Scotland. So, I was thinking to myself I like Dorothy, and I thought to myself oh I should buy a gift to take back. And I looked around for a box of handkerchiefs and I could not find any, the only thing I could think of was a box of handkerchiefs, and I looked around all the shops and I could not find a box of handkerchiefs anywhere. And then I looked in one shop window and they had some tartan handkerchiefs about this square, and they were tartan handkerchiefs. And I went in and I wondered did they have a box of them, no they only had loose ones, so they had three left, so I bought these three tartan handkerchiefs and wrapped them up and took them home. But at the end we went to the park, and I was sitting in this park and I thought to myself will she think I’m too forward if I give her this present after we only just met sort of style? Anyway, we finished up getting married [Chuckles]. You would think she would’ve kept the handkerchiefs but she didn’t. No, she was thrilled to bits with them, and I think I got a kiss as well.

It was the saddest thing watching Dorothy go through dementia. Literally, I was suicidal, three times – this is not in the autobiography. We lived in Kempton for 27 years, and we’d moved from Kempton to a cottage, it was on my daughter’s block of land in Dromedary and we’d paid to have this cottage restored. It was a workshop cottage, whatever you like. And we paid to have it really done up and build a new kitchen, carpeted throughout, build a new bathroom and a new kitchen, and we were living in Kempton. Well Kempton was too far out, and we talked about buying a house in Bagdad and I was sure that Dorothy wouldn’t want to move in with her daughter. And then one day I must of said to her -Sheena is my daughter, suggested that we could move into that cottage on her block of land and we [had] plenty of money, we could afford to give them money to do the thing up, and she said well that’s a good idea. So, we moved from Kempton to this cottage in Dromedary and she started getting – she was sure that Sheena was trying to steal her money or her jewellery. And she rang my son one day and said ring me in the morning because I’m not sure what Sheena is going to do tonight, she was sure that Sheena was liable to kill her. And one night I heard something thump in the bedroom and her shouting around, and she had a fistful of jewellery, and I mean nothing worth more than $500, it wasn’t a mountain of money, it was brooches and rings and things like this, and she got a fistful of them out of her jewellery box and was going to hide them somewhere. But she fell and of course she fell down with a fist full of sharp things, and her hand was all bleeding and she’d banged her head. And we phoned the ambulance and the ambulance took her down to Calvary I think it was, and then she came back the same night with her hand bandaged and whatnot. And so, the following morning I said to her how’s your head now, ‘what do you mean how’s my head?’ I said you banged your head and cut your hand last night and you went to hospital, ‘I don’t remember going to hospital’ she said. And after that it just got worse, she imagined things, she was quite sure that Sheena was after her money, she was after her jewellery, she was going to kill her. And I got to the stage where I was suicidal, three times I left the unit in Dromedary and went out on the highway purposely looking for a big truck to drive into, the solution was to kill both of us and I just didn’t have the bottle to do it. And then we were going out one day, and Sheena’s block had a possum proof fence surrounding the gate and we were going down in the car, and Sheena and her husband were standing by the gate so they would open the gate for us and I had the window down. And she looked at me and she said ‘are you alright?’ and I burst into tears and said no I’m not alright, I’m going out to try and find a truck to run into. And I think that was about the time when Sheena realised that it was dementia, and we went to see the GP and she diagnosed it as advanced dementia. And we’d come in here and she would go into a nursing home, she realised she had to go into a nursing home, that’s what we called it in those days, nursing home. But she wouldn’t go unless I went, so the long and short of it was they put Dorothy down in Harry’s House and I was in room one house one, which is as far away as you can possibly get, so I’ve been here six years.

Dorothy and I were on a holiday just by car, we didn’t have the caravan or the motorhome then, and we got up as far as Coffs Harbour which is between Sydney and Brisbane. I woke up one morning in this caravan park, I felt this thing going bump, bump, bump, and I thought what the hell’s that, it was about twice as strong a pulse as your heartbeat would be if you held your hand on it here. And I thought to myself I don’t know what that is but I shouldn’t be going any further north, because the next stop would’ve been Brisbane, I think. And so, I went to the office at the caravan park and they booked me in to see a doctor in Woolgoolga, which must’ve been slightly nearer than Coffs Harbour. And this doctor examined me and he said oh I’m going to send you down to Coffs Harbour General Hospital, I better get that sorted out. So, he rang up and booked me in and I went into see the registrar at the Coffs Harbour Hospital, and she said you’ve got a triple AAA, Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. So, I said well look I’ll have to drive back to Melbourne, no you’re not driving anywhere she said, you’ll have to get somebody to pick your car up, if you’d been a local we would’ve air ambulanced you to Sydney, but seen as you’ve got family in Melbourne, I think it might be a better idea if you fly back to Melbourne and see a doctor in Melbourne. So, my daughter flew up from Melbourne to Coffs Harbour, we moved down to Coffs Harbour, and drove my car back to Melbourne and we flew from Coffs Harbour to Melbourne. And my daughter arranged to pick me up by ambulance at the airport and took me into one of the northern suburb hospitals. And we arrived there in the ambulance with these blue lights flashing and sirens going, and not only did they not have a spare bed in the hospital, they didn’t even have a spare trolley in the accidents and emergencies, so I was stuck on the gurney out of the ambulance. And the two paramedics standing there they brought out a mobile – not an x-ray thing but whatever you call it -Ultrasound, a mobile ultrasound and said yeah that’s what you’ve got. And they were umming and ahhhing and they had all these people to come and look, and I said to them would it help if I told you that I had 100% hospital cover insurance, oh yeah why didn’t you say that. Before I knew it, they had this surgeon on the phone and arranged for me to go in and see the surgeon the following morning, and I went to see the surgeon, and the surgeon explained what it was and what you’ve got. You’ve got your aorta, it’s about an inch in diameter, two and a half centimetres in diameter, it’s as thick as your thumb, and it goes from your heart and it branches off to your kidneys, and then it’ll get down to here and it goes down – the iliac arteries one goes down each leg. And here there’s a weakness in the wall of the artery and it balloons out, it had ballooned out to seven centimetres by seven centimetres which is about that size. And the prognosis was he said there’s a 25% or one in four chance that it’ll rupture within the first 12 months. When it ruptures you’ve got ten minutes to live, ten minutes. He said even if you’re in the ambulance in the ambulance bed we won’t be able to save you, your heart will pump all of your blood into your abdominal cavity, your brain won’t get any blood, your heart will stop and you’re dead. So, he said you’ve got two chances, well he [said] you haven’t got two chances you’ve only got one, you either have the operation or you’re dead. So, I’ve got a prosthetic aorta from just under my ribcage, I’ve got an incision from here right down through my belly button right down.

Here is a book I think everybody should read. It’s called Halfway Home. He’s a tenor and he’s part of the three Irish tenors. And his father was a farmer in Ireland, and he was born with two club feet, but being on a farm he learned to ride a horse, so he could manage to ride the horse. And the doctors had said to him that really he should have surgery on his feet, and his parents said they would wait until he was older, till he was old enough to make the decision for himself, because the doctors had said the best idea would be to have an operation, to have both of his legs amputated below the knee and have prosthesis. So that’s what he did, he had both legs amputated between the ankle and the knee and was fitted with prosthesis. He went on to become a Paralympian, he won foot races, jumping races, horse riding, and he decided he would become a doctor and specialise in prosthetic limbs more than anything. And he was also a singer and he worked–around about the same time he worked for a firm in Europe somewhere that [specialised] in prosthetic limbs, and he got involved in electronic prosthesis. And then he studied singing under–I’ve forgotten his name, my favourite tenor, Italian tenor, I’ve forgotten his name now. But he became a professional tenor and he sang with the three Irish tenors, and he made television recordings and CDs and all of this sort of thing, and then he eventually went back to doctoring later in life. But I think it’s an inspiration for anybody that’s handicapped especially, that he overcame terrible affliction, I mean virtually two deformed feet and became a surgeon, he specialised in prosthesis, a world-renowned tenor.