Stories

Libby Fitzpatrick

Libby Fitzpatrick

86, St Ann's

I don’t know how old I was, but they must have asked me if I wanted to go down and see something special, and Mum didn’t want me to go, but anyway I went, and I remember holding onto this hand and when they let the pontoon go it went swoosh and the water came back at me, it was a bit scary, but I was pretty right. Sir Alan Knight was lovely with me, he become quite a good friend of mine through my life. Lady Knight and Alan Knight lived near me and so I knew them very well, and so with this pontoon, Mum didn’t want me to be there, but Dad wanted me to go, but Alan Knight took me and I remember him holding my hand and he didn’t let it go, he made sure I was alright.  They had a floating bridge (Hobart Bridge, built 1943), part of it is still there because there is a lift span and they’ve still got a bit of the concrete there underneath the big bridge now that goes over and so it was in the same position and they used it while they built the big bridge, and then of course the big ship ran into the big bridge and my husband had problems with that!

My Dad used to like taking me places and my sister was 9 years older than me. Dad was out a job and so he became a stock and share broker, I don’t know how he made all his money, but he made a lot of money. He would often go to Melbourne because the stock exchange there was bigger than here, and if there was a lot to be sold, he used to go to the mainland. I went with him once and it scared the living daylights out of me! Because I was frightened I was going to get lost, because we were near the railways station and there must be a river or something that comes out. It’s funny the memories you have when you were little.  Back then life was different – more primitive – we’ve got much easier lives now, stoves that work and that sort of thing. When I was first married, I don’t know how I did my cooking, but I know it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t the way my mother did it. I lived through it, and learned to cook. When we married, we went to Bronte Park and it was very primitive up there.

My husband (Michael) was an engineer and he knew everything, you know what it’s like when they know it all. He was a very clever man and did most of the dams here, designed them. I was lucky to be able to travel the world a lot with my husband, walking through dams. We did a lot of travel and he designed dams and he did a rock fill one, and it was quite unusual and it’s the dam behind, you know where they do the racing with the rowing? Well, there’s a dam upstream from that, and it’s a rock filled dam and it was quite unusual, never been built before and so he travelled the world telling them about this and there are a lot of dams like it now, because they were simpler to build and they were stronger and stayed put. But we did have a fright once, we were out somewhere and Michael suddenly realised that there was a huge swell of water coming down, and we’ve just had one recently in the rivulet, and he worried about this dam and he was gone! And I thought oh my god that will be the end of him! Anyway, it was alright, he realised that rivulet was going to knock his dam up further, but it did stand up to it. But some of them, when there was a huge storm, it was quite dangerous, you didn’t want to go near it.  Being an engineer… we nearly got flooded a few times. And you know the big flood we had in the other day? We had one of those. And he was running trying to control it because it was part of his job. You lose people when you’ve got a big flood going through your city.

I remember sitting down with my children, I think it was the last day of the school holidays, and I was sitting at the little beach near Wrest Point and I suddenly saw this fire and it literally went pssshhhhhh like that and I thought jeepers! That’s a strong wind doing that! It was a fire out at New Norfolk, so I said “Come on kids, we’ve got to get home!” So we got home, just in time to shut it all up and people came, wanting to break windows and things, and I said “No! Don’t touch anything!” We had to police them, because they wanted to break windows and pinch things I think! It was awful! Anyway, the sarking under the roof burnt, but the house was alright, but it was scary. The fire literally hit Fern Tree at the same time as it hit me at the top of the hill at Mount Stuart, and that was scary, that’s how fast it was going. It was one of the worst fires I think they’ve ever had. I had my three children and also my sister’s children, I had a lot on my mind, I said to them all “Don’t move from anywhere! You’ve got to stay exactly there!” and that was under the house. They behaved themselves, I think they were a bit scared, it frightened them. But anyway, we survived. One house burnt right down behind me and it was very sad, because she had two or three children and I don’t think she could afford that happening, she didn’t have it insured. But anyway, that’s life, you’ve got to be insured. Michael rang me up and I ran back inside because I knew who it was and he said ‘have you got a fire up there?’ and I said ‘YES! Get home quick!”, “Oh, how bad is it? I don’t think I need to come home?” I said, ‘Get. Home.” When he came home at the top of the hill, he said ‘Oh my god’. He realised he should have come home! But yes, that was quite an experience. He rang up and argued about it with me and said, just how bad is it? I said, GET HOME! Honestly, it was like I was making a fuss about nothing!  When that fire came at me, it really was scary, and I had a baby on my hip, I had two small children, and my sister’s children, so I had to look after a lot of children, I said you’re not allowed to move! You’ve just got to stay still! It was a bad day, I’ve never forgotten it, and I never want to do it again. But I was sitting on the beach when I saw it on the other side of the river and I knew then I was in trouble. On the top of Mount Stuart, there’s a look out there, my house was just below the lookout, it wasn’t safe, but I was lucky.

I had to look after dad and mum as they got older, they got sick, like mum got ulcers on her legs and dad got a bit of Alzheimer’s. He liked to have lunch at the RSL club, he’d go there and the club would ring through and say he’s arrived. And then when he’d left, they’d ring through and say he’s gone, and then the person where he ends up had to ring in, and then I knew where he was. Well, sometimes it didn’t always go right, and I’d have to go out leaving my children at home looking for my father. And I found him at bar one night. It must’ve been… just turned 6 o’ clock. And they said, “Thank God, you’ve come!”, because it was Friday. And they didn’t know what to do with this man that they had sitting in there. He’d bought some trousers, had money. Anyway, I found him and got him back home. But it wasn’t easy because I had three children. I can’t remember how old they were, but I know it was a struggle because Michael’s job was a pretty full-on job and quite often he didn’t get home until late either. So Drew, my eldest, had to be responsible a little bit. If I had to go looking for dad, Drew would take over looking after the two girls. It wasn’t easy to look after parents back in those days, if they say they wanted to do something, you couldn’t stop them. And dad bought tickets to go to Brisbane, and I had to send… I got a nurse to go with them. Actually it was the nurse dad used to go to. She says, “I’ll go with him. I’ll take him up there for 12 days” – she lasted 8 days! He was a bit naughty. And, you know, she lost him a couple of times, just like I lost him.  Thinking he was just sitting there and suddenly he wasn’t there. He’d take off. Anyway, he was a very good dad to me, so I really did have to look after him.

I started working at Lipscombe Childcare, it was who I knew rather than what I knew that got me the job. I remember Princess Mary’s mother came in one day and she said “I don’t like the way you’re running this,” she said, “I want all the cupboard doors taken off” and she looked around the room with a real snooty nose, and she took the doors off! Of course all the children bought everything out on the floor and then they were sick of them! Anyway, I rang her up and I said “well I’m not going to stay here if you’re going to leave it like this, you’ve got to come back down and out these cupboard doors back on, and I will stay!” And she came down and fixed it! She didn’t apologise, she still thought she was right! But it was stupid! Some of those old ladies, you couldn’t tell them anything! I suppose I was just as bad when I got old. I tried to listen to people and tried to give softer advice.  Looking after Princess Mary was quite a responsibility when she came to the crèche. She grew up with me I suppose, because I started looking after her probably when she was about 5. She was a sweet little girl, and she has always been sweet to me, and when she first met her love, I said to her “Well, you’ve got to go and quickly learn the language”, which she did, and she came back and she thanked me for that. And then they met up again in Sydney when there was a yacht race on and that was when he proposed. She’s got 4 children now. I haven’t seen her for probably 12 months, the last time they were here, they went to Government House and I did go out and see them, but I felt a bit like I was being pushy, but she did ring up and ask me to come, but it didn’t seem right. She didn’t get the chance to see me much once she had the four children, but I loved her children, and they were always lovely with me.

I did a lot of teaching (painting), I took over the running of the Colour Circle, but then we lost the building and then I didn’t know what to do and I was going to close it down, and then I ran into the Lord Mayor and I said “Gee it’s sad that I’m going to have to stop running those Colour Circle classes,” and he said “Oh, you can’t do that! My wife learned how to paint there! I will find you a building.” Anyway, he did the next day and it’s still going! I’d like to go up and see it again, you know, the people, but I don’t like to ask.

It’s harder to look after children these days, I think. You know you’ve got to work, and they’re in crèche, you have to be careful, you know, how you handle them and I think the crèche did very well with the little ones. They teach them; you’re teaching them all the time because if you don’t teach them, they’re not as bright. So, you know, you got to teach them, and play with them, and put the babies to bed.  You’ve got to make sure they eat properly, and they don’t spit it out or throw it on the floor. It’s… it wouldn’t be… I don’t think I could cope with the children today. Because they’re a bit more advanced or something. I don’t know. I can’t explain it. But the children in our day, a lot of them went to crèche and they didn’t see their parents. Parents dropped them off at 8 o’clock and picked them up at 6. How do you know your child when you do that? There’s too much of the crèche I think. But what do I know.

Oh. I don’t think I could handle it (raising teenagers today). You got to treat them as an adult. You mustn’t treat them as children. I can remember something happened. I can’t think what it was now. But I snapped and it doesn’t work when you snap, you make it worse.  Well, you got to keep an eye on them because you can’t trust them. And if you can’t trust them, they might get pregnant. And so, I don’t know. I did manage to cope with my own but it wasn’t easy. But I did get them through.  I caught my daughter smoking. I had been a smoker until somebody said to me that if I was having a baby, if you continue to smoke, it will hurt your baby. I came home and I had a cigarette, “Oh! This is hurting my baby.” I put it out and I didn’t have another one ever again. But, honestly, I don’t know how I gave up because I used to smoke about 20 a day.  I don’t know why I smoked. It was nerves I suppose. Dad smoked and I suppose I smoked too. I started when I was about ten. A friend of mine, and she still rings me nearly every day, she still smokes. But she used to pinch her father’s smokes and I think I used to pinch a few of dad’s too, so that’s how I got them.

There was a lot more respect then there is now, which is sad, I think. Do you agree with me? Respect is being polite, being friendly, and not being bossy. I had a good life and an interesting life and, you know, I’ve tried to join in with everything. And I do a lot of paintings here and now, we’d been doing this sort of stuff, and, you know, I just enjoy being with people. I don’t like sitting here and not having somebody to talk to or do something. Once I’ve read the paper, I’m usually off to see everyone…