Stories

Marie de la Motte

Marie de la Motte

85, St Ann's

My parents, Albert and Elsie, were both from farming stock.  Dad was from Yarlington (near Colebrook) and Mum was from Gray (near St Mary’s in the northeast of Tasmania).  Both left the land and my dad had various jobs in Hobart and Launceston until he was offered a position as a salesman with the Singer Sewing Machine Company in Launceston.  Mum was a cook in various guest houses.  They married in 1930 and had my brother, Peter in 1931 and I was born in 1933.  Soon afterwards dad was transferred to Hobart where he remained with the same company until he retired at the age of 65.  Mum stayed at home to look after us children.  Money was hard to come by in the pre-war years and later Mum told us that there were times when she went without a meal (without letting Dad know) so he wouldn’t have to go without – seeing as he was the breadwinner.

Often Friday nights in Summer Dad would take us in the work van to shoot rabbits.  Or in the season, deer or wallabies for food.  That helped with the meat bill significantly.  In those days (1930s & 1940s) the baker and the milkman both came around with their horse-and-cart delivering the bread and milk every morning.  When necessary, Dad would pick up meat from the butchers’ on his way home for lunch from work, as there were no refrigerators in those days. The grocer would come to the door each week to pick up Mum’s grocery order, then would deliver the groceries each Friday, bringing them to the kitchen and unpacking the boxes onto the table, and taking the boxes with him back to the shop. There were no supermarkets in those days and not very many households had telephones. Later when we did get a phone, Mum would ring through an order to the grocer and he would deliver it on Friday.  As I said, Dad came home for lunch every day.  One of my earliest memories was when Dad was leaving for work after lunch, Mum and I would go down to the gate, he would say goodbye to Mum and drive me down the street to the corner. He would kiss me goodbye and I would run back to Mum who was waiting on the footpath for me.  Imagine that happening these days!

In those days, Kingston and Blackman’s Bay were holiday places and one summer holiday I remember Dad hiring a shack at Kingston for a week.  He took us down on the Friday night and would go home to work for the week and would pick us up the following Friday.  Mum, Peter and I would enjoy going down to the beach every day. We would play on the sand and Mum would be sitting under the shade of a tree reading Woman’s Home Journal or Home Notes – 2 of the magazines of the day!  I must have been sitting too long in the sun one particular day. The next day I woke up with a huge sun blister on my thigh.  I have never liked the beach since!  After we married and had our own family, often in the summer I would pack a picnic tea, pick Deryck up from work and go down to Sandy Bay beach.  Deryck would take the children swimming and playing in the sand – I stayed will away on the grass putting out the picnic tea.  I hated sandy sandwiches – and I just hated the beach after that experience as a child.

In 1939 Dad build a home in Montagu Street, Lenah Valley.  In that era most children (and many men as well) came home for lunch.  Dad would pick us up from school in the Bedford van, belonging to the company, take us home for lunch and then back to school for the afternoon. Dad used to work one week in Queenstown, a few days in New Norfolk and a few days down the Huon each month.  When Dad was away working and we were older, we would travel on the tram to school and home again, but still having lunch at home.  I remember when World War 2 ended, Dad picked Peter and me up from school and took us down to the Town Hall to witness the celebrations – I was 12 years old. During the war years Dad and the other fathers dug air raid shelters at the school and we also had one at home. All windows were taped up with tar paper tape and blacked out to stop the glass splintering.  We had air raid drills every week at school – much as fire drills are practised today.  Mr Abbott, our next door neighbour, had a large box attached to the boot of his car which was a gas producer.   I have no idea how it worked but it must have somehow produced gas to fuel the car.  Food and clothing were rationed as well as petrol.  And it was also difficult to obtain building supplies.

I was a junior teacher at the Lenah Valley School when I was 16 and the following year went to the Launceston Teacher’s College.  In 1953 my husband Deryck migrated by ship – a 3 week voyage – from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to join his brother who emigrated the year before.  During the 1950s the White Australia Policy was in force.  This meant anyone wanting to come to Australia had to prove that they were 50% European. Deryck’s brother combed old church registers and tombstones and on the back of a picture in a church he found a document where his great-great grandfather on his father’s side had come from Roubaix, France, in 1796 during the French revolution.  On his mother’s side, her people had come from Amsterdam, Holland, with the East India Company.  This proved European descent of a least 50% – French and Dutch – which fulfilled the requirement for Australian citizenship.

I met Deryck in 1954 at Bicheno, when he came to visit my Aunty who was a missionary in Ceylon whom he met there.  Deryck was working in Melbourne and when he returned after the visit he wrote to me now and again – and I responded of course! In the following year (1955) Dad and Mum gave me a trip to Melbourne for Easter, arranging for me to stay with some friends.  I had written to tell Deryck so he met me at the airport and took me to our friend’s home. I am afraid I didn’t see much of our friends as Deryck and I spent all the time we could together.  By the time Easter ended we had decided to get married on 23rd December, that same year – 1955.

I don’t know what Mum and Dad expected, but really we just clicked and stayed that way for 56 years until Deryck passed away.  I knew Dad was racist (which wasn’t uncommon in the 1950s) and wanted me to marry an Australian.   I don’t think even an Englishman or a New Zealander would have done for Dad.  However, he did come around a little when our first child, Sharon, was born.  Mum was softer and came around much more quickly.  It wasn’t easy for foreigners then, as many people felt the same as Dad.  Deryck was outgoing and friendly and I think others responded in the same way.

We built a house behind Mum and Dad and had four more children after Sharon – Philip, Stephen and Ruth, and then 10 years later Martin arrived. I went back teaching at Goodwood School when Ruth was 4 years old, and the other children were at Lenah Valley until the following year when Ruth joined them. About this time Deryck applied for, and was granted, his Australian citizenship.  In 1970 we moved to a small farm at Dromedary, which was a wonderful move. We had 14 years there before moving on.  The children enjoyed having plenty of room for their various hobbies, old cars, and a horse for Ruth etc. Deryck could get away from the office. He was Claims Managers at Medical Benefits Fund but his heart was on the land.  He had been brought up on tea estates and enjoyed an energetic childhood, especially when school was closed for the whole year in 1942 due to WW2.  He loved gardening.

Bridgewater School was a small country school of 65 children – where Philip, Stephen and Ruth had their primary school years.  When Martin was about 2 months old the principal asked if I would teach music in the school.  Martin would sleep or play next to the piano in his carry cot.  When he was around 12 months old he upgraded to a playpen and could recognise 14 or more songs and would sing along with the children in his own lingo.  When he was a little older, the principal asked if I would teach English and Social Studies, two hours a week, so I arranged to leave Martin with a friend who had a child the same age.  Sharon was already attending Ogilvie High School.  She and Deryck used to catch the train from Boyer Paper Mills each morning at the bottom of our paddock where there was a small siding, and home again on the train to Bridgewater, where I would drive the 3 miles to pick them up.  Each Friday night there would be a steam locomotive pulling two or three carriages…bringing back fond memories for Deryck, who had worked as a fireman on the railway engines in Ceylon – his first job after leaving school.

The children all did very well at school and trained as a dental therapist, diesel mechanic, air traffic controller, nurse and IT programmer.  Now all are married and we have 15 grandchildren and 15 and ¾ great grandchildren.   In 1975 Deryck took me to Sri Lanka for the first time.  Deryck made trips back four more times and I accompanied him on three of those trips.  We also went to the UK and New Zealand and stayed with Sharon and her husband who had a café in the Solomon Islands.  This trip was in April 2011.  Sadly Deryck passed away suddenly just 12 months later.  We spent many happy years of family life with its ups and downs.

My advice to parents today would be to please teach your children to be honest, have respect and to take responsibility for their actions.