Stories

Mavis Drew

Mavis Drew

91, St Ann's

My family lived in Adelaide when I was born and moved to Tasmania when I was 4. We came to Tasmania so my father could find work and we lived with my grandparents at the old female factory, which was burnt in the 1967 bush fires. My father eventually found work on the roadworks. I would be the only person alive who lived in the women’s prison. I was only a little girl when my grandparents lived there. It was the Female Factory and the girls and married mothers were this side, and there was a big archway that you went through on this side.  Where I lived would have been the matron’s quarters. It was a lovely old home and beautiful old staircase. It was beautiful and it, you know, it was a really lovely home to live in, but we lived through some funny things there.  Grandpa used to kill the pigs and then someone used to come and cut the meat up. Grandma used to make the butter. I used to turn the handle for the butter to mix it up and it comes out and you cut it into shape.  But living down in the country, that was a circus. I didn’t have a doll or a doll’s tram or anything like that. And mum one Christmas made a cloth doll, painted its face really pretty, and my pram was a baking dish with a rope on it.

My first days of school, I was warned if I didn’t stop talking, I’d be punished. I couldn’t stop talking could I? The teacher called me up the front and got the glue and stuck a patch over my mouth…that was respect. Parents nowadays would hit the roof, but parents in those days would probably say you deserved it.  I didn’t think this it was funny at the time. But my brother’s only 13 months younger than me, and we were in walking distance of the school to home. And one day we took our shoes and socks off, to walk through the creek that had just overflowed down the bottom of our school yard. The creek ran right up to the prison, at the Women’s prison where we lived. And so we got our shoes and socks off and toddled off up the creek, which we would have got in trouble for. Anyway, we got as far as the bridge that goes over the creek there at the Women’s prison, and there’s mum sitting on the lawn with the strap.

I left school at 14 and went to work – this was during the war – went to work at Rundles the Jewellers. At 16 I went to the Optical Annex – that’s where they used to make these lenses for the cameras for the aeroplanes, the guns and that sort of thing.  All sorts of cameras that they would need. And so we used to make those. And the work finished after the war.  I used to grind them from the rough glass so that they were absolutely smooth and they had to be just right to fit the cameras. So I had to start right from scratch and I used to have a good time, but it was a sad time. Some of the girls that worked with me… some of their husbands, they were just married and they went off to the war, and the girls I worked with, some of their husbands didn’t come back… And they had to keep on working through that. At that stage I didn’t know Albert, I just had to sort of be there to talk to the girls and I was the youngest. It was a bad time for the girls that were left behind.

I was there (1967 Hobart bushfires) and I was minding somebody else’s little baby. He was about 18 months I suppose. His mother was a school teacher and he was having his sleep. My next door neighbour, who is still my friend today, we were sitting out on the lawn enjoying a bag of peaches my sister had given me a few days before, and then suddenly there was an explosion on the hill opposite. Then I said to Gwen, “We better ring the fire brigade. Those people wouldn’t have known that happened.” So she goes in to ring: no answer. By this time, the fire was over the hill and it kept on coming. Anyway, the fire brigade came up there and by this time the sparks out of the gum trees had blown over the top of our house into the bush and set that all alight. And so it came back over our house. By this time, I said to Gwen, “You’d better ring your husband. We better get out of this!”, so she rang in and he didn’t believe us! We said, “Well you know, the place is on fire!” By this time the shock had set into me, Gwen’s husband drove up in the car, and he’s going up the driveway, and I got my hose, and as he got out of the car, I hosed him up.  He says, “Ah, Mavis. That’s my new suit!” I said to him, “I don’t want you to catch on fire!”  So, I grab the little boy and we got in the car and drove down to the South Hobart School and … all this time I was in my bathers. I’d been sunbathing and didn’t have any clothes on, just bathers!  And I couldn’t go back inside; you couldn’t get inside because it was all on fire.  So a gentleman took the little boy to the barracks to be looked after, the mother got word that the little boy was there. That’s where everybody went to pick up their children, at the barracks. I was just waiting at the bus stop at the post office for my children to come from Cosgrove so that they wouldn’t get the bus home because there wasn’t anything there.  And the eldest boy, he was only 16, worked at the electrical shop, where Albert worked.  There was a lady, she appeared from I don’t know where, she had a basket full of sandwiches. I don’t know how she knew anybody would be at the post office. From there, I got all my kids and I was trying to work out what I could do. The only thing I could do was to fly to Melbourne to Albert’s parents, and I didn’t know how I was going to get the money to get there.  We finished up in Brighton Camp. From there on my father worked at Clarence High School.  And opposite there, they had a house that they used for like a camp, like you talked about. And they let us have that for 12 months.  The top floor. We were… the kids still came in from the country, but they used the bottom floor, but we were allowed to have the top floor.  But we had to wait until they all used the shower and gone off and…and gone to bed then we were allowed to go down and shower. But it was comfortable we were able to start to get our life together.

Well, after the fires we didn’t have anything else but the boys’ school uniforms and we didn’t know next morning what we were going to do. So we heard that they had clothes being distributed at the church, and so we went off down there and one of the twins he was about 13 – 13 or 14 – anyway, he looked at the clothes and said “I’m not wearing those”. And his father said, “Well son you can wear those or not wear anything. We don’t have any money so what are you going to do?”

I think younger people should forget about holidays once they’re married. And try to work together and when you have arguments, try to work it out between you and don’t just pack up and buzz off. They make the big mistake now of having holidays and wanting everything first, and then when they get married, they find that they haven’t got what somebody else has got, because somebody else didn’t rush into going on holidays. They’ve got their things together and worked on getting a home first and then holidays.