Did your family also have a background in Forbes? Has this been an area for your families for a while?
My father came from a family, we were the Doyle family and he came from Yamma Station out on the Ugarra Road [?] and it’s passed hands many times since then. But then my Dad, after he married Mum, he had a cordial factory in Forbes and they
And what about your mum, was she also from the area?
No, she came from Burragorang Valley and that, where it was all flooded for the Warragamba Dam, you know that story. Sydney got all their water from there. Oh, she loved her Burragorang Valley but when she was a young person she used to ride with her Dad side saddle,
Forbes. I think she started off as a waitress in the Van Der Burg Hotel and that was a famous hotel many years ago. It’s still a very nice hotel but it was different, it was all the polo players and people like that all gathered there and I think that’s how they met. My memory’s not all that good now. But Mum was 35 and Dad was 40 when they were married, and they had five children after that, three
of us after Mum turned 40 so how about that?
Would you have a bit of a barbecue or something beforehand?
No, not really. No, not in those days. I don’t think we ever had barbecues in those days. But we had to make our own fun too, really. My sister and I we used to have a cubby house in the bush and we had all sorts of little bits of china and so forth. We’d make our little rooms out of these spreading trees and things. Also later on in life we made our own fun.
Port Moresby and places and I just didn’t go out of Australia, I was in Sydney all of the time. Did my rookies’ camp at Ingleburn and I was in camp at Homebush for some time and then later on we were moved out to live in hostels and lived at Rushcutter’s Bay in the Country Women’s Association hostel there. The women there were all voluntary workers and they were fantastic. They cooked for us and did everything, if we were
homesick they’d look after us. And our boyfriends were allowed to come in and have a meal with us. It was very, very nice.
Just before we go right into that phase, I’ve just got a few more questions about the earlier days in Forbes. Were you a close group of kids, did you play mostly with your brothers and sisters or did you play with the local kids as well? Bit of both?
Locals as well, yes. Yes, the brothers were sometimes a
And a good opportunity to spend some time with the boys?
Oh yes. Sometimes we, oh well, you sat around the hall waiting, hoping the boys would ask you to dance in those days. You didn’t go along with a partner, you just went along. It was so funny, and at the town hall if it was in the winter time it was so cold, and they used to have those drums burning outside to keep
And you went all right as far as the boys coming and asking you to dance?
Well, when the air force came to Parkes we used to go over there and John, my husband, who I wasn’t going out with at that time, he used to drive us over. In his story that he wrote about his life he tells how he used to take the girls over to Parkes for the air force dances and
at school, were you enjoying school and education? Did you feel like you would’ve liked to have continued to learn?
Yes, I think I would’ve liked to continue. Those days it wasn’t easy because I can remember the Depression days, the thirties and Mum and Dad, it was very hard. And I always said my Mum could make a meal out of almost anything at all. She’d have a stew with dumplings in it to fill you up or you’d make apple dumplings and all sorts of things.
What sort of lengths did you and the rest of the family have to go to to struggle through that time?
My Dad used to kill his own sheep, I can remember. He used to hang it up in the pine tree up, out in the back yard and cover it up with a bag overnight so dogs couldn’t get at it. He had to pull it up really high so as nothing could get it. And then the next morning he’d get it down and cut it all up. We’d have lamb’s fry for breakfast and every bit of the lamb was used.
started growing turnips for the soldiers. And so five or six of us at John Meagher and Co used to go out on weekends to pick the turnips and they’d all be shipped down to the soldiers. And never did, I think, when I went into the army, I’d be served up turnips every day. And John was the same, we always had turnips. He never ever ate turnip, if I wanted to make soup with turnip in it, he’d say, “I won’t eat that.” And
every day we were dished up, a big plop of mashed turnip on your little tin plate, and so I never thought after picking so many turnips I’d be eating them.
riding bikes out in the country and going to the rivers, swimming and things like that. It was mostly the staff, that was Meagher and Co. because they had big staff in those days. I’ve got a photograph here, and I reckon there was over 50 people on the staff. And now if you go into the shop you’re flat out getting someone to serve you. Well, the old Meagher and Co. building down here, which is now Target, you walk in there you’ve got to really look after yourself and try and find someone to take your
money. Whereas those days, they were rushing to help you. And we had big staff. Amazing. We had lovely picnics and we used to have a Meagher and Co. Ball in the town hall. That was great.
So just prior to starting at the store, were you having a bit of a think about what you wanted to do with your life? Did you have any dreams or any plans?
No, I didn’t really. I just think I just wanted to go and work in a shop. I think that was all I felt in those days, I wanted to, and I can remember my Mum taking me to the different places in town for interviews.
What were some of the other places you went to?
Arthur Hughes and Co. And Mr Hughes always said to me later on, he said, “Mary, we wanted you to start with us,” he said, “and you went to John Meagher and Co.” It was just big general stores they were in those
as we called it. Dad and Dave and what was it? Green Bottle and those, and Pickles, and what’s it. The one that was on at midday on the ABC, the country one. Went on, serial for, anyway at night we used to always have to hurry and get our tea over so we could sit around and listen to the wireless and the serials. And Mum and Dad always
sat with us and listened to it all. That’s all you did in those days, no TV or anything like that. But we used to love listening to all the serials.
Oh yes. Of course, the children used to be squealing and going on down the front, and throwing peanuts and everything else under the sun. It was a wild time in those days, I don’t think they’d allow you to go on like that any more. It was always packed, though, when the matinees were on. Of course it was always an afternoon thing, so kids enjoyed it.
remember one boy saying, used to go every night, he was a little bit, not quite right, and he used to go to the pictures every night and he used to call out, “Why don’t you go the other way, you went that way last night.” When the fellow was shooting at him, “Why don’t you go the other way?”
Mum and Dad and another one up the road, I can’t think of the name, the Wattle Café. And I think there were three or four cafes in those days, now I don’t know that we’ve got any cafés in town. How things have changed. Oh, we have got, we’ve still got the old Wattle I think, in town. But about the only one.
So you got to the age of 16 and did your parents sort of say, “Okay, Mary it’s time to leave school and get out there and get some work?”
No, it didn’t happen like that really, it’s just that times weren’t good and I needed to get out and get a job and do something and it was, Mum
and Dad were very keen for me to do well and when I asked if I could leave school they said, “You know, as long as you get into something, you’re not going to be somebody who doesn’t want to go out and do housework or something like that, you’ve got to do something worthwhile.” So that’s why Mum went around to shops with me to interviews. These days people go out and start waitressing and all that sort of thing. Well, they have to,
if they want to go to uni and things, to get extra money. But they wanted me to start off, it was something decent that happened and I’ve never ever regretted it.
It was, was it like a, what we know as a department store?
Yes, big department store. Yes. Oh yes, a bit of everything, and then they had a machinery section as well. And hardware, everything.
But specifically designed for accounting, for adding, for doing mathematics, for doing invoices?
Yes, for doing invoices and things yes. And that’s what I ended up doing in the army, invoices and things and a bit of typing and switchboard and things like that. Sending out all the food to the soldiers, which you’d get all the invoices for that.
Mary, in the last tape we were talking about Meagher and Co. and the different, what you sold there. I’m just really after some detail about some of the clothes that you remember selling. We were having a look at some of the boots there, can you describe the fashion of the shoes at the time? The women’s shoes that you remember them selling.
Well, I don’t know that I can remember much about them but I think, they weren’t, they were really older ones on that paper, because that’s when Meagher and Co first started. But we got some more of the modern boots but there was a lot of lace up boots and things like that. I can show you a pair of lace up boots that I’ve got, that as a matter of fact are about 120 years old. But,
well, the stilettos came in too in my day too, the stiletto and then they went out and now they’re all back again.
So was there a lack of, was it hard to get different goods in because of the war?
There were certain restrictions, of course. You had coupons also, you had to use coupons to buy anything at all. At that time, the flour used to come in,
it all had to be measured out by the men in the back store. They used to measure the sugar and the flour and the – everything, the rice. Everything had to be bundled up and bought in bundles. It’s so different now. And they used to mix up the rum and things like that and put it in the bottles. They put Meagher’s O.P. Rum on it and they, all sorts of things were done out in the back store. Everything was bought in bulk
And then everyone had to, who worked in the back store had to just put it into bags and things ready to be sold. And if you went in and asked for two pound of flour they’d go out and measure it up and bring it in to you. So a bit different, isn’t it.
So when you say luxuries, what didn’t you have? What do you remember missing out on?
It was just your parents couldn’t buy lots of things that you’d call a luxury. Like as I said, we used every little bit of the sheep, the kidneys, the liver,
everything, the shanks, everything. Now the shanks are a luxury that you buy them now, they’re expensive to buy. People used to give them to the dogs at one time. And now the, in those days we used every single bit because you couldn’t afford to have everything, like you didn’t buy steak or anything like that, you just depended on your sheep and your cow for your milk and so forth. There were lots of shortages of course.
Also with the petrol, because John’s father built a gas producer on top of his car, and I’ll show you the photograph later, with the gas producer on it because there was no petrol, not enough petrol around. Not enough coupons for it.
Did she teach you how to cook during that time?
No, she didn’t, no. She didn’t, I just started, after I got married I started cooking. I can cook anything at all now. I made a 12 egg pavlova yesterday for a friend for her birthday.
So you remember what she, you said she made dumplings, do you remember how she would make those? Did you ever watch her?
Just the flour and the water and a bit of butter in them, I think, and then she’d have the stew with all the lovely gravy in it and she’d just pop the dumplings into it. We just loved it. And she’d make an apple, stew the apples and put the, then to make a sweet put the dumplings into the apples and so you’d have apple dumplings. And golden syrup dumplings. They were wonderful.
What about for breakfast, what would you do for breakfast?
Mostly porridge for breakfast on an old stove, and always a big, rolled oats, pot of rolled oats going for breakfast. And breakfast delight, that was one of the
Do you know, the Doyles, do you know how they actually came to Australia, came to be in Australia?
Yeah, I’ve got some story here too but I haven’t got that out, that’s in my cupboard I think. And I’ve also got the story of my Mum’s called the
Do you remember the first meeting?
I just remember through working there, that’s all. I can’t remember the first time I met him there, but he was just one of the staff and we all used to go out at weekends, a group of us and go to dances or go out on a picnic or something like that. Go swimming at the pool. But you always had to make your own fun, there weren’t discos or anything like that.
And was he, because he’d gone to Riverview and he was obviously from Meagher and Co., was he sort of regarded as a bit of a catch because he was a little bit…
Yes, because he went to boarding school and that sort of thing. But he was a very, he wasn’t the type of person that had a thing about his being to boarding school.
And when you went to the dances in Forbes, apparently you used to wear, dress up in all kinds of clothes and beautiful shoes. Can you tell us what you used to wear, describe a typical dress that you might wear to a dance in Forbes?
We just really, only if you went to a ball did you really dress up.
Do you remember any of your ball dresses that you wore at the time?
Oh yes, I can remember some of it. John and I used to dress up quite a bit, even for fancy balls. I should show you some of the photographs out in the, they’re out in the garage as a matter of fact, where we used to dress up. For all sorts of things, the centenary of Forbes and the centenary of Meagher’s and all sorts of things we had dress-ups.
And back in those days when you would go to the dances, more the casual dances, was the dress made out of cotton or nylon or polyester?
Oh no, I used to have lovely shot taffetas and all sorts of lovely things in those days. Yes. We never ever talked about nylon, that seemed to come in after the war the nylon, like the nylon stockings. What did we used to call them before,
So what would you wear for, what were the stockings, would you wear stockings?
Stockings with the seam up them. My goodness, you had to watch them that the seam wasn’t crooked. Of course, can you imagine doing that now? I don’t think they ever have a seam up, do they?
Yeah, and what about the shoes, what was the fashion in the shoes at the time?
Toeless shoes and then and the round, they were, I’ll show you photographs of my shoes in those days that I used to wear. One where Margaret was a little girl. Margaret’s 56 now, my daughter. When she was about two or three we had this photo taken in Sydney and I’ve got these round navy and white shoes. Somebody said, “Oh, that was the fashion years ago, fifty odd years ago.”
When you went to those dances, you mentioned that you weren’t very often out, sitting outside by the fire, that you usually got chosen to dance.
We usually danced, usually had a great time. But you know, the boys, you know how boys all gather together and they still do it and the girls sit around. And the boys’ll be out having a smoke outside and leave us there sitting like wallflowers. And if we get cold we go out and stand around the fire. And then they started to come in because they were around there too getting warm, so we’d go out there too, join them and then they’d eventually come back in and start dancing.
Do you remember much war talk while you were growing up, when the war started in Forbes? Do you remember what people would be saying about it?
We were all worried about it, our brothers going to war or about the fathers of little children going to war. It was always a very upsetting thing. But they were all keen to go. John put his age up to go, he was only 17 and because they just thought it was the thing to do to go. But it left
I can’t think how it changed, we used to have the troop trains go through Forbes and we used to all rush up to the railway station to take them up food and chocolates and things. I’ve got a photograph to show you of troop trains with all the soldiers with legs hanging out the windows as they pulled up at the station. But I think things just went on as usual. Of course, our people were short of men
on the land, of course, and that’s why the Land Army girls were so fantastic. They went out and worked like men on the farms driving the tractors and the old ploughs with the horses in front. Just amazing.
he travelled on the back of a, the back of what they called the, the big things, they were just, no canopies on them or anything like that, just, I know the word, I can’t think of it, just on the tops of these cabin things. Not cabins, but anyway, they travelled with their army vehicle beside them, out in the heat and going across the desert in the heat and the
dust and everything else.
What about, apart from not having the men to work on the land, how did the absence of men in Forbes affect the feeling amongst the women in town?
I don’t know, I suppose that’s why we just all got together and had little sing songs and things, because the men weren’t around. And you
Did you have a best girlfriend during that time?
I had lots of best girlfriends, especially ones that I worked with and I’m still friendly, I still write to one lass who lives in Forster and one lass I saw her this week in Forbes. She still lives here. And I’ve got photographs taken of us years ago in the forties and we’re still friends. And the same as some of the staff now who are in their
late 70s and 80s and they’ll always see me and call out. Some of them, funnily enough in those days they always respected you because John and I were only young when we came to work at John Meagher and Co, when John came back from the war after training as the manager for two years. And they always called him Mr John and I was Mrs John. And now I met this man in the street the other day and he’s 75, I think, he said, “Hello, Mrs John.” And I thought, “Isn’t that strange, not calling me Mary”.
No, I thought it was great that he still felt like that. And Barry Sullivan, who owned this shop and only sold it recently, he’s been down here 50 odd years, just sold it out recently, he always called me Mrs Meagher whenever I went into his shop. And he started at Meagher and Co. the day we came back from our honeymoon and he always remembered our wedding anniversary and he always rang me from the store down here
to, rang us both to say, “Happy anniversary”, because he started at Meagher and Co when he was only 17. And then he retired here the other day at 74 or something and Tim and I went along to his send off and he said, “Thank you, Mrs Meagher, for coming.” I couldn’t believe that, because he’s almost my age, he’s always called me that because I was the boss’s wife.
having worked there, coming back married to the boss’s son.
I know, but that all made a fuss of me, it was great. Used to take the babies in to show them. And even when they were, Margaret was born in Temora and I remember coming in, bringing the baby in the basket to show all the staff the new baby. No, we always got on well and we had great staff parties and we used to have them at our big house next door for Christmas every year. And we’d
All right, just getting back to the war, do you remember when the war was announced?
I can remember that, yeah. Yes it was in, sitting in front of the old wireless in the house up in Killarey Road with Mum and Dad and everyone when we heard it announced.
Your brothers came back safely?
They both came back, yes. They lived, one lived till ’76 and the other one, he was much younger, he had cancer in the lung, he died in his 50s.
Did they ever write back to you?
Yes they did, not as much as I’d write to them. I used to keep in touch with them. And of course you didn’t get letters very often from them when they were serving overseas. See they, not many of the men that went to war wanted to talk about it. When they came back nobody wanted to talk about what they went through. And people are only finding out about it now after people have died, that’s what they’ve been through.
getting that horrible knock on the door saying their son wasn’t coming back?
No, I don’t really, I didn’t experience anything like that. But I know lots of friends who got the knock with just terrible news. And the mothers too, that, it was very hard on a lot of the mothers, sometimes losing two boys. And then I read a story about one who lost three boys, it must’ve been terrible.
In Forbes, there’s someone who had that particular job of passing on that news during the war?
I think it was mostly the army gave the news. It came through the army, they’d send somebody to give the news. Yes, it wouldn’t be a policeman or anybody like that, it’d be through the army.
if you had much to do with any of the men from the air force base. Did they come into Forbes at all?
Oh yes, they used to come over here because they’d meet up with, when they were on leave they had different girlfriends here. We just went for the dances. John usually took us over and dropped us off. And he got cranky with us. And then I can remember, he tells it in his story how he was running over, he was so annoyed with us for dancing all night with the
have his eye on you at that stage do you think?
I don’t know, I think we just all were a group at the time. It wasn’t really until we started corresponding during the war we sort of, that’s…I was going out with different ones during my time in the army and when he came home on leave we just sort of, that was it, I stopped going out with other blokes.
Forbes, did the atmosphere in town change?
Everyone loved it, because they thought it was great, yeah. There was one pilot who came in and flew over low over the town, over where his girlfriend worked. She worked in the jeweller’s shop, he later married her but he was really cautioned because he came so low over the town. He came swooping over the shop where she was. Of course that caused a big stir in
Ingleburn and you enlisting. Can you take us through that process, when you decided that you were going to help the war effort?
Well, I just decided one day working at the store that I’d like to join the army and my Mum was a bit concerned at the time. I don’t know why but I think she wasn’t in the greatest of health then, but she ended up living until 94. I think she thought I was deserting her.
But anyway, quite a few of us joined from Forbes and there were two of us from Forbes ended up in the one unit, other girls went to different units. And we had about three weeks in rookie’s camp, and we lived in big dormitories, just like big huts, and we slept on straw palliasses on an iron string bed and the bugle went off
at six in the morning and everyone flew out. It wasn’t always a hot shower, and then you lined up for your breakfast with a pannikin and the porridge was just slopped on there like that. And you went to the next one and they gave you something else.
Can you walk us through one of those exercises?
Just, you went in with this big gas mask and all this gas was flowing in the room and you had to pass through that. One of the chores, in case of that sort of war. Then after you finished your rookie’s you were then allotted to your different positions where, you were billeted, I was billeted first of all to Camperdown
to work in the Australian Army Canteens in the office there, and I was billeted in Homebush at the camp there. And used to travel in by bus to Camperdown every day, and sometimes if we went on leave and we got off the train at Strathfield, they’d arrange for the, what did they call it again, military police
to meet us at the Strathfield Railway Station because there were people who were hopping around, men wanting to accost the girls. But we were more scared of the military policemen, because once we got in their trucks sometimes it was hard to get out.
Can you, you said there was a, there were a couple of girls from Forbes that joined up, can you talk about the discussions that you girls had about actually going? Did you all decide together one day that you were going to do it?
No, no, this girl just happened, she was a friend of mine but not one that I’d ever gone out with much, but she just ended up in my unit.
Before we continue talking about your war experience, Mary, I just wanted to jump back a little way, just to get a few more bits and pieces of detail. That machine of yours at work, at Meagher’s and Co, the accounting machine, it’s an intriguing old device, can you just
explain to us how perhaps you’d have to load it up. If you were going to do an invoice on it, what would be the process of loading it up and how would you do the invoice?
Like a big old typewriter, really, only it was just a very big one and you had to roll it around, you rolled your paper in and rolled it up and then typed away and then it went up that end and you pushed it back that end. It went on like that. It was just like a big old fashioned typewriter.
But it was mostly in the office, and also I did, if necessary, I’d be on the switchboard. Had the old-fashioned big switchboard where you plugged everything in and we also had those old carriers that when you sent the money down and you pulled a thing and it went across, down to the other department. I used to have to do that, send the change down, across to the other department in this funny little box. Extraordinary.
Does that take a bit of getting used to? Operating a switchboard?
Not really, it was bigger in the army than it was, of course, at Meagher and Co. It was a different thing altogether because you had calls coming in from everywhere, all people from different areas ordering the food and the grog. I was responsible for issuing the invoices for all those and. It wasn’t such a big job.
But also, you had to have all your invoices correct, and I remember having to make sure that everything was right. You had to balance it up properly, you didn’t have a little computer or anything like that in those days to do it all. What do you call those little ones you play on? You just had to work it all out in your head and have everything correct. So that was all, it wasn’t all that interesting what I did in the army, but I suppose
I helped out a bit. I ended up being a corporal. Came home on leave, when John and I came home on leave, he’s even got it framed in there, “Private John Meagher and his wife Corporal Mary Meagher were home at the weekend on leave”. They used to…
While you were still at work before the army, did you have a sense that the war was getting close before it actually started? Did you have that information coming to you?
Yes, we were listening all the time on our old radio, and always war talk the whole time. I think we will always remember when it was announced.
It was such a frightening thing. And we knew that the boys would be called up or they would be volunteering. Which they did happily, funnily enough, but some of them weren’t all that happy about being called up because they thought, “Now will we have a job when we come back?” And also they were on the land where they were needed. That’s why I was saying to Kylie where the Land Army girls did a wonderful job coming in and working.
They just worked as hard as the men. And when you see them with a horse and that old fashioned plough behind it and the girls with the reins, hanging on. Unbelievable.
So the war, while the war was happening and you were still going to work, did you start to feel awkward or guilty that you weren’t more involved in the war effort? Before you did sign up.
No, I didn’t feel guilty at all, no. Just felt, all of a sudden I just felt I wanted to be a part of it. Because my brothers had gone and
Had the war become more intense and more threatening locally? Do you think that was part of why you suddenly decided to make that decision?
Yeah. Well, it was then, because see in 1942 when they were getting the scares with the Japs [Japanese] coming in and the air raids and things. See, John was in Western Australia
when the air raids came on and he didn’t ever go out of Australia, it wasn’t his fault. He joined the RAF [RAAF, Royal Australian Air Force?] but he was sent out on the boat Manoora when there was a threat of the Japs coming in. So he did go out of Australia, but nothing happened and they came back with the result, that’s why I’m not able to claim a War Widow’s Pension because he didn’t go out of Australia, even though he joined up at 17. And they gave him a gold card,
and yet they said to me that it wouldn’t pass on to me because they couldn’t prove that John died from anything to do with the war. Had he been an alcoholic or a strong smoker, the gold card would’ve passed on to me because the stress would’ve caused it. It’s unbelievable.
Did you consider any of the other options? Some of the other services? Why did you end up going for the army?
I don’t know why, I suppose, perhaps just because my brothers had gone into the army, I don’t know. I just decided. I didn’t apply for anything else. Some girls went in the navy and some the air force.
What was Luna Park like back in those days?
It was wonderful, I’ll never forget my first ride on the Big Dipper, but never ever again would I go on that. But it was very exciting to go to Luna Park because that’s where you met up with so many friends. Just wonderful. Yeah, and we used to go over to Clifton Gardens and have picnics over there.
At the dances, the bigger dances like the Paddington town hall and the Trocadero, would they have a big band?
Yes, they had a big band. Not like you see now though, but they’d have quite a band. But a lot of the dances we used to have only a piano.
couldn’t get a beer there?
No, no, no. Nothing like that. Even when we went to the dances here in Forbes at the town hall, the blokes had to go over to the pub to have a drink. We, no drink was ever allowed in the hall. It’s a different time altogether.
So it sounds like you spent a fair bit of time while you were based in Homebush on leave exploring Sydney.
Yes, getting out to different things. People used to think, because you were in the army they’d say, “You had a great time, you girls. I bet you did a lot of drinking.” I never ever had a strong drink, ever. It’s just a thing, they had a feeling because you were just in there, you’d play up and so forth. It wasn’t the case.
Any other sort of equipment?
No, no, I think it was mainly food and all the grog and the equipment, the uniforms. The shoes and all that sort of thing. Hats. Yes, I can still picture my friend standing at the counter downstairs when I went down to visit her one day, and there she is handing out these things to the soldiers, and the girls as well.
Homebush, what was that like in those days?
Fairly busy. I don’t remember a lot about Homebush, because mostly when we were camped there we didn’t go into Homebush much, mainly got on a train at Strathfield and went into Sydney. And then we, because we could catch trams and buses too. The day the war ended we couldn’t get on a tram, too crowded. So we walked all the way in.
And did you get on to the switchboard work straight away or that was after a while?
That was just, I’d fill in if somebody wasn’t there on the switch. That’s all, they’d ask me to fill in knowing that I had switchboard experience. I’d just do that occasionally. And if we’d finished our invoices and somebody wanted a break, you went on to the switchboard and they could go off
Hundreds. You’ve only got to see that photograph of our rookies’ camp, how many was in that. And there were lots, every three weeks there was a rookies’ camp. So there’d be, some’d go to Homebush, some somewhere else. Then they’d go off, course a lot went all over the place, Victoria, everywhere. All over Australia.
Can you give us any examples?
All those girls that I photographed down at Martin Place, they were all girls that worked at Camperdown with me. And so they were with me all the time, but there was only one girl from Forbes with me, the others were just from everywhere. And whenever we had an army or ex-service women’s reunion here in Forbes, I’d invite all those girls that I was with there, and so many of them came up here. We had some of the biggest reunions ever, here.
Was that at Prince Alfred Park, ice skating?
Yes, yes, yes, and these two girls were photographed at my wedding too, they were in uniform at the wedding.
Did they make it very clear to you when you joined the army that you would never be required to leave Australia? Was that a clear thing or was that an unknown thing?
No, it wasn’t but funnily enough, after we were married, I was then told there was something offering in New Guinea, I could go there. But I didn’t want to go there. A couple of the girls went but it was mainly nurses went to New Guinea afterwards. But not many
Whereabouts in Rushcutter’s Bay was it?
Down the, what do you call the road, the long road down the, what’s the long road down Rushcutter’s Bay? I’m getting old. It’s well known, St (UNCLEAR) Church is just near it.
So that was an opportunity to find out a bit about how the girls went in the other services, I suppose? Get an insight into what those worlds were like?
Yes. We had good times, we had little dances there as well, and our boyfriends were allowed to come and visit but they had a curfew. They had to go by a certain time.
very close to Kings Cross. You would’ve…
Yes. That’s why we were always lucky. We’d get on a tram to come home and this tram stopped right outside the door of the CWA. And there were lots of American soldiers used to be travelling on it. I never had any trouble with them, but I was always glad to get off because they were always on these trams when we got on and I’d be sometimes getting off on my own. So we’d just, anyway, as soon as we pressed the buzzer
some, Prince’s and all those places. I remember when John and I, early marriage we used to go to Prince’s and Romano’s for dinners with the head men of John Meagher and Co, really. They had all the big dos on for all the directors. But those places are all closed now. I suppose you wouldn’t even know those names, Prince’s and Romano’s. Some of the other big places, but now they’re different, they’re all like discotheques now, aren’t they? They’re a different thing altogether.
But it was notorious for attracting the US servicemen?
It was, yeah. But see, there wasn’t the drugs around and the alcohol as well in those days. It’s just, as I said, we girls, I can’t remember ever going to anything where they all wanted to have drinks. I can’t remember anyone
Mary, can you tell us what happened on your 21st birthday? You were in Sydney by this time working for the army, tell us what happened.
Well, I just decided I wanted to be at home for my 21st birthday so I boarded the train at Central Railway Station. It must’ve been, took 12 hours the trip. I arrived in Forbes at twelve o’clock on the
Sunday, midday and walked a mile and a half up to my home at Killarey Road, where my parents were having a roast dinner. My Dad always cooked the roast dinner on Sundays and I knocked on the door and they got such a shock. And I was at the door. So I spent a few hours with them and I was back on the train at six o’clock at night on my way back to Sydney. And I can remember the
train used to go past, over, right opposite the other side, but from our house in Killarey Road you could see the train going back to Sydney, and Mum was out with a big sheet waving to me like this with the sheet. Waving goodbye. And I had the hankie out and crying and waving to them with the little hankie as though they could see me from the window. But I’ll never forget Mum with the big sheet waving to me because she knew that she’d see the train as she went by. So that was all I did for my 21st birthday, but
I just wanted to be at home for it.
What made you decide at the spur of the moment to go home?
It wasn’t on the spur of the moment, I thought all along that I wanted to be there. I only got that weekend leave, so that’s all I could do. So I just went home. So it was no great celebration, but they did have a roast dinner on when I got there and it was a very, very hot day.
She didn’t like Sydney, your mother?
Oh no, it was just that she didn’t, well, they didn’t have a car and the train was such a long trip. And anyway, she had other family at home so I didn’t expect her to be coming visiting me anyway. I doubt she, because the first time they travelled to Sydney for a few years was when they came to my wedding and that was in St Mary’s
Even in the summer you had to wear those clothes?
You had a summer uniform, a lightweight, didn’t wear your gloves then, but you had a lightweight short-sleeved uniform. It was like a, I don’t know what the fabric would be but it was much lighter, it wasn’t wool. I suppose it was a cotton, in the khaki.
foods for us when we went out to those dos. We all loved going there. Wouldn’t have gone there if it had just been ordinary, there couldn’t have been too much shortage. It was mainly in the Depression days that I talked about, the shortage of food, I think. But you had to have coupons, as I said, to get special foods.
Did you have a close friend at Camperdown, one of, can you talk about one of the friends that you remember?
I had lots of close friends at Camperdown. I used to have one friend, her parents had a little holiday place at Woy Woy and we used to go there for weekends when we were on leave. I’ve got some lovely photographs, I look at them every now and again and wonder where those girls are. If they’re still around. Yes, we had some lovely times. We used to love going ice-skating.
Did you ever pick up a newspaper and read what was going on in the war in the Middle East?
Oh yes, yes. Yes, we always followed up what was going on. Always thinking about the boys that were over there. Some of the girls, of course, were really very anxious about some of their boyfriends who were overseas.
I met up with a man from Forbes, or Gilgandra really. And then met up with him here a couple of years ago. Only died a few months ago. He said, “Oh, Mary, remember” he said “when we used to go to the old Paddington Town Hall for a dance?” And his wife said, “I’m a bit envious about you pair, what were you up to?”
So you might be left halfway through?
Oh yes, he would, but I don’t know, I can’t remember really being a wallflower. But I can remember that in the Town Hall in Forbes sitting around waiting for the boys and they were all outside chatting outside, like they do. But that was how things still happen now. The girls get up and dance together now, we never did that.
Okay, so what we want is for instance, you spent a year, you lived in Homebush for a year.
I’m not sure how long I lived there, but I could most probably tell by all my leave passes how long I was there, but I’m not sure, I don’t know that I was there for a year.
what an invoice would look like?
Like an invoice you get these days, only more detailed because there’s so much, I’d have to check the stock coming in and price it all out, extend it out and I’d have to make sure that was all balanced. I used to sit at a long desk with a lieutenant and a sergeant and a corporal just beside me. And the girls that
Would you go out the back?
Sometimes I was out the back checking out invoices and things. I did get a few wild boys calling me “carrot top” and so forth, “How are you today, carrot top?” because my hair was so red. And just a few things, they always flirted with you a bit, the boys on the
So there wasn’t much pressure on you.
No, no pressure at all. I was quite at ease working with these men beside me. I remember one staff sergeant was a really wonderful man, he was in his fifties, always very nice to me. I think he realised I was a country girl away from home. He used to always be good, look after me.
So, if you did ask, you had some choice.
Well, I think they had a choice but I didn’t ever ask. I just took on whatever what was allotted to me. I didn’t ever think in those days about driving big trucks and things. I didn’t have a driver’s license. But some of the girls that were on the land, they were dying to get into that sort of thing.
What was your impression of girls who wanted to do men’s work like that, at that time?
I thought they were great, they were being very brave. I really did. And they enjoyed it. It was hard yakka for them and they worked hard. They had to learn how to repair their vehicles, mend a tyre, and they weren’t small tyres either.
Because you said you did marching, and what else? What training did they give you?
Nothing much, really, mainly marching and going through the gas chambers, and I can’t think of anything else that had anything to do with how they allotted me.
Did you put on weight while you were working in Sydney in the army?
I did at one stage, and then when I was married I was only seven stone two, but I did put on weight. When I look at the photographs, when I looked about nine stone, I couldn’t believe it.
girls that you shared your room with?
They’d vary from time to time. That was a three room thing and they’d come and go. Some only might come for the weekend. We had one girl that slept with a hat on all the time. We always, she was a funny thing. She came from a very wealthy family, quite eccentric she was, but we loved her. We used to have so much fun with her. We used to, whenever, you hardly ever saw her without her hat on.
And let’s move on to John returning into your life. So you had contact with him via, he started writing to you as soon as you joined the army or when you’d gone down to Sydney?
Yes, he was in Western Australia and no, he wrote to me first of all in Forbes and I told him I was joining the army and he found out where
And the letters that he used to write, were the friendly letters or did you get a hint that he may have liked you?
He used to send a photograph, “To my darling Mary, love from John”. With him over in Western Australia, so I don’t know.
Really, what did he used to do at the store?
He was just, he locked me in the big safe one day. The big one with a big door that you’d walk in. and the accountant came in and caught him and he was in trouble because the accountant was a very strict man. He had to soon open the door and let me out. And I’d go to the swimming pool with my friends and he’d always want to duck me, therefore I gave up swimming. I
So what was the contents of the letters that he would write to you?
He’d just tell me very mundane things, whatever they were doing, wherever they were going. He was on a (UNCLEAR), he used to ride the motorbike and he used to go ahead of all the troops and give the messages, what was happening and so forth. And he used to leave a lot of messages for them. It’s all in his stories, terrific.
What did he, did he look different to you when he turned up at Rushcutter’s Bay? Had he changed very much?
No, he didn’t look much different, no. Because he used to send me photos quite a lot, I think he was a bit on himself. He was always a great one for taking photos because he ended up, after he left Meagher and Co, being a photographer.
Did he still continue to torment you at that time?
No, he didn’t, no. Iit was only when we were younger, here in Forbes. He grew up a bit I think, because he was only 17 when he went in the army. I was 16 months older than John.
So you were able to get on with him a bit better, being the older woman in the relationship.
Yes, I know, not that I didn’t really get on with him when he used to do all these things, I just didn’t like it.
And what happened, he was billeted to Randwick was it?
Yes, it’s all in his story. I’ve only got to, I should read it out to you. It’s all just there. He, yes, he was there. He used to be a Don R [dispatch rider], still on the motorbike and driving the big trucks and things.
them of course. Yes, and now I feel sorry for what happened to them in Cowra, the breakout there and how they were killed over there when they broke out. Wars a terrible thing because nobody wants to be in it really, do they, and they’re forced into it. To me it’s just terrible when you see young people being taken away from their wives and children and everything else
to go to war. Same as what’s happening now.
I got there the beginning of ’43. And then we were some place herded into the air raid shelters and people would be there with their guitars and mouth organs and singing along. Nobody seemed to be crying or upset, they all seemed to be, tried to make a bit of fun because of how serious it was. I remember the mouth organs quite
plainly, they used to carry them around in their pockets for this sort of thing.
Mary, just going back to Camperdown, when you were working, did the soldiers use to get a bit playful with the girls who worked there? Was there any sort of teasing or tormenting or playing around?
No, nothing at all, no. Very good workforce it was, yeah.
One of the girls you worked with at Camperdown got married at one stage and you provided a guard of honour. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Yes, I’ve got all the photographs here too. Yes, it was at Newtown which, the church was sort of a run down old, big old church and scruffy looking. But anyway we all turned up in our uniform. There must’ve been at least 40 of us, I think, in the guard of honour.
Were you able to have a bit of a reception afterwards?
No, we didn’t, really, I think they went off quietly and did something on their own. It was very emotional, of course she was very emotional because he was
So when you caught up with your brothers, when they’d come back at the end of the war, was it obvious to you that they were changed boys?
Yes, quite obvious. Seemed to have a chip on their shoulder. They both worked hard, though.
seemed to do a bit of therapeutic drinking.
Yes, they worked hard but they drank at the weekends. I used to try and look after them. We were always going to them, they had little flats and I used to take food to them, look after them, try to do my best. And they were wonderful with my children, they just loved kids. And they were really very good. They only hurt themselves, nobody else. That’s the sad part, and I think it’s happened to a lot of people that have gone through the war.
for a bit later in the piece because that’s a really important thing we should investigate a bit more, I think. But since we’ve been talking about some of the other war experiences of people around you, I wonder if you could just give us an outline of John’s involvement in the war prior to him coming to Sydney and working out of Sydney. When
did he enlist and what was his experience?
I’d have to read out that story, it’s all in that. In 1942 he enlisted and…
That was with the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]?
AIF, yes. And he wasn’t going to turn 18 for six months, I think it was, so he put his age up to get in and I’m not sure whether, where he went first. I think he went to
So he did a bit of training around…
Yes, he did his training there. And he trained up, out in the sticks, out Narrabri way, out that way. Every time we’d go on a caravan holiday he’d say, “That’s where I used to camp, out there in the frost.” Out Gunnedah, out that way. And then they
the scare came, when they thought the Japs were coming in in ’42 and they were all put onto the Manoora, I think the name of the boat was, and sent out to defend Australia. Of course the Japs didn’t come in, so they were returned back to Western Australia, and I think they moved on from there, I’m not sure. But there was a scare at the time.
Did that remain a bit of a frustration for him? That he didn’t actually get a chance?
Oh yes, it did, because when he came back here he wasn’t recognised so much in the RSL [Returned and Services League] and it was only in the last 15 years I suppose, with all the other amenities that all the other people get, and that was a big thing with a lot of the boys who didn’t go overseas. It wasn’t their fault,
they joined up to go overseas and he didn’t get all the lurks and perks that they others got. But now, it was only in the last, it must’ve been fifteen years I suppose, it all happened and of course in the end he got a lot of help when he was so ill with the cancer. He was taken by air ambulance to Sydney to go to hospital and all that sort of thing. Everything was done for him then. Everything in the hospital, St Vincent’s, was all free.
All done by the Veterans’ Affairs. So that really worked out in the end.
it says in January ’45, and we married in December ’45. I’ll never forget my dear old mother, because she was so religious and so terrified her daughter might do the wrong thing. She said, “It’s only ten months since you were getting engaged, why are you getting married so soon?” She thought we should have waited at least 12 months or more. I think she thought I might’ve been pregnant and I was in a hurry. I said, “No way, Mum.” I shouldn’t be telling you all this on the…
So when you had been living apart from each other in different parts of Australia but exchanging letters, did it, had it come to a point in those letters that you had a strong sense that you were boyfriend and girlfriend at that moment? Or was it, it wasn’t until he arrived in Sydney that that was…
Not until he arrived really. Yes.
So you’d go on picnics to? What were some of your favourite spots for picnics?
Clifton Gardens was one spot, and there’s another lovely spot in Sydney, and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair was another one. We’d meet up with friends there and we’d go over on a little ferry to the zoo. There’s another spot, I think, over near the zoo, I can’t think of it at the moment and we used to picnic over there.
because my parents were in Forbes and I did most of the organising on my own. We were married at St Mary’s Cathedral at eight o’clock in the morning on one of the hottest days as you could imagine with a strike in Sydney and no electricity, no gas, no trains running all day. And when we went to the reception at the Amery at Ashfield, everything had to be done. All the food was cold, the photographs had to be done outside
In the garden because there was no electricity. And it was just a, we were married at eight in the morning and had to wait until eight at night to get a train to the mountains. And we didn’t get there until after eleven o’clock at night.
the morning. And John’s grandmother was staying on the ninth floor and she forgot her handbag and John had to, he wasn’t staying at the hotel but he came. Because he wasn’t supposed to see me at all beforehand, so anyway, he had to go to the hotel to pick up grandma and she said, “I’ve left my handbag upstairs.” And he had to walk up nine floors to get the handbag for her and down again. But at
the time there was a big wedding supposed to be at the hotel that same day as us and they had the red carpet out. And it all fizzled out in the end, it was very wealthy people and this lady was a bit of a con woman and they thought it was going to be a big wedding and they had the red carpet out. So Mary walks out down the red carpet to go to the car to go to the wedding, and they’re all waiting outside the lift for this lady to arrive and out walks Mary. That was the funniest thing.
So we always laughed about walking out on the red carpet.
And they had, at that time you went, first of all you went into the Amery and they greeted you and then you went into a room for drinks, and then they moved the next wedding couple in wherever you were, and then you went on to the next room and so forth. And then you went for your meal and then you went somewhere else for cameras and all the time behind you somebody else was following, waiting to go in. it was a big place the Amery, and they had a junior place called John Rowe, that’s if you didn’t have a big wedding, you could go to
Was it Mount Victoria that you went to first?
Yeah, Mount Victoria, that’s where it was. And every time John drove by with the kids when we were going through, “That’s where Mary and I had our first night,” he say and he’d point upstairs.
And what was the accommodation like at Jenolan Caves?
Very nice and very good. Of course the meals was done beautifully with starched white serviettes and, you know, with the serviette over their arm when they served you, breakfast time or whenever. It was beautifully done. It was a very nice place. I think it still is. We’ve been back a couple of times with our children, it was always very good.
in that sort of situation, the war forcing women to become involved in that way, did you sense that that was somehow liberating in general for young women? Suddenly being able to get out and be involved more in the workforce and be a bit more independent?
No, I don’t think we thought like that in those days. I don’t think so. No, it was just something that happened and we enjoyed it. It was different.
So when do you think you started to get a sense that the war was drawing to an end?
Only just by listening to all the radio broadcasts where you could tell it was getting close. Because all the terrible bombing, it was just terrible they finished it the way they did. I think it was just awful all those people that were killed. When you see the photographs of that little girl running with her clothes burnt off and things like that. That was pretty horrifying and terrible, to think they had to end war that way.
And it’s not over yet with it now, is it?
to John and you would spend some time with him, would you often get an opportunity to come back to Forbes together?
We came back occasionally, not too often. I remember coming back in ’44, that was before we were engaged, I think it was. The drought was on then and we had the worst dust storms ever and the heat was over 102, 104 [Fahrenheit]
every day for ten days. And the red dust was rolling in and you had a light on in your house at three o’clock in the afternoon because you couldn’t see. And we didn’t stay for the full ten days’ leave, because the heat was so exhausting and awful. And then we’d come home in this funny old jalopy that John bought, then crashed it, then drove around with bags on the side for doors and people thinking how weird we were, driving around. John Meagher’s son, O.J. Meagher’s son,
driving around in an old jalopy like that. And then he did it all up and I used to drive it around town with camouflage all over it. I was discharged from the army before he was and so I used to drive around in this old thing and they all thought we were quite weird.
I haven’t had a look at that one.
No, well, have a look at it. It’s got the gas producer on this little Morris Minor, and nearly as big as the car itself. But this other one that John had, we had the drum on the back and he used to get out and stoke it all the time and then the big
here and there. What sort of a, how would you describe his character back in those days, around the time that you married him. What sort of a man was he?
He’d matured a bit by the time I married him, but before that he used to torment me when I worked in the office. And he’d go up there, he had to report in every so often, what he was doing. He did work in the office for a little while when he first came back from boarding school.
And while the accountant was out one day he locked me in the big safe which was pretty frightening. But when the accountant came back in and went to unlock the safe, John hurriedly got me out. He was, certainly in the bad books. The accountant was a very, very severe man. And then when we’d go to the pool as a group he always insisted on ducking me because I think he knew I couldn’t swim very well. But that put me off swimming,
I didn’t ever bother going back for swimming. Never mind.
All the time, that’s why he got this award after he died. This marker in memory of him, because he did so much. And in the flood years he was fantastic. Used to boat around the town and rescue people and check the houses for them if they couldn’t get there to check. He opened one two-storey window. He boated right up to the top floor, opened the window and the piano floated out. He had to have, it had been put on drums and the drums were empty.
And he stayed down town for five days. He flew into ham radio and he was the only communication out of Forbes at the time, with ham radio, because everything had gone under with the water. We had to go and meet (UNCLEAR) and anything like that. And they couldn’t even get into town because the current was too strong. And he just stayed down there and camped in John Meagher and Co. All the water was through Meagher and Co and through the cellars
and everything else. And then his brother Tim, the one that was, the pilot, he used to drop food out to all the people out in the bush. And sometimes John even went out a long way in the bush in the boat to take food out to them.
the announcement came that the war was over. Can you tell us how you spent that day?
Well, we all jumped up from our desks in Camperdown. And the lieutenant said, “Just go.” And we just went, and of course we rushed out thinking we would get a tram. No way, there was so much excitement in the streets. So we marched singing all the way from Camperdown into Martin Place. And John’s parents came down too, and they were staying at the Australia Hotel.
to Forbes with him when you were both on leave. How were you two received when you were both locals of Forbes, and you were probably quite well known? And how was your union received in Forbes?
All right. I can’t remember. Tim says most probably people all thought, you know, “Here’s Mary Doyle marrying the boss’s son”. Most probably they did say that but it didn’t ever get back to me. I don’t think, when we
socialising. They did entertain quite a bit, but she wasn’t one of these who wanted to be out all the time. And John’s father was a very good boss. He was a hard boss when I worked there, he was a caring boss. Very caring to poor people, especially in the drought years when people couldn’t pay their accounts and he let them hang on for twelve months knowing that things might come good. And they always stuck to
doing business with the firm then, because he stuck to them during the drought. They were good citizens and we all got on well.
much, much older than John’s parents. My parents were too old to be mixing much anyway. But, see, John’s parents being in business, and they entertained quite a bit with country people and things like that. Mum and Dad were just ordinary citizens living a good life, looking after their kids and cooking and sewing for us. That’s about all, but they weren’t ones to go out looking for entertainment.
When you think about it, Mum was 94 when she died and that’s 20 years ago.
interesting for the archives that we haven’t mentioned? If you think that people are going to be maybe wanting to get an impression of how it was for women during the war, of women working in particular, because that’s what you did.
Yes, I can’t think now of what I could say about that. I think it was just a good time and a great experience for girls and I don’t think anyone regretted joining the army. And we had a lot of
discipline, which was good. And I think discipline doesn’t hurt anybody, and that’s why I think some of our young people aren’t in the army these days getting a little bit of discipline, we wouldn’t have the trouble on the streets like we’re having here even in Forbes, with the people damaging windows and things every night. Nearly every night there’s something broken. The lovely lights on the bridge over here thrown in the lake. One night I was sitting here and I hadn’t
had the curtains drawn and somebody came up through the lake. I hadn’t locked the gate and I didn’t know, and I was sitting there reading and all my lights went out. So I picked up a torch and thought I’ve blown a fuse. And I went out and this man ran straight out the gate and a sensor light came on out the front, giving me a scare. I suppose he saw me sitting there as he went around. And he came in the gate and gave me a fright. And everyone said, “Fancy you going out with a torch.” I said, “I thought I’d blown a fuse.” And so
he could’ve hit me on the head or anything, but just the things like that. And then my other neighbour in my other unit, she was sitting there one night and had a big crack on the window and somebody had thrown a big duck egg on the window because they saw her sitting there. And it was a really frosty night and all the egg set all over the window and all over the porch. You know, at our age you can do without those sort of things. That’s why I think they need a bit of discipline.
I was doing really well, quite healthy and well and walking that mile and a half to my mother’s place down town. Then, later on John, when he was moved over to Parkes, he used to ride a pushbike over here to visit me until he got out of the army. See, I applied to get out of the army once I found I was pregnant and so, and then John was able to come to
What did he do in Parkes?
There’s an army depot there, so they put him there. So he used to ride the pushbike over one day and back again in the morning and back again at night. And then he was over, I’m trying to think now. Then I’d been downtown shopping and I came home and I was sitting with my Mum and Dad around the fire, it was the end of July
and a lovely big cosy fire and I was knitting for the baby and I got this terrible pain and I was rushed to hospital and it was a beautiful little boy and he only lived two days. And of course the nurse’s problem, she was only 17 and had only been there a few weeks and she had to put the tube back in his nose after she fed him with the tube, and she didn’t put the tube back in. And John had just been over from Parkes to have a look at the baby,
and the doctor assured him everything was, because they wanted to fly the baby to Sydney and wanted me to go too so as I could breastfeed. And I said, “No, I don’t want to go to Sydney,” it was only a little plane. The doctor’s little plane, a two seater. And anyway, so John had to go back to Parkes, so he caught the train from Forbes to Parkes and when he got to Parkes there was a message to say the baby had died. And he couldn’t believe it, because he was only an hour before he’d seen the baby.
So that was a big shock to our system, so then he applied to get out of the army and that was when we moved to Temora.
So what was the hospital called where you had that baby?
I think it was Cromby Hospital, and it was pathetic. There was no humidicrib in those days at all, and then the room he was put in was just a brick room, brick. It wasn’t even lined. And the only warmth, and this was the end of July when all of the heavy frosts were on, was a water bag
To put around the baby to keep it warm. Because you know what they do now with the babies. So it was a great shock to us, because I went home with nothing and had everything ready. And so then we moved to Temora and within three months I was pregnant again and I spent three months in hospital, in bed, to have Margaret and she arrived at seven months and she was just under four pound and they didn’t have a humidicrib in those days so she
was wrapped in cottonwool and she had jaundice and she had all this white cottonwool and little black side levers, she had really thick black hair, little black side levers and this yellow face. So when she was a month old I brought her home to Forbes for the first time to visit the family and on the way home we had a trailer behind our car and the trailer lost a wheel and this was in the middle of the night.
Not middle of, it was early in the night but we couldn’t find the wheel, so we had to park in the road with mosquitoes and everything and this little baby. Fortunately I was breastfeeding. So we were there all night and John went looking for the wheel and found it a mile down the road. So we got that together and my mother thought we’d gone to John’s place to stay the night, and John’s mother thought the opposite. Otherwise they would’ve been out of their mind worrying where we were.
Coming home to show the baby for the first time. So that was an experience.
Did Margaret get better quite quickly?
Yes, she survived all right. She was, when I brought her home to Forbes to show her, she wasn’t five pound. When I brought Jack home from Sydney he was a month old and he was just on five pound. And then I got really good with Timothy, I got to eight months with him. And when I got to Patrick he popped out
in half an hour. He got to full time and I thought it’d never end when I got to Patrick. And he was my biggest one, five pound eleven. Out of the five babies. Just couldn’t hold on to them, it was funny. Strange, really. They had a lot of treatment after Margie, and that’s why I had to go to the city for four months to have Jack. And then I was raced off, I was at a nursing home and raced off with the ambulance screaming to go into the Mater.
And I always often would think that John should’ve gone to university or done something in engineering because he was so clever. And I mean, a lot of the family were never happy running the stores. I mean, they had the brains to do other things. It was just the family thing. Like on the farms, now the kids rebel, they don’t want to go on the farms because it’s such a bad time on the farms for those people these days. So a lot of the Meagher and Co, younger people didn’t go into the stores.
Like my boys never wanted to go into anything like that. It was just the general thing, so he was sent to Temora to train under his uncle.
So what kind of, how would you and John spend your recreation time in those early days?
What, after we were married? I tell you what, the bank manager’s wife over at Temora when I moved there, every bank manager’s wife would want me for morning or
afternoon tea and they’d have these delicious morning and afternoon teas. Here’s me with a new baby crying, and I’m sitting up trying to make sponge cakes and I’d throw them one after the other into the bin. And they’d be that high and I’m trying to compete with these women. And then when I came back to Forbes the bank manager’s wives were doing the same thing, entertaining. You don’t even know a bank manager now, there aren’t bank managers anymore. It was unbelievable. But John and I had such a social life. My
dear old mother was the wonderful one who used to mind the children while we went out. It was just amazing. And we’d go to the picnic races and Mum’d mind the kids. Even a new baby, she was an amazing old lady. But we had a very busy life and we used to entertain a lot, especially when John was President of the Golf Club and deputy mayor and things like that. Always had big crowds around our big table in the old house.
being asked out to all these functions? Or did you find it…?
Yes, we did, it was always the thing to do. And do you know, we used to do terrible things, we’d take our kids to the ball and we’d put them asleep in the station wagon outside and go and check them all the time. If you did that now the police would be on to you. We’d go there in the middle of winter to a ball in the town hall and have the kids tucked out and we’d go out, everyone would take a turn to go out and check their kids. So we didn’t, get away with, well, we
Yes, after Meagher and Co, John bought into this frock shop, Jean Cameron’s frock shop. It was an exclusive one, we only had one of the thing. It was very hard, I had to go down to Sydney buying for it, and very hard buying in small quantities because all the big warehouses all wanted you to buy up big. And if you came back, say, with Sportscraft, it was very popular in those days, if you had six or seven skirts in all the different sizes, but if they were the
same colour or something like that, the people wouldn’t buy them. “Oh no, somebody else will be buying one like that and I’ll be walking around in Forbes in the same skirt.” Very hard buying them now, if you want something exclusive it costs you a thousand dollars. Isn’t it really, you need to call it Dinnigan or something even though I read in the paper two girls turned up at a do and both had Colette Dinnigan frocks on the same. But it was pretty tough doing that. And John was in the photography out the
back and he used to develop all the pictures and frame all the frame for everyone. Frame all the pictures, and all sorts of things he framed. Then we moved up here and we built a big shed in the back here and he used to do all the framing there. All his equipment’s all there in the garage still.
What was it like as a mother sending your kids away to boarding school in Sydney?
Pretty awful. Margie was pretty bad, and now Tim tells me years and years later, he was homesick all the time. But Margie used to, we’d put her on the plane, she’d be crying when she went on the plane and
she’d cry herself to sleep when she got back to the school. She was terrible, she was so homesick. Now I feel I couldn’t do it to a grandchild, but now my little grandboy, child who’s just eleven is starting next month up in Brisbane at boarding school. So that’ll be hard for them I guess. But he’s quite, he seems quite thrilled about it so I hope he is.
But Tim never ever liked it and now Jack tells me he never ever liked it also. They seemed to get along all the time, they were always bringing children home all the time with them for holidays. Used to have great parties.
boarding school. A lot of children from here go. And see, out at Red Bend College, they come in from all the outback places like Broken Hill and Cobar and all those places. But see, the drought’s so bad out there, a lot of them weren’t able to send their children in to boarding school the last two years, really. Which is very hard. They’re very well looked after out here, but
it must be a hard time for the parents. And it’s hard for the brothers too, because those Marist Brothers stick by those people who can’t pay their fees and they let them pay it off just slowly. And it’s very hard on everyone because the drought does affect everyone and I know there’s children out there now, that their parents are nearly destitute and some of them have been put off their farm. It must be a terrible thing after
generations have been on a farm and the bank come in and walk you off. Lock up everything. It’s happened to so many people out west.
So over, having been a Forbes girl all this time, did you notice that the country town was in sort of decline slowly, or did you this town, is this something that’s really recent, all the problems that you’re talking about, farms foreclosing?
This has been going on years and years, this foreclosing of farms. For the last twenty years it’s been happening. I know of a family who were on TV
Did you ever wish that you were, had a farm, given you were brought up on a little farm.
We had a farm but we didn’t live on it. Dad used to take us out in the horse and sulky and he grew wheat and he had some sheep and it was only a small farm. We didn’t really grow up on it, but he used to take us out and he used to have the water bag hanging on the back of the sulky, that’s how we’d have our drink of water out on the farm. Mum’d pack us lunch and he’d take us out there. That’s only
Did you ever wish that you became a farmer’s wife and lived on the land…?
No, I didn’t. No, I don’t think I’d like to live out on the land. No. I don’t think I could bear to be out there on my own, at nights if they were away or anything like that. But most people on the land love it. Because so many girls from Sydney who went to boarding school and then met up with boys who went to boarding school from Forbes. They’d come out here
What do you think it was that inspired you and John to do all this charity work?
I don’t know what it was, just seemed to come naturally to us, I guess. John used to look after, he looked after two people who were quadriplegics. One’s still at the hospital and it’s 26 years since he had the stroke and John used to go up and help feed him every morning. And the other
man had a car accident and John fed him every morning. And he, they missed, the one that is still there missed John so much he cried and cried. He can’t talk but he’s got a little machine and he types out little things on it. And he cried and cried when John died. And it was just something he liked doing and he used to visit the hospital and see if anyone wanted anything and he’d take them a paper. And he was very good to my brother
when he had to go into the nursing home. Looked after him very well. As a matter of fact my brother used to say, “John does more for me than Mary does.” Because John used to take him up sweets and give him the newspaper. But I used to make him up all sorts of things and he thought John was great. But we just did things and we didn’t feel we were doing anything very exciting.
when Grace Bros took over Meagher’s and Co store?
Yes, it was. All the Meagher staff, all the Meagher families from way back all (UNCLEAR), but that was the way things were going and takeovers happen all the time, aren’t they, every day.
You had a lot to do with the women, the friends that you met during wartime, during your wartime service, you were involved in a lot of reunions afterwards?
Yes, well, I was president of the ex-service women’s association here in Forbes and I had a good group with me and we used to organise these reunions.
What are some of the things that you laughed about?
Just some of the dress-ups and things and mad things that we did. But it’s amazing, when these girls came to Forbes for the reunions, they all brought outfits and all dressed up. We all did something. And then when we used to go to Orange and go to Albury, all
over the place, and to Sydney. I took five girls down to Sydney years ago when Carlotta was at the, in the Kings Cross. And she was the big time girl there now, well, she’s there now but she was the big timer and we went into this night club and it was all dark and we were walking down and had one army, ex-army lady who was about fifteen years older than us, and we were walking in and she said,
“Mary, you said we were going to see Les Girls”, she said, “this is Les Girls.” And she said it out loudly and we nearly died. And while we were sitting around this darkened room watching, these men came out performing, Carlotta and all. “Mary, I think that one’s not a boy, I think that one’s a girl”, she’d say out loud. Gosh, we nearly had. And everyone said, “You didn’t take the girls to the Cross.” I said, “Yes,” I said “we went to the Pink Pussycat, we went everywhere.” We just had a bit of fun.
But then we’d meet up with some of the girls that we knew that used to come to the reunions and have a great time. We went down, a lot of us went down from Forbes for when it was 40 years from when the AWAS [Australian Women’s Army Service] started. We went down and marched in the big march down there.
And has it been good for you to be able to keep in contact with these women over the years, from AWAS?
Yes, but we’re losing contact now though. Because we, I don’t know whether, how many are alive these days.
And what was it about being in AWAS that actually, that you felt like you wanted to keep contact with these people?
It was just something about being with them for three years. Not so much three years with them, just the ones in Camperdown I was with for three years, but the others, like the ones that I met in rookies’ camp, they just used to keep in contact with me. It happened with a lot of girls, I made some really good friends in rookies’ camp.
Your personal experience?
Yes, I told them there, because there was nothing that could frighten them or anything like that, that I went through. They know just what went on. Tim especially knows a bit about it. He’s always wanting to know a bit of history about things and that’s why he keeps so much stuff.
So, Mary, you said to Kylie that it didn’t take you too long to adjust back into civilian life after your involvement in the war.
No, not after, once you were married and back with family and things. I enjoyed my two years at Temora, over there. People looked after us very well. As a matter of fact too much so, as they entertained us very well and I was
Apex. Now it’s all gone in Forbes, it’s closed up unfortunately, but all the families used to go on picnics and we’d go to the old people’s places and clean up their gardens. The men would do that and we’d take out the food and drinks and have a picnic. After the flood all the Apexes went in and cleaned up the houses and mowed the lawns and did all sorts of things for people. Sometimes we thought they should be at home mowing our lawns when they were out doing it for other people. But those days, the young ones don’t do that
any more, it’s all gone. And the Lions Club here is closed.
Do you recall what Anzac Day was like the first time it came along after the war?
No, I don’t remember that at all, because Anzac Day wasn’t celebrated for a long time after the war. I can’t think when, but we certainly celebrated it here. Not last year, the year that we had the Anzac march here.
Do you recall when that first year might’ve been?
No, I can’t think when it was, but it was when my family were fairly grown up, I think, before they started the Anzac march here. We have a wall down at the park now, and all our names are on it. Everyone who were enlisted from Forbes are all on it.
didn’t have a chance. And I think they’re the ones we’re honouring really, because it was just terrible the slaughter that went on there. Just, what they people, their families must’ve gone through. Two and three boys in some families were killed. But I think it’s worthwhile honouring and I think it’s a shame when people object to young children wearing their
grandfather’s medals. If their grandfather’s died why can’t the kids walk in the parade and wear their medals? I think that happened in Sydney but I don’t think they’d do it here. If you could see the little ones here marching, not so much wearing the medals, but the little kids, five- and six-year-olds trying to keep in step. And the little things, they’re gorgeous. And everyone claps. I love seeing them. And it’s always a holiday and I think it’s wonderful the way the teachers get them there because it’s school holidays as well when
Anzac Day comes. And it’s amazing how they must talk to them before the holidays and get them organised. I had to address the children at the Forbes Public School last Anzac Day, just on my experiences. I was a bit nervous about that.
was because it came in the night. And there were people on the land who were sitting having breakfast and looked out the window and saw the waters coming and they just fled with their children. Got in the car and just fled. And there were cattle going down here, down this, moaning as they were going. And there were wardrobes washed down there and then it got to the bridge and they were all clogged against the bridge down there. It was just awful. And then, of course, the town was cut off so John went down town
and stayed there and his mother was fantastic. When the army ducks [amphibious vehicles] came in they couldn’t even get down, the current was so strong they couldn’t get down town. And Mrs Meagher fed all those men. Cooked and did everything for them in the house just over the road over there. And old people were rescued from the rooftops. Some people were foolish enough to go out in boats, thought it was exciting, the floodwaters and got trapped and had to climb trees and then they
had to be rescued. Fortunately there was no loss of life in the floods but it was pretty devastating because it went through so many houses and stores and everything else. And of course the drought – the floods on the properties with the sheep drowning and things like that, just awful.
And there were a lot of efforts to pump water away.
It was unbelievable, and the mud. The mud after a flood, in house is (UNCLEAR) and the smell, unbelievable. But I don’t know whether they’ll have another one now, after this terrible drought. I think it’ll be a long, long time. And John used to ferry
Just going back to your frock shop, it sounds like that was an enterprise that you were a little bit reluctant about taking on.
At my age, 48 years of age, I didn’t want to really because I was just starting golf. And I thought, “Oh, I’m just”, Patrick was eleven, “I’m just about to do things I want to do”. I didn’t take up golf until Patrick was eleven. And John just thought we needed it and I suppose because there was still
three kids at boarding school that I went along with it and I, in the end I enjoyed it but it was a bit worrying when the season was bad. See, you buy your clothes six months ahead of time and I might go down in wintertime to buy for summer. And then the summer might be really a bad summer and people don’t want to buy. Or the winter could be just a mild winter and you’re not selling the clothes and you’ve got all that stock. And then you’ve got to reduce your things to half price to sell them. And that still
goes on today. They’ve always got half price sales down here. And of course this hot summer, nobody wants to go out and buy really expensive things so the top one in Forbes now has got everything below cost price. And she’s just an exclusive lady too. But they must have a big mark up on it, is all I can say. But that was the worrying part about it, the buying. But I used to get out to my golf. I used to have a lady come in, and
I always played golf on Wednesdays. Of course I played Saturdays because that was a half day holiday, of course. But Wednesday, John always made sure I got out to golf and that was good.
So he didn’t really retire as such, he kept going.
No. He never would’ve been able to, he would’ve gone mad in this place. But anyway, it would’ve been too small for him. He could’ve still had his workshop it would’ve been the same. Because we used to, enormous, see, all this was our garden. Enormous big trees, and we had a train that ran right around our house. He built all the train. Had an engine with carriages on and he made every carriage you can think about, cattle trucks and the
sheep trucks and the petrol things that carted the petrol. And we always, we used to ride around on it. For my 70th birthday I was on it with the birthday cake singing ‘Happy birthday’, the cake was, and all these people here. It was all filmed and it was unreal.
Probus or the college’s seniors, “You go on them, I’m quite happy working in the workshop.” And people were telling me, “Why doesn’t John come on these trips too?” And I said, “Because he’d be bored to tears, he doesn’t mind that I go.” So I used to go on the trips with them. And he’d putter along, come down and meet me on the bus when it came in, have dinner ready for me. But he loved his trains, very clever with them. We used to take them over to Wago Park [?] over near the bowling club
and have rides for the children. And he had friends who used to bring their little train engines over too and he’d hook on all his carriages. And then the insurance beat us, two million dollars in insurance, so that was the end of the trains and all the fun for the kids. There soon won’t be any fun, will there, for kids? They’re taking down the slippery slides, all sorts of things of things here, all the swings have gone because people sue if a kid has a greenstick [fracture] now. You didn’t take any notice
of them, yet now they sue the council if their kid falls off a swing or a slippery dip. It’s a changing world. Better not get on to all that.
and things and do terrible things”. It’s because they see it on TV. They think, “Oh good, we ought to have a go at that. We’ll do that.” I think some TV programs are terrible, same as what the children are watching now on the email and stuff. I think it’s just, parents are at work a lot of them and the children come home from school and they get on to programs and they’re not even supervised. You can stop children from watching things if it’s locked up. To me it’s a different,
different way of life and it’s a sad way of life.
They may have changed. Matured a bit. But it was all war and hatred, wasn’t it. Because I can remember one man saying the saddest day was the day he shot a Japanese man dead because he said he had no chance to get away from him, he said, “He came at us on his own.” He said, “I had to shoot him.” And he said, “I’ll live with that for the rest of my life.” So war was bad for everyone.
access to after the war. Like the various ways of washing your clothes with dryers and washing machines. What was that sort of technology like?
Well, see, when I was first married we had the old copper and the pot stick and we didn’t have air conditioning or fans, we had the old combustion stove and that of course…
to put the sheets through and that was a big job trying to put the sheets through. And then, after we were married of course it was a little bit better, we got a modern washing machine. But of course, in my Mum’s day they had the old drip safes to cool the butter and milk and things and the old stove with the flat iron on it. And I think it was just unbelievable.
Well, things, after the war things came back but I didn’t get all the modern things kids have got these days, until many, many years after the army. Like, I didn’t have a clothes dryer or an air conditioner or anything like that. But it took a while for all that to come though. But these days every young person that gets married has got every modern thing. I remember in
’44 when we didn’t even have fans in that awful heat and the dust. And only the drip safes. And we also had the old ice, what do you call it, thing to put the ice in. Ice chests, they were called and the ice man used to deliver the big blocks of ice like that and put it in the top of that and that came after the drip safes.
Then after that came the refrigerators and the big freezers.
And the drum at five o’clock in the morning going drum, drum in the dark. Not a light on the streets or anything. We don’t march far, we just go from the RSL round to the cenotaph which is in the park. This last year was the biggest crowd and then we go over and have breakfast, beautiful cooked breakfast. And then we go back for the march at a quarter past ten. Always a very hot day. Our feet burn
standing on the hot asphalt and sometimes the guest speaker talks a little bit too long so a few pass out and an ambulance has to arrive. Some of the children pass out too.
Is it a day that you look forward to?
We do look forward to meeting our friends, because after the march, even the ones that don’t march, all come and meet with us and we all sit at one big table and all chat around there and have a bit of fun together. So we do have the ones that don’t march as well, which is good.
And he used to march and then he’d go back to do whatever he wanted to do in the workshop. “Off you go, I’ll see you tonight.” I never ever stayed out that late, but we used to stay out till, sometimes, and we used to play two-up. They’d put the two-up on at two o’clock in the afternoon. The girls used to go in and have a bit of fun throwing the coin. That’s all gone too, that was years ago. So we’re good girls now because we’re too old.