Archive number: 211
Preferred name: Nance
Date interviewed: 13 June, 2003
You are listening to the interview audio
So if we could start from the very start, whereabouts were you born?
I was in born in Brighton in Victoria.
And did you live there long?
Ah yes, ah when I say yes my father died when I was five years
old, and I was the youngest of nine children, well that was two families and from there on I sort of was pushed from here, went everywhere. After my daddy died, I worshipped my daddy and yes I missed him all my life.
The youngest of nine?
Yes, well my father was married and he and his wife had five children and when the youngest was
a baby the mother died and she was my mother's sister. And my father married his sister-in-law, his wife's sister – get that?
Yes and then there were four children, another four children, and I was the youngest, but we were a very close family, grew up in a very very close...
Your older siblings were quite older than
Yes, some. They were.
And did your mother re-marry after your father died?
After my father died, yes. When I was when I was about eight.
And what did your stepfather do?
Oh he was just a bit of a roustabout. [jack of all trades]
Do you remember your early schooling experiences?
Yes I began school at Hawksburn. After my daddy died my oldest sister who was married and had a son twelve months younger than me, I went to live with her and I don't know, can't remember exactly how long a time it was, probably would have been a couple of years, and I remember my first day at school was
with and her son. He was a bit of a mischievous little boy. As a matter of fact he died just a month ago and he and I were like brothers and sister and we began school the same day. I'll always remember I had a little white starched bonnet on, which we wore in those days. It must have been hot, well would have been February, and carried this little case and
I was very protective of him. No doubt I was it was only been would have been five months after my daddy died and no doubt I was still grieving for my daddy and I expected my nephew (UNCLEAR) to be with me all the time but when play-time came he went off and played with the other little girls and I was very upset. Not boys, girls. He was a bit of a villain all his life, but lovely villain.
And then I
Sorry, go on.
And then I was taken back to my mother and the family.
When were you when did you go back to live with your mother?
I'm not exactly how long, it would have been a couple of years later. I would have been oh probably seven.
Were many of your siblings still living with her then?
Ah no the older ones from the older family weren't, the other three were.
And did you stay at the same school? I'm not sure whereabouts those places were.
No Hawksburn was near South Yarra but afterwards we just wandered, we never had a home and just wandered and I went to
Seaford school, Frankston School, Pearcedale, Cheltenham, that's all primary.
Where was your stepfather looking for work? Is that why you wandered or…
Oh well I don't know if he was looking for work or not. We had no home, no home, just walked the roads.
Just walked the roads. No home and there was my oldest sister wasn't there and my older brother. There was my next brother, who was, he'd be about fifteen months older than me and my mother had had another baby and he was a baby but when we first left the house when as they called it in those days, I don't know if you've heard of it, they call it a moonlight flit [leaving without paying rent]
and 'round the Depression days, and my stepfather got this horse and cart. It was like a, do you know what the old baker's carts were like, little square cart sort of, you would have seen them in films and no doubt you know. It was sort of like a box, a big box and the baker's carts and they called them and we went off one night during the night. We had to pack up and go
like this and just travelled and then we were travelling for a while and then something happened to the horse and they lost the horse and we didn't have a horse then so they had this, he made this billycart thing and 'cause the baby used to sit on the top of that and my brother and I used to walk. We were sent into houses and asking for food and sometimes we'd
get lovely food, nice lovely food. I remember once at one stage we didn't have any food, we lived on potatoes for three days and we didn't have any fat or anything to cook them in, we just used to throw them in the fire, an open fire and they'd burn black and cook inside of course.
What were people's reactions like when you went to their houses?
Oh they were very happy, very happy. Mostly farmhouses of course alongside the road.
In the country it was, yeah, and oh they'd be very happy to give you something to eat. I remember one day we were on the side of the road and these boy scouts came along and the scoutmaster stopped them and told them all to give us something out of their lunch box. I've never forgotten that.
And were you sleeping in the baker's cart?
No, no we didn't have that then. Just slept on the ground anywhere. My brother, and I was very protective of my brother, I wouldn't let my brother out of my sight. He and I used to sleep up these pipes, water pipes. Sleep on the ground and my stepfather had a canvas
and he used to hook it up to a side of a fence and put some sticks in it and he and my mother and the baby used to sleep under that.
That's pretty rough living, isn't it?
It was rough living alright. When I think about it now.
Do you remember what you thought of it then?
No, it was just part of life and
I guess. No home, no money. Missed my daddy.
Was your mother teaching you to read or anything like that? Did you have any education then?
No, we'd go to a school every now and again. No I wasn't taught by my mother. I didn't seem to…
my mother and I never had a really close, loving, affectionate relationship I don't know why. I wanted it. It was pretty rough growing up.
What were those school experiences like, when you'd go into a school for a little while?
I loved school. Oh I loved school. I really did. I loved school. I really did.
What did you love about it?
Being with other people. Being away from people I lived with. It was an outlet I guess.
Did you learn to adapt quickly in new schools?
I think I did. I was very shy. I was very, very shy. Have been all my… well as I say you know I've sort of been yes.
And would your brother go into these schools with you?
Have you talked much about those childhood years with your brother since?
No, that particular brother died when he was forty five. Same age as my daddy did. No we didn't. We didn't have a chance to really because we were sort of parted later.
long did this go on for?
Until I would have been eleven years old. Then we went sort of from one place to another and then we finally settled
at a place at Pearcedale and we lived in a shack there. My grandparents lived in that area and we lived in a shack and then from then on we lived in houses like old houses. Whatever we could get.
Did you find a school near there to go to?
Yes I went to Pearcedale School, yes. I have fond memories of that.
And then I went to Frankston School and Seaford, 'cause we shifted from one place to another.
How were you travelling to these places?
Ah train or walk. Did a lot of walking.
What are your memories of Seaford? That sort of area? Frankston…
Yes that was a nice area
yes and my brother and I at weekends we used to have to go to the beach and 'specially on Sunday evenings after all the people had been to the beach and we used to have to collect bottles, all their empty bottles, the soft drink bottles and beer bottles and we used to have to go and collect them and we'd collect a lot and then we'd hide them and then go along and get another lot and
hide them and then go home and get this little truck thing, we had and go back and get them and we'd take them to the bottle yard and we'd sell them, but we had to take every penny home of course and that was to help buy food.
You must have learned to be pretty resourceful pretty early on?
Yes, I'd say so.
Do you remember any of the resourceful tricks or things
you did to get by back then?
Ah well you know how we were living on potatoes, my brother and I always we had to go and get the food and we had to go into this paddock and well, they called it bandicooting, I don't know if you've ever heard of that word? Bandicooting?
No I haven't.
It's another word I think for stealing and we'd have to go in the paddock and dig the potatoes out with our hands.
Get under the fence and dig the potatoes out with our hands. They called it bandicooting potatoes. Lots of people used to do it and I don't know what they called it, but that's another word for stealing when I think about it you know. It was a terrible thing to do 'cause you know I've been so honest in my lifetime since, yes.
Did you ever get caught?
No. No I think they didn't take any notice I suppose because you know it was a family that had kids
and no food and no home and it was a terrible thing you know. I've never known of anybody else, I've heard of people having pretty rough times and but no home but…
Were there other ways in which the community helped your family then?
Well I remember one time the Salvation Army, I got my first pair of shoes and they were little blue
sandals. Before that I would wear, they called them runners what you call now your sports shoes, and they were, I remember they were two and six [two shillings and sixpence] in Coles [department store] but that's all that or they would get them from rubbish tips and that sort of thing and the Salvation Army bought, I remember bought a parcel of clothes once and I had this little pair of blue shoes.
provide food back then as well?
Yes, when we were in the house. We were living in a house I remember they did. Sometimes.
How would they know where you were and who was in need? Do you know how that worked?
No, I don't know really. I guess they had so many people that were very poor and in need.
Were many other families affected by the Depression as severely, did you notice?
Oh I guess they would be. I mean because I didn't mix with a lot of people. We always kept to ourselves.
And so how long did you stay at the schools down…
…on the peninsula way?
Oh I wouldn't have been there very long.
Only I would say months at a time sometimes you know because of the time moving from one place to another. I mean I wouldn't know when you'd go home and you were being going to somewhere else.
And why was that? Because the house was no longer available or…
Ah I guess so. I guess so and the rent wasn't paid. No rent paid and I don't remember my stepfather working,
And when did you leave school?
I was thirteen. I was taken away from school. No, I was not quite thirteen because I was looking forward to going to high school. I was just so looking forward to going to high school. So very, very much
and in those years you went to Grade 8 in primary school, which I believe's Form 2 now or be Grade 8 and it was called your merit certificate, and I got that. I was very proud of that. Because I didn't have a lot of schooling but I never went to high school. I was never educated.
But you were a good student?
I feel I was
and I was very keen to learn in every way and I was, oh no I loved school. Really looking forward to going to high school.
Did you have to enter the workforce? Is that why you had to leave school?
Yeah I was taken away. I'd left, I'd been taken away from school before I went to high
school but I was to go to high school the following year but in the meantime we went away again and travelled the road again and my brother, one of my brothers, was working on a farm up in Gippsland at a place called Moryarra [?] and I don't know why we went up that way
and we went to a place called, it was called Jumbunna and the lady, that where my brother worked thought it was, apparently thought it was pretty terrible for a young girl to be living the way I was living and she knew a lady who run a hospital, a private hospital, in Currumburra, it's in Gippsland
and I was taken away to this hospital to live and work.
What did you think of that at the time?
It was great to get away from who I was living with.
And what sort of work was that?
Everything. It was a private hospital and it was run by a Scottish sister [nurse] and her mother
and I had to wash, clean, cook, clean wards, make beds. I had to help lay two people out after they'd died, which was pretty horrific. I was scared stiff. They had a cow and I used to have to take it to down on the side of the road to feed.
I had to do everything there and I didn't get any money. They bought my clothes and they'd send me to church on Sundays and give me threepence for the plate, collection plate.
How would you say you were treated by those…
I was treated…
Yeah I was treated alright although the old lady was very hard on me. When I say hard on me, I'd be up at five thirty in the morning and I'd work all day. All day long until evening.
Did you enjoy that work?
Yes I did. I did. Yes I did.
And how long did you stay there?
Oh I can't remember exactly how long I stayed there but then one night and I was sleeping in a little room on the side of the house and
my stepfather came to take me away because there was another job on a farm for me to go to this farm and do the housework. They had six children and I was to do the housework and cooking 'cause the parents worked in the dairy, milked the cows and that on the farm but I never had anything to do with the farm and I got ten shillings a week, but the stepfather came every week to get the ten shillings,
see. My stepfather, yes. I've never said anything ever, ever, ever before
to anybody. Sorry.
You don't have to apologise.
But he abused me from the time I was eight until I was thirteen. Terrible and it's affected my whole life. Today. All my life.
I've never said anything before. Not to anybody. Sorry. So I was glad to get away and then I went, I was on this farm and I was happy there because I was one of the kids. Two of the kids were older than me, and I was looking after them and I was there and the stepfather used to come and get the money and
at night time always and then my brother that worked on this other farm I told him I wanted to go somewhere else and he got me a place somewhere else on another house, farm house, and I did work in the house, never on the farm, never farm work. It was always sort of
housemaid, you know and I did everything. I worked hard. I did I think I felt yes. I think that was my grounding for being a good housewife. Well as I considered myself I was a good housewife. Yes then the war came and I had a sister, one of my sisters, she had a, I don't know if you wanted to hear about that, she had a sad life. My stepfather forced her to marry this man who
thought he had money and she was only sixteen and he was cruel to her and she had this baby and an aunt lived at Mildura and she suggested that my sister and the husband who was, oh he was about twenty five years older than her, the stepfather thought he had money and she went up there to Mildura
and the husband were very cruel to her and my aunty said, "You've got to get away. You've got to get away from him." and she said, "But you know…" she didn't know what to do and anyway she said, "Well look, you leave Georgina (the baby) with me and I will look after her." and she said, "You go to Melbourne and get yourself sorted out and get a job and come back for Georgina." Which my sister did. Come back to Melbourne
and she had nowhere to go and no home and she pawned, do you know what pawn means? Yeah, she pawned her wedding ring to get a bed for the night and then she walked Swanston Street looking in the shops. They had notices up 'Waitresses wanted' so she'd go into one shop and get a job and she'd work there for a few hours but she had no idea what to do and then she'd perhaps, sometimes she'd get a job for a few days
but then she finished up working at the Victoria Coffee Palace, which is the Victoria Hotel now in Little Collins Street, and she was there and she met another girl and she used to write to my aunty and she decided, the girl that she worked with they decided that they would work two different shifts so if my sister could get her little girl back
they would, one would mind her while the other was working so she went back to Mildura to get the baby and she wasn't there and oh it's a long story but anyway the welfare had taken her away from the father, used to take her, the father he took the baby away from the my aunt and he used to take her to oh work on these great on the (UNCLEAR) on the blocks
and he used to used to sleep on the ground and the welfare took her away from him and she was taken away from him.
Did your sister ever see her again?
No. No, she wanted to see her. She looked for her. She tried. She went to look for her. She went and she was told that she'd been adopted. She said, "She's been adopted.
She's in a better home than what you could ever offer her." You know, "Just leave her where she is." and my sister tried to find out where she was and she could never find out where she was and all her life she wanted that child and I don't know if you want to hear this, ah in 1994
my sister had passed away a few years previous and her husband, she'd remarried, the first husband had died and my sister had remarried and she had three children and her husband rang me and he said, the words were "I've just had a big kick in the bum Nance." and I said "Why, what's the matter?" and he said "I just received a phone call from Georgina." Georgina was fifty six
and she'd been looking for her mother for many years, her family. She was fostered, not adopted.
Did you meet Georgina?
Yes, oh yes. She gave him her address so I wrote her a long, long, long letter to her and told her, "Please don't blame your mother
because it wasn't her fault that you were separated." and a week later she rang me at up at about eleven o'clock one night and she said that she received the letter and she said she sat out in the car in the front of the post office crying her eyes out and she didn't know whether to make contact or not because she didn't know if the family, I told her what family she had and I told her that
and she said that she didn't know if the family would want any part of her. So I sent her fare up to her and she came down from Darwin. She was in Darwin and she had been staying previously two streets around from me here with some
people that she knew.
It's amazing coincidence.
What had she been told about her mother? Did she know anything?
Well she said that she can remember being taken away on a train with a lady in a blue uniform, which we called them welfare ladies in those days, and she can remember what she had on, nice long socks and a pretty dress and she was taken on a train and she was living with her family and they were her mother and dad, mother and father and the mother they used to, the mother used to
foster children and the mother was very cruel to her, very cruel to her, she had a terrible life, and one day she said, "We were sitting at the dinner table," and she said to her mother, "Am I fostered or am I your real child?" And she said the mother slapped her across the face and she said, "Don't ask questions like that ever again!" and she said to me, "You don't question your parents." So things were so bad that she wanted to get away and the only way she could get away she said
was she had to work and oh she had to do awful terrible things and this is her telling me that when she was eighteen she got away and got married and she had three daughters and some years after, I don't know for how long afterward, the mother died and she said, "I did the right thing and went to the funeral and went back to the house.” and my father was Chinese
and of course we were all very dark and as kids used to tease me when I was a kid they used to call me 'Ching Chong Chinaman' 'cause the kids that tease you know in those days 'cause we were very, very dark eyed and very dark, black hair, believe it or not. All of us and of course she's just a little, as a matter of fact she's the image of me and she's the image of her mother, 'cause we're very much alike, and she and the father said oh he gave her a box and he
said "You might as well have this, it was your mother's." and she said she took it home and it was a like a sort of one of those old fashioned jewellery box things and it had felt on the bottom and she said she had it home for quite a while before she even touched it or looked at it, so one day she opened it up and it was sort of bits of pieces of old junk jewellery and stuff and she said she tipped it out and when she'd sort of tipped it upside down this felt came out and there was a piece of paper
underneath it and she said it had on it children's names and, 'If anything ever happens to me please contact the authorities regarding Georgina' and she thought "Now!" you know she pondered and couldn't work it out so she went back to
where she lived, she was brought up in Bendigo, 'round the Bendigo area, so she went back there to see the father and she said he was a nice man, very nice man, good to her, and she said that he she asked him, she said "Please tell me," she said, "Am I your real child?" and he said, "No." and she said, "Was I adopted?" and he said, "No, you were fostered." from there and then she
said, "Well who do I belong to?" and he didn't know anything. He said, "Oh that was your mother's business. She did all that." 'Cause she fostered other children but she said at different times her mother would take her to a place in Bendigo she said and it was a big office and she said on the way she would say to the mother would say to Georgina, "Tell them this and tell them that. Don't say this and don't say that" and of course they would ask her questions apparently.
I don't know if they do it today or foster children or not and she didn't know what to do so she said that she contacted I don't know it used to be called, I don't know if it's still around, it's called Jigsaw, it was a group that tried to find children adoptive children their parents and they couldn't do anything and then she
contacted the Salvation Army and they were advertising and then she had to pay for the advertising and she couldn't pay any more, she had no more money, and in the meantime as I say she had three daughters and she gave up. She wondered and she used to say to herself, "I could have a family somewhere. I could have somebody out there." but she said she was lost, she didn't know where to go to or what to do
until her daughter was a nurse at a nursing home and she said she was tucking this lady in one night and this lady looked up into her face and the daughter thought, "Gee this could be my grandmother." 'cause the daughters knew the mother's story and her daughter talked to the matron and they sort of checked on the lady's
history or her family and apparently the matron, they talked about it and the matron said, "Oh," she said, "I know a fella in Bendigo who does this sort of thing who sort of studies and into people are adopted and fostered." She said "He may be able to help you in some way." So the daughter went to see him and gave him all the details that she knew and he thought
"It's a very hard one." He said "If she had have been adopted it would have been easier but being fostered it makes it harder." He said, "There'll be records somewhere." he said, "There are thousands and thousands of records stacked away somewhere, but nobody knows where." He said, "Oh give me give me six weeks at least." Ah four days later he rang her and he said, "I've found your mother's family." Her mother's passed
away. There's a stepfather, she's got three half brothers and sisters and their names are Steven, Heather and Carol and the daughter said, "But just a minute, there's a… just a just a minute!" she said "There's a mix up somewhere here." and he said, "Why?" and she said, "Well that's what our names are, Steven, Heather and Carol." It's ah Carol Heather and Nancy, that's right Nancy, and if she had had a son she was gonna call
it, she was having a baby boy and she was calling him Stephen and that's what my sister's children's names were. Eerie isn't it?
That's right. Yeah. Yes so I went to the airport and I was sitting there and I didn't know there was going to be anybody else there and I just happened to be looking at this young person
and she had a child with her and I kept looking at her and I thought, "I wonder if that's Georgina's daughter?" and she was looking at me and I went over and she said, "You have got to be mum's aunty!" and when the plane arrived I said, "Would you stand aside and let me see if I can pick her?" and as soon as she walked out it was just like my sister walking out and people
who have met her say they thought she was my daughter. And her stepfather, he said it was the best thing that's ever happened to him in his lifetime. He died last year. He said it was the best thing that's ever happened to him because he worshipped her, he absolutely idolised her. He was so happy for her and having her with him and she'd come down and visit him and
the children accepted her.
Such a beautiful story.
Yes it is. Yes it is and she's living at Cairns now and I know she's the image of her because my sisters and I were, if you see one you see them all you know. We were very, very much… even I look in the mirror now and I say "Oh my sister!" =
and Georgina had, I gave her a photo of her mother and she had a photo of herself taken at the same age as this photo of her mother when she was young and she had them on her television and her girlfriend said, "What have you got two photos of yourself there for?" She said, "Isn't one enough?" She said, "One's my mother."
Interviewee: Nancy Ormsby Archive ID 0211 Tape 02
So as I said if we could go back a little bit and talk about those farms. The second to last one, just wondering how you were with looking four or five kids?
And you were doing housework duties?
Housework. All housework. Yeah I didn't go onto the farm or do any farm work at all. None. None whatsoever.
Did you prefer that or…
Well it was
I guess it was to me a job for money. Just being away from the environment I was in. That was that made me happy.
And were they nice people on that farm?
Oh yes they were a lovely family. Yes a lovely family, yes. As I say two of them were older than me and I was looking after them because the parents were down in the dairy you see and milking the cows and I'd have to get the kids'
breakfasts and make sure and cut the lunches and see that they were alright to get off to school and then do the chores for the day. Cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning, scrubbing floors, polishing floors. Everything.
Would you get any time to yourself during that period?
I was allowed to go home on Sundays but I didn't want to go home so I used to play with the kids. I played
with the kids.
Did you like reading then?
I loved reading, yes. I loved reading but I didn't have access to any, very much reading material.
And what was the food like at that place?
Very good food. Good country food, yes. That's where I learnt to cook. Yeah good old fashioned cooking. Good healthy food.
Made quite a difference
from how you'd been living before?
Oh yes, yes. When they say you should have certain vitamins and whatnot I often think, "Well how did I survive?"
Did you have much contact with your other siblings during this period?
No. No I didn't.
Did you know where they were?
Yeah well this one brother, there's the one that went to the war
on this farm and I did see him sometimes. He would come and see me. We were very close. The one just a little bit older than me he was working on a farm somewhere in the area but I didn't see him. The younger ones, and there were three other children by this time, because I know I was I was home when one of them was born in the house and I was home and I was so naïve and innocent
that I saw the doctor come and I heard this baby cry and I was sure that the doctor brought this baby in a case, in the case he had, but but the stepfather was away from home then. I don't know where he was but he wasn't there at this time.
So your mum had a home birth?
A home birth yes.
Virtually by herself?
Yeah well the doctor came and then a nurse came mm and one of the children was very sick and I
was looking after him but it was when the infantile paralysis polio epidemic was on, very bad, very bad and he was very sick and I was sort of looking after him and I asked the doctor if he would have a look at him and he had to go away, he had infantile, he had the paralysis, polio, and he was sent away from home. He was away from home for a few years.
Where did he go?
Ah he was in hospital for a long time
and they had an after care centre down in Mornington Peninsula. 'Star of the Sea' it was called, I just remember 'Star of the Sea', yes after care, 'cause he couldn't walk for a long time.
What else do you recall about that polio epidemic?
It was terrible because we lived in this house and it was at Frankston at the time and it was out sort of in the bush. When I say in the bush 'cause we never lived sort of much in enclosed areas and
if well we didn't but if somebody went to an area say Prahran, another suburb, and there was polio there and if the polio was in Prahran say you weren't allowed to go to another area but I remember the only person that came to see us was a an uncle who had come home from the
war, from the army and he'd come down and I can remember him walking up this track towards the house and my mother saying "Oh you're not allowed to come." because it was the law you weren't allowed to come from one place to another but he did come but I mean I don't know if he brought the virus or not. Who knows? Yes but it was terrible. We weren't allowed to go to school I remember.
'Cause you'd been in an area that had been infected or because of your…
Because he had the…
'Cause he had it…
Did you know of any other children who were affected by it?
Not at that time, no I didn't. No no. It was a terrible time. I remember it was a terrible time. You weren't, "Oh no you mustn't go there because there's infantile paralysis there." That's what they called it in those
So they were basically quarantining off areas?
Yes. So if somebody in Thomastown got it you weren't allowed to go to Reservoir or… but that's how they did it in those days. I mean it's different to now.
Did they have some way to police that? To keep people in and out of places or…
Oh no I don't, I honestly can't remember how they did it, just that we knew that, "Oh no you're not allowed to you're not allowed to go there.
They've got the infantile paralysis there".
And so we were talking about the farm situations
The next farm you were on. What were conditions like there?
Yes they were alright there. There was a man in a wheelchair. There was a lady and a man and the son run the farm. It was a sheep farm and I worked, it was a very, very big house and I used to have to
sort of do things and help with this man, wheel him around and in his wheelchair and give him his meals and do housework, cooking and cleaning and 'cause the lady used to be away from the house a lot. I can't remember where she went or what she did but. Very nice type of people. I was very privileged and I felt very privileged to be in this house, and it was there I was getting back to my
sister, that's why I was, that's what I was getting back to out of that story of my sister came about. Sorry I'm getting mixed up a bit but and it was while I was there and because my sister disappeared you see and when I say she disappeared she was in Melbourne. We found out afterwards but she never ever contacted any of the family, she didn't know where the family were. Didn't know where anybody was and she didn't contact anybody and she just disappeared as far as we knew. She just disappeared and I remember it was the time of, there was a murder,
they called it ‘the pyjama girl murder’ and there were photos of this girl in the photo paper and it we thought it was my sister at the time but one day she went to Frankston and she happened to meet or see an aunt and the aunt must have told her where my family were because I received
a letter from her and I was so, while I was on this farm, and I was so thrilled to think that, "Oh I haven't seen my sister for years." and because before she went up to the country she was having this baby. She was very sick, very sick, and I remember she was in bed and I used to try and keep her warm with bricks. Get these bricks on the… and she lived in an old shack home and
have these big bricks around I'd put these bricks all around this big open fire and they'd warm up and I'd wrap them up and put them around her to keep her warm and I hadn't seen her for years you see and I was so thrilled to hear from her and she was living in Melbourne and I came down to Melbourne and I lived with her and it was Clifton Hill and I went and got a job in a cigarette paper factory.
Whereabouts was that?
mm. The factory's still there but it's not a cigarette paper factory of course and then in the meantime she had met up with this an air force fellow and this is another thing too happened, I mean my family doesn't sound real good does it when you tell all these things, and she married him bigamously. She’d married him because she didn't
tell him about this first husband you see and I was living with her and then he was in the air force and they went down to Somers. There's an air force camp at Somers and she went down there and she was living with him down there and she couldn't, she tried to have, she couldn't have any children after that, she couldn't seem to have children and there was this girl that,
I don't know the full story but anyway this girl was having this baby, she had this baby and the husband wanted my sister to take the baby so she did and she adopted this baby. It turned out that he was the father but she didn't know at the time and she adopted this baby but then…
The air force man was the father?
But then she broke up with him and then she went up and then she found my
mother was living up in the country up in Gippsland and she went and lived with my mother with this child and then she found out that the husband was dead, had died, the first husband had died, but then it was found out that she was bigamously married to this man and oh there was a big court case and ah…
'cause she, I mean she was so naïve, well I guess she knew she was doing wrong but in those days however… but she wasn't gaoled or anything like that and she lived with my mother up in the country and then she met another chap, he was a country fella. Anyway they got married and they had these three
children and they were well, they were very, very… she had a very, very happy time with him. Very, very happy apart from her times of wanting Georgina.
And did she keep the baby of the air force…
Yes yes yes, Kay, she kept her. Yes she kept her. She had her and then my brother, the one next to me, he married and then his wife had a baby and the baby was two days old and the mother died. She was
only nineteen and my sister took that baby and she had the adopted one and my brother's baby because she was unable to have children but then after a few years she had a big operation and then she had three children, one after the other.
Three more children?
Mm of her own and they were the three children Stephen, Carol and Heather. Same names as Georgina's.
It's a little bit confusing.
It's very confusing. As I say nobody would believe my story.
Nobody would believe it, but it's true.
Just to go back to when you came to Melbourne to live with your sister, this is when she's living with, being a waitress living with her friend waiting for Georgina or was this after that period?
Yes this was after that period yes.
What were times like then for you?
Well I was happy in my job. I had some girlfriends for the first time in my life. Yes and I was very happy there but then when she went to Somers I went and lived with an aunt in Mackinnon, that's down the south of the city and I still used to
come to and work to and I used to, sometimes if I didn't have the money 'cause the we didn't get very much money, I paid board, and sometimes I would ride a bike. Sometimes I'd go on the train or two trains and I was with my aunt for a while in Mackinnon and then I went and lived with my sister, my eldest sister who I was with when I was a little girl. She tried to adopt me she told me later on in life. She wanted to adopt me
and I went back and lived with her and they were some of the happiest days of my life. We were like sisters. She was more like a mother and we had some very, I had some very, very happy times with my sister. Very happy times and it was while I was living with my sister and I still worked at the same job, cigarette paper factory, and it was from there I joined the Land Army.
Just to get an idea of ages, about how old were you when you came to Clifton Hill with that sister?
Ah I would have been fifteen. About fifteen.
And then so and by the time you lived with your aunt…
Ah well that would have been, well I wasn't living with her at Clifton Hill, I wasn't with my sister very long, it was only a matter of months I would say, a bit hard to
remembering times and dates and then it would have been months with my aunt. One of my mother's sisters and then with my sister. She was a hairdresser and she lived in Prahran.
And were her husband and son still around?
Yes yes yes. They were still there and that's when Rick and I got back together again and we had some very happy times together. Yes very happy times.
And what was your, sorry, what was her name, the hairdresser sister?
What was Frances' husband doing?
He was in the army but then he came out of the army and he worked for the, I call it repatriation, [Department of] Veterans’ Affairs then and he worked there all his working life but he had to, they were my guardians you see then and he had to sign the papers for me to go into the Land Army and he wouldn't. I did
join I put my age up and joined the AWAS [Australian Women’s Army Service], tried to join the AWAS, the army. I had my medical and tests and everything and passed but then I didn't have a birth certificate you see but then it was found out that I was too young. They said reapply on the 7th of November, which was my birthday, but that was too long. I wanted to do something for the war effort you know 'cause of my brothers
being away and anyway he finally settled down and signed my papers to join the Land Army.
Why was he reluctant?
Oh like a lot of other people Land Army wasn't for young girls. Work wasn't for young girls. Army yes but no.
You'd certainly done your share of hard work by this stage.
Yes. I didn't mind working.
What were conditions like at the cigarette factory?
Cigarette paper factory.
Yeah great, very good. I enjoyed being there very much, yes. Yes as I say I had made some friends and had girlfriends and yes. Yes and it was good working there. I enjoyed it very much.
And so did you begin to have social time, dances and things like that?
Yes yes that's where I was, I think it was when I went to my first dances. I used to go with my girlfriends into the
city and the city was just a big wonderful thing for me you know, yes.
What do you remember of that period?
I remember it was a very good period. It's a very happy time, good time and but a frightening time I would say because of the war and my brother that was on the farm he already was a prisoner
of war in Germany by this time.
Already at this stage?
Yes because he was in the, what they call the militia. They call it the reserved army now. While he was at the farm he did that when he was, I think he said on the paperwork he was seventeen and because he had that training the war began and he went away. He was just over eighteen and he went away and he was only over in the Middle East a short time and he was taken a prisoner of war and he was a prisoner of war for four and a half years
and we always kept in touch yes. He always received my letters, I don't know about all of them but a lot of them were censored of course, lots of bits and pieces cut out of them and ah the brother next to me, well he was up the country somewhere there was no contact with him but the older ones there was I had a lot of contact with the older ones because another two of them were away in the army,
away at the war. They were overseas.
You were able to write to them?
Yes oh yes, yes. Yes they always called me the baby sister. And from that age on,from the time I went to my sister we were very close, a very, very close knit and when they got, they looked after me when I was young and when they got old I looked after all of them.
Close relationship and they never ever knew about my young life much. Never talked about it.
Georgina's mum, what was her name again?
Gladys. She went off to live with your mother at some point did you say up in…?
Yes after she left Melbourne yes after
when she was with this air force chap.
say she bigamously married him and apparently, I don't know what happened but as I say he was the father of the child while he was with her and she had nowhere to go but she found out where my mother was and she was up in the country and that's where my sister went.
Was your mum still with your stepfather?
How did you feel about your sister going off to that environment?
Well I often wondered if the same thing happened to her.
Although she was much older of course but.
This is a question we ask everyone. Do you remember where you were when war broke out?
Ah no I don't. I would have been thirteen
I think. Was I? Ah that was '39. I would have been fourteen.
So probably on one of those farms.
Yes I'd be I'd be up on a farm. Yes.
Were people talking about it?
Yes people were talking about it and I can remember the young men going away oh the farmers saying that, like they'd be in the house of course and they'd say "Oh
so and so's gone and so and so's gone to the war and I'll have to get try and get somebody to take their place." but they couldn't get workers.
So you heard about it more in a labour context I suppose.
Yes that's right. Oh yes yes yes. It wasn't until I came back to Melbourne that I realised what it was all about and what was happening and I was interested of course. Reading the papers and trying
to know what was going on.
Did you have any idea about where your brothers were, besides the prisoner of war?
No no. Just overseas.
When did you begin to realise that you might be able to be involved in the service?
Ah when I was at Clifton Hill but I knew I wasn't old
enough, you had to be eighteen you see to join one of the services. As I said I can remember saying to my sister, "I'd love to be able to go into the army and help." Help, you know help your country, do something you know. Your country needs you this is was what it was all about. Your country needs you and I used to have these notices around telephone poles for
savings, war savings, and I used to go and put these… there was a lady there. She used to sort of, apparently she was involved in it. I don't remember a lot about it. I know it was war savings and I used to go and put these bands around telephone poles, sort of advertisements of course they were yes.
Was this volunteer work you did?
Volunteer work, yes. That was the beginning of my, I would say my volunteer work which I've done all my life
And we were talking a little bit before but could you tell us something about the recruitment posters for the services?
Oh yes there were recruitment posters everywhere. Everywhere you went. In the papers and magazines and shop doorways and shop windows on the corners of big shops. I can remember there was a big shop in the corner of Prahran where I lived with my sister and as I rode my bike to work you'd see all these posters everywhere
you went. Join the air force the army or navy, Land Army. Of course when I couldn't get into the army well the Land Army was the next thing I could go and do. I had no idea what it was going to be all about.
What sort of impression did those posters give you?
Ah help your country. Do something. You've got to get out and do something to help your country.
And what sort of
For the boys that are away. You know help the boys that are away and your men are away 'cause I had my three brothers away.
And what sort of idea did you get of service life from those posters?
Ah well my version of it was well my brothers were away with thousands of others
of course fighting to save our country. They were fighting to save our country so we could be free and we were frightened that we were going to be invaded.
This is after the Japanese had entered the war?
Ah yes yes. Or even before you know that our men were away fighting to save our country. We knew that so…
Did you feel the men away were fighting for Australia or for the British Empire or for England…
Well I felt for Australia of course. That's the way I felt.
At the time that I wasn't very much involved or sort of knew a lot because I didn't have any education you know and I just knew what I learnt myself.
In terms of the women's services did you have a preference? Did you think
one was more glamorous or…
…better than the other?
No I didn't. No I didn't.
Had you known people in the services at that stage?
No I didn't know anyone. Oh apart from my sister, she joined the air force as a hairdresser, yes. She joined after I left. After I went in the Land Army or that was after I went in the Land Army she went into the air force as a hairdresser.
many of the girls and women in the cigarette paper factory interested in the services?
No, I was the only one that I knew off 'cause they'd say "Oh you…" you know "You're silly. What are you going to do that for?"
What did they have against it do you think?
I don't know. Oh women didn't do that sort of thing you know. It was the men's job, yes.
And can you tell us about the process of recruiting oh sorry enlisting in the Land Army?
Well you saw the posters and you knew where there were phone numbers and you rang up and had appointments made and then they would check you out and then you go for a medical examination and then you'd be sent off.
Was there any sort of interview process or (UNCLEAR)
Yes we had an interview at the head office. They had a head office in Swanston Street. They'd interview you, not very much though but.
What sort of questions did they ask?
Oh you know "Why do you want to join the Land Army?" "Help my country." The country needs you. The men have gone away to work and there's no one to take their place and they need women to take their place. They can't get the men
to take their place because the men were few and far between. They were in essential services mostly.
Did they let you know what sort of work you could expect?
Ah no not really. No.
And then was there a training process?
Yes well my first assignment was to Mont Park.
The mental hospital over there and they allowed the government to use it as a training depot for Land Army and there was a nurse's home where we stayed. It's still there. Just near my granddaughter's. I go past there every so often and I visualise everything back in those days again. Yes and they had oh about an eighty acre farm there, dairy farm, vegetable farm. A nursery
and we worked with some of the patients. That was a bit of an eye opener ah yeah.
In what way?
Well I'd never been with mental patients before but I've learned since because I've done a lot of voluntary work with them recently but we treated it oh we weren't upset about it, well I wasn't upset about it but at all
just accepted the situation but you didn't have much training. A couple of weeks and two weeks I was there.
What were you doing in training? Do you remember what tasks?
Yes I used to work and we used to have to do lessons and because a lot of the (UNCLEAR) ah ex-Land Army girls say "We didn't do anything like that." you know and because I remember in this corner room where I pass now I visualise me sitting there
with my exercise book and we used to have to learn what all the plants were like and the seeds and propagation and all that sort of thing. I worked in the nursery and the dairy but I mean for two weeks you don't learn much in two weeks do you? Well you couldn't and then I was sent away from there to a vegetable farm but I was with
two girls. I roomed with two girls and one was Gwen's sister as a matter of fact.
Jean yes and we became very, very close because they were the closest friends I'd ever had in my lifetime and when we were separated, they were assigned out together and I was separated, it broke my heart. Absolutely broke my heart to be separated from them because I felt so close to them and
on this vegetable farm I used to cry and lonely and yes.
That vegetable farm, it wasn't a training period was it?
It was an actual placement.
It was seasonal and I was pulling beetroot and swedes and potatoes and some of the vegetables were going to the factories for dehydration, they'd send them away for the troops.
And it was just you three girls?
Just you, Jean and the other girl?
No there was just me by myself. It was
But before that, it was…
Oh before oh no there were other girls. I forget exactly how many that were at the training station at that time. They were coming and going all the time you see.
What were living conditions like there?
Yes they were alright. We had a decent bed and a good meal but sometimes you had to help. There was a field officer in charge
but you had your share of having to help cook a meal now and then.
And the work, how did you find that?
Yes I found the work quite alright, quite good.
Just remembered something Gwen told us yesterday yesterday about the training. Did you have a papier mache cow?
Oh yes. That was down at Wirrabee. Daisy.
Did you work with that or…
Well after I left the
vegetable farm, I was there for about six weeks, and I was sent to Werribee and it was 'course it was spring time and the dairy farmers were very, very, very urgently in need of workers and they said I'd have to learn to milk a cow and they took me down to Daisy one day and I mean it was you couldn't, (UNCLEAR) milk a cow
and I went into the sheds, the dairy sheds for two days and then I was approached and said that I was going to a dairy farm at Morwell.
What did you think of that?
I enjoyed my time there to a certain degree. I was there fourteen months.
We're just approaching the end of this second tape. Ah I'd just like to go again over the training
just to get an idea more of your exact tasks and things like that. Was it hands on as well as lessons?
Oh yes. Oh oh lessons were at night.
Yes. We had to do these lessons at night but during the day you were out doing the, you know, hoeing, digging, planting h vegetables, pulling vegetables and
harvesting the vegetables. All that sort of thing. There are some photos there of some of the girls working.
Did you know much already from your experience on farms?
No. No see I didn't work on the farms. I only worked in the houses you know. I didn't go anywhere near the farm work, the working of the farm at all when I was working in the houses. That was my job.
I didn't have time because I was flat out you know cooking and cleaning and all sorts of things.
And what were living conditions like during your training period? Were you housed there or
At Mont Park?
Yes. Yes we were in the nurse's quarters. They had a two story building
that had been the nurse's quarters where they had lived and it was handed over to the Land Army for while they were training there and that's where we did live in that block. It was right at the beginning of the entrance to the property and we used to have to march and I think it was the only place a lot of the girls say, "Ooh we didn't have to march." but we used to have to be downstairs and get into line and then we'd have to march to the nursery
or the dairy and I know the patients used to see us because there'd be wire fences around them you know and they used to come running over and climbing up trees and saying, "The boy scouts the boy scouts!" you know and we were reprimanded at one stage because I mean didn't know anything else because people called them, it's terrible really, people called them loonies and of course we were only new and that's what we called them. "Oh there's, oh look at that loony up on the fence there, up in the tree there." but we were reprimanded about that
by the field officer so I mean we knew then that it wasn't the thing to do. I mean we were very naïve didn't know any better but we used to work with some of them, some of the patients.
In what way?
Oh we worked beside them.
Yeah they'd be working beside you but I know we we'd have a cut lunch. We'd be given a cut lunch and we'd put it in this little shed when we went on worked on the nursery, put our cut lunch in the shed
and there was one little fella I always remember him I can see him now, and he would boil this billy [kettle] up for us to have a cup of tea with our lunch and he would be in the shed and he'd have a little go at our lunches. You know you'd go to your lunches and he'd keep putting his head out the door to see if we were coming or looking you know and we'd go in and he'd been having a little nibble at our lunches. We thought that was a joke
What was discipline like at that training period?
Oh you had to do as you're told. You had to do the work and I mean you couldn't you couldn't come and go as… once you got there you stayed.
How did people react to that? How did the girls react to that?
Oh well the majority of them accepted it. You'd find the odd one that wouldn't accept and
some of them joined the Land Army and they couldn't handle it you see.
Did they leave?
Yeah some of them did. Had to get special permission of course and a good reas… a good 'cause some of them used to say oh they had to go home because their mother was sick or something like that and they were given compassionate release.
What did you think of it in those early days?
I thought it was quite good. I did I as I say I enjoyed
it and I suppose I was the type that was did what I was told. I was sort of used to it.
Were you able to make friends in that training period?
Yes I made close friends with Jean and Kirby. Yes we were great mates but then of course we separated, once we separated and you'd hear of each other now and again
and then of course after the war that was the finish and I met up with Jean again in 1986 in Adelaide at a reunion. It was wonderful, as if we hadn't parted. Yeah.
And you'd had no contact before then?
No. No. I felt a tap on my shoulder and someone look around and said, "It is her. It is her!" 'Cause we had that list of names of people attending this reunion.
What did you think of Jean in those early days? We heard she's quite a opinionated quite a wilful person?
Yes yes. Well I thought she was wonderful. I think she sort of took me under her wing. I guess that she realised that I was a sort of a shy little girl and didn't say much and I was never outward and
never have been all my life sort of and she was very good to me and I thought a lot of her, yes. She treated me as a good person and fun and laughter and that's what I sort of needed in life.
Interviewee: Nancy Ormsby Archive ID 0211 Tape 03
Just to go back to the vegetable farm where you were spending a lot of time with Jean and is it Kirby?
Who was running that farm? Was there a family or…?
Not it was the government. It was a government-run because it was a mental institution you see. Government, run by the government.
So that was after the training period but it was nearby when you had pulling the swedes and the things like that or was that part of the
No that was my first assignment. That was down at Merricks
In Mornington Peninsula.
Oh I see. And was that a family farm or…?
Yes there was a couple there. The only thing I didn't like about it was the toilet was inside the house and you'd be down the paddock and wanting to go to the toilet and you'd sort of hang on as long as you could but then you'd finally have
to go up to the house. Take your boots off and overalls sometimes because you'd be muddy and wet but no, no I was well looked after there.
And again, what was the food like there?
Very good. She was a good cook.
And did you have any time for socialising outside of work hours?
used to go to the dances Saturday nights. I used to go to the dance yes. There was another Land Army girl on a farm not far away and laugh about it, there was two young fellows lived on a property and they were the night men. You know what the night men are?
The night-soil men [sewage collectors]?
The night soil men. And of course they took her to the dance first and then
contacted me and asked if I'd like to go to the dance and of course you go 'cause I was only there for six weeks and you go to the dance on Saturday night and they reeked of phenyl. Do you know what phenyl is? It's like a disinfectant. But the dances we used to go to because down in that area there was an army camp and an air force camp and the navy down at Cerebus
and I'd never been to dances before and I remember this soldier, he was a middle aged man I would say, and I used to sit down around the hall and they'd have seats all 'round the hall and of course I was very shy and I just watch. I'd go to the dances and just watch and he came and asked me for a dance and I said, "I'm sorry, I can't do that." and he said, "Well you'll never learn 'til you…" got hold of my hand and pulled me up. He said, "Well you'll never learn
sitting there will you?" So I got up and danced and I never stopped after that. I enjoyed it so much you know. I loved the dancing then after that. He more or less taught me you know yeah. Learn to dance yourself sort of thing if you're...
Do you remember the bands of those dances?
Yes, used to be all older men with a little ukulele and piano and bugle. One dance I went
to when I was at Morwell is Morwell Bridge it was, they had a dance there on a Saturday night in this little old hall and the man used to play a saw. You know big saw.
With a bow?
And he he'd sort of bend the saw up. Bill King his name was. I always remember. That was the music.
It's a pretty clever instrument isn't it?
And do you remember the songs of that period?
Yes, a lot of the old time songs. Oh what were they? Oh, 'When I Grow Too Old To Dream', and oh, old waltz songs and can't for the moment put my mind onto it.
Were those dances in Merrick itself? Whereabouts were they?
In Red Hill.
What do you think the mood was among those troops about the war and about going away?
Yes they were always a happy group you know because when they were away from their training they were always happy. They made the most of these times when they were away from camps. They seemed to.
Did they comment on…?
They didn't talk no, they never
talked about what they were doing or anything like that, no.
I'm a little confused. Were Jean and Kirby at that place in Merrick or
No no no.
They'd been up in the other…
I forget where they went to yes. They went together I know when they were assigned.
And so were you able to contact them
at all? Did you get a place to send letters or anything?
Ah no I didn't no. No I didn't hear from them. I think a couple of times I may have. I think when they went to Werribee at one stage.
How did the placement work of girls onto farms?
Ah well, the farmers would apply for labour and they had this head office they would sort
out who was available and perhaps who was, I remember when I was to told I was going to Morwell Bridge I was going to a dairy farm where there were lots of nice little baby piglets and chickens and calves and pigs and sounded very fascinating but when I got there I thought, "Oh my God what have I come to?"
How would you be contacted by
the head office? In person or by letter?
Letter. Letter or phone. I'm not very… mostly by letter. Mostly by letter.
Can you tell us about the process of being transferred from Merrick to Morwell?
Well I went from Merricks to Werribee. Werribee's a research farm and I wasn't very happy at
Werribee. Oh there was a group of girls there and I think they thought that they were the king pins you know and they used to give the new girls a hard time. I remember they all smoked and they tried to get me to smoke and I had a couple of puffs of a cigarette just to please them. I didn't like it but if you didn't do what they did you weren't one of them but as I say I was still a shy sort of girl and
sort of wouldn't have felt backward in coming to join in. I never pushed myself very shy and quiet. I was glad to get away from there because of the girls. Not very nice to say but…
Were they in charge or they just had been there longer?
They'd been there longer. They thought they were in charge you know but.
And that was all
dairy training and things like that?
Yes yes, horticulture mm. Mostly dairy.
What else did they…
What else did they teach you there?
Oh they taught them all about plant seeds and cultivating seeds and the CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation] were there and some of the girls worked there too you know the propagating of seeds and weeds and that sort of thing. I mean I didn't go there so I didn't go into that part. I just worked on the dairy.
Did you have a preference for types of work back then?
No not really. I just did what I, no I didn't have any preference at all really. I just did what I what had to be done and did it and didn't mind what it was but I was in dairy farms all the time after I left Werribee.
And how did you get
to Morwell Bridge?
Train. Train to Morwell and the boss was there to pick me up and I don't know if you know Morwell nowadays but it's a big city but it was just a little old railway siding and I got out of the train and there was this little shed there and I thought, "Oh dear God what have I come to?" And he took me back to the farm. That was Morwell Bridge. That was sort of some miles away and it was sort of
way out and sort of all out on its own and when I first went there I was in a little shack. It had no door or window but then after a while I was put into this room that had been attached to the house. A lot of those old farmhouses had you know there was a house built but then as the years went on they'd build a little bit more and a little bit more onto it. Sort of verandahs and rooms and sort of things.
And that was slightly better, that room?
Yeah well it was yes, it was sort of attached to the house.
Was it a family? Was the boss married or…
Yes he was married, yes. He had a wife.
And what was the work like there?
Hard work. There was a sixteen year old boy worked there too and he
and I used to do most of the work.
Lots of early mornings for the dairy?
Oh yes five o'clock. Up five o'clock and they had a lot of stud pigs there and they separated the milk from the cream. They didn't sell the milk, they sold the cream and the milk went to feed the pigs. You used to have to carry the buckets of milk to the pigs and feed the pigs. You get up five o'clock and go to the dairy and milk the cows
and then clean up, separate the milk and clean up the dairy and all the sheds and the yards and feed the pigs and then you'd go to the house for breakfast, which would be about nine, nine thirty, about nine o'clock, and then you go out and do all the farm work.
I did that for about a week once and it nearly killed me.
How did you find it?
Well I mean you did it you know and you didn't find it hard or the worst part I can remember was fencing. Barbed wire fencing and a cold frosty morning and my hands because once I started milking cows my hands got very bad. They cracked. I had big cracks in between my fingers and thumbs and oh, they were sore
and of course on the cold frosty mornings and especially if you were straining a wire and it would break and hit your hand and oh I'd cry then but no it was, you know I used to lift heavy logs of wood and 'cause he had a sideline of clearing land from the bush and we'd
go up the bush and cut the trees down and then take them back to near the farm and cut them up with a saw bench.
What work were you doing out in the bush? Cutting the trees down?
Yes helping yes. Yeah he would drive the truck and I would drive a tractor and a lorry on the back and bring the wood back down to near the house where they
had the saw bench.
Did you already know how to drive a tractor?
No not until I went there.
You learnt there?
And an old truck.
And what were conditions like generally there?
Yes alright. Hard work. It was very hard work. You were on the go from five o'clock and you'd go in by the time you went into the house at
night would be oh seven thirty, eight o'clock at night. That was six days a week. You were supposed to work forty eight hours but I mean on dairy farms you can't work just forty eight hours. You can't be milking cows and say, "Oh that's my forty eight hours I'm out I've had enough." and that was six days a week and Sundays I would do the milking and feeding the pigs in the morning. I'd work from about five thirty until about ten and then I was off. I had to have between there and three thirty I'd have time
off but then my mother was living at and my sister at Trafalgar, a place called Trafalgar, was about eight miles away ooh yeah eight miles away or more, mighta been more, and I used to ride my bike and have lunch with them. Hot dinner. Hot roast lamb dinner. I'd just get there in time to eat the dinner and then leave and go back.
Was that Gladys with your mother?
And what were that couple like?
Oh a strange couple. He was a little short man and she was a tall lady. She was a German lady. A real bush lady. Used to wear old bag aprons and whatnot you know but then she went to hospital and had a baby and you weren't
allowed to be left alone with a male in a house and he came into my bedroom one night. Ah there was no lock on the door. There was a nail on the edge of the door jamb and on the door itself there was a piece of string and when I went into my room I'd just close the door but it's just a door that swung, it wasn't a fitted door or anything like that
and just put the string on to keep but from the outside just push it and it opened and he came into my room one night and in the nude and it was dreadful. Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful dreadful dreadful. I managed to keep him away (UNCLEAR) he tried to get into bed with me you know and I managed to force him away. And then
thankfully he didn't force himself any further and he went and I got up and got dressed and I went and out up into the hay shed and got up into the hay shed and sat up in the corner. I never went to sleep of course and got into the hay shed but it upset me so. I thought "Why? Why? Why me? Why?" You know what happened before and
"What's wrong with me?" you know "What's…" and then was only the once that happened but then when we used to be up in the paddocks and up in the bush he used to have his pants open and it upset me and I'd sort of pretend not to see and I you know it's oh it was dreadful. Dreadful but he didn't sort of say anything or I don't know what I'd a done but I think I
would have hit him with a log of wood or something I don't know, but but that happened. I don't know why it did it and I wanted to, and that's when I wanted to leave there then 'cause I was there for a long time and the local town they sort of more or less adopted me. They used to call me the Land Army girl down at Armbrett's farm. As a matter of fact a few years ago they contacted me for a reunion and
I wanted a transfer and I wrote to headquarters asking for a transfer and they wouldn't give it to me and they wanted to know what the reasons were and I told them I was working too long hours. I didn't tell them, I don't know why I didn't tell them the truth but I mean the thing that sort of because I had it embedded into me earlier. Terrible things.
And and they rang him up and he told lies. He said I wasn't working those hours and I insisted. I kept persisting and they finally got another girl to go there and I got a transfer to another dairy farm at Nilma and I was there for probably a few months and
and then I was transferred from there to another farm out at Allanbank, Lardner, and I was with another girl and that was wonderful. That was wonderful. We had a wonderful time.
How long were you at that place?
Oh I can't remember exactly. I was in the Land Army two and a half years. Two weeks at Mont Park and then I was six weeks
at Merricks and then I was two weeks at Werribee and I think I was about fourteen months I think it was at Morwell Bridge and then I was a few months at Nilma on the dairy farm. They were a nice family. As a matter of fact his brother had another or his father had another farm and the Land Army girl there became very, very close friends and we still are. I was her bridesmaid
when she got married and I was also bridesmaid at this other girl's wedding that I was with at and I'm still in touch with them, still very close with them, although one of them's very ill. Yes so after that I had a very nice family at Nilma and the other farm at Lardner oh he was a bit of a lackadaisical sort of a fella. Share farming and he had a wife who was very lazy and we had to cook our own meals half the time.
She had two children and she was sort of that lazy she couldn't get out of her own way sort of and he was a gambler and he used to send her away up to her family which lived right up past Lakes Entrance and he would go to Melbourne to the races but we didn't mind. We run the farm, we didn't we didn't mind him going away. I know we slept in one day and didn't milk the cows. It was terrible.
And it was just you and another girl then?
Yeah another girl and I yes.
We'd been to a ball. We used to go to balls on a Saturday night, a Friday night sometimes and come home and we'd get one of the local boys to take us and oh she was engaged to a local fella and he would take us to these balls and we'd go miles away. Sixty miles sometimes and you'd come home and change out of your lovely ball gown into your overalls and go and work,
you know get the cows but this weekend that that the boss was away and we got home, it was about three o'clock in the morning, and we were going to have a couple of hours sleep and we lived in this sort of a shack away from the house. It was a real old ,it was apparently the old homestead. It was just two rooms in it. No windows in it but I mean there were window parts and no glass in the windows
and we slept on a straw mattresses on makeshift beds, no furniture in it, and I said to Pat, "Oh!" I said, "We'd better set the alarm clock because we may not wake up." and so and she was in bed and I was fiddling around getting undressed and whatnot you know and she said, "What are you doing? Hurry up and get into bed!" and I said, "Oh I'm fixing this clock." and I
set the alarm and got into bed and I thought, "I mightn't hear that." so I got up again and she said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Well you'll probably hear the alarm before me." and I got an idea, I don't know why but I got an old kerosene tin. I don't know if you know what a kerosene tin is, a big square tin they have used to have about, I think it's about four gallons of kerosene in and they used to use them for all sorts of things on farms and I said, "I'll put the clock in the in the kerosene
tin. It might make it might sort of make a louder noise. We'll hear it." So that's what I did and I finally got to bed, she was asleep by this time, and anyway the next thing I heard a truck and I thought, "Oh I wonder what that is. Wonder what that is." and I got up and I sort of pulled this bag aside, we had bags hanging at the window, and it was the driver of the milk truck come to collect the milk. No milk. No cows milked. That was a tragedy.
Dreadful tragedy and I woke Pat up and I said, " Nobby…" his name Nobelius, the man's name was. I said, "Oh Nobby's here!" She said, "What's he doing here?" and I said, "To collect the milk." and she said, "Oh oh what time is it?" I said, "It's eight o'clock." She said, "What? What do you mean?" I said, "We've slept in!" "Oh, what'll we do?" And I said, "Look we can't do anything about it now." and of course and he was standing and looking up towards the house and he finally
went away and I said to Pat, "Well look." The cows were around the yards waiting to be milked of course and I said "Well look, it's no good milking them now." I said, "We want them there at lunch time." I said, "We’ll have one milk for the day." I mean that's a terrible tragedy and so we had a lovely day. We didn't work. We didn't do any work. We went into the house and
in those days they had what they call a party line phone and the phone would ring different to different farmhouses. Perhaps your phone would be two rings. Another one would be one ring. Another home would be three rings and of course a lot of people when they'd hear the rings it was common knowledge that they'd pick the phone up and listen to other people's conversations and of course we did that. We went over to the house and oh we had a
relaxing day. We had a lovely relaxing day. We went to the house and got some had some breakfast and we were listening into these conversations. "Oh there's something wrong over at Stan's farm. There's something gone wrong over there. The cows, Nobby says the cows haven't been milked and they're all in the shed waiting. There's no there's no sign of anybody you know." and we were hearing this and of course I mean we thought it was a joke you know. We didn't really you know, we thought it was a joke.
So anyway so we toddled down to the sheds about one o'clock and we milked the cows and did everything that we had to do and ah and we thought, "Oh it's no good milking them again. Give 'em one good milk." I mean cows milk in the morning they make milk during the day you know and there's more milk there in the evening. So that's what we did and we went back to the house and we glamorised ourselves and pampered ourselves and got ourselves ready and went to another dance and
every Thursday in Warrigul, which is local area, local big town, there was a market day where the farmers used to take their cattle and sheep and whatnot into the markets, into the cattle yards and all of the farmers used to go of course and any farmer that had a Land Army girl would go in and that would be our only time away from the, apart from our dances, our way apart
from the farms you see and we had a wonderful time. We'd meet up, all the Land Army girls from the different areas would meet up and go to this certain café and have lunch and walk around the shops and anyway the following Thursday after we went back home after we'd been to the market and we were down milking the cows and Pat as I say Pat and I the farmer he didn't, lazy old thing you know he didn't do much work around the place
and he said, he was wandering around with his hands in his pockets and we were busy milking and I thought, "Oh he's going to say something. He's heard something." you know I was waiting for it and he said, "Oh." he said, "There's a story going around town," he said, "That the cows weren't milked last Saturday." and I never said a word and Pat didn't say a word and I've got my head I was stripping a cow which you'd strip what you call it after the machines in those days after the machines came off them you sort of hand stripped
them to strip the last bit of milk out of them. They don't do it anymore and I had my head buried into the side of the cow and he said, "Oh." and he repeated it said he said, "Oh." he said, "There's rumours going around," he said, "That my cows weren't milked last Saturday." and I looked up at him and I said, "Last Saturday?" and he "Yes." I said, "Oh yes they were. Yes they were." and he said. "Oh there's just rumours going around." and I said, "Oh yes they were milked." Well I mean I wasn't
telling a lie because I knew they'd been milked once, but not twice, but he wasn't game to say anything because he'd been to the races and lost a lot of money and his wife wasn't to know you see. Funny things happen. We thought it was funny anyway we didn't realise the seriousness of it.
He didn't really have a leg to stand on did he?
No he didn't. We didn't think so, but when I said "Yes, the cows were milked." and I wasn't lying.
And were you working as long hours at that place as well?
Ah yes well we'd get up early, you on dairy farms you do. Five thirty you're out in the sheds and first milking and you work on the farm all day cutting ferns and thistles and chopping wood and baling hay and cutting hay and all types of farm, fencing…
And you were mostly preparing your own food there I think you said?
Yes yes. Most of the time. She didn't know how to cook and well it'd be tea time and you'd be hungry and lunch time and be nothing prepared and we'd just go and help ourselves and get something to eat ourselves.
And so after
hours would you have a chance to read or spend time with I've forgotten her name, the girl you were with at that place
Oh we just used to go over to our shack and chat and talk. But you're always in bed early because you were so tired and our nights out was mostly Friday and Saturday nights we'd go to the dances or to a ball.
Were they big events?
Ooh wonderful yes. Especially the balls when you went miles away and I was even belle of the ball once.
We wore our long evening gowns and yes.
And you were dancing by this stage?
Yeah I was dancing ooh yes I loved the dancing yeah. Loved it.
And how long did it last at that place?
Oh I stayed there until the end of the war, until after
Were you receiving much news about the war and its progress?
Ah paper. I always used to like to read, I always used to like to read the paper every day.
Well that's what I would do in the evenings because during the day you would go up to the house and have your lunch and I mean there'd be no time to relax and at lunch times. There was no definite time. You wouldn't say, "I've got half an hour or an hour for lunch." There was no time limit I mean you wouldn't stay long I mean you just have your meal and off you got out again to the paddocks or whatever you had to do.
Did you get a
sense that the war was drawing to a close in those last months?
Did I get?
Did you get a sense of the war's progress and
Ah yes we did.
And you were still writing to your brothers?
Yes, yes oh yes. Yes still writing to my brothers. Yes I always used to correspond a lot.
What sort of things would you write to them about?
you had to be very careful. Just what you were doing and because they were censored. When I received letters from my brothers there were pieces cut out or blacked out with certain types of pen, but a lot of them cut out.
How did that affect the letter writing process? Knowing that someone would read your letters?
Well you were very careful very aware of what you were writing. You sort of sometimes thought, "Oh I'm I'm writing a lot of
trash." sort of thing you know but just about your family. If you knew where your family were or about different relations and I know I've got a photo there that I sent my brother wrote and asked me if I would write to one of his pals who didn't receive any letters. He had a pal there that he didn't one of his mates in the same camp, prison camp, and I used to write to him and
he used to write back yes and I never did meet him until just a few years ago.
Did he tell you how much it meant to him?
Yes he did. Yes, yes. It meant a lot to him. He was a country boy. He came from the country and when they came home I always said that it was the happiest day of my life the day my brother arrived home from the war and
Megsy, Charlie Power his name was, Megsy they called him and he arrived in Melbourne 'cause there was these troop trains coming on and off all day and of course he went straight home to the country. I never ever did meet him but my brother kept in touch and I'd always ask my brother how he was and he married and had a family and grew up and I've always done a lot of voluntary work, hospital visiting and a lot of voluntary work
and I've been forty three years I've been here and I was visiting the hospital, repat hospital one day and I was visiting a chap. There were four beds in the ward and this man whom I was visiting, he was one of my husband's Rats of Tobruk mates and we were talking and we were having a conversation he said something to me about the Land Army. I forget exactly what it was and 'cause he knew I was in the Land Army you see this chap, and when I was leaving and I just turned around and I said goodbye to the other
three men that I didn't know, oh you talk to people even if you don't know them and this chap called me over and he said, "Were you in the Land Army?" and I said, "Yes I was." He said, "I knew a girl in the Land Army." and I said, "What was her name?" 'cause I ask people because I know so many of them or when I say I know so many of them since the war days. I know the names you see and met quite a lot of them and he said, "Oh Nancy Gibbs." and I said, "Who?" and he said, "Nancy Gibbs." and I said, "That's
me!" and he looked at me and he threw his arms around me and he squeezed and hugged me and I mean he's a man about my age you know and he said and I looked up and saw his name on the bed. I said "Oh Megsy Megsy." and he walked around his bed and to his little hospital drawers and he said, "I've got something here." he said, "You might like to have."
He said, "I keep them with me all the time." and it's a photo, I've got it here, and it was a photo of me in uniform which I sent to him and he gave it to me. He said, "I've got some photos here." He said, "My kids'll only throw them all away when I'm gone." he said. "So you might as well have it." and he gave me that one and one of my brother in the army camp in the prison camp and I met him. That one and only time.
When I went to Shepparton once and I spoke to him to stay with a friend and I spoke to him on the phone. Yes that was a nice thing that happened.
The servicemen we've talked to have said how much they appreciated letters and what a big day it was when their letters came in.
Did you really did you sense that when you were writing those letters to people?
Ah yes I did, especially when my brother wrote and asked
me if I would, he had this mate and asked me if I would write to him and I wrote to a few soldiers. He was the only one like my brother and Megsy in the prison camp. I used to write to a few soldiers because in the papers and in the magazines and that there'd be notices you know that so and so and would like to hear from somebody else. I even had a pen pal Land Army girl, English Land Army girl. Ah
we still write to each other. She's in England in New South Wales. She's been in New South Wales for fifty-four years and we've never met yet and we still write to each other every year and it's been my ambition to meet her and it's going to be too late if we don't do something about it.
What would she tell you about her experience in the Land Army?
Well she saw my name when we had a magazine which we had published, Land Army magazine
in the latter years and there were bits of stories about different girls in them they used to ask us to send our little stories in to fill up the magazine and I'd sent one in one day and I received and apparently one of these magazines found its way in over to England, how I don't know, and this lass found it and she wrote to me and we continued on. She was an English Land Army and we continue writing and
after the war and I was when I was expecting my first baby ah she arrived in Melbourne on a boat. Oh
Sorry about that.
You were just telling us that your Land Army friend arrived in Melbourne.
Yes she arrived in Melbourne when I was due to have the baby and it was too far for me to come to Melbourne 'cause in those days it was a steam train
ride, which took three hours or four hours from Moet to Melbourne and I couldn't come because of expecting my baby and she was I think the boat was overnight and she went to New South Wales and of course she and her husband went and she already had a baby and they went to New South Wales on a farm and they've been there ever… oh she's lost her husband of course and when I say of course but but she's still up there and we still contact, we're still in contact and we've never met
and we write as though we know each other. I mean it's sad really that we haven't done something about it.
Interviewee: Nancy Ormsby Archive ID 0211 Tape 04
I just noticed during our break that in your transcript of a previous interview you learnt to ride a horse.
Whereabouts did you learn to ride a horse?
Oh on the farm yes.
What did you think of that?
Oh it took me awhile to stay on it, but I felt that I was quite an expert at the finish you know, because I used to have to walk down a long area to the bottom of the river to get the cows up. We used to send the dog down but sometimes there was a stray cow wouldn't come up like when they were
ready to be milked. You just go out call the cows. A lot of them'd be there already and you'd send the dog down but sometimes and but then I was able to go down on the horse to begin with and just round the cows up and go from one paddock to another and for different things and check on cows and animals and fences. I used to feel free when I was riding a horse, very free.
That’s how I can explain it. I enjoyed it.
How many horses did they have?
Oh they had one riding horse and four working horses, which were working horses where you'd harness them up to the harrows and ploughs and different things. Use them for work.
Did you use them for work yourself?
Oh yes, oh but to put their collars and bridles and that on and I used to have to get on a box and 'cause I couldn't reach up the
(UNCLEAR) had this box and I used to stand on the box to harness them up.
How were you instructed in these sorts of things? Did you have to learn for yourself a bit or
I was taught. Yeah the boy that worked on this farm taught me how to how to harness the horse and to use the plough and harrows and you know the harrows, you know what they are? They're the sort of
piece of machinery that sort of breaks up the cow manure and that in the paddocks and cleans them up. It's sort of a like a rake, huge oversized rake. You have a horse that pulls it.
How did you get along with that boy?
I got along with him very well. Very, very well. Yes. He was a good kid and he was a couple of years younger than me but oh about twelve months, eighteen months perhaps, but yes we got on very well
Did he live locally?
Yes he did live locally because it was after this episode of this man coming in to my room. And after that first night I went down to his house with his family and stayed there at night. I sort of made excuses with the boss that I was going down to watch a film, to not watch a film, ah play cards.
We'd play cards or just I just made excuses so I could go down there and it was too late to come home so I'd come back with Albie in the morning. We’d ride bikes.
Do you think Albie had a sense of what sort of man the farmer was?
Oh I couldn't say no, I don't know.
Was Albie frustrated he was too young for the war?
He was always saying that he was going to join the army when he was eighteen, but it never eventuated, because he couldn't be done without really. When I say he and I used to do all the milking of the cows and 'cause the boss was busy making money on this clearing wood and selling wood.
How many cows did they have at that place?
Oh they had about a hundred.
And they were breeding pigs as well weren't they?
Yeah a lot of stud pigs, mm.
How many pigs did they have?
Ooh sixty to eighty. A lot of pens and the boss would wake me up sometimes two and three o'clock in the morning there'd be a pig farrowing [giving birth] and sometimes they needed help and I'd have to get up and go out into the sties and sort of
you know try and help 'cause sometimes one pig had seventeen piglets, and of course sometimes they lie on them you know and you gotta keep them out of the way.
Mother pigs can be pretty fierce too.
Yeah they can. Yes.
Did you have any trouble or injuries with that?
Ah no not really. Sometimes they'd sort of, well you could sort of tell, I could,
I'd watch them all the time and tell you know and sometimes I was just fearless really.
And how did you get along with the cows?
Oh good, great. I loved the cows, yeah. I had names for them all and yes. I loved cows but just recently I went on a bus trip and going along and I said to my friend every now and again, "Oh what a beautiful herd of cows. Oh aren't they beautiful?" and I heard a lady in
front of me say, "What's she on about beautiful cows? What's she on about beautiful cows?" Don't understand.
They're really docile aren't they?
Yes they are. Cows, yes they are.
And was that the farm you had the dog? We saw a photo of a dog before.
Yes oh every farm you went on they had a dog but that dog was at that one was at Lardner but I did have a dog, when I say I did have a dog, there was a dog at Morwell Bridge
and she was there with me all the time. Followed me everywhere I went. I loved that dog.
What was her name?
Sally. Lovely dog.
That was that particular location Morwell Bridge, you were doing all sorts of work, weren't you?
Yes, yes. All kinds of farm work.
What else was involved in the clearing
Well there was a lot of bush up there in those days. It was all bush really and it was all government-owned, a lot of it was government-owned and the farmers would sort of rent it out and clear it and they would clear the wood off and saw it up and sell it. That's where they would make money
out of it you see.
Did you have any problems with rabbits or pest control or anything like that?
Oh yes, yes. I remember on my eighteenth birthday I was out. I had these ferrets. I had to go out in the paddock and I was cutting ferns, cutting bracken ferns because bracken ferns were a pest, curse all the farmers and you'd have to cut them down, slice them with a scythe you know and while I was cutting the ferns I had to take these ferrets
out with me and put them in the burrows to get the rabbits. I remember it was my eighteenth birthday and it was a rainy day and I didn't tell anybody at the farm that it was my birthday and I can remember I was crying and I was saying "Oh nobody loves me. It's my eighteenth birthday and nobody loves me." but I didn't tell anybody but I was that's just what I was doing, getting these rabbits. Trying to get these and I'd wring their necks. I mean I couldn't do it now
when they'd come out of the burrows you see and the ferrets would go down and the rabbits would come running out. You'd put a net over the mouth put the ferret in the burrow and then put a net over the face of the burrow and then the ferrets would chase the rabbits out you see and the rabbits would get caught in the nets and you'd grab the rabbits and you wring their necks.
Did you have to do this much?
Oh a lot.
A lot. When there was no spare time, when you weren't harrowing or ploughing or fencing or harvesting.
What were the ferrets like?
Oh I didn't like ferrets. That finger there, he one got hold of that finger there and he wouldn't leave it and it's bent since, yes. I had my hand up, he had his teeth really stuck into it. It hurt.
Were they that farmer's ferrets or did he
borrow them off someone?
No, no. Ah no he had them. They were stinking things. Ooh I had to clean their cages and oh yuck. That's one thing I didn't like. I did not like the ferrets.
And were those rabbits used for fur or meat or anything?
Oh yes you'd slice them up the belly and get rid of their innards and then take them back to the farm and then you'd skin them
and put the skins on a wire. You'd sort of have a wire, a sort of shaped wire and you'd put the skins on the wire to dry out and they would save the skins up for a certain time until they got a larger number and then they'd sell them but the rabbits were used for food. Oh yes. Oh they were used for food, 'cause there wasn't myxomatosis [disease that kills rabbits] around in those days. I can't ever recall it.
How would you eat the rabbits?
they'd be cooked. Baked, stewed, fricasseed, all sorts of things. All sorts of ways. Seasoned and baked. When I was a child that's what practically we used to live on like was rabbits.
It seems a Depression era sort of food. I've heard lots of stories of people eating rabbit.
Oh yes and eels. We used to get eels from the
the creek. One place I was at you could get these you when I was at the Jumbunna there was a big creek. My brother and I used to go down and just get these eels, like the big ones.
How would you catch them?
Oh we had sort of a fork shaped branch of a tree and you'd have a sort of get a forked piece and you'd sort of push it. You'd see them in the water, 'cause the water wasn't
very deep. It was a great place for eels and you'd push the and hold them there and then you'd grab their tails and pull them out.
They're pretty tough, aren't they?
Ooh they are tough. Ooh they are tough and then when you skin them you put a nail on the wall and you'd sort of put the end of the skin around the head and then the skin would pull right back
You put them on a nail? Put their head on a nail?
Yeah put the head on a nail on the wall, big nail on a post really, and you'd cut around the edge of the neck of them and skin them. Ooh.
And how would you eat that eel?
Oh mostly fry it. Sometimes they'd taste a bit earthy
sometimes they were alright. All depends all I guess on the size of them. Some of them were pretty big.
Were rabbits a real problem at that place?
Oh yes. Yes. Oh yes. They were. We used to set traps, that's another job. Used to set all these traps and you'd set them oh just before dark and then you go around them about ten o'clock at night and if there were any rabbits you'd get the rabbits of course and reset the traps
and then go in the morning. You very seldom had time before milking and that was another job although you try and get them done get them before milking because foxes'd get them. Sometimes you'd get a fox in the trap.
What would you do with the foxes?
Oh you'd have to try and release them.
Were they nasty?
Well they could be, yeah. They could be. I used to get a big stick so as not to get too close and I'd try and get a
a big stick and push the plate of the of the rabbit trap down so they could release their leg where they'd been caught and I used to feel sorry for them but.
Now these were those jaw clasp sort of traps or were they snares?
Yes. Yes you you'd open them up very gently and put the catch that sort of had a plate on them and you'd sort of put this little catch very, very tenderly and gently on the side and then you'd lie
them down. You'd sort of dig a little bit of an insert sort of very not very big, just scratch the top of the soil and lie the trap there and then you put a piece of paper. You'd have little squares of newspaper and you'd put that on the plate and then you'd put very fine soil that you'd scraped off the ground, and you'd sprinkle that on top of the newspaper. They say that was so the
rabbits wouldn't see the that there was something there. You know they'd see the paper and so that's what we used to do.
What was the purpose of the paper?
I don't know. I don't know when I stop and think about it, but that's what we used to do. Put a little square of paper on the plate of the trap and then sprinkle this little fine soil on it
but sometimes you had to very careful because they'd snap off you know the traps'd go off.
Did you have some pretty close calls with those traps?
Oh yes, I got my fingers many times. Ooh yeah, it hurt too.
Didn't cut through them or anything?
No no I didn't get any bad, no.
Because sometimes they'd be a bit shiny sometimes so perhaps that's why the metal of them you know. So perhaps that's why
they wouldn't be an attraction to the rabbits you know or frighten them off.
What did you use for bait in those traps?
Oh you wouldn't use bait.
No. No no you you'd set them. You'd find a spot where you could see where they would be 'cause later years I used to when I used to go to my son's at Beechworth my grandson he said, "Come down and set some traps with me Nan." and he used to love it and I used to go and set traps
with him, but you're not allowed to do them use them now.
When you had the ferrets, about how many rabbits at a time would you catch?
Oh it all depended on how many were in the burrows and how long a time I was there. I'd miss a lot. When I say I'd miss a lot, sometimes by the time I got to the net you knew
they were there you know. You sort of keep an eye on them because there'd be several openings to a burrow. There just wouldn't be like especially on a bit of a rise on a bit of a rocky hill sort of. You'd put a net over each hole and sometimes the rabbits'd come out of the hole that you hadn't put a net on you see.
I've got a perfect mental image of rabbits bolting through out of a burrow
and the bracken clearing. Could you describe that to us?
Oh the bracken fern, it was a curse because it a fern. It's a fern oh it could grow up to three, four foot high in some places and it would sort of grow and sort of take over the land you know where the grazing was for the cattle, so you had to keep a check on it because it spread, spread very quickly and easy.
It was a curse.
And you just cut it off at ground level?
Yes try and cut it off at ground level, with a scythe. Pretty sharp scythe. Used to have a little stone in my pocket. I used to sharpen the blade up and pretty fierce looking things they were.
Sounds like you got pretty handy with a few things.
Well you learnt. Yes, you learnt to do all sorts of kind of thing.
I just want to return to your English friend who was in the Land Army in England.
Did you talk about your various experiences when you started corresponding?
Not a great lot, not a great lot because it wasn't, oh it would be about one year, twelve months or so before the end of the war that we started began corresponding. I think it would have been about that, eighteen months perhaps.
Did she have a good experience?
Sounded as if she did, yes. Different sort of kind of work of course. A lot of vegetable work and you know vegetable farms up in the counties.
What sort of impression do you think she had of Australia during the war?
Well I think she had a good impression of Australia because you know she wanted to come out here and live, which she did, soon after the war,
1947. '46, yes. Yeah not long after the war, 'cause she was married. She'd married and had a baby and I remember it was my son's birth due so that's how I can work back that far, yeah, '47.
And so in those last days of the war do you remember hearing
about the atomic bombs being dropped?
Yes, yes I did. I thought that was pretty horrific. Wondered if it could happen here. I did you know I thought "Well you know I wonder if it could happen here."
Did you know when it was dropped what sort of bomb it was?
Only what we read in the paper, or heard on the radio.
Did you think that would
be the end of the war?
Ah well I can remember thinking that perhaps it could come to Australia and something like that could happen in Australia.
And do you remember hearing about the actual end of the war?
I remember I was
in Melbourne. I had because this other farm that I was at I had a weekend on odd occasion when I say not regular because when I was at Morwell I didn't I had twelve days annual leave, that was the only time I ever got away from there, but when I was at Lardner I think it was about three weekends I had away and I happened to be in Melbourne at the time of the… it must have been a few days,
and I was in Melbourne when the war ended.
What was that like?
Oh absolutely wonderful. I went into the city with a friend, a girlfriend that I was also in contact with them at the cigarette paper factory. I have photos of that somewhere and we went into the city and it was just unbelievable.
Unbelievable. You couldn't…there was just see millions of people. Everywhere, dancing and shouting and everybody kissing and hugging and strangers you know I think the first of that sort of thing in public being done really to my knowledge.
And how long did that last? Those celebrations?
Ah I know I was two days and I had to go back to the farm, but I was in the city for like, I went home of course, went back into the city the next day, but the first day was just unreal, absolutely unreal.
Did that go on into the night?
Oh yes, all night.
Did you go to a dance or was there some sort of…
Oh no you just went around the city and rejoicing. Just rejoining with anybody and everybody. You know, chatting and talking and I never went to a dance. I think everything was just too excitable to go sort of dancing. Some of them could have but I don't know but it was just a wonderful, wonderful day,
How did you feel about going back to the farm?
Well it was a job to be done. It had to be done and I knew that I had to be there to, well I mean I had to be there to still work because apparently they had a man working on this particular farm and he had gone away to the war and that's why this young boy had gone to work there
and he never came back. To my knowledge he never came back.
Did you have any sort of sense of how long you might have to stay on in the Land Army?
Ah no I knew that I wouldn't have to stay too long. Just until somebody came. Just until they got somebody else to take my place.
How long did that end up being?
Ah that was December 1945. I remember I was home before Christmas.
Where was that home? Was that back with…
With my sister. My sister in Prahran.
Had you had any contact with her? With Francis?
Oh yes I always kept in touch with Francis, yes. Always, always.
And so what sort of life did you come back to after the war?
Well after the war I came back to Melbourne and I went back to my old
job at the cigarette paper factory and I just felt very unsettled. I sort of couldn't settle down and I went to a wedding at Yallourn which Yallourn was just close to very close to Morwell Bridge and I used to go to the pictures [cinema] and different times when some of the local boys, it was only a very small place Morwell Bridge, and during the war and the local boys would come home on
leave and apparently the people would say, "Oh there's a nice little Land Army girl up at Arbrett's farm." and different ones would come up and meet me and they'd take me to the pictures and there was quite a few of the local boys that while they were on leave I would go to the pictures with them or go to the dance, local dance, and go to the pictures at Yallourn of course and Yallourn wasn't very far away and after I went back home there was some people lived at a place called Hearns Oak[?]
it was just very close to Yallourn and some people lived there that were friends of my daddy's. Their name was Melbourne and my sister had always kept in touch with them and while I was up at Morwell Bridge I did contact them and I used to go and visit them and I received a
wedding invitation to one of the family and I went up there t and I stayed with them at Hearns Oak and went to the wedding and I was there for the weekend and I happened to say to the lady, the mother, she was much older because her children were much older than me. Most of them were married and I said, "I'd live to come back up here and live again." and she said,"Well why don't you?" and I said, "I don't know what I would do." and she said, "Oh why don't you get a job at the hotel?"
and Yallourn Hotel in those days, Yallourn Hotel was one of the poshiest hotels outside of Melbourne, very nice old big two storey hotel, very nice building, and I'd never been inside a hotel. I only thought you know bad girls went to hotels and I said, "Ooh I don't know." and she said, "Oh I'll take you over if you like." and this Hearns Oak was a walking distance, about three kilometres away through the bush
and so because her daughters had worked there and I thought, "Well if…" 'cause she was a real lady, this lovely lady and a lovely family, she had a big family, and I thought ,"Well if her daughters worked there it must be alright for me to work there." so she took me over to meet the manager, there was a Mr. and a Mrs. Brown and they were the licensees 'cause it was a government problem nobody could own a
house in Yallourn or a property and the manageress was a Miss Gibbs, my name, and anyway she introduced me and yes I could get a job, they gave me a job, so I went back to Melbourne and told my sister that I was going back to Yallourn and she wasn't very happy and so I did and I lived at the hotel. I lived at the hotel, had a nice room and
I started off washing dishes in the kitchen and then I finished up the first class waitress. I waited on the Duke of Gloucester, Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. Feather in the cap but yes and I loved it, I loved it, I really, really loved it and of course being a waitress in those days wasn't a very nice thing to be doing really
but it was all… I worked in the first class dining room. They had two other dining rooms and this was first class and of course there used to be a lot of VIPs [very important persons] politicians go up because of the Yallourn power house and electricity and of course they used to come and stay at the hotel of course. It was the only place for them to stay, no motels in those days or there was a guest house and
I finished up in the dining room. Solid silverware and everything and I loved it. I really loved my time there.
Was part of your employment food as well or just board?
No, board and food. And then I got three pound a week. Yes, three pound a week.
Was that good then?
Well in those days it was.
And did you enjoy the people you were working with?
Yes I made some friends there, very close friends the girls, and oh well I finished up,they used to say on the sideline some of the girls that I was the boss' pet. I know she took a liking to me some way and she’d go to Melbourne and come home with these beautiful clothes, absolutely gorgeous clothes and perfume and she'd take me up to her 'cause they had a special suite of course, up top and she would say, "Would you like to see
my clothes Nancy?" always like you know and she'd take me up and she had this wardrobe, a whole room. I couldn't believe my eyes you know, couldn't believe my eyes what she had at first and she'd take me up and showed me what she bought and yeah she was very good to me. Very, very good to me. As a matter of fact I found out just a few years ago she lived in Kew and I went to see her.
Did she remember you?
I went to the door and I said,
"Oh you probably…" she was an old lady of course and I said, "You won't you probably won't remember me." I said, "But I was one of your workers at the Yallourn Hotel, Nancy Gibbs." and she remembered me straight away, and even then in this house in Kew she had a dressing room, which was just all clothes and she took me and I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. She was showing me through the house and I you know it just seemed so
ironic that yeah. Whether she, oh she probably wouldn't remember what she showed me or did but I did, I mean it was it stuck in my mind. I mean that I've never been in such richness before, to me it was...
And how did you find that? The work generally?
I found the work good. Yes I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it very much. I got up in the morning. I started
about seven thirty for breakfast and they had regular guests, like they had residents there. Like the local pharmacist, she lived there and different people for early breakfasts and then they'd have their guests and after breakfast well I'd clean the silver and do the flowers, fresh flowers every day and set up the tables, I had a special section and there was one big table
it was just the one big table, that was for the special guests and I had to look after that, which I was very proud of, and do you know I used to go and 'round and all these people'd be sitting around the table and the guests would come in and I was taught, she taught me how the right thing how what to do and table manners and how to serve and etcetera and so on and I seemed to pick it up pretty very fast and I would go
when the guests were seated and I would go and get their orders and I'd go right around the table and I'd remember everything every order. Yes I enjoyed that. I don't know how but I enjoyed that very much. I really, really did.
And how did you come to meet your first husband?
That's where I met him.
Yes, he worked at the at the SEC, that was
the State Electricity Commission and he lived at the hotel. When he first went there he lived in the what they call the eastern hostel, which was for single men but he lived in the hotel when I first went there and that's where I met him.
What did you think of him the first time you met him?
Oh my reaction was nothing really
a great lot you know but he seemed to take a liking to me and then we sort of fell in love I guess but I was very wary of, I was very wary of males. I just couldn't and I as I say I just felt that I wasn't good enough for anyone. I just felt, I just, I don't know why but I just felt, "No I'm not my…" oh because of my upbringing I guess
and what happened to me. So we got together and we were engaged for twelve months and got married at Yallourn and the boss' sister her husband worked at the hotel, he was the head barman at the hotel and they had a house just not far from the hotel and
I became very good friends with her and she helped me a lot. I went to stay with her the night before I was married and left her from her house and she made me very welcome.
And who in your family was able to come to the wedding?
My sister Francis and my brother, Gordon, was to give me away but his wife went into hospital. He was living out near Warragul at the time which was
up in Gippsland up that way and ah his wife got very ill and he was unable to come so a friend of my husband's who I knew very well we knew the family very well, very nice man, he gave me away but my sister Francis, she was there.
Was your nephew able to come? Your nephew/brother?
No no he wasn't he wasn't around at the time.
No he was married. Yes that's right he had just he had been married about twelve months.
What else do you remember about that day?
My wedding day?
Oh it was a lovely day. It was a very lovely day. I had one of my girlfriends who I'd held up with very at the hotel, she was my bridesmaid and it was a lovely day. It was a Catholic church. I wasn't a Catholic but my brother
that was a prisoner of war he had a pen pal during his prisoner of war days and when he came home he met her and he married her
And she lived at Castlemaine and they had a big wedding and I was bridesmaid at the wedding and it was a nuptial mass wedding and my husband was a Catholic and I said I would marry in the Catholic Church. "I won't change my religion but I'll
marry in the Catholic church." because while I was in Yallourn I started going to church and I got myself christened. I was over nineteen, I'd never been christened but after my brother's wedding I thought it was such a beautiful service and so lovely and when I came back and I said, "Yes I'll become a Catholic." which I did and married in a Catholic church, and I knew the priest very well because he used to come to the pub. The hotel,
I wouldn't dare call it a pub yes and yes it was a lovely day.
It sounds like a real community spirit there as well.
Oh yes it was.
Did you know much of your husband's service career at this stage?
No, not very much at all. Did sort of didn't talk about it. I knew he had been in the war of course and
his brother he came from Queensland as I said before and his brother came down I think to suss me out I think it was before the wedding. I think he came down to suss me out to see perhaps who I was or what I was and approved I guess but we went to go to Queensland for a honeymoon.
We're just near the end of this tape, just wondering if you had much to do with returned servicemen at this stage?
No, only going with the boys when they came home when I was at Morwell Bridge, and my brothers. It was later that I later that I got very involved.
Interviewee: Nancy Ormsby Archive ID 0211 Tape 05
And so how did your life change after you'd become married?
Well after I became married I wanted to be married two to three years before I had any children and I thought, I was so naïve I thought you said that and you had children when you wanted them. That was my belief. I got pregnant straight away and I wanted to start and
my boss gave us a double room in the staff quarters, very nice room to live there and which we did but of course I got pregnant and I was horribly, horribly upset. I was devastated because I wanted to work. I thought if I could work for a couple of years I could save some money and of course I didn't know where I was going to live, what we were going to do but my boss
she was wonderful and she contacted the… of course in those days the Housing Commission, government housing was very popular at the time and so she knew was it was who she knew sort of thing and got us a house in Moe. A brand new little house, tiny little house it was. Brand new it was, but there was just one just bedroom, one room where you lived and ate and that, sort of a sitting, kitchen but I loved it, I
loved it and as a matter of fact it was destroyed just not long back and I took photos of it once when Georgina was here, and yes I loved that little house and I went and lived there and that's where I had my first baby nine months and two weeks after I was married, and he was two weeks early. I mean I didn't know anything about how you stopped you having babies and
as I say in the meantime my husband he went to hospital, he was in hospital for quite a long time while I was pregnant and a friend came up from Melbourne and stayed with me and I had the baby and then they gave us a bigger house and another, that was another brand new house, housing commission house. They were building then when the second house that we went into when I first lived in the small house the other one was it was just bush
and I went and lived in there, three bedroom house and was very happy there apart from my husband being so sick.
He was sick due to war injuries?
His war injuries, yes.
Could you tell us some more about that?
Yeah well he was injured. He had a bad injury on the head and he had these chest/heart problems that he'd got from when he was he was lost in the jungle after
I'd said he was separated from his company and when he was found he was in a pretty bad way and taken straight to hospital and he never recovered and he was repatriated out of the army. 'Cause I didn't know him then of course and he developed bronchial asthma and emphysema in the chest from this problem he had and he
wanted to be a school teacher so he applied to the education department through repatriation and they wouldn't take him because of his health and apparently the doctors suggested to him to get away from Melbourne and I don't know how he come to go to Yallourn, probably through repatriation or got the job and he went to the SEC
and he was very good there and he finished up he was doing an engineering course. He used to come to Melbourne when he could to study but he was so sick of course. No he was never well.
What sort of work was he able to do?
Ah well he worked in the boiler room and as a matter of fact some of his mates would practically carry him. He'd get a bus just to the bottom of our street to Yallourn, from Moe to Yallourn,
and some of his mates told me they used to say that they he was so sick that they would practically carry him into the power house and sit him down and he would just give orders on whatever was to happen with the boilers and etcetera and so on and they would do what he was telling them to do you know. He was sort of doing sort of an engineer's job, which he didn't have the qualifications for but he was training to do.
What was his
attitude like after the war when you first knew him?
What his attitude towards…?
I suppose in terms of work and his health and things like that.
Oh he was very devastated with his health, very devastated. Every day was a day that was going to get well. He was going to get well. Even when we were on our honeymoon he had a terrible time, but of course naturally I thought he was going to get well.
I didn't know then in those days what I know now as far as medicine is concerned you know. I sort of learned a lot over the years and of course with research, and I used to have finish up giving him injections and he died at home, which was devastating.
And how did you come to find out about his wartime experience?
Ah well as a matter of fact one of the local chaps from Morwell Bridge, one of the fellas that it's very ironic that I went out with when he was a very shy fellow and he came up and said, "Oh would you like to go to the pictures?" This is what they did in those days, when the boys came home on leave and go up and see the Land Army girl and he was very shy, very shy. I mean I was very shy too but I sort of had to talk before him
and my husband came home one day and he said, "Oh I've got a mate with me." And, "One of my old mates." and it was this chap, same chap that was Alan Douglas I've been going to go up to see him. I must do that within the next few weeks and he was with Chas when they were both lost together in the jungle and that's sort of when I started to sort of learn a little bit about
the experiences but they didn't talk much about it. Very little.
Could you just give us a recount of what you do know about your husband's experience?
Well I know that he was over in the Middle East and came home and went up to the islands and fought up there and was on the Kokoda Track and I don't know
much more, only what I've read in the history.
And it was at Kokoda where he was injured and stranded for two weeks was it?
Separated from yes, that was when he was lost and he was found and hospitalised and then repatriated home.
I suppose thinking then; did you feel that he'd been affected by that particular war experience emotionally or psychologically?
Ah look oh I can't pinpoint that because I suppose I guess because of his health I knew that it was through, it was the war that did it to him because he was such a strong healthy man. I didn't know him before the war but 'cause I learnt and was told he was such a strong healthy farm worker when he went away
and when he was in the Middle East.
Was there any sort of understanding in the community that that war might have a psychological effect or an emotional effect on some of the returned soldiers?
Oh yes. Yes some of them were. They couldn't settle. Couldn't settle down for sort of their former lives a lot of them.
And just to just to specify, what did your husband tell you about his
Very little, yes. No he didn't talk about it at all I would say. Just by what I could hear what he and his mate would talk about and it was amusing things. You know they didn't talk about their nitty gritty part of it at all.
It seems common that to tell the funny stories and to forget.
Yes well see my second husband had five years and he wouldn't talk about it. You know I'd hear them
discussing when he was in with the group 'cause I was very involved with his association. He was a Rat of Tobruk.
So and your first husband, what was his name sorry?
Did Charles have anything to do with reunion groups or Anzac Day or anything like that?
Ah the first two years we were married yes, but after that he was too ill to come to Melbourne. The only time he came to Melbourne was when he was taken to hospital by ambulance. The only time he came to Melbourne
and the only time I came to Melbourne was I come on the train with the children to visit him. It was a pretty hard time.
And you had three children with Charles?
Yes each time he was in hospital I was pregnant. Well not each time not each time I mean each time I was pregnant he was in hospital, because he spent a lot of time in hospital. He was in hospital when my third child was born
and they sent him up by car because he was very ill.
And he was quite young when he passed on?
Three. Three years old.
Must have been a hard time for you, three kids by yourself?
It was. It was and he was a wonderful dad. Idolised his kids. Absolutely idolised his kids. Yes it was hard I mean I was a war
widow. I was thirty two but it was hard for about six weeks. I didn't receive any money from anywhere. My sister, Gladys, she lived in Moe a few streets around from where I lived and she and her husband fed me, the children and I and sometimes there wasn't enough food to go around. I made sure the children always had food you know and sometimes they'd say, "Why aren't you having your dinner Mummy?" I'd say, "Oh Mummy doesn't feel like it.."
you know. "Doesn't feel like eating." but I made sure the children had food. It was a pretty traumatic time then but we got by.
Did you know at that stage that you'd be eligible for a widow’s pension or something?
No no I didn't.
How did you come to find out?
Ah my local doc, the local doctor who was, there was just one doctor in the town and he was wonderful. He did a lot
for me. First of all they wouldn't accept his death as due to war service to begin with, but then afterwards they did but there weren't the benefits in those days that are around now. Nothing like it. Legacy were wonderful for the children. Wonderful for the children. I didn't even know what Legacy was.
How did they come about?
Ah well our local chemist we knew him very, very well and he was a Legacy man and my husband died at eleven o'clock on the Saturday morning on the floor at home and he and another man, it was the week before Christmas and they were at a Christmas Legacy Christmas party and they heard and they came straight to the house to see me and they brought gifts for the children and food and
which was wonderful.
Did they continue their connection with you once Charles had passed on?
Yes yes yes.
Yes for the children yes. Yes they did, always. Always right up until they were over eighteen and repatriation, which is Veterans’ Affairs, they paid for
all their education. Wonderful. My son went to university.
Is that your eldest?
My son was the eldest yes,
And how did you come to meet your second husband?
Well he was a friend of a these friends that I knew in Yallourn. A couple that I
knew at Yallourn. The husband he was a friend of Len's. He was an army mate of his, which I didn't know and I'd heard 'cause my husband's name was nickname was Pansy. Unusual name. That's his, Pansy, and I used to hear them talk about Pansy Ormsby but I mean it didn't ring a bell to me at all you know and then
there was some friends in Melbourne of my first husband and I used to stay with them. They lived in Brunswick and I stayed with them when he was in hospital, in repat hospital and they knew Len also and it was through them that I met him. It was through them I met him and also he used to go to Morwell to the Rats of Tobruk had a big association. They used to have
balls up there and he used to go up there and oh six months after my husband died I was I was on the verge of a breakdown and the doctor sent me away. When I say sent me away he suggested I go away for a while without the children and I couldn't not go and leave all my children and so two of my friends looked after the two older ones and I took
Julie with me, the youngest and to some other friends over in Wonthaggi and it was while I was over there, there was one of these Rats of Tobruk balls on at Morwell and these friends from Melbourne came up and they said the arrangements were made before I went away that they were coming up and they were going to the ball. I wasn't going to go because I wouldn't go out. I wouldn't socialise and they said "Would it be alright for us to stay at your place?" and I said "Yes of course it would." and then
they contacted me and asked me if it would be alright for me if they took a friend with them and I said "Yes." so this friend was Len and he'd been to my house and he'd met my kids before I even had met him.
So he was directly quite involved in reunion groups and things like that then?
Len was. Oh yes he was very involved with his battalion. He loved his battalion. Very fond of his battalion.
And how did
you become acquainted after that?
Ah at my friends in Melbourne, and then he came up to and he used to come up to Morwell or to Yallourn and stay with these other friends I was speaking about and he used to stay with them and they came out to my house one day at
Moe and then I saw him in Melbourne and oh we formed a friendship. No, there was no big romance and then he started he said, "Oh well would it be alright if I come up to see you for the weekend?" So he'd come up but I wouldn't allow him to stay in my house overnight. He would go 'round to my sister's and he'd stay at my sister's overnight and then one day he said, one weekend he said to me, "Oh," he said, "I'd like
to marry you." he said, "But," he said, "I can't offer you very much. I can offer you and the children a home and a roof over your head and three meals a day.” and I said, “Oh I'll have to think about it.” but my children were my first thought. They were my very first thought and I talked to them 'cause the youngest one she didn't understand and I talked to them about it 'cause they were only young and I talked to them about leaving Moe and going to
Melbourne to live. Best thing I ever did in my lifetime was because they had the opportunities here they would never ever have had.
That must have been a hard decision for you to make.
It was. It was a very hard decision. Very, very hard, mm and then he decided to buy a house and of course and he had a friend who was an estate agent in
Preston and he talked to him and then he rang me and said that there was this house and would I come down and have a look and it was at Thomastown and I'd never ever heard of Thomastown. Never ever heard of it and knew about it and he brought us out and oh, dear me, it's just dirt roads and I thought, "Oh dear." but the house looked alright you know. The building wasn't finished and
so anyway he decided to buy it.
How did you feel about that?
I couldn't believe you know that I was and then oh I think it was when we decided to get married, it was about ten months later. Ten months later, and of course I was very involved with the church
and with the children's schools and Julie I think, Julie's kindergarten. I got very involved with working for the schools and that you know and because my husband had been divorced and I knew the church wouldn't marry us. So I thought "Oh dear." you know and I and, "What are we going to do?" and so
I came to Melbourne and stayed with friends at Preston, some of his friends that were in Preston and I went through the phone book ringing ministers up. Churches first and all the priests you know, "No." "No." 'cause he'd been divorced because he was married before he went to the war. When he came home his wife had disappeared and his child was in a boy's home, a child's home, and so anyway
because he was divorced they wouldn't marry us so I just was ringing ministers up I thought, "Oh well it's gonna be, it has to be a non-Catholic church." and he said, "Oh we'll go to the registry office." and I said, "No I wouldn't get married in a registry office. I've got to be married in a church." It just did some something to me that it wasn't right. So I found a minister down in Albert Park and he said yes he'd marry and had to take his divorce papers and whatnot and yes he'd marry us
and the Rats of Tobruk hall, they had a hall down at Albert Park so that was very handy. So we had our wedding there and we had a lovely day but I came down here. I was in the house. He lived in East Melbourne and I was to be in the house and for the children to start begin school in February to begin their new schools in the February but oh there was a problem with the builder and big problem with the builder and anyway it wasn't until March, I think it was the 12th of March before I
finally came down to come into the house and it was only five days before we were married and he was at East Melbourne and his friend's wife came out and stayed with me and tried to get me settled in and he was there the day I arrived.
Were lots of Len's Rats of Tobruk mates at your wedding?
Yes there were and some of his battalion his mates yes oh yes there were. Very
close association, and he was very, very much involved with his battalion and Rats of Tobruk and I have been. I'm the state president of the ladies auxiliary.
How did you feel about marrying into that?
Well to be quite honest I didn't realise you know what it was all about. I didn't know the history. I've learnt since. I've certainly learnt since but I didn't know what it was all about.
I knew he'd been over in the Middle East and he'd been up in the islands. He'd been in the war for five years.
And did he talk much about his experience?
Ah not a great lot. No, not a lot. They didn't seem to.
It seems a contradiction almost that he was so associated with the Rats of Tobruk association but then didn't really talk much about it.
They'd talk when they were together they would, like the boys, when I say the boys, when the men were together they would talk about different things and on an odd occasion at home something would remind him of some funny thing but they'd never talk about the… I've learnt a lot since about it of course but I know the battalion history and he was mentioned in it and his daughter about him being wounded and his
daughter asking him where he was wounded and he just gave a bit of a grin and she said, she got cross, she said, "Dad I want to know so I can tell my boys. I want to know all about it." but I've learnt a lot from some of his mates, especially after he died.
What sort of things?
Oh different things. What a good soldier he was, the battalion president stood up at the funeral and spoke about him and he said because he was a unique person. He was a one of a…
he had a mind of his own. He was very jovial. Very wonderful sense of humour. Very straight. Very straightforward. If you were wrong and he knew he was right he would let you know and that sort of thing. A bit of a wild boy apparently in his early days. Like he used to run the two-up school and used to drink and
that's how he got his name apparently of Pansy when he was in the Middle East.
How does Pansy connect to being…?
Oh well it's just, apparently he was mentioned in dispatches and he received special leave to Cairo and he told them he wanted his mate to go with him so they let his mate go with him and apparently they I don't know if it was four
five or six days leave he they had in Cairo but of course their money run out. They were drinking apparently and mixing it up with the girls I gather, the local females and they decided to go back to camp because they'd run out of money and apparently he was horribly drunk and on the way back he fell down a trench and he couldn't get out so he had to crawl his way and fight his way back through this trench and
apparently he scratched himself and he was cut and bruised and he was in a terrible mess from what I'm told by lots of people and when he got back to the camp the medical people they splashed him all over with iodine. Do you know what iodine is? It's a brown and gentian violet, which is a sort of a pinkie, reddy colour and apparently he
was quite colourful and the one of the oh the sergeants or captains came up and saw him and he went away and he bought a few of the officers back and he opened the flaps of the tent up and he said, "Have a look at our pansy." and he got the name of Pansy and you know a lot of people from that that day to this still don't know what his name was. Even some of the wives. One lady said to me one day she said, "Now what is Pansy's right name?"
But he was a bit of a character and yes a good living man and he worked hard. He worked very, very hard in our early days. Very, very hard, he was a great one to have plenty of food. Always lots of food. He'd go to the markets on a Saturday morning or afternoon after he'd finish work with a sugar bag on his back and he'd come home with
it full of food.
Why do you think that was?
I don't know. I think he wanted to make sure that we had plenty 'cause there were three children and of course I got pregnant straight away after I was married. I did want a child for him and I did but I was very, very ill and I had to, oh that's a long story and
yeah so I think that you know he always made sure that he sort of had a thing that there always had to be plenty of food. Whether it was because he went through a hard struggle when he was a child. He was out working when he was fourteen.
What sort of overall impression did you get of his war years?
Oh I thought they were very traumatic.
Very, very traumatic. Very, very lucky. I mean for what he went through from the Siege of Tobruk and the El Alamein campaign. His young brother was killed beside him there. Very, very fortunate to have survived. Come back and went to the islands and fought up there.
Do you know whereabouts in the islands he served?
Borneo. Ah Balikpapan. Quite a few of the places, yes. I can't remember at the moment. I re-read the history every now and again to my memory remind me of what it all was about.
And his first marriage had suffered from his absence?
Yes apparently so. Oh yes I guess so. He met up with his wife after a while and bought a house and got his son and apparently the wife would just go off every now and again and her mother came and lived with them and looked
after he and the child.
Did he maintain contact with his first son while you were married?
Ah yes, yes. Yes he did but then his son went by the wayside a little bit and I think he felt guilty and he sort of didn't contact his father for many years, which his father was very upset about.
Among your friends did you know of many
marriages that were affected by the war?
Ah well I didn't know a lot of people 'cause well not my age that were married. No I can't say I did. Not because of the war.
Perhaps among the Rats of Tobruk men and wives?
Yes see a lot of them weren't married. You know there'd be more not married than were 'cause the majority of them married soon after the war. You know they had their girlfriends
and that kept in contact all the time of course and some were engaged. There was the odd one that was married of course. Yes.
And can you describe the development of your involvement with the Rats of Tobruk association?
Yes well Len was very involved with his the Rats of Tobruk association and his battalion,
which was the 2/24th, the famous 2/24th Battalion and I got very involved with him. Going to functions I didn't go out a lot not a lot at all when the children were young. Not at all 'cause I'd never leave the children. My youngest daughter had a car accident at nineteen. Very bad and
I'd never left her on her own before and she wasn't on her own because I wouldn't leave her by herself but she went up to her sister's at Warrandyte and the nurses would say "But she's nineteen, you've never left her?" "No, never left her on her own before." and as I say I've been very involved. I went to the RSL; my husband was a member of the RSL. My first husband was a member of the RSL and I did go to a few functions in Moe
but I became more involved when I came to Melbourne and I have been very much involved, still am.
Did Charles or Len know of your involvement in the Land Army?
Yes, they knew I was in the Land Army but it was never discussed. I mean never talked about because well naturally I said I was in the Land Army, told them I was in the Land Army and they were interested in what I was doing.
I mean you know we'd talk about that between ourselves but no outside it was never, you just never mentioned because the Land Army was forgotten and people had the idea well some people had the idea that the Land Army, especially with other women's services, they (UNCLEAR). I even had it said to me you know, "Oh you didn't do much." but but that doesn't bother me now anymore. It did for awhile
because of the what other people think.
And how did that begin to change? The attitude towards the Land Army?
With other services or the attitude to? Well after the war a an association was formed and the ex members of the Women's Land Army and they used to meet in the city and after I came to Melbourne I
joined them and went to some of the meetings but then after awhile because so many of us were married, young and children and you sort of didn't, a lot of them were in the country and you didn't have time for that sort of because you were very much home bodies, didn't go out and that was disbanded but when it was reformed and as I say I have those special girls that I have always been in contact with and it was
1986, Adelaide, I was at my son's at Beechworth one day and my son was sitting beside me reading the paper and he said, "Oh you might be interested in this Mum." and there was a an article about this lady forming a, organising a reunion of ex-Land Army girls in Adelaide and I read it and I immediately said to him, "I'm going to that." and I did. All by myself. I went by myself
and met up with Jean and while we were there we had I think it was four or five days we were there and one day there a group of us and I happened to say you know, "We should organise something about doing," you know "Rejoining our you know in an association in Victoria."
and one of the girls said, "It's a good idea Nance, do something about it." So I came back to Melbourne and I rang Anzac House and I asked if we'd be allowed to march in the Anzac Day march because I knew Sydney did and I spoke to a Keith Rossi and he's still around Keith, and mentioned to him and he said, "We've been looking for you girls for years."
And how did you contact the other girls?
Well we put notices in papers and of course the media got hold of it and we got quite a few girls together. I think we had about sixty and of course we needed and I said to Keith, "Do we need a banner?" and he said, "Of course you would. Who would know who you were?" and I mentioned it to our local president of our RSL and I was talking to him about it and
I said, "We need a banner." and he said, "What kind of a banner?" and I said, "Well you know a banner." and he said, "Oh leave it to me. I'll see what I can do." Well to make a long story short the Epping RSL and local RSLs Fairfield, Preston, Coburg, Reservoir, he went to the district board and told them the story and they gave donations. Enough money for us to buy a banner
and of course we got the banner. We designed the banner between a few of us and I forgot that you had to have poles to carry the banner and I mentioned that to the president and he said, "Oh don't worry we'll get them." and so they bought the leather cases, the holders and poles and so that's how we got our banner, which we were very proud of.
Very proud. Still very proud marching now and we have been accepted, Veterans’ Affairs have accepted us. You know oh well when I say we don't have any benefits of course but I realise because there are no records. I mean that's just impossible for any benefits because there are no records but there was a legislation going through government prior to the end of the war
that the Land Army was to be made a fourth women's service but the war ended and records were destroyed. Why I don't know, because we were a civilian service I guess and that was it.
How did it feel to be marching that first time?
Absolutely wonderful oh absolutely wonderful. Wonderful. I wore a uniform. One of the girls had a uniform, her full uniform, from hat to gloves to shoes
and she was too ill to wear it and she asked me if I would wear it and it fitted me to a tee and I did. There's photos there somewhere of it and I wore this uniform. Yes and I felt so proud and the accolades we received from the bystanders you know, "Good on you girls. We couldn't have done without you!" and, "You fed us well girls!" and, "We would have starved without you!" and you know we still have those accolades every year,
which is wonderful. So those who don't think that we did anything, well we don't worry about that anymore.
Interviewee: Nancy Ormsby Archive ID 0211 Tape 06
We were just speaking about the cold that we're all feeling today.
I thought I'd ask you a bit more about the cold when you were in the Land Army. There weren't really any provisions for the cold…
…for you girls?
No none whatsoever. No heating, oh I guess we must have been used to it because I don't know how but as I say on the cold frosty mornings that's when I noticed it on my hands. You'd be
outside in the cold frosty mornings, especially when I was fencing.
What were you provided with in terms of coat, hat, gloves, things like that? With your uniform?
Oh we had working overalls and shirts and we had underwear, big bloomers and we had the dress outfit of course. A dress uniform plus a summer dress and a greatcoat.
Some of the girls had sort of an oilskin sort of a jacket coat but I never ever did. I used to put just sort of a jumper underneath my shirt and overalls.
And a hat?
Hats yes. Oh we used to have a working hat but in the summer time I used to have a big hat from the sun as you can see, on the pig styes.
Was that provided or did you have to obtain…
Bought that myself yes.
Yes they gave you dress gloves.
But you didn't have any working gloves?
No. Some of the girls did I think but I never ever did get them. See we all weren't the same. I don't know for why.
What about on your feet?
Oh we had socks, woollen socks and we had gumboots when we were in the dairy of course and when we were out in the paddocks in the wet gumboots but apart from that we had lace up boots.
Ah they weren't over heavy boots. They were a nice comfortable boot but they were high boots you know and laced up.
And they gave you each a set of those?
Yes and walking shoes of course. Dress shoes. Brown dress shoes for the uniform.
And they gave you those as well?
How did that clothing compare with for example when you went out to a ball or a fancy dance?
Yes well we were supposed to
wear our uniform out. Every time we went out we were supposed to wear that but when we went to a ball we'd wear it to dances but if we went to a ball we'd dress up of course you know and titillate ourselves up a little bit.
What were some of your ball dresses like?
Oh they were lovely. I can remember this one when I was belle of the ball it was a lovely pale blue dress. Long dresses of course. Always long dresses. Always sleeves in them. No bare shoulders.
And why was that?
Oh the fashion I guess.
So right down? The sleeves came right down?
Some of them. No, a lot of short sleeves. Yeah little sort of cap sleeves they called them in those days. Just a little cap sleeve.
Now did you purchase or make those dresses?
No we purchased those ourselves. Some of us tried to make them if we were any good at sewing but we didn't have any facilities where I was.
Some of the hostels I think they had sewing machines but not where I was, no.
And there were certain rules about your hair weren't there?
Yes. Yes you had to have your hair no longer than one inch below your hat when you're out in uniform. If you had long hair you had to roll it up and under your hat.
How did you go about rolling it up to hide it?
Well I always had short hair. Yes. I never ever did have long hair.
Some of the girls hid
their hair though in different ways.
Oh yes they'd roll it up. A couple of times I had shoulder length hair. Sort of long yeah not quite shoulder length but oh you tuck it up under the hat. Somehow.
What was the style for fixing your hair when you went out on the town and make ups? Hair and make up?
Oh the hair was mainly a sort of a wave in the front and back page
boy style. There was no hair spray in those days and we used sugar and water. Melt the sugar in hot water and make a sort of a liquid and they'd comb that through the hair and that'd stay hard, that'd stay in all day long. Wouldn't move. Wouldn't move. Sugar and water.
I didn't know about that.
Yes well that's what we did.
How did you make the waves?
Oh you sort of push the
waves in a comb and push them in sort of with your fingers sort of like a Marcel wave and 'cause I knew how to do it because of my sister being a hairdresser. And your page boy you sort of have your hair with bobby pins. You sort of roll it around your finger at the back underneath and pin it and you'd leave it there until it dried and then you take the pins out and it would stay like a page boy style.
We thought it was okay. Looks terrible now but.
No it doesn't. What about make up?
Make up, just general make up. Just lipstick and powder and I always used to use conditioner. Crème conditioner for my skin. Ponds face cream it was. Always. Always Ponds face cream because of the sun and the wind.
So pretty much every day you'd put a bit of that…
Oh yes yes. After I had breakfast I'd go into my room and put it on and so I'd have it on all day and then at night time.
Put it on fresh again at night time?
Yes. Have a shower or a bath, whatever was available where you were at night.
What were those facilities like at the different farms?
The bathing facilities?
Very poor in some places.
In what way?
Oh well most of them had a bath. There weren't very many single showers like shower recesses, or none that I can recall. None at all but sometimes they had a shower over the bath. Sometimes there weren't any showers. You had to have a bath. Some places you had to carry the water, you had to boil the water outside in an old copper and carry it inside and put it in the
Were there scarcities of water?
No not that I can ever recall. No not where I was. I can't recall any scarcities any droughts. 'Cause most farms had lots of big tanks.
Now you mentioned on one particular farm, I believe it was the dairy farm, that a big bushfire came through.
Yes that was at Morwell Bridge.
Yes it began in Hearns Oak and went through the open cut of Yallourn, big open cut set got on fire and the boss was away. He was delivering his wood and I was chopping wood preparing for the boilers for the dairy and I just happened to look up and I saw the sun in a real big red ball in the smoke and I could see lots of black smoke in the distance
and then just beside me, a few feet away from me a fire began in the long grass, dry grass and I put it out and then there were fires sort of starting up everywhere with the blowing of the sparks debris (UNCLEAR) coming 'cause it was very ,very windy, hot, hot windy day and the tractor that I used to drive was there, there was a road, that dirt road came through the property in front of the house and they used to have the tractor
over the road pumping water have it on a pump, pumping water from a spring
And I don't know for why but I went over to get the tractor and I used to have two or three bags because I was so short you know and I had two or three bags on the seat and the bag on the seat was even alight. So I brought the tractor over. I don't know why I did that, but then the fire was close to the house and the lady of the house she came out and a very old timber old wooden house
and I said to her, "Go down to the dam. Take the baby down to the dam." but she wouldn't. She was a real strong, oh very strong and determined and of course we had bags, we were sort of belting these fires out with bags when they were starting up and then one of the sheds, there were lots of sheds and pig styes there of course. Old wooden sheds and that. One caught on fire and I could see that it was just going to go right through the
other sheds, oh, I thought it was going to so and the pigs were screaming and screaming so I ran and I just opened the gates for the pigs to just run wherever and went back and we were still sort of putting out these fires around the house and it went through. Took fences, took all the fences of course and sheds and how the milking sheds didn't go with the hay and that in it I don't know.
It's a strange thing fire but a lot of the farms got burned on the flats, they called them the Hazelwood flats further on. A lot of people were burnt to death 'cause they had no hope of getting out. Mostly grass fire you see it was but it was a terrible thing and the next morning when we got up the next morning oh everything was, oh it was devastating. Everything was just jet black and smouldering smoke
smouldering you know and there was a railway line that went through, the main railway line went through the property and there were sleepers on fire and the bridge was down.
So the trains were stopped for awhile?
Oh yes yes.
And you managed to save the house?
Yes managed to save the house and some of the sheds. As I say the dairy shed. It's as I say and we didn't have hoses and miracle
really because a lot of the farms just everything went and of course nobody could get through to us because there were trees down on the road already across the road and there was some men came in on horses and they sort of more or less did a lot of work for us saving what the house and the sheds, dairy sheds.
What year would this have been?
That would have been 1944.
Summer months or…
Oh it would have been summer months yes. Yes mm I forget the exact month.
Were you involved in the rebuilding efforts yourself?
No I wasn't.
But you'd saved all the cows?
Yes and oh there were dead cows and pigs and that when they were all around the property the next day and I remember it's a terrible thing really. One of the… lad that I don't know for how long after it was but
down there was a dead cow down, oh lots of dead cows and we decided to cut one open and see what it was like inside. Cut this cow to pieces. I mean a dead cow try and find out how it worked.
What did you learn from that?
I don't think we learnt anything. I was interested in working out trying to learn how where the milk came from
and we were saying you know, "Oh where does…? It must have a tube here somewhere or other." I mean when you stop and think back I mean childish thing really I guess.
Natural curiosity as well I guess.
Yes but there were dead animals everywhere and of course the milk production went down after that.
Because the cows had…
Because of the animals being burnt.
Just check my notes here.
I'll just go back to the beginning of that story
about you and Doreen when you went to a dance.
Yes and we got a ride from one of the neighbours into the dance but it was a chap and he disappeared and when it was time to come home and we thought, "Oh how are we gonna get home?" So we walked across the main road near the railway line and we were debating how we were going to get home. We had no idea. It was a long walk. Long, long
walk and quite a few miles it would have been and one of the workmen's trolleys was on the line and I looked at it and I said to Doreen, "What say we go back on the trolley and use the trolley?" and she said, "Oh we can't do that!" and I looked at it and had a look at it and I thought, "Well that looks simple enough." and I said, "Come on we'll see how we go." So we got on this trolley and we did
and we took this trolley back and of course the railway line went through the farm you see. The farm land where I was on, which we were on and there was also the railway crossing for the road it was a dirt road through from the main road to the farm and it went over the crossing of course to the farm and we stopped it just near the crossing, put the brake on and got off and just went home you see and oh there was terrible, terrible
trouble. When I say terrible trouble, they didn't know it was us but in the papers it said oh someone had you know, and could have caused a train accident and I mean, see I mean foolish, young and foolish. Oh it was a shocking thing to do. If anybody did that nowadays oh dear me.
It was in the papers?
Yes and of course we thought it was a joke. It was dreadful. Terrible thing. I mean we didn't stop to think of the
repercussions there could have been, but we got home.
Can you just explain how those carts worked again?
It's a trolley. It's like four wheels with rail wheels sort of like on the trains and it's a wooden sort of, just a little sort of a little wooden platform and it had a seat and a little back bit of a backrest and the person who activated it had this sort of a lever and they'd pull it backwards and forwards backwards and forwards and as they did that that
made the movement of the trolley. The men used to go along checking the lines (UNCLEAR) them you see.
Did you have to place it onto the track in order to use it or had it been sitting there for…
No it was already on the track but it had to go onto the, sort of around onto the main line and we sort of got out got off it and sort of oh it was very, very heavy, very, very heavy and shifted it and until it got onto the line. Doreen
often laughs about that you know. I stop and think it wasn't a laughing matter really but we didn't think so at the time. A terrible thing to happen. I mean if your kids did that today you'd murder them.
You mentioned there were some girls who coped better with Land Army life than others. What do you think were the qualities that made for a good Land Army girl?
Oh I think determination, guts and
had plenty of go in you know and was determined to keep going and not give up and sort of not give in. Not be seen to think oh you know you were a bit of a shirker [lazy].
And in turn, what were some of the qualities that might mean that someone couldn't get through it or couldn't cope so well with the work? Were there certain
types of girls that you thought "Oh that's the type of girl that won't make it?"
Yes there were, yes. Some of them, well I mean I wasn't with a lot of the girls you see so I didn't see a lot of that but I have heard you know that different ones, like Gwen, some of them thought she was a bit of a show case and they gave her a bit of a hard time.
We heard that she always had pretty ribbons in her hair.
Yes m yes. Yes oh yes she was a bit of a fashion piece you see
and 'cause the others said, "Oh she no she's not meant for this job!" but she stuck it out and even afterwards yes.
How well prepared do you think you were when you went off after that little bit of training to your first placement?
Oh I don't think you were prepared.
I don't think so. Not at all because as I say when I got off this railway siding I thought, "Oh my God what have I come to?" Just by the look of the… it's just a railway siding and miles from nowhere. Very isolated.
That was the first time that I was really badly, I was isolated.
I was going to ask you about that. They sent did a little bit of training and then they
sent you off by yourself…
Some of the girls didn't even have training. Some of them and they were so desperate for workers. Country girls didn't. They didn't have training.
It was assumed they'd already know what to do.
Looking back, how did you feel that the Land Army
managed to organise itself? How was the top level organisation of it?
Well I think they could have been better than they were. I mean supposedly they should have tested all these farmers out and wherever you went to. Apparently they did some but not all of them you know. The farmers would apply for a Land Army girl and they'd get them.
So as far as you knew there wasn't much of a screening…
No. No and I was reading in one of the books where Kitty McEwan who was the superintendent went out to went to Gippsland and I was reading in one of the books and history of it and visiting the girls in Gippsland but nobody ever came near me. Not ever at all.
Not at any of your placements?
No no no. Not at all no.
We heard yesterday from Gwen there was an incident where she ended up having to ask for a transfer due to the inappropriate conduct of the farmer and she found out later on that there'd already been a complaint against him but they'd sent another girl out.
It sounds as though that happened in your case as well.
Yes. No they didn't check them which
wasn't good but
How much did you know about that at the time about how it was organised? How it
You didn't know very much at all. You just went into there. They had the head office in the city and you just went there and they'd give you an assignment or they would contact you wherever you were and say, "You're going to such and such a place." and I mean you had no choice, you had to go. You had to go
where you were sent and stay there. No choice whatsoever.
Was there any ability to say, "Oh I'd like to stay here only a short time." or, "I wouldn't like to go to this particular type of farm." or anything like that?
Yes some of the girls did say that but I don't know if any of them did have a choice. I mean I know I didn't but I just went where I was sent. No repercussions whatsoever.
I wondered if the people on the farm especially when you got ready to leave and go to another placement if they thanked you properly?
No not at the time. I don't ever remember ever not at all. No. No. No I never ever received any. I don't suppose you'd expect it, I don't know.
They say much, give you farewell you or anything like that?
No. The one at Morwell Bridge he was a bit annoyed with me for trying to leave. I think he might have been a bit frightened or scared or something, I don't know.
That someone'd find out about him?
Yes but he did get another girl. Another girl went there but I never ever heard anything about her.
What happened with her. Never knew her.
So in retrospect I guess it seems like the training wasn't so great, to send you off by yourself?
Oh no no, definitely not. City girls, and then sent out into the wide open country and not knowing what you were going to go to well I mean we didn't know. We just oh well
you know the Land Army you work on farms I mean that's all you knew well when I say you knew well that's what you joined for, because the men had to go off the farms and go to war and someone had to do the work.
Now you mentioned earlier that you really enjoyed making girlfriends for the first time in your life.
Oh yes. Yes I did.
Can you tell me a bit more
Well the first time was at Mont Park of course. I did have girlfriends at the cigarette paper factory but not like I mean to work with not to socialise with very much but being, I guess living together see living together and being together for twenty four hours a day I guess that
was a close relationship. And we sort of had fun you'd have a laugh.
You mentioned that you were very sad when you got parted from Jean?
Yes. Yes I was because I thought, "Oh I'm going out on my own and how will I cope?" And I expected to be with them always
that didn't work out that way.
What do you think those friendships gave you that you'd been missing before?
Ah how can I explain that? Closeness. Closeness and sort of stability and trusting.
Those are pretty important things that you
hadn't had before?
Yes, that's right. M
You mentioned earlier that your growing up your childhood and the experiences that you had during those years had affected your life, your whole life.
Can you help me to understand some of the ways in which those experience experiences affected your life?
I've always sort of been withdrawn within myself
and tried not to get too close to anyone. Believing that I wasn't good enough to be with friendly with anyone. Always someone was better, I was lower than other people, not as good as other people because I didn't have the education
Okay. Yes I understand what you mean.
Did your experiences in the Land Army, making friends, did that alter some of those feelings over those war years?
Ah yes I would say it did because I was with people who I felt that
needed me. I was needed. Yes.
We can talk more about those sorts of things in a little while but I one thing that I had on my list I was quite keen to hear more about were your letters. Your letter writing
Especially to your brother that was in the POW camp
And I remember you saying you had to be very careful
about what you wrote.
Yes. 'Cause the letters when he wrote to me he would send them to my home where I lived with my sister because I was changing addresses you see and I would receive them from her you see. She would bundle them and post them on to me but letter writing was one of the main things that I did to yes to family and
Was it one of the main activities you did in the evenings?
Yes and write to a lot of soldiers and it was mainly soldiers really, yes.
Ones you knew and ones you didn't?
Ah very few I knew. Acquaintances or brothers of people I knew
and just write oh everyday things and what you were doing.
And about how many letters would you write in a given week?
Oh three or four I'd say 'cause I used to love receiving letters. I used to love receiving letters.
those came in, did they always come to your sister's house or sometimes straight to the farms you were on?
Yes sometimes, all depends where they were sent to, but to my brothers overseas of course, or any letters that I sent overseas that was always my sister's address and then she would resend them to me.
How did you get the names and addresses or just names and battalion numbers and service numbers of the soldiers that you
wrote to when you didn't know them?
Oh from acquaintances and sometimes in the different papers someone looking for a pen pal, they called them pen pals in those days. Yes someone who wasn't receiving letters and like Megsy Power for instance yes.
You mentioned that he was very grateful when he met you again?
Yes he seemed to be
and I was too you know. Very happy to meet him because writing to a person you feel as though you if you get to know them very well through letter writing.
There were quite a few letter writing romances that we've heard about from various people. They developed some
relationships over them.
Yes well that happened to my brother you see that was in the prison camp.
And he had never met this girl before the war?
No no. She started to write to him. She was
a nurse and she lived in Castlemaine and worked in Castlemaine and soon after he came home because he came and stayed at my sister's where I was and he said to me he said, "Oh, I'm going up to see my girlfriend." and I said, "What girlfriend?" and he said, "Oh, Castlemaine." He told me about her and he went to meet her.
Was it love at first sight?
Oh I think it mighta been, yeah.
Yes I think it may have been.
How long was it before they married?
Ah they were married in '46 'cause I was married in '47 that's right yes and she was having her baby when I was married 'cause she was in hospital. Yes that's right because I was bridesmaid at the wedding.
I remember you said that
when your brother came home from the POW camp in Europe it was one of the happiest days of your life.
I wonder if you can describe that event?
I didn't think I'd ever see him again of course and the troops were arriving back home and apparently they were coming down from Sydney on troop trains and we had to go to Royal Park and I know my mother came. She was up in the country and she came down and she and I there and waiting all day. These different troop trains would come in and you were hoping, you weren't sure which train
they would be on and was finally a very late afternoon when he finally arrived and it was just oh wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Not for thinking that I'd never ever see him again you know you think, "Oh he's a prisoner of war and that's the finish." and it was a long time.
How did he look?
Ah he looked good. When I say he looked good he was very short though.
His nickname was "Shorty" and because he'd had time to, I forget I can't remember exactly how long it was since he'd left the prison camp until the time he arrived home but they were fed and yes, he looked okay.
You knew him straightaway? You didn't have any trouble recognising him after the war?
Ah no I didn't.
And then what happened when you
when you saw each other and hugged each other?
Well we left we left Royal Park then and we went to my sister's in Prahran and then my mother she must have gone back to the country. Yes she did when she went back up to the country he stayed at my sister's for a while. When I say a while I think oh probably would have been a week or two and then he went to Castlemaine and then he did a repatriation course
well Veterans’ Affairs, brick laying. He did a course and then he became a qualified brick layer and that was what his work was.
Must have been challenging for him to resettle after…
…come back to civilian life after four and a half years wasn't it?
Yes that's right.
…as a POW.
Can you tell me about how he coped in those early weeks and even months after coming back?
Well he seemed to cope, he seemed
to, and all he wanted to do was to get a job and he decided he was going to marry this girl and he had to do his training of course with the… but I don't know for exactly how long it was for a brick layer but no sooner he was working and then he was working for himself. So he worked himself up
and he had a very happy marriage. Had three daughters.
So it worked out well with his pen pal?
Yes it did yes.
I remember you saying to Ianto [interviewer] that he didn't speak a lot about his POW experiences.
No he didn't. Not at all.
I believe you told us off camera about the tapes of the interview that he did late in life.
Would you tell us about that again?
Oh it was about his life story from when he was
born and different things growing up and as a child and when he went to the farm and how he went to the army and went to the… and how he was one of the early ones to go away and he was taken prisoner and a few of his prisoner of war episodes.
And you didn't get to hear those tapes until well after his death?
No, only about four or six weeks ago.
Must have been quite emotional hearing what he went through.
Oh I was shocked really to hear it, yes.
So he was quite honest in the tapes about what it was like to be a POW?
Yes yes. Yes. Terrible things happened you know. It was dreadful.
You mentioned that was surprising to you. Was there very little of
that knowledge was coming back to Australia, at least during the war?
No well we heard a lot about the Japanese the prisoners of war and I've heard lots of people say,"Oh they weren't too bad in Germany. but by listening to these tapes you know that a few of the things that he said. It was pretty horrific. They were marched along the roads and people dying beside them and they had to bury a lot of people that some of them dig trenches and
bury the bodies and some that weren't even dead and then he was at this rail station and the bombs were coming down and bombing the trains and there was one with a lot of parcels in them and he and a mate decided to escape and they got some parcels and they knew they'd have to have some food too and they escaped out into this forest and the next thing these bombs were coming and he said it was even shelling the
bark off the trees and they were caught again. Yes. Sounded pretty horrific.
So he had escaped and then been returned back to another
Apparently they were changed from one camp to another. They kept changing them. Sometimes they'd go by train. Sometimes they'd march them.
We have heard a bit about that from other POWs in Europe, that they moved around a bit.
Yes and they seemed to move them around a fair bit and one day I at one stage I think it was six days he had biscuits, just two biscuits for six days and they were made out of flour and water. He said they were pretty big biscuits.
You'd want them to be.
How do you think this POW experience
affected the rest of his life?
Well not living with him I couldn't say. He was a very happy little fella. Very happy little fella really he was but he was very involved with his mates and his battalion always and he did some work with the prisoners.
Some voluntary work with prisoners in the gaol up at Castlemaine.
That's really interesting.
Do you know what sort of work it was?
Oh sort of a welfare work trying to put them on the right track. I don't know a great lot about it but I just talked to him a small amount about that. I'm sorry I didn't talk to him more about it. 'Cuse he befriended quite a few of them but then sometimes a couple of them turned
on him again yes but the majority you know he helped them.
Interviewee: Nancy Ormsby Archive ID 0211 Tape 07
We were just speaking about the decision that had to be made at the beginning of enlistment in the AWLA
which was whether you wanted to go in for twelve months or the duration of the war.
Can you tell me about your situation?
Yes, well when I wanted to join my guardian, my brother-in-law, didn't want me to go into the Land Army. He thought like a lot of people he thought it was below young girls to do that sort of work
and of course I insisted and I can see him now with the papers in front of him and he was filling it in and he said, "Duration twelve months or the duration." I said, "Ooh the duration." and he said, "No. No no no no." He said "Twelve months." so he put twelve months down but I had an idea in my mind that I could have gone on you see when the twelve months was up, which I did.
Now from your
enlistment, when your twelve months were up when was that in relation to the end of the war?
The twelve months. Well I joined in '43 and the twelve months in was in '44 and I rejoined until '45, May '45 and then rejoined again.
So you rejoined twice?
And then you didn't get out 'til '46?
No 'til December '45.
Mm. Some of the
girls didn't get out until '46. That's why we have '46 on our banner. People say, "Why is it '46?" I say, "Well a lot of them weren't disbanded until '46.”
What was it that made you decide to re-enlist? To re-enrol?
Oh well I enjoyed what I was doing. I knew that I was doing a job that had to be done, it was a job that had to be done and someone had to do it
and I mean felt that there (UNCLEAR) you couldn't give up because you were shirking your responsibilities sort of. That's how I felt and I couldn't give up now.
Sounds as though part of you began to enjoy the country a bit?
Yes yes yes, I did.
What was it about country life that were your favourite things?
Oh it was so free and
you could be yourself and no you weren't tied down and no discipline to a certain extent, well I mean there's no discipline, I mean you knew you had your job to do and you did your job but I mean there was no pressure. No pressure on you. Stress, no stress. No stress whatsoever.
As long as you did your work?
Yes, yes. I was never stressed out. I don't ever remember being stressed out with any work at all. I mean you had a job to do and it was done and I mean you didn't have any special or certain times time to do it. I mean you had to milk the cows and it was just automatic what you did and because it just went through automatically sort of more or less with your time.
Sounds like you had some animals that you really cared about as well?
Oh yes, yes. I liked the cows and even liked the pigs. Get to like the pigs.
What made you like them?
Oh I don't know. Got used to them I guess. Used to talk to them. When I was feeding them and cleaning their styes.
believe that pigs are intelligent?
Oh to a certain extent yes.
What was your favourite job within the Land Army? Of all the years you were in?
The favourite, I would say milking the cows in the dairy.
And what was it about that that you enjoyed?
Oh I used to talk to the cows and I'd
talk to them and pat them and give them a hug and felt they were dependent on you.
I suppose on the other hand, what was your least favourite job in all the farms you were on?
Fencing. I didn't like that. Fencing. When I say fencing, making fences and mending fences and like barbed wire
it was. I wasn't over strong you know. You had a wire strainer that you had to use and the wire would break and no, I wasn't over keen on that. Or chopping wood. I mean that was an everyday occurrence, you had to chop wood.
You felt so-so about chopping wood?
Yeah I used to do it of course, but sometimes it was a bit hard you know. I wouldn't say I was over strong because I
was much smaller than what I am now.
I was gonna say, I don't know quite how you managed to chop wood. That's fantastic.
It's amazing what you do, you know. What we did do. Yes.
The fence post digging is very hard.
Oh yes well in those days it was dig by a shovel, they didn't have machines like they have nowadays. That was hard work. Very hard work.
Well and bits of regional Victoria are quite rocky aren't they?
Yes, that's right.
How were the properties you were on in terms of the soil?
Ah no they weren't too bad. Weren't too bad as far as rocks were concerned. Not too bad at all. It was up there in Gippsland but wasn't too bad.
You were describing to me before the space you were in, the longest I think which was with Pat at the dairy farm.
Your accommodation, it was not too fancy.
No it certainly wasn't.
There was just the
Yes it was the old original homestead with two rooms. There were two rooms and a little verandah on the front, like a little old fashioned country homestead, and there was one door and one door went into one room and then there was another door from that room into another room and we slept in this other room, or the one off and there were two windows. There was one window, small windows, for each room
but no glass. No glass m and there was no door on the door. When I say there was no door on the door it sounds stupid doesn't it, but there was no door where the doorway should have been mm.
And no heat and no running water?
Oh no, nothing like that. No there was nothing. There was just nothing in it.
And you just had one little kero[sene] lamp I think you said?
Yeah it was a torch. We used to have a torch.
So in the evenings, did you have to spend your evenings in there?
Yeah we used to stay in sometimes after tea in the house, although not very often because by the time we got tea and if we waited for the cook the lady to cook it or if we got it ourselves well if we got it ourselves we did the washing if we cooked ourselves well we cooked for the whole family. You weren't supposed to do any cooking but I mean you had to do in this place to eat.
So by the time you did that?
Well it was ready for bed time.
Did didn't have much leisure time at all?
No. Oh no.
I was wondering what sorts of food you cooked?
Oh mostly stews. Ah we’d have chops. They used to kill their own sheep and have lamb chops.
Sausages. Just very plain, easy meals and vegetables of course. Always plenty of vegetables on farms.
You certainly learned a lot of skills during those years.
Oh yes there were.
You mentioned that some of the farmers' wives were good cooks and this woman
for example was terrible.
Yes, this one in particular yes. Yes she
wasn't a good 'cause she wasn't a full time full time housekeeper at all. Very slow.
What were the qualities that made for a good cook during those years? Was it flavour or imagination or…
I'd say imagination. You wouldn't use a recipe, you sort of just had
a little bit of this and a little bit of that and good old big old pot of soup would be good but of course we couldn't do that very often because it took too long to cook you see. Sometimes we'd make up and we'd cut up the vegetables and put a pot of soup on after the meal at night and just leave it on the stove and of course because it was a fire stove it wouldn't over cook sort of thing, just sort of simmer.
It'd be alright for the next day then especially for lunchtime.
Sounds like you really had to look out for yourselves in every way.
Did you gain weight or lose weight during the war years?
No I just stayed the same weight. I was about seven and a half stone and just stayed the same weight. Weight was never an issue.
I mean not at all.
That's interesting ‘cause some people have told us that during the war they lost weight due to rationing or during war conditions or whatever and other people have told us they gained a bit in the Land Army going out onto the land and having eggs and…
Oh yes. Oh no I think because of the exercise, when I say the exercise the work you did was hard, well it was solid exercise really.
How did rations affect, if at all, affect your life during the Land Army years?
Not so much the food, because being on a farm we'd hand our coupons in for the meat and the flour and the sugar and the butter of course for the farmers but clothing, if you had the coupons you didn't have the money and if you had the money you didn't have the coupons
sometimes. You used to swap sometimes but of course we didn't have very much money to buy clothes and we didn't buy very many clothes because we didn't need a lot of clothes. Because well just the money that we did get we'd buy our own cosmetics and personal things and our stamps and writing paper and envelopes, things like
that. Try and save perhaps ten shillings a week, if you were lucky.
What was the pay overall?
Two pound a week and our keep we got. Some of the girls that worked on the different areas I think the flax I think they got more, I think up to three pound. Was it three pound? Thirty shillings. Most of us got two pound a week and your keep,
so that two pound was for entertainment. I mean you go to a dance and it was two and six.
Yes, what did some of those recreations like recreational activities cost you?
Not very much at all really. You'd go to see a film for two shillings. Two shillings and sixpence.
What about going out for a meal?
Oh you never went out for a meal.
Even lunches in the town? Didn't get to do that much. Go into town and have a lunch?
Oh well when you were in the city? When you were in the city oh you'd go out into the cafes they called them cafes in those days. A lot of cafes in Swanston Street there were. A lot of cafes and you go in and have a cup of tea and a sandwich. They didn't have the pasta and all those sort of
things that they have now you know.
What would that cost?
Oh about two shillings, one shilling. All depends.
So you were trying quite hard to save during this…
Yes I think a cake of soap used to cost sixpence and a tin of powder probably about a shilling.
And clothing, when you did get to buy it?
When you did get to buy it not over expensive. You could buy a frock perhaps for five shillings and ten shillings. That was a good one.
What about shoes? They were a bit difficult to come by I've heard you say?
Yes they were. Well you bought a pair of shoes and that was one pair of shoes and you
didn't have two or three pairs of shoes or more but one pair of shoes you wore. Perhaps you had one for every day and one for going out, but no more.
In terms of saving and trying to save up while you were in the Land Army what did you hope that you were saving up for?
For a future. For the future. ‘Cause in those days well
after the war or like during the war you were lucky to be able to save something out of your two pound a week well for the future whatever as far as looking forward to buying a house, that was just a no-no in those days. That was just a big no-no. No you'd never own a house.
Perhaps some of the people that you know earnt more money they would have they would look towards that future you know of buying a home.
So you didn't let yourself dream about having your own home?
No oh no. When you got married well you'd rent a home somewhere. You'd find a house somewhere to rent.
When you say "saving for the future"
what did you envision and what you did dream of for your own future after the war?
Getting married and having four children, which I didn't think would ever eventuate.
You had that in your mind as the ideal?
Yeah I'd like to get married and have four children but I didn't think that would ever eventuate.
Four was like a perfect number to you?
I don't know for why but yes.
Was your dream similar to that of your friends?
Some of them wanted to travel. Some of them wished to travel 'cause it was by ship in those days too. Some of them did. Those that didn't get married although some of them that got married did.
Where was it that the girls some of these young women were keen to go?
They felt a real tie back to…
Yes. Yes, England which some of them did do.
I recall you saying you were very happy when you did get your own home. It was a dream come true.
Oh yes it was. Didn't think that would ever eventuate in my lifetime.
When you were quite young did you have different dreams
what you hoped? I mean you didn't know there'd be a war for example. Did you have different ideas about what you hoped would happen?
Ah yes I wanted to grow up to be a nice young lady and have a nice job somewhere in a shop. In a clothing shop. I don't know for why but yes.
That appealed to you
when you were still school age?
Still school age.
I was going to ask about…
Or a nurse. I wanted I wanted always wanted to be a nurse yes. I always had ambitions to be a nurse but to train to be a nurse you had to pay a hundred pound in those days.
Before or after the war?
Oh it was when I was young I always had a fancy to be
So around the time of the war it was a hundred pound?
Yes and then after the war I still thought I'd like to be a nurse.
And after the war was it finances that prevented that or other reasons?
Yes finances and then of course I went to Yallourn and met my future husband. Well I was twenty two when I got married.
I was going to ask you a little bit more about just certain things aspects of what you had during childhood. I know that was really hard. You mentioned that you wanted to perhaps be in a shop, in a clothing shop, I wondered did you have a lack of clothing?
Oh yes I never had any new clothes. Ever. I had always had hand-me-downs from somebody else. People would give my mother clothes for us
but I never remember having new clothes. I always remember when I was with my sister in Prahran she took me into the city one day and I remember I bought a little two piece floral suit. I can see it now. I thought it was beautiful.
That was very special.
Yes and she advised me then on
what clothes to buy when I was working.
How old were you at that stage? Fifteen?
Oh I was about fifteen when I went with her to live with her and that was before the Land Army.
And I suppose you wouldn't have had a chance to have many personal items, toys or little things that you carried with you through those childhood years?
Oh no. No. I remember I had
a doll, I wanted a doll and my brother and I we used to go down scrounging around the tip and we found this doll's head. It was a broken doll and it was a doll's head and she had beautiful long hair and I took that home and I had this shoe box and I tied string on it and I used to pull that along and I used to put this doll's head and
pretend to try and dress it up and then I got a stick and I stuck the stick in the head where the body had been and to make to try and make a body and I got some newspaper and rolled some newspaper and made arms and legs and I used to cut old bits of rags up and try and make clothes. I used to try and I liked needlework.
I liked to try and I was never taught. My mother I can remember my mother did show me how to do embroidery doily at one stage a and I've always done craft all my life or when I say all my life since you know later years and still do but 'cause my sister always used to say you get that from grandma but I know I had this
doll I had and I loved it. It was a doll's head and I made the rest of it myself and I used to pull it along with a string and then my brother found a spinning top and it was a girl's top, 'cause the girls had different tops to the boys. They were different shapes and he found this girl's top and gave it to me and I loved that top and I used to play marbles.
I used to play marbles at one school I was at and the boys used to used to play against others and they used to play for winners. "Winners is keeps." they'd say and I remember these boys used to play marbles and take all my marbles until one day my brother bashed them up and took the marbles back. He was very protective of me mm, but no toys,
we used to make billy carts. Our own billy carts. You know we'd get old wheels and pieces of wood and make billy carts. Never had bikes or dolls prams or anything like that.
How did you put the wheels onto the billy carts?
With nails. Well sort of a screw. The screws were better because the wheel would go around. Just get an old mostly banana boxes. The banana boxes in those days were sort of big boxes
and we'd take the top layer of wood because they were very deep, we'd take the top layer of wood make it more shallow and we'd put a long piece of wood under that nail that on the bottom and then put two pieces across, one for the back wheels and one for the front wheels. The wheels were never, they never matched 'cause we didn't buy them you know. We used to scrounge them around at the
tips mainly and find them around in dumps, rubbish dumps. People were throwing them away. You were lucky if you had four wheels the same. Then we used to run around with these billy carts and push each other up and down the street in these billy carts.
Mainly you and your brother?
Yes mainly my brother and I yeah. Yes we played a lot together.
How were the girls' tops different from the boys tops?
It was flatter.
It had was more flatter and stumpier. It had a large round top and we used to colour them. We used to with pastel we'd sort of do different colours and of course when they were spinning they looked pretty and the boys' were sort of a more of a pointy shape sort of more of a peggy sort of a shape and they would put the string around theirs and sort of throw it and it'd spin but the girls, we had a sort of a piece of string on a stick and we used to whip them, we used to
hit them, whip at them. We'd let them go off the string and then we'd hit keep hitting them with the, to keep them spinning.
The boys didn't do that?
No they no they had a different shape altogether.
So they just pulled the string?
They'd pull theirs yes and their would spin for much longer than our sort of shorter dumpier ones. I can see them now yes and we used to play hopscotch.
Was that where you draw on the ground?
Yeah draw on the
ground or hop.
Yeah the numbers and you'd have a piece of broken tile or something and you'd use that for a ‘tor’ what you called a ‘tor’ and you'd throw it in different squares and you'd jump and and sometimes I'd play skippy with, I played skippy at school with the girls.
Skipping rope yes.
What other activities during recess when you were in school?
Well I remember at one school I was at the Pearsdale School they had a lot of pine trees around the school and there was all these dried pine needles and we used to get them and we'd sort of bunch them up and we'd make little houses pretending. Like we'd sort of bunch them up and make them into straight lines and curves and make houses and we'd get all little bits and pieces of broken crockery and that sort of thing and use it as for chairs and tables and
all that sort of thing. That was a great thing at I can remember at that school we used to do that until somebody'd come along and kick your walls down or something like that you know. We'd call 'em walls.
And I liked to play basketball there at that school and rounders. I used to like rounders, playing with rounders at school.
Can you explain rounders?
Yeah rounders is a little bat, sort of a little miniature cricket
bat and you have a base and somebody stands a certain distance away from you and throws the ball to you and you hit it and when you hit it I think it might be a bit like soft ball they call nowadays and you run around you know to different areas. Then you get back home if you're lucky. If you're not hit out and or caught out.
What were your favourite subjects at school?
Oh I loved spelling and history, geography.
What was it that you especially enjoyed about those subjects?
Oh I learnt I learnt a lot.
I felt although I didn't have a chance to learn a great lot but I felt I was as if I was learning.
What do you think from your primary school days and then again from your time in the Land Army, what skills were the most useful later on in your life?
Sort of well perhaps looking after
myself. Doing things for myself. Not very many skills at all really did I have.
You mentioned you become a good cook.
Oh yes oh on these farms I did yes. I learned to cook and I think it was a good
grounding to become a good house wife. I considered myself a good housewife learning and how to do things and how what not to how to do them and that, scrub the floors on your hands and knees and polish the floors on your hands and knees.
You were looking after kids at quite a young age too
Yes. Yes I was looking after the kids and making
sure that they didn't get into any mischief and helping them. Used to read to them.
How did that influence your later role in raising your own children do you think?
Ah well I felt it gave me a bit of a grounding I really do. Even as young as oh I was yes.
You learned a bit about how to handle difficult situations.
Yes I'd say so. If the kids had a fight and you know I would sort of talk to them and explain to them what they should, how they should teach treat each other and shouldn't do this and why they shouldn't do it and why they should do it and why they shouldn't do it and how to do it and it wasn't good to do it and share.
When you were growing up and going to school, did you hear much about the First World War?
No, not a lot. No. No I don't remember. All I can remember was I had an uncle, one of my mother's brothers, was killed in the First World War and I think that's about all that I could sort of remember much about.
Do you remember people speaking then in the late '30s really do you remember anyone talking about whether there would be another world war or there could be another world war? That sort of thing?
I can remember then yes I can remember saying, "Oh there's going to be another war." but of course you're sort of too young I guess to realise the situation of how serious it could be and when the war did start never realising ever that it would last for six years. I mean six
years is a long, long time when you look back. A long, long time for a country to be at war. I feel anyway.
Some people have told us that they felt like those six years they sort of they missed out on having a normal life…
…During that time. Other people have said they've benefited from what they learned during that time. What is your perspective on what those six years meant?
yes well I did learn a lot of course be being outside and working. Yes I did learn. I learnt about countries of course. Countries I've never ever heard of before. Yes I'd say I benefited mm. I know some people say it was six years out of their lives you know.
Well it would have been too, especially the men that were away fighting for those six years well definitely. I mean it was, but I felt I did benefit by learning to grow up perhaps.
Did you feel that you'd missed out on anything in particular over those years?
No I don't feel I did. No not really. Perhaps family life,
a close family life perhaps because I was with my sister. I could have had some very happy years I know. If I had have been with her, with her family which sort of perhaps made up for the earlier years.
Yes. You didn't get that much time to be happy in the family life
With your older sister
Before the war.
Not a great no. No.
The couple of years I did have it was it was wonderful really. 'Cause she was as I say a hairdresser and she loved the theatre. She loved the theatre and I'd help her in the shop on a Saturday morning and she'd race and 'cause the shops would close at twelve o'clock and we'd go into the city and we'd go to see a film and we'd have dinner in town, which was a big, big thing for me. Oh that was a wonderful thing for me 'cause she
would pay for it all and then we'd go to see, if there was a live show on we'd see a live show in the evening or we'd see another film. She was very keen on theatre and then Sundays in the good weather she bought me a bike for a birthday and she had a bike and we'd go off and ride down around the beach and take our lunch with us for the day and I enjoyed that.
Oh yes. Sounds wonderful.
Oh that was, yes.
What were some of the shows that you saw?
Oh some of the live shows. Gladys Moncrieff and 'The Merry Widow' and oh let me stop and think I've got to stop and think. We saw all of her, all the live shows that came on. I remember there was Max Oldacre, he was an actor, saw him in different shows. Used to go to the Tivoli
and Marilyn Monroe, saw her in films and my sister used to write to the film stars, 'cause I've got a few photos of them that they'd sent to her with their name on you know yes, but she was really keen.
So when you went to the live shows you saw both sort of what they called variety Shows.
You also saw plays? Actual plays rather than variety. Did you see both kinds?
No mostly musicals. Yeah (UNCLEAR) saying mostly musicals yeah. 'The Merry Widow' and although 'The Merry Widow' wasn't, yes 'The Merry Widow' yes I remember that Gladys Moncrieff was in that.
Must have been very exciting?
Yes it was, especially for me, because I hadn't seen anything like that in my life time you see.
Did people dress up quite a bit to go to the theatre?
Yes. Yes they did.
What sort of outfits would the women wear?
dressy, A nice dress. Shoes and stockings and gloves but if you did go into the city like and if you weren't going if you just went into the city shopping or browsing you always wear a hat and gloves. Nice dress and shoes and stockings.
People don't quite follow that today do they?
No they certainly don't. They can get away with anything nowadays can't you? Anything yes.
So was that the first time in your life you'd had some nice clothes?
Oh yes. Oh yes, definitely. I felt very proud and privileged. Yes I did. She looked after me you know.
We're just about at the end of this tape, were there other recreational activities that you did when you were living with Frances and her family?
Ah she had some friends that lived up in the Bell Grove, the Patch up in Clyster and we used to go up there 'cause her son used he was there of course you know and we used to have some fun times up there. Great fun times up there.
What sort of activities?
Oh we'd just go for walks and play around with the ball and the man that lived there, we called him Uncle Fred, he used to grow carrots and vegetables and we used to have to go and pick these carrots and vegetables and that at times, but Rick wo he would go off playing
and then when I'd got a bucket of carrots he'd come down and say to Uncle Fred, "We picked a bucket of carrots Uncle Fred." and he'd give him an apple and an apricot, something for both of us but I didn't ever get it. He cottoned on to the both of them. Yeah bit of a character was our Rick but yes we had some fun and when I was with my sister I used to go to the pictures with him sometimes. He and his mates or just him alone
during the week.
Interviewee: Nancy Ormsby Archive ID 0211 Tape 08
Just like to ask you about the amenities van, the Land Army amen amenities van that came 'round to the different locations.
Yes I think that was from Red Cross if I recall rightly. I could be wrong, but I think it was Red Cross.
So that was separate from the AWLA? It wasn't…
…organised by them? Oh.
Yes it went through the Land Army 'cause they would give them the addresses of the girls where they were you see but it did come to me, yes. They'd bring
cigarettes, which I didn't smoke, but cigarettes and personal things you know cosmetics and I always used to buy the Cashmere Bouquet soap. Loved it, and the Ponds nourishing cream of course, yes, and chocolates. Sometimes they'd have chocolates and lollies, yeah. A chocolate'd be about fivepence, fivepence and
all depends what it was. Some things were a penny.
Were the prices cheaper than they were in the shops in the city or the same?
Oh about the same. About the same they were yes.
What did you do when aspects of you uniform wore out or became damaged?
Oh you had to write a letter and request a replacement.
And how long would that take?
all depends. All depends what it was, and you'd have to send your boots away and they'd mend them. There was a bit of a delay there at one stage of having the boots mended they wouldn't replace them unless they were just completely you know unrepairable.
And what would you wear in the meantime?
Oh you you'd wear your gumboots. Just wear your gumboots all the time.
Did you go through many pairs of shoes or clothing during your time?
No I was very easy on them, and I still am. Very easy on shoes and boots, yes. No I didn't go through a lot at all. I'd say a pair of boots would have lasted me about at least a year.
What do you think the physical activity of the Land Army, how do you think that affected you in those years?
Ah well I don't
think it did affect me at all really. Although I'm full of arthritis now and they say it's wear and tear on the body you know. Hard work and wear and tear on the body. It amazes me now that what I did do. You know when I think back, the things that I did do. I never had any problems; I never had any illness at all. I never had any sick leave ever.
I was never sick or injured in any way. If I was injured with my cut fingers and sore cracks and the hands were terrible but you know you sort of put up with that but I was very fortunate I didn't have any medical problems.
Did they give you any or did you have any appropriate cream for your hands when they got bad?
No, what I used to do was, the lady of the house told me, sugar and mutton fat. Rub them in together and that was that was good.
Just get the sugar and sort of mix it in with mutton fat and I think the sugar was to break the roughness on the skin and the fat was to moisturise it.
But after I got over the initial being in the dairy because your hands are wet you know most of the time and 'cause you can't dry them of course, no drying, and after I got over the initial wear and tear of that well they sort of settled down after awhile 'cause I did use this mutton fat and sugar all the time. All the time, every day, on my hands and so I think that perhaps helped.
Any other changes in you that you saw over those years?
No, not really. I suffer with a very bad back now but I did have a fall when down the stairs and hurt my back and I sort of did have a few back problems from then on like I had a sore back from different times from then on, especially when I'd sort of been
moving because I'd have to move bags of wheat and bags of wheat were very, very big and not even the men could lift those, but they used to stack them up in the shed because they used that for feed for the pigs and I had a big hook, big steel hook and I would climb up the pile of bags and I'd sort of get the hook and insert it into the side of the bag and try and manipulate
until the bag moved and you'd get out of its way and let it fall to the ground and then you would try and after a long time you'd manage to stand it up on its end and then you would open the top of it and get the wheat out that way but I used to hurt my back used to hurt doing that.
Any remedies for that? For your back hurting?
No, I used to rub Rexona deep heat
I think it was called, into my back, with great difficulty.
We've spoken about this a little bit as we've gone along but how do you think the war years particularly your time in the Land Army, how do you think that changed you?
I think it changed me from being a child to a more mature person. I really do think that.
And you felt that was helpful for the rest of your life?
Now what can you tell me about the formation of the Land Army? I know you've been very active in later years with reunions and getting recognition and marching. It’d be nice to know what information you do have
about the initial set up.
Set up. Forming of it, yes well there was an Englishwomen's Land Army and of course once the men started going away to the war from Australia they were leaving the farms and all the rural areas, industries and the country was desperate, they were very, very desperate for workers and they were so desperate that some of the
the farmers and rural owners of the orchards and things tried to get the men back you see but I mean that was impossible of course to get them out of the services and so it was then the government stepped in and they got together and they decided to form the, well first of all it was called the CWA Land Army, sort of girls went from the Country Women's Association and girls went and
worked and then the government decided to form this Australian Women's Land Army. And this is what they did.
Now do you know why when it was initially set up it wasn't set up as a fourth service?
No, I don't know why it was because they just set it up as a civilian service. Volunteers
that you volunteered your time. Well I mean I feel that other services they volunteered their services but that was called enlistment, it was called enlistment, they enlisted. Well what's the difference with volunteering and enlisting? But that didn't worry me, that didn't worry me at the time at all but when we heard that there was legislation going through government that we were going
to be classified and registered as a fourth women's service it was good but of course the war ended and that was it. And it was through Manpower [employment controlling department during the war] through the government Manpower that sort of formed it more or less.
AWLA was part
of the Manpower effort you're saying?
Well the Manpower sort of run the country when I say as far as they, because people in essential services some of them had to, they weren't allowed to go into the army because I mean there were certain essential services had to stay here you see. Well I mean farmers and the rural workers were essential services as far as well as far as I could see but of course the men enlisted and went
went away to the war and as I say the country was desperate for workers, and going by history now, they couldn't have done without the Land Army girls, and you hear of the stories of the some of the farmers and they were all you know the orchards and flax, especially the flax area that was a big that was
a big thing, yes. They couldn't get workers to work on the flax.
Now when the war finished, did it feel as though you all just disbanded very quickly? Went your own ways?
Well that was it, yes. You were never ever heard of again. Nothing. That was the finish.
Were you at all recognised by the government?
No, no no no. Not at all.
And can you describe to me what happened after the passing of well forty years or so, before the movement reignited and you had a reunion again and then much later again got a medal of your own, can you describe to me that that process?
Where from, the years between?
What happened after those many years in between?
Oh after those many years, well as I say we sort of formed our association again
and became active and got to be known. A lot of the young people that were doing their VCEs [Victorian Certificate of Education] I've done a lot of interviews with different young people and of course they'd never ever heard of the Land Army you see and they were very, very interested. Well most people were interested and you know "What did you do?" sort of
you know "We didn't realise." you know. Even some of the other servicewomen so "We didn't realise what you did."
How many years was it exactly before you reformed? Was it about forty?
It was '86. 1986.
So from '46 to '86?
And what brought about the petition to receive your own medal? Do you know what brought that about?
To receive your own medal that you got just a couple of years ago.
The civilian service medal? We didn't know we were going to get it. We didn't know that it was in the pipeline at all until we received information to say that we were going to receive a civilian service medal.
How did the women who had served in the Land Army feel about that?
A lot were very happy about it, but a lot of us thought, "Well" you know
"It’s nice to get it, nice to receive it, but it's a bit late." It's a bit late but we were very happy when the RSL accepted us as full members.
And approximately how long did that take again?
Oh that was in 1992. It went through state conferences for a few years and it was knocked back
and there was a lady, the president of the New South Wales group and she was sort of pushing it and working on it for quite a long time and there was a federal conference and it was finally decided to accept the Land Army and that was after we'd began marching. It was in 1987 when we had our first march and it was '92 when the RSL accepted us as full members.
You've touched upon this before but I’d just like to know more about what has it meant to you to be so involved in the reunion groups for the Land Army in these later years? What has that meant to you?
It means a lot. It means that we feel that we've been recognised to a certain degree with some people. And of course the cam camaraderie that we have
with our members, with each one. You know we're a very close knit group because we know that we weren't accepted and so very happy to be able to be received, especially from Veterans’ Affairs. When I say Veterans’ Affairs they have accepted, oh I receive invitations to all sorts of functions and different things
which is good, but sometimes you're at these functions and somebody'll be standing beside you and'll say, "What were you in?" "I was in the Land Army." "Oh." People will say and then some people'll say, "Oh you did a good job." and we have a plaque over at the repatriation hospital on a big rock in the remembrance garden now.
Do you think some of the other services, both male and female; have looked down upon the Land Army?
Yes I wouldn't say the male side of it. Some of the female, yes. Yes, definitely.
There's a sense of…
Yes because I have even had it said to me, "Oh you didn't do much." I mean they don't
know. They wouldn't have a clue, they wouldn't know what we did but when some of them find out what we did do they say, "Oh you know I didn't realise that the work you did. You did more than us." some of them say.
Do you feel that the attitudes have been changing? Especially towards the Land Army, attitudes have been changing just in recent years?
Oh yes, yes. I'd say so, yes. Especially with the public. Especially with the public, the great accolades we get on the commemoration march during the commemoration march that’s just absolutely wonderful. And as I say we are recognised by different associations, like receive invitations to different things.
You've got some very lasting friendships from the Land Army?
Oh yes, yes. Definitely. As I say I still have friends that I was with during the during the war days and girls that I have met since, like since we have reformed you have a lot in common.
How often do you get together now?
Oh we get together, we have a
meeting about once every three months and we sometimes we have functions in between. We have an annual reunion, the ex-servicewomen invite us to, they are ex-service women's association, they are not the Melbourne ones, the country. Not the Melbourne, never, have but the Melbourne have a sub-branch but the country ex-service women's association they invite us to their different reunions, which we go to. We've been to every one, I went to Swan Hill
this year, and there's another one in Warrnambool coming up.
You've done quite a lot of social sort of activities and trips as well.
Oh yes we have. Oh yes we've been interstate a lot. To a lot of different places interstate.
Seems to provide a very special outlet for the women who are involved?
Yes well it is and as we feel between ourselves that
we are accepted among ourselves we do, yes.
You've been very involved in community life over the years. What has prompted or motivated you to be so involved in lots of work, your hospital visitation and the Land Army, you're Victorian president currently, what has prompted that for you?
and helping others. I mean when I was small I always had a soft spot for older people and always taught my children to always treat old people with care. It’s not so much the older people. I mean I've visited hospitals, I've been involved with the mental
hospital visitations and visiting people and taking some of the old people to hospital appointments and all sorts of things, to hospitals and helping them in their homes and I've slowed down now because of my health but I'm still active in four different clubs, and yes I I'm keeping active 'cause I know that that's what that's part of life but
I like doing things for other people. People say, "You're always…" people are always saying to me, "Slow down, slow down," you're doing too much for other people." I visit some people in nursing homes and I'll sort of plan my days. I'll think, "Oh I'll go and see so and so tomorrow." and then when tomorrow comes I think, "Oh gee I can't be bothered going." and then oh I push myself and I do go and I feel ten foot tall after I've been you know that
yes and I'm always taking people 'round here there and everywhere.
You're still driving a lot?
Oh yeah oh yes I am. Yes I drive up to the country and I feel very confident driving, I do, feel very confident driving. I don't know how much longer it'll last but please God it will for a while 'cause I say when I stop driving that'll be the end of me because nearly every day I'm here there and everywhere
and I'm doings things for other people all the time and pleased to do it but people say oh you know, "It won't happen to you when you're you can't drive anymore." but oh well we'll see.
You're very independent.
I'm a very independent person, yes. Very independent. 'Cause as I say I like doing things for other people and of course my family
I've always been very involved with my family and grandchildren.
Yesterday we heard about a film that was about Land Army and it was called "Thanks girls, and goodbye."
Goodbye, oh yes.
What do you think of that?
I thought it was rather a little bit political. I felt it was. It wasn't the true story really. No.
Oh well I think they sort of made a bit of a show of us to a certain extent, and they didn't sort of have the right people. When I say people in it weren't sort of, weren't talking about exactly how we did it and what we did. That was my opinion.
Didn't feel it was quite accurate?
Accurate no definitely
Have there been any other depictions of Land Army life that you've seen that you've either liked or disliked?
No, not really. When we first marched, '87 after we first marched there was a lot of publicity, a lot of publicity in the media and the papers about the Land Army, and different
times I've been interviewed for different local papers and they've put stories in about what I've done in the community and they sort of bring the Land Army into it.
How do you think that the war changed Australia?
I think it's it brought people together more. I felt
it did, yes because people sort of you know they did their own thing and kept to themselves a lot and people were more outward and joined in and perhaps helped each other more, treated each other as people that, "You're not better than me." I think there was before the war, I think there was sort of a different two classes sort of,
the poor group and the richer group. I might be wrong but.
And you felt that was lessened during the war or and after the war?
Yes during the war. Because everybody had to pull together and yes, you had to pull together and mix together and do things together and bog in as the saying goes,
bog in and do your part and like next door neighbour'd speak to the other next door neighbour and perhaps sometimes earlier they wouldn't sort of thing you know.
Do you think that sense of community continued after the war as well?
Yes, I think so. Yes, definitely.
What do you think are the significant changes in the just after the war, from the post-war time 'til today?
From after the war, changes, well there was more women into the work force I would say. Because women I think were classed as that they couldn't sort of do certain things, more
women got into the work force. I feel that women were sort of before then were, you know you got a house and a home and a husband and a home and children, that's your place, that's the place you stay in. You don't sort of get out into the work force. It's not your place, but I think that did change a lot. Well it did, I'm sure it did.
People realised what women could do and had achieved.
Could do, yes
that's right. Yes. Well they certainly didn't think these young girls could work farms. Work on farms and do what they did do. Yes.
Did you feel that other people's views of you had changed?
Me personally? Yes, yes I think so.
Like your family and your friends.
look on you differently after the after your war years? Your hard work?
Ah yes, I would say so.
What do you think they thought was different about you?
Oh I'd grown up. I had grown up. Of course most of them didn't see very much of me when I was younger. The older ones of course and we became very, very close. Very close family,
with the older ones. Continued that right up until, 'cause out of the nine of us I'm the only one left. Yes and I looked after them as they got sick and ill and I used to travel for miles to care for them.
You remained fairly close to your siblings
Your life their lives?
very much so. Very much so, especially the older ones.
The oldest of the nine?
Of the nine, yes.
You were the closest to?
You must have had a lot of inner strength to cope with what you coped with when your husband passed away and you had three very young children.
Yes it was it was very hard but
I had to keep going for the children and as I say there wasn't very much money and I just lived on a pension and we hadn't had a chance to because of my husband being so ill and being in hospital so often we didn't have a chance to sort of get ahead as the saying goes and if he had had his health we would have gone on to live quite comfortably.
I'm not saying I'm not comfortable now but ah yes. Yes it was very hard and the children 'cause I wanted the children to have more than what I had and a better education, that was my main concern. I wanted them to have a better education than I had 'cause I thought it was very, very important, very important for them and I always believed that they had to have a sport. They'd have to be involved with in sport,
which they all have been. I've been running them for everywhere. Here there and everywhere.
You mentioned during our break that your children from your first marriage got on very well in later years with your second husband.
Yes he worked very hard as I say when they were young to feed them and
make sure they had plenty of food and tried to help them. He didn't interfere with their lives, the way they wanted to go or what they wanted to do you know he sort of was there if they needed him.
Looking back, people thought that that the First World War was the war to end all wars
and it turned out not to be and then after the Second World War perhaps many hoped that would be the end of it. In terms of world conflict. Do you feel that the world will ever achieve peace?
Not at the moment, the way things are going, no I don't think so. Sad but it's…. it’s a very sad state of affairs in the world today. You wish that it would be.
'Cause after the Second World War you think, "Oh well, there won't be any more wars." but just continued on. I only hope and pray that my grandchildren never have to go to war. You wouldn't want that to happen, ever.
How did you feel when the recent war occurred with Iraq?
How did I feel? I thought perhaps it would have been a longer war and Australia'd be more involved. I had that feeling may have been more involved and it would have been a longer war but fortunately it happened the way it did but then again things are still happening. Sad, I mean it's sad that
these people can't seem to come to terms to their peace.
We know even more about it now than we did during the Second World War
…because of the access to information.
Yes, oh that's right. Oh yes, yes. Yes the young people are more aware and more interested and world activities
I think than what we were when we were young.
Do you think that there have been changes in how people, how society has perceived Anzac Day and Australia's involvement in war? Over recent decades, have there been changes in how people look upon Anzac Day or their interest in Anzac Day?
Oh yes definitely. Oh most definitely. Yes, especially the younger generation. They realise
what has happened in the past wars. What happened in lots of ways. One of my grandsons went to Gallipoli year before last. He was so impressed; he went back again the next year. And he said, "I was thinking of Poppy, Nan." Very emotional which we all know it would be.
Yes my grandchildren are very, very aware, very much so, and as a matter of fact my granddaughter rang on Anzac Day, my granddaughter rang from England and my grandson rang from Germany on Anzac Day. "I hope you have a good day Nan. We're thinking of you." and that was Anzac Day.
So even though they're out of the country and away. I mean that's just my children, but I think the young people the younger generation are very much more aware. We have a dawn service at our local RSL at five thirty in the morning and it's amazing the young people, even little children
that come. We have about four hundred people there and it's sort of a, Epping is like a country, the RSL is right out in the wide open spaces. So for people and I look at them and think well for you know in their minds that they are thinking to make those efforts and they know it's in remembrance
Of those who have fought to make us a free country.
That awareness is a very good thing in your view.
Yes. I think so, very much so, and they are interested in finding out the history and knowing the history
and learning. More so than what they used to be.
It's wonderful that we're doing the Archive at this time we feel, to get all of these stories.
At this time.
Yes before they're lost really because there's so many
As we now draw to the end of our interview, I wondered if there was something else that you'd
like to say? An overall statement about your experience with the Australian Women's Land Army.
My work in the Land Army, well it was…
Or your perspective or your overall experience or…
Well it was a wonderful thing and certainly I feel that it did sort of make women out of girls. Especially with discipline
and growing up and of course the wartime it made you realise how important your country is to you and what peace means to you. We all want to be neighbours and friends and no animosity towards each other at all really. I mean that's the way I feel that
the whole world should be. The whole world should be but with my experience with my Land Army days I say it made me grow up. It really did made me grow up to be a more careful person and caring person
and to mix with people.
Well we certainly appreciate you being a part of this Archive with us today.
Oh it's a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Oh thank you.