Archive number: 2544
Date interviewed: 10 June, 2000
You are listening to the interview audio
NB. This transcript is of an interview filmed for the television series, Australians at War in 1999-2000. It was incorporated into the Archive in 2007.
By you introducing yourself to us is just for our records really, so if you could tell me your name and your age and where you were born.
Well, my name is Eustelle Overy. I’m a hundred years old, just, and I was born in Woollahra.
In Jersey Road, Woollahra, very famous road, Jersey Road, it used to be called Point Piper Road. But it was after Captain Piper, was one of the soldiers in [Captain James] Cook’s Endeavour but then it was changed to Jersey Road because Lord Jersey became the Governor of New South Wales, it was called after him.
Interesting name. So can you tell us a little about… you grew up in Woollahra and I remember you telling us a story about….
When you grew up in Sydney, when you went to school…
Mount St Patrick’s at Paddington.
Mount St Patrick’s in Paddington, was there much of an Empire thing in school in those days, when you were there in the Catholic school?
Not at the Catholic schools. The state schools always had celebration, well, we didn’t have very much but
no, we didn’t.
So, what was the difference then between the two, Catholic and the state, why was one more than the other, can you explain that to me?
I don’t know, I suppose it was more to do with the state I should suppose. The schools didn’t, they weren’t run by the state or had anything, so I suppose that made a difference.
I was just wondering because the Catholics are mostly Irish and there was a difference?
There was that… in those days there
was quite a lot of antagonism, well not antagonism but quite a lot of difference you know, they didn’t agree on a lot of points.
You might just have to explain that to me, telling me the difference between the Catholics and the Protestant or the state school?
I couldn’t tell you very much ‘cause I had nothing to do with the other school ever. I only always went to a convent school, so I really wouldn’t
ever hear very much about that side of the question.
So the convent schools were more to do with religious education not so much to do with state …?
No, no. Although we were very patriotic. During the war we gave all our money to the Comforts Funds for the soldiers, we never had any prizes during the war,
all that prize money went to the Comfort Fund because it was for the soldiers.
I will come back to the Comforts Funds. Just wondering, I think you told us when we came and spoke to you, you could recall when the war was declared, I think you told us a story about that?
Yes, I remember the day it was declared but I don’t really remember a
lot about the war years because I was a schoolgirl and that what I told you about the Comforts Fund, that’s what I remember to do with our schooldays. Because I went to Mount St Patrick’s and from there I went down to St Vincent’s at Potts Point and I was still there when, oh no the war was still on when I left in 1917. I was at university in 1918 when Armistice was declared and that was a great day, that day, you know we… no lectures
of course. We formed a long queue and we marched from the university right down Broadway past the railway down to Woolloomooloo and then we dispersed and people were jumping on cars. I remember a lot of men moved their cars because in those days the roofs of cars were not metal, they were more fabric, you know, canvas and that type and of course they were all getting torn to bits.
You should have seen the cars, people jumping on them, you know getting excited and jumping about on them. I remember that more than anything really.
So, you and your friends had a good day that day, from uni?
Oh yes, we had a good day, yes but I mean we didn’t do any damage. I remember one of the girls though, in our queue, she went to Government House and introduced herself to [the] Governor, she was reprimanded for that of course.
She got quite cocky?
Yes, she did she thought she’d do something great, different but we didn’t do things like that, we sort of wandered around town and then went home.
I am just going back to the start of the war, do you remember the beginnings of the war, you were up…I remember when we spoke to you, you told us about from where you were in Woollahra you could hear the troops down…?
Not in Woollahra, we went from Woollahra
to Paddington and we lived in Gordon Street and that was right at the top, right near the gates of Centennial Park and it joined Moore Park Road. That’s where we lived, just on that corner and we could hear the troops used to, were in camp at Moore Park and we used to… we could hear the bugles from there always, sounding the reveille etc.
So, did you ever see any of the troops around your area, did you ever see soldiers?
Oh yes, we used to see a lot around, soldiers. Had a couple of cousins down there in the camp down there and they used to come and see us, bring their friends.
They would visit the house, would they?
Yes. When they were on leave.
So, do you remember the war breaking out. Hearing the news that…?
Yes, I can remember quite well just some saying we’re at war,
I can just remember that ‘cause I was only fourteen then, I don’t remember much about those things then, ‘cause I remember that quite distinctly, our father coming and saying we are at war.
What was the repercussions in the family about the war in terms of your family members?
Well, my father had younger brothers, three of them went to the war. One was at Gallipoli, the other
two were in France.
What did you think about when that…what did war mean to someone who was your age, fourteen?
Didn’t mean anything. We went about our daily lives as though it was just… same as usual except of course in those days there was no communication, no television, no like that and there was no secrecy about when the troops were going away.
We used to; a great vantage point was St Mary’s Cathedral. You could go on the steps and they used to march from Moore Park right down College Street right down to the Woolloomooloo to board the troop ships and the uncle who went to Gallipoli, he went on board, I think, on the Sunday morning. And my father took us down the Sunday afternoon and we wandered over the ship, had a look all over the ship and met all the troops there and just said goodbye to him and it was at May, the end of May, it was after
Gallipoli, after the landing. But he was there for the rest of Gallipoli but he came home, he didn’t go to France because he wasn’t… I don’t know what happened whether he was wounded or whether he was sick, I couldn’t tell you but the other two boys were in France.
And what was the kind of mood, can you recall at all what the mood on the ship was, was it kind of upbeat or…?
We were all happy, just as though you were going away on a trip, a cruise, that’s what it
looked… as far as I can remember.
I think a lot of the posters of the day had soldiers saying sign up for the tour or something like that, it always had that feeling that they were going away….?
They thought they were going on a picnic, more or less. Yes, didn’t realise then what it was, not like… it was a different mood altogether the next time. Well, I suppose you realised that being older you would know, you would see the change, wouldn’t
Yes, having been through one war, it’s hard to imagine they had another one… the other thing you mentioned was the attitude towards the German
people when the war broke out, ‘cause I think you come from a….?
My mother was German. Yes, it was a very anti-German feeling among a lot of most people in those days. I can remember my father’s; one of his sisters was very anti-German. She said, I had a little brother and it was very unkind, she looked at him one day and said, “You’re only a little Hun [German] aren’t you?”
It wasn’t very nice to a little boy three years old, was it?
I wonder, did you find its… I suppose being young it’s probably hard to say but it seems strange that people could have people living beside them one week and then their attitudes changed?
I never encountered any antagonism in any way or any nasty feelings, I can quite truthfully say that, no one ever, never worried me. No one ever worried
me or sort of, you might say ostracised me because of my mother. Of course she was dead then, she was dead, she died in 1913, it was long before war, no thought of war then.
So, any other of the family members were they part of the internments that happened, did you have any other…?
No. No none of the…. I only had a cousin here, she was married, they had no
opposition. But I had no other; I don’t know anyone who was interned.
That’s ok. ‘cause there were some people who’d been living here for a while who were interned?
Oh there were, yes, I know it did occur.
One of the other things that took place at home during the war, there were two sort of camps, one was the patriots who were for the war and then there was some people who were against the war. I don’t know whether you have any recollections of
those two views taking place and whether you recall at all, conscription, the issue of conscription?
No, I couldn’t recall anything like that at all, as I say I was at school, no that didn’t occur at school.
Did any of your friends at school have any relatives or friends, brothers and sisters, that were killed in the war, did anything like that take place?
Not that I can recall.
Just wondering. Was there any… did the war touch you in any way that you recall, like obviously it was a long way away from here and ….?
Yes and you didn’t have the connection that you would later on with the no, well you never got news ‘til the next day or the day after, the news was
always late, you know.
Did you ever have any sense of what was going on, did you ever hear about the Gallipoli landing for example, did you hear about that?
Yes, I can remember hearing about that. It was a Sunday afternoon and my father used to take us out to the cemetery to our mother’s grave, very often on a Sunday and this Sunday afternoon we were coming home and when we got to Bondi Junction the news boys were everywhere. Calling out about the Australian troops landing on Gallipoli and
evidently it was the Saturday, see we were a day late because Saturday, I think, was the 25th and this was a Sunday afternoon when we got the news. So, that’ll tell you how late it was, different matter wasn’t it, in those days?
Oh yes, it took some time for the news to get through.
So, what was the feeling about, was there a sense of…?
Oh everyone was very excited about it but as far as that I don’t….
we had to wait and see who was there and who wasn’t.
So, you mentioned some relative that went to Gallipoli, is that correct, or am I wrong?
My husband to be was at Gallipoli, was at the landing and he was, well he didn’t actually land. He was one of the troopships standing by but they landed, I think, just shortly after but the actual landing, he wasn’t,
didn’t land on that day when they all stormed the shore, the beaches.
Did he ever talk about that to you?
Not very much. He used to tell me some stories about, mostly in France, about the football team and things like that. You knew about the football team, didn’t you? They had, the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] had a football team called the Mudlarks and they were never beaten. Their
greatest victory was over the Welsh Guards. They beat them three nil and he always boasted about that and I’ve still got his jumper that he wore in France and strangely enough when he showed it to me it was very dirty. It’s torn a bit, but very dirty and I offered to wash it, I said, “Oh that’s dirty.” You should have seen the horrified look on his face. He said, “That’s the mud of Flanders, you can’t wash that off!” and it’s still like that, I’ve still got it and
he got the medal for the best forward in the team. So, the commanding officer gave that and I’ve got the medal too.
I wonder what code of football they played?
Rugby League. Rugby League, he was a great League follower, always played, I think from the time it began almost.
So, there was a war going on in the front and there was a sporting….?
Yes, there was a sporting war as well. Yes, he was very proud of that.
Australians and their sports, they’re sports mad, I suppose…
It’s always the same isn’t it? Always been sports mad.
So, that whole football thing took place with all that, within all the British units, did it, do you know anything…?
Well, I suppose it did if they fought in the … whenever they had any spare time, they had matches, they played from the time he went to France until he came home.
So, when did you meet him?
1924. We met at a dancing school.
Who was learning, you or him?
We both were.
So, seems to be that a lot of the returned soldiers married sort of around that time, there
seemed to be a period between where they didn’t, I don’t know why that was, it’s interesting.
I wasn’t married about… we weren’t married ‘til 1934, it was quite a long time after that.
Did the war affect him in any way or not?
He was very badly wounded in 1917 and he was sent home after he was
well enough to travel and for a long time he was on full pension and then he gradually recovered. He always did get a military pension but he recovered well enough to work after that and eventually he joined the maritime service. He was a carpenter and builder and he joined them and he worked with them until he was old enough to retire.
Do you remember anything about when Anzac Day began?
I don’t think so. I really can’t remember the beginning of Anzac Day although once it was mentioned it became very important but no, I can’t remember when the beginning of Anzac Day but it wasn’t during the war. I
think, I can be quite sure of that.
Yes, people had probably different attitudes towards it then?
Yes, oh yes it became important after that.
So, did your husband go to the marches?
Yes, he was always, he always marched. When they left Gallipoli, he belonged to the 13th Battalion and they were the most decimated troops, the battalion on Gallipoli and when they
left there was so few of them left that they transferred them into the 4th Machine Gunners and he always marched with the 4th Machine Gunners then. He considered he belonged to them, that they were part of that brigade. I think they all belonged to that 4th Brigade, I think that’s the name for it but he … I’ve lost the track… yes, he was wounded
1917, came back then.
So, was there something special about the guys that had been to Gallipoli? Did they have a kind of special…?
Oh yes, they had a very special reunion. He had some friends and there were about eight of them and they used to get together and spend Anzac Day all together, that was their special day.
It was the blokes’ day?
What did you do on Anzac Day?
Well, I and the children always came into the march and then we went out for the day somewhere to visit some friends. Spent the day out there and then we used to meet to go home. Then he’d finish his meeting with all his friends. The only time in his life that he ever had too much to drink, I think, on Anzac Day. He never bothered about drinking but he always, some days, he celebrated a bit too much.
I think that was quite common for returned soldiers?
Yes, oh yes. Anyway it was permissible wasn’t it? Excusable.
I think so. So, just in getting back to your family thing, what was it like growing up as a young girl in Australia in those days, I mean during the war? How
different was it, for what women, I s’pose, can be today, what sort of aspirations did you have?
It was very, very different. Very comfortable, very slow, it wasn’t the hurry, quick and rapid life that there is now. Life was very slow then and very comfortable I would say. You know, you just had, your life was sort of mapped out, you
went to school every day and you went to the pictures [movies] on Saturday afternoon, that was the regular Saturday afternoon, the local picture show, matinee for the children.
Did you go to the pictures during the war years, were there movies on then, what did you see? Can you remember, did they have any films on about the war, do you remember any of that?
I don’t remember that. I can remember one film; it used to be carried on from Saturday to Saturday. It was called The Shielding Shadow and I always can remember
one episode where the girl threw herself on the train line in front of the train was coming but of course it stopped just before it got to her, that’s all. I can always remember that little bit but that’s all I can remember about pictures in those days.
But that was the routine?
Oh routine, yes oh yes.
And were you involved in any of the comforts or any of the work for soldiers during the war?
Do you remember anything about
the Archbishop of Melbourne, he was a Catholic archbishop during the war?
Do you remember anything about him and the whole issue between him and conscription, that was quite big?
It was quite a big affair but I couldn’t tell you much about it, except that he was anti-conscription, of course. And I think Billy Hughes [William Hughes, Australian Prime Minister] wasn’t it Billy Hughes, was conscription wasn’t he? I think they
were on opposite sides of the fence on that but I couldn’t tell you much about, anything about that…
Yes, they were definitely on opposite sides of the fence, I just wondered whether because you went to a Catholic school, whether there was any hint of that coming through in your school anywhere?
Oh no, we never had anything like that. Nothing, no it was never, never worried us at all in any way.
Okay and what was it about the relationship with your father… sorry… paint the scene of what your home life was like in Woollahra, what did your dad do and what…?
My father was a customs officer, that was, he joined the customs when he was a young boy, well when he left school and he was like that practically all his life.
That was a continual, that was his life right through.
So, that was quite a comfortable….?
It was a comfortable life, yes. We never had any problems.
Did the war make things difficult for you or not in terms of availability of things?
No. No. Not that I’m… no I was quite sure it didn’t. You could just buy whatever you wanted
then, nothing like the Second War when you had to have coupons for, rations for butter and tea and clothing, nothing like that at all.
Okay, that’s pretty good. We will cut there.
Yes, it was very careful. Very comfortable.
When you were young, your mother passed away and you had to take responsibility for the family, just can you tell me a bit
about that please?
Well, I always looked after, ‘cause I was the eldest and there were five of us, although the baby, he was only a week old when my mother died and my grandmother took him and bought him up ‘til he was two and then he came home to us. Well I always looked after the children but after I left university I took over the whole household, became the… well, I took charge of the house, ran the house,
in other words.
You had to do that for some years, I suppose, because…?
Until 1934, until I got married.
That’s quite a….
So, that’s quite a long time. They were all grown up then of course, he was twenty-one.
I have also heard that after the war a lot of women were…. because a lot of the young men were killed during the war
and a lot of women never got married because there were, was that ever an issue for women of your generation, I mean the soldiers, so many men being killed?
Not that I know of. I couldn’t comment on that. I don’t know.
That’s ok, it’s a hard question I’m putting to you, that’s a pretty hard question. It’s a big theme question that one.
Well, I was too busy looking after the family to worry about things like that.
I wonder if you’ve got any ideas about what that war was about and I suppose you were young at the time. I am just wondering what the First War, for you, when you look back on it, what was…?
It didn’t mean anything to me. I could say that quite truthfully. I never thought about it.
Could that be true for a lot of the young girls that you grew up with?
Well, it could be, except that I suppose some who have brothers, perhaps, older brothers who’d gone off would appear differently
to them, wouldn’t it? To me, my brothers were babies.
So, you didn’t have a family connection…?
But it still would have been a big enough thing that even though within the suburb that you lived in there would have been people affected I suppose anyway?
There’re bound to be, bound to be, but I didn’t seem to come in contact with anyone like that.
During the war the enlistment thing became quite a big issue and there was quite a bit of pressure on men to join the army. I don’t know whether you are aware of any of this because of how old you were. So I’m just wondering whether you’re aware of the white feather issue, do you know anything about that and what that
Well, I know that some got white feathers; they were considered cowardly, weren’t they? Or weren’t patriotic, but I don’t know anyone who received one. But I did know about it, I knew that that happened but I couldn’t say any more about that.
What did you think about… did you have any view about that?
Just because they wouldn’t enlist. Some of them objected to the war and others, some of them were, sometimes it was very unfair because there were quite serious reasons why they couldn’t. But I don’t, that’s all I could say about it really.
There was quite a bit of pressure on people to go to war?
Oh yes, there was for some of them but as I say some of them, would have
enlisted had they been able, circumstances were against it but people didn’t always know that.
Do you reckon that affected people, those who went the war and those who didn’t? Was there any difference after the war or even during the war about those…?
No, not that I know of ‘cause I was a bit… it wouldn’t be in my age group to be worried about things like that or think about it or know about it really.
How did… going to university in those days would have been quite, not a common thing for a young woman to do.
Well, you just went, you matriculated it, well you didn’t have to matriculate you could go. But you didn’t get a degree if you didn’t matriculate and there were bursaries and
what was the other one they called? Exhibitions. A bursary entitled you to free tuition, free books and a money grant and an exhibition just entitled you to free tuition, that was the difference between them, otherwise you paid.
So, how did you go there?
I got an exhibition. I didn’t qualify for anything better than that.
So, who was behind you going to the university, was your father involved in that?
Well, I just passed the Leaving Certificate and was just granted an exhibition on my pass and I was free to go or not, whichever I wished. My father was quite anxious for me to go and I just went.
Just wondering too like, in today’s society, universities are usually pretty political I suppose and if there was a war going on
universities would be part of that political debate, was that true in your time?
I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so, not that I could say but I don’t think it was.
What course did you do, Eustelle?
Arts. I did.
Most women that day did arts, there were very few, they were just beginning to take on medicine and I remember one of our girls took on medicine on that… she became a very good doctor too but not many did. Arts was the common course, but most of them were teachers, of course, went onto teaching. Led to a teaching career in
the Arts degree.
Interviewee: Eustelle Overy Archive ID 2544 Tape 345
Just wondering why men didn’t talk about the war, have you ever wondered why?
Perhaps they wanted to shut out the memory of it, didn’t want to, didn’t like to think about what had happened and some of it.
But it seemed to be quite a common thing that a lot of them wouldn’t talk about it.
It’s strange to even turn around to your partner in life, it makes it even more sort of personal or selective, really trying to cut it off, isn’t it?
Yes, they seem to want to cut that part of their life out, didn’t want to think about it.
We were just interested to know what Woollahra was like in those days and Paddington. Paddington wasn’t like it is now, was it?
No, no. Woollahra was a very nice suburb to live in. Paddington was a bit more suburban, I suppose you would say. Depends on parts, there are parts of Paddington that were not so nice and there were other parts that were very nice, especially up, well up around [UNCLEAR] and Centennial Park. Centennial Park was our playground when we were children.
We lived practically on the gates of Centennial Park, we used to bowl hoops around, my sister and I used to have a hoop and we used to bowl it around the streets and the roads and Moore Park. I don’t think there was traffic allowed there in those… can traffic go there now? Do cars go through Centennial Park? Course there weren’t any cars then but I don’t know if traffic was allowed, horses were there … they used to play
polo. I remember watching polo played in Centennial Park and going down and feeding the ducks and things like that.
People still feed the ducks, I think they do, they still have horses around there, don’t they?
Oh, I think they would. Would they play polo in the park?
I don’t think they polo there but I have still seen the horses around.
Yes, we had an old uncle who used to always take us down to see the polo and as a matter of fact that’s where they held
the confederation didn’t they or federation, that’s where, my father used to say to me, you were at that, he said, “You were in your pram.” because being close by they walked down you see, they were there when that took place and he said, “You were in your pram at federation.”
I wonder what federation meant to people then, did Australia feel like a different country then, I wonder?
I don’t know.
Did you feel part of Britain or part of the…?
Yes, we used to, always. Not now, at least I don’t but anyway. Not as some people do perhaps but in those days yes, oh everyone very, very pro-British.
I wonder why that was?
Well, I don’t know. The King was King of Australia and all our
leading members seemed to come from England, didn’t they, in those days, had great connection, took everything, everything that meant anything came from England.
Yeah, ‘cause I suppose that’s where all our ancestry came from?
Well, we are after all… our ancestors came from there didn’t they?
There was also a thing called the White Australia Policy though which was kind of interesting around the time, its probably difficult to ask you but there was
a sense that Australia was a bit of an isolated country in the South Pacific and it was ….
…defenceless and it relied on England. I mean this is a big story but I was wondering whether the reliance on Britain was to do with defence but I suppose that…?
Well, it probably was, yes. As you say we couldn’t have defended ourselves in any way whatever.
This a very broad question so you may not be able to answer it because it’s a theme question. There was a view that Australia was classless in those days, is that, in your view, the case or was
there still a kind of difference between those who have and those who didn’t?
I think there were… oh that’s a hard one. I couldn’t answer that very truthfully I think for that time but I think people were, there were those who had and those who hadn’t. Wealthy and the not so wealthy, I think there was a difference in that but I don’t think they considered themselves….
well they wouldn’t be considered classless, would they? I don’t know. I couldn’t answer that very easily.
Just wondering just in, you know, your day to day lives whether…
What differences in people regarded.
There was a different person
because you didn’t have as much as they did.
I was just wondering because I mean some people say it was more of a, they use the word egalitarian, that Australia was a less classless society, but then I’m not sure, there’s are other people that disagree with that idea, so?
No, I wouldn’t say it was classless then. I think people did make a difference between those who had, were well off and those who weren’t. I think that’s passed now, I don’t think people worry about that so much now, at least I don’t think
so but whether that’s the general opinion, I wouldn’t know.
Okay…. [researcher] Liz is asking, what were your aspirations as a young woman, what did you want to do when you grew up. I mean say as a young fifteen, sixteen year old, what was the sort of things you could expect to do
in life in those days?
I think I always thought of the children. I didn’t think it was something that I never, it’s just a secret to myself, I have never told anyone but I think I outwardly I always thought of the children, just intended looking after them. That’s all that I thought about then because they were
young, they had to be looked after, they were only babies, the boys, so that’s….
So, you were mother and sister to them?
Yes. Yes, I was.
Is that how they thought about you I wonder?
I don’t know. I’ve got one brother still alive and he always says he looks on me as his mother. He said I was his second mother but he never knew his mother
he was too young when she died so he always told everyone I was his mother. Very good brother too he is, he’s nearly ninety, will be ninety this year.
They live long in your family?
Yes. Well I had a great, I don’t know whether it’s a great grandmother or a great, but she was a hundred and fifteen. So, she was and I had a grandfather ninety
and thought they were all… grandmothers were eighty so I’ve got a lot to live up to really. I have to beat the hundred and fifteen, don’t I? To be in it.
I think you’ve got a good chance.
I don’t know. I hope so.
Okay, I think we are done. Thank you.
Well, I don’t think I have been much help to you.
You do, you do. A very good job,
INTERVIEW ENDS. Tape continues with memorabilia.