I was born at Mayfield in the Municipality of Waratah, which had its own Mayor, on the 14th February 1925. My parents were Charles and Olive Skene. My father was born in Scotland and migrated to Australia when he was 12 years old. My mother’s grandparents migrated from Cornwall, England, sometime in the nineteenth century probably in the 1860s. My mother was born in Islington, Newcastle. Her maiden name was Olive Anderson, and she and my father, Charles Skene were married on the 2nd April 1924. I have one sister, Joyce, who is two years younger.
My father was employed at NESCA, the Newcastle Council Electricity Supply, and was paying off our home at 3 Baker Street Mayfield, near the ti-tree paddocks and swampy ground along Maitland Road. Dad’s health was poor, due to his war-time injuries, and was often in Newcastle Hospital. To survive financially he had to rent out our house, furnished, and we moved to Bolton Point in 1930. We lived in an unlined corrugated iron shed which had a board floor. The house rent paid off our house, but I don’t know what we lived on.
Dad’s workmates rallied round and borrowed a NESCA truck with a high tower on the back to move us. On our way there, the family dog fell off the truck and we didn’t find him again. About six months later, when Dad could work again, we went home the same way. My mother cooked over an open fire; and there was fish that my father caught in a big black pan, and cornmeat in a kerosene tin. Milk came from the nearby dairy farm. With no way to keep food cool, we lived one day at a time, foodwise. A doctor came in a motor launch over the lake to see my father, as he was often ill. Due to the primitive cooking method, my sister was severely scalded once, and the doctor had to come across the lake in his launch. After that my mother would walk to the main road, carrying my sister to wait for the bus from Toronto to take them to Newcastle Hospital every day for weeks. My sister still has the scars.
In 1930-31, when Dad’s health improved, we moved back to Mayfield and my mother opened a “corner-shop”, and we lived in the shop residence. The shop opened in 1931 and was on the corner of Barton Street and Maitland Road, and we sold groceries, fruit and ice cream. At the time, everyone was poor and much of the custom was in the form of “dole tickets”, which the government redeemed. I remember one day, that mum had no cash in the till, just dole coupons. Mum gave credit to poor families and we only lasted there a couple of years.
From 1930 to 1936, I attended Mayfield East Public School with the Pommy Town children. It was an excellent school, with high teaching standards and a well known choir. Mr Murray was the headmaster, and I was lucky enough to be in the choir. My sister was frail after being scalded, so mum sent her to a private school in Church Street Mayfield run by the two Misses Stewarts for some years.
I attended the Centre High School from 1937 till 1939, when I had to leave due to my mother’s illness. After high school, and in the early war years, I began training at Waratah Telephone Exchange. I received no pay at all while learning the work. But the “boy” was called up for the armed forces and I was given his job. For a 48 hour week I was paid 1/2/6 or $2.25. I paid Mum the one pound and with the 2/6 I paid off a bicycle from Steads Cycle shop in Mayfield. I worked at the Exchange from 1940 to just prior to my marriage in 1947. Our boss was the Waratah Postmaster, with his own two sons in the armed forces. When telegrams came for families with men overseas killed or injured, he was compassionate enough to deliver them personally.
Our family prospered for a few years, Mum was in another little shop, managing a catering business which was located between Barton Street and Kerr Street on the main road, and another fish shop opposite Barton Street in 1935-36. Dad had a good job at John Bridge, in Hanbury Street, who manufactured electrical appliances, and we bought a motor vehicle. He also had a notable garden which attracted sight seers. But he died in 1952 from his war time injuries.
I met George Marshall, a soldier, and we were married in February 1947. He was a banana grower and we moved to a property in the Tweed Valley, near the Queensland border. We lived there from 1947 to 1970, visitng my family in Mayfield every year, and had four sons; Ross born in 1949, Phillip in 1951, John in 1954 and David in 1959. We moved back to Mayfield permanently in 1970. My husband died of cancer in 1982.
During the mid 1980s, I attended the University of Newcastle briefly, and undertook a number of WEA and Tech courses in a variety of fields including calligraphy and furniture restoration. I have also lectured and conducted heritage tours for a number of local historical and cultural groups including The Newcastle Historic Society, The Australian Retired Persons Association AARPA, The Over 50s Club and The Raymond Terrace Historical Society. Since 1998, I have been suffering from illness, which has restricted my activities to a significant degree.
Copyright 2000 Helen Marshall and Gionni Di Gravio
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