Chapter 26 - Return to NSW
All three of us, Ann, Jean and I, once back in Sydney settled in quite comfortably to Home Unit living. To try it out we leased a two bedroom unit for twelve months. It was on the top floor of a large block overlooking Parramatta River at Drummoyne, with the entrance from St George's Crescent. It happened to be the same block in which Hugh Weir, Babcock's Managing Director, owned a unit and who, as a matter of fact, introduced us to the Estate Agent through whom we did the deal. The Unit was owned by a Doctor who was studying in Canada for twelve months. The unit was “fully furnished” although we had to bring a few of our own things, and, of course, our linen, crockery, personal effects etc from Aspley.
One of the reasons we leased the unit was that we had, up until then, been unable to sell our home at Aspley. So we leased it for twelve months to a family who had been victims of the Darwin Cyclone of Christmas Day 1973 and who had been transferred to Brisbane. They looked after the place very well and when their lease was up we were able to sell it for $40,000 to the brother of the solicitor who handled our affairs at Brisbane. But I am jumping ahead of myself!
The Drummoyne unit was only small, with two bedrooms, but suited us quite well as most of our things were still at our Aspley house while garden tools, lawn mower, and all the other odds and ends we couldn't leave at Aspley or bring to Drummoyne we stored in the shed at Bribie. The unit had a splendid view and one of the attractions was a swimming pool with sauna. Ann used it occasionally, as did our visitors, but it didn't appeal to Jean at all or me very much. The units were served by lifts which occasionally broke down and, of course, didn't work during blackouts which occurred more frequently in those days than now. We resolved that when we bought a unit of our own we would buy into a small block with no pool and no lifts!
That is just what we did buy when we were able to sell our Aspley house. We bought a three-bedroom unit in “Baywest”, a three-story high block of twelve units in Bayswater Street, Drummoyne. It has no lift, no pool and modest landscaped grounds. Our unit is on the top floor and has quite attractive views extending from the Gladesville Bridge over Parramatta River to the headland at Chiswick. On the western horizon one can see the outline of the mountains with some higher buildings poking their heads above the suburban sprawl of the western suburbs. It is an attractive view and near enough to the river to enjoy the breezes that are cooled as they travel up from the harbour.
On my way to work at Regents Park each morning I usually dropped Ann at the local wharf on Parramatta River where she caught the ferry to Circular Quay. In fact, for the first month or two she caught a Hovercraft ferry but it was transferred to Hobart after the bridge over the Derwent was damaged by a ship which collided with one of the supports. Drummoyne was ideally served by transport for Ann and also for Jean who liked to shop at Burwood. From there she could also catch the train to Homebush or Parramatta where there were daytime meetings of The League of Health. After the League classes she frequently lunched with League friends before spending an hour or two with her Sister Pat who lived at Granville.
Perhaps this is a good place to talk about two of the subjects just mentioned, League of Health and Sister Pat. I will mention Pat first. When she was quite young it was discovered that she suffered from epilepsy, the main symptom of which was occasional seizures or, as they were called, “fits”. These could happen anywhere, at home, school, church or in the street. As a result, her Mother became very protective of her and insisted on doing things for Pat that she would never have thought to do for her other two children, Tom and Jean. All her life Pat slept in her Mother's bed and allowed her Mother to do the simplest tasks for her. When she was in her late teens or early twenties she was treated with Dilantin which, when the correct dose was determined, stopped the seizures entirely. However the side-effects were to slow down many of Pat's reactions to situations where previously she had reacted fairly normally. This was thought to be a small price to pay for the freedom from fits.
The pity of it is that Pat was not given some suitable job to do, because she would have been capable of carrying on a wide range of occupations. She had a fair education, could read and write with average aptitude, if not better than average, and had a very quick wit which often shone in normal social contacts and conversations and, in fact, made her very popular with a wide range of friends. However, the over-protection of her Mother was such that Pat did less and less for herself and was waited on hand and foot by her Mother who washed her hair, cleaned her shoes, helped her get dressed and did almost everything except eat her food for her. This was roughly the situation that existed at the time I first got to know the family when I started to court Jean, and it was still the situation when we left to live in Queensland.
However, a year or two before we left, Jean's Father suffered a couple of strokes. It took him a long time to be able to attend to his own needs and so he became more dependent on his wife. This placed a big burden on Mrs. Jackson in addition to that self-imposed on Pat's behalf. I recall that I often went over to the Jackson home before going on to work so that I could help get Mr. Jackson out of bed, cleaned up and into a chair. Fortunately, he soon managed to get about again, sometimes with a walking frame, and was even able to spend a few months holiday with us at Aspley soon after we moved up there. He loved the warm weather and really hated the cold!
It was soon after Mr. Jackson died in 1964 that we noticed an interesting change in the relationship between Pat and her Mother. The reason was that Mrs Jackson was starting to suffer some loss of memory with some resulting confusion. In fact, we now know she was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease. As Mrs. Jackson became less capable of making decisions and doing things Pat took up more and more of the responsibilities until the time came that the management of the household depended entirely on Pat. Arrangements were made to get Meals on Wheels, which helped a lot, and neighbours were very kind and helpful, but all credit must be given to Pat for managing so well after having previously been denied the opportunity.
Although we were living in Queensland, we saw Pat and her Mother fairly frequently as we invariably came to Sydney for our Christmas holidays and I always called in when I was in Sydney on business, which was every month or two. Jean also came down on her own occasionally by train, and spent some time with them, especially if one or the other happened to be ill, as was the case when Pat had to undergo a mastectomy operation. On two or three occasions Pat and Mrs. Jackson came to Brisbane and stayed with us. This happened at the time of Judith's wedding in January 1967 and Philip's in September 1968. It was while they were staying with us that Pat delivered her now famous comment after having prepared a glass of Steradent for her Mother to soak her teeth in but which Mrs. Jackson drank instead. Pat simply said, “Oh well, at least she'll have a clean stomach!” Mrs Jackson appeared to have no ill effects, but it was an indication not only of her loss of comprehension but also of how Pat was able to carry on quite philosophically and amusingly under difficult circumstances.
When at home, the biggest problem Pat had was that her Mother used to wander away. She seemed to be looking for her childhood home, her sisters (one of whom suffered from the same problem in her later years) and places with which she was familiar in earlier life. It was necessary to build a special fence with a locked gate to keep poor dear Mrs Jackson from wandering away. The padlock later served another purpose after Mrs Jackson needed it no longer. It then became a source of security for Pat who always religiously locked it when she went out and sometimes after she came in again, which occasionally made it difficult to raise her as she was getting progressively more hard of hearing. Often people would call and, unable to make her hear and finding the gate locked would go away disappointed!
Eventually Pat, with the best will in the world and in spite of all her efforts could not manage any longer. Not only was Mrs Jackson becoming somewhat belligerent but also incontinent and so, with Tom's help it was arranged for her to enter the nursing home, Thomas House, at Westmead where she ended her days on 4th July, 1971 aged 83 years, the last few months of her life being full of distress as she was unable to recognise even her family or respond to attempts to communicate with her.
After Mrs Jackson's death Jean and Tom, who with Pat were beneficiaries of their Mother's will agreed to defer settling the estate while Pat wished to continue to live in the family home. This was a great relief to Pat who, at that time, felt secure there and abhorred the idea of having to “go into a home”. It wasn't long after his Mother's death that Tom, too, passed away. He had suffered from high blood pressure for a great part of his life and died from a heart attack on the evening of 18th December, 1971, less than six months after his Mother. His widow, Catherine, but always known as Kitty, adopted the same attitude as Jean and Tom had done and allowed Pat the use of the family home free of rent but responsible for expenses such as rates and maintenance which she was able to manage quite well from her pension, especially as she obtained the pensioner rebate on the municipal rates. Pat managed to look after herself very well, in spite of fears of all concerned. It is amazing how the most unlikely people can cope when there is the need. She was also on marvellous terms with her neighbours not only because of her sense of humour but also because she was and still is, of course, a very good natured, kind and thoughtful person in spite of her problems. One kind neighbour, Les Pope, regularly mowed her lawns and another, Mr. Bevege, attended to broken switches, tap washers, etc and others helped in various ways, especially the lady next door who had a young family and who was pleased to have reciprocal help from Pat, that of baby-sitting.
Things had been going on like this for just over three years when Jean and I arrived back in Sydney. The lawn-mowing neighbour wasn't getting any younger and was glad for me to assume the responsibility, which I did together with a fairly major programme of repairing many years of neglect of the property. First the outside was painted, then the kitchen and dining room, including covering the ceilings with foam tiles as the old plaster was in terrible shape. The lounge room and hall were carpeted, also the front veranda, a light installed in the toilet (which was “out the back” near the laundry). This all took many Saturdays of labour as I did it myself. At the same time Jean and I spent as much time as we could spare up at Avoca visiting my Mother and Sister Lois, especially as Mum's health was noticeably deteriorating and she was to pass away in October 1976, two years after we came back to Sydney to live. So we spent a day and sometimes a week-end at Avoca as often as we could both before and after Mum's death.
With the help I was giving to Pat and the visits to Avoca it was just as well we were living in a home unit where all the outside work like gardening and painting is either done by paid tradesmen or enthusiasts who form themselves into committees and take the responsibility upon themselves.
In the meantime Pat coped remarkably well with her efforts to look after herself and it wasn't until towards the end of 1981, that is ten years after her Mother had died and left her on her own, that she showed signs of inability to cope. Until then she had vehemently resisted any idea of leaving her home but she was changing her view and so we started to look for some suitable place. After several enquiries and inspections, some too far away, some quite outside her means and others not very attractive anyway, we settled on the Hostel at Mayflower village, Westmead that had been started by the Congregational Church but now part of the Uniting Church. There was a waiting list but by March 1982 a vacancy occurred and Pat moved in there. The Jackson family home was sold and the estate wound up, the proceeds being distributed to Pat, Jean and Tom's widow, Kitty. Pat has fitted in very well at Mayflower, although her health, acuity and comprehension have deteriorated in the three or more years she has been there. Part of this turned out to be because of over-dosing of the drugs she continues to take for her epilepsy-dilantin, phenobarbs, etc. She became so badly affected by this careless overdosing by the Doctor and others looking after her that she became mentally lethargic and very unsteady on her feet. One fall resulted in a broken arm and another-when Jean and I were actually there one day-in putting her teeth through her lip and other abrasions for which we took her to the casualty department of Westmead Hospital where the young woman doctor who attended to her discerned the problem of the over-administration of drugs and got in touch with Pat's regular doctor who had been prescribing them but who then quickly had the matter corrected. In the meantime the staff at the Village had moved Pat into the Nursing Home where she is in a 4-bed room. At first she simply lay in bed or lounged in a chair, unable to walk, dress herself or attend to her bodily needs. She was so affected by the drugs that it was almost impossible to communicate with her and it appears she has little or no recollection of that period. Fortunately, the reduction in the drugs has resulted in a considerable improvement and she is more like her old self, dressing and caring for herself generally, eating in the dining room and able to write letters, read well and manage her hearing aid which earlier had got too much for her. Jean and I still feel responsible for her and attend to her financial affairs, find what clothing she needs and visit her as often as we can. It is heartening to find her so much improved and able to walk pretty well, although she likes to have her walking frame for security.
The other subject I wanted to cover is “The League of Health”. This was an organisation to which Jean was introduced in the late 1950s by our old friend Jean Gorton when both of them needed some extra help because of health problems. The League was started in England by a Mrs. Bagot Stack who trained the Director and Founder of the Australian Branch of the League, Thea Stanley Hughes. Originally the League was designed for the welfare of girls who worked in factories and shops, girls who had very little to live on and who endured very hard conditions and were glad to participate in classes that were cheap and where, besides finding someone interested in their welfare, they could learn, of all things, tap dancing. When Thea, as she was known to all, set up the Australian Organisation, conditions had changed for the better and she changed the direction of the League somewhat, in that at first she aimed at City office girls but still kept the cost of the classes as cheap as possible so that cost would not inhibit those seeking the health benefits the League aimed to give. She later wrote, “I soon realised that people from all different walks of life have much the same problems and that all people want health or at least they want the things that health can bring them. The League's cheapness makes it a very interesting experiment, giving people the chance to have this specialised training...” A primary factor in the classes was what Thea called “Movement”. This was no longer tap-dancing, nor was it callisthenics of the physical culture club type, nor jazz ballet nor yoga exercises. “Movement” had elements of all of these, I suppose, with a leaning towards the latter, but in a very relaxed form. It was left to each participant to determine the speed with which the movements were carried out and when their participation stopped and started. There were some in the classes who hardly participated in the movements at all but just lay relaxed on the floor, letting their bodily and emotional tensions dissipate under the influence of the music which always played an important part in the classes. The relaxation aspect was aided by what were called “readings”, mostly poems or short essays, many of which were from Thea's own pen. The best of these were regularly published in a little magazine called, in the spirit of the League, “Movement”. A subscription to this magazine meant that you always received two copies, one to keep and one to give away. Members were urged to read and re-read these articles as much as possible to achieve a measure of relaxation outside the classes, but they were not encouraged to do the special exercises except as a group.
After Jean Gorton had participated in the classes for a while she became so enthusiastic that she invited others, Jean amongst them, to come with her in her car each week to the classes which were held in the League's own building near Circular Quay in Sydney and in various Church Halls around the suburbs. Jean found them helpful and continued to attend classes as often as she could, sometimes three times a week. She can tell of many, many people who could hardly walk, or who couldn't communicate, who participated and were helped tremendously by the classes.
There were children's classes, too, held in the City on Saturday mornings and for a year or two after Ann had suffered from a series of illnesses culminating in rheumatic fever Jean encouraged her to go along. Mostly I drove her to the classes and then spent a couple of hours in the office until it was time to pick her up again and drive home for lunch. In fact, I spent a fair bit of time one way and another acting as driver to the classes for Jean and her friends, usually at night time and not too far away from home. And I was glad to do this because it helped Jean survive a very difficult period of indifferent health and emotional trauma after poor little Ian's early death following her difficult pregnancy and the subsequent remedial surgery.
One of the fortunate things about the League was that it had a pretty strong organisation in all the States so that there were well-established classes for Jean to attend when we moved to Brisbane. These were mostly in the daytime, and it frequently worked out that the City classes finished about 12.30 or so and I was able to spend my lunch-hour driving Jean and one or two neighbours home. Other classes were held at night-time and, whenever possible I helped Jean to attend by providing the transport.
Not only did the classes give Jean help with her health, but it also helped her to meet some very good friends, some of whom she still cherishes, and who are probably her best friends outside our family and Church fellowship. Jean continued the classes after we returned to Sydney, although the city classes had been dropped by then. There were classes at Parramatta during the week and at Strathfield/Homebush on Saturday afternoons which were convenient for Jean to attend. In fact the Saturday ones fitted in well with my lawn-mowing activities at Pat's place, the length of the classes giving just about enough time for me to drive to Granville, mow the lawn, have a cup of tea with Pat and drive back to Strathfield.
But it wasn't long, about 1978 I think, when it was found that support had fallen and costs risen so that many classes were dropped. The last one Jean attended, and it could well have been the last held anywhere, was in a Church Hall at The Spit Junction, held on Saturday mornings. I used to drive Jean over there from Drummoyne, fill in the two hours reading the Herald and doing a bit of shopping, and then we'd drive home again or-and we saw quite a lot of the harbour-side suburbs by doing this-open up our thermos and sandwiches at Balmoral or Manly or The Spit and then meander in the car around the back streets of the area.
The last I heard of the League of Health was that the classes had finished but their publishing was continuing. The last booklet of theirs I read was about “reincarnation”, of all things, and I really wondered what had happened to the earlier principles of the people who formed and ran it for so long with such good results. One of Jean's greatest disappointments in life was when the classes were dropped. There was nothing in her opinion to take the place of The League.