Chapter 8 - Matters of the Heart
When I was quite a small boy my Mother, who was incurably romantic, used to embarrass me greatly by linking my name with a pretty little girl with blonde curly hair. Her name was Audrey Lees. The trouble was, I didn't really like her, certainly not enough to think of her as a “girlfriend”! The fact is, although I was aware that there were some differences between girls and boys (girls wore frocks and had longer hair) and a bit inquisitive about them, I cannot recall having any romantic feelings towards them until I was at High School and about fourteen. It was then I became aware of a rather pretty girl named Jean Kirkness who was in a different class to me but who used to sit at my desk when our class was out in the Science Laboratory and hers used our temporarily vacant room. I don't know how it started, but we used to write notes to each other, which we left in the desk in the classroom for the other to pick up when we changed rooms. My fantasy world was filled with dreams of Jean. I collected these little notes written on scraps of exercise books and hid them in a tobacco tin which, in turn was hidden in a hollow tree in the bush near our orchard. I swear it is true!
But one day my dream world was shattered. The note said something to the effect that it would be the last as its writer had taken a fancy to an older boy, known as “Smiler” Voysey. It had always been my habit to keep the note from her in my pocket until I was alone before reading it. Boys can be so cruel to each other, and if it had fallen into the wrong hands, hands adept at snatching things like notes, I would be the butt of unbearable slander. I can visualise now the moment when, standing on the hillside near my secret cache, I took the note from my pocket, realised it signalled the end of the romance and a tear moistened my cheek. The tear was not so much because of the shattering of a beautiful dream, as it was an emotional recognition of what a wonderful girl she was to have bothered to tell me about it! In all this time Jean and I, as far as I can remember, had never spoken a word to each other-just wrote romantic little notes and exchanged meaningful looks when we passed in the corridor or down the street! That concluded my first romance.
The next started in the back of the bus that took us home of an afternoon from Gosford High. It seemed to me that there was only one girl old enough and attractive enough to engage my attention. Her name was rather euphonious, Mavis Moore. Her Father was a farmer at Somersby and, so she told me, a man with a terrible temper. We used to sit together in the bus and talk about weighty matters under cover of the pretence that we were studying our books. Our homes were about thirteen miles from each other so, except for one occasion, we never saw each other except at school and in the bus. The exception was when Mr. Moore brought his family to the Kulnura Show in early 1936 and there Mavis and I were seen talking to each other on more than one occasion, at the hoopla and the Punch & Judy Show. The result, according to Mavis, was that she got a “belting”. Very soon afterwards I left High School and moved to Sydney. I remember writing to Mavis once. I got no reply. But, I suppose, she got another “belting”. And that was the end of that!
Let us go back from 1936 to 1933 and 1934 when I was living with my Grandparents and attending Parramatta High School. During this time I used to go the Granville Methodist Sunday School which was held at 2.45 each Sunday afternoon. The usual procedure was to go to Church in the morning after which I would have lunch with Auntie Beattie and Uncle George Jordan who lived in Milton Street, Granville. Auntie Beat was Mum's younger sister and there was also a very young cousin called Lynette who would have been five or six at the time. After lunch I invariably went across the street to the Longfords and sat in their lounge room reading Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopaedia until it was time to go to Sunday School with the two Longford girls, Esme (Babe) and Phyl. We always looked on the Longfords as cousins although I am not aware of any blood relationship. Nevertheless I like to look on them as “Distantly Related”. They both taught in the Sunday School while I was a pupil in a class of boys led by a very dedicated young man, Ted Ellis. Mr. G. W. Gorton was Superintendent at the time.
Just across the aisle was a class of very small girls, just graduated from the Kindergarten and they were taught by a most attractive red-headed girl called Jean Jackson, although I probably didn't even know her name at that time. I remember her as being a rather friendly tomboy although she joined with others to “kid” me about my knickerbockers which my mother insisted I wear with my Sunday suit and which were a great embarrassment to me. I was nevertheless attracted to her although I was only twelve or thirteen at the time and she was sixteen or seventeen. At that age, four or five years seemed like the proverbial generation gap. In any case, I went back to Mangrove in late 1934 and, I suppose, forgot about her, or nearly so.
But in mid-1936 I returned to Granville Church after getting a job at Babcocks and was again rather attracted to this lovely redhead, although she still seemed rather old and sophisticated compared to the shy awkward “country boy with a twitch” that I was. One of the first things I bought after saving a few shillings from my sixteen shillings per week wages was a tiny camera called an “Ensign Twin” which cost four shillings and sixpence and took pictures about the size of a good sized postage stamp, sixteen of them on a Kodak 127 film. It became mine just before the Sunday School picnic held in early November at a place called Putney Park opposite Mortlake on the Parramatta River. My photo album records that on that first film is a picture, of the said Jean Jackson taken at that picnic.
She didn't seem to mind me “hanging around” when we met at Sunday School and on occasions such as picnics, even though there was such a gap in our ages and levels of experience. To add to the opportunities of meeting, a few of the young people used to walk home with Mum and Dad after choir practice on Thursday evenings. One of these was Jean, and we invariably had a bit of a chat over supper, and felt “comfortable” with each other.
By this time I was sixteen or seventeen and, I suppose, the age difference was not so obvious, but we remained simply “good friends” and there was no particular thought of romance on the part of either one of us, although I remember an occasion one evening after choir practice when I was standing on the back verandah at home when Jean passed through on the way from the kitchen to the dining room with a plate of biscuits and she stopped long enough to give me a good kiss. That stirred me up because I think it was probably the first time a girl had kissed me rather than me trying to kiss a girl. There is a difference, and it was a kiss to remember! But nothing came of that kiss at the time as I don't think it ever occurred to me that she was ever likely to be “my girl” especially as she was keeping company with an older boy at the Church, Harry Gorton.
In any case I had a bit of a yen at that time for another nice girl at the Church called Ilma Jessop. One of her assets was a very lovely mezzo-soprano singing voice which, with her adolescent charm, endeared her to everyone who knew her. It captivated me. But the trouble was that there was just the opposite age difference that there was with Jean. Ilma would have been only thirteen or fourteen when I was sixteen. I could, if I was lucky, sit near her at Church and be on the same committees at Christian Endeavour, but how to “take her out” to the movies or go bike-riding with her? Her parents apparently heard that I was paying some attention to their daughter who told me that they took a dim view of it, and that Ilma had been told in no uncertain terms that it had to stop. But Jean, who was on good terms with everyone, including the Jessop family interceded on our behalf and, after a while Ilma was allowed to go riding in the park with me, and even as far as Koala Park at West Pennant Hills on one occasion. One Saturday Afternoon we even went to The Roxy together to see The Mikado movie where we sat in the back stalls holding hands, but I'm not sure now whether her parents really knew about that.
All of this time I was still keen on Jean's company (and approval) and I recall that, as I was still very wary of causing Ilma any trouble with her parents I would walk her home after church at night or after a church social, leave her at the end of the street and then wait for Jean and walk home with her, chatting and enjoying being together but nothing more. Then the big break-through! I was actually invited by the Jessops to a Sunday tea. I think it may have been a birthday celebration. Certainly amongst the guests was Jean as I recall that we had lobster salad, amongst other things and someone “dared” Jean to wear a lobster feeler in her hat to church that night and she did!
The next exciting event was that Mr. & Mrs. Jessop agreed that Ilma could go with Harry Gorton, Jean and me on a car trip to Katoomba on Anzac day 1939. Harry hired a Morris 8/40 Roadster and we all went to the Dawn Service at the Cenotaph in Martin Place and then drove up to the Blue Mountains for the day. The girls packed lunch and we really had a lovely day. I have some photos that bring back happy memories. The only trouble was that the friendship between Harry and Jean was not developing along the lines that Harry had hoped for. This was to be their last day out together because Jean didn't want to get “too serious” with Harry.
And it was also soon after that promising point in my relationship with Ilma she told me that she didn't like me as much as another, and could we please call it off. I don't think I was too desolated at this news as I was beginning to realise that I was much more romantically inclined than she was, and in any event I was going through a phase when I was quite willing to spend any spare time reading magazines about motor-bikes and cameras. I was going to Tech three nights a week, studying and doing assignments (or supposed to be) and I was also occupied with The Endeavour Print. So, for a while, I didn't do any courting although there were one or two girls in the Church and at Work that I thought were rather nice. But nothing came of it. Also, after Jean's affair with Harry Gorton had broken up she had become friendly with another Harry, Harry Burchall, who she had met through a workmate. He didn't attend our Church so we saw less of Jean until, after a relatively short time Harry Burchall was very tragically killed in a motor-bike accident. Jean was naturally very distressed and for a few weeks we didn't see much of her at the Church while she mourned. I recall that she applied for three month's leave of absence from her teaching duties and playing the organ at the morning service. It was not long, however-certainly less than three months-that she was back in the thick of things because it was at the Church that she found the greatest comfort.
By the time War was declared in September 1939 Harry Gorton was keeping company with Jean Rose and I was rather unenthusiastically paired off with a very nice young lady called Pat Fleming. Although we went out a bit together there was little romance in our relationship. In fact it was mostly encouraged by Dot Chegwidden who was a bit of a match-maker. Most of the time Pat and I spent together was at the Chegwidden's Grocery shop where she typed the stencils for “The Torch-bearer” while I ran them off on the duplicator. We did have one or two picnics with Harry Gorton and Jean Rose when the four of us went off on our motorbikes to places like Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River. Then on the October Labour Day 1939 (it was called 8-hour day then) the Christian Endeavour Society arranged a picnic to Cronulla Beach. Most of the young people went by train (the line to Cronulla had been opened in 1932) but Pat and I went on the motorbike. For some reason Pat and I had become estranged during the day and we realised our companionship, for that was all it really was, had little going for it and had better come to an end. Nevertheless we all had a lovely day surfing and picnicking and around a campfire at night.
While the campfire was burning Harry Gorton, who had been on an Army Camp for the weekend, having joined the militia not long before, arrived on his big Harley-Davidson to take Jean Rose home. After the break with Pat, I had been spending most of the day with Jean Jackson. I always seemed to take my troubles to her! My album has a photo I took that day of Jean holding a thin scarf over her head in the wind while she stood on a rock showing off the best pair of legs on the Coast. As Pat had said she would go home on the train it was natural that I would ask Jean if she would like to ride home behind me on the Beeza as company for Harry and Jean. It was that night, when I was barely eighteen and a half years old, that I told her I loved her. She didn't laugh, as I had feared she might, as her twenty-third birthday was only a few days away, but seemed pleased with the idea and from that night on we spent all our spare time together, sometimes with Harry and Jean, but more frequently on our own. The following eight-hour day we rode down to Kiama, just the two of us, and the photos I took have every appearance of two young people very happy and very much in love.
During the next two years we saw the weddings of Harry Gorton to Jean Rose, Frank Breedon to Edith Chegwidden, Arthur Tomlinson to Nancy Hayes and Ron Robertson to Nancy Rickersy. We became engaged on my 21st Birthday, 7th March 1942 and were married on Saturday, 6th March 1943. Other Chapters will tell the happy sequel.