It was good to see the boys looking well. They told me about their new school which was not nice; it was just a barrack-like place built on sand. There were no trees, not even grass, just sand and dust. They thought that the teachers weren’t bad. Bama looked well too but she said that she had pain near her liver.
The house which was allocated to us had three bedrooms with no passage, doors leading from room to room. It had no living room, a large kitchen but no stove - only a great gaping hole. The toilet was somewhere far away. Zygmunt did not show me where it was and that evening we went outside near some shrubs. The house next door to us was not finished and had no stove as yet, but Zygmunt brought some bricks and we could cook our meals outdoors. Zygmunt said that there should be no rain during the next few weeks and by then the stove next door would be installed.
Zygmunt worked shift work and quite often two shifts in a row which gave him 8 hours’ free time of which one hour was used up in going and coming from work, half an hour for washing and scrubbing himself and his hands, one hour for eating and talking, which left him 5-1/2 hrs for sleep. It was bearable. The pay was really very good and the house rent was only one pound per week. The school was near enough for the children to come home for lunch. I should look for work, somewhere.
It seemed not bad and there was a lot of hope for improvement. There were only two places to look for work: State Rivers & Water Supply Commission and Utah Construction Ltd. They were building a new dam, the Eildon Weir. They were demolishing hills and building new ones, building intake towers, power stations. On the first morning at Eildon there happened a funny incident which had a follow-up later on. Zygmunt left for the morning shift, the children went to school and Bama went for a walk.
I took a toilet roll and went to look for a toilet. There was none in the unfinished house nor could I see one anywhere. It was broad daylight and I had to find one in a hurry. A woman came out from No 1 (we lived in No 5) and greeted me in a friendly way. I asked her where the WC was (I did not know the word “toilet”). She looked blankly at me. I said “Water Closet” but she still looked blank and repeated “water closet”? Then she said that there sure was plenty of water but what did I mean by closet? I hitched up my skirt and pointed to the toilet roll in my hand. She just grinned and said: “Why didn’t you say so? Oh, you New Australians. Yours is far away; come to mine, you are welcome to use my shithouse any time.”
There occurred another funny incident which showed how hard it was for us to say what we wanted to say, when we had to look up dictionaries to find the proper word. Bama, pointing to her stomach, asked the doctor: “Crayfish in here?” The doctor thought that Bama had eaten crayfish but Bama told him: “I not eat crayfish, crayfish eat me.” The doctor looked puzzled and Bama explained: “My mother had crayfish and died. I have also crayfish? I will die?” The explanation was simple. In the dictionary there are often a few English words for the one Polish one.
In Polish, the word “rak” had two words – crayfish and cancer. We did not know the word “cancer” but knew the word “crayfish”. Simple from our point of view but quite confusing for the doctor who tried to understand our problem. I had a similar problem a few years later when I could already speak better English. I went with Jurek to a doctor near Huntingdale and told him that Jurek had “almonds”. The doctor thought that Jurek had eaten almonds and maybe some had got stuck, but I explained: “Not stuck almonds, almonds grow bigger and bigger and Jurek often had pains.” The doctor stopped asking questions and had a look at Jurek’s throat and beaming, said: “You mean tonsils.” I checked up in the dictionary and there again were two words for the Polish “migdalek” – almond and tonsil (anat.). As I had never heard the word “tonsil”, I chose “almond”.
Our first year at Eildon was not exciting but I was never bored. Each morning after the children had left for school, I had to do some shopping as we still could not afford to buy a fridge, and an ice-chest was no good as no ice was delivered. When I came home, I had to prepare lunch for the boys and Bama, and later on do some housework. As I was unable to get employment, I started to make “faworki” – something like little cakes which I could sell at the general store but, after working for many hours a day, I barely cleared a few shillings a week as I had an initial outlay for packaging. When I had spare time, I went for long walks which I enjoyed as there was always something new to see.
Many days a week I had to do the washing as we did not have many spare clothes. It was a hard job. The sheets had to be washed and scrubbed in the bath and that made me tired as I had to bend all the time. All other things I washed in the kitchen sink and the water had to be heated in pots on a wooden stove. Zygmunt or the boys helped to do the wringing as my hands were still bleeding after every wash. I taught the boys how to cook and they became quite good; each of them could cook seven different meals – one for each day of the week. When Zygmunt worked during the evenings, I wrote up my diary.
We acquired a stray dog – a beautiful red setter – a kitten and, later on, Jurek brought home a small rabbit which, within a few days, learned to behave nicely and which ate with us at the table, nibbling daintily from each plate. Darning had to be done every day as our clothes were very worn and we could not afford to buy new ones. We were paying off our hostel bill and were saving each week, at least something, towards our future home. I attended mothers’ meetings at the school and found it very interesting as we had nothing like it in Lithuania.
Here occurred another funny incident. At the first meeting I sat next to a Mrs Speedie who seemed friendly and pleasant and rather a shy person. I did not know at that time that her husband was a high-ranking engineer employed by the SR & WSC on the Eildon project. After the meeting we left together and she asked me to go to her place for a cup of coffee. It was nice of her to invite the “bloody New Australian” and I accepted happily, especially as this was my first invitation in Eildon. When we entered her house I asked her: “Please, where is your shithouse?” She blinked her eyes, her face was pink, but she showed me the place.
When I came back she told me that in Australia one did not use these words, one called it “toilet” or “WC” – or something else which I forget, but I told her: “Oh no, one does not call it WC., I know one does not call it that, but what did you say about toil…?”
She was one of the minority who was not stand-offish, nor did she try to show her superiority for having been born here. Elizabeth and the girls came a few times to visit us which was such a pleasure for me as I missed Elizabeth very much. On Helen’s birthday, they came and we all celebrated it together. Estelle also came to visit us, so did Marusia Volka, Talunia and Mietek. During all this time Bama was depressed, very quiet and kind and no bother to anyone. One pay day when Zygmunt came home, he told me that he had seen on the blackboard near the Pay Office, an advertisement by Utah Construction, stating that they required a typist for their typing pool. He advised me to apply.
I applied, and was accepted – at a fantastic salary; I think it was 12 pounds weekly, not including overtime. I was beside myself. All that money! I was accepted as a “temporary” for the summer season only when most of the married women with children wanted their holidays. Zygmunt was due for his annual leave, and he certainly needed it. He looked very tired although he never once complained. I knew only that he did not like the work in the field as often he was welding whilst being suspended by a crane lift, and he never felt comfortable being high up.
After many nights of arguments I got my way and Zygmunt agreed to have a holiday and to go to Sydney to visit Talunia and Mietek. He went by coach, as it was cheaper, and it would not matter that he had to sit up all night as he was able to sleep anywhere.
My work at Utah consisted mainly of typing figures and I liked it as numbers were the same anywhere and always held some kind of fascination for me. The work had to be perfect – 100% accurate – and rubbing out was considered poor work. I had a huge typewriter with a supporting leg for the carriage as the sheets of paper were very big and all covered with figures, columns and columns of them. I (poor clot) had to use the eraser a few times on each page.
When Zygmunt came back from Sydney, happy and relaxed, I told him that I would quit as I did not want to wait until I was sacked.
After many heated arguments, he persuaded me to wait until I would be sacked as each week meant those extra pounds and shillings.
I agreed to stay and stayed for the next three years until Utah Construction completed their job. I was proud to work for Utah. We were building “The Dam”, a weir which would hold more water than all of Sydney Harbour. Victoria would have water where it would be needed and I, a typist in the typing pool, was also helping to build the dam. I loved it all. I was the only New Australian in the office. Everyone was nice to me; the girls in the typing pool were very pleasant and we became friends, especially Marie who was nicknamed “Feather” and her husband, Nick, and also Pat J. Later on Connie came to our typing pool. I liked her from the first day. She must have been about 21, a lot younger than I, but somehow it did not matter. She loved music, she loved books. She was shy and nervous as she had recently come from Fiji where there had been an earthquake and tidal wave.
It must have been horrible to feel that the ground you stood on was not safe. It was something that I simply could not imagine as the only solid and stable thing, to me, was the ground that I walked on.
All of the girls often had a good laugh when I used the wrong word or mispronounced it, but they were never rude; their laughter was constructive criticism and I liked it. As an example, one day I rang Dr Hurley in Melbourne and asked to speak to Dr Hurley but his secretary told me:
The girls could not stop laughing and it took a while until they were able to explain the meaning of “I don’t think…” - My God, English sure is an odd language; never would I be able to understand it. Should somebody say “I don’t think” it would not mean that they do not think, it meant that they knew without thinking. Why didn’t they say so? Another burst of laughter from the girls.
Marie and Nick taught Zyg a lesson too, quite unintentionally. One evening when we finished work at 10:00 pm, Zyg was free and came to pick me up. On our way home, Marie asked Nick if he had cleaned the entire house properly. He replied that he had; only the kitchen floor needed a bit more polishing. He had also ironed everything and he had scrubbed the back porch. Zyg listened without saying a word. When we came home I started, as usual, to wash up the dishes and I also wanted to wash out a few things. Zygmunt told me: “Leave it. I will do it tomorrow as I will work only 10 hours and not 16. I can do it. Nick was doing it, I can do it too.” Zygmunt went even further. After thinking for a while, he said that the washing was too much for me and that I should send the laundry out.
We were earning enough now and could afford it. There were a few New Australian women who did it and, from now on I should send my laundry out. I agreed happily. I hated the washing and especially the sheets which had to be washed in the bath. I did not like the wringing or the pegging out on the sagging rope either. Already the next day I asked a Russian woman to do it for me. I was really happy; no more bleeding hands, no backache. I felt like a queen. Zygmunt’s and my education into the Australian way of life started in Eildon.
Although there was a majority of New Australians, there were also many Australians, Canadians and Americans. It was here that Zygmunt became Zyg for short which made it a lot easier and I became Maria instead of Marushka. Here began my “Liberation” movement, my emancipation. In Eastern Europe, the wife was always treated very courteously, especially in public; in literature she was put on a pedestal as the mother of the future citizens, as the one who kept the hearth of house, etc. etc., but in all classes of society she had a greater burden to carry than that of the man, especially in the country and amongst the factory and labouring class.
The farmer and his wife worked shoulder to shoulder all day in the field but, and this was a very big BUT, she had to get up earlier and milk the cows, feed the pigs, prepare the breakfast and get the children organized. Coming back from the work in the fields, he would drop onto his hay mattress while she would rush to milk the cows again, feed the animals, start cooking, sweep the floors, prepare the evening meal and, when everything was ready, she would call her man to come for the meal. He always got the best bits and the biggest portions. Admittedly, the man did the harder physical work such as chopping down trees, carrying heavy bags, but this extra work was not done every day – only occasionally – whilst she had to do her work every day, all her life. I grew up in this kind of atmosphere; it was the normal way of life.
Before the war, I did only what I wanted to do and, during the war we all had to do a lot more than we wanted to. That was normal during abnormal times. However, a man was a man – a lot more valuable than a woman. On him depended the future independence of our country. He was the one who wanted to kill or to be killed, he was the provider – either through the game in the forests and fields or through the pay envelope from the office. Zyg and I grew up in this kind of atmosphere.
Although neither of us could cook when we got married, I learned to cook when there was no cook. Never would it have entered either Zyg’s or my head that Zyg should start to learn cooking. Until the war I never did any washing or ironing but when, all of a sudden, there was no laundry woman or maid, it was I who had to learn how to do it. We were both brought up under the assumption that all the work connected with house, garden and children was entirely the wife’s responsibility. We, the females, could go out and earn the money but he, the man, could not share the housework. One night when we were speaking about the Australian way of life, Zyg told me that as from now he would share with me the work involved in doing household chores.
I felt very happy about it as it left me more time to do the mending and darning. Bama started to get difficult and unpleasant but not too bad as yet. I remember with pleasure the time we lived in Eildon. Although we were tired working long hours, we also had fun. During summer, if Zyg was available during lunch time, we all went swimming, including the boys. In the evening we often listened to records, either at our place or at the hostel. Connie, Merton and others used to exchange records; Merton would pretend to be the conductor, someone else would hum and so on. Afterwards there were heated debates about the music, the composer, conductor, etc. Sometimes we played bridge, mostly with Ruth and Milton. On our fortnightly weekends off, we sometimes went to Melbourne, leaving the boys with Bama, and I asked Marie to keep an eye on them. In Melbourne we did window shopping and occasionally went to concerts or shows. Once we had a mannequin parade in Eildon showing beautiful, exclusive gowns. Olga, a really glamorous girl, the wife of one of the engineers, even took part in the parade. It was all fun.
Slowly we began to get used to Australian food but it took a long time. Most of all we missed our bread and unsalted butter. I would wash the butter in many waters before we were able to eat it. In the years 1951-1953 the food that we liked was available in Footscray only. Things like kabana, salami, eels, buckwheat, fresh ham (not pressed), herrings, lax schinken, kaiserfleisch, yoghurt, sour cream, buttermilk, etc. Even fruit and vegetables – although we had a greater variety in Australia than we did in Poland – but still there were no radishes, beetroots with leaves attached, no dill for our cucumbers. It took years until we got used to and liked Australian food. Zyg and I were very lucky to have met some people at Eildon who became our friends.
There was Connie (who, even after 25 years, was still our friend) and Ian (whom she married) became our friend too. There were Ruth and Milton, Marie and Nick and, later on, Mary and John, and there were Woodie and Peter. Peter was a lot younger than I but we had two things in common; we loved talking about philosophy and we loved to listen to classical music. We would sit on the floor in the living room and listen to music, and later argue about life in general, reincarnation, modern philosophers. We talked until Zyg came back from his afternoon shift and sometimes through most of the night.
At Eildon I had access to a piano for a few hours each day. I tried for a few weeks to play but felt frustrated as the broken finger would not do as told and even all the other fingers were stiff. I was unable to play the way I could years before and decided never to play again. Playing the piano was not a hobby with me; I had been trained to become a professional and, because I was unable to play well, I decided to listen to good records and not to my bad playing.
The children were doing quite well at school, especially Jurek. Roman was lagging behind with reading. Both boys liked to read comics although Roman asked me to read them to him. My friends advised me to forbid the children from reading this trash, but I disagreed. I argued that the main thing would be to teach the child to read and then let the child read for fun – anything, any rubbish, as long as he got pleasure from reading. Only later on one could try to interest the child in reading something considered “suitable or educational”. In a short while Roman became good at reading (comics mainly) but later on both boys read just for fun – books about Biggles, “Black Beauty”, etc.
My education at Eildon was more or less completed when I learned the game called “Two-up”. Only men were allowed to play but, because I knew most of them, I was allowed to watch – although it was an illegal game. It was fascinating to watch the men who, quite often, would lose all they had earned during 160 hours of hard work. Those who won would lose it again very soon, and I was unable to find out who it was who really had won.
Bama became more difficult and more unreasonable. Marie used to tell me that Bama was mad, but I took it simply as a manner of speech, but within a short time she became worse. She accused me of poisoning her as the porridge which I had cooked tasted bitter. She even refused to take sugar from the sugar bowl, etc. etc.
Once, after Bama tried to kill me (and Roman saved my life) I went to the local doctor for advice and was told to be careful, never to sit with my back to a door, and always have easy access to a door or window. My nerves started to play up and I could not pretend the way I had done when we lived in Bern. I tried, but I could not. I thought that it was because I was feeling old. I was already 38/39 and I was constantly tired as, in addition to all the housework (including darning and mending) I worked for 12 days straight, between 10 and 14 hours each day. Zyg and the boys saw that the relationship was not good between Bama and me.
Once Zyg came in when Bama (with a whip in her hand) was hitting me. The same day Zyg went with Bama to the local doctor and was advised to go with her to Melbourne to some specialists, one of whom was Dr Kiel who (I think) could speak Polish. Zygmunt was told that Bama would have to live in an institution and not with the family as it might be dangerous and definitely bad for the boys.
When Zygmunt and Bama came back from Melbourne they walked for hours along the creek, Zyg trying to convince Bama that she had to go to a hospital where she would be looked after. It was unbearably hard for Zygmunt and there was nothing I could do to help him. It was his decision to make. Should he sacrifice one for the good of the others? It was very hard for him as he loved his mother but he had made up his mind – he would listen to the advice of the doctors. He convinced her; she went willingly with Zyg to Melbourne and he left her at the mental hospital in Larundel. For months he would not talk about Bama. Every fortnight off he would go to Larundel to visit Bama and he would come home looking old, tired, and would not speak. It was like living in a nightmare. I was unable to help him; I did not know how to explain to the boys that Bama had to go away; I felt a failure, inadequate, because I was unable to cope with Bama, Zygmunt’s mother.
It was a long time before we could speak about Bama. We did not blame anyone but we both tried to think about small things which would make Bama a bit happier in hospital. We did not speak about the one topic which was uppermost in our minds – was Bama’s illness hereditary or not? We were both too frightened to put this into words.
One day when I came home I found a few men (Zyg’s mates) undressing him, the doctor supervising and Zyg moaning. The doctor explained that the X-rays did not show any broken bones, that Zyg had injured his spine and should stay in bed for a few weeks without any movement whatsoever and later on try, slowly, to take a few steps at a time. He would call to see Zyg a few times a week. After a few weeks (when Zyg was able to sit up) we played chess, and Jurek would watch and ask questions.
In no time Jurek mastered the moves and before Zyg returned to work, Jurek could play chess – and later on became a lot better than us. During Zyg’s illness when I had the days off, I asked my friends to look after Zyg and, with Roman and Jurek, I went to see Bama in Bundoora. She looked well although she complained about the shock treatments and was happy to see Jurek. She was rational most of the time – odd only occasionally. After visiting Bama, I went to see the doctor in charge and asked the question which bothered us: whether Bama’s mental illness was hereditary or not, explaining that I was worried thinking about our sons. He was quite certain that it was not hereditary. To reassure me he explained the causes which brought her to a mental home. Firstly, she had had a very abnormal sex life as, from the moment she knew that she was pregnant, she would have no sex, calling it dirty and degrading.
Her attitude persisted after Zygmunt was born. Secondly, her menopause came at a critical time – her husband died, the war was in progress, her only child was taken away by a strange woman and even got married; she felt that she had lost her son. The first wrinkles and the first grey hairs drove her to despair; she could not cope with life. She had always been admired for her good looks, for her feminine charm, her lovely complexion, and she suffered – really suffered – when she realized that she was getting old, or rather older. The doctor was quite certain that I should stop worrying about my sons. But what would happen if my sons had daughters? The doctor was again quite certain that there was no cause for worry – it was not hereditary; there might have been a weakness but the main cause was the holocaust of war. He told me that he was one hundred per cent certain that I had no cause to worry, either about my sons or my future grandchildren.
One autumn (was it 1953?) there came a depression. Many people were dismissed and most of the work suspended. We were worried that Zyg might be retrenched. We still did not have enough money for a house because in the meantime we had bought a block of land in Clayton. I was still working but a female was not entitled to a house and if Zyg was retrenched, we would have to move out. I liked my work as now I was sometimes even allowed to help in the pay office and I could ask questions when typing and about different aspects of accounts. I would have been sorry to lose the job as, in addition to liking the work, I was earning good money with all the overtime.
We were lucky and were able to stay on as Zyg was given a job as a greaser in the maintenance shop – mainly to grease the huge earthmoving equipment, the Euclids. His pay was to be a lot less, and the shifts were not good, as the Euclids would be working during the day, but Zyg happily accepted so that we could stay in the house where we had cheap rent (and my earnings were really good). From the first day Zyg did not like his new work. His mates were unpleasant chaps and they also did not like Zyg. One was a pimp and the others were of the criminal class – they called Zyg a prude Catholic. What a joke! Zyg a prude and a Catholic. He also did not like the constant dirty work and, on returning home, he would scrub his hands for at least half an hour.
During one night there happened a tragic accident. His mate, a Ukrainian, was killed – squashed to death by a Euclid. The hydraulic pin did not work properly and the man was killed whilst greasing a DKD. Zyg saw the last moments but was unable to help. A human life expired, a man was dead.
Next spring, once again Utah was working full time. Zyg again became a welder, assigned to the intake tower. He did not like this job as he was always afraid of heights which made him dizzy. Heights were always a problem with Zyg and – to a lesser extent – with Roman, but Jurek and I did not mind heights at all. We even felt good being high up; the higher the better. Zyg (when working high up) felt very uncomfortable but tried to stick it out because the money was very good as, in addition to the normal pay, there was also “height money”, “danger money”, “dirt money”, etc., but he became nervous and hated himself for it although he was unable to control his feelings.
That summer both Jurek and Roman got their first jobs. Mr Moore engaged them to deliver newspapers to homes. Both were happy in the beginning but, one day when it was raining, Roman told me that he was quitting the work. When I asked him why he told me:
Roman was generous and let me go home after only a couple of blocks. He got his pushbike and continued his round. I did not mind him quitting but only after giving a week’s notice. I thought that it was time he learned responsibilities. Because the next day it stopped raining, Roman did not quit. That summer Jurek got his first real work; it was from the Post Office. He was hired to deliver parcels. There were a lot of parcels before Xmas and he sublet part of his work to Roman and paid him out of his earnings.
It was not a good summer for Jurek as one of his big toes started to fester and, although I applied different things, still it would not heal, becoming worse, and he was in pain. During my lunch time he came to the office and I changed his bandages and one day, there on his big toe, were living maggots, crawling along, eating him alive! I was scared but the doctor told me that it was nothing serious. It would take a few days only to clean up and that those maggots, those little white wriggling things, were really good as they ate only the dead and bad flesh, so really were protecting Jurek. During these days Roman earned a lot of money as Jurek gave him more work.
It was autumn when Jurek went into business – collecting bottles which he sold. Zyg made him a small cart and, as the men were drinking heavily, Jurek’s business prospered. He even hired sub-contractors and paid them half of what he would get himself. Roman was one of the sub-contractors. In the beginning, the money went for marbles and comics, later for matchbox cards and then for air pistols and towards chemicals for home explosives.
The children became a handful, Jurek being worse than Roman. They were running wild and exploring – except during school and meal times. To have more time for them I pre-cooked our evening meal in the morning and, during lunchtime, having chips and apples, we went swimming. Jurek had heard at school that the venom from snakes was required by doctors for serums. He decided to go and catch snakes.
I was always afraid of snakes and all crawling things but Jurek showed us how to make a fork from a suitable branch, how to hold the snake down, etc., and Zyg advised me to let him try. We bought them rubber boots and they went into the bush – snake hunting – usually in a group with other boys. One day when I was painting the bed that Zyg had made for us, Jurek came home with a snake in his hand and the snake was as long as Jurek. I though it was a dead one and gave it a push when the tail started to move in all directions, the mouth opened and the snake even hissed. I had trouble controlling myself and not have a fit.
After the snakes, came the time which I referred to as “The Bangs” – lasting for more than a year. Jurek proved to us that he knew what he was doing and we let him buy crystals and chemicals. Jurek promised to be careful, especially when other children were around. The kids started to call him “Professor”. I trusted Jurek to keep his promises for he was good at it, or at least he told me beforehand when he was going to break his promise. I realized that all these experiments were good from the educational point of view, but they were certainly a strain on my nerves. I never knew where the next bang might come from. The boys’ room was booby-trapped but the bangs also happened everywhere – in the bathroom, the outside toilet, near doors. At night, when putting down a book on the bedside table, there might be a loud “bang”. When serving soup, one never knew if one would step on another bang or not, and down went the soup on the kitchen floor. I learned to avoid them by just looking at the two innocent faces covered with looks of anticipation, full of expectation. Oh, the little monsters! After a while they calmed down a bit but they became more sensible only after a really “big bang”. With the help of the air gun and chemicals (and surrounded by many other kids), Jurek managed not only to break the back wall of the woodshed but also to damage the neighbour’s fence. He was very apologetic, explaining that it was not his fault, but now he promised – really promised – to stick to smaller bangs.
Later on came the period when Jurek wanted to prove to himself and to us that he was a man, a strong man, self-sufficient and independent. He went swimming much too far out, (over 1 km) and he went for long bushwalks.
Now he wanted to go alone, without his mates, for a few days into the wilderness. He explained that, with the use of his compass, he could go anywhere, that he would be able to catch food, that he was not afraid to be alone at night. He wanted to go into the hills where there were no roads. The hill, although only 6-7 km away, was not attended for foresters. He wanted to leave on Friday evening after school and come back on Sunday. I was afraid to let him go as I was thinking that he might sprain his ankle – even in the first hours; that he might be bitten by a poisonous snake or spider and die in agony; although he might also come back unharmed. Zyg wanted to let him go but told me that he would abide by my decision. How to know where the priorities were; whether risk should be permitted to satisfy this urge of Jurek’s?
I let Jurek go, equipped with a few sandwiches, raw potatoes, a groundsheet, a pocket- knife, some crystals to counteract snakebite, matches, flint and the best torch available in the general store. I thought that he might be able to send an SOS at night with this torch. Every night I stayed on our porch, watching the hill. Those few days were not easy but they were worthwhile when I saw Jurek coming back home on Sunday with torn clothing, scratched skin and so very happy and so proud of himself. I thought that I had done the right thing when I let him go but – how would I have felt if the ending had been different?
In 1955 we thought that we had enough money to start building our own house. We contacted a builder in Melbourne and started discussing details of our home. We wanted the following: one bedroom for us, one for the boys, one for Bama so that she could come and stay with us when she was feeling well, and one spare bedroom for later on as I hoped to bring my parents out as their life was getting harder each year. I wanted a small kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, a separate toilet if possible, and a dining/living room. No floor coverings, no curtains, no extras, as those could wait.
We made appointments with master builders and were ready to be away from home during the next few weekends off. I pre-cooked the food and Jurek had to warm it up. Marie and Pat promised to look after them. Peter was a great help too – he liked taking the boys and the dog for long walks. The dog (a mongrel) would follow Roman anywhere and during school hours would wait outside the school doors for playtime. The dog shared Roman’s bed with a tiny fluffy white kitten (was beautiful but tiny) and shared Roman’s pillow.
Roman very much liked these walks with Peter and Peter would talk to them, listen and answer questions. The builders looked at our block, at Zyg’s plans, and promised to draw up specification sheets and to let us know the exact amount required for a deposit. A loan had been arranged for us from the building society where I had worked before and where Elizabeth was now working – the 16th Building Society of YWCA.
The builder’s estimate was just barely acceptable as it would leave us without any spare money, but we could manage and that was all that really mattered. The working hours at Utah became unbearable as Utah was pushing hard to finish the work in the required time. It was normal for us in the typing pool to work until 11:00 pm but we all felt very tired. Zyg was now constantly on 16-hour shifts; he did not talk much and stopped doing our furniture, the record concerts became infrequent, the bridge game was now only once a month. We were all very tired. I was offered a job with Utah Construction at their Melbourne Office but declined as we would have found it hard to pay rent for a house in Melbourne, the children would have had to change schools for a short period again, and I did not want anymore overtime – I wanted a job from 9 till 5 – no more.
I was nearly 40 and tired from all the overtime as well as having the family to look after. Utah left and I got a job with the new firm Masonite, and Zyg became a night-watchman with SR & WSC. He liked his work; he liked feeding the hungry, half-wild abandoned cats – and he could use the machinery during his night shift.
I worked from 8 till 5 but I did not like my work; it was so utterly boring. Connie had left to go overseas, Marie and Nick left and so did most of the others. Luckily we became friendly with Mary and John whom we both liked very much.
The builder was sending amendments to his estimate, the price was going up and up and, after a while, we realized that it was impossible for us to build the house in Melbourne whilst living at Eildon. Every small detail took weeks to straighten out. Jurek was doing well at school and received a scholarship or (I think) a free place. Roman began to change but was still nice and well-mannered; I could not pin down what made me think that he had become different. We earned a lot less and were unable to save money. Perhaps we also spent too much as we bought a few things for the house from people who were leaving, such as extra chairs, a table, etc. One weekend we went to Melbourne and Zyg bought me (in Coles’ basement) three (!!!) new summer frocks as I was unable to decide which one I preferred. He also bought me three pairs of underpants and two brassieres. I was simply overwhelmed. I don’t think that anyone who has received the proverbial mink coat and diamonds could have felt as rich as I did that day. We also bought a sewing machine, an Elna, exactly the same as the one I had left in Switzerland, so now I could do all my repairs very quickly; no comparison with the time it took before when I had to do them by hand. Even the boys helped me with the darning and thought it great fun.
We had to decide whether we would settle down in Eildon (and buy one of the houses which were a lot cheaper than those in Melbourne) or move out. We decided to move out. As we were unable to build our house on our building block in Melbourne, we had to buy a house somewhere in Melbourne, somewhere amongst the sea of houses that we had seen nearly six years earlier when we had first arrived in Australia. I was due for my annual leave but Zyg could not take time off. He was told quite plainly that if he wanted time off he could go, and stay off, and not bother to come back. Zyg told me that I would have to go to Melbourne to buy a house. I was aghast. How could I buy a house? I didn’t know anything about houses. I could not do it; I could not take on this responsibility – never.
“Marushka, don’t be silly. I will tell you what to look for and you will do very well, just as you did in the past. Trust me, don’t worry; you can ring me every night and we can discuss things. You just go and look and find something for us that we can afford, somewhere where there are factories (but not too close) maybe somewhere between Melbourne and Dandenong as then we would have a chance in two places to look for work. You know better than I do what we can afford. You go, and when you think that you have found something suitable, I will come and have a look.”
“Zyg, but I don’t know what to look for nor do I know how to start looking for it.”
Neither of us liked Footscray or Sunshine; and Toorak, Camberwell, Caulfield, we could not afford. Ask your previous boss at the Co-op. for advice, ask Elizabeth, ask Ruth. Ask and keep asking and listen and think (as you usually do) and if you can’t make up your mind, ring me and I can come to Melbourne for a day and will still be able to be back on time for my night shift.”
I went. I felt frightened and lost. How could I (a female) decide which house we should live in, but Zygmunt trusted me in this so very important matter and that meant that he thought I could do it. I was rather proud but also afraid of letting Zyg down should I not choose wisely. If we bought a house, we would be unable to buy a car – something that Zyg wanted very much. I had to keep in mind: school – walking distance; public transport (preferably train) also within walking distance; possibilities for work had to be in two directions. I also knew that I could not spend all the money we had on a deposit as we would need money for shifting and for small extras, at least one hundred pounds. We also needed the house as soon as possible so that the boys would not lose time at school in the new year. Elizabeth and Ruth were better than good. They helped all they could.
Each evening I made a list of houses to be inspected and I contacted as many agents as I thought I could cope with. Elizabeth was working and had no car but Ruth drove me all over Melbourne, and in the evening I would ring either Elizabeth or Zyg and report what I had seen. I saw very many houses and fell in love with a modern house in Beaumaris, but there was no public transport within walking distance. Most of the houses for sale require a larger deposit than that which we could afford and some, although cheaper, needed a lot of cash for repairs. Somehow none of the houses seemed quite right; there was something “this” or something “that”.
One morning an agent rang me and said that he had received for listing the previous night a house that he thought might suit me. It was in Huntingdale; a suburb I had never heard of before. Ruth and I found it on the map – it was between Melbourne and Dandenong. We went there immediately. I did not like the suburb, the street was not made, there was no footpath, the front yard was empty, the toilet was in the backyard, it had only two bedrooms, hardly any built-ins in the kitchen and the colour scheme was most unpleasant – grass green and some red and orange. However, the house appeared to be sound, only a few years old, and one could always repaint it. The price was right – three thousand pounds – and it was the best I had seen during those weeks.
I was ready to buy it, provided Zyg approved, and I asked the agent to wait until the following day when Zyg would come over. When Zyg arrived next day, it took him no more than half an hour to agree, so we signed the documents, subject to approval of a loan by the Co-op. We were so excited going back to Eildon; we were holding hands and talking non-stop. We told the boys that we had bought a small house (much smaller than the one in which we lived in Eildon) but it would be all ours, and they began to get excited too.
After a few weeks a letter arrived from the Co-op. The valuation was less than we had expected and we could not buy the house; we were four hundred pounds short. I cried as everything now seemed so hopeless. It would take ages to save the extra amount. Ruth and Milton (who saw how depressed we were) offered to lend us four hundred pounds and, thanks to them, we could buy the house after all. We moved into our house on Roman’s 13th birthday – 27th March, 1956, the year of the Olympic Games in Melbourne.
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