Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Making of a Child Psychiatrist (28): Interlude & Prelude (1)
I seem to have had a lifetime connection to Australia.
My paternal grandfather Clifton William (known as Pop) had been born in Preston in Lancashire, with a sometime violent father (William Henry) who had been an organist at St. John’s Church and styled himself as a ‘Professor of Music’. His wife (Emily née Crook) inherited her money from an industrious unmarried aunt who owned a small confectionery business decorating cakes and had purchased terraced houses for investment. Pop went to a posh boy’s school in Crosby, Merseyside (Merchant Taylor’s, founded in 1620). This may have been a bit of a joke, given that that WH’s father was a travelling merchant of cloth made in Lancashire. Anyway, consistent with the times, Pop was beaten at school and home - often given as the reason his parenting style was somewhat ignorant, rigid and occasionally violent.
Pop left school at 14, joined a lawyer’s as an office boy, moved to work at Lever Brothers, and in 1917 joined the Royal Flying Corp which later amalgamated with the RNAS to become the Royal Air Force. He was demobbed in 1919, by which time he had gained his pilot’s wings and later, very much the creator-innovator, created his own civilian flying school in Brighton that seems to have been quite successful. This led him to write a book (‘Martin’s Air Navigation’, 1937) for which my artistic father drew all the diagrams. The book was adopted by the Air Ministry in 1939.
Nan (Alice Beatrice née Reynolds, who had herself been a nurse with the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp in the first world war) and Pop, ever restless, migrated to South Africa in 1949 to run a small hotel, taking the two youngest children (of 7). Two years later they migrated to Sydney, Australia, where Pop made a career as an estate agent.
So, in my childhood I had two treasured possessions. The first was a tiny replica Zulu shield with an attached spear (now sadly lost), for which I had little history or background. The second was a large format but somewhat thin glossy yellow hard back book ‘The Aboriginal Story’ (Ruth C. Williams) which had line drawings of the original owners of Australia in everyday action and family life, as well as drawings of the unique animals that live here. I was intrigued by this book, and have treasured it since the age of about 8. I still own it, and (reverently handled) it has remained in fairly good condition.
So, not only did we have my parents living in Adelaide in 1963, my grandparents lived in Sydney, as did my aunt Sheila. The youngest son Mike lived with his family in Newcastle, NSW. In addition, over time various other members of the family had migrated. While two of my father’s brothers had migrated to the United States (Ray and Tony), John migrated to Melbourne, and Douglas (an adopted brother who was my godfather) migrated to Sydney, as did Joan and her husband Harry. We had hopes of catching up with everyone during our trip.
Once in Sydney we drove out to Merrylands and stayed for a brief happy reunion with Nan and Pop, before packing the five of us into my father’s powder blue Renault Gordini for the drive across to Adelaide. That sounds easy except the Gordini was somewhat tiny, and Martins somewhat large. The other bit that sounds easy is the drive which we had to take in stages given it was nearly 1400 Kms on the Sturt Highway. My father had every faith in his car – well placed as it stands. You never think of these things as a young person, but that must have been a major adventure for both my parents and my sister Andrea (just turned 12), none of whom at that time would have driven anywhere near that distance in England, although Ted and Eve had previously had a driving holiday through France, Austria and Germany with some neighbours of ours, the Winslows.
Jan and I were overwhelmed by the blue haze scenery of the Blue Mountains, and by the sheer distance to be covered. We had a memorable overnight stay at Wagga Wagga in a motel (our first time), and next morning I was challenged to a classic ‘rite of passage’ Australian motel breakfast with the lot including bacon, sausages, steak and eggs. Jan was more sensible, of course. We headed out to the Hay Plain (full of not very much for hour after hour). We talked and talked catching up on family news from both sides of the globe, but long stretches were mesmerizing and there was lots of sleepy dozing and silence. We took reasonable meal breaks and loo stops given Ted was doing all the driving, my mother still not very confidant, and Jan and my driving ability an unknown quantity. From Mildura we cut down through the wine-growing Barossa Valley (to be visited several times later) to Elizabeth (at that time newish satellite ‘city’ to the north of Adelaide towards Gawler). From this direction you get little sense of the layout of Adelaide which is actually a spectacular 1 kilometre square surrounded by gardens and parkland, and designed by Colonel William Light whose statue north east of the city we were later taken to see (Light’s Vision). The city at that stage had a population of only 23,000 souls in a state that had only just past the million mark with Jan’s and my arrival. You get a better view of the city, and how it is placed in the plain stretching to the sea, from Mount Lofty a place we were to visit several times.
My parents should have been living in Officer’s quarters at Edinburgh Field RAAF Base, but this was never to happen for some reason. So they had taken up residence in half a sandstone villa in Clifton Street, Hawthorn, one of the suburbs about 5 Kms from the city centre. The house was owned by an older couple who befriended Ted and Eve, and were much later to lend us an elderly car for a time when we later emigrated. Jan shared with Andy, and I slept in a bed on a covered veranda close to nature.
The first day of work came as a shock, despite a few days to get over jet lag. The Waite Institute was a rambling set of buildings only a short distance from home, and was set in an arboretum of almost every native Australian tree that existed. Jim Silsbury was delightfully relaxed man with a great sense of humour, but also a serious scientist in a senior position; his focus was on developing a grass that would be drought resistant. My job in those first few days was to measure and record the length by width of lucerne samples taken from various properties in the south east of South Australia. Boring and tedious, but apparently important; and someone had to do it. I was quick, focussed and worked hard. At tea and lunch breaks I began to get to know members of the staff – a wide range of people from differing backgrounds who all seemed to share that relaxed, laconic sense of fun I was later to realise was very much a feature of Australian blokes.
In one of the conversations, Jim learned that I played bridge. He must have tucked the information away, because several weeks later his regular partner was unavailable, and he asked if I would like to sit in. We used a simple Acol system with some small refinements, and won the evening. I ended up playing several more times, enjoying very much playing ‘with the boss’, but also the intellectual chatter and repartee that was all part of each evening.
Later in our stay, Jim asked if I would like to go on a field trip down to Tantanoola near Mount Gambier; four blokes in a four wheel drive for four and half hours down through Murray Bridge to the lower end of the Coorong and nearly to Mount Gambier. Spectacular scenery; funny conversations, and we stayed overnight in a pub. The next day was up early and outdoors examining and collecting soil samples and what looked to me like weeds from several different properties. I just did what I was told; which was good because I had no idea what I was doing… I did know that I might be up for some more measuring back in the lab.