Note: This post has 13 chapters. To access the index, click the button above marked, "CHAPTER INDEX". Each chapter ends with a link to the next one, and a link back to the chapter index. Alternatively, you can access them via the Blog Archive list at right. Or you can simply scroll down.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Meet the Riverina Girl

Margaret Clare Smith née Dennis (21 May 1909 to 12 July 2006)
    The world is changing so rapidly, that I seriously urge you to talk to your parents, and especially your grandparents, before it is too late, because they represent a window into the past. Already, the world I was born into in 1949 will seem strange and mysterious to the up-and-coming generation. How much more, then, the world of my own forebears! Because both my parents married late in life, I was able to tap memories dating back longer than those of most of my readers. I was, for instance, able to flesh out the story of my paternal grandfather, and have put it on record.
    As for the other side of the family, my mother was born more than 100 years ago, and grew up on a farm about 14 miles [21 km] outside of Wagga Wagga, in the Riverina. For years, I used to hear tales about what it was like then. So, when I finally purchased a tape recorder in 1979, one of my first missions was to get the stories on record. This blog, more than 30 years later, is the result - though, even then, it does not do justice to the tone of voice, laughter, and exuberance with which she told it.
   And here she is! And here is lesson no. 1 in the course of The Way Things Used To Be. You no doubt have a camera, and no doubt it is digital, and fully automatic. If you were born before (say) 2000, you probably know that, originally cameras used film. You inserted a roll of 24 or 36, took you photo, and had to wait until the film was used up and developed before you found out how it turned out. It appears film is still available, but who knows for how long? But, in any case, during the final decades everything was automatic; you simply pointed the apparatus, pressed the button, and all the settings were made by the apparatus itself.
    However, the cameras I used when travelling overseas in the 1970s and 1980s were manually operated. You had to wind the film on, set a dial for the speed of the film, and then for every photo, manually adjust the lens and shutter for distance and light intensity, before pushing the button or pressing the lever. After that, you had to manually wind the film forward - otherwise, you would end up superimposing the next picture on top of the first. If you wanted to use a flash, you had to attach a battery-operated flash device, and manually adjust it as well. It was a pain, but you got used to doing it all very quickly, and there were even a few tricks you could produce which automatic cameras do not allow.
    However, the sort of cameras used by the ordinary non-professionals in the period between the World Wars - and they were by no means cheap - were far more primitive. They were simple boxes without any ability to adjust for distance and light. You looked in the (often very small) viewfinder, aimed, pushed the lever, and hoped for the best. The result is that most of the few photographs I have from that era, and much later, are not-so-impressive black and white images, and rather small - often 3½ by 2½ inches, sometimes only 2½ by 1½ inches.
    It was for this reason that, at the age of 31, my mother went to a studio and had a professional photographic portrait taken, to be kept in her room for the rest of her life as a reminder of what she looked like when she was young. (The slight cloudiness you see is due to the scanner light on the glass covering. After 70 years, I was not game to remove it from its frame.) And, no, it was not done on colour film. I doubt if they even had any in Australia in 1940. The photo was tinted by hand. That's what used to happen in The Olden Days.
What's In a Name?
    A lot, if you don't like its abbreviation. Once Mum commented that, when signing Christmas cards, she had to remind herself under what name she was known to the recipient. Her friend, Aileen (my godmother) called her Margy, with a hard "g". Her brother, Alf was the only one who addressed her as Margaret. It is a pretty name, but she could not stand the sound of the abbreviation, Maggie, which she used to speak with a tone to suggest she was clearing her mouth of something foul tasting. So, sometime in her 20s or 30s, she adopted her middle name, Clare, by which she was known to everybody except her family of origin. To them she was "Girl", the first daughter of the family. It was so well established, that even the daughter of her youngest sister, Hilda always called her "Aunt Girl". At least I never called her mother "Aunt Babe", which was her family nickname. Indeed, when they found themselves together on a package tour of India, Mum made the proposition: "I won't call you Babe if you don't call me Girl." However, the agreement appeared to be limited to the tour, in order to avoid confusion among the other passengers.
    And while we are on the subject, here is a hand-drawn card inscribed, "GREETINGS from Babe and Lil", received when she was boarding with their Aunt Ada in Wagga. (Ada is the one on the left.) To really appreciate the artwork, you have to know how accurate it is, and remember that it was drawn from memory. Aunt Hilda, who was obviously responsible, always was talented in that way. It must relate to the period in the early years of the war when Mum was working in the munitions factory at Wagga, because Aunt Hilda commented: "I was probably about 15 or 16 when that sketch was made. I never thought that it would live on and on."
    Do you want to know what it was like growing up on a farm in those far off, distant days? Then please scroll down. The next post will be about the setting up of the farm more than 100 years ago.
    Or else you can click here.


  1. Bli'me Malcolm y'Auntie Hilda WAS a talented artist.

    Some'll say her perspective with regard t'the book's out but I've actu'ly seen elderly ladies readin' for the umpteenth time copies o' books so beloved they've come t'resemble exploded purses eruptin' tatty old fashioned bank notes an' only long practice playin' card games equipped them with the skills necessary t'hold the whole thing t'gether in one hand.

    [Don't know how much y'resemble y'father but y'definitely y'mother's boy t'look at].

    Readin' this tho' I'm struck by how much anyone who can remember even only as far back as Australian life depicted in Skippy the Bush Kangaroo or The Magic Boomerang must sometimes reel at the thought o' how much the world's changed tho' I'm also struck if there's any people equipped for the possibility o' existence amongst the stars it's the descendants o' those kids who received their education via radio or who lived an' died on whether the flyin' doctor got to 'em on time.

  2. My Aunt Hilda, the youngest and last surviving sibling, does not have a computer, but did read a print-out of the blog, and wrote me a reply. So here it is:
    What is in a Name? Girl and I decided right from that first trip (for me) overseas to remember to call each other by our "proper" names, Clare & Hilda. It was hard at first.
    On one occasion when I was working at Jaques & Lil was visiting Melbourne, she had occasion to ring me at work. Lil had a phone voice which really carried well. Too well. I was so worried that she might call me "Babe" & someone might hear. I could just imagine how they would laugh at my nickname "Babe". I worked mostly in a room of quite young men.
    Alf would usually call through Lockhart [where Aunt Lil lived] if he was coming to Melbourne by car. Actually he probably only made that journey once or twice. Lil became impatient with him once for not wearing his hearing aid. His answer was that Lil spoke so loud he not need to wear the aid when talking to her!

  3. Hello, I came across your blog while doing some research into my family ancestry. It appears, from what I have pieced together, that we are related. Your mum and my grandmother would have been first cousins. Is there a way I can contact you via email? The "contact me" link does not seem to work.

    1. Glad to hear from you.
      I don't know what you mean by the "contact me" link. However, you can put your e-mail address, and any other personal information, in the comments box. Since all comments have to be moderated by me before they are published, I can simply retrieve the information without publishing it, and then I will e-mail you personally.

    2. This issue has now been resolved.

  4. I came across your blog today and noticed this post about your mother. You prompted me to turn right around and create my own blog post, to remind my community to capture those memories while they can!! Which I did, with my dad. I pretty much missed the opportunity with my mom, but realized after she died that hearing the stories and being familiar with them and loving them is NOT the same as having a record of them! So I started right away having some story sessions with my dad, and am so glad I did. Your blog topics are interesting and I'm going to take another look around. Thank you.