My Father was Busy

Journal: 015

Wm & Mum 1951
Photo 1951, DC Holloway (Box Brownie)

My father was busy and I’m still angry. Tedious I know, Milly and the kids make that clear! And let’s not discuss how busy I was for them. Busy, Busy.

Mum was a 17 year old farm girl, a pupil teacher when Dad came to town, tall, ex-Melbourne High, ex-Navy, city boy, confident (and competent) teacher but pathologically un-social. His mother, a Luya from Brisbane, had pretensions of class. Her son spent his life in her shadow. He needed a wife he could train up, no challenges, a farm girl.

Granddad, mum’s dad, made him get his truck licence so he could help with the harvest, driving the old ex-Army 7 ton Inter, overloaded with wheat to the top of the bin, to Boigbeat silo. He could never in his life call Granddad ‘Dad’ or even ‘Fred’. I heard Granddad tell him off about it and he skulked back to his room, his books while his sons crammed into the ute, the cab of the truck, drove tractors, chased sheep, sewed up bagged wheat, grew into hybrid farm boys town boys that he only ever imperfectly understood.

In May the year after they met, Mum barely 18, they were in Healesville 250 miles from Sea Lake, waiting apparently for permission to marry. It’s never discussed, would never have come up except Mum’s younger brother, then still a baby, told me over a beer years later that guys in the Berriwillock pub still asked him why Mum and Dad ran away together. Dad said he was offered a married position at a school at the other end of the state. Mum says nothing.

I came along 10 months later.

It wouldn’t be fair to say Dad wasn’t involved. We always went for Sunday drives, often quite long ones, Wilsons Prom from Leongatha and a few years later when we still had the FJ, from Murrayville to Nhill after church, 80 miles of sand through the Big Desert. We got bogged 3 times and it took till after midnight to get home, the long way through Ouyen.

Dad and Mum were both strict and handy with a stick. I cried at the time but being belted never did me any harm. Dad took to me with a piece of dowell once for saying ‘pooh’ when Mum told me to do something and I went to school (his school) with blue stripes across the back of my legs. He said he wouldn’t hit me after I started high school, but once when I was 12 or 13 his parents were staying and I woke them up fighting with B2 whose room I had been forced to share. He was furious, dragged me to his office – our house was in the school grounds – and began laying into me with the strap, hands and legs until he was worn out.

The big problem was I was bright, brighter than he was, and he didn’t know how to deal with it, thought the solution, the least amount of effort for him, would be discipline and an average education. He taught me chess and I beat him, and his father, in primary school. That was the end of chess.

I had sport, I had scouts, I had books. I had a bike. We lived in country towns so as long as I was home for tea, out of sight, out of mind. In 1966 Mr Fast-Track needed to complete his BA to become an Inspector so we bought a 3 br brick house in a new development in Blackburn South (Melbourne). I fought to maintain my country freedoms, he was too preoccupied to fight back. But nights were out of the question. Even at 17 bedtime school nights was 9.00.

He got his promotion, we moved to Mudsville. My english teacher at Blackie South High – you notice that selective Melbourne High, his alma mater, was never considered, nor even mentioned – offered to board me but Mudsville High was good enough and I spent the last year and a half of my schooling with the mud-minds.

Dad was a shocking 1950s husband, made all the rules, was very Mr Bennet with Mum, and yes that rubbed off on me, would shrug off any attempt at affection. I thought after he retired, began doing housework and making speeches about how lucky he was to meet Mum etc, etc. that Mum, who like many fiftyish women grew into mature self-confidence, might have given him an ultimatum, but she says not.

I don’t forget Dad dinking me to school on his bike when Mum was in Leongatha hospital having B3 and B4, or piggybacking me home at Murrayville when I was crook. B2 who had him in grade 6 says that when he played up Dad would take him into the office next door and give the desk a resounding 6 cuts with the strap. I don’t forget the driving lessons he gave me in the bush when I was barely a teenager, or that when I came home drunk from a Saturday night dance in 6th form he just sent me to bed with some newspaper (he always waited up and would sometimes drive into town to search for me if I wasn’t home by midnight), nor do I forget the huge financial strain of giving me a year, and potentially four years, in Trinity College.

I don’t forget that I got my high school girlfriend pregnant, that I failed first year Engineering.

And no,  I’m not bitter about his opposition to my politics, to the Moratorium, to my non-compliance with the Draft Laws. A bit annoyed that he advised the Federal Police who had warrants for my arrest where they could find me in Brisbane  but Mum let me know and the Young Bride and I moved on to Nambour.

He always came across when I asked for money. His first thought when I told him and Mum that I was leaving Milly was for the kids, particularly Psyche who was in a more difficult position than the younger two. In later years, even before his retirement, he tried very hard but it was never enough.

(If you noticed the Journal No., I wrote this some time ago but held off publishing it, so it’s out of sequence. Earlier Journal posts may be accessed from the Journals page above.)

Photo: Dad’s car appears to be a 1930s (so, older than Mum) Chevrolet Series AD Universal (wiki)


18 thoughts on “My Father was Busy

    • Thank you Kate. Hold off? Partly for balance – I have various journals going on in my head all the time, some have to be written before I forget them -some of my best writing disappears into the ether out on the Nullarbor – I’m trying for an ongoing mix of life and memoir. And partly to be honest because I worry what my kids will say.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The thing I’ve learnt from writing biographies for people in palliative care is that we’re not judged for what we reveal – it seems that what is left unsaid is what draws attention (particularly from children).

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I wondered about the opposite. Not why did you hold off, but why did you publish (a) at all and (b) now and (c) while your mother is still alive?
    We all have these feelings about our unsatisfactory parents, not exactly mollified by our growing knowledge that we are unsatisfactory as parents too. Not to mention being unsatisfactory children as well…
    So does this link to your anxieties in ‘I’m making a mistake?’


    • I wondered if that was what you would wonder. To answer your easy question: No, I don’t think there is a link to “I’m making a Mistake”, I was thinking there of what I am missing out on. But of course I have responsibilities too …

      I published now because I don’t think this series makes sense, not least to me, if I leave out how I felt about my father. I was surprised at his funeral how differently my brothers viewed him and I guess they could have more to say about that. And maybe mum will too if they discuss it with her.

      What surprises me in writing like this is not how open I can be but how much I withhold. So much of my story is linked with other people whose stories I don’t think I have the right to tell. But saying that, I guess like most children, I feel I have the right to tell my parents’ story.


  2. Ah, withholding, that is true of so many memoirs, eh? They are, inevitably, selective because they edit. I’ve just read one, a very good one, (and as you know, I don’t much like the current crop of memoirs) but even as I admire it, I wonder what has been edited out of it…


  3. Enjoyed this story Bill. It’s always interesting understanding people’s stories. My parents meeting is so much different to yours though we are probably talking a very similar period, that I have nothing to share, except that I came along 9 months after the wedding (as did Mr Gums after his parents’ wedding) but my Mum was nearly 23 when I was born not your Mum’s very young age. For me the rod wasn’t spared either – a belt or a wooden spoon though it was never cruelly done (ie never done excessively to cause injury) and didn’t happen after the end of primary school. It was just the method in these days, I think.

    I think all memoirs hold back to some degree – I mean, just logically, you can’t tell everything so you have to be selective. Of course some might hold back the positive stuff and leave the story unbalanced but … There is an issue, I appreciate, when people involved still live, but we either accept memoirs are a valid form of writing or not, and if we do, we have to assume hurtful truths will be part of it. I’d like to think that writers are attuned to that but it can be a fine line. Sometimes painful truths are worth telling – for a whole range of reasons. Like you, I admire Helen Garner, but I know people have been hurt on the way, including herself.


    • Thank you for your thoughtful response (I should write something else, that whole sentence came up word by word on spell checker/suggester). I was worried that “getting a hiding” has such negative connotations these days that I should tone it down a bit, but as you say it wasn’t out of the ordinary and I probably deserved most of them. Interestingly a brother has written privately to say he largely agrees with me.


  4. BTW I do love that you’re a “bit annoyed” that he told the Federal Police of your whereabouts but that your Mum warned you. I often wonder what I’d do if I found my child disobeying the law. I’d like to think I’d report them BUT I’m talking serious lawbreaking involving violence or serious injury to others NOT what is essentially civil disobedience, like draft-dodging.


    • I got the strap a lot, at school and at home, but then it was probably the quickest way for adults to make a point. My 8 yo grandson gets sent to do laps of the oval which seems to genuinely calm him down.


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