A lucky, lucky life.
Win is 77, one of the 'ten pound tourists' who arrived in Australia in the 1960s with her husband and young daughter. Some might not think her story is 'lucky' but she says she has always been surrounded with the love and support she needed - even through the dark times of losing three babies.
I have had a lucky, wonderful life. I was born into a farming family near Ascot in England in 1933. I was the second of what ended up being seven children, but we always had extras living with us. My mother took in evacuees in the war, and then looked after children in various states of homelessness.
I had a wonderful childhood. It was free and there was always something to do. My sister helped with the housework so I ended up helping my father on the farm. I would get up at 4am to milk the cows, or bring in the other cattle, or get in the hay.
From a young age I wanted to be a vet. The local vet kept his horse in our stables and encouraged me to think about doing veterinary science. Nobody told me that it was something a woman couldn’t do! When I mentioned it the villagers would say, “Nooo, noo. A woman couldn’t handle a grrrreat big bull like thet!” and scoff at the idea.
I was prepared to stick to cats and dogs but in the end, I didn’t get the place at university. The war was over and the returned servicemen and boys got priority in the subjects I wanted to do, so I ended up doing a four year nursing course.
When I left high school, I applied for a job at our local hospital, where my sister and a foster sister were already nursing. My job interview was literally on the hospital stairs with the nursing superintendent. She looked me up and down and said, “Well, you’re very like your sister. If you’re half as good as her you’ll do alright. You can start next week.”
And that’s how it has always been for me. Honestly, I’ve had a lucky, lucky life.
I loved nursing. I especially loved the people part of it. I spent some time working with elderly people and was so curious about their stories. One old lady that I nursed had been in Queen Mary’s sewing circle in World War One. It was a great feeling of satisfaction when someone was able to walk out of the hospital after coming in practically moribund. I thought, “I’ve had a lot to do with that!”
I met Brian, the local publican, when I was 21. He was interested in horse riding and my father had offered him my horse to ride without asking me. When I arrived home one afternoon my mother said, “There’s a lovely young man out riding your horse.” I was horrified and went to set him straight. After we had established that it was my horse, thank you very much, we hit it off and started to see more of each other.
Brian’s mother was a buyer for the fashion floor in Harrods so he was used to women looking very smart. One day he told me in a very patronising manner that he didn’t think I was dressed properly for somewhere we were going. I was very put out and decided that was it for him. So the next week I went down to London and applied for a job as a ship’s nurse on voyages to South Africa and back.
It was interesting for a couple of years but soon I had had enough. Brian and I met up again at my brother’s wedding and it was back on. We got married when I was 27. He moved from the pub and began to manage a club. They would only take him if I was prepared to do the cooking so I left nursing and took what I had learned in the kitchen at home to the club restaurant. I enjoyed it and learned new things – even doing an entire Scottish banquet one night, complete with haggis.
I fell pregnant and we had our first baby, Jennifer, but sadly, she died of cot death at just 11 weeks. It was terribly sad, but I was looked after. The GP took me back home, gave me something to help me sleep and people surrounded me with love. Sadly it wasn’t the same for Brian. He had to go straight back to work that night. He never received the support that I did.
We never really knew what was wrong, just that she had pneumonia and a virus. The pathologist said to me later, “The only comfort I can give you is that another family lost their 13 year old daughter to the same virus, and they are too old to have any more children.”
Obviously, I wasn’t too old, and I fell pregnant again. But again, it ended in tragedy when I had a stillbirth – another little girl. A third pregnancy also ended in stillbirth. I had lost three little girls. And my fourth pregnancy turned out to be ectopic.
Someone asked me at a dance, “How can you be dancing when you’ve lost a child?” I could only say, “Well, I can’t sit in a corner and cry, can I?”
When I fell pregnant the fifth time, my GP said, “I’m not touching this one. Not with your history.” I knew I didn’t want to go to the obstetrician in my area. We had a connection through working together at the hospital, and I had nursed his mother, but when I needed his help in one of my previous pregnancies, he strode in without so much as a ‘hello’, looked at my belly and said, “Who the hell thought they could hear a foetal heartbeat here?” and strode out again.
My GP fixed me up to see someone else, who organised for me to have a caesarean delivery. “I think she’ll have the vapours if she has to go through another birth,” he said.
Our baby Jane was born healthy, and stayed healthy. It was a relief. Of course I had had times where I questioned whether it was my fault or something I had done to cause the stillbirths of the other babies. I had even said, “I’m so sorry,” to Brian after the second time, so it was wonderful to have Jane.
She grew up amongst adults because we lived at the club. When she finally came home at 3 weeks old, the doctor brought her into the bar and said, “Now this, of course, is the most important room in the house!”
Things were changing at the club and Brian could see that there might not be a future for us there any more so he began to look around for something else go to. When the government of the day brought in Random Breath Testing, he was so disgusted at what he saw as the killing off of his business that he went down to Australia House on his day off and found out about how to get to ‘sunny Australia’.
It was as simple as applying to come and getting on a plane. Months later, there we were, arriving in Sydney, with it piddling down rain. “Hmmph,” Brian said as we walked down the stairs. “So much for sunny Australia.”
But I thought it was a great place. We were welcomed by the Apex club with a BBQ the day we arrived and a member of the Church Army met us at the airport. Incredible.
We stayed in government hostel accommodation in Dundas while Brian found a job and I had our second baby (another healthy girl – and the birth this time was as easy as shelling peas) and fifteen months later we bought a house in Blacktown. Ironically, the Australian government brought in random breath testing six months after we arrived!
I had one more baby – a boy this time – and we brought up our family there. We ended up following my mother’s example and took in our own ‘foster child’ of sorts. David was a Malaysian student, sent out here to get a good education. He was staying with a family who already had eight children though, and he didn’t have a speck of privacy, so when my children became good friends with him at school, it seemed obvious that he should come and stay. All my children still have a wonderful relationship with him and we are very close.
When Brian had an accident at work I decided to go back to nursing. The neighbours were happy to look after the children after school so I began applying for jobs but I was a bit concerned that the Nurses Registration Board were prepared to register me immediately. I hadn’t nursed for 12 years , and I knew there was plenty that I didn’t know, but they said, “Oh, you’re English trained. That will be fine.” I knew it wouldn’t be, so I found a job where they allowed me to sit in on lectures and learn before I got registered.
I worked in a few different areas, including diabetes education, nurse education and lecturing and ended up being the manager of the medical unit at Blacktown Hospital.
I had always had Christianity in the background of my life but I was more of a social Christian. After I lost the babies, and when we moved to Australia I took it more seriously and had a stronger faith. Brian didn’t – unfortunately after the first stillbirth our Vicar had said to him, “This is God’s will.” And that’s all the ‘comfort’ he got. He wasn’t very happy with God. But I had always been looked after and comforted. I got what I needed.
We moved to this town in 1993 after Brian retired. He had a heart attack a few years later and really started to go downhill. Life wasn’t easy for him, being unwell, and I think he really missed England. He did get pretty grumpy – we often called him ‘Grumble bum’ but after the doctor said, “Look, you’ve had 83 years which is more than a lot of people get. I can’t do much for you, so you’ll just have to lump it,” he actually changed and became easier to live with. Sadly, he died in March this year.
I do miss him. Brian was for most of my life, the best thing that happened to me. He was quiet, kind and dependable. He was affectionate, although not demonstrative, and there was nothing he loved better than to fool me into believing something that wasn’t true. He could lie straight to my face and I couldn’t pick it!
What do I see for me in the future? Well, I want to stay here as long as is humanly possible. I’m content here. I love this house, l love my garden. I have friends who I can ring at any time and say, “I’m in a hump” and they’ll come and help me through. Yes, I’m very content with my life.
If I had to give one piece of advice, it would be to look after others. Would you call that duty? I don’t know. My mother did it, and I think it was the way she showed love.