To preface: One of the fun things about reading the blogs of others, and their various comments on my own blog is they rekindle memories of my own. This interesting, magical phenomenon applies to our highly-acclaimed blogger, none other than the Honourable Yorkie of Yorkshire Pudding fame...aka Mr. Pudding (only the select few in the inner circle are allowed to call him “Mr. Pudding”; even less are allowed to call him “Mr. Pud”)! Mr. Pud accused me of plagiarism the other day. He accused me of stealing from the equally highly-acclaimed, world famous, celebrated purveyor of ramblings Lee George. I am here to set the record straight, Sir Pudding! (I know you know I'm just kidding around with you - as you were with me). Waving my arm in the air, I freely and willingly admit – I own up - I, in fact, did steal from Lee George...if stealing from one’s own self is possible. She did give me her permission to do so. However, I did sign the papers saying I had the right to apply poetic licence. Said Lee George was born Lee Nicholson, but her biological name soon morphed into Lee Hill (“Hill” being the name of her much-hated stepfather). Throughout her childhood and teenage years she was known to all and sundry (“all and sundry” never did know the true story) by her latter nom de plume; one which she carried through until she married at the tender age of 21 years. Lee Hill then became Lee Cummings. I was happy to be rid of the name “Hill”. 10 years later, after a very civil, amicable divorce, Lee re-married. She then became Lee George. Another 10 years flowed under many bridges or like sand in an hour glass...after marrying and divorcing a second time, Lee retained the surname “George”...because she likes it! It’s direct, straight to the point...no frills, bells or whistles.
Still bearing the name “Lee Hill” I enrolled at Gympie State High School the subjects I chose to study were Maths A, bookkeeping, shorthand, typing, English, History, Geography and Home Science.
Throughout primary school I did well in class. My record both as a scholar and attendee continued into high school. I never hit “top of the class...Number One place setting”, but I was always in the top four or five. From my recollection, class sizes in the Fifties and early Sixties were around 30 or so...give or take. I attended co-ed schools, primary and secondary. The course I took in high school was a “Commercial Course”...and it consisted of girls only; but the school as a whole was co-educational.
I liked school; I enjoyed school, but my desire to earn money – to be able to bring money into our home - was far stronger.
I knew by leaving school I’d also be leaving my school friends behind because I left high school midway through the year; but that didn’t deter me. There were new people to meet...and a whole new life to live.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my mother wanted me to go through onto Teachers’ Training College, but I didn’t. My stance to leave school was the first time I set my heels, feet and toes in and fought my battle – not “to get my own way...to get what I wanted” in those simple terms...I toed the line, stood tall, faced Mum eye to eye while I stated my case...gave my reasons. Nana, who, at first was Mum’s ally in our almighty battle, in time, became a fair, clear-minded negotiator, intermediary. It was Nana who finally swayed my mother to my way of thinking.
From the moment I walked out of the school gate for the last time in July, 1960 at the age of 15 years - I turned 16 in November, 1960 - to commence my working life as a legal secretary in the office of Tozer & Jeffery, a local Gympie law firm, I harboured a secret yearning to leave Gympie, the town in which I was raised and educated. I desperately wanted to spread my wings and fly away (or be driven away to the city; even by train, if I couldn’t get a lift)!
However, I was aware I was too young, and far too inexperienced to leave home at the age I was. In the meantime, I was prepared to exercise patience. I kept a lid on my dream, knowing one day it would come into fruition.
I’d been a shy child. The shyness continue into my early teens ; but I knew being a shrinking violet wouldn’t be to my advantage if I wanted to grow and learn.
Gradually, as I matured I knew how to handle my shyness...how to disguise it; how to face the world and those in it head held high. Stand tall, shoulders back, head high, stomach pulled in and look the world in the eye... as Nana and Mum used to always tell me and my older brother, Graham to do.
I recall one night, years later in the early Seventies when my mother was visiting me in Brisbane. She and Nana were living at Slade Point, via Mackay at the time. Mum and I were enjoying a wine or three over dinner while conversing at length. I was around 28 years old; living a single life having separated from my first husband three or so years earlier.
My first husband and I didn’t divorce until five years after our separation. Neither of us was in a hurry; nor did we have any bad feelings towards each other. We’re still on friendly terms. When we finally did divorce I handled all the paperwork myself without using a solicitor/lawyer. I’d had five years experience working as a legal secretary, which meant I had a fair idea what I was doing without having to spend unnecessary money for a solicitor to do work I was capable of doing myself. Also, around that time the Divorce Law Reform had come into play.
The magistrate in front of whom I appeared wasn’t too impressed by my not calling upon one of his mates in the legal profession. He was no doubt part of “the old boys’ club”. But, that was okay because I wasn’t too impressed by the magistrate’s grumpy, holier-than-thou attitude either. Our divorce cost us peanuts...just the price of my taxi fare to the law court and a dollar or two more for stationery. I didn’t charge for my time!
Returning to the conversation of the particular Saturday night between my mother and me – Mum told me she’d held fears for me when I was a little girl because I was so shy around strangers. Because of my shyness, she feared I wouldn't be able to cope “out there in the wide, wild world”. She’d hoped that my shyness wouldn’t stop me from enjoying and experiencing life and all the good things it had to offer. In many ways, upon reflection, my shyness as a child was my shield, I think.
In truth, the inner “Lee”; the true “Lee” is still shy. Through many years of experience, I've learned to control it...disguise and hide it from the prying eyes of others.
I’m not Robinson Crusoe. I believe many of us are shy in our own way. We learn how to handle it; how deal with it.
Not long after I started working I realised I didn’t want to be the wallflower lurking in the shadows, alone. I didn’t want to “miss out” - on anything. It was time to take a deep, deep breath....take the tentative first step....
One of the first rude (and necessary) awakenings I received was during my early days as a legal secretary. A short while after commencing work I knocked on my boss’s office door. Gingerly, I entered his office. Equally timidly I asked my boss, Mr. Jeffery (John Jeffery) if I could “go to the toilet”.
Mr. Jeffery smiled at me kindly, and said: “Lee, you’re no longer at school. You never have to ask my permission to go to the toilet.”
And I never did ever again.
I don’t recall the exact Monday I commenced work, but I guarantee I would’ve been a bundle of nerves, and probably had turned purple from holding that deep breath!
I entered the office as the youngest among my co-workers. The two other girls were older than I was. One was three years older and the other four or five years.
When I first started working in the office there were two girls...I was replacing one of them who was moving to Brisbane to live. Eventually, as time went by, our number grew from two to four.
My two co-workers in those early days were sisters. The older sister, Dallas was the one I was replacing.
The office consisted of the legal secretaries, Mr. Jeffery, the solicitor, his law clerks, Mr. Alf Boban and Mr. Keith Brown (“Brownie” as he was affectionately called) and Mrs Jeffery, who handled the firm’s bookkeeping requirements. And then, Mr. Jeffery's eldest son, Graham, joined us. He did his Articles under his father's jurisdiction. Graham was the same age as my brother...both were two or so years older than me. I'm still friends with Graham Jeffery.
Mostly I handled Brownie’s work...which meant taking shorthand from him. He was fun to work with. He was also the town photographer, called upon for weddings, news stories, balls and any other likely event. His photos were published in the local newspaper, the “Gympie Times”; and very soon I became one of his favoured subjects. I was easy prey, I suppose - "Johnny on the Spot...or Lee on the Spot"!
The “Tozer” of Tozer & Jeffery” no longer existed other than in name only. The building in Mary Street, Gympie housing the firm (now known as Jeffery, Cuddihy & Joyce. Graham took over his father's firm. Graham is now retired} is a heritage-listing building. It was built in 1896. It was built for Horace Tozer who was later knighted.
The building is a two-story building with a basement below street level. It was in the basement we enjoyed our lengthy morning tea breaks. (More about the length of those breaks later...other than to say they returned to their normal length after I left the company)! The basement also housed a rather large strong room that was filled with documents, books, ledgers, files etc., from years gone by, as did the dusty, wooden shelves along the walls.
(The town of Gympie was established after James Nash discovered gold in the Mary River and its surrounds in 1867. Horace Tozer began practising as a solicitor in Gympe in 1868, specialising in mining law.
My new work mates immediately took me under their wings, making me their protégé; their pet project.
They invited me to accompany them to the dances; and there I met many new people, most of whom were older than I was. Everyone welcomed me to their world. Even though, my friends were still going to school, we retained our friendship...and some have remained my friends to this day.
Life was so much easier and so much simpler in those days...the days of wine and roses....
The young men I met at the dances, knowing I was still just a kid, treated me well and with respect.
One fellow, Frank Fitzpatrick (he’d attended the Christian Brothers...a Catholic school – I was raised Protestant) whom I’d not met until after I’d left school was one of those young men. Frank was probably around four or five years older than me. Without any hidden agendas he would always walk me home after the dance at the Soldiers’ Hall was at an end. He’d escort me to the corner at the top of my street, and there he’d wait to until I reached home...four houses along from the corner. He’d then go on his way.
One would hope there are young men around nowadays who do similar; who treat young girls with respect. There probably are; they are the ones who we don’t hear about; the ones who don’t make the headlines...unfortunately.
Not wanting to waste a precious minute, I got on with life at hand. There was so much to learn; and much fun to be had. I was entering a brand new chapter filled with unknowns.
I enjoyed my teenage years spent in Gympie, my hometown.
And the nearby coast, consisting a list of golden beaches and rolling surf e.g Mooloolaba, Alexandra Headlands, Maroochydore, Coolum, Peregian Beach, Sunshine Beach...and, of course, the crème de la crème...Noosa Heads needed my in-depth exploration! Soon every weekend from September through to June was spent at the coast. The lure of the coast was impossible to ignore.
Leaving school and having taken the brave step into a whole new world was enough for me to deal with. The capital city of Brisbane and all its bright lights could wait a while.
Burying my uncertainties and shyness, I took a deep breath – more than one – in preparation for what lay ahead. To be honest, when I applied for the position advertised in the local newspaper, the “Gympie Times”, I had no idea what a solicitor was, other than it had something to do with the law!
Stepping out from childhood into semi-adulthood was a huge step to take. In many ways, I was on my own. What I did from that moment forth was on my own shoulders; how I handled my life was my responsibility.
From the moment I commenced working I hit the ground running.
My teenage years in Gympie were eventful and filled with fun, the way one’s teenage years should be. My mind was open; ready and eager to learn what life had to offer.
However, I was keen to move onto a “new world”. My mind was always racing, planning, researching and investigating avenues I could traverse.
During my lunch break one day, I raced home excitedly and breathlessly broke my news to my mother. My great “plan” had been concocted in my mind during morning dictation!
When I rushed in, my mother was dressing and applying her make-up, readying herself for work. She sat patiently listening as I carefully explained, in detail, my decision to join the Australian Air Force. Of course, by joining the air force, I would have to leave Gympie and head south to Victoria, which is a very long way from Gympie, hearth and home.
After I finished gushing out my grandiose plan, Mum barely blinked an eye, not stopping what she was doing; nor did she turn towards me when she had her chance to offer her opinion. Slowly directing her gaze away from her own reflection in the mirror as she toyed at her lips with her tube of lipstick, through the mirror, she looked at me and said;
“I think that is a wonderful idea, love.”
My mother’s blasé, calm and agreeable reaction certainly burst my bubble right there and then! Having expected a “battle royale”, one in which I would plead my case (and win), from her measured, agreeable response I was bitterly disappointed and defeated in one foul stroke.
To me it sounded like she'd be happy to be rid of me!
I never did enlist in the air force.
Nor did I become a nurse, which was another of my mind-explosions one morning, with a repeated effort of running up and down the hills of Gympie to my home during another lunch hour to announce I was going to Brisbane to train to become a nurse; and to do the training at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.
Somehow the edges of my plans were swiftly removed and shattered when my mother agreed they were good ideas!
I had to learn to beat Mum at her brilliant psychological game, I decided! I wasn’t going to be defeated. I just had to go about the matter of my “escape” differently!