Life’s Amazing Family Circle (continued)
Part one of this series of blog posts can be found here: Life’s Amazing Family Circle – Part 1
30 years after 1941, when my Mum and Dad had a typical wartime honeymoon of a single night before my Dad was shipped off into the RAAF on a troop train, my Aunty Rae and my Nana Nancarrow became part of my future life and the well-being of my children – in a way we have just shared – 41 years after the event.
On The Railways
Many of my Dad’s family worked in the railways: West Australian Government Railways (W.A.G.R.) and the Midland Railway of Western Australia (MRWA). This meant job security but many moves for the families as the men went from one railway station appointment to another, the children to one school after another and wives and mothers made the best they could of making new railway friends as they moved about. My Dad often says until the Nancarrow family arrived in the tiny wheatbelt town of Caron , there were not enough local children to warrant a school teacher being stationed there – but it soon changed with the brood Nana and Pop brought with them! Up until a couple of years ago, he would still go to school reunions with people from Caron and his old school teacher (Miss. Wilma Peacock, who married Bill Dawson the StationMaster at Caron and also Mukinbudin) used to come along too.
Nana and Pop moved all around the mid-West with the WAGR; from Mullewa (where they were married), to Day Dawn, Geraldton, Caron, Mukinbudin, Collie and other small towns. One brother (Teddy) went to work for the MRWA; his final posting was at Walkaway and Dad’s sister Phylis married into the Midland Railway company, too, when she became engaged to and later married Keith Milner. After many years in the railways, Nana and Pop lived their final working years in Middle Swan until my Dad’s brother “Rusty” (otherwise B. E. Nancarrow) bought a house in Homewood Street, Cloverdale, in which he, Nana and Pop could live after Pop’s retirement. My Granddad died from that home in February 1962, as did Uncle Rusty years later in June 1980 and my Nana – in 1988.
Rusty spent a lot of time working away from Perth, including being in the Snowy Mountains tunnelling with my Dad or working in the jungles of New Guinea and Malaysia, mining. In fact, three brothers, Blue (my Dad), Rusty and Jack were all working on the Snowy Mountains Scheme at the same time and for a time, they were each supervising a crew – so there was a Nancarrow in the same tunnel twenty four hours a day. Jack and Rusty were working there first and my Dad got a telegram: “Catch the first plane. Money for shit” and so, he too went to the Snowy to work. There was tremendous competition between the brothers and their crews, and earlier, working two on one shift and the third on another, they helped set a world record for hard rock tunnelling over a six day period. They were hard taskmasters – we are told.
Because Rusty was away so much, my Nana advertised for a married couple to come and share the house with them. She wanted the company and it was a relief for the family to have someone close on hand keeping an eye on both Pop and Nana – because by then, their family was spread across the country. Indeed, when the house was purchased, there were cows in the paddocks across the road – a dairy operated where the Belmont Forum was later built, so it really was quite an “out of town” location. The couple who came to share with Nana were George and Kathy Andrews – newly immigrated from Scotland; homeless, jobless and terribly homesick. They came to love her as if she was their own mother. Nana had a huge party to welcome them into her home and everyone who was within “cooee” came to meet George and Kathy. They became part of the family; shared celebrations of births, deaths and marriages and stayed with Nana Nancarrow for some years. While they were there, my Nana suffered a burst stomach ulcer and with her nursing experience, Kathy saved her life. We were all immensely grateful for her skill and for being there when she was needed – and Nana lived on to be 93, still in her own house in Cloverdale, to die on Anzac Day in 1988. She also helped nurse my Pop, who died Feb 1st 1962.
I remember going to visit Nana one day with my own Mum and Dad and I had my three young children with me before they came back to live with me, full time. Warren would not get out of the car. He was about six. When I finally coaxed him to tell me what was wrong, he said “No one can be that old and still be alive!” How his view has changed – now my Dad is already 93 and his Nana is 90. Another great-grandson is known to have gently stroked her arm and asked “Is that still skin, Nana, or is it leather now?”
With no children of their own, George and Kathy set out to adopt. They moved from living with Nana and bought their own home in Lockridge, then a new housing area being developed by the State Housing Commission. They were able to adopt two children: Michael and Julie. When Michael was only a few months old, Kathy had major surgery and Michael needed to be cared for until she recovered. It was my Aunty Rae and her husband Terry who took him in – and she says they both cried when they had to return him home to Kathy and George after a couple of months. He was a beautiful baby and they came to care for him a great deal. Nana regarded Michael and Julie as two more grandchildren – though how she kept up with all of them, I really do not know.
In mid-1971, my three children were returned to me by their father after a separation of several years and after being evicted from private housing (for being a single parent with kids!) I found myself living in Lockridge in a high density block of flats occupied by mostly single mothers with children – and very few of their parents working. After a few months as an Avon lady and selling more product than I could package and deliver, I quickly found a good position at Metro Motors in Morley. I needed someone I could trust to help me care for the children, especially after school and started asking around for a friendly “Aunt” or family who could help.
George and Kathy lived only a minute or two away in their new house; their adoptions were in progress and they were delighted to “take in” my three – to be supervised before and after school, because I was working from 8:30am to 5:00pm every day and every second Saturday morning as well. Since they were Nana’s great- grandchildren, it was all the more special for them, though Kathy would have done it anyway. Annette was only four and a half and had nearly a year to go before she could start school, so Kathy helped take care of her for the whole time while the boys were dropped off there before school and returned home to her house afterwards, until I could collect them after work.
It was a very special moment when Rae was visiting my Dad and me this week and happened to mention George and Kathy – to which I responded “Surely, that’s not the George and Kathy who looked after Annette and the boys when I went back to work?” In fact, it was and we were able to fill in a lot of blanks for each other about those years. The same day, we both phoned Kathy, (sadly George has now passed away,) and she still lives in the same house. I will be going to see her very soon and bring this amazing family circle even closer. I think I should take my Dad, too. What do think about that?
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(c) Lesley Dewar July 2012 to current.