Interview with: Lorna Fischer
Date of Interview: 15 March 1985
Interviewer: Susan Brinnand
Transcriber: Colwyn Boulton
Lorna recalls her memories of her childhood living on the Maroochy River and being taught how to swim by her father. Lorna attended the Maroochy River State School travelling by boat usually taking two hours to get to school. Later Lorna attended the Nambour Rural School learning domestic science and dressmaking. Lorna's father became a socialist after meeting George Bernard Shaw and sympathised with the bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. Lorna whilst working in the Australian Soviet Friendship League store was a member in the United Australian Women and a member of the Communist Party. Lorna fought for the rights of women - equal pay and equal work and for the emancipation of women in the homes and from chauvinism.
Image: Maroochy River State School Golden Jubilee celebrations, 16 June 1961.
Tape 1/Side A Begin
SB: Would you like to start by first telling me a little bit about your parents and when they came to this area?
FISCHER: Yes, well my parents came to Maroochy River. Olive and Arthur Williams came to Maroochy River in 1911. My mother’s parents had already lived there for a few weeks. They were Mr. and Mrs. C.J. Woods and family of six boys and two girls including my mother.
SB: So when your parents came, how did they get to the land they decided to buy?
FISCHER: Well they were married in Brisbane. In the Albert Street Church, I think it is, the little Cathedral that’s still there. And they came by train to Yandina and then had to get in a buggy that was there for the purpose of taking people from the train to the wharf in Yandina, and then they had to get on to the boat at the wharf in Yandina and come six miles down in the river in the mail boat.
SB: Can you remember who ran the mail boat then?
FISCHER: Yes, Mr. Albin and there was no jetty at that time and he had to steer the boat into the mud bank and put a plank across so that they could get out on the land. They lived in a tent for some months. My mother’s people had already built a huge shed for them to live in. Between them they built a two-roomed cottage for my mother and father. It was sleeping upstairs, living downstairs. We lived in that for quite a few years, seven or eight years maybe.
SB: And did you father build another house then?
FISCHER: Yes, he had a carpenter come in, a Mr. Earl Burton, brother of William Burton who was on eof the first people on the river and he was our neighbour. He was very slow but very good worker. I think the timber came on one of the ferries that the Moreton Mill had for carting the cane. They carted the cane up and down the river before there was any tramlines.
SB: So there were no roads and no tramlines?
FISCHER: No roads and no tramlines, no. There was a bit of a track to Nambour but it was only a track. It was a horse track probably. I think the timber came down from Yandina on the Moreton Mill ferry.
SB: So you’d get all your goods by boat?
Childhood on the Maroochy River
SB: And what are some of your early memories of growing up on the river?
FISCHER: Well my first memory – I was very young, I don’t think I would be any more than about fifteen months old – was my father picking me up and running madly to the house with me through the bananas. The banana trees were fully grown. I can remember the leaves flapping as he ran past. And he plonked me down on the table and took all my clothes off and looked all over me because they’d seen a snake not far away. They were cleaning the weeds out of the bananas. So they were satisfied themselves that I hadn’t been bitten.
And then the next memory I have is…it must have been about 1914, or ’15 probably, because we had been to see some people over at Coolum. We would row down the river and go up Coolum Creek and then walk about two or three miles to see these friends. She was my godmother, a very beautiful lady, very sweet-tempered with a cranky husband and nothing ever upset her. I can remember coming home. I can’t remember the going or being there, but I can remember coming home and we opened up the door and there was an army military coat hanging behind the door which meant that Uncle Fred was home. He had joined up in the army and went to the War in 1915. So I would only be three years old then.
Then the next memory that I have – or one of the early ones, I don’t know how early it was – I remember going to a rifle shoot at Yandina Range and my mother won. They had a ladies shoot and my mother was a very straight shot and she won the shoot.
SB: Were your parents worried that you would drown in the river, living so close by it?
FISCHER: Oh that was always a big worry, yes. And on our fifth birthday, my father – it was a ritual – each one of us on our fifth birthday were taken down to the wharf and the ploughreins put round under our arms and thrown into the river and then my father held it up, held our heads up out of the water. And he threw us about six, eight, ten feet and then we had to swim back to the wharf while he held the rope up high and kept us out of the water. That’s how we learnt to swim. We were all very good swimmers.
SB: Were you frightened of that happening, because you knew it was going to happen?
FISCHER: Yes, we knew it was going to happen. My father said not to worry about it. And we had such faith in him that we didn’t worry about it. Well I didn’t anyway. We lived in the water – in the water and on the water.
SB: Tell me a little bit about the home that you grew up in? Did you have your own room and all that?
FISCHER: No, the new room was just four big 16 x 16 rooms, two bedrooms upstairs and the kitchen and lounge-dining room downstairs. Actually it was a dining room with some big chairs in it and used for both occasions.
SB: So how many brothers and sisters did you have?
FISCHER: I had four sisters and two brothers. One brother was next to me and there’s two years between each of us, maybe not in months but in the years. I’m 73 this year, my brother is 71, my sister is 69, my sister Lou, brother Arthur, sister Lou, 69. My sister Beryl is 67 and my sister Jean is 65, and she still looks about 35.
SB: So did you all share the one bedroom?
FISCHER: No, we slept on the verandahs. I slept on the verandah which I liked very much. I could have a lantern hanging on the wall and the light didn’t shine into Dads, into their bedroom, and I could read as long as I wanted to. And my brother slept around the corner on the verandah. The verandah was two sides and across the front. And then the other three girls, they had a double bed and a three-quarter bed in the big bedroom.
SB: And you never had any problem with insects, having to sleep on the verandah?
FISCHER: Oh, we had mosquito nets if we wanted them. Half the time we didn’t use them. Mosquitoes were bad at times, very bad. They were so bad at some times that Dad would have to have a kerosene tin of burning cow dung, smoking, and just as Mother put the tea on the table, he’d come in and run around the room and run out again, and under that haze of smoke we could eat our tea without being bitten.
SB: Did it smell very much?
FISCHER: It was a clean healthy smell, you know. Just everything was so fresh and clean that you didn’t choke or anything. That’s why he ran. He ran and he had this great smoke coming out behind him and he just ran round the table and it got rid of the mosquitoes and left a mist.
SB: You told me a bit about the snake bite, but you had a spider bite later on that was quite serious.
FISCHER: Yes, that was when I was two, I think. Just about two years old and not sure whether it was a spider bite or not because they had me on a rug. It was out at Mudjimba, having a picnic out there and we used to walk round that side of the mountain. And Dad used to give Arthur and myself piggy-backs when we went on those picnics. Of course, that was much later. But Mother and Father could never be quite sure what it was that caused my leg because they couldn’t find any spider, or see any spider and I was sitting on a rug right beside them while they were having their picnic.
SB: So what happened after they thought you’d been bitten?
FISCHER: Well they brought me home and I had a huge red mark on my leg and half as big as a saucer or about as big as an orange. And my mother was a poultice person and I think now if she’d have poulticed it maybe I would have had my leg.
But to be on the sure side they walked in to Anderson’s on the Range which is now Atkinson Road. Chrissie Anderson was a young lass and she brought us into the doctor in the sulky and the doctor incised it. He was very fond of the knife. He was a very good surgeon and a very good doctor, but he had a thing about the knife. And the story was that that’s why he was in Queensland, that he’d got into trouble in Melbourne for using the knife, and came to Queensland. And he incised it with about three to five cuts, star shaped and of course it just went completely septic. There was no antibiotics in those days and no penicillin and my father went up to see me and took one look at me and just wrapped me up in a shawl and ran for the train, and took me to Brisbane. But the doctor said that the doctor who put the knife in it should have been sued. And they had to take my leg off because it was septic.
And then while my mother came down to visit me while I was in hospital, my brother contracted polio, and he was about eight months old and he had just a couple of days sickness and he had a black motion and my mother, to make sure, came into the doctor. And when she told the doctor – he was better by the time she came back in – he had a high temperature and he had this black motion, and there was no reason why he should have it. And she’d told the doctor and he was very concerned.
He said, “Are you sure?” She said, “Yes,” and he didn’t say anything. But when Arthur – he didn’t walk until he was fifteen months old – and when he did he stood up on his leg and it shrivelled within a couple of days. And he’s always had a polio leg but he’s worked all through his life.
Maroochy River State School
SB: So despite those handicaps, your parents still threw you in the river and you learnt to swim. So which school did you go to?
FISCHER: Maroochy River.
SB: How would you get to school?
FISCHER: Went by school boat.
SB: Would you have to pay for the boat? Was there a fare?
FISCHER: There was a charge, a nominal charge. When it first started out I’m not sure about any of the charges then because we weren’t going to school. But when we went to school I can remember my father suggesting that we get a subsidy for the school boat. I can remember him going to Brisbane to see the Government and came back and he said that they were getting it. And that it was seventeen shillings. They worked out it was seventeen shillings a family per quarter and the Government subsidized the other. And all the children were allowed to go on it.
SB: What time would you have to catch the boat to go to school?
FISCHER: About 7 o’clock in the morning. He had a bullock’s horn which he used to blow. And it has a special sound of it sown and we could hear it from about half a mile away. He lived about half a mile away and he would blow it when he got into the boat and he’d blow it at the corner, and wouldn’t wait if you weren’t there. They might wait if you were coming, but they wouldn’t wait for long any rate. They didn’t like waiting and made it that people had to be ready.
SB: And when would you come back in the afternoon?
FISCHER: We went up past…there was a cooperative store on the river by this time. It was down where the bridge is now, where the cane bridge is. It was there and we went straight up past that, picking children up all the way. Then there was a big jetty at Dunethin Rock there and we got out of the boat and went up to the School and then the driver went up to Brown’s Rocks about three mile up and collected the school teachers and the other children and brought them down. By this time it was almost 9 o'’lock and then we'd go into school.
SB: So it’d be a two hour trip?
FISCHER: Yes, practically.
SB: Who were your teachers?
FISCHER: Mr. Dow and Miss Steggall and they were beautiful people, kind and considerate. We would take it in turns to hold Miss Steggall’s hand, going down to the boat of an afternoon. She used to give everyone a turn. “It’s my turn today”, we’d say. (LAUGHS)
SB: Can you remember your first day at school?
FISCHER: Yes, I certainly can. My Auntie Ivy who was only a few years older than myself – she was the youngest in the family and my mother was the oldest – she was my minder, and we sat down to have our lunch in a little drain above the school and some silly girl came along and jumped on my crutch and broke it. I’d put it across the drain. And in the afternoon, I don’t know why, probably because Ivy was proud and said that she could manage, but the teachers didn’t help us; I can remember that. I suppose I had a bit of the crutch to help me and I was leaning on her shoulder. Then she tried to carry me and I was pretty heavy and she was very frustrated. But anyway she got me there. And to this day I can hear her saying, “I’ll clip that bloody kid’s ear tomorrow.”
SB: Can you remember who it was?
FISCHER: No, I can’t remember who it was. I don’t think the silly child meant to do it. She was just silly, just jumped on it. You know to be smart, half smart.
SB: Which subjects did you like?
FISCHER: Well, I liked nearly all the subjects but I didn’t like grammar. Grammar was a bit too heavy and complicated and took up too much of my time so I just didn’t learn it and later years when I started doing a little bit of writing – when I was working in Brisbane – I went back to a class to learn the grammar. It was always my short-coming when writing. Well not so much now, but it was a bit of a worry in those days. I learnt enough there to help me. I used to sit with my head out the window in the bush and dreaming. We used to play bushrangers. “Bobbies and Bushrangers”, that was it. As soon as we got out of school, we’d gobble our lunch down and then we’d line up and the bushrangers would go for their life through the forest and then the bobbies, the policemen, would go after them and catch them. And sometimes, we’d stay away too long and the teacher had to make a demand that we got back in time.
SB: And did she ever give anyone punishment?
FISCHER: Oh Mr. Dow was the one that punished, but he was so kind he didn’t even like giving kids “the cuts” as we called it. But sometimes he had to and I can remember getting one cut once for something I did, or refused to do, or something like that. And I think he gave me the cuts to show me that I wasn’t immune to them, you know, as a lesson. The boys used to get sometimes four cuts when they got into trouble. But we were pretty wild. One time we decided that we wouldn’t bother going back to school. We stayed out and Mr. Dow was ringing the bell and ringing the bell and we were all hiding behind some grass half-way down to the river. We let him go past, then we ran for the school. We were all standing in line when he came back.
SB: Did you have school picnics?
FISCHER: Lovely school picnics. Yes, they were beautiful. They really did a good job. There was School Picnic Committee. My father was on it, Mr. Dougherty was on it. There was lots of people on it – a Mr. McGory was on it. They were all really progressive people who really, really did a good job. But there were other people on it too. I just can’t remember now who they were. But it was a community effort. Everybody helped and one time there was some new chap was there and helping with the picnic. They used to buy big tins of lollies, boiled lollies, about a foot high and about eight, ten inches square and he go the idea that it would be a lot quicker to throw them out on the grass you know. He started throwing them out on the grass but the people soon put him in his place. Of course, the children didn’t mind at all ‘cause it was fun picking it up, but the mothers and fathers didn’t like it. We got a beautiful book given to us each picnic day, and I gave mine to the Maroochydore State School when I left to live in Mt. Isa. I gave them a whole box of books.
SB: What other adventures did you have at school? Did you ever go out into the bush?
FISCHER: Oh, we were always in the bush. If we didn’t have sports to play – sometimes we had to play sports for the school – if we didn’t have them to play…and there was people called Doughertys on the river, and they were Irish descent, and he was very progressive man like my father and we were very close friends.
SB: You would go to his place?
FISCHER: And they had four children, three children and two children later on – two children much later. But their three children and ourselves were very close as was the families more like relations than neighbours. And we didn’t live close but when the games were on at school and we’d have to take sides, the people who were choosing the sides always called out, “We’ll take the Williams” and then they had to take the Doughertys too. Or if they used to call out the Doughertys they had to have the Williams too because we couldn’t go on. So t hey used to call out, “We’ll have the Doughertys and the Williams, the Williams and the Doughertys.” We were always on the one side. We wouldn’t go against each other.
There was a beautiful lake there at the school. Have you been out there? There’s a beautiful semi-lake. It’s not a lake really. It’s a little creek that comes into a very wide open space and then has a narrow mouth into the river. Sometimes we’d sneak down there for a swim. It had to be a very high tide because it was a very soft mud and you couldn't walk in the mud, you know. You’d go down to your knees. Sometimes when it was a high tide we’d be able to get in off a little make-do jetty, jump in and have a swim there.
I stayed with Mrs. Youngman, who was another very good friend of ours and who was like a grandmother to me, the whole family was very close too, and they were Catholic people too… When my third sister was born, my brother and myself stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Youngman who lived at that time on the side of the lake opposite the school and their daughter Gertie went out for the cows. Gertrude and Doris, went out to get the cows in. They had some cows to milk and they took me with them and they took a short cut across the top of the lake. And it was very soft mud and the weight of my body started to sink… Across the lake to get the cows, I think it might have been to come home. They chased the cows home and they took the short cut, and Gertrude had me on her back and my weight was pulling her feet into the mud. So she didn’t know what to do and she was sinking and I could feel her sinking. I jumped off her back, into the mud…
End Side A/Begin Side B
They were knee-deep in mud and of course when I went down, I went down pants and all. I’ll never forget. I had white calico pants on, with lace frills all round them. And we got home and the girls said, “Don’t tell Mum anything about it.” So they took me and bathed me and they took my lace-frilled pants and they washed them out and they put them on the line. But Mum woke up. She wanted to know what they were doing on the line. Then the whole story had to come out.
SB: And since the school was so close to Dunethin Rock, did you ever climb Dunethin Rock?
FISCHER: Yes. I don’t know how I did it, but I did it many times, because we used to play “Bobbies and Bushrangers” and we’d be chasing the others or they’d be chasing us, and there was a thin little track up the front, a water track. And it was about ten feet off the ground before you got a foot hole and then when you got a foot hole you just had to… and I carried my crutch up there on my own, right to the top. I don’t know how I did it, but I did it.
Religion and politics
SB: You were telling me before that your father was a Socialist. When did he become a socialist?
FISCHER: Well very young. Because when he was apprenticed – his father died when he was three weeks old and his mother and her daughters reared him and they say he was spoiled, but they were middle class English and she had this big house and she let rooms. The father was a carpenter, and he was killed in an accident and she let rooms and she got my father apprenticed to Hutchinson’s Book Publishers and he was doing very well there. He was coming up for promotion in two years time. One day he was running up the steps with a message and he collided with a young man, a very young man with red hair, on the steps and scattered all the papers and books that they both had all over the stairs and while they were picking them up he said his name was George Bernard Shaw and he was taking his first manuscripts in to be published. Then he came in more often and every time he came in, he had to talk to my father and he was a Fabian Socialist and from then on my father was a Socialist.
He informed me that when he was quite young he knew there was something wrong with the world, although his mother had a very hard struggle, but they lived well. She let these rooms and they lived well, were dressed well, and she was a very dignified old lady. He told me he was on his bicycle one day, he used to ride his bicycle all round London. He was a Cockney, born within Bow Bells. And he saw this old lady, old pensioner lady probably, although there was no pensions in England for a long while, then it was only ten shillings a week. And he saw this lady lift the lid off a bin and he thought she was putting something in, and she was getting bread out of it and she was eating it. That was on eof the things that started him thinking. Then meeting George Bernard Shaw and his ideas…
SB: When did you first become aware of politics in the family?
FISCHER: Well I think I became political when I was about ten years old. My father was political and one of his sisters who had never married always sent us, each week, we had a bundle of papers come from England without fail. Every Monday, I think it was, the week’s supply came in and it was the six “Daily Mirrors” and I think it was “The World News”, they called it, and Dad didn’t like us reading that paper because they had murders and things in it. But it wasn’t too bad.
SB: Did you belong to any religion?
FISCHER: My father was a very religious man himself and I am also myself. But we were isolated. There was no church to go to. We weren’t christened until my young brother, who came along eight years after my sister, last sister, was christened. The church had a bit of a revival in Coolum, or in Nambour really, and they took the church to Coolum and we had cousins living at Coolum. And they were all getting christened and the Parson saw Dad in town and said, “Well, why not have your children christened?” So they thought well, they’d christen them because John was only a small baby. So we all walked out past the mountain one day to the school that was there. It was used as a church and a school and a dance hall and everything. It was right beside the mountain.
SB: In Coolum?
FISCHER: Yes. And we were christened. Well I was fifteen and he was only a little short Parson and so I had my two boy cousins there, the boys Morgans, and they were scallywags, always seeing the funny side of things. When he came to annointing me, instead of sprinkling it, he threw it up in the air and it came down on my head. And of course I burst out laughing in his face and so did my cousins and we were totally disgraced.
SB: You were saying earlier about the fights that would happen between the Protestants and the Catholics in the School.
FISCHER: Well, I’ll finish off about the religion. It was too far to go to any school and Dad had a fairly religious background. In fact, he was choir boy in St. Clements Church, the “Oranges and Lemons Church”. He was a wonderful singer. He taught us to be kind and to say our prayers of a night time. We used to say the Lord’s Prayer – as quickly as we could, - and to follow the Ten Commandments. And he said there was really no need to go to church where there were only laymen half the time. And one of the laymen who went to the Maroochy River Church, he was a bit of a con man and there was a story going that he went to preach at church and on the way home he stole his neighbour’s chicken wire off the chicken house, rolled it up and took it home with him. Won’t mention any names.
Yes, there was a confrontation at school. I can just remember it occurring. Of course there was a lot of older children than myself there. There was big sixteen-year-olders, or fourteen-year-olders I supposed they’d be but they were big children you know. They looked like sixteen-year-olders. I can show you a photo of the school. And on St. Patrick’s Day the Catholics used to wear a green ribbon in their hair or a piece of orange ribbon on their big toe and then on St. Andrew’s, Orangeman’s Day, they did the reverse. They had the green on their toe and the orange on their shoulder or wherever they wanted it, in their hair. And the school master more or less compromised, and allowed them to do it but only if there was no factional fighting between them. But my father wouldn’t allow us to be part of it because he was intellectual and he said that wasn’t the way that you went about life. So we stood on the side and were observers and it was quite interesting. Sometimes there’d be a fight occur but then the school master would stop it. But then they gave that up after a while as people became more aware of racism, I supposed you’d call it.
SB: Did your father have any books to do with Socialism in the home? Did you read about Socialism as a child?
FISCHER: No, not really. But I read when I was young. I started reading when I was about ten, big books. We had a very good library because my father had helped choose it. They built a hall, a School of Arts, just down from Dunethin Rock and that was the centre place. They had beautiful dances there and they had all their meetings there. And they also got my father instigated with a couple of others to get this library going, and he chose a lot of the books so they had some very wonderful books there. And unfortunately most of them got eaten by white ants and I didn’t know who to contact and the people who I could have contacted were very good friends of mine and they would have given me the books if they’d have known. Some of them went to the Yandina Library. But there was marvelous books there and Dad used to bring home every time he went to a meeting. He went to a meeting about once a month. He bought home four books and I had them read in a week. I used to read them all, and most of them were novels. Odd ones were about travel, but I can’t remember any.
SB: When did you leave school?
FISCHER: When I was thirteen. I lost my four front teeth in a game of tug-of-war. I was on the end. We had a big long sapling and I was on the end which was the only place that I could be, and it either broke or slipped and I get the end of it in my mouth and it broke my teeth and I wouldn’t go back to school. My teeth are very chalky, they didn’t take much. Don’t know why, but I did have chalky teeth. I wouldn’t go back to school. It was about November when I did it.
SB: Can you remember any home remedies?
FISCHER: As much epsom salts as covers a threepence, he took it everyday and he was very healthy. Another thing that he said was “keep all your orifices clean and good health will prevail.” And he always carried a handkerchief himself and he always taught us to keep our eyes, our nose and our mouth and everything clean. We used to take sulphur and treacle, a teaspoon full of it, sulphur and treacle mixed up, and take a teaspoon full of that for about six months every spring.
SB: Did your mother give you lime water?
FISCHER: Oh yes. She used to give a teaspoon full of lime water every day, and then she suddenly stopped. She found out that it wasn’t good for you, and I’ve got written here it’s too drastic for the bones. So evidently it solidified the bones. And then we always had milk of magnesia in the house, which was very good for indigestion or an upset stomach. If we wanted to stay home from school Mum would give us a big dessert spoon full of milk of magnesia.
Nambour Rural School
SB: You were telling me that you left the school, the Maroochy River School, and then you went to the Nambour Rural School. What did you learn at the Rural School?
FISCHER: Dressmaking and Domestic Science, which covered everything from washing clothes to cooking, mainly cooking…cake icing. The Rural School was very good. The school is in the place where the Rural School was. When you left school you were able to the Rural School. The boys learnt Woodwork and Animal Husbandry. It was very effective too, well run.
SB: Did you like going there?
FISCHER: Yes, I did. I like the trip up.
SB: How did you used to get there?
FISCHER: Catch the tram that ran of a Wednesday. The tram ran in of a Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. So we went in every Wednesday, on the tram. They had carriages, like tram carriages, to sit in.
SB: So the Rural School was just one day a week?
FISCHER: Yes. The Moreton Mill charged one and six just a cheap one and six return on it. We used to buy a big packet of lollies for one and six and you got about eighteen different lollies. Sometimes you got thirty-six because they were only two for a penny. Beautiful lollies that were called “Nest Eggs” and they were oblong, white, fluffy kind of lolly. No they weren’t oblong, they were round. That’s right. They were yellow in the middle and white on the outside. They looked like eggs, two for a penny. We used to buy this big packet full of lollies with our one and six and instead of giving the man the money for the fare, we’d give him a couple of lollies. We had no money so he just had to take the lollies. We’d give him one for the driver of the tram too. Course we didn’t do that all the time, but most of the time.
SB: What did you want to be when you finished school?
FISCHER: Oh, I wanted to be a journalist or writer of some kind and my father wanted me to be a milliner because he thought it would be a good job for me because I only had one leg. But there was no jobs to be got, but I wasn’t interested in making hats, although I like hats. But I wasn’t interested in it, no. I liked the sewing and I would have liked the millinery if I could learn it but there was nowhere to be taught. But I didn’t want to be a dressmaker, to take up dress-making for a living.
SB: So what was your first job?
FISCHER: Oh, I had several small jobs. Mum used to more or less – I don’t suppose you’d say “rent” me out – but in those days everybody helped each other. Our home was a kind of centre in the area and when I left school, if anyone was having a baby I would go and look after the family. I’d stay with them for about… they used to keep the mothers in seven days then, and I would stay and housekeep for the man and look after the children. He’d manage on his own for a couple of days and then I’d go up and find out that they were there. And one time I went to look after a man and about five children, I think it was, and the place was terribly filthy and I cleaned it all up. I shouldn’t say filthy. It was dirty. I mean she had four little children and she wasn’t in such good health – oh five little children, I think this was the sixth one. But the cockroaches were so bad in the kitchen they were hanging on each other like bees hives about six or eight inches long. So I threw boiling water all over them and cleaned all them up. And she had a beautiful valance on her bed and I washed the net and I put it back and I washed the valance and I bought it out and put it on the line and it had all long peaks on it. And I waiting for it to dry and when I went down, the kids had been down there and they’d pulled all the peaks off the beautiful valance. And the lady was very distraught when she came but there was nothing she could do about it. I couldn’t help it. The kids had just done it.
Then I went to work for an old couple who lived up by the Maroochy River Store on a farm. She’d been very ill and she rang up Mum and asked her if I could go up and work for her. So Mum asked me and I said I’d go. I used to go on the school boat at 7 o’clock and come home on the mail boat at half past 11.
SB: At night?
FISCHER: At daytime, just in the mornings. It was a lovely place to live because they treated me like one of the family. They were real gentle folk. He was a bit grumpy but, and she said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t ever touch Dad’s desk,” she said. “He’s really grumpy about it.” But I used to tidy the bedroom up and keep the bedroom nice and clean and then there’d be this awful desk. So one day, he was away, so I decided I’d clean his desk and I took everything off one by one and cleaned them and put them back in the same place. And when he came home, he didn’t say anything but then when I went the next day he said, “You know Lorna, the desk really looks fine.”
SB: How much were you paid for that?
FISCHER: Ten shillings a week. It was a pleasure to work there though – either the old man or the son, they lit the copper fire up, - it was copper in those days – and they lit the copper fire up and they put all the heavy sheets in the copper and then someone came and lifted them out again. And the old man helped me put them on the line. She was a lovely old person, lovely woman. She’d tell you little bits and pieces about her life and one thing and other, can’t remember much about that part of it though. They had three sons I think. One son came up there to stay while I was there and he was very nice and he left a pound note for me for looking after him while he was there, which was a big lot of money in those days. And the boy that was there, he was a nice fellow too. And his mother and father went away then – they must have gone back to Sydney. And he was there on the place on his own and he met a nurse at the hospital up here, and married her. And they were terribly fond of each other and she was pregnant and having a baby. She came in to have the baby and she had a flaw in the wall of her womb and when she started to have the baby, she bled to death. And poor old Jeff, he lost her. I think the baby died too. Any rate he ended up in New Guinea and as a complete alcoholic – I heard later.
SB: How did you meet your first husband?
FISCHER: Well, he was in the Lighthorse and he got a job chipping, I think, on one of the farms and he used to ride down past and then sometimes I would ride to work instead of going on the boat – we had a horse called “Moving Picture”, been an old race horse but she was fairly quiet only you had to watch her. If you gave her a head she took it. And that’s how I happened to meet him. There was another girl there called Grace Connors. They lived on a farm not far from where I worked. She’d meet me. And she had a big white horse, magnificent big white horse. Sometimes, she’d ride up the track and ride home with me and one time she came up and we decided we’d go for a gallop and we let the horses have their head and it’s a wonder we weren’t both killed because it was down the tram tracks. All I can remember about the ride is I was trying to hold on because if I swayed too much one side the saddle would go right round. Jeff loaned me a saddle which had a lariat spur on it, and I used to hang onto that. And all I can remember about that ride is the flames shooting off the iron railings of the horse in front of me.
SB: The flames where the hooves were hitting the tram tracks?
FISCHER: yes, neither one of our parents knew we did it. Went for about a mile and a half, just flat out down the tram. Another time was, after I’d been working for this woman that had the six little children and we were the only people with a phone – and we always had to take messages to these people. And I had a message for these people called Cleary and we had a little grey pony and he was a bit dubious but I thought I’d ride him down. See I had to carry the crutch and I left all the gates open behind me so I wouldn’t have to get off. I’d just drop them. I’d do them coming back. And I got there alright. First of all, I threw my crutch on the ground to get off, and he threw me back. He just went through on me, and I was on his back and all I could do was hang on and I landed back at home about fifteen minutes after I’d started. Then someone had to get on him and go down and shut the gates and bring my crutch home. Awful damn thing he was.
But some of the best memories I have of the Maroochy River is the school picnics. Did I tell you about the school picnics and the dances? Yes, yes, very nice. Everybody was very affable in those days. You know there was no… I suppose there was little bits of things going on amongst the people. But when there was picnics or dances, everybody was happy and nice to each other. Dad was very popular. Everybody loved Dad. He didn’t go to the War. My uncle went to the War, the one that lived with us and was like a second father to us.
End Tape 1/Begin Tape 2
FISCHER: My father used to compere the dances and he used to sing and dance. He was a soft shoe man and in the intervals, he’d entertain them by singing.
SB: What were some of the songs that he would sing, can you remember?
FISCHER: Yes, I don’t know about the dances, but at home when we had little socials – Dad built two tennis courts and we had all the socials there at our place cause we had the big rooms and the verandahs and we were central to everyone – and he used to sing a song called “The Blind Boy” and he’d bring tears to everyone’ eyes when he sang it, his voice was so sweet. He was a wonderful singer, could’ve earned his living if he’d been alive today. But he used to sing, there was one, it’s even sung now and it’s something about the Troubadours. I just can’t think of the name.
SB: Were there any War songs from World War I that people used to sing?
FISCHER: Yes, “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty” and “The Dardanelles”. I think there was one called “The Dardanelles”, or that may have been in “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty”. Course I’m talking about the First World War.
The Russian Revolution
SB: Did the Russian Revolution have any effect? Did your father ever talk about the Russian Revolution?
FISCHER: Yes, well we had the papers you see, and one of my recollections – I think I’d be about ten at the time, I’m not sure, I must work it out – because it was when the Russians had a starvation period. And in the “World’s News”, which was a Sunday paper, they had a big page about how the Russians were starving and there was this mother and the child and they were very, very emaciated and I asked my father about it, and he explained it to me. As Dad grew older he became more progressive in his thought. Course he was just like everyone else; he was finding out who he was and what he was. And he always believed in Russia and believed in the working people. They used to call him the “Bolshevik” behind his back but that didn’t worry him. And there was one man, Keith Kohn, he was a friend of the family, and a neighbour, and he always argued with my father. They used to smile about it because they used to say – the Jew and the Bolshevik – he was Jewish background, German-Jew I think. Kohn. But his other brother, Alf, he married and lived just under the brow of Dunethin Rock. He was a lovely man too. I’ve still got a little pen about an inch and a half long that Keith Kohn gave me off his watch chain. They had watch chains in those days, with all the foibles hanging on them, and he gave me this little (pen). I’ve still got it, and that’s a long time ago.
SB: So you can remember your father talking about the Russian Revolution and Lenin?
FISCHER: Yes. Only that he thought that they were doing the right thing. Then another time I can remember – we had the letter at home somewhere and it’s disappeared – my Auntie in England sent my father a letter that her son had written, either an aunt or an uncle, and he was in the Air Force and he was sent to Russia from England, participating in the War. They – England – bombed some parts of Russia. He wrote and I read this myself:
“I don’t know why we are up here, because the poor blighters,” he said, “all that I could see, they have only hoes and pitchforks.” And he said, “What we’re doing up here, I wouldn’t know.”
Well, soon after that he was recalled home. They were all trying to get in and take a pick, you know, to get in and carve Russia up.
SB: So when did you get involved with the Socialists?
FISCHER: Well, when I saw this photo in the paper and I’d be about ten I think. It’d be about 1922 or something like that.
SB: Was there a branch of the IWW up here?
FISCHER: In Brisbane, yes.
SB: In Brisbane, so there was nothing up here?
FISCHER: No, no, we had no political connections as far as branches or anything like that go. We live don that river and we were very isolated. We were right down at the end, about two miles off Coolum Creek and we were not far from where the mangroves start. We were isolated down there somewhat because the mail boat didn’t come of a Sunday and our transport was the school boat, which any adult person could go in because it was subsidised by the Education Department and each family paid seventeen shillings a quarter for it and they allowed people if they wanted to go up the river to go in the school boat. So we didn’t get out very much. We went to school and we came home and if we wanted to go to Maroochydore – by this time the boat had run right to Maroochydore – we could go down to Maroochydore by boat and come back with about an hour there. Then we came into Nambour for our haberdashery shopping, although there was a Cooperative Store on the river at the bridge.
SB: How did that operate? Were people shareholders of the Store?
FISCHER: Yes. Cooperative Store was formed in Yandina and all the farmers had shares in it. Most people booked up because the cane harvests weren’t so big in those days and you just had enough money, and when you finished paying up all your debts and everything you didn’t have much. By about March you were ticking up again until September.
SB: Who owed the store on the river? Who ran it?
FISCHER: Oh, the Cooperative. It was a branch of the Cooperative and it was run by a Mr. Hudspith. First of all there was another man there, just forget what his name was, but he ran it for quite a few years. But when we were going to school, it was a Mr. Hudspith.
SB: And could you get things cheaper there than other stores?
FISCHER: They were reasonable, yes. We used to walk down from the school, it was about two-and-a-half miles from the school and we used to walk down the tramline. We were there generally when the boat came down – when the mail boat came back from Maroochydore – because when we left school, the boat went up the top end of the river and came back. So instead of waiting there at the Rock, not most times, but quite often, we’d walk down. We used to carry all the stuff in for Mr. Hudspith that came off the boat or was going on the boat and then we’d put our hand out for the lollies. And then as things got tough in the Depression he couldn’t give us lollies, you know, and he felt very bad about this. He was a lovely man. His son still lives in Nambour, I think, Col Hudspith.
SB: When did you get married?
FISCHER: Don’t ask me the date.
SB: Was it in the ‘20’s?
FISCHER: Yes, it’d be in the ‘20s or the ‘30s. No, the 30s. Yes, I think I was married in the ‘30s. There’s only seventeen months between Shirley and Jan. I think they were born in ’32 and ’33.
SB: Tell me a bit about how you coped during the Depression. Did it hit this area very badly?
FISCHER: Yes, it was very bad. It was bad at home too for years. Like everybody was short of money and everybody was booking up everything at the Store. And you’d book up at the Butcher. You’d have a bill at the Butcher and of course all the chaff for the animals and everything came from the Store, everything came on that boat. Everybody was pushed and just about that time, the canefarmers found out that they had things being put over them from the Mill, and they weren’t getting the right weights and measures and things like that; that there was a bit of sly stuff going on at the Mill. And the farmers decided that they’d put a man in – a Farmers’ Representative – and they chose my father for the job. He used to come in and stay at the hotel for five days a week and then he’d come out on the Bli Bli bus which was run by a Mr. Bennett and left Nambour about twelve. I think it came in early in the morning and left Nambour about twelve and Dad would go down to Bli Bli and he’d wait there until two o’clock when the boat came back from Maroochydore. And he’d pick the boat up home at four o’clock Saturday afternoon. And then he had to get himself into Nambour. I don’t know how he got back. Maybe he got someone to take him in the boat. I don’t know how he got back there. Yes, well it’d be only cane season; he would go in on the trucks. He’d probably ride the engine into town or somehow-or-other or he might have got a lift. I just can’t remember.
SB: So during the Depression, did the sugar prices drop?
FISCHER: Not really, I don’t think. I don’t think they dropped that much. I don’t there was, international trade was so strong then. But it was the Mill itself who was the trouble. While Dad was there, he met a lot of the people who were coming through – people were walking through Nambour, and they used to stay out here in the Showgrounds. They had a few little buildings there for the pigs when they were put up for sale. And these men used to sleep in these shelters and then they’d go on because they couldn’t get the dole unless they walked thirty miles. Say if they got the dole here one week, they had to walk to up past Cooroy – somewhere up there.
SB: They couldn’t stay in one place?
FISCHER: No, they couldn’t stay in one place. Then they had to walk back again or walk further on. A lot of men came from Brisbane and they were looking for work. And there was droves of them and my father met solicitors and all kinds of people. Some of them were hungry and Dad used to take some of his meal and put in a packet and give it to some of them who were really hungry. The girls at the hotel were good too; they used to put any food aside that they could. Course they couldn’t do too much because everybody was on the sharp lookout. They had to, even the hotel people.
SB: Could your husband get work?
FISCHER: Yes, he got work cutting cane. In those days you had what you call a cut, a gang. You went into the gang and you went back next year. One year – it was an old neighbour of ours too, that we’d known all our life – and right up we thought he had the cane cut and then right at the last Mr. Burton told him that he couldn’t be in the gang, that he had a new man in it, and there was nothing that he could do about it. Anyway I found out that – I think I heard Mr. Burton telling my father or something – that this young fellow belonged to the Masons, and Mr. Burton was very into the Masonry, and he said that he’d bought a piece of ground and he couldn’t pay for it and so he had to give him a job, being a brother Mason. He had to give him the job. So any rate I told Mr. Burton at a later date. I said to him, “I know that you gave my husband’s job to that man because he was a Mason.” And I said, “I don’t think that’s right,” and he tried to mumble his way out of it.
SB: So how did you cope then when your husband lost his job?
FISCHER: Well you’ve got what you call Relief Work. It was two days work a week and that amounted to twenty-eight shillings. We just barely lived on that. We only had to pay six shillings a week rent. We were in Coolum at the time and we moved around. We had been in different places before we came to stay at Coolum. And first of all, when I first married, I went up to stay with his sister up on the Burnett River and they were struggling. He (her husband) was caretaking a big area of ground for a grazier and they had a prize bull in one paddock and a prize stallion in another paddock. They used to run right up to the fence. The house wasn’t very far from the fence – they were 4-barbs wire though – and the stallion would career around. You’d think that he was going to jump the fence. They were both very vicious animals.
While I was there I had a great experience. There was only a tank of water and the water ran out and we had to go down to the Burnett River to do the washing. Her husband and my husband would be away all day going around the fences. So Mary and I would take our lunch down and we’d carry the clothes between us and we used to put them in a sheet and tie the four corners and put a stick between them and carry them between us. When we got to the Burnett River, the sides of it were so high that there was tall gum trees there about sixty or seventy feet high and we were looking down on the tops of them. We had to walk down a little track down, which was easy. It sort of went sideways. Then we used to boil the clothes up down there and string a line up and dry them and have our lunch and then fold them up and take them home in the kerosene tin. It was like a lovely day out. The first time I saw wild apples growing was there. Little red apples growing on trees.
SB: So when you were living down near your mother during the Depression, you were telling me that she used to help out with food sometimes?
FISCHER: Yes. Friday was payday and we were always a bit short of food by then and we used to eat a lot of rice. The children never ever went without, but sometimes we’d be short. And in those days you had a big breakfast – like nowadays you probably wouldn’t notice it, because you’d have tea and a piece of toast – but that wasn’t your breakfast in those days.
SB: What would you have then?
FISCHER: Oh well, all our life we’d have bacon and eggs and toast and bread and butter and jam or something like that; honey. Because ad used to buy what they called a flitch of bacon and it would be smoked and he would hang it up. And every morning he’d get it off the hook and “How many slices of bacon do you want?” And he’d cut how many slices. If you wanted two or if you wanted three you could have them. They were very cheap also. And being English he was fond of kippers. We used to buy kippers in a tin. There’d be a dozen in a tin and they’d be 1/6 a tin. And 1/6 for a dozen, you know, not in the tin, probably came out of a big tin, but whole, and you’d buy them in the shop, whole. Whalley’s was the big shop in Nambour for groceries, come in and they were the cheapest until Manahans came. And then Manahans came and they had a very good manager there called Mr. Burgess. He lives down at Beachmere or somewhere down there now but he did live in Maroochydore until last year, Mr. Burgess. He married my school friend.
There was three of us at school – Phyllis Hudspith, Edna O’Rourke and myself. We were a threesome. Sometimes we had a good brawl, but most of the times we were very close and peculiarly enough, we had a lovely school teacher; he was a lovely man; he was very gentle and very dignified – that would be the name for him – he was a little bit off-beat at times. He used to give the other two girls higher marks than me, a couple of higher marks. They always came 1, 2, 3. I was always third until we got a lady school teacher, then I came top. I asked someone about it once and one of the ladies said that’s because his wife used to go and visit them, like socially. But he was still lovely; I loved him. He was very easy. I don’t think he’d get too far these days. He was a bit too easy.
SB: During the Depression, how did you manage for clothes?
FISCHER: Well you just didn’t have them, you know. I can remember that I only had three dresses, one to go out to town in and the other two for around the house. You just had to wash them out. You had to keep your clothes washed up so you could have something to wear. There wasn’t any Op Shops or anything like that. I remember once, the Government gave anybody on Relief Work – they gave us a winter present of a pound extra. We had to come into Nambour to collect it and of course we had to spend it in Nambour. And I remember going to buy some singlets for the children and they were all threepence dearer than they were the day before. I wrote a letter to the paper about it, but he was an old Tory and he wouldn’t print it. There was lots of letters that he wouldn’t print. McFadden his name was. They wouldn’t print anything they didn’t want to.
SB: This was “The Nambour Chronicle”?
FISCHER: Yes. But I had a job with them once, writing for the paper. I had a lot of fun with that too.
SB: So when you married your husband, were your parents happy?
FISCHER: No, they weren’t happy at all because I cleared out and went away which was an awful thing to do probably. We were away for about six or eight months I think, and then we came home. I think we came to Brisbane first or we may have been in Brisbane before, I can’t remember now.
SB: What sort of sex education would you have had in those days?
FISCHER: I don’t think there was any education until – oh into the ‘30s, well after the ‘30s. I don’t remember ever reading anything like that. It was taboo. But I read a book called “Three Weeks”, I think it was. It’s a very well-known book by Marie Stokes. Marie Stokes was one of the first women in the world to talk about contraception, yes.
SB: And so was there anything available for women in those days?
FISCHER: No, only the condom. Later on, when I married I had a cap.
SB: An IUD?
FISCHER: Yes, after I got over the shock of having the second baby at seventeen months. I had a cap until – Deslie’s six years younger than….and then the cap wore out and before I could get another one, I was pregnant.
SB: Was there much pressure for women to have children?
FISCHER: Well I don’t know. People sort of just had them and there wasn’t any pressure not to have them. A lot of people thought that it was a good idea not to have too many children. I mean the average family was about five or six. It wasn’t until much later that the contraceptive question came up. Lady next to me, her husband had bronchitis and he was on an invalid pension and she had about ten children. But they all did well for themselves; they all managed; they all married and worked hard. People worked hard in those days. One time I gave Deslie her first birthday party. She’d be about six I think. So I said, “You can’t ask too many because I really can’t afford it.”
There was three families with eight in each family and she said, “I want to ask all the Petersons and I want to ask all the Torrens,” and I just forget who the other family were. I said, “Well you can’t ask them all, love; you just have to ask one, your mate at school.” Anyway, she did ask the lot and a couple of days before the birthday I was told there was about twenty coming, extra. But we managed just the same. I had a good friend called Margaret Kelp and she came down. She had three boys that were coming to the party.
End Side A/Begin Side B
Politics and Women's Movement
SB: What did your husband think about your political ideas?
FISCHER: Well he wasn’t against them because when we first went to Brisbane, he worked with an old communist. And he was greatly taken with what the old man had to say and he brought the man up to see me and he was a nice old man. I can’t think of his name, but at that time I had the Douglas Credit bug. I’d come to Nambour to hear a young fellow speak on Douglas Credit and my father was interested in it too and had a couple of books on it. To this day I think there may be something in it. The communists don’t think so, but I think it might have been too idealistic or maybe not able to put into practice. Their idea was the Government put out the money for the work. Actually what I think it meant was that the work that was done and produced was credited to the National Advancement, which appealed to me. They did have it in some place in America and they say it’s still operating there. Probably it’s been hand-tied by capitalism. There’s a few starting to come up again here now and I’d really like to read some of the books on it. But my father was quite interested in it and so am I.
We were communists but we weren’t joined up in any party or branch and then later on, before the War, coming up to the War, things were getting pretty unsettled, and then during the War we came into it and it was a marvelous experience. What I was going to say before was when we were isolated out there on the River we were very idealistic and when we left the River – got married and moved away – it took us a few years before we realized that the world wasn’t all true and beautiful. Like we used to believe liars, people who were liars. We just didn’t think that people, didn’t really imagine that people told lies. We used to tell white lies ourselves, but not lies, big lies. It took us some years to wake up to ourselves, but we woke up eventually.
SB: What did you mean when you said things were becoming unsettled before the War?
FISCHER: Well, the news was drifting out about Hitler in Germany and we had a neighbour, who was a German, little old German woman, and she’d come out from Germany to get away from it. She could see what was coming herself because she’d been through the First World War in Germany. She’d been all through the struggles and w asked her about the Jews and she was very anti-Hitler, she hated Hitler, but she said you couldn’t really blame the German people for hating the Jews because she said when they came back from the War with England, walking on crutches and without their arms and legs and all sorts of wounds and one thing and another and then there was this great poverty thing, when you had to have so many thousand marks to buy a slice of bread or something like that, the Jews were entrenched in the business world, and they married all their girls, and if they hadn’t married them they were friendly with them or had some association with them. Then she used to tell us bits and pieces, and she was communistic too.
SB: When did you work in the bookshop?
FISCHER: That was during the Second World War, yes.
SB: What bookshop was that?
FISCHER: It was the Australian Soviet Friendship League. It was a book store really, not a book shop.
SB: Was there any ill-feeling towards the League?
FISCHER: Well we didn’t see it. No, I don’t think so. Especially after the War, there was a great surge for communism, and there was 15,000 communists but then the capitalists saw that that was coming up and they did everything to smash it. And course they had their Santamaria in New South Wales and he was spitting forth his venom and he’s getting onto the bandwagon again now. Dad always said that life was in cycles, twenty-five year cycles.
He said we’d have a war every twenty-five years until it came to such a state that the whole damn place would be a mess; like it would all fall to pieces. Because he always said that Capitalism was like cancer – it ate it’s own stomach out and that’s just what’s happened today.
SB: Were you ever involved in any women’s groups? Were there any groups for women in the early ‘30s or ‘40s?
FISCHER: Yes, I was in the UAW – the United Australian Women – and being in the Communist Party we often had women coming up from down south who were speaking from the Trade Unions. I was a feminist I think, right from the word go, because I had, you now I did such a lot of adult reading. We had a marvelous library on the Maroochy River and it was the School of Arts Library. Dad used to bring home about six books every time he went to a meeting, and I would read all of them. My people were great conversationalists, everything was talked about. I can remember once when a Mrs. Youngman, who was like a grandmother to me, when she came down. People would come once a year to visit or maybe twice in a year and you would go back and visit them. Mrs. Youngman would come down about twice a year. That would be like a feast day, you know, Mum would kill a couple of chooks and we’d have a beautiful lunch. Then she’d come on the mail boat and then she’d go back at 4 o’clock on the mail boat. And Mrs. Dougherty did the same and a few other women, odd ones. But I remember this time Mrs. Youngman came down and it was the day that T. J. Lyons died, in the Labor Party, and I can remember her and Mum crying because he died.
SB: What was the UAW?
FISCHER: Union of Australian Women. It’s still functioning.
SB: What were the aims of it when you were in it?
FISCHER: Emancipation of women.
SB: So you were fighting for equal pay and equal work, were you?
FISCHER: Yes, and emancipation of women in the homes too and emancipation from chauvinism, especially in the home. You could see it all around at times.
SB: So what sort of activities did you have?
FISCHER: Well the Communist women and the Trade Union women were the first people to set up child-minding centres in Brisbane, and they set them up and worked on a roster system. They were very popular too. People had nowhere to leave their children for shopping and things like that and gradually they got a town one in the Town Hall and I think the Progressive women were behind that too, pushed like through the Labor Party, through the other parties. And the militant women in Brisbane were the first ones to set up a female hostel, refuge house.
There were all types of women, educated women and society women and ordinary working women, trade union women. A couple of years ago the Federal Government gave Joh Bjelke-Peterson $75,000 towards that hostel. It was in Roma Street. I forget just what they called it – Women’s House, that’s right, Women’s House. Now it’s moved to West End. And he didn’t hand over the money. He didn’t give it to them and by this time he’d decided to take over the refuges and he got some of his cronies together and got them to set up their own Women’s Hostels and the money poured into them. That’s why the Women’s House was always pinching pennies, because they got no help.
SB: So were there any progressive groups like that up here on the Coast, or were they only in Brisbane?
FISCHER: No, no nothing.
SB: Were there any groups up here for women?
FISCHER: No, until after the War women weren’t catered for at all. There was the CWA, they had a place in the Town Hall and that was where women could go and feed their babies and wash up or rest if they wanted to. That was a very essential thing and it was a very, very good asset to the district.
SB: This was in Nambour?
FISCHER: Yes, that was in Nambour. That was one of the first things for women. Up until the War people were so busy at their work or their farms, and if you couldn’t get to work in Nambour, the girls went up to Brisbane and then their time was taken up with travelling back and forwards on weekends. There was branches of CWA all round the place.
SB: Did the Communist Party ever come up to this area?
FISCHER: There was a little branch in Maroochydore.
SB: When was that?
FISCHER: That would be just after the War finished. It was quite an active little branch. I sold thirty-eight communist papers in and around Maroochydore and Mooloolaba.
SB: You used to sell them on the street?
FISCHER: No. I had people to take them to and I had a friend in Maroochydore, who was a school teacher’s wife and they were progressive. She had a small family and I walked from Maroochydore to Mooloolaba once a fortnight and had lunch at their place. Then walked home again or maybe I’d get a ride home. Then the next fortnight she would walk over to my place and she would take the paper and maybe one or two others.
SB: What was the name of the paper?
FISCHER: “The Guardian”
SB: “The Guardian”. Is that still coming out?
FISCHER: It’s coming out now for the first time as “The Guardian”. It’s been “The Socialist Party of Australia”, the SPA. But it’s coming out now as “The Guardian”. I haven’t had a copy yet. It’s $30 a year, but it’s every week, very good really.
SB: What was the feeling of people when the Communist Party set up a branch in Maroochydore?
FISCHER: Oh there was some antipathy. I remember once when my young brother was about twelve at school and something came up in class about Russia and Dad had told my brother about this, and he stood up and denied what the teacher was saying – not the teacher, the inspector – and the inspector said, “Sit down! We’re not interested.” There was antipathy – I think they used to look sideways at me too, but they were so narrow that it didn’t worry me.
I remember once during the War, my two women friends, they liked to have a drink and I used to like to have a shandy and have a talk, and I was going to tell you this before I forgot about it – first of all, talking about chauvinism, there was two women came to town and they were living in a little house on the riverbank. They were lesbian lovers evidently and they went up to the hotel. There wasn’t too many women went into hotels then, but people were just starting to go. They went in and they had a fight in there so instead of putting them out, they put them out all right but they closed down the women’s room. They had a special room there where only women could go in the hotel, so they closed it down because it was a bit of a nuisance to have to serve it. So there was nowhere for women to have a drink if they wanted it and it was quite some time before it was opened up. The pub had to change hands before and then like things were getting a bit organised and they were getting a bit of competition. Then of course the beer garden came in.
SB: So in the War women just didn’t go to pubs and there was nowhere for them to drink at all?
FISCHER: No, no, not after they closed that down. Because all the hotels had a Women’s Lounge, lounge for females only or for women only, and no man could go in. But they did open up. When the pressure was put on them, they opened up a little bar. They had some renovation done of some kind and they had a little place with about three or four tables. It was mixed then and I can remember being in there once and we were talking politics and some hoon behind me – they had been telling filthy yarns, for over half an hour and we were getting drifts of it and any rate this big-mouth hoon said, “Oh, listen to the bloody Communist there, talking.” So I turned around and I said, “Listen you.” I said, “What we’re talking about at least is educational.” And I said, “I’ll tell you something – we’re sick of your filthy yarns.” So I said, “Just close your mouth.” And he crumpled back into his seat and shut up.
SB: Did you ever have guest speakers coming up to the Maroochy Branch?
FISCHER: Yes, sometimes we did. There was a wonderful thing going called WEA, Workers Educational Association and it was run by the Government. They used to have what they called – I just can’t think of the name now – but it meant that you had a little meeting at your home, and you could apply to have someone sent up from any particular political or educational … and they would come up and speak to you. Somebody would put them up for the night and they’d go home the next day. It was a really good thing. There was some special name they had for that – some sort of lectures it was. It was very good. We often had someone come up and that was the only way that you could get educated really cause there was no TAFE or anything like that. Then they had a seminar up there once and they took over a block of flats and they had a big seminar. That was the Communist Party that had that and they had what they called a school and as we were there, we were entitled to go and sit in on it and it was very educational, very interesting.
SB: Did you have much to do with the Labor Day Marches up here?
FISCHER: Well, we went to them. They had them here in Nambour. We came into all of those. When we were in Brisbane, Labor Day was a beautiful day. They had competitions for running and all sorts of sport and they took over the Showgrounds in Brisbane and it was full; all the ringsides were full and of course that was eliminated too in the process because anything that brought the people together, the Capitalists eliminated it.
SB: Was Labor Day a big thing here too?
FISCHER: Yes, yes, I have some photos that I’m going to get photostated – in fact I have them to “The Chronicle” to be printed and the Labor Party had the first one. After I put the photos in the paper, they said it was about time they had a march for the Labor Party. And we had one, last year I think it was, not this year, last year we had one and I spoke at that.
SB: When did the Communist Party Branch at Maroochydore finish?
FISCHER: More of less people sort of went away to new jobs and things like that and there was only a few old timers there and then they got too old to be bothered and one thing and another. But it couldn’t be really active because the people weren’t ready for it. There was too much religion and too much narrow-mindedness. I didn’t mix very much with people because I couldn’t find any mentor in and around Maroochydore. Mostly men you’d meet. If you met them like outside the Post Office, sit and talk to them or something like that, you might get a political. But I used to feel very envious of the men when they could go to the hotel. I always felt very envious of them because I would have loved to have gone in and just sat in there and discussed what was going on in the day, but a woman couldn’t. You couldn’t go into a bar. Not that I think you could go into one now because the row that comes out of them you wouldn’t be able to hear yourself speak. But the men, that’s where they had their political contacts.
SB: I did hear of a Women’s Electoral Group, that was in Nambour at one stage.
FISCHER: I don’t know about Nambour, I know the lady in Brisbane; she’s a pharmacist, just forget her name, but they do some very good work – they’re progressive people. More from the professional side.
SB: There wasn’t anything like that up here earlier on?
FISCHER: No. There was the Labor Party.
SB: When did they start?
FISCHER: Oh, they started up way back. Mr. Dougherty on Maroochy River was one of the first ones and Dad was in the Labor Party. But it wasn’t a very functional organisation. This place here – Nambour and district – was run by the bank managers. The bank managers ran the town, and the business people. And Mr. Whalley, he was one of the big stick people and the bank managers and then of course they wanted to put a Country… See it was only Country Party. There was no Liberal. It was only Country Party and Labor. And of course they were all Country Party and the Country Party politicians had the money to go around and the Labor Party men didn’t because they were only ordinary working people and so they came around; they always hob-nobbed with the town business men. That’s how a lot of people go their start because they took up with the Country Party and they got the loans from the banks because they were in the Country Party.
SB: So do you think farmers more or less had to join the Country Party initially?
FISCHER: Well they did I because they weren’t very political and there was something in it for them. And then of course, as time went on, they became more politically interested, to hold on for what they already had.
SB: Were there any progressive people in the Council, say in the ‘30s and ‘40s?
FISCHER: Yes there was, there was a man called Alhars; he was a fairly progressive person in his mind. But there didn’t seem to be the scope for being militant or progressive in those days, you know, things were just sort of going along at the same pace. And the business people were copping the lot and the more they copped the more they wanted.
SB: Was there any discontent amongst the farmers, or was everyone just content with the way life was?
FISCHER: No. That’s when they put my father in. They were discontented with what the Mill was handing out to them, yes. They were very discontented about it and when they had Dad in there to watch the weights – they were paying the people less weights than what they were getting – and then there’s what they call the CCS. The CCS is the strength of the cane, you know the amount of sugar that’s in the cane, and the Mill was – I think they were putting down less CCS than what it was. Any rate there was things going on there which forced the farmers to put my father in as Farmers’ Representative. And then there was a bit of spite going on behind my father’s back because he was a socialist. By this time he was mixing around with people and everybody knew.
SB: Did they want to replace your father in the Sugar Mill?
FISCHER: Yes and the Masons blamed the Catholics and the Catholics blamed the Masons. But I really think it was the Masons that put Dad out.
SB: Were the Masons very big in the area?
FISCHER: Yes, that was one of the things that the elite people joined. They always tried to persuade my father to join, but he wouldn’t have anything of it because he said it if was a secret society he didn’t want to belong to it. His neighbour, Mr. Burton, was a great Mason and Mr. Aird on Maroochy River, he was another great Mason and he wanted my father to join. Quite a few of them wanted my father to join, but my father wouldn’t be in it. He probably could have been a lot richer than he was.
SB: Did they have a lot of influence in the area?
FISCHER: The Masons themselves did I think, in a quiet sort of a way. I can’t stand a bar of the Masons really because I think it’s a real rort. People join the Masons and they get jobs and they get positions in different places, you know like they get promotions. And I don’t go along with that; that’s what my father didn’t like about it either.
SB: Going back to the Labor Pary, do you remember when Forgan Smith was in power? What did you think of him as Premier?
FISCHER: Well people seemed to be satisfied with him. I don’t know too much about him. I’ve got the books there to read it, but I can’t remember too much. I think that he wasn’t too bad really. I think he was pretty good.
SB: So the Communist Party didn’t like him as a leader?
FISCHER: Oh well, the Communist Party took everything in their stride. They were very educated people, especially the Trade Union communists; they studied hard. They went overseas and they were a mile ahead of all the other people. That’s why the capitalists are so frightened of communism because they know that once the people really knew what it was they wouldn’t stand a chance.
SB: Did your father ever consider going on the Council, the local Council?
FISCHER: No, not really, because he lived all his life out on the Marooochy River and it was too inconvenient there to go on the Council. Dad wasn’t one that sort of looked for jobs like that. Then when my parents retired, they went to Maroochydore, lived down there.
SB: So there was a real River community?
FISCHER: Yes. Like our part of it was from about two or three miles up from where we were and then a mile and a half down and the farms round. It was a very interesting life.
End of Interview
Tape 3/Side A
Lorna Fischer reading her own poetry.