Interview with: Ethel Rees (nee Sadler)
Date of Interview: 7 May 1985
Interviewer: Valarie Poole
Transcriber: Colwyn Boulton
Ethel Rees nee Sadler was born in Fulham, Middlesex, England on 10 August 1900. Ethel married Vernon E Rees on 28 December 1918 and came to Australia as a war bride. Ethel passed away on 15 August 1991.
Image: Ethel Rees.
Ethel Rees oral history - part one [MP3 29MB]
Ethel Rees oral history - part two [MP3 29MB]
From London to Cooroy
VP : What is your name and where were you born?
REES : My name’s Ethel Rees and I was born in London in 1900.
VP : What was your maiden name?
REES : Sadler.
VP : You came to Australia as a war bride in 1919. What were your first impressions of Australia?
REES : Well I’m afraid I’m very adaptable, take things very much as they come. We got off the “Ormond” in Melbourne and went to see relations of my husband’s in Brighton. They had a lovely home with an open fire and the thought did strike me, well if this is Australia, it’s just like England. But of course I found things very different when I got to Queensland. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really felt quite at home after a while. People were very friendly and I loved the country, even though I’d been brought up in London, I loved the country. I found it very easy to settle down.
VP : When you came to Queensland where did you live?
REES : We lived up at Cooroy on a banana farm, out at West Cooroy.
VP : Have you seen bananas growing before?
REES : No, I hadn’t. Strangely enough I went Home in 1966 and my relatives took me to Kew Gardens and we went in the tropical house where there are all tropical ferns. And amongst them were bananas and they said to me, “Of course you’d know what these are!” For a moment I looked and I didn’t. I realised afterwards because there was no wind to tear all the leaves. They were all whole.
VP : Like palms?
REES : Yes.
VP : Was your house very different to what you were used to in England?
REES : Yes, very. It was just like a house of stilts, just a bungalow which now you can see them, but in my day there were not many. And of course I lived in a three-storey brick home at Home; you know, an ordinary workman’s house and it was very different. But I liked it because you could throw it open and get the full benefit of all the lovely sun and air here.
VP : Was it a slab house or a chamferboard type?
REES : Oh it was a weatherboard.
VP : How many rooms did it have?
REES : There were two bedrooms, lounge and kitchen. Lounge and dining room in one and the kitchen; and then there was a bedroom underneath. We had about three bedrooms and a verandah front and side. One verandah closed in for a bedroom too, so we had quite a lot of sleeping room.
VP : Did you buy this house.
REES : No, actually it belonged to my brother – in – law who was Manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Cooroy at the time, and he bought this banana farm with the idea that he might one day get tired of the Band and go in there. When I first went there we lived in Cooroy itself, just up the hill going towards Tewantin. Then we moved out to the farm. My brother – in – law had this house built, and we went out there. At first we were all there. My brother – in – law had lost his wife and had three little boys and his sister was looking after them. Well then, eventually my brother – in – law got married again and my sister – in – law went away. My husband and I were on our own except we had his younger brother, he was on a banana farm just near and he boarded with us.
VP : What did you do to have a bath? How did you go about that?
REES : Oh, now just a minute, let me think. We must have had a bathroom, a shower. Yes.
VP : A shower right back then in 1919?
REES : Yes I’m sure we did.
VP : Did you have an old tin bath as well?
REES : A tin bath, yes. I just can’t remember where the bathroom was. It must have been off the kitchen; no, we probably wouldn’t have had a shower. I’m thinking of later when we were living out at Burnside we’d had a shower there.
VP : What about your washing? How did you do that?
REES : Oh just over an open fire in a kerosene tin. (LAUGHS)
VP : And were you used to doing your washing that way?
REES : No, I wasn’t. As a matter of fact I hadn’t done a great deal of washing at all really. You know what I mean, otherwise than just hand washing. We had a boiler at Home in the laundry. When my mother became ill my sister and I used to do it between us but it was no trouble, you know, it was easy to get the boiler going; but I didn’t mind the kerosene tins. I got used to them. And of course used Mother Potts’ irons. But that wasn’t unusual either. Of course we had those at Home. We hadn’t got to the electricity or anything like that in London by that time. Might have done in the wealthier homes but the ordinary working man still used the old type of iron.
VP : What about your cooking? How did you do that?
REES : Well I had to learn, but fortunately having my sister – in – law there – she was a wonderful cook, I got a lot of hints from her – she helped me. About the only experience I had before was to cook a roast dinner and steam a pudding, I could do that. But from there on I had to learn. I was never a marvellous cook but I could always turn out a good meal for the family. Fortunately for me they were not a picky family, they ate well, they had a hearty appetites and they weren’t fussy. That was later of course when I had the family. The eldest girl was born up there in Cooroy, in Cooroy Hospital.
VP : What was her name?
REES : Shirley, Mrs Cash, that was the one that was here last week. She’s the eldest of the family. She turned 64. I hate telling their ages because it makes me feel so ancient.
VP : Was it a wood stove that you had there?
REES : Yes, oh yes, it was a wood stove, we had plenty of wood because the bananas were grown in scrub country. It’s more or less like the rainforest up north it was then. There was the two types of country there; forest country which was sparsely treed and then there was the scrub, thick scrub which they used for banana growing. The soil of course was magnificent, absolutely beautiful soil. Soon we put the bananas in, my husband would plant vegetables up between the rows and before you knew where you were, you had stacks of vegetables.
When I went up there on the banana farm, course there was still standing scrub all round us and I heard native bears. They’d had young and the young, they cried just like babies, I couldn’t get over it. So my husband caught a big one, a male Koala to bring it up to show me. He got a rope round it and brought it up to show me and when we’d had a look at it, it was too big and too wild. You know, it would have scratched you badly. He couldn’t get close to it to take the rope off, so he cut it. It was only a slip knot so he knew that eventually it would drop off. And then they took me down to the packing shed. They had an enormous carpet snake there, been there all the winter, and showed me. That’s where I think I’m rather stoical because they expected me to be shocked, you know, frightened. But things like that don’t worry me. It was wonderful to see it. For instance, I’d walk through grass, long grass or anything, never dawned on me to worry about snakes.
VP : Did you help in the packing shed or with the bananas?
REES : Well, not with the bananas, no. There was a man working on the place and my husband. Then we shifted from that one to another little one, a banana farm, just in the same district. My brother – in – law sold that place and he went onto another little place. My father was with us by that time. He came out about fifteen months after I did with my sister. Although he had a stiff leg he was marvellous. He’d work down in the lower parts and my husband used to work up on the hill. The farm was in beautiful nick you know. The only thing I learnt to do there was to milk a cow. I’d milk the cow for them because they used to sometimes be working very late.
VP : Outside of your home, what social life or contact with other people did you have?
REES : Well, actually I had very little. I didn’t bother to go into town much. I’d go in sometimes and go shopping.
VP : Where would this be to?
REES : Cooroy. This brother – in – law of mine was a very good singer and would be asked to sing at concerts. And I have sung duets with him. I did in there. He became friendly with a girl on the next farm, a girl named Manning. She was an only child, her people were very protective of her, and they wouldn’t let her go to these dances without somebody going. So my husband and I used to go with Merlin and Phyllis.
VP : As chaperons?
REES : Yes. Vernon wasn’t very keen on dancing, I wasn’t either particularly. I hadn’t done it at Home much. There were only three girls in our family, we had no brothers. So although my parents were very – well gave us a pretty free rein, I mean they disciplined us well and we were told what was wrong and what was right – but we didn’t go to places where we would have done if we’d have had brothers. So the consequences was I’d never done much dancing. But still we went just to please Merlin.
VP : Did you every play cards at home?
REES : My husband would play Crib sometimes. We, neither of us were very keen on cards. We would play bridge and I played whilst at Home in London because they play a lot of that. But we preferred music and of course in those days we didn’t have the chance at it that we have now. But we were both great readers too, which we did a lot of reading; and talking; one thing and another. I never found the time would hang – fire.
I didn’t have a machine so all my sewing I had to do by hand for quite a long time. Must have been three years I did my sewing by hand. Eventually I found it getting too much for me.
VP : Was Shirley the only one born while you were up there?
REES : She was the only one born up there.
VP : She was born at Cooroy at the hospital?
REES : Yes, at the hospital in Cooroy. It’s been expanded now and enlarged but it’s still in the same place.
VP : Did you have any difficulties having her?
REES : Well I did have a bad time. Apparently – I don’t know whether my mother had it but it seems to run in my family - but they had a job to get the placenta away. Which caused trouble and I was very very lucky. The sisters (Morrison) that ran the hospital, two of them were qualified sisters. They were all single the three of them. The other one was a nurse and had learnt a lot of hospital work, but she never qualified. But the matron had had a private hospital of her own in Brisbane and worked under a lot of big doctors, Doctor Thelander and a lot of them there. But then her parents became elderly; I was in hospital when they had their golden wedding. So they bought this hospital at Cooroy which had a shed at the back. They fitted that out as a nice little living place for their parents and that’s why they came up.
The two of them were very very experienced women. I didn’t engage the doctor because my sister – in – law had died under him. Not only that, I wouldn’t have blamed him for that, but I had heard other things… So I hadn’t engaged the doctor. And, oh they had to call him in to pull this placenta away. And then he was going to Tewantin with a delegation to get the road built properly from Cooroy to Tewantin. So he said if they wanted him, to ring down there. Well I developed convulsions, in fact, they sent for my husband. They didn’t think I’d pull through in the end. Anyway the doctor came up and the second sister – she was terribly funny and she said,
”I’m sure that man doesn’t know anything about Mrs Rees’ case.” She said to her sister, “What’s the betting he’ll go up to the house to get his books.” And sure enough he came in reading his books, and he said to Sister Inez, “What do you think I’d better do?” She said so and so, and he said, “Oh I wouldn’t risk that.” Anyway my husband was sitting out on the verandah and the Matron said, “Where’s Mr Rees?” Inez said, “He’s out on the verandah.” “Well”, she said, “bring him, he’d be the best medicine there is.” And sure enough it was the turning point. When I came through, I was so excited that I talked and talked into the early hours, until Matron said, “Mr Rees, you must go to sleep.”
And I was out of hospital in a fortnight, just as usual. I never had the trouble again. Course Matron said to me to tell my doctor the next time. And the doctor I went to was a Doctor Stark in Brisbane and I told him.
VP : And was Shirley a healthy baby.
REES : Yes she was, she was perfectly well. When I hear all these things on TV about these babies I think how lucky I’ve been. I had seven, all healthy and well.
VP : And you breastfed her?
REES : No, I haven’t been able to breastfeed any of them. I’ve tried.
VP : What did you have to feed them then?
REES : Well, I started Shirley off first of all on condensed milk I think it was. I finished up with lactogen.
VP : Did you have any trouble getting this?
REES : Well, I had a bit of trouble to find the right food for her but I did eventually. Once I got onto it she was alright. I had no trouble then. And it was more or less the same with all of them, I had to work a bit to find the right food but eventually I did. The youngest son was the only one I had trouble with, and he wasn’t the best but otherwise than that I really didn’t have any trouble.
VP : Was it hard without your family there when you were sick in the hospital?
REES : Well it was. My mother had died before my father came out. And even before I went into hospital I thought how lucky these people were that had mothers. My husband’s people had been rather strange with me. I stayed with them in Brisbane before I went to Cooroy just for a matter of a few weeks. And a neighbour told them some yarn about me which wasn’t true and Grandma believed it. So things weren’t the best there. But in the finish, many, many years afterwards, Grandma said to me when she was staying with us, she said, “You know, you’re the most like Ted and I,” (That was her husband), “than any of them.” So I thought, oh well, she’s forgiven me. (Laughs) She was a French woman and there were three of the boys went over, one was killed, the one older than my husband.
World War I
VP : And your husband had war nerves from the war? What do they call it?
REES : My husband was on Gallopolli, he was an ANZAC and was taken off with enteric and dysentery like a lot of them were. When he was demobilised and on his papers was a recommendation for a pension. But the men were so eager to get into mufti you know, out of their uniforms, he never bothered.
VP : Why did they give him a pension? His nerves?
REES : His nerves yes.
VP : Did this affect him at home?
REES : Well for a long time it didn’t bother him. Had we not have had the worries, financial worries I think he could have possibly lived longer, and he wouldn’t have been so much affected. But the Rees’, like Lloyd Rees has had some shocking nervous breakdowns. And there’s a sort of nervous weakness in the family, could be in mine too for all I know. But I’ve never noticed it. And I think that the worry sort of brought things back.
VP : When did you move back to Brisbane then?
REES : Well we went to Brisbane in 1923 I think it was. Be ’22 or ’23. Shirlery was just a toddler.
VP : And you stayed there for eleven years, is that right?
REES : It’d be about that. That’s right because it was ’33. The youngest of the six was born in Brisbane and she was a few weeks old when Vernon came home and said he’d lost his job. And we went back into the country then. We went out to Burnside.
VP : How many more children did you have when you were in Brisbane?
REES : I had five more. I had six when I came back.
VP : What were their names?
REES : There was Shirley, Eryl, Margot, Ted, well Edward; Maurice, and then Gwynfa.
VP : Gwynfa is an unusual name.
REES : They’re Welsh names of course. Eryl is Welsh too E – R – Y – L.
Moving back to Nambour
VP : Why did you return to this area?
REES : Well my husband’s brother was Manager of the Bank of New South Wales and my husband asked him if he could find us a house to rent up here. He got us one out at Burnside. We went out there and stayed in that.
REES : That was the end of the Depression then was it?
REES : Yes, we were there at Burnside from ’33 till the end of ‘37. Very nearly the five years we were out at Burnside.
VP : Coming back did you notice the Depression had hit Nambour? Or had it grown?
REES : It hadn’t grown a great deal. The Bank of course had just built this two storey brick place which had not long been demolished.
VP : Which Bank is this?
REES : The Bank of New South Wales. They had rented places up till then and the Manager had a house up in Blackall Terrace where my brother – in – law lived. Well then the Bank got burnt down, the place they were in. I think it was Howard Street. So then the Bank built a two storey brick place. Eryl said to me the other day, “Did you mention about Mrs Punty’s little shop next to the Bank in Currie Street. The kids all knew it. It was a little sort of general shop; they’d go in there for lollies and things.
VP : Was the rent very dear on your house?
REES : No it wasn’t very dear.
VP : What sort of things did you do to make ends meet then?
REES : Well my husband as I say was on relief work and then we grew strawberries and beans. We had chooks and started off with one cow which increased.
VP : You had a bit of acreage with the house?
REES : Yes there was about twelve or thirteen acres altogether and we grew all our own vegetables. There were some fruit trees on the place, a few citrus trees. The children used to walk over to Perwillowen which was over the hills to school at the little Perwillowen School which has since been demolished of course.
VP : Did you swap vegies with any of your neighbours?
REES : Well the neighbours were wonderful to me. There was Mrs Len Day, Mrs Taylor, the Les Days. Well Mossy Day, it was his father – they lived at the end, it was a cul – de – sac road in those days, Burnside; and Mossy’s father had a dairy farm at the end of the road. And this Mrs Taylor I speak of, she was Les Day’s sister and then down below her was Len Day, who was – his father started Day and Grimes. And old Day is Mossy’s brother of course, I knew all of them… And he grew plenty of vegetables. Well Mrs Taylor and Mrs Len Day were absolutely marvellous to me. I’d get a home – made loaf sent along. We had no vehicle so we depended on our neighbours to do our shopping. And they only went in once a week. They used to take it in turns going in to shop for everybody. So they used to bake their own bread, a lot of it. Also I made a bit of butter, I used to skim the cream and the milk and make butter. And they used to give me home – made butter too.
The children, talking to them now, they say they were never fed so well in their lives as they did there, with all the fruit and vegetables and things they had.
So in that way they didn’t suffer at all. Where I think the children felt it – Shirley was about twelve and they were coming to the age when they wanted to look nice. I’m quite sure, they’ve never ever complained, but they felt it very much that they couldn’t have a lot of the things that the other children at school had. But they never complained. Things improved of course. As we went along we were able to make up to them a little bit. We were never wealthy but we managed to get along you know.
Nambour Rural School
VP : And Shirley went on to the Rural School?
REES : Yes, she and Eryl. I think Eryl went to the local school for a little while but it couldn’t be long because it only went to the fourth grade. So the two of them, and Margot eventually, walked in and out to Nambour School.
VP : How far was that?
REES : Three and a half miles. They used to walk in and walk out. And of course in those days they did domestic science. Mr Zerner was the Headmaster.
VP : Was it expensive to send the children there? Were there extra fees?
REES : No, there were no fees to send them to school. And we were very lucky in lots of ways – I mean it was a long way. There was a family, Jim Lanham’s family, Mrs Lanham had a family of eleven children. But she said to me, “If ever it’s wet or if Shirley’s not feeling up to the walk,” – Shirley was in class with one of her daughters, Dulcie Lanham – she said, “she can stay with me.” Sometimes they would stay at the Bank but my sister – in – law wasn’t very partial to that. So that was very rare. But this Mrs Jim Lanham, she was absolutely marvellous to her.
VP : Where did they live?
REES : You know the Masonic Hall, well their house was just above it. Mr Lanham gave that land for the Masonic Hall. He owned a block of shops, that block from the Station down to the turning that goes under the bridge, and he owned that. He owned a lot of property and that’s where they lived – just up there.
VP : A lot of children finished school after primary school. It seemed to be important to you for your children to go on.
REES : Well yes, because my husband hadn’t had a really very extensive education but fortunately for him he was a very deep reader and so carried on more or less his own education. I had a very good education which now I look back and I talk to other people of my age and it’s rather wonderful really. But I was fortunate enough in so far as my parents were both anxious for all of us to have a good education. The L.C.C. had an experiment – they built three new secondary schools on a par with the high school here, which they were to allow scholarship girls to go to.
VP : What is L.C.C.?
REES : London County Council. They were most successful those schools. I had the good fortune to be able to make use of those schools. So I had really an extraordinary education for my age. You talk to a lot of women my age and they just had primary school, well that’s all they’d been able to do.
VP : A lot of people in your children’s time only had primary education too.
REES : Well that’s right but we were determined. As I say we were very fortunate with Shirley, she passed her scholarship and we had no idea how she would get her further education. And that very year the school opened a high top as they called it. It just went as far as Junior but at least she had up till that. She got to Junior.
VP : And you were saying she did Junior twice because there were no jobs.
REES : Well there wasn’t much. She tried for the Civil Service and couldn’t get in there. Nambour wasn’t big enough to provide work for the young people in those days, not to any extent. So we thought well it’d be better for her to have another year at home to make her a little more mature. She then got a job in Penny’s in Brisbane. She was doing clerical work.
VP : With six children did you have a lot of diseases?
REES : No. They had measles and chicken pox. The only thing I ever dreaded was diphtheria when we got away from the town. I was frightened because I knew that it took children very quickly. Unfortunately the diphtheria immunisation came in while we were in Brisbane but my husband when he left Gallipolli had so many injections that the idea of the children having injections – and then there was a tragedy, I think it was at Bundaberg. Several children died through the immunisation. I can’t remember exactly the details. And he would not have them immunised, so that rather worried me. But anyway, they came through. I was able to persuade him to let me have Megan immunised when she came along.
No the only worry we had as far as that was concerned was Gwynfa got scarlet fever and we nearly lost her. Margot, the third girl, must have had at some time a very mild form of rheumatic fever we understand, because when she went into the army she was only passed as a B Class because she had a murmur in the heart. When we asked the doctor what would have caused it he said rheumatic fever. We said we never knew. But of course living out at Burnside like that she could have had it.
VP : Can you tell me about when Gwynfa had scarlet fever?
REES : She was five that year and she wasn’t very well. I could tell she was running a high temperature and as a matter of fact Shirley was also sick. And we got a doctor out from Nambour, Dr Charles, and as soon as he was Gwynfa he said it was scarlet fever. Well how she got it we don’t know because she never went into town. As I say we had no vehicle. Dad and I sometimes went in together but not very often. I didn’t go to town. But we had to go of course, every Friday to collect his relief pay and he walked. If I wanted to go in I walked too. So the kiddies didn’t get into town. But how she got it we have no idea. But anyway she’d only been in the isolation hospital – she went in on the Tuesday.
VP : They took her to hospital?
REES : Yes, the isolation hospital.
VP : Was that a separate part of the hospital?
REES : It was, yes. And she wasn’t terribly sick when she went in but anyway apparently she developed further trouble. It got very bad and on Thursday they sent for Vernon and I. We went in, they did allow us to go in and speak to her. I can see her now, auburn haired, and she’s freckled across the nose. She’s just sitting up in bed, “Mummy, Mummy” and her lips were scarlet. But Dr Charles was marvellous, he pulled her through.
VP : How long was she in hospital for?
REES : Seven weeks. Yes all my family is rather on the reticent side. And she was very much introvert, for the whole seven weeks she wouldn’t talk. She never talked to the nurses until she was going to come home and then she told them her uncle was going to come home and then she told them her uncle was going to fetch her in his new car. Where she got that idea from I don’t know.
The Bank had given him a new car but he was going on holidays. Anyhow when he heard this, I don’t know who told him, whether he went up there or whether he phoned the hospital to ask how she was but they told him. He put off going on his holiday so he could take her home in his new car. So she was delighted and I remember going to fetch her and her little legs were blue. The nurse had her and I said, “Oh, what have I got to do?” And she said, “Look, it’s just bad circulation through not having walked. Just rub them well with methylated spirits and walk her about.” And she got alright, she was quite alright.
VP : Did the kids every get school sores?
REES : Yes, the elder boy did, very bad ones.
VP : What did you do for those?
REES : Well my husband was a great believer in salt water and we used to often go down to Maroochydore for the day with my brother – in – law and his wife and we could make him go into the salt water. Then of course we went to live at Maroochydore and they cleared up completely.
VP : What about ring worms or head lice?
REES : We did have head lice at one period there. I had a lovely job with them all (Laughs)
VP : What did you do for it?
REES : As far as I can remember I cut their hair as short as I could. I had to do the hair cutting because we couldn’t afford to have it done. And I’m hopeless hair cutter you should see the photo of them. They always reckoned Margot looked like a top of a watch, you know, the winder of a watch. And then I just used to put kerosene on, I had a small tooth comb and used to keep combing them you know. That was all I could do. But I cleared them up, but oh dear it was a job.
VP : When did your husband get his military pension?
REES : It must have been about 1937 or ‘38.
VP : Is that when you moved to Maroochydore?
REES : Yes, when we went to Maroochydore.
VP : Was that a drop in your income for the family?
REES : No, actually no it wasn’t because it was quite a reasonably good income, pension. And then of course we got a lot of back pay, which helped us considerably. When we got to Maroochydore we rented a house, well we lived in a couple of houses.
Most of the land in Maroochydore in those days was crown land; and somebody told my husband that you could acquire the land and built on it. He’d been an insurance inspector and in those days when he was in insurance you couldn’t acquire crown land and put your own property on. Anyhow I think he made some inquiries in Maroochydore but he found out that was correct, so we bought three blocks which you only paid a few pounds for, very little. One we kept the later sold the others. We borrowed from the Darling Downs Building Society to build. My husband could do plans and specifications, he did all that. And he also bought all the materials himself. We built a fibro home.
VP : Whereabouts?
REES : It’s still standing down there, near the Aerodrome Road. Do you know where the Fire Station is? Just close to there. And it still stands and looks as good as ever.
In one of the houses we lived in, it was on about six or seven foot stumps and they weren’t very big and we struct a wet season after Christmas, cyclone weather. And that house used to shake, and my husband said, “Well if ever I build it’s going to be the soundest built house that we can have.”
Where the Court House is now, had been a sawmill belonging to a chap named Nonmus who was the basis of the lumber company up there now. He’d demolished this sawmill and gone up to Buderim to start up there and my husband used to wander around. When he thought of this house, he said to this Mr Nonmus, he said, “If I dig out those old iron bark stumps in that old sawmill site, can I buy them from you?” He said, “Oh, if you want to dig them out you can have them for nothing.” So I don’t think there’d be any house in Maroochydore on sturdier stumps than they were. We only had it not far from the ground, it wouldn’t have been as high as this. (2’6”)
VP : About two feet?
REES : Yes two feet, and in that we had three bedrooms and the kitchen, dining room and then we had a long verandah outside, oh and the bathroom. The long verandah outside which we had closed in and sealed and it was more like a room. But it was glass windows all round which we used as a sort of lounge you know sitting - out place. Vernon made sure we had plenty of water, we had two or three tanks. I know we always had plenty of water. We only had a bath upstairs but we had a shower down under the tank stand. Showers under tanks are cold, but you get used to them.
He built a nice shed out the back, well built for a laundry and woodshed and toilet. I remember once he went down – he used to get the wood and chop it all into blocks and pile it you know. He went to get a pile of blocks one day and a cat and her kittens came out. And they were as wild, we couldn’t keep them. The kittens wouldn’t stay. We fed them. And my husband, to handle them, he had to put sugar bags on his arms. They were so wild.
Also while we were in that house, Parker’s had a dairy farm where all the shops are there in Aerodrome Road. Maud Street was one of the names of his daughters. He cam and divined water for us in our garden so we had plenty of water.
VP : Did you have a bore then?
REES : We had a bore, put down a bore. My husband was a very keen gardener.
VP : Did you have electricity when you moved into that house?
REES : Not when we moved in. It was put in soon after we went on there. I’m not sure, that would have been about ’39 possibly ’40.
VP : What about septic, did you have septic?
REES : No, just a earth closet.
VP : And that was the start of the war then?
REES : Yes, it would have been just about the start of the war.
Facing where we lived was a one – time aerodrome where they used to take off for joy – flights. But of course that’s all built on now, there’s all houses on it. But it was just a mass of wild flowers when we went down there.
VP : Was that still used as an aerodrome when you built?
REES : No, not really.
VP : They didn’t try to use it or clean it up for the war?
REES : No, they just left it. It was just a mass of wild flowers growing. Of course they got destroyed, so many people would pick bunches. It was such a shame, you’d see they’d pick armfuls. Then you’d follow them – possibly they’d drop them – got tired down the road. With the result of course, eventually they just all died out. It was a picture when we went there.
World War II
VP : Did you see much effect of the war on Maroochydore?
REES : Well there were quite a few of the fellows, the Army, based down there. We had Signals Corp down there. My girls learnt First Aid. Margot she was at home with me. That was another thing, I always said, even when I had a big family, that I would never keep the older girls home to look after the little ones – not unless I was sick or anything like that. But when Margot left school I found I was pregnant for Megan.
VP : Margot was your youngest at that stage?
REES : No Margot wasn’t the youngest. She was the third girl. The other two had joined the Army and she wanted to. She’d done domestic science at school. When they go in the Army they are asked what they learnt or what they’ve done. The other two were clerks. Shirley went in and did the signalling. Eryl went in and she went into staff headquarters as a shorthand – typist. Eventually she got her Sargeant’s stripes I think. But if Margot had gone and said to them she’d done domestic science, she was dead scared they’d put her in the kitchen peeling potatoes and so forth. She said she didn’t want that and she wanted to be with Eryl. So I asked her if she’d stay home for twelve months till I’d had Megan and she would have been a few months old. The girls dubbed in with Dad and we gave Margot a year back a the school to do a commercial course, so she learnt typing and that. So she went into the Army as a clerk; she was in headquarters with Eryl.
VP : Was Megan a change of life baby?
REES : Yes, definitely. I was 42 but I never had any trouble with change of life. None whatever.
VP : Did you find it hard rearing her because you were that much older?
REES : Well it is, you know. She was a beautiful baby. They say the change of life baby – and she really was beautiful - are beautiful babies. And really a good baby fortunately. People would say to me, “Oh isn’t it lovely having a baby.” I’d say, “No, they’re a young woman’s luxury.” But of course when her father died, she was about eight and I was very glad to have her then. We became very great mates as time went on. We’ve always had that. I don’t love her any more than the others but there’s just that little connection between us you know. Strangely enough between she and the next one, Gwynfa, the one that was ten years older, they’ve become very close and she and I too.
VP : Was there any guns or air – raid shelters built around Maroochydore?
REES : No, there were air – raid shelters a bit. We didn’t seem to worry about them much. As far as I know I don’t think there were any guns about. The school children in Nambour they were evacuated, if they wanted to leave, they could. And a lot of the children did – went to the relatives. They said Queensland was the most vulnerable part of the time, otherwise the Northern Territory of course. So quite a few of the children went south, left the school. But otherwise there wasn’t a great difference in life really at Maroochydore.
I know when I became pregnant Mr Rees asked the doctor whether it would be advisable for me to go futher inland or anything. And he said, “No, for one thing, you’ve got a doctor. Whereas, “ he said, “You could go out now and so many of the doctors were being called up.” So many of the places were being left without doctors. He said, “You’ve got a doctor and you’ve a hospital up there, so I’d advise you to stay.” Which I did. I was very glad. I wouldn’t have liked going away at all.
VP : When the Red Cross ship was sunk, the “Centaur” out from Caloundra in 1943, did you hear about that during the war?
REES : Yes I knew about it, but not very much, just the fact that the “Centaur” had gone down you know.
VP : It wasn’t in the papers?
REES : No I don’t think so, not that I can remember. No, I have an idea somebody that I knew had somebody on it. I think it might have been through that. I’m not sure, I think if some of the Cash family weren’t on it, relatives of theirs, somebody I knew, I think had gone down on it.
VP : It seems strange that it was not reported when it was so close?
REES : Yes, that’s right. Yes it’s amazing really. It was amazing really how things were quiet because when things were over I remember Dr Shaw saying to my husband that really and truly this part of the coast was one of the most vulnerable really. We were very fortunate that nothing more happened than it did. But it was just as well we didn’t know.
VP : And can you tell me about the shops at Maroochydore? Was Butts there then?
REES : Well Butts was just a little shop next to the Hotel.
VP : This is the Maroochydore Hotel where it is now?
REES : Yes, where it is now but of course not nearly so big. It’s been extended. This Mr Butt’s father had it.
VP : What was his name?
REES : George Butt, I couldn’t be certain. They had a house facing the river at the back, but he practically lived at the shop. He had it open early hours in the morning and it was open till quite late at night.
VP : Was he a good businessman?
REES : No. You’d hardly call him that because when Cliff came and took over he had to go round collecting all the debts his father had left behind.
VP : His father used to let people book up?
REES : Yes. Possibly might have been only through the War because he must have made money. He became a very bad diabetic and the business got too much in the end. That’s why they sent for Cliff then when his father was so ill. And he came down from Cairns at the time. The old people did build a two storey house on the other side where Butts Shopping Centre is now. And they built a two storey brick place but that was demolished later for building.
VP : Was it just a grocery store then?
REES : Yes. And it was also an unofficial Post Office. Two girls ran it, daughters of Mr Drew, that had the Surf View flats. One of them was Post Mistress and the other helped, was an assistant.
VP : Did you know Mrs Butt?
REES : The old lady? Yes, I did because she was quite a good singer. And every Anzac Day this was Mr Drew used to get a choir together and she was in it and I was in it. I got to know her in that way.
VP : Were you in the Comforts Fund?
REES : Yes, I was in the Comforts Fund. Yes there were quite a lot of people you know that have gone now of course. There was the Pickering family, which was quite a big family down there at that time. And Mrs Lock, who lived next to the garage. She sold it after her husband died and it’s still never been built on.
VP : Do you remember when Mrs Butt used to accompany you in the concerts?
REES : That would have been during the war time mainly.
VP : This was concerts for the Comforts Fund?
REES : Yes, we had concerts for the Comforts Fund and one thing and another.
VP : When did she open up the drapery store?
REES : Actually when it was in the old building it was just a little part. They built on and made the Post Office bigger and then she had a little drapery store. That would have been during the War. Maurice was still at home. It would have been late in the war when that was, fairly well into the war and she opened up this drapery store and it was really a boom to Maroochydore.
VP : What about a chemist?
REES : Well we only had one chemist that served Maroochydore, and Mooloolaba. I don’t think there was one even up at Buderim. She was a Miss Watson.