The Story of Frederick William Mayne (born 1888)

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The Story of Frederick William Mayne (born 1888)


Vivien Spencer

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My father, Frederick William Mayne was born on 15-4-1889 to Louise Mayne, nee Harrigan, (her second child) at Crystal Street Petersham. She died about three months later. He was cared for by an aunt or grandmother, at Corrimal until he was eighteen months old, by which time grandfather had remarried, to Julia Harris. Julia was a wonderful mother to him, determined that no one would accuse her of being a bad mother to her step-child. There was a remark about how long it had taken to remove the splinters from his bottom. His three year old sister was sent to live with a relative of grandfather’s. They now lived in Cliff Street Arncliffe. This may be the wrong name, but it was high on an area behind Arncliffe Park, which fronted onto Wollongong Rd., close to the end of the street and overlooked the local dairy. At the age of eight, Willy was delivering milk for this dairy before and after school. School entailed a walk to Kogarah, a couple of miles away. Among my papers, I have a tiny scrap of paper, a reference stating that Willy Mayne was an honest and reliable worker. Grandfather was a carter and I can remember stables and horses at the back of the old weatherboard house, which fronted right onto the street, with only a very narrow veranda, about a foot below the level of the road. Sand came down from the street onto it. The house was crammed with furniture, a piano and beautifully studded chairs with cabriole legs, in the parlour, a massive cedar chest of drawers and brass studded bed, with a large canopy for the mosquito net in the front bedroom, while the round dining table, with two extension panels, plus a cedar sideboard, the top of it, crammed with crystal glasses and bowls, filled the living room. (Perhaps the Crystal street residence had been more spacious!) This house featured a bathroom, at the end of the back veranda, with a galvanised iron bath tub on four legs. A great luxury, where you could lie in the bath and stretch out, in contrast to the round tub, in front of the kitchen fire in winter and in the wash house in summer. I can still remember the smell of the soap. Pink carbolic! Previously to this, people had made their own soap, using the fat accumulated from the cooking and caustic soda. The veranda was sheltered from the elements by a massive curtain of asparagus fern, dusty and thorny. It had tiny black berries on it and I didn’t like it. Dad talked little of his childhood, but we often heard about the fun he had in his early teen age, belonging to a gang of local boys; the Willington boys and Leo Skelton are names I recall. Church going was a must and their favourite prank was taking with them, match boxes full of ants, to be released at some strategic moment, they then sat back and enjoyed the scuffling and scraping the ants produced among the congregation. Depending on the season, stinking beetles and cicadas also kept the congregation busy. All this in the tiny church of old St David! The Willington boys had an elder sister, Edith, who kept a stern eye on these lads and accordingly was much hated. Years later, when Edith and my dad were well into their eighties, their paths crossed. Edith was a keen organiser of the local historical society and she begged dad to join, because of all he could contribute. He wouldn’t even give it a thought. He was not going to be bossed by Edith. Dad began working for J.T. Fielding’s at the age of eighteen, but sometime after he turned fourteen and then, he went prospecting for opals at Lightening Ridge. He never talked about it, but the samples he brought home were there. By this time, there would have been four young step brothers in the home and possibly finances were stressed, after the crash of the banks, at the end of the nineteenth century. When aged twelve, his sister Irene had been brought home and sent out to service, for which she earned two shillings and six pence. Lightning Ridge is a long way from Sydney and I wonder how did he get there? Did he have companions? How did he manage to survive? I have tried, without success to find some clues. The book by Ian Idriess was no help, but gave some idea of the life there. We do know that he had a mate, Hugh Carey, an older man, who later went off to the war. Hugh came into our lives, in 1928, when Dad found him in the city, a broken man, ill and homeless. Hugh lived with us for quite a time while Edie nursed him. I have just contacted the Lightning Ridge Historical Society, who have no record of my dad or his partner, but are pleased to hear from me. Dad and Hughey are now on their records. She suggested that he would have travelled by bicycle. Mr. Fielding had set up a printing and box manufacturing company in Buckingham Street Redfern. This was a private company and the loyal employees were welded to the establishment, well and truly, by the bonus they received each Christmas in the form of shares. It was quite a long time before their shares appeared on the market and they were among the best at the time. Dad had a skill in putting together the machinery which came from America in crates, apparently without any instructions. Mr Fielding appreciated this and saw that my father attended technical school to further his knowledge. Eventually it was suggested that he go to America to learn even more. This did not happen, perhaps due to the intervention of WW1. My father married on 12-11-1912, in St David’s C of E Arncliffe, to Edith, nee Jones. For the first two years of their marriage they lived in two tents, linked by a tent fly, set up on a block of land belonging to her father, in Yarram Road Oatley, close to the overhead bridge. An enterprising young couple, determined to get on, by the end of two years they were able to buy, the house in no.1 Llewellan Street Gungah Bay for four hundred pounds. Before their marriage, Edie, a seamstress, had worked for Ward Bros. She continued to do this; whether by travelling into the city or doing piece work on her machine in the tent, I do not know. But she certainly did piece work, once they had moved, setting up her machine in a children’s playground, with the children outside. Overcoats for the soldiers were part of the production. Piece work was absolute slavery, with such a few pence for each garment, but it was money. The three roomed weather board house, with front and back verandas, was perched on the rocky slopes above the Georges River, with a boat and a boathouse, part of the deal. At the weekends they sailed and explored the bays and inlets of the Georges River, needing to carefully watch the time of the tides. It was not unusual to be stranded on a sandbank or unable to reach the shore, because the tide had gone out. Boats of all varieties, dotted the river on these sunny occasions and strains of music filled the air, coming from banjos, guitars and mouth organs, played by crews. Will was a skilled player of the mouth organ while Edie played the mandolin. Their way of providing a musical background for their children! With so much beautiful sand stone, surrounding them, Will chipped and chopped blocks to build a laundry, called a washhouse and to landscape their home, terracing the slopes. There was even a fish pond, close to the back door, which in summer time attracted snakes. My mother took no risk that her children would be bitten. On such occasions, she would order us to keep still and pin the snake down with a crow bar, then, with a spade she would cut off its head. Most of the community along the river were fishermen, who were rather poor, with large families to be supported. The wives of these families often came to my mother for help and advice. She had a large book, called the Doctor at Home, which was so often consulted, with the only doctor, so far away, at Hurstville. Such strange remedies could be found in his book. Infected wounds could have a plaster of soap and Epson salts applied, or a bread poultice. This was made by pouring boiling water over a slice of bread, wrapped in a cloth. With the water squeezed out as much as possible, this was then applied to the wound. Horrible torture and what good could it have done? Another form of torture was the remedy for boils. A pickle bottle, (they had narrow necks) was filled with boiling water, which was poured out and the neck of the bottle immediately applied to the boil and pressed down very hard. As the bottle cooled, a vacuum was created and the core of the boil would be extracted. When wounds on the feet were bursting with pus, they could be lanced with a cut throat razor, by dad while we were held down by mum. Especially do I remember the times in summer, when the tanks were down to the last few rungs; people, mostly the children, would come, with their buckets, to ‘borrow’ some drinking- water. It was never refused and we always managed The northern end of Gungah Bay was fringed with a Mangrove swamp, where there were muddy flats when the tide went out. This mud was dotted with sharp little spikes, uninviting when it came to walking there in bare feet. Never-the-less a pleasurable pastime was squeezing the mud through our toes, like toothpaste. Rocks, there were in abundance along the shores, pitted with little holes, which, after the tide had gone out , remained filled with water and little water plants, like ,anemones. A great play ground for the children! These rocks were coated in oysters, which provided a great feast, but the part of the shell left behind, cut viciously into bare feet. Infection always set in, for which the oysters were blamed; not the dirt that got into the cuts. Oyster shells were poisonous we believed. When people died, they had to be laid out and Edie was sometimes recruited for this.. Strangely enough, that seemed to be the time for much giggling. No one really had much knowledge of what to do, except that all openings had to be blocked. Pennies were always used for the eyes. The bodies, once in the coffin, must have been transported to the station, by horse and cart. At two-thirty every day, the funeral train arrived. A carriage at the back was fitted out to hold the coffins, while the mourners occupied the front carriages. The Woronora cemetery was a little further south. What went on there remained a mystery to me for a very long time. With the arrival of the pneumonic ’flu in 1918 Edie became a sort of district nurse, going from house to house each day, washing and feeding the people who were ill. She didn’t lose a patient, due, she believed, to her special remedy, rum, taken under great protest by some, for medicinal purposes only. With no baby sitters, of necessity, the children were taken along and left to stand at the gate, with the strict instructions (Don’t you dare move). No one ever did. When Will and Edie were living in the tents they became firm friends with the people living around them; the Dockey’s, the Renfrew’s, the Ludwig’s and then the people further down the Hodgkins, the Browns and the Loveridge’s. (The son of the Loveridge’s married Amelia Courtney.) Further along the Bay were the Horsefield’s, the Courtney’s, the Irison’s, the McEwan’s and others I don’t remember. They were a wonderful community of people, keenly organising ways to raise money to improve their village or give support to someone in distress. Concerts, fetes and dances made up quite a bit of their social life. People formed groups and put on one act plays, which always featured the villain, with his handle bar moustache and the fair maiden whom he was about to ravish. Mr. Hodgkins was a bass singer and rendered his version of ‘Asleep in the Deep’ or ‘The earl King’. Elocution was a popular skill and my dad recited from the tales of The Sentimental Bloke, then recently published by C.J. Dennison. He had quite a good memory. But when the time arose that he forgot the next line, he always managed to get a coughing fit and need to get a drink of water. After which, of course, he was able to carry on quite happily. Hilda Hamilton, the local ballet teacher, did her act, at the same time providing advertisement for her business, no doubt. There was the tale that early on, the community had raised enough money to build a church, seven hundred pounds. This sum had been given to the local builder, who had promptly taken off, perhaps to visit his parents in England and then returned to serve his sentence in prison. His sentence completed, he had returned to his family home, though with a somewhat reduced status. His wonderful wife was a nurse, who while he was absent, ran a hospital in their large home, to support her family. This hospital remained a feature of the Oatley district for many years. During these years and for the rest of his life, my father was a member of the Masonic Lodge, Lodge Arncliffe, in which, his father-in-law was a founding member. The meetings happened regularly. He would rush home from work, entailing a train journey and then the long walk from the railway station. His dress suit and shirt, with its highly polished starched front and a stiffly starched collar and cuffs, plus cuff links and studs, would be laid out on the bed, ready for the quick change. In a little black case, there was a white calf skin apron and all sorts of regalia, to be worn with it, like boy scouts displaying their badges for the standard they had reached. There was a Lodge Oatley and no doubt he had some connection with this, too. Edith Mildred Mayne (1914 -