One of my earliest memories is from our house in Chatham. We had an icebox and a chip heater, and in our kitchen, there was a brick enclosed copper with a fire underneath to heat water. Mum would chop wood and in winter nights she’d pop us in there. To have a bath in warm water, as kids, was one of the joys in our lives. My name is Beverly Ann Thomson. I was born Beverly Ann Brettargh in 1940, during the war.
My father was stationed in New Guinea; he'd come home on leave, and by war’s end I had three siblings. Dad actually worked in a protected industry, so he didn’t have to enlist but did anyway. That got him a 5 pound fine which my mum had to pay; she'd remind him of it whenever they’d argue. Mum married at 17, had me at 18, and by 22 had a boy and two more girls, with my youngest sister born ten years later. At 28 mum was the first lady in our street with a driving license, and I got mine at 09:00 am on my 18th birthday. At that time most friends would travel to England but I saved 200 pounds and got a Morris Minor convertible.
At Canterbury Girls High School our principal was Mary Jaguers. She was a wonderful woman who believed girls were equal to boys in everything and insisted education was a lifetime commitment - best advice I ever got. In the 50s women were still considered second class citizens and few went to university. I wanted to study teaching, focusing on history and literature, but mum thought secretary jobs were best for girls, so at the end of year ten I joined an accounting company as a junior secretary. There I learned auditing, later leaving to work for an accountant, and then for an architect until I got married. Back then women who married were expected to resign, or become casuals but lose their permanency.
When I married we bought a house in Viewbank, planning to later build bigger in Heathmont and sell this house. Viewbank was acres and acres of grassland then; they put electricity in for us when we moved in, but we had no roads or sewage system till the late sixties. I sold my Morris Minor so we could buy a septic tank for our house - worse day's work I've ever done! After my kids were born in ‘62 and ‘63, I followed Ms Jaguers’ advice and completed Year 12 in night school. I still wanted to study at university, but before I was able to apply my marriage ended.
Buying my ex's share of the house I stayed there with my boys. I married young and thought it'd be for at least fifty years, but things change. I had to learn to be independent in a hurry, with two little boys to bring up. While I was married there was no postal service in Viewbank, and mail was delivered by car. So that was my job; each morning I'd pick up a load of letters at Lower Plenty post office and deliver them with my boys in the backseat. I did that six times a week for over a year until they put a Postie on a motorbike. After my divorce, it was hard to return to full-time work, but I did it. With the boys at school, I worked my way back and eventually had a range of career jobs. I got to make a good life for us.
I am independent. I live alone, take care of myself and drive my friends to medical appointments. When you experience pain and trouble, as I have, and get back up, you aren't willing to relinquish an inch in case you slip back down. I've seen how loved ones have ended up, and fight with all I have to avoid it happening to me. That's not living, it's just existing.
For two years I saw mum slip away, knowing she'd have hated having people bathe her and that. Mum was who chopped wood and mowed the lawn when dad was away, so it must have been hard to relinquish the reins on his return. Back then families functioned around the father; at home, dad would sit and mum had his tea and Weet-Bix ready for him. I recall one day she put the teapot, mug, milk, and sugar on the table for him, but had to rush us kids to school. She returned to find dad had gone to work without his cuppa because she hadn't poured the tea for him.
Things have changed since then. One big change I see is how childcare and housekeeping are shared now. I see men enjoying their children, not just coming home to put them to bed. I look at my friends’ daughters and see that they don't perceive any limits; they're encouraged to be the best they can be, while in my day parents expected girls to get married, have kids and hopefully be happy. Women are far more independent now, yet many are also under a lot of pressure; expected to be full-time professionals, full-time mothers, perfect housewives and look like models. It seems no generation has the perfect balance, but maybe that’s the lesson: we must all do the best we can with what we get.