My father, Charles Ward, was the eldest of three sons of Frank and Mary Ward and he and his brothers George and Cecil grew up in the family home in Retreat Road, Newtown.
Dad was educated at Flinders State School (later Matthew Flinders Girls’ School) and the Gordon Institute where he qualified as an engineer. He first worked for Dyson’s in Geelong but was working at the new Ford factory when he married. He met my mother Jacqueline Patterson who had grown up in Camperdown and they were married in Geelong. They built a house at 5 Seabeach Parade, North Shore in 1926/27
I was born in 1927 and tragically my mother died only two weeks after my birth from kidney failure. If the sort of prenatal care that is available now had been in place at that time my mother would probably have survived.
My father and I moved back in with his parents in Newtown where Nana and Papa looked after me until I was three years old. That is when my father married again. Unfortunately his new wife Ruby Oates, whom he had met while on one of his outings to Apollo Bay, never divulged that there was Huntington’s Disease in her family and so things got rather difficult as the disease progressed.
When I was about five years old we moved back to the North Shore house and dad was employed then at the Pivot Phosphate Company. I attended the North Shore State School, walking about one mile with other children across paddocks and the Melbourne railway line to get there.
There were two teachers at the school: the lady taught the first, second and third grades while the Head Master, Mr Mason, taught the fourth, fifth , sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Each grade had a row of desks in the room and the teacher wrote the lessons on the black board. I remember Merle Finnigan as one of my friends in those days and her older sisters Edna and Thelma, and being at school with the Steele children, Sophie and Jim, but they were a bit older than me. I also remember the Wildman and Davie families and that Mr Hinksman had the shop in those early North Shore days.
As a child at North Shore, there was a dam near the park where there were “Shield Shrimps”.
I had never seen them before, I loved catching them in a net to look at, then putting them back in the dam. When the Harvester was built, they used the dam to dump their rubbish in. The noise of the big hammers at the Harvester seemed to reverberate through the house.
During the war, the RAAF and then Americans were stationed in the Harvester grounds and planes (I think Fairy Battle bombers) were assembled in the factory. The paddocks between Seabeach Parade and the railway line were used for planes to take off and land.
During that time a dance hall was built on the corner next to the shop and a local family the Beckleys formed a dance band. It was very popular with the servicemen. After the Americans left, Australian Air Force men returned to the base at the Harvester. I had my 21st Birthday at the hall with families I knew plus a few relatives from Geelong.
My father worked as an engineer at the Phosphate Company: one of his achievements was designing a machine for the conveyor line that picked up a bag of superphosphate, dumped it three times, and then it continued along the conveyor to be sewn up.
My father loved camping at Apollo Bay and fly fishing in the river. He taught me how to cast a fly and handle a gun safely. He would cut the fronds off bracken ferns, pile them on the ground in the tent, then a bag was thrown on top and that was my bed. I still love camping but in a more civilized style now. For example, my elder daughter and I recently enjoyed a caravan holiday at Gulgong in NSW.
Dad owned two boats. One was kept on the empty block between our house and the shop. It was an old wooden fishing boat that he’d bought at Apollo Bay and intended repairing but sadly did not get the chance to. His other boat was a yacht that he sailed along the beach front. It was moored to a buoy off the shore and I remember it once being blown ashore and me trying to hold it off the rocks at the end of the beach until Dad came to get it back out to its mooring.
My father moved me from North Shore State School to Flinders State School in Geelong until the end of Grade 6 and then I was enrolled at Morongo Girls’ College at Bell Post Hill. When I was sixteen I left to attend Austin’s Business College in Geelong. My father insisted that I become an office worker and dismissed my preferences for becoming an artist, hairdresser or nurse as “ridiculous”. So I worked as a tracer in a drawing office. I hated and loathed sitting on a high stool all day with no fresh air and not being able to move around.
It was while I was at Austin’s that a phone call came to tell me to go home as my father was ill. When I arrived I was told that my father had had three heart attacks in 45 minutes and had died at work – he was only 47 years old.
About two years before his death I had seen my father holding his chest while chopping wood in our backyard. He knew that he had heart trouble but would not see a doctor. From then on however I chopped the wood for him.
Because of the increasing severity of my step-mother’s illness, my personal safety was at risk so I left home at 17 years of age to study nursing at the Geelong Hospital. I had hated being in an office, and nursing offered me an escape both from the drudgery of office work and also the dire situation at home. After finishing my training I took on psychiatric nursing studies in Melbourne but had to stop after 10 months because I found the psychiatric nursing environment very difficult to cope with. My next step was to study for midwifery qualifications and to do that I moved to Sydney where I was enrolled at St Margaret’s in Darlinghurst.
It was there that I was tracked down by the man who was to become my husband.
My Dad had been a merchant seaman during the First World War and he would take me to social events at the Mission for Seamen club in Flinders Street, Melbourne. At one of the dances there I met an Irish marine engineer from Belfast named James Seymour and promised to write to him as he travelled the world. After a while I stopped writing and thought little more about him until he turned up at St Margaret’s after tracing my departure to Sydney and then telephoning almost all the other hospitals in the city before finding me.
We later married at the Anglican Church in Port Melbourne and James and I have four children: Pamela, Deborah, Peter and Roderick.
After I left North Shore my step-mother invited a family named Jones to move into the home because she was have difficulty caring for herself. The Jones had been living with their three children in a tent on the beach front opposite the end of Seabeach Parade. Finding housing in the post-war period was very difficult as nothing had been built in the six years of wartime austerity. However the Jones also found Ruby’s behavior too hard to deal with and eventually she was taken into care in Melbourne where she later died.
James and I then moved into the home and we brought our family up there happily in North Shore where James was employed at Ford’s. I remember that a Latvian couple built their home on the block between ours and the shop.
Sometime, either during or after the war, Fords built the Castings Plant in Seabeach Parade near St Georges Road. A lot of migrants from Europe worked there, catching the bus to North Shore in the 1950s. Nissan huts were built near Fords, west of the Melbourne Road to house the migrants in a hostel and gradually homes were built in Norlane after the War.
After my children were at school I worked in the Medical Centre at the Castings Plant for 11 years.
At that time in the 1950s all the local schools were very overcrowded so we decided to send our children to a small private school, St Andrew’s in Noble Street, Newtown. They were there until they finished their Intermediate. After that Pam went to Geelong High School and the others to Bell Park High School. By this time we had bought a block of land in Heathfield Court, Newtown, overlooking the Barwon River and built our new home there.
I planted gum trees at the back of the block and was delighted one day to find two koalas in the trees.