I had only just started at Upwey High School when my stepfather got a job as foreman on the new Bairnsdale Hospital. So it’s a big shift to Bairnsdale. Bairnsdale High School is much smaller than Upwey but schooling is the same and I was not fussed by the change. I liked sport and always joined in the lunchtime kick to kick football. Unknown to me, the sports master picked the school football team on what he saw in the kick to kick. I found myself in the school team as a wingman. Because we had no other high schools nearby we travelled to all the local State schools and beat them all.
One week we had had a lot of rain and the Mitchell River was running a banker. That weekend I went down to have a look. I was standing on the grassy bank beside the river when I overheard two State School boys talking. One nudged the other with his elbow and whispered out loud. Do you know who that is he said pointing at me? He plays football for Bairnsdale High School. They followed me around for a while and I made sure I posed in the right places letting them get a good look at me. I sort of floated home. I had not realised until now how important I was.
Soon after this the hospital was finished and we transferred to Traralgon where my stepfather had a job on the new Traralgon Hospital build and an extension to the Australian Paper Mills building in Morwell. So another school no trouble. I new I would make the football team here because I was so good. Just a little different here though.
The sports teacher was an ex Fitzroy player. No kick to kick here for any team members. They could get injured with all that rough and tumble. They were trained on a ground close to the school. With sprinting, training drills, skills training etc. I watched them at times. They were really good. So did I get in the school team? No, not even a look in. That dented my ego a little but I still enjoyed the kick to kick with all the other would bees.
On weekends I spent a lot of time walking across the open farmland near our house. Things were just rolling along. I was quite happy and had not given a thought to school finishing one day or what I was going to do work wise. So it came as a big shock to me when my stepfather told me on my 14th birthday that school was finished and I had to get a job. Nothing around Traralgon took my fancy. Most locals worked at the paper mills but that did not interest me. At school just before I left I saw an advertisement for the Victorian Railways. Apprentices were wanted for a big list of jobs. I went through the list and picked Boilermaker. Did not have a clue what a Boilermaker was but I put in an application, did some tests, a medical and I was passed.
My workplace was to be Newport workshops, so I had to shift to Melbourne. Victorian Railways had an apprentice accommodation building at Spencer Street. In my early days at Upwey State School I had a good friend for many years and that was John Dunne. When I shifted to Bairnsdale we corresponded regularly. So he knew that I was coming back to Melbourne to work. So did his mother. When she heard I was to be staying in Melbourne she wrote to me insisting that I stay with them. The Dunne family had always treated me well. I have stayed over on odd days for some memorable lunches and dinners. I agonised over it for approx one minute before accepting her kind offer.
So I left home at 14 to face a cruel heartless world. I did think that Mrs Dunne’s terrific meals did help to boy my spirits a little. That and the way I was treated there. I was accepted as one of the family in every way. The board I paid was minimal. The travel from Upwey to Newport was bit of a hassle but I liked the work and everything had settled into a routine. But nothing stays the same.
One day I came home from work and my stepfather was waiting for me. He announced that the family was shifting back to the hills and I was to go back home with him. I refused; I did not want to leave the Dunne’s. I liked it there. He came back a few days later and told Mrs Dunne and me that if I did not go back with him he would call the police and the Dunne’s could be charged because I was still under 16. Now the Dunne’s were simple country people and they did not know that what my stepfather was saying was rubbish. So I had a meeting with Mr & Mrs Dunne and I agreed to go because there was no way I wanted to get them in trouble. They had been so good to me.
Then a few weeks went by and I was hoping my stepfather had forgotten about me but to my dismay one day I came home and the mattress on my bed was folded over and my bag was packed. Mr Dunne came into the room to help. He saw the look on my face and suddenly remembered something else he had to do. Mrs Dunne came in, picked up my suitcase and ushered me into the kitchen.
“We are sorry it has all ended like this but there is nothing we can do about it.” She said.
I felt completely devastated. Mrs Dunne handed me an envelope.
“This is yours.” She said.
I opened the envelope, it was full of money. I counted it. Forty-five pounds. I was puzzled. I had never seen so much money.
“This is not mine.” I said.
“Huh.” Said Mrs Dunne. “I knew you would never save any money, so I put some money away from your board.”
Well, I had a lump in my throat and I was not seeing too good. I don’t even know if I thanked here. I picked up my case and with the envelope in one hand and I walked out. I would never see Mrs Dunne again.
One day about 12 months later. A thought popped into my mind. I should go and see Mrs Dunne. I bought a box of chocolates but when I got to the front gate I knew something was different. I knocked on the door and a stranger answered. Do you know where the Dunne’s have gone I enquired? Interstate somewhere, was the reply. Why had I waited so long to see her again? I don’t know. I really should have done better than that after I was treated so well. I have thought about it all so many times since. Before I left that kitchen I should have stepped forward and given her a big hug and a thank you. But unfortunately the past cannot be changed. I am sorry.