My 96 year old step-Mum, Dot, passed away recently on Friday May 27th.
My step-sister Del, captured her Mum’s life history in her very informative and touching eulogy at Dot’s funeral on Monday June 6th.
Thanks Del, for giving us a cameo of your mum’s life… an inspiring story spanning most of the 20th century and the early part of our current century… one that captures the personal joys and traumas of a very special woman who lived much of her early life against a background of great social and personal upheaval. Thankfully Dot’s later years settled into a period of relative peace and happiness, interspersed however with difficult and challenging life events.
Eulogy for Doris Irene Tarrant
3/12/1919 – 27/06/2016
“Fear no more the heat of the sun
Nor the furious winter rages
Though thy worldly task hast done
Home art gone and taken thy wages”
Doris Irene Tarrant was born in Cobden on the 3rd of December 1919. She was better known as Dot or Dorrie, “Mum” to Max. Cheryl and myself, Nana to her many grandchildren, and to her 35 great-grandchildren, Nana-the-Great. Mum’s step great-great grandchild was born recently. Great Nana-the-Great would have been a bit of a mouthful.
Mum’s parents were William George Tarrant an ANZAC and Elsie May Wickens an English girl. They married 8th March 1919 in Newbury England. Elsie, pregnant with Mum, with William, set sail from England on the troop ship “Katoomba”, arriving in Australia 22nd September 1919.
William with his dear Elsie travelled to Cobden to live with his parents.
Two months later Mum was born. The second name Irene was chosen because it means “Peace”.
From about 1921, Mum lived at 24 Warleigh Road, West Footscray.
A copper plaque “Katoomba” greeted visitors at the front door.
On August 30th 1922, her brother Ron was born, and brother Eric was born September 14th 1925.
Mum, her brothers and our Dad attended Tottenham State School. After two years attendance at Footscray Domestic Arts School, Mum qualified for her Merit Certificate, a very good qualification to enter the workforce.
Apparently the boys from Footscray Technical School teased the girls by referring to the school as the Footscray Donkeys School, and Dad still teased Mum about that when Max and I were kids.
Teenagehood, growing up…
At the age of 14, Mum left school and worked as a seamstress, using a treadle sewing machine at “Lucas’s” making corsets. She made lifelong friends there, all of whom she outlived.
Mum lived in interesting times, extraordinary times. She knew many personal hardships but her focus was always on ‘forbearance”.
She often quoted…
“Life is mostly froth and bubble
Two things stand like stone
Kindness in another’s troubles
Courage in your own.”
…and lived by that.
The first half of Mum’s life was in really tough times for everybody. One coped and made the best of things. One learned to survive without complaint regardless of distress, disappointment, sorrow or tragedy.
Mum’s childhood followed the aftermath of the Great War but peace had broken out.
Her teenage years were lived during the darkness of the ‘Great Depression”. Money was scarce. The Tarrant family lived frugally, nothing was wasted, and they were grateful for what they had.
Even at the end of Mum’s lifetime, she would often say “I don’t need that” Nice new clothes for her when she resided at Monda Lodge was met with “I don’t need them. I’ve still got my Fletcher Jones trousers that I bought when I went to England, and they’re still good”. Now that momentous trip was in 1979 ….is that over 30 years?
A young woman in wartime…
Mum’s young adult life was spent in wartime. Boyfriends, brothers and cousins were sent to war. War time conditions prevailed. Mail was censored for fear of interception that would advantage enemy forces. Mum only knew Dad was ‘somewhere in the Pacific’. Food, clothing and household goods were rationed and there was a perceived risk of being bombed.
Mum spoke of an air raid warning when a Japanese reconnaissance plane flew over Footscray. That was kept secret. An ammunition factory was at Maribyrnong. She scratched the glass of her very precious 21st birthday watch scrambling under her bed.
Young men of Mum’s age were conscripted into military service and were replaced women, as part of ‘The War Effort’.
In June 1942, by private arrangement, Mum became a ‘land girl’ and worked on a farm at Jancourt. She milked the cows and undertook farm work in general and loved it. With many women working on the land, a desperate Australia was able to recruit more men into military service.
While working on the farm, Mum had a boyfriend she loved very much. There is one photo of him still in her album. Some men get killed in wartime. That’s what happens.
We know he rode a motorbike and Mum rode pillion passenger. On one occasion Mum came off the back of the motor bike, rolled several times down an embankment and split her knee open.
Her knee had a long memory and had become very painful when she was only eighty years old, so she forced herself to see her doctor about it. The doctor asked if she had ever injured it. When she told the doctor she fell off the back of a motor bike when she was young, the doctor’s head spun around “like that.”
Mum was very popular with the boys. She was very proud of her natural eyebrows. She never had to pluck them and proudly told me that ‘boys could not believe that eyebrows just grew like that’. She was also very proud of her thin ankles and shapely legs and remained proud of her hair until the end.
On his last leave before moving to Queensland with the Army, Dad travelled to Jancourt to visit Mum with high hopes. He proposed marriage to her, but was turned down. Mum was just not ready yet, but she agreed to write to him. He wrote to her almost every day.
In 1943 Mum’s father became desperately ill. Mum was needed at home to help out. She again felt the need to contribute to the war effort.
New Guinea had been invaded and it was thought that Australia was under direct threat. Postal delivery on bicycles was definitely a man’s job, but more men were needed for military service. Mum became a post girl at Footscray, one of the first women to do so. Mail was delivered twice daily but only once on Saturdays. She was very proud of that contribution to the War Effort.
Mail was placed in a sack carried over the shoulders. The soldiers in New Guinea came up with a novel idea. Letters written on scratched coconuts were sent to the folks at home… that idea was soon squashed when the posties complained! Delivering letters written on coconuts was a real nuisance as not many could fit into the mail bags and that made a long day.
Mum and other posties blew the whistle three times to let loved ones know that easily identified cards from POW’s had arrived. She shared the joy. Many on her postal round came to the church to see her married.
Early married life with Len…
In January 1944, Dad was deployed for combat in New Guinea, but still managed to pen a letter every day. In July 1944, Dad proposed marriage again…. this time in writing. Mum accepted.
Engagement rings were unavailable. Dad bought a second hand engagement ring from a mate whose girlfriend had written a ‘Dear John letter’, with the returned engagement ring enclosed.
Dad bought and posted the ring to his father, who placed it on Mum’s finger on Dad’s behalf. Later, in November 1944, Dad was posted to Bougainville. From February 1945, he was in constant combat. Following a particularly disastrous battle with heavy casualties behind enemy lines at Porton Plantation, he was granted leave to return to Australia with the expectation of returning to War.
Mum became Mrs Holt when she married Thomas Leonard (Len) Holt on 21st July 1945 at Paisley Street Baptist Church in Footscray. Their courtship and engagement had been entirely by letters, all of which had been censored by the Army Intelligence.
Mum and Dad had not seen each other for over three years. The wedding was organised in ten days. Mum borrowed her friend’s wedding dress and veil. Aunty Bev’s mother made the bridesmaids’ frocks from organdie which was see-through, but that was all that was available. Borrowed pink and blue petticoats worn underneath made the bridesmaids dresses respectable.
Wedding presents included war ration coupons to buy fabric and shoes for the wedding, and to help purchase household goods such as sheets, towels etc. which were in increasingly short supply and rationed as the war dragged on. Dad married in army uniform as he had no other clothes.
They honeymooned in Marysville. Dad returned to active duty. He had barely arrived at the Army Depot in Queensland when the war ended. He was then stationed in Brisbane and the War was over. After reporting for duty daily, he was given the day off as there was nothing to do.
Mum, now pregnant with me, travelled by train to Brisbane in September. That was an arduous trip. Dad always maintained that troop trains to Queensland were especially fitted with triangular wheels.
That time in Queensland they both described as an extended honeymoon. Dad was demobilised in November 1945.
Establishing a home and a family…
Mum and Dad lived with Mum’s parents for over 2 year due to housing shortages. I was born on 1st May 1946. Max was born 12th March 1948 and he too lived at 24 Warleigh Road. A few weeks after Max was born, on my second birthday, 1st May 1948, Mum and Dad moved into their newly built weatherboard house at 10 Cornwall Road, Sunshine. It had a brick chimney.
Dad was asked some time later, how he’d got the bricks. There was silence. I knew the answer, “Mummy and Daddy got them on the black market!” Oops!
That generation knew how to survive and appreciate the good things that came their way. Mum was a typical housewife of that era. She listened to the wireless as she ironed and sang along with the happy songs that reflected the hardships of wartime starting to disappear.
Dad and Mum were so happy. They enjoyed their garden. The world was getting back to normal again. Rationing of food, clothing and goods was fast coming to an end. Life was simple and they were free. People were grateful just to be together as a family.
In 1953, we moved to a 40 acre property in Christmas Hills. The house was an old pioneer house with a kitchen separate from the rest of the house. The roof leaked big time when it rained.
Dad rode his BSA motor bike to work and Mum worked the farm, milking cows and feeding the chooks and ducks, fending off the crows stealing the eggs by filling the empty eggshells with mustard to burn their tongues. Crows like mustard flavoured eggs.
Our cousins still talk of their happy times staying on the farm. We kids put on concerts . I remember Dad, Uncle Ron and Mum’s cousin Jack performing their old army songs, and we kids performed songs and plays while the womenfolk sat as the audience, glad to just sit.
Mum loved the CWA (Country Women‘s Association) activities. The “Chin Waggers Association” according to Dad! Our whole family attended the weekly Christmas Hills dance of a Saturday night.
Mum loved to make jam and preserve fruit from the fruit trees albeit that meant slaving over a wood stove in the middle of summer in a very hot kitchen. Mum loved the life of being like a pioneer, but it was a hard life. We did not have electricity until 1960.
Tough times again…
In December 1953 calamity struck. Dad worked at a timber mill. A truck load of dressed timber fell on him and crushed and almost severed his leg. One surgeon was keen to experiment with a new idea – experimental microsurgery. He had the right patient. The surgeon ventured into the unknown. Dad was hospitalised (Max feels it was for 18 months) but he kept his leg. Mum acted as his physio and daily massaged his leg with peanut oil and fitted the calipers to his leg after milking the cows.
That accident put the family in dire straits. Things fell apart. There was financial hardship, and the stress of the injury and incapacity again triggered “War Neurosis”. Dad had horrendous war experiences. Post-traumatic stress was not understood. Life was extremely tough for Mum.
Mum secured a job sewing corsetry. Mum’s bosses were survivors of a Holocaust Concentration Camp. They were very kind to Mum and our family. They never put her under pressure and it was not unknown for her to receive a bonus every now and then. It is appropriate to express gratitude to Mr and Mrs Zimmet and Mr & Mrs Lander. They knew what suffering was.
Mum’s mother died unexpectedly in 1959 and Mum was heart broken
Mum and Dad got back on their feet, and things were going well. Mum gave up work. On January 16th 1962, a raging bushfire – an inferno – surrounded us. We could not escape. Our house was completely burnt to the ground and nothing in the house survived. But we survived, and to this day, I don’t know how. This trauma for the family was unbelievably difficult.
For seven months we lived in a house built only to lock up stage. It was a very cold winter and there were no facilities or heating. The wind blew through the gaps, but it was better than living in a tent, and we were grateful. We moved into our newly built house in August that year.
Mum’s father died in 1964.
In 1967 notice was given that the Sugar Loaf Dam was to be built and Mum and Dad’s farm property was to be compulsorily acquired.
In 1968 Dad, at the age of 47 years, developed acute leukemia and within three months of diagnosis died. He had ensured Mum was settled in Healesville, but died 2 weeks after moving into 376 Maroondah Highway.
Mum was now a widow but too young to claim social security. Mrs Lander offered her employment again. Mum traveled to Melbourne by train from Healesville each working day. Mrs Lander was a matchmaker in her Jewish community and knew of a very wealthy Jewish man who was looking for a wife and offered Mum a chance to live an easy life. That was a foreign idea to Mum. Mum believed that you only marry for love.
In 1969 Dot became a grandmother… Nana.
She met Jack James. They married in 1972. Two people who had known great hardship now found stability and happiness and adored each other. Two adult families melded. Mum and Jack put life’s tragedies behind them and were happy. They belonged to many organisations – St John’s where they both taught Sunday School, Probus, the Masonic Lodge, Garden Club, Legacy – and had many friends.
The grandchildren of both families were equally adored by them.
Sadly Jack died in 1995.
Elderly life… Nana-The-Great…
Mum then adored the great-grandchildren of both families as they arrived. Mum’s focus was Family. She loved her family and we loved her.
The Craft ladies motivated Mum to create “one off” presents for family members. The coat hangers and lavender bags were legendary. Mum always looked forward to Craft Group.
She was an expert knitter and hand embroiderer.
Mum loved her garden and some of it followed her to Monda Lodge. Mum’s garden was her trade mark and that stands out in everyone’s memory.
A secret revealed…
Mum had bundles of stuff that I regarded as personal and private when she moved to Monda. When clearing her room at Monda, we found a bundle of hastily written notes sealed in plastic, that she had written to Jack. When I read them, I discovered an aspect of Mum that I didn’t know, nor did Ian who had lived with Mum and Jack for 3 years.
I just have to indulge and share two of the notes which are pretty much the same as the other notes in the bundle.
Be prepared. I think you too will discover an aspect of Mum that may surprise you.
Take a deep breath…
Hi di Hi
Been a good boy? Weeeeell!!!!
I’ve been a good girl too. Love you Smoogy
It gets even better.
“Sweetie Pie, Smoogie
I hope you enjoy your dinner. It’s on the stove.
Be a good boy and don’t flirt with any girls ——or women
Mum always said, “I was lucky. I married two very good men.”
On behalf of all the Family, I wish to express enormous gratitude to the staff at Monda Lodge. Mum was always happy there, always valued, understood and treated with dignity and respect. Thank you for all that you did that enabled Mum to live out her last years peacefully with dignity and purpose.
Thank you also to Rev Tim Anderson who ministered to Mum’s spiritual needs regularly, and gave Mum such peace and comfort.
Mum was a quiet, well presented, unassuming, genteel, polite, considerate and well‑mannered lady whose struggles are now over and now revealed. She never gave in to sorrow and misfortune. She lived for strong family values, loved her family and was loved.
She always just accepted her lot and rode out every storm without complaint. People have expressed that Mum had such a good life. She did, but she did not always have an easy life. Times were very tough, but that generation was resilient. They had known so much deprivation, heartache, grief, suffering and hard work. They learnt to never give in and to always value what you have and not whinge about what you don’t have. We who follow her have a lot to live up to.
The slide presentation of Mum’s early life is set to Franz Schubert’s “Litany for The Feast of All Souls” sung in German. The English translation of the chorus and one verse expresses an understanding of Mum’s life and passing.
Rest in peace, all souls
Who have done with anxious torment
Who have had done with sweet dreams
Who, sated with life and hardly born
Have departed from this world:
All souls rest in peace.
And those happy ones in the rose garden
Tarrying with their joyous cups,
But then, in one horrible moment,
Tasting the bitter dregs at last:
All who have parted from here
All souls rest in peace.
Rest in peace Mum, rest in peace
6th June 2016