Roaring Nineties is a series of stories from our elders collected throughout 2018. This collection of stories features the memories of yesteryear; accounts of war, racism, technological triumph, assimilation, and social change. These storytellers have lived long lives, and plan to live many more. Experience makes us wise and we should take time to listen.
Doug Sedgwick shares his memories of Perth and Subiaco in the old days. He reflects on his life: the destructive reality of war, technological advances that changed the world, and his own experiences with love and loss.
Copyright © 2018 Doug Sedgwick
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
This story was collected in September 2018
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I am George Douglas Sedgwick, born in 1927 in Beverly on the Great Southern Railway. The reason I was born there and not in Pingelly—which was my hometown—was that there was septicaemia at the hospital in Pingelly, and in those days there was no antibiotics, no nothing. All they used to do was close the hospital for six months—and that’s why I was born in Beverly. My mother’s name was Joan Curtis and she was from Pingelly. My father’s name was Alexander Douglas Sedgwick. He was born in Perth. Before the First World War, everyone wanted land. The dream of English people coming out—although my father was born here—was land. He had done veterinary science in Sydney, that was the only place you could do it, so the family eventually bought a property in Pingelly, and that’s how he met my mother presumably, yes.
We asked Doug what is was like moving from the country to the city during the Great Depression.
We lived on Coghlan Road in Subiaco. It was a semi-detached place, which is still there. I remember sitting at the back of the house on a little porch and my parents—they must have been talking about how bad it was. I remember saying it doesn’t matter because we are all together and that is all that matters as a child. As long as you get food and you’ve got a mother and father and sister, you just, that was all that mattered, that was our life.
Doug painted a picture of life from yesteryear, speaking about the changes in transportation.
It was just horses. There were horses and carts. Horses were just everything for transport. There were no motorcars, no engines at all. So horses were everything.
They had to have blacksmiths to put shoes on them, the good luck shoes as they used to be. The horses went up and down the streets all the time delivering things, things like that. If a horse was stopped for a while and left what horses leave—manure—then the local people would rush out and get their fertiliser from that. It was just something you did—if the baker’s horse is going past, your mother would say, “just take that bucket and get whatever!” hoping the horse had left something for us or the people across the road or whatever. When we were on the farm, in Morawa, we had horses then. I remember my mother panicked because they were these big horses for pulling and ploughing things which I can remember sitting behind. I must have been taking my father lunch or something and we stopped and had to feed the horses. That was the beauty of horses, they had to be fed so the farmer had to stop. In the morning dad would get up in the dark and feed the horses and then he would have breakfast and they would work. There was a lot of work and they wouldn’t get much land covered. Now our relatives, who are farmers, their tractors never stop, someone else will drive the night and they will drive it all day. But with horses, it had to be more relaxed, because the horses needed feeding.
Doug told us about his first day of school in Perth, or “the longest day of his life”.
It was the worst day of my life. I had to go to school so my mother took me there—it was a walk not far from the children’s hospital to where Perth Modern is now—and then she left me. Of course, you’d walk, we walked everywhere. Anyway, the day went on and the bell rang, so I walked home. The longest day of my life. It turns out that the bell was for morning recess. You only remember the funny things, that was a strange thing to do.
The teachers, mostly, were very good. But unfortunately some of the teachers—we had a man Mr. Mole who was a war veteran. He had been shot in the war and he had a plate in his head. You’d get to school sometimes, and he’d be sitting at his desk holding his head. He must have had a terrible life, but he had to earn some money, I suppose, as a teacher.
Doug recounted what Perth and Subiaco were like when he was growing up.
In Perth and Subiaco, you’d have running water, some of the roads were sealed, and there was electricity. But all you really had with electricity was a light hanging from the middle of the room. That was the only light that you had. You didn’t use that for anything else and when things started to be manufactured that used electricity—well they didn’t have plugs on the walls or anything. So you’d see people, they would get up and plug something into their light. That was very much a working-class suburb, I guess.
We asked Doug if his mother worked during this period.
What? Women work? Not that they couldn’t. The only women that could legitimately work were, strangely, widows. You’d see a lot of hotels—the proprietors of those were ladies—and they ran some excellent hotels. If you were a teacher or a trainee teacher, and you got married, you lost your job.
When I was at school, I had a fight with a kid and he had a razor blade. At this time there used to be what they called, ‘the razor gangs’, and they were not the nicest of people, they were using these razors, little squares. I got gashed across here, big scar still there. The only car—of all the teachers in that school—was the headmaster’s. We got up and into his car, and it was one of those cars where the gear stick was on the outside of the door. Anyway he drove—it was only half a kilometre from the school to the children’s hospital—and I remember that I was bleeding everywhere. I was taken in to the hospital and the matron just sort of held me down and they just stitched me up. The thing is, the stiches didn’t work very well, so the scar was wider than it should be. Then they somehow must have gotten in touch with my mother, somehow, who walked up from where we were living—which was on Coghlan Road—and she would have walked up there and carried me home, I must have been pretty heavy, but that was it.
Doug’s father was a vet, and he recounted to us the challenge of following in his father’s footsteps, and eventually choosing his own path.
Dad wanted me to be a vet. So I went to school after leaving Perth Modern school, and then I had to do my first year of veterinary science at UWA [University of Western Australia]. But as I was being controlled by my father, after my first year [at UWA], I had to go to Adelaide. In that time, I had to spend quite a lot of time working on a farm, or something like that. Fortunately, I went out with my father—because at about that time there was a lot of bovine tuberculosis, there was a whole ward in the children’s hospital of children suffering with that. Anyway, my father announced, “Oh you’ve got to learn to do this” and that was about the last thing I wanted to do. I was frightened of the damn things [cows], and I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but when they are expecting a calf, you put your arm way up the backside. I was like, “Ughhh, no way!” I wasn’t cut out to be that sort of a person. And that’s when, I thought, “I can’t do this”. In the end I did alright, I think, but I thought, “No, I don’t want to go back”.
Doug and one of his closest childhood friends, Ivan Gunning, had ideas of fighting in the war—an idea which was borne out of a lack of understanding of what war truly entailed.
We were 16-17, and we were quite stupid, I think now. We were very much loyalist, very much English or British. But none of our relations ever spoke of the horrors of war—they just didn’t talk about it. So, yes, we were both going to go enlist into the army—but then the war ended just before our final exams. Gosh, we both worked hard, anyway, that’s what happened. We were aiming to go into the war and it is not until later that we heard of the horrors of the war, you weren’t told about it. We [later] heard that Darwin had been bombed, but they never told us. There was bombings right down to Broome. Yes, they were all bombed. So, the public, we didn’t know, stupidly. Because Darwin was bombed more than Pearl Harbor. So then both Ivan and I had to change our minds, but we would have gone quite stupidly.
My mother—one of her relations had been in the first world war and received a military medal. Now, he never told us anything about it. As a little boy he used to come up the farm and we would go on walks together with this fellow. He was the son of the blacksmith—but they don’t—he wouldn’t talk about it. It wasn’t until years later that I heard from a fellow at a doctor’s surgery from Pingelly. He was sitting next to me, “You know Ken Holio” and I said, “Yes” and then he said, “You know he won the military medal?” I went, “Yes I do”— I didn’t know that [at the time]. Then he said, “You know what…” and he had been there with him. There was a German gunpost wiping out his platoon, I think it was. “Somehow,” he said, “we never knew where [Ken] was. He had disappeared” and then he said the guns stopped. Turns out, he had wrapped up all the way around the back of [the gunpost], he had three bullets and a bayonet and there were five Germans. They were all killed. Now years later, when I was about seven or eight—I suppose nine—he committed suicide. Now they say, there’s more men that have committed suicide from the Vietnam War than where killed there.
After the war, there were men they called ‘shell shocked’ in those days. There was Lemnos Hospital, near the infectious diseases hospital, as it was. You’d see these men, no fence or anything, just wondering around.
No one—we didn’t care anyway—it didn’t occur to us how terrible it was.
Doug told us how he met his wife, Margaret, and about the tragic loss of their first born child.
We met through friends. One of my primary school friends—we lived close by one another and he married a lassie who was a nurse. She was nursing at Princess Margaret Hospital, and her sister was nursing at Fremantle. So, Margaret was nursing at Fremantle. They lived in Cottesloe near the Ocean Beach Hospital—they were all farming people, and we would go out together. The girls had to be inside by 11 o’clock, even on your own days off. We were engaged quite quickly—three weeks, and I said we would wait for a year and then we got married. That was about 65 or 66 years ago, she has an amazing memory and she got on very well with all our relies.
Our first child was, where were we, in Pingelly. He went up with us, he was very baldly scolded which was terrible. Anyway, we were in the local hospital and they were terrible. They wouldn’t even let Margaret go and see him. I hadn’t seen him for weeks. Nowadays, you wouldn’t take it. No one would take it. It seemed like ages, it was may six weeks—two months, a long time—and then of course we were transferred. We were fortunate that we stayed with Aunty Beatrice, but then he died. That ruined Margaret’s life, I feel it ruined her life. People say, “You will get over it” or, “Time will cure it.” But it makes you cross, you don’t—and things you may not remember; a piece of music, someone will say something, and it all comes flooding back, the misery. At the time, Margaret was pregnant with Stephanie. I remember telling him that he was going to have a little sister, Stephanie, which he never knew. But Margaret just sat with him for all that time, and she never forgave herself. He’s buried in Pingelly. I’ve got a lot of my mother’s family there, and in a stupid way of mine, I feel he is with family.
We asked Doug how he would sum up his life.
Oh, lucky. Sad things there, married a lassie that was a brilliant cook, lovely voice, very shy. My mother was, I was very fond of her, she spoiled me. All the ladies in her family spoiled me, well that’s what my sister said anyway. We just get on with people. I am lucky—like this morning a couple of neighbours just went, “Coffee is on, are you ready?” Our grandchildren are just such nice youngsters. So I’ve been lucky. To me, it wasn’t as hard as some people’s lives.