After about two or three years in Roma Dad applied for and won a transfer to Ipswich, about half an hour by train to the east of Brisbane. I realised years later that this was part of a long term strategy for moving up the promotion ladder. It took years to accomplish and the lesson wasn’t lost on me. So early on I learnt something about how big organisations work. He had started off in the Railways in Rockhampton after he came back from the War in the communications branch which he had left when he had enlisted. In the late twenties he had transferred to Brisbane, presumably to be closer to the centre of things, where the Railways was run from, as well as to be close to Nana, which Mum would have wanted as she saw her mother getting older.
After some years there he transferred to the traffic branch which gave much better chances for promotion, out of the strictly technical communications branch. Then he took the transfer to Roma, in charge of an important country centre. This was a promotion but there was another benefit: he was choosing to leave the big smoke to go to the bush, and thus getting brownie points for being a good public servant, taking the rough with the smooth. The promotion back to Ipswich put him in a key position in the busiest centre outside Brisbane and, soon, as the War in the north gathered pace, it became by far the busiest in the State. Hundreds of thousands of American and Australian troops, and huge quantities of military materials, were routed through Ipswich. Another attraction of Ipswich was that it was not far from Brisbane and to the sources of work and education which Dad was planning towards.
We lived in East Ipswich, just around the corner from one of Mum’s younger brothers, Uncle Paddy, his wife Aunty Kath and two children-Kevin, about five years older than me, and daughter Connie, a few years older again. Their presence was, of course, another appeal of the new town, especially for Mum, who was very close to all her brothers. But also, Dad didn’t see much of his own brothers but he got on well with all the Breen, and was much admired by them because of his practical sense. And it was good for me. Because of the age gap, I didn’t see a great deal of brother Brian, who, while we were in Roma and also in Ipswich, attended boarding school in Toowoomba at the De La Salle brothers at the famous Downlands College. Mainly attended by the sons of squatters, it was really too expensive for my parents but, as on other occasions, Mum apparently was very effective in arguing a case for reduced fees.
So now I had cousins a few hundred yards away with whom I could spend a lot of time. By then I was well into learning the piano and Connie was a good pianist too. Apart from playing in the spacious yards of our homes we also spent a lot of time with music and singing. Most Saturday or Sunday nights the families would gather at one of the houses-more often at the Breens-and we would have what we called a singsong, but which I realise now was the translation into a new environment of the traditional Irish ceilidh. Quite often other relatives or friends would come visiting and everyone was expected to do something-sing, play, recite poetry, take a turn at dancing. I soon learnt to sight-read the music quite a bit and it’s a facility I still retain, while I’m no good at playing by ear.
I used to walk to school up a long street which went past Limestone Hill, one of Ipswich’s main features, to the school. Several others used to walk that way too, and I remember one of them-Dicky Bird-probably because he was smaller than me and had such a funny name. I did well at school, the East Ipswich State School, in all subjects and an event occurred which has stayed with me all that time. One day it was essay writing time-I must have been about 8 or 9-and the teacher, a lady whom I liked, set the class at work, and then took me into another room and gave me a writing book and a table looking out onto the veranda and told me to write a story about whatever I liked. I realised that it was a big honour. I don’t remember much about the story except that it was 24 pages long and was about a family called Mainwaring. I remember spending a lot of time on the name. It had an enormous effect on my confidence and I have thought ever since that I could write myself out of any spot. It was while we were in Ipswich that I started a correspondence with another teacher, Miss (Marge) Pederesen who had taught me in Roma. That correspondence continued until I left school and I remember she came to visit us when we were back in Brisbane.
One day I decided to wag it from school. As I remember I was generally happy at school but there must have been something bugging me. Our house was on stumps about a metre and a half off the ground-not very tall but enough to hide under. Wasn’t a very imaginative hidey hole but it was the best I could think of. So I snuck under there on one side of the house and managed to stay unnoticed till about eleven o’clock. But Mum came down the stairs and saw me. I don’t remember there was much trouble-she kept me home that day and sent me with some sort of trumped up note for the teacher the next day.
It was about that time that Brian was wanting to join up. The War had been on for about two years and he was nineteen or twenty. My parents wouldn’t agree. It was a big issue in the family and he was very upset about it, so was my mother.
I don’t remember much else about Ipswich then but it was a happy time, except for Mum’s health which was always poor and I remember there, too, her anxiety stricken face as she lay on a pillow in her bed, with a vinegar soaked towel wrapped around ice across her forehead. She liked the social life but it seems she used to screw herself up for an event and after it just collapsed. There was nothing in those days that could be done, no pills, so she suffered from it till the day she died.
Another thing I remember from Roma was the announcement of war-on the wireless, of course, it was all the-the only-go then. We had a big cabinet wireless – the cabinet was made of wooden veneer, very grand, and I’m pretty sure it was a Breville brand. Of course, I didn’t know what the war was all about, though I was keen to learn, but I remember Dad, very serious, sitting nearby.
I remember from the radio also listening each weekday to a famous serial ‘The Search for the Golden Boomerang’, which triggered a big interest in Aborigines. I suppose there were some around a country town like Roma but I don’t recall any. The theme music was from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’, and the sponsor was Hoadley’s Violet Crumble Bar-very delicious and a favourite of mine.