Monday, 24 January 2011

90 years of living

Everyone has a story, and I learned some new things about my 90 year old great aunt last week. It was at her funeral - the only one she said she'd ever go to (and she was right). This is a brief version of her story.

Her (and my grandmother's) father, William, was a cabinet maker. He died in 1936 at the age of 48. Her mother, Florence (who I knew as Nanna) lived for 45 years more, until her death at the age of 93. Nanna's funeral was on my 16th birthday.

Phyll (Phyllis, but she was always Aunty Phyll) was born at home in 1920, in a house her father had built. The family lived in that house in Punchbowl, Sydney, for about three years, before moving to another home built by her father, not far away. This house later became the Methodist ministers' residence in Punchbowl.

When she was seven, the family moved again, this time into a new home in Myall Street, Punchbowl. This one was built by someone else, and she remembered her father saying that the house hadn't been properly built! Nevertheless, Aunty Phyll and Nanna lived in this house for over 40 years, at first with her father and sister (my grandmother, who later moved three doors down when she she married my grandfather), and later just the two of them.

She attended school at Punchbowl Infants and Primary Schools, and then went to Bankstown Secondary School. On leaving school, she held a couple of short-term jobs, until she became an apprentice dressmaker at David Jones Castlereagh Street store in Sydney city, aged 16.

Aunty Phyll completed her apprenticeship at the age of 20, and then left David Jones to work for a long period at Hansen's dressmaking factory in Clarence Street, where she became head machinist. This position involved making the sample dresses from the original designers' patterns, and these samples we sent out to the buyers in shops and were used as a guide for the other machinists. She would work out how long each stage of the dressmaking process should take, and maintain strict quality control over the production.

She was also head machinist at two other places in her career - one near Central Railway Station, and the other at Brookvale, in Sydney's north. She was a very capable and conscientious worker. She also did some dressmaking from home, including making wedding dresses.

Working at Brookvale meant a long journey from Punchbowl each day. In 1970, she and her mother decided to move to a unit in Lane Cove. This also gave them closer access to the cottage that she'd purchased at Long Jetty on the Central Coast, and they spent many enjoyable weekends and holidays there.

Soon after Nanna died in 1981, Aunty Phyll retired. She had worked for 46 years in the dressmaking industry, and was ready to make a full-time move to Long Jetty. She thought this was the best time of her life - swimming in the morning, gardening on her long narrow block which backed onto a creek during the day, going prawning in Tuggerah Lakes at night, and travelling to many places throughout Australia, including Western Australia and Kangaroo Island.

She had always been quite active, and enjoyed going dancing, playing golf, and especially going to the movies. She never married, but she did have a crush on Errol Flynn! Later on he had some competition on Harrison Ford, but she came back to Errol before she died.

Aunty Phyll was a very determined person, with strong likes and dislikes. She gradually trained those around her to do things her way, and this was particularly obvious with hospital and aged care staff towards the end of her life!

She was a good driver, and regularly drove from Long Jetty to Punchbowl to visit her big sister and brother-in-law (my grandparents). When they died (in 1993 and 1995), she started coming down to see my parents, in the Sutherland Shire, and at age 85 had no hesitation in driving through heavy Sydney traffic on a Friday afternoon to go home to the Central Coast.

She eventually sold her cottage and moved into a unit in Sutherland, but her time there was cut short by a fall, from which she never fully recovered. With restricted mobility, she spent some time in hospital, living with my parents and eventually in nursing homes, but they were a difficult three years for her, and not at all the kind of life she wanted.

Her death, less than two weeks ago, came suddenly. She'd had her hair done in the nursing home 'salon', had lunch in her room, and some time soon after had a heart attack (possibly combined with a stroke) and never regained consciousness. Within a short time she was gone.

We buried Aunty Phyll at Woronora Cemetery last Wednesday. Just a small group of about 20 - most of her contemporaries have already died, and our family is scattered through different states and weren't all able to come. But we, and Miss Tizz and the X-man, had a chance to say goodbye to a special person in our lives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A beautiful tribute, Karen.