Some Memories of Wagga Wagga (1966-1967).

The White House, Martin Street today.

The White House was newly built. It was one of a handful of houses in the street and as yet they had no numbers. It later became Number19. It had four bedrooms arranged round a central living room, two doubles and two singles. Gilbert insisted on taking one of the doubles as a study. It opened out from the opposite side of the living room to the other bedrooms, and he said it was quieter. We bought bunk beds for the remaining singles.

Aidan remembers that his dad planted some poplar trees in the back garden. Why plant poplar trees? Aidan wonders about that. He didn't usually do any housework or gardening. So it seemed an odd thing for him to plant anything, never mind poplar trees in a small back garden!

He kept them alive, in a very hot summer, by watering them continually with a hose pipe. A neighbour complained to me about the waste of water. I was always being blamed for things that Gilbert had done. They did not fancy tackling Gilbert. Neither did I!

Bride comments, "he often did one off things like that. It didn't mean that he was suddenly going to look after the garden. Dad was unpredictable. He would do something and then never do it again."

The three elder children were enrolled in Mount Austin Public School. Bride doesn't remember anything at all about her school.

What she does remember, about Wagga, is seeing a snake in the middle of the road. She had never seen a live snake before. Some adults came along and told all the children to stand back, as it was a venomous one. Then they killed it by chopping off its head,

The Common Brown Snake.

Rona was with her that day and Bride wonders if that is where Rona got her snake phobia. She cannot bear to see even a picture of a snake.

Bride remembers another incident involving Rona. It was in a nature reserve and we suddenly came across a tree labelled "STRANGLER FIG". The boys thought it was a very funny name and kept pretending they were going to be strangled. Rona though, took it seriously and ran away. She wouldn't come back or go near the tree, inspite of all our reassurances that it strangled other trees, not people.

Strangler Fig. The host tree dies leaving a hollow centre.

Bride says that Rona has been teased about her encounter with the Strangler Fig, at intervals, ever since!

Rona started at nursery school. They were all very young and they had a rest in the middle of the day, lying on mattresses. She enjoyed it. One day they were asked to paint a picture of their mum.

Me, as depicted by Rona, aged 4

I have it hanging in my bedroom today. I think it is very colourful. I must say though, that I would not have recognized myself!

Gilbert's job was not going well. Aidan remarks that his Dad was never able to distinguish between his own interests and the demands of his job. I agreed. By this time I knew that Gilbert was more than just eccentric. I thought it went further than that. He had difficulty conceptualising what was expected of him in his job and how to set about doing it. So instead he would roam around studying whatever was his latest interest or obsession. In Wagga it was Aboriginal culture.

At some point, in his wanderings, he came across an Aboriginal children's home. It was just before Christmas and they were looking for people to take one of their girls over the Christmas period. Gilbert said he was interested and he was introduced to Rachel who was 11. When he told me about it, I thought she was a bit too old to fit in with our children.I was wrong there. Aidan says, " I really liked Rachel. So did Gerald. Rachel was OK. She fitted in with us children perfectly."

She stayed with us for some time, but I knew it couldn't be permanent. We had too many problems of our own. Money was tight. All the money, from the sale of Scarrowmanwick, was in the house. A new home was found for her in Sydney.

Gilbert's Manager was called Des Crowley. He was a New Zealander from Invercargill and he was Director of the Department of Adult Education at the University of Sydney. Des visited us to find out what was going on at Wagga. I knew all was not going well, because Gilbert was refusing to answer the telephone or return calls when I answered. The upshot of the visit was that Gilbert heard that he was being moved to Newcastle.

I am not sure exactly when this happened. We were definitely there in December 1967, when I was confirmed in St. John's Church, Wagga Wagga.

Gilbert also wrote a letter to his father in Dublin on 17th December, 1967 telling him about the move and asking for some ties. His father replied on 2nd January, 1968, "I bought your ties --- and posted them --- 29th December. I hope they arrive before you move. --- They are nylon and should last better, if more expensive and cost in all 2.4s.7d." I am not sure why Gilbert wanted so many ties, all the same pattern (Trinity College ties).

It seems though from the Confirmation certificate and the letter that we probably moved early in 1968.

What was going wrong? This was happening over and over again. I knew that Gilbert was exceptionally talented.He drowned me out and made me feel very run of the mill. I have often thought about it. Undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome is my guess.

Gilbert's father had a very strong work ethic. He was still working into his 80s. He couldn't make any sense of his son. "I thought you were moving to Australia to better yourself." "I hope your new move means promotion."

They continued to correspond though, on a superficial level. He began to take an interest in our children. He wanted to receive photographs of them. Our four were his only grandchildren.

He had this one framed and kept it on his bedside table.

Marjorie married too late to have children and Eric's wife, Mary had repeated miscarriages, but no surviving children. There are several small graves in the local Roman Catholic graveyard. It was very sad for Mary and Eric.

Our house was put up for sale and the children were taken out of Mount Austin school. Initially we moved to a rented house at Toronto. Toronto is about 10 miles south of Newcastle. We stayed there for about a year.

Marian Foster. November 2016.