Forgotten Australians, memories

Our driveway remembered

by Pamella Vernon (guest author) on 29 April, 2010

Our Driveway Remembered
Yvonne Vernon
(Dalmar 1950 – 1958)

Coming into Dalmar now is a strange experience. The imposing pillared entrance of the driveway being closed off at Marsden Road, deprives one of the most memorable experience of youth, though not the memories. The wire fencing across the entrance gives a desolate feel, yet today, driving slowly past and pointing it out to friends, forgotten feelings that I experienced every time I came back to the only place I had to call “home” emerged. For the Dally kids, the driveway was the gateway to another life, a new home, different to what we had known or expected, yes, but nonetheless “home”, and in many cases the only one that flung doors wide open to accept us.

We brought with us pain, sorrow, confusion and grief, but “old” helped “new” kids to adjust, and eased the burden. The Dalmar driveway, as were the tennis court and swimming pool, donated and built by Sir Edward Hallstrom, of the Hallstrom Electrical Goods Company, (remember the Hallstrom refrigerator ?) a great friend of Dalmar and a generous benefactor. All the “kids” were recipients of his generosity at some time over many years . My xmas stocking was heavier on many occasions because of his consideration, a watch, tennis racquet, school case for high school, apart from elocution lessons for many years with Mrs Akehurst in Epping twice a week after school, like many kind folk who gave to us, he was an unsung, unseen hero, no public demonstration of gratitude was expected, indeed it would have been rejected, being the quiet, unassuming person that he was. A simple thank you letter was always answered personally, with kind words and encouragement.

For me the driveway will always have special memories, that wide sweep of avenue, flanked by coral trees ablaze with red, interspersing the highly scented Camphorlaurel trees. The “home” vegetable gardens could be glimpsed on the right coming down, and the dense trees on the left hid the little dirt road leading to the cemetery. The end wound itself around the wide circle of manicured lawn, bounded by Matron’s roses and the flagpole dead centre, a fitting introduction to the graceful architecture of the “main building”.

Walking down it alone, you could pretend you were the only person in the world. It was so quiet, the buzzing and humming of insects, the smell of flowers, trees, and rich soil wafting on the clean air was sheer heaven. It made me want to sing, and indeed I did. I used to go there to collect twigs and wood for the Newman furnace every afternoon. I would climb into the branches of a coral halfway down the drive and sing “I talk to the trees” at the top of my voice, pretending I was Doris Day (Doris Day I was definitely not). One day much to my embarrassment, halfway through I was accompanied by some of the senior boys working in the garden, with much laughter and teasing.

The same tree was a solitude place for me. I was steadily working my way through every book in the place and I would hide there to read every opportunity I could steal from chores ( and sometimes in place of) particularly on Saturdays and Sundays and visiting days. It was a meeting spot, away from people and kids, giving a sense of “secret place”, with some having their own special area. Ted Coulter (Laney) was the apple of my eye and my friend. We would meet there regularly, particularly when I had been in trouble again . He would commiserate, advise and let me get it out of the system. When he had been away for holidays with his family it was unspoken that we would meet there. He would tell me everything he had done and seen, and bring me gifts, a hanky, a bottle of perfume shaped like a crown, a little brooch, a book, all treasured for years after.

Although Ted and I shared our first childhood kiss on the steps of the kindergarten, the driveway provided the setting for my first grown up kiss, albeit innocent and clumsy. David Lambert and I got our noses in the way and ended up in stitches, but it was the basis for a long friendship, and he shared with me the long lively walk down the driveway, seeing me home each Wednesday night after youth club.

The driveway witnessed the funeral of 12 year old Julie Lloyd, a courageous , fragile, doll like child who spent her short life in bed, unable to even turn the pages of a book; loved and cherished by staff and children alike. It also saw the dying of an era. What great sorrow Dame Dorothea Barnett our beloved matron, must have felt wending her way up the leafy avenue for the last time ? She devoted her life to Dalmar and the children who were fortunate enough to pass through her care. Her life was an inspiration to all it touched, and for those left watching her disappearing among the leafy guard of honour, the atmosphere of inexpressible sadness must have been profound.

The driveway also brought merriment and fun to our door. Remember the exhilaration and sense of anticipation and excitement when the buses came down with the Jolly Revellers ? The boys would wait in relay from the top to let us know when they arrived at the entrance, Oh the joy of it, particularly the pressies and ice creams, not to mention the abandoned laughter and mirth at the concert and Nanna the clown and his mate Simple Simon.

Remember the xmas season? The buses arriving each Saturday for weeks to take us to various concerts and xmas parties at churches all over the metropolitan area. The thrill of waiting for the buses to take us to the ferry at Meadowbank for the Sunday school picnic at Parsley Bay. The contentment coming home through the gateway after a day of fun, sand, water, food and Deadmans cave, to drop weary, happy bodies into bed.

Remember the army trucks coming down one morning in convoy? They delivered tons of tinned bananas and mushroom soup that seemed to last an eternity, even with the loss of those that exploded endlessly in the servery store, with age and heat.

I recall with pleasure the cars of parishioners driving down after church at harvest festival time. They were packed with every kind of fruit, vegetable and other sundry goodies from the festival offering. I would sit in church, craning to see and count how many watermelons were there, or if the boxes had pears and peaches. How we feasted like royalty at harvest festival time!, and who could blame us if the message of thanks for all good things was lost on some of us at the time?

Do you remember “Toc H” ? sitting in rows of chairs in the dining room waiting for them to arrive with their monthly “real pictures”, the impatient fidgeting while they set up, and the disappointed collective groan when the film broke, or the agonised wait of the boy or girl chosen to say thank you, remember? “On behalf of the girls (or boys) of Dalmar I wish to thank you for coming tonight, and we look forward to you coming back again soon”! we all had it down pat for every occasion.

The driveway hosted all who came down its welcoming embrace, whether to stay, visit, give time, energy and love. Children leaving, going up for the last time to family, strangers, or out on their own with all the accompanying elation, apprehension and fears. Staff members coming to give of themselves, or leaving with regrets, some moving within the network to care for other children, some marrying to have families of their own, but all missed . Committee members to make decisions that would affect all. The sewing ladies who weekly mended and darned for hours. The weekly pick up and drop off of the shoe repairer Mr Spurway. The weekly visit of Mr Driscoll the choir master who made a pretty good show of turning us into a credible choir (except me, to be part yes but not to sing, because I put everybody off). People dropping off donations of clothes, books, toys, and money anything useful and not to forget the blue ribbon cakes donated weekly by the Blue Ribbon Cake Shop in Eastwood.

Lastly but not least, the “Old Girls and Boys yearly pilgrimage, and in particular Bob and Ruth Swanborough, for whom all the children waited to see for weeks beforehand, and crowded them when they arrived. Pied pipers, they brought down the driveway their own singular kindnesses, recognition of each, new kids sought out with a special greeting, kind words and hugs, acknowledged gratitude for serving them afternoon tea, or singing or reciting for them. Little did they know that we were honoured, and the privilege ours. So it is goodbye to the old Dalmar. Buildings that we grew up in have gone.

The loved landscape, so many years a private playground of cherished memory for so many, is in the process of mutation into urban sprawl, no doubt necessary. However, the driveway will have a new life. To those who will know it in the future it will be just a road. How could they know it as we do? They will always be unaware of the poignant role it played in the lives of thousands of children, that is historical progress, but we will know………….And we will remember………