Australian Biography: Lily Ah Toy
Born of Chinese parents, Lily (1917–2001) became a housemaid for a European family after leaving Darwin Public School at 14.
Then she met Jimmy, a hawker with his own market garden and truck. Lily and Jimmy married and moved to Pine Creek to set up a general store.
Apart from supplying the Pine Creek population with provisions, Lily bore five children and raised another five adopted children.
She was interviewed for Film Australia's Australian Biography series in 1995.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: July 14, 1995
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
Lily tell me about your mother, who was she?
She was Lily Oy Moo. Her father [was] Moo Yet Fah and her mother [was] Wong See.
And was she born in Australia?
She was born in Darwin.
Where had her parents come from?
And what were they doing in Darwin?
Well, her father came out to start a new life in Australia, in Darwin, and he was a carpenter. So he went and worked on the timber boats to get timber from Port Essington. He was out here for a long time before he sent for his wife.
Was that very common for Chinese men to come out and establish a bit of a life and then send back for wives?
Oh, yes. Because otherwise they don't know what they [were] coming into. They have to have a home or something.
What was it that made your grandfather think of coming to Australia?
Opportunity to go to the new gold mines in Australia, a new gold land. California was the old one. So, when they go to China to look for labourers to build the railways, they all jumped at the opportunity to come to this new land.
With the idea of making their fortune?
Of course. Yes.
When they came did they expect to stay do you think?
I don't think so because they all said that they're going to make their fortune and go back to China again. But they all stayed.
And what kind of a person was your mother.
She was a lovely person. Very kind-hearted, hardworking, and she wasn't educated because being a girl she had to stay home to help look after her younger brothers and sisters. And, yet she managed to teach herself, or taught herself, Chinese. But her English she doesn't know.
What made your grandfather decide to stay in Australia with his family?
Well he could see the opportunities with the gold mining.
What year would this have been?
In 18 ... late 1870s or the early 1880s.
And was he very lucky with the gold?
No, not really. It ... he started a baker shop at one of the mining towns, Box Creek.
This was your mother's father?
Mmm. They came to Darwin and then they moved to Box Creek where the mining boom is. That's where my father was too, was there.
So, tell me now about your father? What, where was he born?
My father was born in China, in Limchun, just in from Tai Po markets. It's a village under the British control in the New Territories.
Was that in the south of China.
Is that where your mother had come from too?
No, my mother was born in Darwin.
No, but was that where your mother's family had come from?
From a different village.
But from the same general area?
Was it in the south of China too?
Yes, yes. South of China.
Well he was in Box Creek. He was on the railway line. And they make him a foreman or ganger. And when that finished he joined the mining. And my mother was in Darwin when she was a girl, but in those days they have people, you know, matchmakers: 'Oh, yes, somebody has a daughter. Are looking for a wife?' That's how it goes on.
How big was the Chinese community here at the time that your parents met each other? Was there a lot of Chinese in Darwin?
Yes. Yes. They all came up to work on the mining so there was quite a lot of them. A lot of them are single men.
Your father came out here to work on the railways, or was he also thinking he'd like to try his hand at gold mining?
Yes he came to work on the railways and he was made a foreman, or ganger. And when the railway finished, he go onto the gold mining and he become quite successful there.
How did he do that? What was the story of a Chinese person wanting to work on the gold mines in those days?
Because there's a lot of Chinese with the same surname, Wong - he's a Wong - and they grouped together and they decided to work together. So, they have manpower to work on the shows. But in those days they're not allowed to hold leases in their names so, in Box Creek there's a station owner, W. J. Burns, he was very kind to my father. And he said, 'Look, I take up the leases in my name, and you people work it for yourselves'. And that's how it is.
And they trusted him to do that?
Of course. The whole thing is, you see, all he wanted, all he'd do is to take the leases out in his name and they do all the work and they keep all the proceeds from the gold.
Why weren't they allowed to have a lease.
Because they Asians. They come from overseas. They don't belong to Australia. They not born here.
But if you weren't born here and you came from England you were allowed to have a lease?
Well I wouldn't know. I suppose they would I think.
How successful were they with their gold mining?
Different ones, well, my father's group, they were very successful. Mother, this was after he married mother, mother said they had a big chest in the house and, it's like one of those sailor's chests with a dome shape and a heavy brass padlock. The men keep the chest locked, and every day when the day's work's done they would bring the, ore-bearing gold back there and put it into this chest and they lock it up. When they have enough they put a crushing through. I often asked, I often asked my mother in those days, I said, 'What happened if some bushranger or somebody come along? What can you do? You can't protect that chest?' , 'No. There's never anybody like that.' So it was quite peaceful.
With the big chest full of gold in the house, weren't your parents afraid that it would be stolen?
Well I did ask my mother that. And she said, 'No. People who know about that chest of gold- bearing ore, ' it's not just pure gold, 'are the partners.' See they know, I don't think any outsider do. They don't seem to be afraid that someone might come and rob them.
So your father, in a way, made the fortune he'd come to seek?
Did that make you rich then for the rest of your lives?
No. This ... when they moved from there he had a big brick of gold and he took it to Darwin, and gradually he had to chop it up to buy himself horses. Two horses and a cart to go into the wood merchant business. And he had to buy material to build A house. And then he spent it in ordinary everyday living.
So he actually used it as capital to set up in a business?
Now why didn't he go back to China?
Because he's married and he's have children already. You see it takes a lot to take a family to go to China. And not only that, my mother refused to go. She said she's an Australian, her parents are here and she wants her children to be living in Australia. In Darwin. So she wouldn't go.
They met through a matchmaker ...
Yes. Like an arranged marriage.
Oh, yes. Like all couples they had their tiffs. But they, they got on alright because my father was a very considerate man. But I must tell you this though, when they first married they lived at Great Norton. And, in a tin shed, dirt floor, and their bed now. It's made out of fork, pieces of fork from a tree to cut, to sink into the ground, they dig a hole to sink that in. And then they put more support and then planks, that's the wedding bed. When mother told me that I was horrified. But she said, 'What can you do? You live out in the bush, there's nothing there where you can buy beds or anything. So he made his own. You're lucky to have boards.' And they used mats, cane mats. You can buy cane mats. And that's how they first started. And the fire place, it's just a fire place with two bars, open fire, and a few saucepans. And they sit on boxes, table made out of bush timber. They managed.
How many children did they have?
While they were there they had my sister, she was born there. And then when they moved to Box Creek they have, they have two brothers. And when they moved to Darwin, I was born in Darwin. And then the younger ones in Darwin.
Making how many children in the family?
Well, three girls, and four boys. But one of the boys, after me, he died as a lad.
So that left them with six children?
And what year were you born in Darwin?
I was born in 1917, the war was still on. And father said, 'Well, the war's on and another girl.' He didn't even bother to register my birth. And also there was a Chinese lady in Darwin who had six sons and no daughter. She wanted to adopt me. But my mother said, 'No.' One more daughter. My mother just refused. So I was very lucky.
Your father was disgusted to have another girl?
I don't know about disgusted, but in those days, you see, girls are immaterial. And somebody else dying to have a daughter, well, why not. And later on when I grew up, this lady still said, 'You should have been my daughter'. And she, she often asked me to call in to see her, Mrs Lan Fong Mao, and give me little bits of stuff, you know, as though I'm still her daughter. And also, when she go and visit Mrs Tai, the nurse, Granny Tai, she always call into my place and she said, 'Come with me. We go and visit Mrs Tai.' And I used to do that.
Who brought you into the world?
Grandma. They don't go to ... the Chinese women have babies, they don't go to hospital. They, they either have family elders and they manage somehow. Thinking back now, the risk they take. But still they manage. Well father, even though he come out as a coolie to work on the railways, he was educated. And he had these Chinese books and he used to read to mother to explain that birth is a natural thing. You don't have to worry. It seemed that he was right.
She didn't want to part with anyone, even a daughter. It was years and years later when I was in my teens when the Chinese consul come to Darwin to visit and my mother was concerned because I didn't have a birth certificate. So she went to the consul and asked, and he did a lot of research and asked different ones in Darwin who know the family, and also the score for references that I was there at school at a certain age, finally I received a certificate from Canberra.
The 24th of October. Actually the 24th of the tenth month in Chinese. And when they reported my birth they, they, at the school, what time I was born, so they put that down. The 24th of the tenth month. And of course I knew that that wasn't the true date in English date. It was years later that when we were in Hong Kong in 1967, I asked this old friend and he said, 'Oh, easy. You go to a shop and get a book.' And he showed a 100 years of the English and the Chinese dates. And my true birthday is on December the 8th.
So which one do you celebrate now?
Oh, I have to stick to the 24th of October. We can't change it, otherwise they think I'm, I'm an illegal.
What did your mother call you?
In Chinese, Wu Lin.
Well when I started school, my aunty took me to school, Aunty Essie, and What's her name? and because my Chinese name is a Wui Lin, Lin is a Lily. So they said, 'Oh, Lily.'
Even though your father hadn't really wanted a girl, was he a good father to you?
Oh, yes. He accepted that, he was alright.
So how did the family live in Darwin after you were born?
Well mother told me that they just, father worked hard as wood merch ... wood selling. And they grow lots of vegetables. That's how it is and things were cheap. They managed.
What sort of a house did you live in?
It was a corrugated iron, second-hand, and bush timber that father cut from the bush. Mostly stringy bark because they strong and it's a hard wood. And he brings it back. And we children, and anyone who can help, helped to take the bark off with this instrument. It was, it was more fun than anything, but we managed. It come off quite easily. And then, for the floor, it's just ant bed, that's another thing that we enjoy doing, because he bring the ant bed home and we would help to stamp on it. He would put it in a tub with water and as kids, we play mud pie, we tramp on it. You put it in water [to] soak out all the seeds, the grass seeds and all the rubbish. And then you drain the water off and we stamp on it. I suppose it's just like making pottery, the clay. You see the more you knead a wedge of clay, the tougher it gets.
So why was ant bed good? What was ...
Because when it harden, it have a hard surface and no dust. Not loose like sand.
Because the ants had worked it over?
Yes. And it's a clay. You see they bring the clay up from under the ground.
Yes, beautiful floor. They laid, straighten it, smooth it and let it dry. And when we sweep the floor we have to be careful to just sprinkle water lightly on it and then lightly sweep it. Don't go hard, otherwise you sweep the thing away.
And do you remember the building of the house?
Oh, yes, yes yes. The windows, of course, are all the push-up type, galvanised iron push-up type. And my father put a long piece of sapling right down from the top to the bottom so nobody could climb in. And it always open, day and night, unless it rained. So it was quite safe. And the floor - the wall doesn't go right down the floor - he leaves about two or three inches, and the air circulates. But in the wet season the splashing come in a bit, but then, it'd never flood because he had drain dug all round. It's quite, quite adequate.
Galvanised iron, second-hand. And, he bought the second-hand iron from Vesty's meat works. Of course it had a lot of holes in it. And with the holes my mother get the pieces of off-cuts of khaki from the tailor shop in Darwin and stick it on with tar. Well that caused quite a rumpus with our neighbour. She said ... we didn't know at first, but we noticed she put all sorts of ... you see, they are wood merchants too, next door.
Yes. And she put these long pieces of saplings pointing at our place. We said, 'Why the heck, she wants to put all this over our fence, pointing to our house.' And one day she had a row with my mother and she accused my mother of being wicked. Having these black eyes staring at her bringing her bad luck. Poor mum, she said, 'Only because we so poor we can't afford new iron like you do. So we have these second hand iron, leaky iron, and we patch it up. It's not meant to be black eyes looking at you to bring you bad luck.' But you can't convince her, she was so superstitious. It's rather tough, actually it made mother cry. See, because we're poor. And their house next door was built with all new iron.
By this time the gold brick had gone had it?
Oh, long, long gone, yes.
Did you get on well with all your Chinese neighbours, generally though, apart from the woman next door?
Apart from that, yes. We didn't have any Chinese neighbours in the place where we lived, when we were wood merchants. We had part-coloured people, they were alright. And then we had Greeks, which was further away. We got on very well. And then we had the Chinese market gardeners down the gully. They, they were very kind, but they were very hardworking men too. They would grow their vegies in the wet season. They would grow all the - like cucumbers and watermelon and pumpkins and all that sort of stuff. And in the dry they can grow Chinese cabbage, shallots, carrots, lettuce, anything at all. And they worked so hard that they go through every bed and every plant to pick out the grubs. They don't know insecticide. And for fertiliser they used to get the, the bullock blood, from the butcher, bring it home, ask the butcher shop chap can they have it, bring it home, and stand it in a drum and, of course, you can imagine the smell, later on they mix it with water and fertilise the ground. Apart from that, the water, you see down in the gully there they dug these deep billabongs, it's narrow and just straight down and down at the end they have a sort of a well. And because it's slippery clay they put stones or wood steps all the way down. And that's how they walked down, filled their two kerosene tins and carried it on the yoke on the shoulders, and up again, and that's how they water the gardens. In the wet seasons those billabongs would be full of water. And, full of waterlilies. It's - in a sense you know, they quite happy. They live there, they look after themselves, and they always make a fuss of us children, like when we visit to go and buy vegies, or sometimes just to visit, buy sugarcane. And if there are any ripe bananas, see they all have bananas, and sugarcane, and they said now go out to the banana patch and see if there are any ripe bananas on the bunches, because bananas have ripe odd ones. The whole bunch don't ripen at once. So we would go and help ourselves to that.
So as a family, what was your daily diet? What things did you eat? Was it Chinese food?
Oh, always. Always rice and meat and vegies. And we have chooks, but the chooks - occasionally we have an egg. Or, we make a pot of soup, or mother would make a pot of soup and break a couple of eggs into it. So everybody have a bit of egg.
I'll ask you that question again because of the car. What did you eat as a family together?
Chinese food, rice, meat and vegetables. And occasionally we have an egg, specially if it's our birthday. That's a big treat to have a boiled egg for breakfast.
Did you keep your own chickens?
And the vegetables that you ate, did you grow them yourself, or did you get them from the market growers?
Well we grow a certain amount. And sometimes, what we haven't grown, or what we haven't got, we just go and buy it. It's so cheap, threepence a bunch of cabbage. You know the Chinese cabbage. So we always have pumpkin growing in the wet season, cucumber, Chinese bitter melon, I don't know whether you've eaten that. It's just really bitter.
Very good. You can buy them in the market now.
So you actually had a very healthy diet?
Plain, simple diet, yes.
What did you do for water in the house?
In the well. Father dug a well, I think it must be 40-odd feet deep in this solid - all stones - but the water was beautiful. He built, with timber he built a thing all around it, like a shoulder, I don't know what you call it. And that's all, the whole well is built up so that there's no water can flow into it. You know what I mean, mount up. And then he put this windlass, wooden windlass and steel wire. That's how we draw our water. I was, I was pretty good at that, drawing the water up.
Oh, yes. You see the boys go and work outside.
So all the children had to help with the work?
Yes, the little ones do something else. We all had our jobs to do.
What language did you speak at home?
Our own dialect, Haka.
Yeah. H-a-k-a. Haka.
No. Cantonese only come from people who speaks in Hong Kong and Canton. But we, our father's dialect and my mother, Haka. And mother dialect is Haka too.
And that was what was spoken in the region of China that they came from?
Yes. Yes. Some of them have a different tone, and it's slightly different even though it is Haka.
Yes, I can if I have anyone to talk to. Unfortunately I wasn't strict enough with our children and they lost it. Living in Pine Creek it's rather difficult with the children because we are the only Chinese family there and if we speak Chinese in front of our Australian customers and friends, we feel awful and they didn't like it too because they think we maybe talking about them. And that's how we lost it.
But you remember it all? It hasn't gone rusty?
No. No. It was funny when we, when my husband and I visited China, to the villages, and we spoke to them in Haka and they were amazed. They said, 'You can still speak Haka?' We said, 'Why not?' 'Oh, you born in Australia, we thought you can't speak a word.'
So when did you learn English?
When I go to school. That's when we first learnt English. It was only half a day's school at first, and then a day.
Now Darwin at that stage, from what you described, was already a fairly multicultural society. There were a lot of different groups of people here?
Yes. Mostly Chinese. There was a few Japanese and a few Malays. A few Koepang and there's quite a few Greeks. There was a special camp called the Greek camp and they came out and they were very poor too.
Did you have much to do with the Aboriginal people?
Oh, yes. They, we got on very well, even back in the days in Box Creek when my parents were there. They were very kind too. They weren't abusive or anything like that. They used to come and bring them fish, you see. They catch it from the billabong and bring it around to them, which is a good change. And mother used to say they cooked it with black bean and garlic, it's very nice. It's like a cod. Also they bring pork. You see there plenty of wild pig so they bring some pork. But father wasn't too keen on eating the wild pig so the only thing they wanted off the Aboriginal, of the pigs, were trotters. So they make soup with that. Trotters, green ginger and vinegar. You wouldn't think the soup would be much, much flavour or value would you? But it's very nourishing. Particularly for pregnant women or after the baby['s] born. They put the vinegar in the soup and it brings out the calcium in the bone. That's something that we learnt.
After you were born and you were in Darwin, did you have any regular contact with Aboriginal people in daily life?
Well father had this boy working for us called Charlie. I don't know where he learnt English from, but he speaks perfect English and a very hardworking boy. You don't have to tell him to do this and do that. You know how some of them just go and sit down under the shady tree. But Charlie wasn't, he was very good. And we had other ones too.
It sounds like you were having a very healthy diet, and a very healthy life. What happened if you got sick?
Well, we use all Chinese medicine. My mother always careful that we don't eat too many of the hot stuff, you know, the blood heating stuff. So we have cooling stuff, watermelons or cooling soup. And, other pine-melon soup which we hated. And sugarcane water which we loved. The sugarcane, we buy it from the gardeners. They cut into pieces and split and put it into a saucepan of water and simmer it for hours. And then we had to drink that and also chew the sugarcane but by then it was pretty tasteless. All the sugar gone into the, gone into the liquid.
And these were supposed to cool the blood?
Your blood, yes. And for fever they have a special, the bitter melon vine, they boil that, and bathe us in it. Just warm bathing and all this sort of cooling stuff.
What was, what was considered heating? What did you avoid?
Fried stuff. Any fried stuff or any curries or any bake. Generally speaking it's the fried stuff that they avoid as much as possible. And for cakes and stuff you see of course they never eat anything straight out of the oven. We didn't have an oven, only an ordinary little oven that my brother made. But they must - fresh bread out of the oven, you wait to cool. Everything must be cooled first. And don't use too much pepper. Whenever your system or blood is heated or too hot, as we call it, a person gets sick.
And what did you do about the Chinese medicine? Did you get that from your mother or was there a special Chinese doctor?
My uncle, my uncle, he was a herbalist and he had a shop in Darwin. Everybody goes to him. He's got medical books that he reads up, they tell him all the symptoms and they prescribe some evil tasting stuff. We get it and boil it for at least, half or three-quarters an hour, and we must take it last thing at night. You take now, for instance, if they have measles or chickenpox, special medicine to counteract all of that. And also we mustn't eat any kind of food if we have measles. We have to have special mincemeat all chopped up finely, and sprinkled with sliced up ginger, and this cucumber, which is a sweet one, a pickled cucumber, sprinkled on top. And another Chinese cabbage called Chong choy, they cut, a little bit finely cut, to make it tastier they steam it. And that's all we're allowed to eat. Eat that and rice.
Was malaria a problem in the area?
No. I haven't come across anybody with malaria. Only I heard my parents say that the old people used to die from it. But eventually - I really haven't heard of anyone that I know of who had malaria.
Did you use the quinine trees at all?
Yes, the leaves. The leaves, grandma used to get the leaves, and dry, and make pillows because it's cooling, pillows for the children. And the quinine berry, well you have to wait until it's matured. And they pick it, hammer it to split it, and grandma would sprinkle salt lightly on it and dry it. And she used to make tea with it. That's cooling. Actually it taste quite nice. In fact, the quinine fruit itself, we used to pickle it. Pick holes on it and salt, and then soak it in salt and water. And it's, I suppose, like an olive. Only that it's harder. It's not bad.
Well naturally all those things are, take time, but what can you do? You're just so used to all that sort of stuff and you do it.
So you're mother worked very hard at taking care of the family?
Yes. And we helped whenever we can. We had a fruit tree, it's a sort of a lime, and yet it's not, it's not the English lime. And this one's the size of a mandarin and when it's matured and ripe and it has a lovely orangey colour, it's a bit sour, but it's edible enough that we can eat it like a, you know, like a mandarin, a sour mandarin. And we have a lot of that and we make squash out of it. So there you are, that's more cooling stuff. And to preserve that lime, mother used to get it and dry it, no, steam it first. Steam it in a wok and of course it goes all soft, and then put it out in the sun in one of those cane trays, and dry it to certain stage, and then she sugar it with liquorice and make a sort of preserve, rich, preserve, plum. Preserve lemon peel. You can buy the lemon peel now, it's exactly the same. I used to do that in Pine Creek when I had time. Lot of work but it was very nice.
Was there any difficulty getting Chinese utensils and ingredients here, to be able to do?
No. The Chinese store, there's quite a few Chinese stores, they carry everything.
Yes, yes. You can buy anything at all. Like for New Year for instance now, they get all the ingredients out from Singapore I think.
So there was a lot of trade coming to Darwin?
Always. Yes. Now, Burns Philp used to run ships from Sydney, Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane-Mount, not Mount Isa, Thursday Island to Darwin. Right. And then from Darwin they go to Singapore. This is a sort of monthly turn out ... and all that sort of thing. From Singapore they come back to Darwin again. Now, the ships return from Singapore would bring all sorts of stuff that would be forbidden by the quarantine now.
So in fact you had better supplies of the Chinese things than you do now?
Yes. They did bring out basketfull of lychee, and salty duck eggs, and the hundred-year-old egg, and tins of preserved duck, which is very expensive but very tasty. Chinese sausage; of course you can buy the sausage now in Melbourne. They make them in Melbourne and Sydney. But in those days you see it's all got to come from overseas. And they bring out bags of rice from Siam. In those mat sort-of, yeah mat bags. After they use the rice they use the mat for the baby to sleep on, or, it's a floor for them to play on. It's very, very useful. [INTERRUPTION]
How old were you when you went to school?
And you spoke no English at that point in time?
Hardly. Hardly. Because we speak Chinese at home.
So did you feel a little bit nervous going off to school?
Yes, but, all I think about going to school was to play with the other children. I didn't mind. My sister, Mabel, she rebelled against it. She didn't want to go. I can remember Mother force her, to take her to the convent school, which is the nearest, and oh, she play up like anything. So of course her education was only up to third grade I think. She just didn't like school. She refused to go.
Did you go to the convent school too?
What was the public school like?
It was quite good, a mixed school. They have all sorts of children there. There was the main building have a three bedroom, not three bedroom, three room, three schoolrooms, two in the back and one in the front. The two back ones, they have a great big dividing folding wall. The one in the front, nearest to the Cavanagh Street, that one have 4th and 5th. And 2 and 3 in one of the other rooms in the back, and 6 and 7 in another one. Now the younger children in the primary - not the primary - in the infants, they [are] in another building where they have a singer, same room for sing[ing] and teaching eurythmics, which I hated. And also a library, a school library, in a completely separate building. The water supply come from a windmill and it was looked after by a Greek chap called Con Parker. He always come and look after the windmill and see that everything's working all right.
So you were really looking forward to playing with the other children, what sort of things did you play?
Marbles. Rounders. Hopscotch, mostly hopscotch.
Were you a popular child at school with the other children?
Oh, I don't know, I just tag along as you call it and just play. It didn't really matter.
And what about the school work, how did you get on with it?
Do you think you were handicapped by not having had English at home?
We didn't realise it at the time. We didn't really realise that, but we just manage all right. And it wasn't until I was in the 6th and 7th grade that it suddenly dawned on me that I've got to really work hard.
Well I tried to. But another thing that I detest was sewing. Miss Parker taught me, Miss Bell first, and then Miss Parker. I'm forever having knots on thread and the stitches were absolutely terrible.
That doesn't conform to the idea of the good little Chinese girl sitting doing her sewing does it?
Absolutely not. At home I'd rather go out and play with my brothers or with the other children, running around the bush playing football and picking wild plums. In the wet season there's all sorts of plums. First thing in the morning we would go out and see what we could pick off the ground, this milky plum, cherry plums, all sorts of eatable plums. The Aboriginal [people] taught us all what to eat and thinking back now, I think we did, all our vitamin C and all that nourishment from those plums too. There's one there, a cheeky plum they call it. But why they call it cheeky, because the tree had a lot of prickles, oh, so many prickles on it. But the fruit is just like a little tiny apple and it's really nice. There are trees growing just up round near the corner there near the old hospital, or the university.
All native; native fruit.
You learnt a bit about bush tucker then?
Well yes. We used to eat all these plum, billygoat plums which I discovered in, a few years ago, it has the highest vitamin C content. When the army discovered it, I had to laugh. I said, 'Oh, we been eating it for years'.
Did anybody ever get really sick?
You mean viruses?
Not that I know of. Occasional fever or cold. Like I said they got all these herbal medicines.
Now at school, were there people from all different backgrounds and different races in the primary school at that time?
So you didn't feel special or different because you were Chinese.
No. No. There's lots of Chinese children.
As a child did you encounter any discrimination against the Chinese at all in Darwin?
Well not as far as I'm concerned. But there were discrimination, but it's typical of children. The children from the rich family used to look down upon us poor children. Well for instance now, they [are] dressed up in lovely ironed shirts and shorts and socks and leather shoes, and we just go barefooted and I only owned two dresses. So they used to come along and stand on, stood on our toes. Well that wasn't very nice.
Because you had bare feet and they had shoes.
Yeah we all had bare feet. Well we can't afford to.
But these were rich Chinese children?
Yeah. Rich Chinese children.
What did you wear? You had just two dresses you say, what kind of dresses were they?
Ordinary cotton dresses that only cost six pence a yard. Plain dresses. Nothing elaborate.
Were they made up in Chinese or European style?
No, no. Dresses. No we had to wear dresses. And as soon as we come home we had to change them. Mother would rinse them and hang them out and next day we wear them again, alternately.
And what would you put on while she was doing that?
Chinese clothes. The jacket and the pants like this.
Oh, definitely. Because you had the jacket and pants and you can run.
So you much preferred to be in the Chinese clothes?
Yes. Yes. It's really comfortable.
And what did you wear on your feet?
Yes. For occasions like Empire Day, or special things like that, we have a pair of sandshoes. We didn't mind.
Did you wear any Chinese shoes, clogs or anything?
Oh yes, at home. I don't know whether you've ever seen the kerosene cases that holds 2 four gallon tins of kerosene in the old days, well the end pieces of timber, well they must be about an inch thick, and they're very valuable, so we get those, the thick pieces, and we make them into clogs. Put our foot on them and just draw the pattern and then sawed and chiselled it, and to make it, they put a heel on it. And for the strap, again mother get the off-cuts from the tailor shop, khaki, stitch them together and put, you put your foot through it and then they just nail it on. That's it. And for Chinese New Year, because it's New Year, they paint the clogs red. Ordinarily they don't bother to paint it. [INTERRUPTION]
So what happened at Chinese New Year?
We each ...
Could you say, for Chinese New Year ...
For Chinese ... [INTERRUPTION]
For Chinese New Year we have a new suit of clothes, always, new pair of clogs, made out of the wood and painted red. Also, they made all sorts of cakes and special foods, weeks ahead really. They buy the glutinous rice, and soak it, and then we have a grinder. I don't know whether you've ever seen one, it's made out of very hard granite stone and it's imported from China. The base is bigger than the top and it's got a sort of a, what they call it now, serrated. And the top piece is smaller and it's also serrated, and in the middle there's a square piece of steel, like a thick nut, that sit one on top of the other and you push it around, like that. To grind the rice.
So it's like a little hand-mill?
Yes, but it's a big one. Not a hand one. You use a long stick and you've got to push it around like that. I used to do that, help my mother do that. The rice is all in liquid form in the water. They put that into a flour bag and drain it and dry it again in those cane trays. And when the time come to make Chinese cakes for New Year, they crush that because it's all in lumps. And they make Chinese cakes. But now you buy the glutinous rice flour in packets in the shops.
So no matter how poor you were as children, when it came to Chinese New Year, there was a feast and there were new clothes?
Absolutely. We have chicken and pork and crackers. And we upheld all the ritual, religious ritual Which is very important. And the house, well, the house had to be cleaned from top to bottom. You clean all the ... [INTERRUPTION]
Yes. You can call them Buddhists or Taoist because they go to the temple and pay their respects to the different deities.
Yes. It's still there.
Oh, quite good. The war, the war damaged it so that they have to refurnish it. And then the cyclone flatten it and they rebuild, this is a new rebuilt version.
So as long as you remember, there's been a Chinese temple there?
Yes. And I can remember, when we were living in Cavanagh Street, mother used to go on certain days to the temple, you know, taking the offerings, and I always used to go with her to help her. And there was a little old man there, we called him Mah Buk, he's the caretaker and he always, the one that goes around, you know, light the can ... the incense and the candles and knelt and say the prayers and burn the papers. Old Mah Buk was a very, very old bent up man and a very highly educated one.
How often did you go to the temple?
Only on festival days, special days.
At home, regularly, at home they have their own ancestor altar. All your ancestors, their names or their photos there were on one table or bench. And my mother - we have the goddess of mercy. And then we have Gung Goong, that's two that every family has because the goddess of mercy protect the children and the home and the other one is also a very good protector.
So it was really like a little home altar or shrine?
Shrine. Yes. Yes. Home shrine.
And how often did you have to perform rituals there.
Every morning, it was my job to ... every morning when we get up we clean up and the tea was already made, and I had to collect the little cups with tea in it and clean it, and light the incense and pour out the tea and go around to all the different altars to pay my respect. Every morning and every night.
How important were the festivals? Were there many of them?
Yes. There's quite a few, in different days. There's one, apart from the New Year, there's one where we have, where we have special cake made for this particular one. In Hong Kong they run their boat race on it. We made this jeung, special glutinous rice with stuff in the middle and wrapped in leaves and boiled for hours. That is a very special occasion. And of course at home mother used to cook the chicken and the pork and the piece of cuttle fish. Or if there's none, a piece of, a root of shallot and we'll pay our respects that way. [INTERRUPTION]
The festivals were important in giving you an opportunity to have some special food?
Yes. We children looked forward to it because it was such a treat. And then mother would make some peanut toffee and some other special eats to go with it. Cakes and things like that. Chinese cakes.
What's the most important festival of the year?
Actually the most important one is the New Year?
And what happens on Chinese New Year?
Mother would prepare and shop very early. The shops already have all the stuff from Hong Kong or Singapore. And, the preparation goes on for days and weeks. And on New Year's Eve there's the usual, and the chicken and the pork and stuff for the religious ceremonies, and everything must be washed clean, it mustn't have any meat or stuff on it. Oil. And in the middle of the night, before that mother would cook this special dry vegetable stuff we call chai. It's a dried vegetable deep fried, and cakes that we made earlier. And on the stroke of midnight she'd open the front door and there's a table there already and with all stuff on it, and then we start this religious ceremony. We joss, light the incense and the rest and throw out the crackers. It's funny to hear cracker here, cracker there and everybody doing the same thing. And that is left all for seven days, that table, and every morning we have to burn incense and the usual rigmarole. But that day, New Year day, we fast. We don't eat anything, from living, like chicken and stuff. We eat just this dry vegetable dish. Some people, they have the meals straight after the midnight ceremony. But the Haka, we do, it's as a mark of respect to our ancestor, we fast for the whole day. Of course, children, being children, we get very hungry, couldn't last. But we had to. Mother would give us the Chinese cakes. Until next day, then we can eat. And the second day of New Year, that's another, more chicken, see it's another ceremony. We call it Hoi Yuen. That is the proper day. And we look forward to that too. and we have all sorts of fruit with it, locally grown. That goes on until the fourth day. The fourth day the married daughters come home to visit the parents and they bring all sorts of goodies, eatables, and pay the respect and they must stay for the meal. That's the fourth day. And on the seventh day of the New Year, that's the day for the world people's birthday. And that's something that only the Chinese celebrate. They call it Nyit.
The birthday for all the people?
People of the world. People birthday. So, of course there's more religious offerings and that. And the next one is the 15th of the month. You see the 15th, the 1st and the 15th, a lot of people fast on those days, different ones, for religious purposes. And on the 16th it's another festival date, Chin Lau Gong birth date. Now Chin Lau Gong, now this is a story. He was man, a very kind man in China. He rides a white horse and [has] a dog. And he was a very kind man. Finally through jealousy he was killed and the people hadn't forgotten him so they set him up as a saint. And some of the villagers saw him, they said they saw him riding his white horse with the dog following, and that's how that started.
So the whole family takes part in these ceremonies?
Oh, we were made to. We had to go and kow-tow and joss like that.
And the children stay up till midnight on the first night?
Well some of them wake up, or some of them stay. The young ones not.
You say your mother took care of putting everything out. Were the religious ceremonies mainly the role of the women, or did the men have a role as well?
Well the men, sometimes they come, they don't, they don't work towards it but they come and pay their respect and that's it.
They come and enjoy it. The women do the work?
Yes. Yes. But nowadays most people don't have these family altars, they go to the temple. So, also, they adopted the Christian way of going to the temple on Sundays.
Which you never did as a child?
No. We just go on ...
How many times in a year would you go to the temple for special festivals as a child?
Oh, I couldn't tell you unless we work it out.
Oh, more than that.
There were plenty of festivals to keep you interested?
Besides that, alongside the temple there was a little hut and where they stored all the remains of the Chinese people who died, and it's customary after three years they dug the bones out and they put them in earthenware jug and store them in that hut. And when they have enough, the relatives would ask for a ship to call into Darwin and then they, some relative would take those bones back to the village. Take the remains back to the village.
Yeah. To be buried in the different villages where they come from.
So these old people wanted their bones to go back to China.
Their remains, yes. But of course it's all gone with the war. My father and my younger brother's remains are in China. My brother took them back there, the eldest boy.
Well it's a custom they upheld. But now, it's, it's sort of a loss with the war and at least we still have them here in Australia. So we pay our respect to the graves and all that.
With all these ceremonies and religious observance that you went through, what was the spiritual significance of it?
Just because we were brought up into it and we believe in it.
Was it more a social thing that you did or did it have some meaning to it for you about spiritual things?
Yes. Of course now I'm older, it's slightly different and I've more or less been to Christian churches and partaken in services and all that. So, it broadens my mind, but I still respect the ancestor worship.
So the heart of the religion was really ancestor worship? It was to show a real respect for those who'd gone before?
Yes. Yes. But I don't forget the Chinese religion we were brought up in. I still respect that too.
What were some of the elements of it besides respecting ancestors, in terms of, not just what you had to observe and do, but what you believed?
Well they drilled it into us that we never ever do any unkind things. Always be kind and helpful and forgiving. And also, help, like I said, old people. Anybody old or destitute, always help them.
So there was great respect for the aged?
Yes. Yes. Yes. You see, the Chinese never dumped their old people into homes or anything. They kept them at home all the time until, of course, they can't care for them, I mean physically or medically.
Were there Christian missionaries, or Christian churches, trying to persuade the Chinese people that what they believed in was wrong and that they should become Christian?
In China, yes.
No, nobody attempted, trying.
That's interesting because there were people up here, weren't there, with their Christian churches trying to persuade Aborigines and so on to believe?
Oh, yes, yes. They, the Aborigines really have all sorts of different religions trying to convert them. But no one tried to convert the Chinese. But then later on towards, in 1940, in the 40s, we had Pastor Low. He's still alive. He's a pastor for the Uniting Church. And he started to, he wouldn't dare to convert them, but [they] please themselves whether they like to listen to him or not. And he used to teach us as school. But I don't ... [INTERRUPTION]
Why do you think that the Christian religions left you alone and didn't try to convert the Chinese people?
I think, because they could see how strong it is. How strong the Chinese attended temple and upheld all the different festivals. Or more or less so, what shall I say, in one mind. Every family do it, they can't change it.
Now when you were at school, did they have religious instruction at school.
Yes. But I never go to it.
So the Chinese children were just exempt from it.
They didn't force us.
And how long did you stay at school?
Until I was 14, I couldn't leave school quick enough, as soon as I was 14; up to seven grade.
You had to stay by law until you were 14?
Oh, yes. But then of course I couldn't go any further. There's no high school in Darwin. [INTERRUPTION]
When you were at school, what did you imagine you would do when you left?
Oh, I have no idea, at the time.
You didn't dream of leaving school and being a nurse or a teacher?
No, no. We haven't had the thing - education - to go training as a nurse or teacher.
So what, you said you couldn't wait to leave school at 14, what did you imagine you'd do?
Stay home and help mother. Because I'd always been helping her since I was nine year old doing all sorts of things.
And so you were looking forward to that?
So what in fact did you do when you left school?
Well I got a job as a housemaid. Start at half past seven in the morning and finish after lunch. After I wash up after lunch. Seven and six a week. They give me breakfast and I help the lady to do the washing and hanging out and wash up, the chores. Routine: Monday wash, Tuesday iron, Wednesday clean the house, Thursday polish the silver. That sort of thing. Saturday morning clean the stove.
Who were they that you worked for?
Lyle and Mrs Tivendale. He was a health inspector and he was the stock inspector too.
I don't quite remember, they were looking for somebody. And I applied.
Did you look after children for them?
No, no. They haven't got any children. Actually it was quite easy, just do housework. And she always work with me, like the washing. Well I had to do the ironing myself.
How did your family feel about you getting this job?
Well they didn't mind, this is during the Depression years. A lot of other girls go out and work house, housework.
How many years were you there in that house?
From 14 until, 3 years I was there.
Well, my husband was courting me and we become engaged at 18. And we got married at 19 - when I was 19 and he was 21.
So how did you meet your husband?
He was hawking vegetables. Now wait a minute, a cousin of mine married his older brother. And we used to go and visit. They had this market garden out at the two and half mile or the Parap we call it now. And we often go out and visit the cousin and go through the garden because they have five-corner tree growing in the paddock. And we used to go and raid it, which was very, very naughty. And also he sells, like I say, hawking vegetables around and he come around and he always go to my sister and then he goes to where I work and would stay there. That's how we met. And gradually know one another better. I used to laugh. When I was at home he used to be at my sister then. He would give my sister's children bunches of grapes and all sorts of stuff when they [are] in season. He never come over to offer me any. But gradually he came around and asked me to marry him.
And were you immediately drawn to him? Did you like the look of him?
Well it's not a matter of looks so much, but he always have the lovely smile and very friendly.
And did he notice you straight away?
Well apparently, because when we go and visit him and his brother at the market garden he used to follow us to where the ... tree was.
And do you really think it was you he was following?
Well there were other cousins too. But then when he showed interest at the place where I work and then visiting my sister all the time, so my sister knew straight away that he was keen on seeing me and be better acquainted.
Was there any suggestion in your family that you might go to a matchmaker?
No. No. My oldest brother, Chu, he said to my mother, he said, 'You know he's courting Lily and he's good you know. He's good'. He thoroughly approved. Hardworking young fellow. Jim was only 21.
Were any of your family married through the matchmaker, or had that practice died out by your generation?
No, no. My sister, older sister [and] Charlie. Charlie was working at Mataranka Station as a cook and he had his eye on my sister for a long time. So he asked someone to come and arrange it. It's really funny, actually, there's several other young men in Darwin wanted to marry her, three or four of them. They sent matchmakers along but my sister wouldn't have any of them. Ended up marrying Charlie, Charlie Hee. [INTERRUPTION]
Did the practice of matchmaking die out?
With the war.
Evacuation changed everything. In a way it was quite good you know.
So your, your husband was drawn to you. What do you think it was that he liked about you?
Well I don't really know because he was living in Pine Creek looking after the shop that his parents just bought for him and he came, he drove, borrowed a truck and drove all the way from Pine Creek to Darwin to ask me to marry him. And it was, it was an all-day trip in those days, just a track.
Had he taken you out, or how had he courted you?
We not allowed to go out until after we got engaged. And then he took me out to the pictures.
Had you seen him alone at all before he asked you to marry him?
No. No. That's not allowed. Very strict the Chinese. But after we got engaged he asked permission to take me to the pictures one night. And then Grandma, Grandma Moo, she went off the roof. She said, 'Why do you allow your daughter to go out even though they engaged? It's not the done thing', and all the rest of it. Poor Mum copped it again.
So she was a bit more relaxed because she was in Australia?
Yes. And then my brother approve, he said, 'That's all right'.
What did you like about your husband, what was it that drew you to him?
Well he's always been a very hardworking young man. Absolutely. And he's a very honest man. Somehow -and he's always got a smile and he get on well with all my brothers and sisters - somehow we just like one another.
Do you think that was old enough?
Well in those days, I suppose I am. Because we were engaged at 18 and married at 19.
What was the marriage ceremony like?
Chinese. We had to get up early in the morning at certain hour. They choose a day. They have to choose a day which is suitable, you know, everything, the star is right. There's a book there that they go through. And in the morning, on my side, I would get up very early and they have a table, an altar set up at the front door and I would be there. And this aunty of mine would come and she must have a husband alive and she must have boys and girls, you know, good luck. And she comb my hair. Comb my hair and then put it up into a bun. That's what they call in Chinese Zhong Chu. All religious ceremony, quite serious. After that, certain time, they got to pick what time. And they dress me and I have to wear all the usual clothes, new clothes and shoes. Actually I did have the shoes somewhere in a cupboard and a veil, silk veil. My mother got all this from Hong Kong. The shoes and the veil. And the clothes, I had a jacket and a skirt.
Pink. Must be pink or red. Mine was pink, a deep pink. And I had jewellery on. This pair of earrings was a wedding present.
Yes. All the relatives give me presents. They give personal stuff like bangle, a ring or earrings. Things like that.
No. No. That's the groom's responsibility to provide for the house. Not like now. And certain time, certain hour, after more religious ceremony another lady who has a husband alive and has children, and she came and she lead me. I have to wear this mirror hanging around my neck as a sort of a necklace, and this mirror must face outwards, as I go out, because that would dazzle the evil spirits. And then they must throw rice. There's a devil rooster, so they throw rice to distract him. You know all that sort of thing. Until we got to the groom's house and then the lady who lead me turn the mirror round face that side, shiny side face towards my body. And then she lead me in through the house. And there won't be anybody there in the house. They be all around the back 'cause it's unlucky to face a new bride coming into a house. This lady take me straight into the bridal chamber, bridal room.
And the mirror had to be turned inwards?
Inwards. Going into the groom's house.
So you didn't want to frighten him off, just the rooster?
No, no, no. You don't bring bad luck into the house. That mirror you wear to go out of your parent's house is to ward off the evil spirits. Its all traditional stuff.
And what happens in the ceremony itself, in the bridal chamber?
Well they have another altar set up there with a light burning and burn incense and candles and all the rest of it. We do that and then later on they take me outside and that's when the real ceremony of paying respect to the ancestors [takes place] in the lounge. That's when everybody's there and we go through the ceremony again before anything of a party. It's important all that religious stuff. It's binding. Both of you knelt down and the people who conducted it saying all sorts of good words and all that sort of stuff. I don't actually know, I can't remember what it says now.
So was your marriage happy from the beginning?
Yes. Except when my mother-in-law died, that was a bit of a shock.
Two years after we were married. She had meningitis. This was at Pine Creek. And then she left two young girls, daughters. One was only a little over two years old and the other is five.
Young sisters. So I look after them and then there's two boys going to school in Darwin. Altogether there were five of them. But my father-in-law was very, very upset over that, so I had him to look after too until he died. And then [came] the war.
So you essentially raised extra children.
An extra five children. And they were with you through your whole married life until they grew up?
Until, yeah, until the youngest one was about fifteen.
So you went to live in Pine Creek straight after you were married.
Yes, that's right.
It was - the mine had only just closed down, the Enterprise Mine - in a sense it was a bit quiet but there are still a lot of other miners, prospectors, around.
What did they mine for at Pine Creek?
Gold. It's always been gold. And there's other people looking for tin, single people. They were mining tin. Getting an odd bag and bringing it into the shop. And some other people would go for copper, but copper is, the price was very low. And other people would go for silver ... And when the Korean War was on, because Korea used to provide wolfram to the world's market I think, they used wolfram for ...
Yeah, wolfram. It's a tungsten for hardening for steel to make guns. So when the Korean War was on wolfram was a very high price. And a wolfram mine opened out at Wolfram Hill. In fact, we used to scour, everybody go scouring the old mining dumps to pick up wolfram to sell it. It was worth a pound in money, that's two dollars, for a pound in weight.
So you came as a new bride to Pine Creek, what was your husband doing? He was still involved with hawking vegetables?
No. He was, he had the shop. His mother, his parents bought him the shop, Wing Chong, and he run the shop. At the same time helping his parents to run the - they had a little shop too, a baker shop, a bakery. So he was helping his parents with that. And then at the back they had a very big garden so they used to grow a lot of stuff to sell and send it to Darwin on the train for the older brother to sell.
So once he married you he gave up going in to hawk vegetables?
Oh, that was in Darwin, this is at Pine Creek.
So he moved to Pine Creek after he was married?
Before. Yes, before he was married he moved to Pine Creek. They bought this firm and asked him to go back and manage it.
When you married your husband was he still living in Darwin?
No, he was living in Pine Creek.
Pine Creek is 156 miles south on the railway line, or now it is 220 kilometres.
And why did he go and live in Pine Creek?
Because his parents were living there, and also they just bought this business and they want him to go down and run it. That was in 1935. We got married in 1936.
What kind of a business was it?
Oh, just a little country shop, you know, groceries and bits, odd bits and stuff.
And what were they doing there?
What the in-laws?
Well they had a baker shop and also a bit of grocery. They had the baker shop, oh, for years. And during the mining boom they used to sell bottled hop beer and other stuff like that. And to cool it they just put wet bags over them and put it in the breezeway. Because the thirsty miners loved their hop beer. It's a cheap sort of beer.
What jobs did you have as a new bride to help the family?
The usual household chore. Washing and the cooking and then they taught me how to make bread. I couldn't even knead a loaf of bread, but I learnt how to knead bread. They had very [much] patience, you know, teach me how to do it.
Yes. Well we have all our meals with the old people, with the in-laws. Jim and I only sleep down at the shop. So I spent most of the day up there and when I finished I would go back to the shop that afternoon, go back to the other place again to cook the evening meal. And, the water, of course I'm used to getting water from the well so it was no trouble for me to get water again from the well, to wind it up. And, pour it into a square thing and it runs into the garden for the, for the garden. And for the kitchen there's another well and we carry that, I carry that on my shoulder with two tins and a yoke for the house. For firewood, they have this great big stack of timber for the bakery, for the baker oven. And for the kitchen, I used to chop it for the kitchen too. So I'm used to chopping wood - axe.
What was the house like that you first went to live in?
In Pine Creek? Well it was a very old house but Jim had built a new room. So we had that, live in the new room. The house was too old and he put an extension at the back with cypress pine and iron and was quite strong. Actually, after, when the children came and we had the unusual wind storm, I take the five children and tuck them underneath the double bed. They sure, if the roof come down they won't be hurt. But it was all right, the roof stayed on and they were quite safe on the mattress under the bed.
The house? Cypress pine. See Pine Creek has a lot of cypress pine growing all over the place. And in those days you don't need to have a licence or whatever you call it to go and cut it. You just go and cut your own cypress pine. The chappie who built it is a Mr Williams. He was a professional carpenter, he built that. All sawn cypress pine. It was quite, you know, adequate in those time. One door, one door going out into the main building, one door going out to the yard, and the windows with bars, iron bars. That, all that building, all the windows have iron bars on them.
How soon after you were married did the children start to come?
Well Edward, eleven months after, the first year.
And so did you come home to your mother to have Edward?
No. No. I didn't. I stayed in Pine Creek and as it happened it was the Moon Festival. And I was helping my mother-in-law to bake a moon cake, you know, for the religious ceremony. We get on very well she and I. And of course the labour started and so I went over to the hospital and it happened to be a day the doctor, Clyde Fenton, comes.
The famous Doctor Clyde Fenton who was the Flying Doctor.
That's right. He came and he stayed to deliver Edward, Doctor Fenton. And to think that I had never been to see a doctor or a nurse or anything before. But I, like I said I was a strong healthy girl and I work hard all the time so it was quite alright.
It was a straightforward delivery?
Straightforward. No trouble. But poor old Doctor Fenton, the next day he flew back to Katherine and then he flew onto somewhere and he got lost. I can remember we were all so upset. And I said, 'The poor man. To think that he delivered my son and now we don't know where he's got to'. But he was all right. They found him. He was a really tough man and a very clever man with his plane. He was found and everybody heaved a sigh of relief. The sister there in charge of the hospital, she used to ring up Katherine to get, you know, more news.
How many children did you have by the time your mother-in-law died and you had to take care of hers?
So from having one child you went to having six.
Well the others were bigger, you see, 14 years. But the two little ones were the ones that I really looked after.
Two and five. The two year old was really, really sad because she wasn't weaned. She was looking up for the mummy. And of course I had Edward and I had plenty of milk and I felt sorry for her, so I fed her. Let her have my breast milk. And one day my father-in-law walked in and saw me with the, like one at each breast, and he hit the roof. He really hit the roof. He said, 'She is old enough to eat rice and broth and stuff, save the milk for my grandson'. But I said 'I have plenty to spare.' 'No.' And we gradually weaned her off, of course, we had to hide then, never let her see me feeding Frances. It was so, you know, to see this poor little girl wandering around looking for mummy and for a drink of milk.
So she really was your baby too?
Yes. Yes. During the evacuations, the evacuation to Adelaide, she stayed, we all stayed in the house and then, until we had to come back after the war.
We'll get to that. So you were very young to be given all this responsibility?
Did you miss your mother a lot?
Well naturally, we all, I always missed my mother. And, she came to Pine Creek to deliver Joyce. I had Edward, Lawrence in Darwin, when I was expecting Lawrence. But she did come to Pine Creek and stayed to deliver Joyce. And later on she came to Pine Creek again to deliver Grace.
How long did it take on the train?
All day. You leave Darwin in the morning, round about 8 o'clock I think, or half past seven. Because there are so many stops on the way, all the fettlers' camps and little towns. The train would stop and drop off the supplies. That is the only life-line for the food. So it takes all day from Darwin to Pine Creek. We arrive there at about half past four, round about if it was on time. Stay the night and the next morning, off the train and go to Katherine. On the way back from Katherine it's the same, stay the night and then go on to Darwin.
So how long did you stay, how ... sorry. How often did you go to Darwin to visit your parents?
All together only about three times.
From '36 until '42, the evacuation. Six years. I visit Mother when I was expecting Lawrence, and a couple of times after that.
How did your husband take the death of his mother?
Oh, very hard. They were very close. It was so sudden. She was perfectly well the night before. She was outside talking to friends. You see they sit outside in the cool, friends call in and they sit down and have a talk. And it was early in the morning when Bessie the daughter came rushing down and said, 'Quick, quick, Mum's sick'. So we rush up there and she was unconscious. She, we called the sister. The sister came around and took her to the hospital and then got onto the doctor but she died in the afternoon. She was unconscious all the time. But before she was taken to the hospital I was in the bedroom with her and trying to call her up, you know. And I call her and she opened her eyes and she said, 'What's the matter?' I said, 'You sick.' And then she just close her eyes. That's the last word she spoke, was to me. 'What's the matter?' So they took her to the hospital and my husband and his younger brother, they stayed with her until she died.
Now how many children did you have of your own? Altogether.
So you had a lot of children to look after. How did that fit in with running the store? Did you help much in the store?
Yes. Yes. I do as much as I can. But Pine Creek is still a very healthy town. I don't know whether because the town is so high above sea level and also because we grow so much fresh stuff and particularly watermelon, we have a lot of watermelon to eat. But the children were very healthy. We don't get much sickness at all. And therefore they are no, when they are not sick well there is no problem. It's just feed them three meals a day, or whatever. They used to play cricket out in the street.
Yes. With boxes you know. And their friends. Because there's no traffic then. And I call them and call them [to] come in and shower because we have tea later on. They ignored me and then I got mad. And I walked out through the front door and somebody said, 'Here she comes'. And they duck round through the side and into this narrow passageway, they squeezed through that and into the house and into the bathroom.
Well they knew I meant business because I did call them several times. Pine Creek was a happy place for children, even though after the war the town people used to come around and play with our children. And their, their parents used to say, 'You don't do this or don't behave or whatever - you not allowed to go to Ah Toy's on a Friday night.' And it works. That is why even now you ask some of the former residents, they say the happiest childhood times they had were at Pine Creek.
What happened on a Friday night?
They all come down and play games. I would be doing my bookwork, and they play outside, I put the light on, you see we have a 32-watt power plant, I put the light on in the front and they play outside until nine o'clock and then they all go home.
You really ran the store very much as a partner with your husband then. How did you divide up the work?
I just helped wherever I can. I just help to unpack and serve and to clean and all the rest of it. There's no, 'You do this, and I do that.' Of course he do all the ordering and the book work. But mind you, I had aboriginal women to help me do the washing and the house work.
And that was the whole time you were there, you had that help.
Yes, they were very good. We had very good girls who helped us work.
We had Kitty, now we call Judy. We have Mabel, she, Mabel was a treasure. She was only very - I think she was probably about four-foot tall. Speak perfect English. She's been taken to Sydney with John W. Lyons the solicitor and very clean. And her husband was a Deacon. He is also very well spoken in English and a very ... you don't have to tell them to do a thing, come and light the fire. And morning and afternoon tea, she would come and set the table and put the cloth down and the cups and saucers out and make a pot of tea. 'Come out to the shop, Missus, tea ready' , And anybody who visited Pine Creek at the time, we all sit down and have cups of tea. Because our house was always open house to anybody from the bush. They come there to eat and to feed the children and to even bath them. It's in the country, you've got to be friendly.
Could you describe the life in the store, day to day, what your work was, who came in, what sort of things they were doing? It sounds as if it was more like a community centre than a store.
It was. We had a form outside, and the oldies, the old men, they sit out there and they gossip or talk. And they come in and shop and we have buffalo shooters come in. Cattle station people come in. They don't, they only come in once perhaps, in two or three weeks, and they stock up. And they go again. And some of them come in and they stay the night. They would camp in our backyard or under the Mango tree or in the shed. And they have their meals with us. And they would bring in beef. They would make sure they always bring in fresh beef or corned beef. And one particular young chap, he was a dead shot with a gun and he used to bring me in pigeons, Torres Strait Island pigeons shot through the head. And another old chap would bring me in bananas, bunches of bananas and sweet potatoes, pumpkin, things like that. They all, they all very friendly and therefore I extend hospitality to them too. They have meals with us. Even some of the old ones, they camp in the house. One old chappie he was very old and we had a cyclone bed and make it up and he used to sleep in the lounge and he was there sometimes for a whole week.
The army style. They call it a cyclone bed. I suppose, I don't think you would have had them. The men might have seen what the army used to sleep in. Every time you move it creaks. What the soldier used to sleep on. Yes. You can, you can pick them up anywhere where the army's been. So it's quite handy. Also it's quite handy to store your stuff on if you're out in the bush, off the ground.
Did they ever turn to you in emergencies?
Oh, yes. If they sick they used to come in and ask for me to get in touch with the health people. And on one occasion a buffalo shooter send a note in and written on the back of a mirror, and to this day I'm very sorry I didn't keep that, they took the back of the mirror off, and you know that red colouring, and they used, or he used a 303 bullet to write a message, he's out of food waiting at the East Alligator River for the boat to call in to pick up the hides. Could I please ring so and so, a man called Fitzgerald in Darwin, and tell him to come urgently.'
Because the boat hadn't arrived?
No. Right behind schedule they were stranded down the bank of the river. So I did, I rang Darwin and got in touch with Ted Fitzgerald I think. He come through Pine Creek in his big ... truck full of stuff and went out and rescued them. But that message was brought in from the East Alligator to my shop by an Aboriginal man on foot. He walked in.
Oh, over a 160 miles I think.
With a message scratched on the back of a mirror with a bullet?
Yes. And, sickness, they used to get me to ring up the doctor to see what, you know, what to give and all that. The shop has always been the hub. For instance, an Aboriginal boy was sick, a child, and this Aboriginal medicine man, he works as a linesman for the PMG and he was carrying this child and he rushed up to the shop, 'Misses, Misses, quick, quick. Baby sick.' And the child was in a fit, convulsion fit. And in our shop there we had a nursing sister so both of us just rush inside the bathroom, filled the bath with warm water, we had the hot water system on, and dunked the child in and he came too. But it was funny, a witch doctor, medicine man, rushed to us for help.
He knew you'd know how to help?
No. The sister that was working for us. We had many, many calls. The sister work for us, but she do a lot of first aid for the outside people.
She was actually working with you as a shop assistant?
All groceries, drapery, we sell a lot of drapery: men's, children's wear, footwear. We sell hardware. We sell saddlery. We sell medicine. It's, it's a bush shop that you cater for everybody, the man on the land.
Did you sell any Chinese medicine?
No. Because with that you have to import it, you see. We didn't. It's only all English medicine. We sell chlordane, Epsom salts, and cough mixture. Terrible cod liver oil and all that. Clement's tonic.
Did you keep some Chinese medicine for yourself?
Yes. We never used them though, not much.
That we needed, no. Yes, we were very lucky that way.
Were you also a bit of a trading post?
Yes, in so much that we received buffalo hides. Well first of all, we stake the buffalo shooter with food and everything. They go out and they shoot the buffalo and obtain the hides, salt them, dry them and bring them in. And the hide must be dry. So I used to knock them with a stick and if there's a hollow sound the hide was dry. We had a big set of scales in the shed there, we weigh them. And our buyer in Sydney was Collier Watson, I don't know whether they still exist or not. But I would send them a telegram to say I have so many pounds of hide, at the rate, it used to be 2 and 6 pence a pound. And they would send the money to our bank. They'd tell me how much and I'd credit the buffalo shooter and any change left over they would take it. That's how we, we keep going. And another thing we do take in, dingo scalps. The doggers they go out and poison the dingo, and the government pay a bounty of 2 pound a hide, a skin. And when we have enough we tell the policeman and there's a magistrate or JP going through they come and witness we burnt them and we get a cheque from the government. But they cut all that out in the end.
You hadn't been long at Pine Creek before war broke out?
I first went there in 1936 and war broke out in 1939 but we didn't evacuate till 1942. So that's six years.
What lead to you being evacuated? What caused them to decided that was necessary?
After the bombing of Katherine, Pine Creek was absolutely crowded with evacuees from Darwin. I had all the people to put me down as next of kin. Aunts and relatives and that. And when they come they just live anywhere. When finally Darwin was bombed it was a great concern because the men folk were all up in Darwin.
Oh, very bad. They don't tell you much over the news because of the Japanese propaganda, but we knew the news by word of mouth with the evacuees' trains. How many people died, the damages, and the ships in the harbour and all that. We knew it was bad. But we couldn't do anything except to help the evacuees coming through on the train going south. It was funny, we had some army in Pine Creek, of course it didn't dawn on us that these people may get a bit wild because they suffered so much. The army put men with machine guns to guard our shops because they think if they swamp the shop for food and stuff the town people would starve. We were the only shop there at the time. But nothing happened like that.
So they were afraid the Australian army might raid the shop?
No, the evacuees or the refugees. No they were refugees then.
Oh, right. So they wanted to guard it from the refugees?
Do you think that was necessary?
Well, I don't know. But I don't think they would have done it because they were so upset they wouldn't deprive the little town with all the children and women and the rest of the population. But some of the men relatives, like older uncles and all that, they did come to our place and they have a bath and shower and we fed them. And the town people took tins of tea and stuff and sandwiches to the station to feed whoever wants it.
Did most of your own relatives come to stay with you?
Not actually with me, but in the building next door. Any empty buildings at all, they take. Even a shed which, oh, you think wouldn't be fit for occupation, but they managed to clean it out and sleep in one end and cook outside. It was really pathetic.
What was the population at Pine Creek at that time?
Oh, I couldn't tell you, hundreds. Every shelter of any kind there were people in it.
But how many people were actual Pine Creek residents when war broke out? Was it a little town?
Yes. Only a hundred-odd. And then this big influx. So it's rather, rather grim really.
Were you worried about your family back in Darwin?
Yes, my brothers.
No, my mother was in Pine Creek. Yes, she came with my sister; my other sister with her family; Aunt with her big family; and some friends with their very large families.
Well he died in 1926.
He died when you were a small child?
Yes. When I was nine.
He was working hard as a wood merchant, very hard, with a family of six, seven children at the time - oh, six because my younger sister wasn't born. But he took ill and nothing could be done and he died. He died at 62. He went to the doctor. I think his heart must have gave out.
Of course we all felt terrible. Father died, he died in the house. And the Chinese custom of having the body lie in state with feet facing the front door and all that sort of thing. And then we've got to go through all the religious ceremony and wearing mourning gowns. It was very, very difficult, very, very hard.
Do you think those rituals help grief though?
It's just a tradition and a custom, but I don't think children should be put through it. For adults all right, if it's a tradition and a custom, well they carry it out. When my daughter-in-law, her father died and my grandchildren, they were only babies, they were put through the ritual. And it was terrible, one of them just cried at night. They should never be put through the ritual of all that. It's too much to, to understand for them, the little ones.
What ritual did you have to go through as a child?
Well we have to view the body lying in state there. And we had to bow and [we] cried. All this, it's very very hard. And then we have to have, when you go into mourning you have to wear white and more crying and more kneeling. And burning incense. It's very very complicated too. Haka would have a different ritual to the ... people. You see it's hard to understand, you do it one way and somebody say, 'No, you should do it the other way'. When it all comes to this, it is still just mourning for the dead.
So how did your mother manage, after your father died, financially?
Well the two boys they go out and work and they earn one pound a week as waiters. And of course I do all the work at home, chopping wood, winding for water and go walking into town every day to do shopping. Carrying a flour bag with the groceries. I used to walk up the street, past the convent school and at the corner there they have a lot of Aboriginal men playing cards. And I was scared. Barefooted and I used to run from the time I hit the corner, and cut straight across, run as far as I can to the next street to go to the butcher shop. We go to the butcher every day. No refrigeration so we get fresh meat every day. And sometimes I go into Cavanagh Street to the grocers and get, buy groceries. And then get all, put all in the flour bag. The calico flour bag. And then sling it across my shoulder and walk on with it. It's a daily ritual going to the butcher shop. [INTERRUPTION]
Let's go back to wartime Pine Creek, now. Forward in time. How did you hear about the bombing in Darwin?
People rang the station master. That's the only - the police station and the station master have phones so everything's got to go through them. And that's how we knew that Darwin was bombed. Of course the radio, short-wave, we have a Crammon wireless set: 'king of the air', that's the name of the thing, the set. And it's a battery, we used, my husband used to charge the battery with the motorcar. You turn the motor on to charge the battery and that powers then the wireless.
Were you afraid that you'd be bombed?
No. Oh, Pine Creek is so far away, they wouldn't come down here, nobody. You know everybody was quite happy until they bombed Katherine in fact. We watched the planes fly over in formation of trees. And my brother-in-law who was in Darwin, he was only a schoolboy, he came down and he called me 'Soldie', which means sister-in-law in Chinese. 'Soldie they are Japanese planes, look, look.' I said, 'Don't be silly, how can they come in here. We're so far in.' He said, 'No. They Japanese planes. I saw them in Darwin.' Nobody would believe him. But the police rang and said, 'Look out, Katherine's been bombed and the planes are heading back towards Pine Creek.' Of course we scutter.
We all hop into whatever vehicles or trucks available and drove up the hill to the Enterprise Mine tunnel. We sat in this tunnel. Fortunately that tunnel had an added ... or shaft way back so that there's a circulation of air going through and it's quite cool. We sat there till somebody said, 'Oh well, that's all right now. They gone. They didn't come to Pine Creek.' And we came back again. It happened several times and we also dug air-raid shelter in the back yard. L-Shaped. And it's so hot in this. We go in there too. Until we dug the shelter, once we into China Town. We all go at night and sat at the temple, the Chinese temple. Waited there until they said, 'It was all right. All gone.'
Would the temple have offered you any protection?
Thinking it over now, I think we were, we were rather optimistic. But at the time, that poor little temple was packed with different ones. About four families with their children, all at the temple.
It wouldn't have given you any physical protection. You hoped it might have given you a little bit of a religious protection?
Yes, I think that's what it is. Oh, particularly the older ones. The older ones, my mother and all the other older ladies, they said, 'Let's go to the temple , we get protection there.' It's what they believe you see. Of course, I didn't doubt it, but Jim did, he stayed home and my young sister-in-law she stayed home. Thinking it over afterwards, we should have stayed with the children too. But it didn't happen. But the notice come to evacuate: 'All women and children must leave, 48 hours notice.' And you only allowed to take 38 pounds in weight.' You'd think we were going on a plane, but it wasn't, it was an old train. So when the time come, it was night time, I think because it was cooler to travel at night or maybe because the Japanese come again. So we all go down to the railway station, I pack what I can and all the children and the in-laws and my, all the, the whole town, all the women and children left on that train. We were in a goods carriage. No chair, no seat, no nothing. We just sat on the floor with our swag. We were told to take the swag, which was necessary, and the trip down, and we sneak in a bit of food for the children. So away we go. And I was absolutely broken-hearted because thinking back you know, the others had already left the home in Darwin. They settle in Pine Creek for a few weeks and now they off again. So, they all comforted me and try to tell to try and bear it because they already been through it once, now this was their second time.
So how many children actually travelled with you that you were responsible for at that stage?
Well there's five in-laws, and four of my own, that's nine. The five, the three of them are older so they are quite helpful, the three bigger ones - just the two younger ones - they were quite helpful, I didn't mind. It's better to have the help of the older ones to look after the younger ones because my four were really small.
Grace was still a baby.
And so, how old was the eldest?
Edward? '42, five-year old.
So you have four children under five of your own? And then these other children, your husband's sisters and brothers that you took with you?
And how long did that take on the train?
Well we travelled all night and arrived at Birdum, they might have stopped at Katherine, we don't remember. They arrived at Birdum daylight. And that's where we all told to get off. And I've got a photo there showing the railway line and the one old Chinese chap sitting alongside his worldly possessions. The army came to give us breakfast. The army trucks they brought oranges and stuff like that. A convoy. And then we were all allocated each truck. They said there's only ten persons allowed to one truck. And these are five-tonne trucks, well maybe 3-tonne, I don't know, but all I know is that it's terribly shaky and bumpy. Our family all stay in the one truck so it was good and we had our swags. We weren't separated, I was very thankful for that. We all stayed and away we go again. The next place was Elliot. Now that's a staging camp and we stopped there for lunch. They look after us very well at Elliot. And the next stop was at Barrow Creek where we stayed the night. Well we really welcomed the showers, they had all the showers and stuff rigged up. And tents for us to sleep in. That's where our swags come in handy. Well our swags come in handy too on the railway truck. Spread them out and children lie down and go to sleep while we sit. That's what we sat on. After Barrow Creek, oh, during the night at Barrow Creek there was some disruption. Because with a lot of women and children, you know, going into an army camp, there's bound to be disruption. I can remember that a lot of activities and finally it all quietened down.
People rushing around and talking and all that.
These were because there were women there and everybody got a bit excited because the men hadn't been used to having women around?
And some of the women sort of gone into the men's camp and they had to be hunted out and all the rest of it. Typical behaviour.
What did you think of it all at the time, Lily?
At the time we didn't take any notice. We were so tired with the children we said, 'Oh well.'
But some of the women weren't too tired?
Well apparently the single ones. [You] would have all sorts of people on the train, the evacuation train.
Not just coming from Pine Creek?
No, no. From all the way down Katherine, they pick up a lot of women and children. And Mr Tambling, E. A. Tambling, the teacher, he was in charge of our, of the train. He had a tough job.
So when did you arrive in Adelaide?
Long time yet because we - from Barrow Creek we travelled to Alice Springs. So that's a fair distance. We arrive in Alice Springs towards the evening one day, and we were off-loaded and they sorted out all the different ones, where they got to go, again the army convoy take us. And for the Chinese in Pine Creek, they tell us to go to the east, to the racecourse. So they took us to the racecourse and left us there and tell us to wait there. I look around, it was rather difficult with a lot of children and women and the lot at the racecourse. But luckily for us, a Chinese family in Alice Springs, the Sings, Mr and Mrs Fan Wong Sing, they Hakas, they come to hear about this group of Chinese being left at the racecourse, so they got their neighbour, a Mr Don Thomas - now Mr Thomas has a second-hand shop next door and he very kindly drove his ute out to the racecourse and told us that the Sings invited us to go and stay with them. So, off we go. He took us into Sings and unloaded everything. And we were really made welcome and we did a lot of washing. The air in Alice Springs was rather dry, dry air, so we wash all night. We didn't get to bed till one o'clock. I don't know why we were so fussy in washing all the time.
You had little children I suppose?
Yes. But they gave us a lovely meal. Chinese meal instead of army food. Mind you I'm not complaining about army food, it was a lovely change. And the next day, round about lunchtime, wait a minute, Mr Tambling I think or someone else said, 'Now you people have to come, you're not our responsibility to get you on the train.' And Don Thomas said, 'Don't worry, I'll look after them.' So, the next day when it's time to go to the train again, he took us all to the railway station. And we were all put into the train in different carriages but my family all stayed together in one carriage. And my sister and my mother did too, we shared the one carriage.
And that train took you to Adelaide?
To Alice, yeah, to Adelaide.
It was. It was long and we ate, again had army biscuits and bully beef. Again, we forever washing. At night-time I heard, see we stop in the place and I heard the men talking up on the roof, 'I don't know why this carriage use so much water'. We never think to conserve water. So we wash again and we wash. We got to Toraree I think, our first stop. The people were very kind there. It was night time. And they came and they took us, took the children. I didn't go because someone had to mind our belongings. I stayed behind but the, but the in-laws, the five of them, and two of my children, the two boys, they were taken to the Town Hall and they were feed, bathed and given warm clothing. We didn't have any warm clothing, only the tropical stuff.
March. For people from the Territory, it's still cold. It was very good, they came back all nice and clean, well fed and warm clothes on. And they also brought some food back for me.
So how long were you in Adelaide?
Three and a half years. We take, we were taken to the railway station and tell us to leave all our stuff there and go and have breakfast. So they march us, or walk us to this railway restaurant. All these lines of women and children walk into this restaurant. And the waitresses were all there waiting at different tables, tell us to sit down, but we couldn't eat. To look at this beautiful set table, with all the crockery and cutlery and all these girls, they were standing there so kind and offer food, but the children had a little bit but I just couldn't eat.
I don't know, I was too overcome. They said, You must eat because you going on another train. So, after breakfast they took us on another train and away we go to Eden Hills. You know Adelaide? Up to Eden Hills we stop at the railway station and then we walked, well it was really a hill. Well we troop up the hill to this old hospital. It's an empty hospital, I think it used to be the special hospital for the inebriate people. We were allocated, now there were so many of us so we have this big room and every different ones, you know, find their own room. And we load, unload our swag. Our belongings were brought up by a cart, one of those draught horses with this flat top thing with all our stuff stuck on it. Well from there we start, and then the Red Cross lady come. They were very good, they come every day. They were worried they were going to find us beds. And I said, 'It's no good giving us beds, how can we put enough beds into this one big room for so many of us.' And it was freezing cold, we'd rather sleep on the floor on our swag and cuddle up.
Did anybody try to separate you as a family?
They did. Well, so they allocated different ones to go to different places. There was Mrs Fong ... [INTERRUPTION]
Did anybody try to separate you as a family?
Yes, after they tried to place us. Because there's nine of us, and myself, so that's ten, and I said, 'No, no, we stay together even if we stay here because I will not let the older,' they wanted to put the older ones on some farm. They would have got jobs in farm or whatever. I said, 'No. We stayed together.' And we were practically the last one, up there, in that group. We were there for quite a while, until they said the people who look after the refugees, Mr Ashton, he was the Bureau, Tourist Bureau head. So he said, 'Well right. We better send for your husband. Let him come down and be responsible for you.' They did, you see, the men weren't allowed to leave. So the army release him, 'Go down and look after your family.' He came and he found a house, that Tempt Street house, the photos I got there. And we all move into it. And then he got a job at the munitions factory at Salisbury doing cordite. He was there for years. I often wonder whether, 'Was that the reason he got cancer later in life, working with cordite?' When the war, towards there when the war nearly finished, they closed the factory and he worked with the canvas making army stuff. Canvas with the Flavels in Adelaide. But we, he bought this big house, it was quite cheap then, big house on two block, and again we come on the train to Millswood. From Eden Hill to Millswood, we got off the train there and walked from Millswood Station to 18 Tempt Street, Clarence Park. Talk about a stream of women and children, trailing along, walking along. And our baggage and stuff, again, a car picked it up and took it to 18 Tempt Street. But the people along the street, I think we were a novelty to them. Particularly the children. They'd never seen so many Chinese before.
Quite friendly. Mind you they stare, but they never made any nasty remarks or anything like that. In fact, the grown ups, the adults they were very sympathetic. We receive all the help we can. Boxes of fruit, you see it's March and there's still a lot of fruit around. Adelaide's a good place for fruit, so we have fruit, vegetables given to us, and bags of warm clothing because we all dressed up in the little cotton, you know our cotton stuff with a little cardigan or something like that. It was a great, great help and I always remember the Adelaide people how kind they [are and] of course the Red Cross, the church; and the children go to the Westbourne Park Primary school. And they were very kind too, everybody was very kind to us.
Did you have your mother and close relatives with you?
Yes. My mother and my sister in one room. My other sister with her four children in another big room. Mrs Fong and her four, and later on five children, in another room. My in-laws, the three girls, they were in one room. And the two boys slept in the place which normally is a lounge. We had only one kitchen, one laundry and one toilet. But we managed. But with the children of course, the old potty comes in handy. And a wood, a wood-chip heater. Well we never have a wood-chip heater before, we didn't know how to use it even. So we were taught how to use a chip heater for hot water. The good thing about it, you can pick up twigs and leaves and stuff outside. We had to buy wood. And the stove was wood too. The wood, you wouldn't believe it, the roots, mallee roots. Can you imagine? Up here we have lovely stringy bark and wood with straight grain and then we get onto these lumps of wood. Course there's a special way to split it, but we didn't know how to until we were shown. Talk about axe handles being crushed. It was, it was funny now thinking about it but in those days it wasn't. Having to put up with the sort of wood.
Yes, they offer. And they also offer to help Jim to go and buy second-hand stuff to put up a chook house so again we have chooks. The yard is so big there are fruit trees there, almond trees. Out in the front fence there is a nectarine tree. And there's peach trees, fig trees. Oh, the almond tree, that's real fascination the almond trees. And when it was in blossom, absolutely beautiful, first time I ever seen almond blossoms, so beautiful and the peach trees and the nectarine trees. And along one front fence there's some crystal grapes, all along there. But apart from that the neighbours they, they, you know, passed stuff over the fence. We had a neighbour on the right-hand side and he works for the baker. They have one little girl and they are very good, they say, 'Do you mind if we give you some cake that was yesterday's cake. Or bread that is yesterday's?'. Of course we don't mind, coming from a place like Pine Creek we welcome it.
You were used to things a week old?
That's right. So they passed it over the back fence and we really welcome all the extra food. Fortunately meat was very cheap and the markets, we would go to the markets and you can get a half a side of lamb or mutton for 1 and 6 I think. It was really cheap. The brother-in-law used to go in and catch the tram and go in and wait until towards closing time when they want to get rid of it - everything goes cheap.
Oh, in a sense, yes. And rabbit was 1 and 6 pence each. The Greek man sells fish. He comes to the back gate. Of course the house is a sort of a street, at the back a street and the front. And he used to come in and sell fish, mullet, for 6 pence a pound.
How had you felt back then when you had to leave Pine Creek? When you had to leave Pine Creek, how did you feel about leaving your husband?
I was upset leaving him, but then the children come first because with all this flying up to the hill, or going up to the hill, or going to Chinatown, going into the air raid shelter, sweltering in there, towards the end there they were screaming with fright. They were frightened. 'Come on, we go.' And then they cry you see 'cause they don't know what's the matter. And when we got to Adelaide we dug an air raid shelter too. And [there was] practice, every Thursday morning. Well as soon as they heard that they just scream too. So I was pleased to leave all that behind until we explained to them that Adelaide was only practice, because the Japanese would never come to Adelaide because it was so far away.
What, why was it that Jimmy wasn't sent to fight?
Because he had the business and he was making, at the baker shop there, making bread for the army.
And then coming down to look after his family, that was seen as an essential service too?
Well, and then he work, he got a job in the munitions. That's war effort. When the munitions finished he work at the factory, Flavel factory, making army tents and all the bags, all canvas stuff. So that's essential service too.
Can you remember how you felt when you saw him arriving?
I had a sigh of relief. Somebody else to take all the responsibilities. The first year in Adelaide, we were all sick with measles. First time - it was really terrible.
No I had measles when I was a child, but all the children did.
Well that can be quite serious, can't it, measles, if it goes wrong? Were they all okay?
Yes. No trouble at all. The doctor came and no trouble. And my mother was there. They drank a lot of cooling stuff to counteract it and go on this diet. So there was no complication. None whatsoever.
Were there any other illnesses while you were in Adelaide?
One. My sister was expecting a baby so she had a child at the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital. She came back, and not long after that the child was unwell so they took her to the, oh, just check up at the hospital and they found that she had diphtheria. This new-born baby with diphtheria. So of course she was, she and the baby were sent to the Northfield Infectious Diseases Hospital. The Unley Council was notified and the doctors and that swooped down. Here in this household there were 26 people living in it and a case of diphtheria.
Had your children been immunised?
I don't remember. I think they must have. But that child, the baby picked the diphtheria germ up at the hospital. So the health authority came and of course because we so used to the tropics and we have, even though it was cold, we had all our windows wide open and plenty of fresh air and kids running around out in the yard, and Jim had all this garden full of lovely fresh vegetables and all the fruit. They come and examine every one of us, quarantine the whole house full. Nobody allowed to go to college or school or anything. Or to work. After so long, no more new cases. So everything declared clean.
So nobody caught it, you're all too healthy?
Nobody caught it, but I can remember Lawrence, green almonds. Any children who go and eat the almonds, it was still jelly state. That was really poison and he was sick with that. And when the doctor looked, and of course I was worried, and when the doctor looked at him, 'What has he been eating?' 'Green almonds.' No trouble at all.
So, what had you done with all your things in Pine Creek if you were only allowed to take so little with you?
Left it behind and it's all disappeared.
Just people. We, we left everything there, actually I had some very nice artefacts. See I'd been collecting them for a long time.
Chinese stuff, and the lanterns and all sorts of things like that. Wooden stuff. And this old man was supposed to look after it. But he couldn't though, he couldn't. Well this big man come along and he just took, even the sewing machine, he just took everything.
Yes. Looted by a bushman.
Yes we did, but there was no, no proof, and then Jim said, 'Oh, never mind let it go.' Didn't do anything about it, what is gone is gone. You see, we were so pleased to get away with our lives, and our children, everybody's well, it doesn't matter.
Do you remember what it was like to come back to the store after all those years away?
Well again we caught the train. This time we left the five orphans behind because they were going to school and going to colleges and the girls are working. So we left them behind. And the youngest one, I would have brought her but she, taking up, she was under a dentist. She had very bad teeth. They sort of grow inward, and she was, what do you call those metal things around?
Yes, that's right. She had to stay behind for that and there was no doctor in Pine Creek. So she stayed behind and her older brothers insisted. No, we'll. . . Because the older one was 17 then. He said, 'Oh we'll look after her.'
They did, yes. So we came back to Alice Springs and, again, you see, so many kind people. Kurt Johannsen, he's a German, a very big tall local Alice Springs man, a German, owns a garage. And Jim was looking for a vehicle to come. So he went to Kurt, and Kurt said, 'Look Jimmy, the army disposal truck, I'll help you.' So he went along and found, you know, go through all this and found this great big maple leaf. You need a big truck. And he took it back to his garage or workshop and go through the whole thing. 'Now you can drive safely back to Pine Creek with this vehicle.' Which we did.
And he did that for you without charge?
Yes. Very kind.
What was it like to come back to Pine Creek after all those years away?
We had a rather rough trip back so when we arrived in Pine Creek I was really pleased and happy, at last we come home. But when we look around the yard, it was, you know, rubbish everywhere, grass right up to the window. So we unloaded everything into the middle of the empty shop building and Mrs Robinson across the road invited us out, over there, to have the evening meal. And that night when I set up the beds for the children, and there was this big snake crawling along the window, and I don't like snakes, so I was upset. I wish I could pack up and go back to Adelaide where there's no snakes. Which was rather silly. It took us some time to settle back and reopen the shop. Because we brought back some clothing and stuff. We had lots of coupons and then we went to this firm and they gave us a whole lot of stuff to resell, to open the shop in Pine Creek.
The coupons ... [INTERRUPTION]]
The coupons were to do with wartime rationing were they?
That's right. And it was still rationed and the European war finished but the Japanese war was still on. And they gave us, the coupon people who are in charge of all that, they gave us lots of coupons to start the shop. And we had a lot ourselves too, because with so many children we don't use it all. It was very handy and we just bought what we can on credit, brought it back and set up shop with what we found, found left, and away we go.
Had you left all the stores in the shop when you left?
I don't know what happened to them because we left first and then Jim was behind. I think it was all taken over. Normally the army do, they take over everything.
And the man who'd looted the house, had he taken all your furniture and all your possessions as well?
For what we had, yes. Even my sewing machine.
So you were starting from scratch?
Yes. Starting from scratch.
Did you get any insurance for that?
Ah, the war damage commission. Course you never recover the full amount but we did get paid something.
So life had to start all over again in Pine Creek?
That's right. And the building, because it was neglected, the white ants got in. You see the timber was sapling, cypress pine sapling, and the white ants loved to eat the outside and therefore it wasn't safe.
So what did you do about that?
Well we just put up with it until the first stormy windy wet season. Up goes the roof. And the people at the post office saw it. They were watching and they came down to help Jim to put a tarp over it. That's when I put the children under the bed.
Because the roof had blown off?
Yes, and I thought, you see, the whole lot would blow off. You know how it is, if there's a break and the wind just go under and lift, just like this house here during the Cyclone Tracy. A roof break and the wind goes under and the whole lot goes.
So you put the children under the bed ...
For safety, yes.
And was this during the daytime or at night?
Daytime because it was in the afternoon.
So a tarp went over temporarily, but what was the solution to the problem in the end?
Well they repaired it, and then later on when the disposal come up we bought the Sydney William building and I was really glad, at last we have something that is strong.
It was angle-ironed, steel frame, and the sheets of iron are all screwed down. Well not actually screwed down, they have four inch roofing nail and they bent over like a hook.
So you essentially rebuilt the house?
Rebuilt the whole thing. That and the store room.
In a much stronger form that would withstand the weather?
Absolutely yes. Absolutely yes. It was good. Somebody said, 'It's only still an iron, galvanised iron building'. But I said, 'Yes, but it is strong. It doesn't matter'. Later on we had a ... we seal it, make it look better. But it was very hot before that.
And what was the community like now after the war?
After the war the community was still very friendly because we knew everybody. The school started and we support the teacher. It was very good. We had all sorts of things, games and all that.
All the same people came back?
Yes, and some other.
Well the, for instance, now they can't go back to Darwin and Pine Creek was the only civilian town at the time so they all come to Pine Creek, again. And we had the army store there, they still around, the army, so we buy our stuff from the army to resell, like groceries.
Could you describe to me the community at Pine Creek, what kind of a town it was, what sort of climate you had and how the people related to each other, and the different groups of people in the town? I'll ask you a question about that. What was Pine Creek like as a place to live?
Really good place. The climate is healthy because I think it is so, 700-odd feet above sea level. And in the hot weather it gets very hot, a dry heat, and as soon as the sun goes down it cools off. And it's - in the dry season the cool weather - absolutely suitable for growing all kind of vegetable, which my husband grow a lot of.
What kind of vegetables did he dry, buy, sorry. What kind of vegetables did he grow in the dry?
In the dry he can grow cabbages, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, oh, lots of tomatoes, no celery, shallot, Chinese vegetables, the Chinese snow peas, they do well the snow peas in Pine Creek, up on the trellis. And in the wet season, long beans, cucumbers, spinach, pumpkin, watermelon. We never tried rockmelon, but, sufficient for everybody.
And the community, the people around you, what were they like?
They friendly and they all strive to do their best too with their children. Some of them have several children, five or six of them, they all go to school. And community spirit, they help wherever they can, whenever there's any charitable organisation want to raise funds. And for entertainment we have this old hall and they go and have card evening, maybe a dance every fortnight. Even though we didn't have any power, or electricity laid on, we haven't got water laid on, they made the best of it.
Were there many other Chinese people there?
No. We the only one. Oh, the Fongs of course, out in the garden, this is only a few miles out.
There were some market gardeners?
The Fongs, yes.
The temple was built when the town was booming in the mining days. Now that was completely demolished during the war years. When we come back to Pine Creek there was no temple there. The army removed the temple, or flattened it, and took the sheets of iron to build elsewhere. I don't know what happened to all the figures and stuff inside, the furnishings.
I think it's terrible. It's a sacrilege. After all the temple is a church. Why didn't they leave it alone? Why that few sheets of iron?
Yes, there was a Church of England.
No, later on they did move it away to somewhere else.
But why do you think the army felt the Chinese temple could be demolished?
I don't know. That's something we never understand. Why did they pick on that temple? In fact the temple at Box Creek was treated the same way. All the thing souvenired and the iron used for rebuilding army camps. Maybe they think it's a wartime first class priority any sheets of iron come in handy.
What had brought the people of Pine Creek to the town? Who, how did they work while they were there, the families with children and so on? What sort of work did they do?
On the railways. Mines, work in any mines, or some of them go out and do some work out stations. Anything they can get.
Were you and your husband involved publicly in community affairs?
Yes. Yes. Jim does a lot of public work. Always in the school committee, progress association, and whatever going, he's in it.
Did he belong to any other community groups?
What in Pine Creek?
In Pine Creek there's only the progress association and the school. No those the two main, most important ones.
So he became a mason later in his life?
That was when we moved to Darwin, or when I moved to Darwin to educate the children. And we had this big house in Circe Street where ...
We'll come to that later then.
So he was very important in the town of Pine Creek?
Yes, he was the one who come to Darwin to see the different officials, demanding this, that and that Be done, like better conveniences, and medical, health-wise, water, electricity. school. But one of the men of the saying, 'Jimmy, if you don't come and annoy us and tell us what you want in Pine Creek, how do we know in Darwin'. Which is quite true, you've got to tell them.
You mentioned that when you came back that there was a snake in the house, were you bothered much by snakes and what did you do about it?
Every snake season, this is round about March or thereabout, I think it's because we've got chooks, I don't know. We always have snakes come into the store and there's a special corner there I call the snake corner. And then in the backyard of course, they eat the chooks, or the pigeons that we have. And at the time we have a, we had a, you know the outbuilding, the loo, right at the back, we had right at the back. The children used to go out there at night time, the whole five of them, with a hurricane lamp and they sit there, and of course I didn't know they were smoking the spear grass, you see that's got a hollow. It's harmless. They used to think it was fun to smoke the spear grass. And they take turns to use the toilet. The loo. And they used to come in and say, 'Oh Mum, there's a goanna up there'. And I'd say, 'Oh, a goanna won't hurt you'. This went on for some time and then suddenly it dawned on me, Lawrence said, 'Mum, it's a big goanna there'. I said, 'Has it got legs?' and he said, 'no, mum'. And well, I rush up the back and nowhere to be seen. And they say, 'Oh, it's up on the roof'. I got a stick and I hit the iron and you can hear this rustling. I tell them to all get back to the shop and I rang Kevin Wilson the technician. He came down with a rifle and we rattle and hit the iron and a great big six-foot brown snake come down and he shot it.
Were all these snakes venomous? Would they have killed the children if they'd bitten them?
If the children were to take a stick and poke the snake, I think he would have attacked them. but the ones in the store room I didn't stop to ask, some of them are, some of them are not. But mostly they are. But we also have the quiet one too, the blue tongue lizard. They come into the store, so that's all right.
Were you a very strict mother?
Well I try to be, not over-strict, so, but bring them up properly. They obey and they do their chores which they all do. And they work at school. They did very well at school. And they help wherever I wanted them to help in the shop. Well you take Joyce now, she was only young, and in the afternoon she goes and lights the kitchen fire, the wood stove, and we have kerosene tin there for hot water and she fills it up dipper by dipper from the tap. Filled this tin up so that later on they all have warm water for baths. It's all help.
Did you put a lot of emphasis on education?
Yes. Absolutely yes.
Yes. Yes. We both do. That is why when they go to high school, of course, the first son and the second son came up to stay with my mother. You see my brother was in partnership with my husband in a Darwin shop. And later on he said, 'Well we cannot keep on sending them up to your mother', so he bought a block of land and built this house.
And that was for their high school education?
Yes. And I came up.
They couldn't go to high school in Pine Creek?
No. No high school in Pine Creek. No high school anywhere, only in Darwin. So I came up then to look after them while they go to high school.
And Jimmy stayed in the store?
Yes. And he travelled up and down. We had people working for us so that was all right.
So, but you didn't see very much of him then?
Only every fortnight. He'd come up for a few days and go home again.
Well what could I do? We had to educate the kids, educate the children. There was nowhere to send them. Finally when they finished high school, Edward said he didn't want to go south, so he go back and help his father and then when Lawrence said, 'Look I can go down and learn to be an accountant so I can help Dad too'. So he comes to Adelaide.
Had the store flourished and got bigger?
Ah, yes, through the mining boom, yes. So we renovated it several times and it got bigger. It's a funny place Pine Creek, we have one mine works for so long and then it closes down. And somewhere else another one pop up. It's up and down.
And the store's fortunes depend on the mines really.
That's right. When we had the buffalo shooting that was good and the price of cattle, when it was high, that was good too. It all helps. But now of course they have big, big wholesalers. So we lost a bit of trade, we lost a lot of trade through that.
The wholesalers supplying the cattle stations?
How important were the cattle stations to you as a store in its heyday?301"
Very, because our main, our big customers were the cattle station owners. They'd come in and get hundreds of dollars worth of stuff.
And you knew them all personally?
Oh, yes. Sometimes they camp on our back yard, or they have meals, they always have meals with us, or teas, you know, morning or afternoon teas. And it's a break for them to stay for two or three days.
Jimmy, your husband, was greatly respected in the district?
Well because they trust him and he trusted them. We trusted people, or men, to go out and look for minerals, stake them for buffalo shooting, and cattle stations, everyone. And, some of them for the tourists.
Do you mean you'd supply them on credit?
On credit yes.
Wasn't that dangerous? Wasn't there a chance you'd lose out?
Well in those days you trust people, and they, whenever they can they always come and pay. Even though maybe six weeks after, or sometimes even two months or longer. But they always come and pay up.
So you never regretted giving credit?
No, we helping them, and they appreciate it. And of course if there's any letter writing, or authorities to see, they ask him for help too.
So people very much depended on you in that area?
On us, yes, our shop. It was actually the centre where they all come and met and talk and do business.
When you came to Darwin to make sure that the children were educated, did you miss the life of the store?
Yes, I did. Because I like the country and we used to go out, go bush, you know. It was good fun to go bush hopping in the ute and away we go picnicking. You could leave the place. Nobody would do anything. We sleep at night with the window open, you can just step over it. It's quite safe. Not like now where you've got to bar everything, security screens.
You didn't feel safe in Darwin in those days?
Yes we do too, in the early days. Darwin was safe. You leave things overnight or under the house and it never get pinched. Clothing and anything.
In putting so much emphasis on educating your children, what were you hoping for them? What did you want for them?
So that they can have a better life.
And what did you think would be a better life?
Well they wouldn't have to work as hard as we did, my husband and I did. Working 16 hours a day for years and years and years.
You didn't want that for them?
No. Like all mother, you want your children to have a better life than you. Which they did have. You know they were all educated.
And what sort of work did they do?
So your mother had stuck up for you as a girl when you were born, did you stick up for your girls as well? Did you treat them any differently from the boys?
No, they were all the same. Grace, Grace was keen on a nursing career. But finally she, her feet, she didn't pass her medical. And Elaine wanted to become a primary school teacher, to go to Brisbane and train. But she changed her mind. There you are. They all got their Leaving Certificates and their quite happy with what they're doing. In fact, both Grace and Elaine spent some years in Adelaide working down there. Grace become the secretary to [an] engineer.
Did you want them to marry people of Chinese background?
Well not, well I would [have] preferred it but it didn't matter you see. As time goes on if they liked the chap, they loved him, well that's all right.
Grace married Bill Fintella. He is now the manager of the Gas Fire Power Station in Darwin. And Elaine married Neil Prosser, he is with the Northern Territory Administration, or he was with the lands - I don't know what he is.
So neither of them are of Chinese background?
No, no. And even my son Lawrence, he married an Australian girl and they have three beautiful children. We accepted it, so that was all right.
What kind of ceremony did they have when they got married?
Christian. Church. Western. Joyce when she got married, she married a Chinese and because she's old, she's married first before Eddie and Lawrence, so, there the tradition again. We had to get Kevin, her husband-to-be, to buy two pairs of pants to stretch over the front door of our place so that when Grace, Joyce walked out as a bride she walked under these two pairs of trousers.
What is the significance of that?
Well, because she married before her two brothers married. See, it's ..
So the two trousers represented her brothers?
Well, yes. I don't know exactly the true meaning, but at the time I thought gee, this is strange. But the people insisted upon it, you must get them to buy two pairs. Well actually they were pyjama pants. Put them through a stick and hang them up the front door, you know, on top of the door. And Joyce got to walk out under those two pairs of trousers.
No. No. We conform. Because her people know, her future in-law, they all know.
So it's slightly easier with these traditions and so on if you do marry people who come from a similar background because they then understand it?
Yes. It's drilled into them by the parents.
But, the girls who married Australians wanted to be married Western style?
Yes, in churches.
Why do you think that was? They didn't feel very close to the Chinese traditions?
No. No. It's just because they fall in love with the guy. Well Neil, for instance, he was working in Adelaide and he came all the way up to Pine Creek to ask Jim's permission. And the poor bloke, thinking about it now, he was really shaking in his shoes. Would Jim permit him to, you know, to marry his daughter, and that sort of thing. I thought that was really lovely. Rather old fashioned isn't it to ask a father for permission to marry the daughter.
No, not actually.
They don't ask for permission to marry, they do it through a matchmaker?
No, they didn't. They didn't have a matchmaker because Kevin and Joyce, they were friends for years. And they were of age and that's it.
But in the Chinese tradition would the boy ask ...
Yes the boy would told his, would tell his parents and his parents would get someone to go and tell the girl's parents, and, you know, there's a sort of a negotiation.
It would be done through the parents?
Yes. And then they've got to choose a good day and etc. etc.
Going back now to the house at Pine Creek, after you built it of steel, did that last then without any problems?
It's still there. Absolutely last, well will last longer than me.
And there wasn't ever any difficulty? I'm thinking about the well. Yes.
Oh, that's ...
Ok, so let me ask a question. After you reconstructed the house at Pine Creek, did that last well? Was there any problems with it?
Yes. You see Jim knew this building was so much bigger so that the old well at the side of the house, he knew that this building would go over it. So he, luckily, he reinforced that with arch-mesh, sheets of arch-mesh before they pour the concrete. And during one wet season, it was a very heavy wet season and the water was flowing into this well. And Jim thought - oh, well we better fill it up. So he cleared some of it and there was this well and he got loads of stuff and he put it in and lever it and he ram it. That was a big mistake by ramming it. He loosened everything underneath. Of course when he finished it the thing was nice and level, you know, right up to the top. But at night, one, the same night, we often have late night shoppers that come through the back, and this chappie ... hop off his bicycle and put his foot through the ground. He said, 'Missus, you come and look. There's a big hole in your front door'. Go out there with a torch and I nearly died. Here was this, where he broke through there was this putrid black water underneath. And when I shine down to look, the site around it, I could see all this great big hole. And of course I rang the work's foreman and he came down. Of course we all laughed because it's so funny to have a big hole right in your front door. We pushed the rest of the thing in and we could see more. So this man backed his truck, must be a five-tonne truck, tip-truck load of gravel and stuff that he used from road building, poured it all in.
Well, it fixed it, it filled it right up nice and level, but it was wobbly. And he said, Be careful now." So in the middle of the night, somewhere round about 2 o'clock, whoosh, bang, the whole lot went.
Yes, the whole lot just went down. We had, I had to shift all the furniture there, in that part, thought maybe the concrete would go too, but luckily it didn't. But one of the support of the building was hanging up in mid-air. You see, we barricaded it all and the next morning this old chap next door, old Kev Davis, he came and said, What is all the excitement?" We told him. 'Oh, missus quick'. He took charge and he got a big four-inch pipe to lay it straight, right across the opening on solid ground and got a chain to support that pole that's hanging mid-air. Otherwise your house would collapse. So we sent our truck out to the, to the ... up in mines and brought out great big boulders and filled it up. But old Ted had some bags of bismuth which a poor man mined way out bush, long way, his grandson took him out and brought him back, but there was no price. The thing was dirt cheap, not worth it. He said, 'Missus', threw all this down. I said, 'No. No. The price might rise'. He said, 'No, it's no good.' So he himself lifted every bag and threw it down too.
So it took a lot of filling, that well?
Yes it caused a lot, the whole town was astir. Old Ted said, 'I heard this fall'. You see he's been a miner too and if you lie down on a bed you can feel this falling and he didn't know what it was.
And that was right under your house?
Yes, right under the front door. Right at the front door. Even to this day now we watch it so sometime we have a look to see if there's, it's still going down so we still fill it up.
So you've lived through a few disasters, were you here in Darwin for Cyclone Tracy?
No. Luckily it was Christmas, otherwise I would have been. We go home to Pine Creek for Christmas because the family down there they can't leave the place. And, that's when it happened. My son said, Lawrence said, 'Mum I'm not coming down'. Normally we all come down for Christmas eve. He said, 'I'm not coming down because Darwin's expecting a cyclone. There might be a few sheets of iron blow off so I'll stay'. And he stayed. Of course he lost his shop and this whole house collapse on him. He and his friend were in the kitchen.
No. We were very fortunate. My bother and his daughter were there and all the other relatives, not one of them w[as] hurt.
And what happened to your house?
The one in Darwin?
The one in Darwin that you'd left? That you'd been living in with the children?
Some of the roof went off.
That was all. See it was built with cypress pine. They said cypress pine is a very brittle timber. So because of that they built the timber stronger by putting it closer and we only just lost a few sheets of iron in one corner. But it cause a lot, you know, water damage. That's when I lost my painting by Namatjira. It's, it's a watercolour. Of course all that water on it and it gone all mouldy, [I] threw it out.
So what faced you when you came back after Christmas from Pine Creek? What was Darwin like?
Well it's just so, a mess that's all. Just a mess.
And how did you feel about that?
We accepted it. Our Darwin shop is gone and, in fact, Jim and I helped to clear some of the rubbish.
Yes. Yes. In ... Street where Murray Oakley is now.
Had you opened that up when you came up to Darwin with the children?
No, my brother and my husband did. My husband came up to open the Pine Creek shop, oh, they bought it in 1947. And he said to me, 'You look after this'.
The Darwin shop. He bought it from another Chinese family. He said, 'Will you look after the Pine Creek shop'. I said, 'Yes alright, for a few months'. He end up five years. So I was down there five years with the children and he travelled up and down. This time it would be worse, before he was travelling from Pine Creek, this time he travelling from Darwin.
So when you came up with the children for them to go to high school, did you look after the Darwin shop?
No. My brother did. Occasionally I go and help them, if anyone go on holiday then I just go and give them a hand.
Was the Darwin shop as big as the Pine Creek shop.
Oh, as a grocery store it's bigger, they have a bigger clientele. They very busy.
When the shop was doing so well in Pine Creek, did you ever think of expanding and perhaps starting a chain of stores?
Well not a chain, but my husband said, 'We got to educate the children in Darwin therefore we have to have something in Darwin'. And fortunately for him, this man, Albert Fong, they had this shop which was opened after the war and he offered to sell it to Jim ... So we bought it.
Oh, yes, yes. Because - when our children are going to high school. And, of course, he got into trouble with his own relatives. 'Why did you sell it to him and not to us?' But we work with my brother. My husband offered it to my brother to become a shareholder so he could help him. And at the time Bill was in Alice Springs but he came and they run it. And another brother helped to run it.
Was it very similar to the store in Pine Creek.
Well no, because Pine Creek sells everything. Hardware, saddlery and all that. But Darwin shop only mainly all groceries, groceries, medicine. They did sell a bit of footwear.
And was that a successful shop?
Well, no. Because the cyclone destroyed it. So we had to rebuild and lease the building out.
The building? Yes. It's run by Murray Oakley now. It's under Murray Oakley but a man from Mount Isa bought, lease it. They sell electrical stuff like fridges and all that sort of thing, stoves.
So your shop was destroyed in Cyclone Tracy?
Well only the roof. It's a Sydney William building. The roof was timber. That went and we just recover it again and away she goes.
So what made you decide to sell it? The shop, why did you sell the shop?
The Darwin shop?
No, we haven't sold it, we lease the building, even to this day it is being leased out.
And, today, what's happened to the store in Pine Creek?
Well my son runs it, elder son Edward. He runs a small supermarket. We had to change, don't have so many staff and people go around and help themselves. It's all changed over.
How do you feel when you go and see it now, looking so different from the days when you ran it?
Oh, no different. I go in there to, I don't do any work or help at all because I don't know the prices, but I go there to see the people coming in, people that I know and have a good talk. You know the men and people I know.
Are they all thrilled to see you when you visit your son?
Yes. Yes. we have a good talk and, 'How are you? How long you staying?' and all the rest of it. Very very happy. Even the Aborigines. They would say, 'Hullo missus, when you be come back'. Old friends we keep, that are always friends.
Once your children were educated, why didn't you go back to Pine Creek?
Why didn't I go back to Pine Creek? I did.
Yes I was living in Pine Creek for a long time, until this house was built and we move into here. This is a sort of a transit house, you know husband come up and down. Any family come up and down. And I was living in Pine Creek at the time.
So your children completed their education in Darwin, and you just went back to the store and resumed your life there.
Years. Years, until the Cyclone Tracy, when Jim sent me back to Darwin. He said, 'You go back and do some salvaging'. And I've been here ever since.
And why was that? Why didn't you go back to Pine Creek then?
I still go back, not all together, but he said, 'I better stay here'. At the time buildings are scarce and there are squatters. Somebody got to be here.
So you ended up in a way not choosing to live in Darwin, but feeling that you should?
I had to. And of course being so active in Pine Creek, I was bored stiff. So, my daughter Joyce said, 'Mum, go to the Adult Education and learn something' - you know, hobby thing. I said, "All right. I've collected a lot of agate and stuff in all the years going round the bush. I'll go and learn lapidary'." Polish stones and all that. But they didn't have a day class, only night class which is no good for me. And she said, 'Well what's wrong with pottery?' I said, 'Alright we take on pottery'. That's how I started doing ceramics. As a hobby class, one day a week on a Wednesday for three hours. And then the lecturer said, 'Seeing you're so keen why don't you join the fine arts group?' So I joined that and do the associate diploma course. That's how it all started, from being bored and living in Darwin. But mind you, I go to all the - when the children were going to High School - school committee and church and work hard in them and Red Cross.
Because I suppose I'm so used to moving around. Keep myself active.
Before we go on with any of that, I'd like to go back right to the beginning, to ask you about your family and your origins, like we did on the first day but I'd like to go over that.
My father was Wong Yu. He comes from China in a village called Limchun, and the nearest town was Tai Po Market.
What region was that in China?
Southern China. It's actually in the New Territory governed by the British.
And what kind of Chinese background was he? What was he called? What kind of Chinese?
Haka. All that area in Southern China are all Hakas. They are guest people.
Why were they called guest people?
Because originally they all come from the north. And the north was so dry and arid and living was hard so they walk from the north down to the south to the lovely green area of southern China and they settled there. The local people called them the guest people, the Haka.
So the journey to Australia wasn't the first time that your husband's family migrated?
No, no. All the Haka people come from the north, even my maternal grandfather's people, they all come from the north.
So both your mother and father spoke Haka?
And, were they different from the other Chinese people of southern China?
Well, you mean in the language or the looks, language?
No, the customs are all the same and the language is Haka.
Were any of their customs different from the local people?
Yes. Because they walk all the way from the north, they don't have bound feet like the northern people. Well they so poor they have to work. And they farm and work hard to rear the family, even to this day. They, they have big feet, we all got big feet.
No. It's only the women who have bound feet of the other ... the other people. Even to this day you still see some in China, they have bound feet, but not the Haka people. They all have big good solid feet to walk on and work on.
And your mother, what was her background?
Well she was born in Darwin, the third child, that's right, the third child of Moo Yet Fah and Wong See. She, being the eldest girl had to help her parents, or her mother, in the household duties and she wasn't allowed to go to school. So she can't read or write English. But she persevered and she trained herself to read Chinese, which was very clever I think because I tried to learn Chinese once and I couldn't.
Her English, she understands but she doesn't speak it which is a pity.
So you grew up in a household where your parents spoke Haka to each other?
Yes. We, yes, with the grandparents too, we all speak Haka. At home we all speak Haka, even the children. And we only learn English when we got to school which was rather hard at times. When we first - of course, like all children, as soon as they start learning they pick it up fairly quickly.
What was your father's English like?
A bit rough you know, not clear.
Yes, very simple. He understand, he understood what you say to him and all that, but he can't write it.
Was that a big handicap to the Chinese people living here then?
Oh, yes, because they have to beg people to do all the letter writing and attend to matters, any certificates or papers. They even have to beg people to go and register their children's birth.
Did that ever lead to any problems?
Yes. Because the surname of the father is different to the surname of the child. The people who go to register leave out the surname of the father.
So your surname, Lily Ah Toy, is that a ...
That's my married name you see. My surname was all right because I was in the younger generation. I was registered, well I actually wasn't registered, but Lily Wong. But my husband was registered as Jimmy Ah Toy and miss out the Chong.
So your surname, your married surname, really should be Chong?
Yeah. Lily Chong Ah Toy.
That's my husband's Chinese Christian name.
Or first name, I mean his given name?
In a sense it's not his Chinese Christian name, it's Yuen Toy. They say Ah Toy.
Yes. Fortunately. My husband and I always wanted to go back to China. I do too because after listening to the grandparents talk and my brother's been back. So we went in 1967, that was the first trip.
Well it was an experience. No wait a minute, we didn't actually go into China in 1967, it was 1977 after two years of trying to get a visa we got into China.
The usual city, Canton, Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou.
Did you go back to the village your ancestors had come from?
No. No, we couldn't find it in that first trip. We didn't find it until 1984.
And when you went there in 1984, were you able to speak to them in Haka?
Yes. We spoke to them in Haka, and they were really amazed. They said, 'You Australian and you can speak Haka'. We had to tell them, you know, our parents are speaking Haka at home.
What struck you most about the way they lived?
Because we heard of the terrible times that they have, and when we walk in on them, we literally - well not walk, [we] had a car - we stopped and here were these people were washing vegetables in the creek. And they were all well dressed, they looked well fed, all had shoes on. We were told they were in such terrible state. But I was amazed, or so was my husband. And we were taken to meet a lot of other relatives.
Well there are so many generations gone. But I can't tell the difference.
How did you feel inside yourself being back there? Did you feel a sense of belonging or did you feel different?
Yes. No, I feel a sense of belonging because your roots. See that's important isn't it, to come to your roots, find them that way. They ... [INTERRUPTION]
How did you feel going back, did you feel a sense of belonging?
Yes, after listening to so much talk about China and about our roots and finally we got there to meet them, it makes me feel at last, I come home. And yet my home is in Australia. But they were very good. The first time we went they called the other villagers around to introduce us and they cook a meal and we had a meal with them.
Did it set you thinking about what would have happened if your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents hadn't come here?
Yes, I, I thought now if they didn't come, well I don't know whether we'd still be stuck here in the village, working in the rice paddies perhaps. That's what they do. Just working in the farming, in the rice paddies.
So did you feel pleased on the whole that you were an Australian after all?
Of course, everywhere we go, so please to say that we come from Autolia, which is Mandarin [for] Australia - Autolia. We caused a lot of interest because they look at us and I pointed to my hair and I pointed to my skin. Chinese, come from Autolia. We can't speak Mandarin you see. But the relatives were good, in Haka. Even my husband's people we found them in 1984, just through friends in Hong Kong. We go to the Chinese, overseas Chinese place to get the permit. And they said, 'Who are you looking for?' Of course I have these letters from my husband's people. One chap's name - of course he's dead and gone long ago - so we submit that name and explain that he would be dead. And the officials said, 'Oh, well his descendants would be there', which was quite true, we did find the descendants. And it was really great.
Yes, they were. They look and they all come around and they couldn't believe it. To see these Australians, very, very happy.
Well they didn't show it. Unfortunately you see, we can't, both Jim and I we can't write so I wrote to them in English once, but a long time before we got a reply in English, but we didn't correspond much at all.
Not now. Not without Jim. We been three times. Or to the relatives we've been twice. And Jim decided that he'd take his sister and his brother to China and his brother's wife, and she's an Australian woman. So in 1987 we did another trip and we visited the rellies again. And they had a good time. Of course Jim was the only one who could talk to them in Haka. His brother couldn't, he lost it.
Did you feel, looking at how they lived in China now, that there'd been quite a lot of adaptation of the customs for life in Australia? In other words to what extent has the Chinese way of life that you were taught by your mother and father been adapted for Australian conditions?
Very very moderately. Slightly adapted. They, they are still very religious. In fact, they took us to the forebears' monuments, and of course, we burnt incense and all the rest of it.
So in China you saw them still practising the old ways?
But here in Australia, in your life-time you've moved yourself from a family that was very strict and practised the old Chinese ways, to how you live today. Has there been a huge change in Chinese practice here?
Yes, absolutely. Actually the change was during the war years, the evacuation, it changed all that during those years.
From the old traditional Chinese, very strict, oh, you can ... some of them were superstitious practices to now, more modern.
And what is that difference? What did you change to make it more modern?
Well for one thing, a lot of the superstitions are more or less waived. But I still keep up the tradition of having these special festival days and respect for your elders and all that sort of things. And I still pay my dues when they have these ceremonies at the old cemetery, which they do. And at the old hut at the temple, there's a place there we call Memorial Hall, for the dead. I still go to those two.
So you go to the temple for these things?
And what about ... you have no shrine in your house any more?
Do you think that's a good thing or a bad thing?
Well that whole lot that come about that we didn't have it was again the war, the evacuation. But before that, my father-in-law said, after his wife died and I was practising the ritual and all the rest of it, and he said to me one day, he said, 'When I die don't do that. You don't have to do it. You look after me now when I'm alive because all that traditions and ritual is only for the people who's alive to say that, "oh, you doing the right thing."' More or less to show that I'm doing the right thing. So he told me not to do it and that's ... I've taken his word and both my husband and I more or less drop it.
So do you feel that in dealing with the two cultures, the Australian culture and your Chinese heritage, you picked the best of both worlds?
Now wait a minute, I'm not picking the best of any world. So, I still practise some of the Chinese heritage.
Because it's been brought up in me. And, the western world, while it's more, what should I say, more lenient, more modern outlook, I try to teach my children. I don't want to force them to believe this or do that because they got their own life to live, that's the best I can do.
I suppose I'm really trying to ask you, to think about in the course of your long life, about the interaction between the Chinese ways and the local ways here.
And the western ways.
And how you've dealt with that in your own mind.
And I wonder if you could just talk a bit about the sort of practices that you might have been slow to give up and other ones that you cling to because you think they're really valuable.
Well for instance, the traditions that were drilled into us, I more or less modified a bit, not so strict. And then to change over to the western way, which is quite easy, you've got to balance it, not overdo it all together. And somehow, in my mind, I feel I'm doing the correct things and I don't worry about it.
So you work it out for yourself?
Yes. And nobody try to correct me. I haven't had anybody who's chastised me, 'Why don't you do this and that'.
And what about your husband, how did you get on with working these sorts of things out with him? Did you find you had any conflict over anything?
No, no. He's quite, what do I say, modern outlook. You see, I go to church but he doesn't. So he goes to the temple when he can. Or when he, when there's any special occasion. We don't argue over religion. And the tradition, we do keep up sometimes, the Chinese tradition, the New Year and different festivals and like that, festivities.
And what about your children? How do they feel about it?
The children are different. They go to church and they never go to the temple or the Chinese religion because they said [they] don't understand it, because they can't speak Chinese. Which is quite true. And the grandson, young Mark, well the parents used to take him to church and he was only 4-year old at the time, and he asked all sort of questions and my daughter asked the minister, this is the Uniting Church, and he said, 'You better leave him alone'.
So none of your children have taken on western religion?
Grace. Well in sense, Grace, Joyce and Laurie, they were baptised in Adelaide when they were going to school. Those two were, but they don't practise that. Oh, Lawrence do[es], I beg your pardon. Lawrence and his family and three children are very supportive of ... they go to church every Sunday and they support everything that the church asks of them.
No. Church of England. This is out at Palmerston.
No Palmerston, yes.
So they go to, Lawrence goes to ...
Yes. And Edward does at Pine Creek. He supports the Uniting Church. The minister comes from Katherine for Pine Creek service.
So how do you feel about your children going over to Christian religion?
Quite all right. Mother used to say to me, 'There's only one God in heaven'.
So how do you feel about your children taking on Western religion?
I feel quite happy at least they have some faith. It's better they have some faith than none at all. Which is much, much, how a person should live. Much better. But the grandchildren are a different thing altogether, except Lawrence's children. These others, none of them go to church.
And how do you think a person should live?
Live an honest, upright life. Help people where you can, or when you can. And, always remember God. I do.
There's only one God in heaven. You can worship God in the Chinese way, the Aboriginal way, or in any way, but there's only one God in heaven. That's what my mother said, even in her old strict thing. Only one God in heaven.
So she was very devoted to her way, but she respected the ways of others?
Yes. Yes. I do too. Each one has their own beliefs and respect.
And what do you think's going to happen when you die?
I don't think of that.
You don't think of death at all?
Oh, yes, when I was so sick in Sydney, I thought I'd die several times. In fact, at one stage there, they wished that I would die instead of having to lie there.
I had my gall bladder taken out and everything went wrong. Because my anatomy inside is different. There was something missing.
Yes all sorts of complications, blockage. I had five operations. I was in hospital for seven months.
How old were you when this happened?
19 ... when I was 36.
Oh, so you still had young children?
Yes. They were all in Darwin, no Pine Creek and Darwin and my mother looked after some]. And Jim looked after them, the two younger ones. Until he had to come down to me because I was so desperately ill.
So did they think you were going to die?
Well, everybody did.
I just wouldn't give up. The matron in the hospital said, 'You're a good solider. We ought to put you in the front line if there's a war. You never give up'.
Well why should I? It's not very good lying there with a leaking tummy. But finally they found the trouble and they fixed it.
And you've been all right every since?
Thank God, yes.
At that time, did you think about dying at all, or did you just put it out of your head?
Put it out of my head because that would be too morbid to think about dying?
And now that you're getting older, do you ever think about it?
And so you don't want to think about an afterlife because you only want to live in this life? Is that what you're telling me?
Only live everyday as it comes. Don't think about dying. It doesn't matter what happens when you die.
Has life always been sweet to you?
Oh, we have our ups and downs.
What's the worst time of your life?
The worst time was when Jim was taken so ill. Before that of course it was just my brother killed in an accident. And that was a blow. He stayed with me for three years and he was very good to me and he got killed so I was really upset about that, couldn't do a thing. And then when Jim got sick with cancer, and he had to be flown backwards and forwards to Adelaide.
1991, he died four years ago.
1991. In May, the 4th.
He died of cancer.
He had it in his - he had a tumour in his oesophagus and we had to fly him down to Adelaide to have it expanded so he can swallow food in or he would starve to death otherwise. Later on he refused [the] operation and he had chemo and radiotherapy and that got rid of it so we were very happy. So then it started on his neck, in the gland on one side, and then an operation, and then it started on the other side and finally went into his spine. And that was very painful and he had to have an epidural injection pump. You've got to wear that all the time to put the morphine in.
How many years had you been together before he died?
Fifty-five; we had a very big 50th wedding, golden, 50th wedding anniversary.
And how did you feel when he died?
Well to be quite honest, to see him suffer like that, I was relieved that he doesn't suffer any more. But of course it's a terrible thing to lose someone like that.
What is it that you miss most about him?
His companionship. We used to talk, discuss things. Of course we used to argue too, things when he was well. It's only in normal living life you argue. I'm not a yes person. But his companionship and his kindness - when he goes, comes from Pine Creek or goes anywhere, he always brings me back little things that I like. [You] wouldn't think he remember but he does. Brings back, from Pine Creek or to the station, you know, nice things for me to eat and all that sort or thing.
So how did you adjust after you lost him?
Took me years. I stayed here by myself and the family wanted me to come, wanted me to go and stay with them, and I said, 'No'. Or they come here. I feel that I should be here because this is his home.
Yes. There's no one to talk to, to discuss a problem. We'd been with one another for so long there's always something cropped up and it's good to have someone to talk to. Right thing to do or not.
Did other people recognise in him the sort of things you really liked in him? Was he someone who was very valued by the community?
Oh, yes. Particularly the Pine Creek community. Well, he even helped the Chung Wa society in Darwin. He was one of the original trustees.
The Chung Wa Society.
The Chung Wa owns the land with the temple and all that. He was one of the trustees. And in Pine Creek of course, he'd done so much good work that he was awarded the MBE.
He got the MBE for his community work in Pine Creek?
Was that a great proud moment for him?
Well it was absolutely astounding. I tell you why. He was the first Australian-born Chinese to be awarded the MBE. And we had letters, telegrams from all over Australia. From West, right round Australia. People who read it send copies of the newspaper and it was absolutely outstanding. Hundreds of telegrams and letters. [You'd] never think that he would get such recognition. Of course, we're all very proud. I still got the medal here.
What was the worst argument you ever had with him?
Oh, I couldn't say which was the worse one, but we had lots. But we always make up.
What sort of things did you argue about?
Well sometimes business. Mostly I think sometimes business. Or sometimes children.
Was he softer on them than you were?
He never lay a finger on them. All he had to do was to talk to them and they obey him. Just one look from him and they are real little goodie goodies.
Not always like that with you?
No. Sometimes they disobey me and I have to sort of threaten them. Typical of children you know. I don't know why because he never even, he doesn't even have to raise his voice. They obey him. Just give them, he just give them one look and they all ... [laughs]
And so it was a very good marriage that you had?
Oh, yes, yes. Yes. No complaints. And when we travelled, see, at first, before we go to China we travelled away for three months in 1967, right through South-east Asia - Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan - and back again, Philippines and then back to Australia so we had a really good holiday. Three months.
And we been to Australia, in 1962 we been around Australian, down to Tasmania and all those places; it was great.
Your family had come from China seeking material good fortune, money, material things, a better life for their children in that sense.
What importance have material things played in your life? Is it very important to you to get money behind you?
That is really important, to have money behind you so you can live reasonably well, comfortably and not have the hardships that I went through when I was a child, when we didn't have money. As for material things, it gradually just grow on you to get extra stuff for your own comfort. It's a necessity of life.
How important is money to you now?
Not, as long as I have three meals a day and a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head, I don't worry about it.
So that's a difference isn't it?
What do you think has caused that difference?
Perhaps more soli ... Because I'm older, accepted it. Particularly after Jim died. With all the money, you work hard, and it didn't do him any good, except of course for medical help. But then they didn't do anything, they couldn't do anything.
Did you end up making yourselves very comfortable financially with all that hard work?
Well as you can see just live ordinary life. I don't, I don't go in for a very elaborate home or lifestyle. I was often told, 'Why don't you do this or do that or go here or go there?' I said, 'I'm quite happy. It's all right. Leave me alone'.
But was it a relief to you having started out poor to be in a situation where you could afford things?
Yes. Absolutely, because we work hard all these years and we have the result, the reward.
Could we put that all together. I'd like to ask you a question about that again and you can describe about how you developed financial things and how you changed, attitude changed a bit as you became more secure and [it] became less important to you. Just to put together a bit about material goods which we all think about and wonder how important they are? I think they're probably important that you don't have them.
Mmm. I'll ask that question again. Your parents had come as immigrants to Australia, grandparents, seeking their fortune, how do you feel about material goods? What part has money and financial gain played in your life?
Well money is important for living, everyday living. That is why we work so hard towards it. And also, should occasion arrive where you have to have money, for instance for health or medical treatment you have it there, and that's a relief, you don't have to worry. And that is why I never squander money so I can put my hand on it whenever I need it in an urgent case, through emergency, health or otherwise.
You've worked very hard for the money that you've got?
Yes, years and years. 50 odd years that you can say.
Do you think it was all worth it, that really hard work?
Well to have the security in the end and no further worries. [INTERRUPTION]
Do you feel all the hard work in your life, because you've worked very hard in your life, do you think it was all worth it?
Absolutely yes. Yes to have the comfort and ease of mind at this stage of my life.
Do you sometimes think that the children that you worked so hard to get a better life for, have it a little bit too easy for their own good?
Well not actually because they had to do their share too and they are now working hard towards their own good. They realise that it is not easy money. But they have the security too of their own life by working hard, everyone of them. They own their own home, which is important. A home is the most important thing. All Chinese stress upon them, you must own your own home. You've got a roof over your head.
What's been the most important thing in your life?
In what way?
Well some people hold family as the most important, some people hold money, some people hold religion. Let me ask that question again. What's been the most important thing in your life?
Because without my family I'd be lost. They are affectionate, loving and I have all the consideration from them and they respect me, care for me when I need [it]. And of course I'm quite independent, because of my good health. I'm very fortunate.
Do you think your family is very important also because of ... [INTERRUPTION]
Do you think your family has also been important to you because that's part of the Chinese tradition that family is central to everything?
It must be the upbringing, yes, when you ask me that. Yes. Definitely. Been brought up to value your family life.
What's been the best thing about it for you, having your family around you?
Well to see them grow up, educated, grow up, married, have families of their own. And we're quite happy. Actually tonight we're going to a family party.
And all those years that you were pioneering out there in Pine Creek, opening up that area and working so hard as a sort of hub of the community there, did you realise that what you were doing was really pioneering work?
Not really because I just accepted it. I liked Pine Creek. I liked the bush because we used to live down in Darwin here, in the bush too. So, I always liked the bush to go out. Even now when I go to Pine Creek I like to go out somewhere and have a picnic. We used to go out fishing in the creek. Go out in the morning and catch a fish and have it for breakfast, with a group of friends. So it's quite a happy time. Pine Creek's been very happy for us, for my husband and I.
What does it mean to you to be an Australian?
Well to be born an Australian, a great deal. When I compare the life of these people trying to come out now I think how lucky I am to be born in Australia and live in this lovely country.
What is it that you value most about being an Australian?
The freedom, the freedom and the way of living. This working hard doesn't matter.
What do you think about this new wave of Asian migrants? How do you feel about that?
Actually I don't feel against them because I can't blame them for wanting to come out to better themselves, after all my grandparents, they all come out. Only they were asked to come out, they didn't come out on an evacuee's boat or like some of them smuggle out, which is wrong. But it is very hard for them to try and better themselves and come out here and then have to stay. It's difficult decision for them, very hard.
But you feel that we should welcome them?
Well it would be good if we could welcome them, but we are going to get a flood of them so what you going to do? The whole Asia will be here. Not only, the whole of South-east Asia, they will all [be] wanting to come. We just couldn't do it. There isn't enough work or anything to occupy them. At the moment a lot of them are now on social security. We just can't afford, Australian just can't afford to.
That's the helicopter coming back with another load. [Interruption/break in filming]
In the course of your long life as Chinese in Australia and the Northern Territory, have you ever experienced any racism?
No, not recently. I mean not for years because we live here so long and we're so well known really. Only when we were young, that's all.
What happened when you were young?
Well when we were children going to school and the children of the rich Chinese used to ... well that's not racism because they're still Chinese. But no not, I never remember anybody showing us any prejudice.
So the only children who were unkind to you at school were other Chinese children?
Yeah. The rich children of the Chinese. But then thinking it over now you understand that children do do things like that. Even now they pity and something, so it doesn't really matter.
So no one ever sang songs to you or called you names?
That's another part of the childhood thing, they all used to used to say, Ching-Chong Chinaman. Well we called them, the Greeks we called them Dagos. It's part of childhood. One must ...
You never felt it was serious?
No. What children say you can't take them serious, so long as it didn't come from the adults. From the grown-ups.
Did you see other people suffering from the fact that they came from different backgrounds, or did you only experience tolerance in Australia?
Well that's all, tolerance.
And you didn't ever see any discrimination?
Not when we were, not even when I was growing up.
What about against Aborigines?
Well, it's a different matter altogether because those poor people are completely mild. And they should have been kinder. We had Aborigines, or I've been associating with Aborigines for years. And you have to have patience, tolerance. We had them working for us in Pine Creek and they used to fight like mad. They live in the shed at the back, we had a hut for them at the back, they used to fight and make a lot of noise. It's part of their nature to belt one another on the head, particularly the men, they hit the women. One night we had a couple there and they were fighting and making a lot of noise. So I walked out with a torch and my children were terrified. They said, 'Don't go. Can't you hear, see them fighting?' I said, 'That's all right, I'll walk out with a torch shining on me', so they can see me. And they stopped fighting, cause I didn't see the weapon at the time, 'Oh, missus come'. Walked right up to them and one, husband, had a crowbar. I took it off him and said, 'What you silly so and so, fight for?', they look sheepish, 'now go to bed and stop fighting and don't be so stupid'. Well my family couldn't get over that. They never forgotten I walk up the back. But I shined the torch on me first to let them know it was me. When they see the torch coming, before I got near them, they said, 'Somebody come'.
The main impression we get of your life in Pine Creek was that you and your husband attracted enormous respect from the whole district. How do you think you earned that respect?
Unconsciously, I suppose, because we just help people. Through the shop. Through when they have sickness. Or through giving them hospitality with meals and cups and tea and stuff like that. And Jim always helped them with the travelling if they stuck on the road somewhere, you know, he goes out and brings them in. All little things. Little things you just do because they needed help.
What's your best hope for your grandchildren, now your great-grandchildren, what do you hope most for them?
Well the great-grandchildren are entirely their parents', their own parents' responsibility.
But what would you like to see happen to them in the course of their lives?
That they live up to as adults and have a good life that's all. But I can't say what will they, what will become of them or how they will go because at the present time the people are different. But I hope that they will live a decent life too.
And what about you, do you still go looking for adventure?
No. Too old for that.
I heard about an adventure on an ultra-light aeroplane.
Oh, that was a dare. Well it wasn't a dare, you see ...
Ok, let me ask you that again. Now at your age now, you're seventy ...
... Seventy seven. Do you still look for a little bit of adventure in life, Lily?
You like some excitement? Hate boredom?
My, my son-in-law has an ultra-light plane, a Sky Fox. They call it ultra-light because it's so, a small light plane. And he always say, 'Mum come for a ride'. And I say, 'Oh, no. You won't get me into that little thing'. So one day they have this, the ultra-light club, have a big picnic, a sort of social thing way out in Wyman River. That's a beautiful place. So I go. And we had to stay the night, book in. There were 60-odd people there, you know wives and all the rest of them. And in the morning they said, 'We have to fly early because it's nice and cool'. And Bill said, 'Are you coming for a flight?' I said, 'Oh, no thanks'. Then I thought you know, why am I such a wimp? Frightened to go on display. And I made up my mind - yes, I will. So I go into this little plane and he strapped me in and away we go. It was beautiful. He took me over the Opium Creek cattle station with all these beautiful Brahman cattle. And the Opium Creek was there, the cattle on both sides. And right round to the Mary River and then to this place near Wyman River there, we saw all the crocodiles on the bank of the river. I said, 'Goodness me, don't drop down here'. And we landed. It was a beautiful flight, I really enjoyed it. That was ...
Oh, yes. One day I go again on this ultra-light. In fact, when Pine Creek, the Gulf Air opened a strip in Pine Creek, of course, that was a much bigger plane and as an honoured guest I was the one to open it. I had the first ticket and they took [me] up for a ride to all over Pine Creek, the mines and everywhere. It was lovely. You see these little light planes, a lot of people wouldn't go up. Some of the people there wouldn't go up. They just too scared to. I accepted the thing that if anything happened to me, what will be will be. The good Lord will look after me, I have good trips, and I come back safely.
You think when your day has come that will be it?
It will happen, it will happen.
That's part of the Chinese belief isn't it?
Yes. Yes. What they call Jing-Chin in Haka. What will be will be. Same as whether your life is going to be a hard life, or whether you are going to have money or you're going to be sick, or what. It's all part of your life. The moment you're born, you cry, that's it, your life is destined. All is destiny.
Yes. Absolutely. All the hardships and stuff were meant to try us, whether we can handle it, overcome it. So I proved that with my illness and all the different difficulties.
You've also told me that you hate boredom. What do you do to overcome that?
I read. I read a lot. And also I listen to good music. I like classical music. I've got a lot of records and tapes. And watch the news, follow that; and watch any other documentary. I follow different ones of interest. And descriptions of animals in the Arctic and all the places and that's all interesting too. It's all knowledge too.
What's the best advice that you could offer young people?
To young teenagers nowadays? Take care of your health and do the right thing. Never mind what the peer pressure say. Don't copy other people because they run amuck or they take drugs or go on the grog. Just be your own self, be firm. Don't be swayed.
Now, tell me, when your children got married, what happened about their weddings?
Well it depends on whether they Chinese wedding or they Christian wedding, Western wedding.
Did you have both in your family?
Yes, my ...
Well the Chinese pay for the son's wedding, everything.
No. Because if they married Chinese the groom's side pay for everything. But in my case, my two daughters married Australians so we pay again.
So you paid for your daughters' weddings because they married Westerners and you expected to pay?
And what happened with your sons?
The one that married the Western/Australian girl, well her parents paid.
And the other son married a Chinese?
Chinese, so we paid for everything. It was a huge wedding, 450 guests.
Yes. Because she's an only daughter and her family had a lot of Chinese hospitality and likewise I do too. We did. So we have to repay, always.
And that wedding was held here in Darwin?
Yes. We had the church - at the Uniting Church - wedding and the reception at the Town Hall. Of course that's all gone now. The hall part is for dancing and the party outside with hessian all around. It was, like Darwin, you could have a party outside, really good.
In Chinese customs it's very important to repay your obligation?
Oh, yes. Yes.
Could you explain to me about how Chinese obligation works?
Well you receive a lot of hospitality. So whenever you have a chance and you can, you must repay it you see. For instance, now, we've been to lots of birthday parties in the '70s or whatever. And when it's my turn or Jim's turn we throw a party too and invite people who extended their hospitality to us. And beside our friends, both Australian and Chinese, it's all important, very important. 'Course if you can't afford it, it doesn't matter, they understand.
Now can we go back, and I'd like you to give me a very simple, shorter account of the trip when you evacuated from Pine Creek, of that long trip down to Adelaide. If you could sum it up by saying how many days it took you to Adelaide, the sort of transport you had to use at each stage, and the way in which you were given hospitality along the way, and what sort of food you ended up eating. Could you? I'll ask you a question about that, again, and I'd like to sort of give it ...
That's right. What was the journey from Pine Creek to Adelaide like when you were evacuated?
It was pretty rough. We were put on a train, a goods train to Birdum, this is at night. And, then the next morning on the army convoy truck to Elliot for our meals, and then to Barrow Creek, we stayed the night there and the next day on the convoy again to Alice Springs. And at Alice Springs we arrive at evening. And we were put down at the racecourse and were told to wait but our friends heard of it and they send a chap along, another friend along with a ute and they took us to this home with the Chinese family. We stayed the night there and had a decent meal because on the other way we had army food.
You know, stews and rice. Just typical army food, cooked in a great big copper. But, I shouldn't complain, it was food and we were well looked after. There was always oranges for the children. And on the train we had bully beef and a hard army biscuits until we got to Terowie. And at night there the people were very kind, they took everybody, except me - I stayed with my younger children - to the Town Hall and they were fed, a hot meal, bath and warm clothes. From there on to another place where we bought pasties. That was the first time in my life I bought, I ate pasties. They were selling them on the, on the road, the station. And then we were on to Adelaide, to Adelaide railway station. At Adelaide railway station we were told to unload everything and pile our stuff on the platform and we were taken to breakfast, to the railway restaurant. But I was overcome to look at this beautiful restaurant and those kind girls all standing there ready to serve us; I couldn't eat.
Pasties. That's for, that was breakfast, but pastie was early. It was lovely. I had never tasted pastie the same. After that they took us on another train to Eden Hills and then we walk up the hill to this old hospital. And we were there for, oh, quite a while until they send for Jim to come down and look after us. We were practically the last family to leave the place because I refused to let the older children be separated. And so there were nine of us and myself. And when Jim came down he bought this house in Clarence Park and so we caught the train again. To Millswood station. And from there we got off and walked to 18 Tempt Street. A whole line of refugees or evacuees. The people were very kind, I think, when they saw us walking along, a ragged looking and all in tropical clothes and it was getting cold. So they were very kind to giving us warm clothes and a lot of fresh fruit. It was great. I've never forgotten the South Australian people. I, I remember the Red Cross up at Eden Hill, they come every day to check. Rice was rationed then, because we were evacuees they gave us a ration of rice and it was the unpolished rice. Of course we used to eating the white rice, but then because there's no rice we welcome the brown rice too. It was really great. Highly rationed rice. Food was cheap and our neighbour next door was good because he works in the baker he asked if we mind if he gives us yesterday's bread, and yesterday's cake. Of course we don't mind, we welcome. It's extra food.
Now Frank would also like you - if I can ask you another question - if you could sum up life in the store, at Pine Creek. What you sold and what it was like. I'll ask you that question again. What was it like everyday life in the store at Pine Creek?
Every day the store in Pine Creek, it's different. You never know who's going to come in from the bush because we get all sorts of travellers and also the outback people, they come in for supplies. We sell the ordinary, everyday groceries, medicine, patent medicine, because there's no chemist near so we can sell chemist line. Some stuff - hardware, saddlery, sides of leather, and bridle leather, harness leather, bag leather and also rolls - collar check and saddle serge for the saddle - horseshoes and horseshoe nails, pots and pans, women's clothing, all sorts, from dresses and underwear and all, and shoes - mostly men's shoes - menswear, shirt and trousers and underwear. Hats, of course we sell a lot of fur felt hats for the cowboys and then cotton hats and the women we sell straw hats, the ordinary straw hats.
Were you also a bit of a trading post?
Oh, yes. We receive bags of mineral, like wolfram or tin. We give them credit and they go out and find these bags of minerals and we send it to the Mines Department or we send it direct to O. T. L'Empriere in Sydney. I don't know whether they're still going or not. O. T. L'Empriere. You'll go and check. In time the returns would come and people would pay their bills and take whatever balance they had. Also buffalo hides. Well buffalo hides was a real boom. The price was good and so many buffalo shooters go out. Of course they've got to have licence and they shoot the hides and they salt them and dry them and bring them in. And I would weigh them. Before I weighed them I get a stick and knock them. If it has a hollow sound it means the hide is dry. If it's got a dull sound it still wet. Because everything is being sold by weight. Well after all that, I wire, send a telegram to Collier Watson in Sydney and we got so many pounds of hide etc. and they send the money, wire the money to the bank. And that's how they get, our customers get paid, and I pay them. And we continue that way. The other thing is the dingo scalp. There's a bounty charge to all the station people. I don't know how much, but each dingo scalp the government would pay 2 pounds. So they bring in the dingo scalp to trade for food and stuff, the same thing we give them credit. Now one of the most occasion, most important people that I remember was old William Alderson. He was a Yorkshire man from England, Yorkshire man. He lives up there and he lives with an Aboriginal woman. And he brings in dingo scalp to trade for tobacco, sugar. He lives at Spring Peak and grows a lot of stuff. He comes in on pack horses. There was no road through then, it was only a track. Comes in, would also bring me in pumpkin, sweet potato, and banana. He brings his scalp and we take it. And the mango season is on, I used to watch him fascinated. He'd stand outside the shop there and eat a dozen mangoes at the one time.
Did you have plenty of mangoes?
Yes. Yes, we have mangoes. And he chewed tobacco and of course chewing tobacco you got to spit. He's quite a clever man, he can really spit a long way with it. He's descendants now, he had one son, Yorkie Bill, the father taught him how to read and write. And then his descendants are now the traditional owners of Kakadu, all that area there. They and a whole group of them. It's really fascinating with the family because Yorkie Billy one day - of course, the old man died - and he didn't have much luck. So he was very sad because the dingo bounty was gone and I applied for the old age pension for him and I got it too. I used to do all sorts of things like that. Thinking back now you know, I don't know how I come to have the nerve to do it, write to the VCA permission for people to fly on the Constellation because that's an overseas line, you've got to fly local. Get permission for a man to fly on the Constellation direct to Sydney. And, getting old-age pension for one chappie. He was, he can't remember his birthday. He was old. And he used to make his cigarette, look it was more paper than tobacco. And I felt sorry for him, so I battled and I got him his old-age pension. And he, he was really very grateful even until the day he died.
So you were like an unpaid community or social worker?
Well, my part I think was to help people. When the pensioner gets sick, well I go down or send my man down. Same thing when that man was lost out at Umbawarra. He was tin scratching out there and he didn't come in. Send the truck out and they found him crawling around in circles. He could have died if we didn't go out and fetch him in to the hospital. It's all part of community life in Pine Creek. [INTERRUPTION]
How important, how important is it to Chinese people that they earn the respect of those around them?
It's very important because a person must be honest, helpful, and have no guilty secrets. Therefore you be careful what you do, help one another, and in turn you will receive all the respect you can get.
How would you have felt if you'd lost the respect of those around you?
Well I would be upset. It's important in life to have respect of your family and friends. Very important is what's stressed into us when we were children.
And what for you is the most important thing to make a good life?
To help people. To be honest. And like I said before, honest, helpful and have no guilty secrets. Okay. [INTERRUPTION]
And for you, what is a good life?
To be honest, helpful, and have no guilty secrets. OK [Interruption]
And Lily, have you got any guilty secrets?
Nothing of importance.