Lesley Hindley (nee Hyde) speaks about her early associations with the provisional Parliament House, through working as a typist in the early 1950s to her husband Rob Chalmers’ long involvement with the Press Gallery as a journalist. Mrs. Hindley’s daughter, Susan Pitt (nee Chalmers) sat in on the interview and contributes at times.
Interview with Lesley Hindley part 1
B York: This is an interview with Mrs Lesley Hindley and her daughter is here too, that is Susan Pitt. Mrs Hindley will be speaking with me, Barry York, for the oral history program of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House and I do want to thank you for agreeing to be a part of this. Thank you so much. Do you understand that the Commonwealth will have copyright in the interview material but when you complete the Rights Agreement we will abide by… Needless to say.
L Hindley: Yes, I understand that Barry.
B York: Thank you. Can we make a transcript or a summary of the recording if we have the resources?
L Hindley: Certainly.
B York: Thank you. The interview is taking place today, the 7th of November, 2013 at the Museum. Let’s begin at the beginning. Can you tell me a bit about your background? Let’s start with when and where you born and how you ended up in Canberra.
L Hindley: Alright, Barry, I was a very small, premature baby—two pound, two ounces — born in New Zealand and survived. I was the youngest of nine children. My father was a mining engineer and came to Mount Isa in 1935. I was born in 1931 and I came to Mount Isa and we stayed until the evacuation, virtually, of Queensland. When they were going to have the Brisbane Line which was when the Japanese were coming down from New Guinea and we all wanted to get away.
So we came to Sydney. My parents then had guesthouses in Sydney. I then did a hairdressing — a beautician course — for two years at college. Then I went to Tasmania and worked in a mental home for two years. Came back to Sydney, worked in the hairdressing again. Then I met my husband Rob Chalmers in dancing classes, actually. After about eighteen months we decided to get married. Rob was then a junior reporter for the Daily Mirror in Canberra. We came to Canberra a couple of times for the Journalists Ball. Then we decided that when we get married that we’d come to Canberra to live if we could get permanent work.
In those days the newspapers and government wanted people to come to Canberra and they supplied accommodation. He was living at the Hotel Civic at that period with a lot of other journalists. When I came down and we’d first married, we stayed there for a couple of weeks and then we moved to Havelock House which was then a… I don’t know what you’d call it… a hostel for government people. Then we finally moved to Lawley House which was close to Parliament House and we could ride our bikes up here then, without having to get public transport.
B York: Thank you for that, I’ll go back slightly and ask a couple of questions. Did you come from a large family?
L Hindley: Yes I did, Barry. I was the youngest of nine children. I had five sisters and three brothers. My mother was a school teacher and my father was a very good footballer. He represented the North Island in Rugby Union. Anything we ever did that was good towards sport, my mother always said ‘congratulate your father on that because he was a wonderful sport.’ Mother was very industrious and it’s gone right through the whole family. I’m bossy, my daughter’s bossy and the grandchildren are also bossy.
S Pitt: Tell Barry about your sisters and who stayed in New Zealand and who came to Australia and a bit about Mount Isa.
L Hindley: When the war came. You know, the Second World War, my sister’s husbands joined up from New Zealand. That’s one of the reasons why we had big boarding houses in Sydney, because they brought the whole family across and rented their houses in New Zealand and then came back to Sydney. My elder sister Gladys had three children and Gwen, my other sister, had one. Gwen came to Mount Isa and her husband was in Crete. He was a tank driver. He was blown up actually, he had fourteen bullets down the side and he came back a very sick person but they stayed together over the years. But he was always quite an invalid. My elder sister Gladys’ husband had gone to the war too. My other two sister’s husbands were in New Guinea, so all the men seemed to be at the war in those days.
I was always frightening the kids at school by telling them that we had a radio, and not many people had one back then, and I’d hear about the war and I’d tell them that it was all coming tomorrow to Mount Isa and everyone was digging air raid shelters. I was always frightening people because I always had a good imagination.
S Pitt: Hey Les, tell Barry about the boarding house in Mount Isa.
L Hindley: My father was a mining engineer but what happened in those days, the basic wage was about three pounds, in 1935, a week. He had a large mining lead bonus. It was twelve pound a week which was a fortune. That’s why most people who came from New Zealand and all over Australia tried to work there in the mines. But what happened, that was your compensation, if you got leaded… That meant that lead had gone into the blood stream, they tested you regularly, then you were just dismissed because that was it. So after two years my father was dismissed and having the last four children in Mount Isa, my mother, who was the industrious one, started off with a small boarding house and my mum and dad both cooked. So I virtually grew up with, in the end, one hundred and forty men. That’s how many boarders we had. We had lots of people. School teachers even boarded with us. Everybody boarded with us.
S Pitt: And they were doing three shifts a day, weren’t they?
L Hindley: Three shifts a day. Mining shifts and, in those days, we lived two doors from a hotel. I think the next door was a brothel. I didn’t know about it back then. There were a lot of men around. Lots of fights and things like that, a very different town. Very different, it was a wild town.
I went to school with Aboriginal children. I used to start off in the day time with my shoes and socks on, coming from New Zealand, and a big hat that my mother had me in. By the time I got to school, I’d take them off because all the Aboriginal children, all the others, didn’t have any shoes. I used to look too posh. So then after about eighteen months, my mother moved me into the mining school which was a normal school but I still remained friendly with lots of the Aboriginal children that were there. They lived in a very, very nasty — behind the riverbank —enclosure which was very nasty, with a lot of wire around them. That’s one of the memories. And another one of the memories I have of Aborigines was climbing up a hill and looking over and seeing them all, camped at night, long white beards and very, very sort of handsome people sitting there with their fires and very quiet.
No fights or anything with Aboriginal people, they stayed right out of town. It wasn’t a big population. Mining people, the men, were all drinking at the bars always. I learnt very early to sell the beer bottles with my brothers and dad made me a little billy cart, a small one, when I was about eight and I was to collect the beer bottles. But I learnt that I had to ask the men to keep them for me so I learnt to deal with men very early in life.
B York: Sorry to interrupt, but when you were at school did you want to be something particular when you grew up? Like you know how children often want to be something?
L Hindley: Because I grew up in a big boarding house with lots of men, lots of people and lots of waitresses and workers and cooks and things, I always felt special. I always felt special. I was sort of the daughter, you know, one of the daughters. And also being the baby daughter. As the baby daughter, I always felt special. The boys weren’t allowed to hit me. The brothers weren’t allowed to hit me but if they did I’d tell on them straight away. So they didn’t. So I was more or less protected. My mother was forty when she had me and my father was fifty and so they were old parents but I had a very happy life, a very happy family.
S Pitt: And talking about your schooling, I know in Sydney you were off at a place at the…
L Hindley: Oh, yes. Yes, when we came to Sydney to live…
B York: How old were you when you came to Sydney?
L Hindley: Twelve. No, eleven. Eleven. And when I went to Sydney, we moved to… First, when we first came, we arrived in Sydney on the day that the Japanese shelled the harbour and we were in a taxi. We had an aunt living in Sydney and her son was a famous cricketer, Lindwall, Ray Lindwall. We stayed with auntie Queenie at Rose Bay, she had a nice, big house there, for overnight. Then we had to find accommodation so, because she lived at Rose Bay, we started around the Bondi area. We were driving around and we went into Lamrock Avenue and got a unit and a flat there.
That’s the night when the shells went shooting over us. Mum and dad both smoked in private, they didn’t smoke walking around, they smoked cigarettes but only when they sat together. Dad said in the air raid shelter, ‘did you bring the tobacco?’ We called it ‘toby’. ‘Did you bring toby?’ And I said, ‘I’ll go and get it.’ Mother said to me then ‘You stay here. The Japs will get you straightaway. You’ll be the first with the Japs.’ So that kept me quiet.
B York: What was the air raid shelter like?
L Hindley: The air raid shelter in the units… Most people in Sydney had some sort of an air raid shelter. You had them built. All the parks had air raid shelters. You could run into a shelter in the park. There might not have been fifty of them but all around they had air raid shelters.
B York: The one you were in, was it…
L Hindley: In the units down underneath in the shelter. It might have been in a big cellar but everyone from these units was there. There might have been about twenty people in there.
B York: And was there an air raid warning?
L Hindley: Yes, an air raid warning, air raid sirens and all that. Even when you were in school at Mount Isa, you had all these mock air raids. So that you’d all walk out and you’d know what to do. So that’s why I was always alarming everyone because I had the radio and I’d hear who’d been bombed. I was only about eight or nine. I’d think, ‘God, they’ll be here soon. They were bombing last night.’ And all the kids were screaming around the place.
S Pitt: I’m trying to bring you back to the place you were at, the special school, the smart school.
L Hindley: Yes. When I came here, we went to Bondi. So I went to Bondi, we went to Bondi and… No, mum and dad bought a shop. That’s what started it. They bought a shop, a mixed business at Dover Heights. Military Road, Dover Heights. So I went to Rose Bay public school and… No, first of all I went to… No, they bought a place at Centennial Park first, a small guesthouse, and I went to Kensington School for fifth class, sixth class. Then we moved and bought the shop. Then I went to Rose Bay.
Now I was always competitive and liked school. The only person who could beat me at Rose Bay was one boy called Jimmy Larkin and I could never beat him. I used to work really hard but he’d always beat me. I’d work again to beat him because they used to have tests and at any test I wanted to beat Jimmy. So it ended up that at the end of sixth class, I was chosen to go to Sydney High School, a special school at that stage. I came home and my mother said, ‘where was it?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ She found out it was over by Darlinghurst and the other school was down the road. She told me ‘don’t go to that school because you got brown uniforms and it doesn’t suit you, brown. The blue uniform suits you and you look lovely and blue.’ So that’s why I went to the domestic science then at Dover Heights. I was the first girl at Dover Heights to use the toilets. I ran and beat everybody. And we wore blue uniforms and I was always in an A grade at Dover Heights.
B York: Did you have a favourite subject?
L Hindley: Yes, I loved physiology and architecture. Doric columns and all that, ionic columns and things. I was really interested in that.
B York: How did you see your future at that point?
L Hindley: I didn’t see anything, much future, except leaving school and getting my intermediate and leaving school and just, as my mother said, ‘you’ve got to go to a college of some sort. Doesn’t matter what it is.’ So I got my intermediate when I was fourteen but I couldn’t leave school until I was fifteen and she said, ‘well, you’re not going to be a doctor and you can’t be a nurse because you can’t stand blood and you wouldn’t be a doctor. You wouldn’t be anything. So you better go to college and just learn shorthand and typing.’ I didn’t like the thought of that much so I looked up the telephone book and found Hairdressing College. She said to me ‘you win.’
So that’s where I went at the age of fifteen, I left school in May — I was born in May — and I started in June, at fifteen with my intermediate, in June half way through fourth year because you went fourth year and fifth year. I went straight to the Ron Dollie [?] Hairdressing College in Sydney which was in Gowings buildings in George Street. And I loved it. I used to have raisin toast with girls and a cup of coffee and milkshakes and things. So I completed that, I did two years there. You did beauty culture. Hairdressing beauty culture and massage and everything but I had a happy time.
S Pitt: You had the end of the war around that time, didn’t you? Or did you not?
L Hindley: The war, no, the war ended when I was at school. There’s a story about me losing, and I did it again fifty years later, I lost a wedgie. Now, a wedgie is a shoe. It’s a bit like it’s a platform. I went into town, came home, we all got half a day off because the war was over. I went into town with a cousin by tram and got caught up in the crowd and someone stood on my foot and I lost my shoe and I lost my cousin, I lost everybody. So I limped home with one shoe on and one shoe off and then finally took it off and came back and mum said to me, you know, ‘you’re a brute of a girl, losing your shoe, you’re always doing something like that.’
So fifty years later, once again at the celebrations that they had… She always told me that if you lose anything you go to a policeman. So I went to the policeman and put my name down. My name was Lesley Hyde and I said that I’d lost a wedgie and he wrote it down. So fifty years later I was with a group of women in Sydney and they were Airforce women, I wasn’t in the forces. We were having a big celebration and I said to them I’ve got to go ask this policeman, I lost a shoe here. So I said to him, ‘excuse me, I don’t know whether you’ve found this shoe or not?’ He said, ‘oh, when was that?’ I said, ‘I reported it fifty years ago on this day.’ So I got a laugh out of him.
B York: You said that you were given the half day off school. Was the news broken to you at school? L Hindley: Yes, yes. The news was because we went… Or maybe we went to school and then they said ‘you can all go home.’ I’m just not sure about that whether it was broken at school but I just remember the victory in Japan, then the victory in Europe. Both of those, everyone went into town but you couldn’t get in. All the trams, the railings on the trams were taken off, nothing worked. No buses went, all blocked. You just had to walk home right to Bondi. I didn’t know how to get there so I just walked on the tramline, looking behind me to see if a tram was coming. I thought ‘that’d be cunning! If a tram comes I’ll get it.’ But I followed the tramline all the way.
B York: You were only fifteen?
L Hindley: I was fourteen, yes.
S Pitt: Tell Barry what you said to your sister, or said the Americans, your sister June, when the Americans would make…
L Hindley: Oh yes, I had very attractive sister, quite beautiful sisters. I’m walking along… I was about thirteen, walking along and my sister June who was seven years older than me, in those days people would pick you up. It was just a matter of two sailors walking along and two girls and they’d just give each other a whistle or a talk and they’d just talk. That’s how they met. I’m scratching along then so mum always said ‘look after your sister,’ to me. I was the cheeky one and she was the shy one and when we were walking along she gave me nudge, these two blokes were looking at her. As they came by they said ‘hello heartache’. I said ‘goodbye headache!’ [Laughs] And June laughed and they laughed too. When we got home, mum said ‘Lesley’s funny isn’t she.’ And she told my dad and dad said ‘you’re a very good girl looking after your sister, keep looking after her.’
B York: Did you parents have any particular political or religious…
L Hindley: No religious views at all, none of the family were christened. I asked my mother once why I wasn’t christened and she said ‘we were waiting for another trial and you’d all be done together, the whole lot of you’. That was her story and I believed that for a long time. Then one day she said to me and I said once again… because I went to Sunday school Methodist and Presbyterian. Mother was Presbyterian and father was Methodist. But they were a bit… The no alcohol bit, any alcohol came into the son-in-law’s stomachs in our place. We didn’t have wine or drink. I never saw much alcohol. Men drank round the pub and my mother used to say to me ‘isn’t that disgusting, absolutely disgusting’ at people drinking. When she employed girls she’d make sure that the girls weren’t drinkers, otherwise they’d be sacked after a while, if they were drinkers. You won’t last in this town. What was the other thing you wanted me to say?
B York: Politics…
L Hindley: Oh, politics! Very, very much Labor people, very Labor. It was a time, in those days, my parents didn’t come into the Communist feelings. But most people then were coming out of the war wanting to get further into the social system and wanting to be… Lots of brother-in-laws joined the Communist Party and sold The Tribune. They all flittered away, you know, but just after the war they were very strong. People even had me, my mother-in-law used to talk to me all the time when I was fifteen about socialism and what was happening in Russia.
Then again, we went to school and we were friendly with Russia at that stage. It wasn’t the Cold War. Very friendly with Russia. One of the main subjects was collective farming at school and how great they were and what was happening to the people and we were great friends with Russia. It was a very big disillusionment to me after the war when they started with the Cold War against Russia. I didn’t understand all the politics. I didn’t understand what was happening beforehand with the big powers. Later I leant but I was rather disillusioned when I was about sixteen and seventeen with that happening.
B York: Do you remember the campaign for the sheepskins to Russia?
L Hindley: Yes. Yes, I can remember that, just vaguely. I don’t know a lot about it but I do remember that. The thing is with my mother…
S Pitt: You had Auntie Rosa, didn’t you, the Russian?
L Hindley: You see, I had a Russian aunt. I had a Russian aunt. She came to…
B York: What side was she?
L Hindley: She married my father’s brother, father’s brother. She was an auntie and she came to the Russian ballet… Russian roosh or something…
S Pitt: Ballet Russes?
L Hindley: Ballet Russes or something and she was always kicking her legs up. She went to New Zealand and met my uncle and she had a six year old, five year old son — Victor. So he married her and Victor became my… Well, I was only a little kid. Victor’s gone now. Then Milton and Glory were born. ‘G, l, o, r, y,’ because that’s what she wanted the name. Glory. My uncle lived in New Guinea, he was looking for gold there and when he died, he died from septicaemia with a tree falling on his leg. When the auntie came back she bought a farm in Sydney. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter but it was about twenty miles out of Sydney. Can’t quite think of the name of it. Around Parramatta, Windsor way, that way. I used to go stay with her in the holidays. Get her to tell us stories of Russian women who had a… She used to love my stories. She used to say ‘tell me another story’ and she used say ‘mine Got, Lesley, you make me laugh!’ [Laughs]
B York: What was her name?
L Hindley: Rosa. I only know Rosa, that’s all I knew.
S Pitt: Hyde on the end?
L Hindley: And Hyde on the end. H, y, d, e. She has a famous grandson now called Greg Hyde who’s now an artist, a well-known artist and that must have come from that Russian side with the art because our side wasn’t very arty at all.
S Pitt: And Les, how did you get down to New Norfolk?
L Hindley: I went New Norfolk… I was always yearning to go back to Mount Isa because I like Mount Isa and I had little dreams of going back to Mount Isa, working my way up there after I got my diploma. My mother said to me, I said ‘could I go?’ and she to me ‘you can go anywhere you like. The world is your oyster. Go anywhere you like. You hold a bird tight in my hand and it struggles to get away, let it sit there, fly away and it’ll come back. So if you want to go, you can go.’
I was seventeen and I took off on my own with a suitcase and my bicycle and went to Brisbane. I lost my bag in the taxi and had no money, ended up then going to the hotel, The Lennon’s and asking for a waitress job or a housemaid job because then you could get a job and live in at the same time. So that’s what I did, all in that one day. Then when I was there I met this girl from Tasmania, very nice to me. Woman she was then, she had about twenty four years of age. She had two children and a mother in Melbourne and she wanted to go to Tasmania. Her husband had been killed in the war in New Guinea and she wanted to go down there so she talked me into going there. I didn’t mind. I thought I’d go to Mount Isa another time. So I just flittered off back down to Sydney.
S Pitt: How did you get there, Les, did you catch a plane?
L Hindley: No, I caught a plane to Sydney and I worked in the Arnott’s Biscuits factory for six weeks to get my fare to get there because you didn’t have much money, any money. I got my fare and saw my family and went to Melbourne and then I went to New Norfolk. Now she told me that we were going to work in a nut factory and I thought she was kidding me because I thought that it was Cadbury’s Dairy Milk nut factory. It was a mental home and that’s what we did. When I got there…
S Pitt: Just out of Hobart?
L Hindley: Just out of Hobart, New Norfolk. So when I got there and the chaps were on the gate and they’d evidently told them that here I was.
S Pitt: What are you? Sixteen, seventeen?
L Hindley: No, I was seventeen. But she said ‘you’ll get the chocolate later.’ She’d told them, you see, and I said ‘where do they make the chocolate?’ And he said ‘down that big room, down there.’ It was the next day when I got the nurses uniform that I woke up to it. So I stayed there for eighteen months and worked. The matron saw that I did their hair nicely so she put me in charge of the arts and crafts section with all the hair. So I was doing hair. Then I came back to…
S Pitt: Sorry Les. While you were there, there were a lot of people that these days would be out in a community. Down Syndrome people?
L Hindley: Oh yes, I worked on the D ward with Down Syndrome people. They used to watch me play tennis and I used to give them my old tennis racket and sand shoes and things. Dorothy Hood was my favourite one that I told you about. When I was playing tennis she used to stand at the tennis thing, singing out ‘good shot nurse! Good shot!’ even if I missed it. She was great. Then I came back to Sydney and then I went back to Hairdressing College for a refresher and that was Madam Gossamer. This is another place then, a different place, we called Madam Gossamer.
B York: Where was that?
L Hindley: At the college as well, in Sydney. You paid about three guineas a month to go there which was quite a bit of money then, in those days. A basic wage was about three or four pounds so it was quite expensive to go there. I had the money so I went back and she immediately put me in a hairdressing salon which I managed then. And that’s when I decided I was getting a bit sick of the hairdressing but I liked that. I felt that I’d done that.
B York: A salon was it?
L Hindley: A salon, yes, this was another couple of girls.
B York: Where was it?
L Hindley: It was in… It was down near the railway but up further, I’ve forgotten the street.
B York: In the city though?
L Hindley: In the city, yes. But not towards King’s Cross, the other side of Darlinghurst. So then I came and I got a little unit with a girl from school that I knew and we shared a unit. Her father owned it in King’s Cross. So I’d walk from King’s Cross right across down into the hairdressing salon. Then my sister-in-law said to me ‘well, would you like to come to Lascott’s School of Ballroom Dancing?’ So off I went and men came along the line and picked you up. That’s where I got picked up by Rob Chalmers. He said to me ‘you’re not a bad dancer for a short girl.’ And I said ‘you’re not so good for a tall boy.’ [Laughs] He looked at me and thought ‘she’s a bit cheeky!’ You know, because he was a professional.
S Pitt: He was paid, wasn’t he?
L Hindley: He was paid. He was paid to teach and we were the beginners but I really did enjoy dancing. I didn’t think I was a beginner but he said ‘you’re not bad for a short… You’re doing it quite well for a short person.’ And I said ‘well, you’re not going so well.’
B York: So did he work there?
L Hindley: He worked in the Daily Mirror as a D grade cadet.
S Pitt: And he was paid at night to dance?
L Hindley: Yes, paid at night. When I realised you got paid for going along there I thought well I better have a few dancing lessons — not because of him, I didn’t see him again for six months — but I then went mad on the dancing. Which I do, I take up something with enthusiasm and want to do it well. So I was having private lessons from Bill Lascott who was the owner of the whole place and learning. I got my first medal which was a bronze medal. Rob Chalmers had a gold medal, you see, but I didn’t worry too much about him. Then they the Sunday night where all the teachers got together, so that’s when I went along there with another… I didn’t know anyone but I just met them there. I went along and we danced like mad. That’s when he said to me ‘you’ve certainly improved.’ And I said ‘well, you’re getting a bit better too.’ So then time went on and…
S Pitt: He was getting with Gloria and then they separated?
L Hindley: Well, he was going with Gloria then, but… Oh, that’s right. I was engaged to Peter Whitney. This chap that I’d known before I went to Tasmania. Peter was a very nice looking person, a nice family and all the rest of it. But he was six years older than I was and he wanted to get married when I was about seventeen. That’s one of the reasons I took off.
S Pitt: Tell the truth, what was the other reason?
L Hindley: What?
S Pitt: His red hair.
L Hindley: No, his mother had red hair.
S Pitt: [Laughs] you didn’t want to have red headed children, did you?
L Hindley: He had very dark eyes and very dark hair but no. The family and I were right not to marry him. I was never very good at sowing and arty work and that. They’d all sit together, the girls would be sowing and the boys would be making things. I thought ‘I’m not too good at this.’ I could hardly tie a ribbon. They were a lovely family but I didn’t, and they were so nice to me, but I just felt I didn’t fit in. So when I met Rob Chalmers, whose mother was a hypochondriac and went and stayed in bed the whole time…
S Pitt: No father, he was an only child.
L Hindley: He was an only child and she just thought I was great because then I’d do everything. I’d do the cleaning and I’d do the… I’d get everything done because I was a busy person. With the other people I sat there, not feeling very confident. So anyway, Rob and I married, came to Canberra, lived here…
B York: Can I just ask, sorry to interrupt you again, were you married in Sydney?
L Hindley: Married in Sydney, yes. What happened was… When Chifley died our wedding was postponed for a week. Rob was a very strong political person. He stayed in politics for over sixty years. But Ben Chifley was his great admirer. He admired Ben Chifley tremendously for how he’d come from lower… He was an engine driver. From humble beginnings and how he was still a very humble man. He admired him. Anyway, we were booked to be married on the first of November, I think it was. We were married on the seventh of November. I think the House got up, Parliament got up and Rob then had to come back.
Interview with Lesley Hindley part 2
L Hindley: He didn’t get his holidays at that time, so… We postponed the wedding and we were married on the 7th of November. Then we lived in Sydney for a period and Rob would just come to Canberra for Parliament sessions. Then he got the full time job. But at that time he said to me ‘not many hairdressers in Canberra.’ I said ‘that’s okay because I can do it at home.’ He said ‘do you want to learn a bit of shorthand and typing?’ So I went along to the Business College… No, I didn’t. No, I was going to the Business College and I heard that Hastings Deering in… I’m starting to forget all the streets. Anyway, the main street in King’s Cross.
B York: William Street?
L Hindley: William Street. Hastings Deering on William Street were employing girls, training people to be typists and if you wanted to do shorthand. While I was there, I went to work for Hastings Deering. Miss Loree [?] was his secretary, his top secretary. I was the little trainee in the room in the room next to Miss Loree. She used to give me a little to do and I’d practice my typing with the cloth over it. I’d go to the college and I’d never stop practicing typing. So I was at home typing with my own typewriter and you’d do envelopes and those types of things. Then Mr Hastings Deering himself took a liking to me and started to bring oranges in from his farm. Then he said to me ‘child, would you like to learn to drive a car?’ I mean, I’d only ever ridden a bike.
So they gave me lessons to drive a car and mum said to me ‘what are you going to do with the car?’ I said ‘I might have to deliver the mail.’ I didn’t know what they wanted me to do. So it was a duel drive car and one of the Deering blokes would drive up and I’d drive up William Street, waving to the boys in the tram as if I’ve got no hands and things like that. We’d go to Centennial Park and that’s where I’d learn. I had a lot of difficulty backing. I was always very bad at backing. When we’d go down to Woolloomooloo, all around the wharves there, all the boys that were sitting down having lunch saw me coming and when I’d start backing they’d all jump and run away. ‘God, here she comes!’ I couldn’t get going that way, I kept turning. They’d all go away. [Laughs] Anyway, then Rob and I came here and Rob then…
B York: And what year are we at now?
L Hindley: We’re at now, we’re at…
S Pitt: Your wedding has been delayed a week and you were married in…?
L Hindley: Yes, 1952 and came to Canberra. Lived at Havelock House, lived at the Hotel Civic for two weeks, Havelock House, then Lawley House and then I got a job at the Public Service Board. I went there for their typing test when I came here. So I worked at the Public Service Board at Acton, isn’t it? Or Barton? That’s where it was, over there. Then I could just walk up from Lawley House. Immigration, Publicity and Public Relations, all of those places, all of those buildings were there then. I worked at the Public Service Board. I still see people now that I met at the Public Service Board sixty years ago. I’m friendly with then, you know, I wasn’t friendly with them then, I just knew them. After that, I worked there and then I went to… I was to come here, to Parliament House, the courtyard, to all the cocktail parties out here.
B York: With Rob?
L Hindley: With Rob, yes.
B York: Just pause here to ask, had you been to Canberra before?
L Hindley: Had I?
B York: Yes.
L Hindley: I came for a couple of journalist’s balls but never to Canberra. I always loved Canberra. It reminded me of New Norfolk, the countryside.
B York: I was going to ask, what was it like when you were first here?
L Hindley: Well, when I went to Tasmania, I loved the area because it was really quiet. Coming from only Mount Isa where you only had spinach and rocks and dryweller [?]. I always loved that countryside like New Norfolk where you had the nice Derwent River going through, flowing. Here, it was lovely too. It was quiet and you had the pine forests, all just coming. You could just drive away anywhere, up into the pine forest or out to the Cotter River. It was big enough but we weren’t used to big cities. Even Sydney, we’d drive to Sydney and it wasn’t a big city. In effect, you didn’t have the crowding. But we just loved Canberra. A lot of people didn’t like it that came from Melbourne. Melbourne people didn’t like Canberra because they loved their own city, their homes and that. But I didn’t have a home and we were just making a home.
S Pitt: When did you get your Government housing?
L Hindley: We lived behind the Hotel Wellington.
S Pitt: Forrest flats?
L Hindley: At Forrest flats. But that was when Rob moved from The Mirror to The Sun. He took over from Wally Brooks. Wally Brooks was at The Sun and Wally Brooks moved to The Melbourne Herald and told him the job was available so he applied for that and we got The Sun flat. That’s where my daughter Susan was born, in that flat. I worked, when I worked at Parliament House, when I did work here, I made up my mind that I’d be about twenty-four when I’d start to have a family. I didn’t want to be thinking I’d be thirty. Nobody ever thought of being thirty, having children. I was getting on a bit, thinking to myself ‘I don’t want to be, you know, too old.’
B York: So when you married, you were…
L Hindley: Twenty-one. I was twenty-one when I was married. Then for those three years I had a really good time in Canberra. All the journalists and I, we used to play cards. When you got together, groups of you would get together because there wasn’t much social life and you’d have it in a home, in a house. Ron McCawley and Pat were people who were married and had a really nice house in Narrabundah, nicely decorated. Everyone would think ‘oh great, it’s on at Ron’s this weekend!’ So we’d make food and do food and bring it down and take your drink and do whatever you did there.
B York: Was he a journalist?
L Hindley: And he was a journalist too. There was George Kerr and…
S Pitt: Commins, Jack Commins?
L Hindley: No, Jack Commins worked for the ABC and they were older. This is a younger group there.
B York: Was it like the journalists were like a group?
L Hindley: Very much a group and they were big drinkers. One of them, Les Love who worked for Kevin Power — Kevin Power was the Head of Service for The Daily Mirror and Les Love worked for him. He was a very big drinker. They called him ‘the lapper’. Everyone knew who the lapper was. He’d always pass out at every party and he often just stayed the night. He’d always drink a lot, but he was a very nice bloke.
S Pitt: They had the bar to drink at in Parliament as well as The Wellington?
L Hindley: Yes, well… We lived behind the Hotel Wellington. You’d just get out of the bus and walk through The Wellington to our units. So what happened was lots of people came from that hotel into our place. I used to have Italian nights by making spaghetti bolognese and lasagne. I had a record called ‘Italian Favourites’ and as soon as anyone was coming I used to put it on and the music would come out. All these songs, [INAUDIBLE] and things like that, giving the atmosphere. So I was always running around but I enjoyed myself. I was never a really good drinker. I’ve never been a good drinker. I have a few drinks and I’m sick.
S Pitt: And Les went on to become a champion golfer some years later.
L Hindley: Yes, I took up… I always liked sport when I had the children. Also Rob, who was a very nice person, was never really a family man. When he had children, he treated me just how he would his mother, he came home to eat. But I understand that was his job too.
S Pitt: There’s one anecdote, my father rings my mother up at 7:30 and says ‘are the kids asleep yet?’ And my mother says ‘no, not yet’ and he says ‘well, Christ! Why not?’ He was just waiting.
L Hindley: He’d hide behind the door until the kids went to sleep.
S Pitt: He wasn’t used to children, didn’t have kids.
B York: I’m glad you brought this up because that was one of my questions. I was going to ask, how was being married to a Press Gallery journalist? How did it affect family life and parenting?
L Hindley: I just accepted Rob exactly as he was because he was a nice person and a nice person to live with. Not nasty in anyway. I just accepted he was an only child and spoilt. I was the youngest of nine and when really, you know, really I had been spoilt in some ways. I had more acceptance. Also, the thing about it is that I did like my own home. I entertained. I’m a garrulous person. I’d always bring people in the house. All the years I was married to Rob, Rob never brought a stranger or a person home. He always ate out at Parliament House.
S Pitt: He did bring Mike Willesee home once and his new bride, do you remember?
L Hindley: No, no. That was an invitation for dinner. No, when I invited people… At my fortieth birthday, he invited all his friends. Everyone. Mike Willesee, Eda Hollitt, nobody of mine. I said ‘what if I can have…’ and I won’t say any names in case they’re still alive, ‘what about if I can…’ ‘No, God no! We don’t want her.’ ‘What about, say for instance, Gwendy?’ ‘Oh, for God’s sake, no. We don’t want Gwendy, she’s hopeless.’ So we had Mike Willesee, we had Richard Carlton and his wife. We just had all the journalists that were around once again. I was selling real estate for…
S Pitt: Tanner?
L Hindley: No, no, over at Queanbeyan… Josie and Alan Curtis. I said ‘well, what about the Curtis’?’ ‘Oh, of course, they’re respectable enough. They can come.’ So that was what I did. I went to, after Susan and Robin went to school, I went to golf. He bought my first golf lesson for Christmas and I didn’t want it. I wanted to go back to tennis. I liked tennis. He said ‘no, here are your golf lessons.’ And so once again, like everything, I went mad on the six golf lessons. I must admit, he minded the kids once while I had my golf lesson. I used to go down then to the old golf club. Lennox Crossing was there and there was a little park. I’d take… I bought an old 1949 Austin utility for myself even though it was 1957 or something. In two years of the marriage, I didn’t collect any pay for two years. I didn’t get any pay. I had it just banked and made Rob, because he was a spend-thrift, you see, I woke up to that, and a bit of a gambler. So I thought ‘I’m not working and having it spent, so I didn’t collect it.’ So after time, two years, I was able to buy a Morris Minor. So we bought the Morris Minor and I never got a ride in it, hardly. [Laughs] So in the end, he was going to buy me a bike with a couple of seats on it for the kids. So I’ve got a 1949 Austin utility. Cut started it on a hill and everyone pushed it around the town. That’s another story.
B York: I’d like to ask about your time here in this building. So when did you start work here?
L Hindley: Well, I was with the Public Service Board and then from the Public Service Board — I was there probably three or four months or about two months — and they sent me then to the Prime Minister’s department at West Block. I was never a fantastic secretary because I’d learnt late. I was a good typist and I could do shorthand but I wasn’t really good. I wasn’t a top secretary. I was always the assistant of the top girl. When I went to the Prime Minister’s department, they gave me these letters of introduction that Menzies had already signed. Letters of introduction for people. You’d get this big sheet of parchment, ‘This is to introduce Betty and Bill Johnson from such and such a place who are traveling overseas to so and so.’ And they’d already be signed by him, so you couldn’t make a mistake. So I had the little cloth there and I’d wipe the hands. I’d just type very nice and neat and slowly. Well, when I say that, I wouldn’t go mad. So they accepted me doing that because I was quite thorough. He said to me ‘I don’t care if you only do twenty a day or ten but just don’t make a mistake.’
So anyway, I worked there and then an offer came here to work for the Government Public Relations officer here who was called Mick Burn. His sister was Sheila Phelan. Sheila and Mick were both very good Catholics and I wasn’t. I didn’t smoke and Sheila smoked. I didn’t like that at that stage.
B York: Can I just ask about working for the Prime Minister’s department, did you meet Menzies?
L Hindley: I saw Menzies mostly in here because Menzies had… I’m trying to think of a name. Stewart Coburn was his other secretary and then… I’ll think of her name in a moment.
S Pitt: But Lesley, getting back to the golf, Lesley became the champion of Royal Canberra Golf and champion of Federal Golf Club and went on to play with Tamie Fraser.
L Hindley: I was always good at sport and that’s what mother said.
S Pitt: You went to the Holt’s when he was Prime Minister in the Lodge, you met politicians a lot.
L Hindley: Yes, yes. You see, Rob became Head of Service. I’ll just get back to here with Menzies. I’m just trying to think of a name. It doesn’t matter. She was one of the Secretaries and I was very friendly with her. So I’d often be in the office with her and Menzies would come in. One day Menzies put his head in and I looked at him and he went ‘boo!’ I wasn’t cheeky back to Menzies at any stage. Another time, I looked out the door and Menzies put his head out the door and I went like that again and he went ‘boo!’ [Laughs] Anyway, she… I can see her so clearly. She was a spinster. I stayed here and I worked.
The funny story about being here is, I was here about three weeks, working for… And you hardly ever saw Mick because he’d always be down on the bar. Sheila said to me ‘Mick always spends a lot of time in the bar because he has to liaison with the other journalists.’ I said ‘that’s a good idea.’ But I knew what she meant. This time, he came to me and he said to me ‘what was your last name again Lesley?’ I said ‘Chalmers’ and he said ‘would you be related to Rob Chalmers?’ I said ‘yes, I’m his wife.’ He said ‘hmm, that’s a bit difficult.’ I said ‘why is that?’ and he said ‘well, you know, not everything’s supposed to go to the press here.’ Rob had said to me ‘nothing that comes out of there were Government handouts and you put them in boxes.’ There were no secrets like that. I said ‘I’m not going to give you any secrets’ and he said ‘nothing that comes out of there is secret. Everybody knows what comes out of the Government Public Relations, it’s just that way.’ He said to me ‘I don’t know about that.’ I said ‘I promise you that I won’t give any secrets away.’ He said ‘well, that’s good.’ I’d already signed a secrecy thing that I was never to give anything to any Communists or anything which you all do. But I was never going to be giving anything to the Press. But I worked here for over a year.
B York: Where were you located here?
L Hindley: I think one of those — they all look the same — one of those doors that we passed, I think. I might have been there. It was like that.
B York: Was it on the ground floor or the main floor that we’re on now? Do you recall?
L Hindley: I think it was on the main floor, yes. It was on the main floor. When you came into King’s Hall, you’d go to the right and go down there.
S Pitt: Not far from the Gallery because dad was just the next floor up in the Press Gallery.
L Hindley: Yes, he was in the Press Gallery there. I’d go from there with all my little papers to distribute, what I’d typed. You had, what they called a gestetner and you copied them. You’d take those up and you’d put them in boxes there. It was not to be released until 4pm this afternoon, something like that. So there were no really big secrets because when you put them up there, Press would get them at ten o’clock in the day and they couldn’t be released until then. But at the same time, I enjoyed working here.
When I worked for the… I worked for Immigration for Hughie Burn. That was another Press… Just accidently that they sent to Press people. And… What’s his name? Ray Maley. Now Ray Maley died here. Ray Maley was working over there in Immigration with Hughie Burn and Ray Maley became Menzies, I think, Press Secretary. Ray Maley died at the Queen’s Ball here. He dropped dead by a heart attack into Rob Chalmers arms when he was talking to him at the ball.
Rob was a good dancer, so when we danced around… They didn’t have a television at the Queen’s Ball but at the Princess Alexander’s Ball they had a television for the first time. So Rob had danced round, whipped me down past and then back again. We’d go past giving her a look and then another look and then the television chap said ‘for God’s sake Chalmers, get out of it will you?’ Because next thing, his body would go flying past and it was on TV. Everyone in Sydney that I knew rang me. ‘I saw you on TV last night with the Princess!’ [Laughs]
S Pitt: I remember as a child we had… You talk about how your wedding was delayed by a week because of…
L Hindley: Yes, I said that earlier.
S Pitt: When Harold Holt died, we had to come back from… and President Kennedy was assassinated, so we were always having family holidays interrupted because…
L Hindley: With Harold Holt, two nights before he died he had a party for the Press in the Lodge. A friend of mine, Joan Commins 22:25 had been a very good friend of Harold’s over the years. They worked in the ABC, Jack and Joan Commins. Harold had said to Joan ‘come and have some of this abalone that I caught.’ She said ‘you didn’t get that, Harold, did you?’ He said ‘I did.’ She said ‘you know Lesley?’ He said ‘yes’ and she said to him ‘I believe Zara has been doing some refurbishing here.’ He said ‘yes, very nice.’ She said ‘what’s the bedroom like, Harold?’ He said ‘well, come up, we’ll have a look at it.’ And she said ‘I need a chaperone, Lesley will have to come with me’ both old friends just laughing.
So off we went, we went up to the bedroom. ‘Two single beds, Harold?’ ‘Oh yes.’ And he sat on one and she sat on the other. He bounced up and down on the bed and he said ‘anything you can do, I can do better.’ She said ‘no you can’t!’ I said ‘yes, I can!’ [Laughs] And that was that. He was a very happy person and he came down laughing and smiling. We went down the coast the next day, on a Sunday I think it was, when he went missing. That was the thing. My new husband was a helicopter pilot. He went searching for Harold. So that’s that chap down there, Laddie Hindley. He went searching for Harold. But I stayed here until I was expecting Susan.
S Pitt: You wouldn’t have been able to stay at work when you were pregnant?
L Hindley: No, no. I knew that but I saved that lot of pay. I bought baby clothes for Susan before she was even thought of. Little booties and everything was already organised and that with the last lot of pay.
B York: Can you tell me what was expected when you knew you were pregnant?
L Hindley: I knew that you couldn’t stay in working. Not only that, you wouldn’t do it with a big tummy in those days. You wouldn’t do it. My mother, for instance, when they were having me, my elder sister had to postpone her wedding because my mother was pregnant. She would have never gone out with a mother being pregnant. She said she cried for two days. She had to cancel the wedding until I was born.
In those days — well, in my day — I used to ride up, I lived at Lawley House, on a bike with a little hat on, a little hat on the head, and gloves to put on to walk off the bike to come inside. You always dressed nice with your gloves. Also, you had lots of girls that were Ministers’ girls, secretaries who were living like Dot Moll [?] who was Fadden’s secretary. Dot Moll [?], she lives out in Campbell still. Dot Moll [?]… They all dressed very well, coming from Sydney. They would get Commonwealth cars to come here because they were working for Ministers and they would get a Commonwealth car, looking nice with their gloves and everything. You’d come on your bike and you’d try to walk in looking good too.
B York: With the not being able to work, what did you actually have to do? Did you have to report to your manager?
L Hindley: No, I didn’t. I just said that I… I did say that I would be retiring because I was going to start a family. Then when I retired and I was walking around Manuka. I saw where they wanted a typist, a secretary. It was Adam Ingram & Son. They were people that built water tanks and things like that. I was a bit bored then. I was about two months pregnant. I thought ‘well, I won’t say anything to them at this stage.’ I just said them ‘I could work for a couple of months if you wanted me, until you got somebody.’ Girls were hard to get to work for a place like that because the Government was here and there weren’t many young people.
But what I did also, I did with the hairdressing. Even at the Public Service Board, this girl came in with nice hair, with a stack up all over her head riding a bike. I said ‘come down with me and I’ll tidy you up.’ I got the comb and brush and they said ‘oh, that looks nice, who did the hair?’ I said ‘I was a hairdresser.’ So what happened was I used to do cutting on a Wednesday night and on a Saturday morning perming. I’d make twelve pound a week when I was only getting five from the Government. So when I stopped work it didn’t worry me that I was losing the job.
B York: With the job here, how many people did you work with?
L Hindley: Here, only with Micky Burn and Sheila Phelan. That’s all. But I knew lots of other people.
B York: Did you have access to the whole building?
L Hindley: Yes, yes. But you didn’t really go… You’d go downstairs to the post office and post your mail and do things like that.
S Pitt: There was no security because we could walk around on the roof.
L Hindley: We could just walk around there. You could just go up into the Press Gallery. The kids could just come around. The girl that does the social work…
S Pitt: Lyn Mills
L Hindley: Lyn Mills.
S Pitt: She was Ray Maley’s daughter.
L Hindley: She was Ray Maley’s daughter. When I was say twenty-three, twenty-four, she was about twelve. She’d be running around with the other kids, running around the top and the Parliament. On a Sunday lots of people came in and maybe just picked up something like that to give to the Press at four o’clock, to be released at four o’clock.
B York: Did you have much to do with Rob? When you were working here?
L Hindley: No, nothing. No, nothing. I had nothing to do with Rob at all.
B York: You didn’t meet for lunch or anything?
L Hindley: Actually, what happened when we were living at Lawley House, we did bring the lunches. I did. I was always a bit on the economy. When we lived at Lawley House, what happened is The Mirror paid for both of us. That’s why I moved there. He could stay at The Hotel Civic so he was paying fifteen pound a week but I arranged it so that if we moved to Lawley House, could we both live for the same. So Rob had to drop his standards from living at The Hotel Civic coming to live at Lawley House with me. But we didn’t pay anything. So when you didn’t pay anything too, you got your three meals a day and you got a lunch. So I used to get the packed lunch. See, I’d forgotten about that. Turn up the radiator, upside down, and toast it. So we’d have toasted sandwiches for lunch.
B York: That was here?
L Hindley: Yes, in the Press Gallery. I forgot about that.
S Pitt: One thing Les that we mentioned when we moved to Caddick Crescent, Narrabundah, which was a Government house. You and dad went on to buy that house but several times over the years, dad was offered a job with the bigger bureau. With those bigger jobs came a really nice house in Forest on Mugga Way. Several times we went to have a look at them but he decided ‘no,’ he wanted to stay his own boss.
L Hindley: Yes. What it is, when he finally started to work with Don Whitington, he had ten percent to work with him. Don gave him ten percent of the business. He enjoyed the work, he loved the work. Then, because he was a super A grade journalist by the age of about twenty-six or twenty-seven, he was very, very young. They give them a grading on the work they do. Don Whitington got him.
Then later on — I won’t say what names — but they offered him Head of Service with a home in Mugga Way, a big white home with servants and everything else. He even accepted mentally to me that he would take it. I went rushing up with the kids and we cut flowers down from there and everything, thinking ‘oh boy, this has got a lovely unit down here. I’ll rent that flat.’ I’m thinking ‘here’s me, we’ll do this and we’ll do that.’ When Rob came home, he said ‘I think I’ll change my mind’ and I said ‘do what you like.’ I had all these big long hydrangeas I had cut from the place. [Laughs]
But he always said to me ‘thank God I married you because I can do what I like.’ I always said ‘I probably won’t live with you after I’m forty’ and he said ‘well, I’ll buy you a horse and you can do something else.’ [Laughs] So Rob and I stayed friends right through our marriage, even though we parted, stayed friendly with the children. Right up at my eightieth birthday, he said to me ‘at least we both made eighty.’ I did say to him ‘who looks the best?’ He said ‘you always won.’ [Laughs] There was no animosity between us.
S Pitt: You haven’t mentioned Robin either, you should mention Robin.
L Hindley: Robin?
S Pitt: He was born in…
L Hindley: Yes, Robin was born in 1957. I’ve got very tall family because Rob was tall and so my son is 6”5’. But the thing is, on Rob Chalmers side, the women were tall. They were just on six feet, all of them. His mother and aunt, they were all very big people. Not fat but tall.
S Pitt: Robin worked here in Parliament House, didn’t he, with dad? How long for, do you know?
L Hindley: He worked for about three or four years with his father here.
B York: In this building here?
L Hindley: In the building. He’d know lots of people.
S Pitt: At 2CH, I think, Robin worked.
L Hindley: I’ve got a couple more questions, I’d like to ask. Would you like to pause though, to see how Laddie is going?
S Pitt: Pause and I’ll go off and see how Lad is going. Finish up and take Les out? Thanks Barry.
Interview with Lesley Hindley part 3
B York: Good, well let’s continue. I’d like to ask about the different functions that you came to, here, in this building. Are there any that stand out as particularly memorable?
L Hindley: Well, the first time that I came to Canberra, I was fortunate that I was quite a good dancer because of the school of dancing that I’d been to. I loved coming to Kings Hall and dancing with my husband. We did that when the Queen arrived and we did that with Princess Alexander. Dancing here was fantastic because you knew you were a good dancer, you were young and have a lovely frock, floating around Kings Hall. It was quite a privilege then. Another time that stands out was when Gough won the election, the Labor election. It was ‘time’ [Refers to It’s Time slogan] and they had the band playing. They had all the ‘time’ people that… Can’t think of their names now.
B York: Like Little Pattie?
L Hindley: Like Little Pattie! And all of those playing at that time and we were dancing to that. That was another memorable time. I’ve been to many functions here in the courtyard here, to lots of cocktail parties. Sitting, I’ve got a picture of myself sitting. I used to tell people that it was my wedding, as a joke, but I told a couple of people, telling lies. I was sitting just down under that tree here now and I’d be about twenty-two and I had a lovely white frock on and very blonde hair. I’m white now but I was very blonde. I’m sitting there and people around me would say ‘that’s a lovely picture. Who is that?’ I’d say ‘that’s my wedding reception’. But it was Parliament House.
B York: Did you become friendly with any of the politicians?
L Hindley: Very friendly with, because of my golfing prowess, I was… Royal Canberra, I played. I was Royal Canberra champion and Federal champion. For nine years I won Federal. I was on a very low handicap, two handicap. At Royal Canberra, I won the Royal Canberra and the Federal in the one week. It’s the only time it’s ever been done. You had to play one and then play the other and the other and the other. I just got caught up in it. They clashed the dates so that nobody can ever do it again because you were champion of both clubs. Now, Tamie Fraser, I played with a lot. She was a very good golfer but she used to love playing golf with me. She used to say ‘you ring me, now, when you play’ and I’d say ‘no Tamie, you’re the Prime Minister’s wife, I’m not ringing you.’ She’d say ‘but no, you’re the good golfer’ and I’d say, ‘yeah but, you know when you can play with me. I don’t know.’ She’d say ‘when the thing is out of town, sometimes I’d like a game of golf nine holes.’ I’d say ‘you just ring me any time.’ She did and we played a lot together. When I say a lot, I mean once every five or six weeks, which was a lot for her. Then we played in the club together.
Ruth Fairbairn, David Fairbairn’s wife, was my very good friend’s bridge partner and also my caddy. People used to laugh that Lady Fairbairn caddied for me. She would clean the ball and run it. She was very, very… I stayed with them a lot on their property with a group of politician’s wives. They’d invite us and we’d go to golf down in Albury. They had a beautiful home, servants, and things that I had never seen before. When you came to the table, Ruth had a very big baia-mare and all the food would be served for breakfast. You never saw a servant. It’d be just there when we sat down. Ruth would pass everything to us. It was magical to be with Ruth. Many a time, I sat in the Lodge, in the kitchen, just having a cup of tea or sandwich.
Another time was quite a funny story with Tamie. I had this Morris Minor. No, not a Morris Minor, a Fiat, a little Fiat. Susan, my daughter, had had an accident with it. The side was crushed in but I was waiting to get it fixed. It didn’t affect the engine because the engine was in the back. When Tamie asked me, she said to me ‘will you come home and have some lunch.’ I said ‘oh listen, my car is all bashed up.’ She said ‘that’s nothing’ and she said ‘I’ve just got to go to Deakin and pick up a few things and you go on up home.’ So when I drove to the Lodge, the guards came out and I couldn’t help it. I just said ‘they got me but Tamie is okay. Will that cause harm?’ [Laughs] I said ‘no, no, no. I’m only joking.’ When Tamie came up behind me, she said ‘what’s this? Go in, go in’ and waved. But the car looked a wreck. Outside of that there were many, many… One story was when Marcia Cain… I didn’t know who the people were and what their job was in Parliament or in Government. I didn’t care. I just played golf and I just played with people. I didn’t worry about whether they were Lady or Sir or not. Once I was sitting up there and we were talking. I didn’t know that her husband Ted was a Taxation Commissioner. I’m sitting and someone kicked me under the table. I said ‘I was doing the tax last night and I thought I better put an elastic stocking on because I’d had a knee operation.’ Someone kicked me under the table and said ‘Marcie!’ I said ‘that doesn’t matter’ and I said ‘Marcie, you don’t care whether I do that?’ She said ‘don’t worry Lesley, I’m not concerned.’ [Laughs]
B York: Did you meet any of the people who held Prime Minister — apart from, as you’ve mentioned, Holt and you’ve mentioned Menzies.
L Hindley: I’d see Holt but no. Not as a… Many Ministers, many Ministers and that but not Prime Ministers.
B York: How did you find the relationships in the building when you were working here?
L Hindley: I didn’t have a lot of contact because I didn’t go to the bar. It was a special bar. They had a special room where you ate. The staff ate in another room. Journalists would be invited to go to the member’s bar and that. I didn’t go and see anybody there like that. Because we were on a diplomatic list for years, I just got so sick of going.
One story I probably should tell you, it was the British High Commissioner. Mr and Mrs so and so will be home at 5:30. I wore very lovely new shoes, white shoes with high heel. As we stood around, the British High Commission kept moving and standing. People, they move you from one to the other. You just stand there and somebody else comes along and you talk to them. Somebody else comes along and then you have something to eat. Then, when we were leaving, we got in the car and Rob said ‘did you enjoy yourself?’ I said ‘I’ll tell you what we might do. We might do what Bernard Shaw does.’ He said ‘what’s that?’ and I said ‘when he receives at home, he sent the invitation back and said so will Mr Bernard Shaw.’ He said ‘you don’t like going?’ I said ‘not really. Not just standing up, just standing up around. I like dinners.’ He said ‘from now on, if you only want to go, we’ll go to dinners.’
So, because he’d be here working at 5 o’clock, he’d just leave Parliament House and go to the Lodge or go somewhere. I’d have to then come from where I lived and drive in. He was the type, he just said to me ‘you must learn to grow and go in by yourself.’ So I’d even go into the Lodge, ‘how do you do, your Excellency?’ and shake hands. I’d just say I was representing Australian Press Services. He said ‘just say that.’ So I did. [Laughs] That’s what I did. I was well-known for going around by myself and then I’d meet up with him and talk and that. Then he’d go his way and I went my way. That’s how I used to, as he used to say to me, ‘grow up. You know, you have to do that. I’m too busy.’ And he was. He was a workaholic. He just loved his work.
B York: Can you tell me more about him? Like what were, from your point of view, the positives and the negatives in his character and personality?
L Hindley: He had a good personality and a good knowledge of things. He was better educated in world affairs than what I was when I met him. After we parted, I missed his knowledge. I would ring up and just say ‘tell me what’s happening. You know this is with Parliament? What’s really happening?’ ‘Don’t worry about that. Oh God, they won’t get it. There’s no way.’ Things like that. ‘He’s just a hopeless. Don’t even consider… He’s no good. He’s a lightweight’ or something like that. But even when we were young he was quite a serious person. He was serious about politics and very, very, very loyal that way. He wasn’t, if he had been a womanizer when we were together, I would have left many years ago because he was never home. You always did everything. He used to say ‘call the man’ and I’d say ‘what man?’ You know, to do anything. ‘Call the man, call the man.’ The thing is with Gorton, when Gorton at one stage, at a cocktail party…
B York: I think this is a well-known incident.
L Hindley: One with me. Gorton at this time, he was pretty full and this person was pushing me. Gorton was saying ‘who’s taking you home tonight?’ That sort of thing as a joke. When I came home, he sat down and said ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen to the country with somebody like that as Prime Minister.’ He was really serious. He wasn’t worried about whether… He wasn’t jealous of me but he just knew that he was running the country and he looked to the Government and the Parliament to… He was very serious in that way.
B York: Gorton has been well documented with his occasional behaviour at official functions.
L Hindley: Yes. The thing with Rob is that he was an only child and I would say that his mother and father spoilt him with not having to be worried about money or even responsibility around the house. Then again, I took that responsibility and I didn’t mind because I was sort of a gregarious person. The house that we had built at Torrens, I’d say to him ‘would you like to come out and have a look at it?’ ‘No, I’d like to wait until it’s all finished and I can come in and say fantastic!’ like that. And that’s what he did.
The kids and I would go over to it and I’d come back. It was being built, a lovely big, white colonial. We were at the other house in Caley Crescent and I’d say ‘wouldn’t you like to?’ ‘No, no, no, no. I’ll leave that to you. That’s your job.’ He meant that. So I didn’t have any interference. If I wanted to do anything he was good to. We didn’t argue over things. That was it. He came and he said ‘you’ve done a fantastic job. I didn’t know it was going to be this good.’ So I got the praise. Because I had sold real estate, I saw the opportunity to buy this land and a good builder to do it. He said ‘I trust you.’ He was kind to his kids but distant in the sense that, when they were babies, he…
I think one of the famous stories about Rob was when he was with his grandchildren. After we’d parted, they started having grandchildren. I’d say to him ‘I’ve got Ben with me now or Matt or something.’ It’d be Monday and I’d say ‘whenever you want to, they’ll be here until Saturday.’ You’d say ‘I can come down on Thursday at 3 o’clock.’ That’s how long he would leave it to come. But he’d say to me afterwards ‘I really appreciate what you’re doing.’ I’d say to him ‘well, you should’ because I kept him in contact with his children and that too. He came home to eat every Friday night after the Hotel for four or five years so that Susan and Robin could see him. We’d have a family dinner and actually, he enjoyed the family dinner because it was just like a big outing. But I said to them ‘always cheer for your father when he comes in because he brings in all the soft drink and keeps paying for us.’ I wasn’t silly. That was another thing. We’d all give him a big clap when he came in. He would be happy. [Laughs] So that’s it.
B York: How long were you actually together?
L Hindley: Twenty-two years. Twenty-two years. He was great friends with Bob Hawke and that mob. They would go… There were a few other journalists, I can’t think of their names now… They were going down to the Melbourne Cup. I said to him ‘I think I might go down to the Melbourne Cup this year’ and he said ‘Les, you’re not invited. I’m going with Bob Hawke and that.’ I said ‘oh well, I don’t really care.’ I didn’t care much about races anyway. So that’s one of the reasons I played cards. I played bridge a lot. I still play bridge four or five times a week in competitions, Deakin. I’d play with my husband now who’s a good card player. But I played golf. I made my life around the house and then going to golf. Rob didn’t play golf with me, even when I became a good golfer, on a Sunday, because he played golf Saturday and Sunday as well as work. He didn’t play golf with me until it was the club championships and then he’d want to play with me. He’d say ‘let somebody else get their own partner. You’re married to me.’ So I just went along with that but I think that I don’t have an argumentative nature. I’m bossy but not argumentative. So I didn’t mind, I thought ‘oh, that’s fair enough.’
B York: Anything else you want to talk about this building?
L Hindley: Here? Here, it was always lovely to come to. On the weekend, we had a lot to do with it. Saturday and Sunday, I would… Rob would book the courts and other journalists would come and we would still come and play tennis here. Rob, until he took up golf, we used play tennis here all the time and bring our lunch and afternoon tea. Wally Brooks and Faye Brooks would come with their children. Wally married again later to Barbara Portway who is now Barbara Brooks. Not really. It was always a lovely place to come to. Rose Gardens were always nice and around the tennis courts, there was this big flower… Floral, not lavender.
B York: I’m not good on flowers, sorry.
L Hindley: No, no. It’s a…
B York: Is it a purple one?
L Hindley: Yes, yes.
B York: I know that one.
L Hindley: The one that climbs up… Lilac, I think. No, it might not be that. But it was all over the tennis court, hanging around. It looks lovely.
B York: Did you go into the chambers at all to hear debates?
L Hindley: Yes, oh yes. Many a time. I’d go at night with… There was one… I’ve always got to be careful with who I say and what’s happening. When Archie Cameron was Speaker, he’d go in and you’d look at him at the side. He had his boots on, his leather… his side boots. Do you know what I mean? Shoes that had ringers cowboys wore, cowboy boots with the thing on. You’d see him under the robes with that there, on the side there in the Speakers Gallery.
Primrose Coleman and Freddy Coleman, he worked for Head of Service for one of the papers. She would… I met her at the tennis and she’d come and pick me up and we’d come here and watch. The boys, they’d be going off to their work. They worked at night when Parliament was sitting. Rob would leave home always about quarter to 9 in the morning and probably not get home until 11 or even later. After Parliament sat and when they got out they went to the Hotel Canberra to sit down. There’d always be dinner, supper, and that’s where they got their stories. Different ones in come and they would sit and talk. That was just a part of the work. Rob, my son’s wife, Rob junior, was working for his father when he met Jane. She said ‘no way, he’s working that job. No way.’ So she pulled him out of it. He would have just gone on and entered the business.
B York: Did Rob ever mention, or did you know of, the Brown and Fitzpatrick case in the 1950’s?
L Hindley: No. The case, the thing that I did know about was… Let me think… When the leader of the Country Party… Was it McEwen?
B York: McEwen? Black Jack McEwen?
L Hindley: Black Jack McEwen rang Rob at one stage with Billy McMahon and there was a controversy between the two of them. He wouldn’t work while he was Prime Minister, if he was going to be. We were in Caley Crescent then and Jack McEwen rang him and Rob said ‘one moment, sir.’ He wants to ask him a question. Rob wouldn’t speak quickly without it. He went like that to me, to get him a little cigar which he smoked. He gave up smoking. He just smoked little cigars and I went and got it for him. Then he said ‘you rang me, sir. I’m just thinking’ and then he started talking to him. He wanted him to know something and then he said to him… I said ‘what did he say?’ and he said ‘you haven’t got a tape on me, Rob?’ He said ‘you rang me and there’s no way I would do that.’ So that was something between McEwen and Black Jack there.
B York: McEwen and McMahon?
L Hindley: McMahon. Yes, Black Jack and McMahon.
B York: Did many politicians phone at home?
L Hindley: Yes. Yes, lots of them. Ruth Fairbairn — it was quite a funny thing — Ruth Fairbairn was always giving me information that I was always forgetting. She’d say ‘I want you to tell Rob’ because Rob wrote Inside Canberra. I want you to explain to Rob exactly when so and so… He came into David Fairbairn’s electorate and did something. I want you to explain to Rob so and so, that he should not have been there. I said ‘right, I’ll explain that.’ Then Don Whitington used to come home with Rob for dinner once a week when Parliament was sitting.
Don said to me ‘have you got any information from Ruth Fairbairn?’ and I said ‘well actually, she did say something to me today.’ They looked at me. I thought ‘I can’t remember what she said.’ Rob said ‘for God’s sake’ and I said ‘one minute, I’ll get on the phone to her.’ So I rang up and I said ‘oh Ruth, are you going to… are you caddying’ —something with golf — ‘are you caddying for me now? What’s happening?’ I said ‘oh, by the way, when Rob gets home, what was that that you told me to tell him?’ and she told me again. I said ‘oh, good. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll put that down.’ Came back and told them. They said ‘that’s very interesting.’ So you’d get little tips.
You did see… When you come to think of it, you get more memories… Going right back to the wives. The wives of the politicians I was quite friendly with because you sat around with them. Tamie Fraser was the only Prime Minister’s wife that I was friendly with. No, I was friendly with Margaret Whitlam. Heaven’s above, Margaret. Susan told me to tell you. Once, we went to Government House before Gough became Prime Minister when they were young.
Rob came home and he said to me… We went to Government House and anyway, we stood in the areas and waited and then we were brought in. It was Sir William Slim, I think, at that stage. We came in and shook hands and curtsied and did that. Then we came into this room. We were there about three quarters of an hour and then we were all going to be ushered out again. I said ‘God, are we all going now?’ Gough said ‘we’re not going there.’ There was a big line, ‘we’re not getting on the line.’ I thought ‘no, how will we get out here?’ ‘We’ll get out the window.’ I thought ‘oh, that’s a bit funny, getting out the window of Government House.’ They were all tall so Gough got out. He’s 6”5’ or something. Rob got out and I got there, to the window, looked down and they held me. Gough put his arms up and Rob and that put his arms up. Both of them helped me down because they could sort of just step out, five foot out.
No, but Margaret. I nominated Margaret for the golf club. She was friendly with my sister in Sydney at golf. They played together. They used to communicate with each other and ask me questions about putting and things like that. Margaret’s father was Justice Dovey and he was on the Liquor Commission in Sydney. No… not Justice Dovey. Justice Dovey was the one who was doing the Liquor Commission. No… He wore a monocle.
B York: I thought it was.
L Hindley: Yes, it is. That’s right. Maxwell was the head of it. Justice Dovey, he was a real… He wore a monocle and I watched the Liquor Commission because Rob was doing that for The Daily Mirror when I worked in William Street. It’s all coming back now. I used to work up there and go to the Liquor Commission, just watch for half an hour in my lunch hour. I said to Margaret, I said ‘your father was fantastic’ and she said ‘wasn’t he a ham. What a ham!’ I said ‘no. I just loved the way he went around with his monocle.’ Anyway, she was a very good swimmer, a top university blue swimmer and she was quite a good golfer. There’s a story I could tell you about Margaret with the golf, with the shoes. Should I tell you that?
B York: Yes, okay.
L Hindley: Margaret had very big feet being a very big woman. I was going to play golf with her at Royal. She was a little bit late and they were calling us on the tee. This is when she was the Prime Minister’s wife. She rode up in the car and as she got out of the car, the car drove away and she said ‘oh heavens, I left my shoes there.’ I said ‘well listen,’ — she’d only just arrived in Canberra then, you know, about six months or something with Gough— and I said ‘well look, sometimes this course is very wet, gets very wet and you could put rubbers. Have you got rubbers?’ ‘No.’ I said ‘well, get a pair of rubbers.’ Don’t worry about it, here’s me telling everyone what to do again. We came into the shop and said to the boy ‘have you got these shoes?’ So she got the rubbers on.
After about four holes, she said to me ‘I’ve got a planters wart on my foot and these rubbers are drawing it.’ I said ‘well…’ once again, I’ll solve the problem, ‘take them off and walk. Nobody will see you. When we get up to the ninth…’ Because being a journalist’s wife, I knew what people would say or think. ‘When we get up to the ninth, we’ll put them back on and walk through the ninth again and the tenth and take them off again.’ ‘Oh, that’s a relief.’ She took them off again and she had socks on. Off we went and we got to the ninth and she only had one shoe. She’d dropped it somewhere.
So I said ‘stay there’ and called the other ones on, ‘come through! Come through!’ I went back and I went back through the things and I said ‘did anyone see a shoe here?’ ‘Oh, there was a shoe that was here. A man’s shoe,’ they said ‘we handed it back in.’ I said ‘oh right.’ I didn’t say I was looking for a shoe. So I went up to the club, to the professional thing and the boy there. I said ‘did somebody hand in a shoe?’ And he said ‘oh, that’s a shoe that Mrs Whitlam had.’ I said ‘no, that’s not it. Give it to me.’ I just said ‘no, that’s not it. Give it to me.’
So with that I just went down, got down the other thing and put it on. I didn’t say a word. Nobody will know anything about it. I didn’t say anything because the press were giving us such a big time, a hard time at that time, which they do about being big and cartoons on people. So if you’d said anything about the shoe, I would have lost a friendship for a start. But she was a very… And I went with her to the Lodge quite a lot of times, just to have a sandwich and things.
B York: Remarkable. I’m thinking maybe we could wind up now. One final question that I’d like to ask is how do you feel when you come back to the building?
L Hindley: Always feel at home. I always feel at home here because I’ve always loved Canberra and I’ve always loved the Old Parliament House. I have been here on a couple of tours. I did come here, because I live in a retirement village, Ainslie Goodwin Retirement, and they run a bus. So they had a bus tour here to the Green room or some room at Parliament House. I came with them. I didn’t say anything and I enjoyed that very much because I knew what it was. They said ‘King’s Hall and people dancing.’ I visualized all that again and it’s happy memories, very happy memories.
B York: That’s great. Thank you so much, Lesley.
L Hindley: Thank you, I enjoyed being here.
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3
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