Nan Boyd was born in Melbourne and came to Canberra with her parents as a baby in 1926. The interview is rich in childhood and young adult memories of Canberra in the 1930s and 1940s. Her mother, Henrietta (nee Obbinson) was a pioneer in the Mothercraft movement in Canberra in the 1930s. Her father, Charles Daley, was secretary of the Federal Capital Commission in the 1920s and later became Assistant Secretary of the Department of Interior.
Listen to the interview
- Nan Boyd
Interview with Nan Boyd part 1
M Richards: …identification, this is an interview with Mrs Nan Boyd, conducted at Old Parliament House on the 14th of April 2005. The interviewer is Michael Richards, the interview is for the Old Parliament House Oral History Program. Mrs Boyd came to Canberra in 1926 as a babe in arms.
N Boyd: Six weeks old.
M Richards: And we’ll be talking about her life here until 1945 or thereabouts when she moved on. Thank you very much Nan for coming in today, welcome to Old Parliament House – welcome back to Old Parliament House.
N Boyd: My pleasure to be here.
M Richards: Can I just ask you to tell us a little bit about what brought you to Canberra in the first place – as a wee thing.
N Boyd: Yes, my family had been living in Melbourne and my family at that stage was my mother and my father, my elder sister, and two brothers. So we were – how many is that – we were four, six in number. And my father was appointed to Canberra from Melbourne where he’d been working on plans for Canberra even in Melbourne before he was sent to Canberra, and he was sent to Canberra to see that the Walter Burley Griffin plan was put into – to oversee the Walter Burley Griffin plan and to see that Canberra was built according to the winning competition, Walter Burley Griffin. I was – I think my father came here before my mother because she had to be with the four children and she was also having me, I was the fourth child, in Melbourne – in Elsternwick – and so with a brand new baby and three other children she came to Canberra and here we were as a family.
M Richards: So where did you live with to start off with, do you remember – well you don’t remember but your family would have told you perhaps?
N Boyd: I don’t remember all – I don’t remember that but I know from – I’ve been told what’s happened – we live for three months in the Hotel Canberra, which is now the Canberra Hyatt but it was then the Hotel Canberra, and all the politicians lived there too because there was no place else for them to live, and all the prominent Canberra people who didn’t have homes here also moved there – and probably like us they lived there for some months while their house was being built. Our house was being built to my mother and father’s prescription in 20 Balmain Crescent, Acton. And…
M Richards: So they designed it themselves?
N Boyd: They did indeed, I’ve actually accessed material in the archives – no I think it was the National Library, I’m not sure which one or the other – I’ve accessed material that said my mother’s desires for the material for the curtains or the carpet or whatever was to happen in the building of the house to her needs with four children and subsequently there was a fifth child. So my mother and father were parents of five children of which I was the fourth.
M Richards: What’s your first memory of growing up in the Canberra?
N Boyd: I think my first memory of growing up in the Canberra would centre around that house in Acton, in Canberra. And the people who lived – who were our neighbours, Dr Bert Dickson the well known entomologist I think he was, and Professor Allen who lived next door to us who was a Professor at the Canberra University College – because ANU didn’t exist then of course. And my early days of playing with the children of these people are my fondest memories.
M Richards: Where did you play?
N Boyd: We used to play in our own backyard – the house was a large house and the grounds were very large, so there was lots of room to be outside or inside. All the time we were in that house that I remember, we had a full time housekeeper or otherwise I don’t know how my mother would have been able to do the wonderful things that she did. So we were never neglected or left alone because the housekeeper was always there, even though my parents were hugely involved with committees always. I knew the word ‘committee’ at a very young age, I had no idea really of what a committee was, but that’s what my parents said ‘I’m going to a committee meeting’, so we got to know that ‘committee’ was a word a tiny age. There’s some interesting things you were asking me, ‘where did we play’, Bert Dickson and his wife whose name I don’t know, had one daughter who was two years older than I was, and her name was Marjorie Dickson, and I used to Marjorie and to me, whatever Marjorie said was gospel.
And so one day – and this is an interesting, amusing little anecdote, but it was very serious at the time – Marjorie said to me ‘Nancy when the baker comes tomorrow, and he’ll come along the laneway between Liversidge Street and Balmain Crescent on his horse and cart, and when he gets down off the cart and goes around the back of the cart and opens the door to put the bread in his basket to take down to the door – to see what the customer wants – we will have a bucket of water and we will throw the water over the back of the baker’, so I said ‘alright Marjorie’, because what Marjorie said was gospel. And so the following day we heard the baker coming and we quickly grabbed this little bucket of water we had, Marjorie was six and I was four years old, and when we got out to a suitable place, the baker waved and we stood at the side until he got to the back of his cart to get the bread in the basket, and Marjorie had said to me ‘your the one who’s going to throw the water Nancy’, so I threw the water over the baker and for some extraordinary reason the baker was not awfully pleased.
And Marjorie and I ran through her gate – back gate – which was opposite our gate and we hid behind a huge packing case that was near their back door, and there was a space between the case and the wall, and we hid down there – crouching down – and every now and again we looked up to see whether the policeman was coming because Marjorie said the policeman was sure to come and we ought to be hiding at the time. The baker must have delivered the bread to my house, and he must have told my mother what had happened and the following day when the baker came, I was in the sand pit across the way – across from the back door – and I heard my mother call in a very authoritarian voice ‘Nancy come here’, and I knew I’d better think of an alibi quickly.
And I remember standing at the back door at the step, and the baker was there, so I knew it was about yesterday, and I was asked to stand up on the step, level with my mother, and she said ‘did you throw water over the baker yesterday?’. And I said ‘yes’, and she said ‘that is an absolutely disgraceful thing to do and I am so ashamed of you and I want you to tell the baker that you will never, ever do such a dreadful thing again’. So Marjorie was a big influence on my life, when a few years later Marjorie came one day on the housekeeper’s day off and my mother was out. And we were probably about – I was probably about eight now – and Marjorie said ‘I think we’ll make marshmallows today and I said ‘alright Marjorie’, because you remember Marjorie – what Marjorie said was gospel…
M Richards: Even though you got into trouble [laughs]…?
N Boyd: [laughs] well maybe that was years before so I’d forgotten and perhaps I wasn’t astute enough to work out what an evil influence she was having on me. So we got out the recipe book and we opened it up and got the ingredients and put – it said put them all in a big china bowl so we did that, and it said then ‘add the cochineal, well we didn’t really know what cochineal was or how you really use it so we just tipped half a bottle in, and the liquid became a ghastly puce colour and then it said ‘put it on the stove and heat it’, so we put the china bowl on the electric stove and set about cleaning up the kitchen, and suddenly there was a most resounding crack and the bottom of the bowl came away from the sides of the bowl, and the puce liquid ran all over the electric stove and down the sides and onto the floor in great pools of sticky, puce, marshmallow liquid and at this stage Marjorie said ‘I need to be going home now, so goodbye’, so I was really in fear and trepidation as to what the reaction of my mother would be, and I set about trying to clean up this sticky, awful mess and when she came home I explained to her ‘we really didn’t know the bowl would break and we didn’t know we’d have a mess etc.’. And my mother simply said, bless her, ‘never mind dear we’ll put that down to experience’, so it was a great relief.
But Marjorie had a big influence, and I have to tell you that before that the influence was in a sad way, because I mentioned that I was the fourth child, the third child was a little boy called Arthur and when I was four and he was six – two years older than me – Arthur became very ill, I’m not exactly sure what he had, but I think it was scarlet fever which turned into meningitis and my parents felt that they should take him to Melbourne, to a specialist to get help because he was very, very ill. I can remember on what we use to call the sleep out – and enclosed area of the house, there was newspaper put down on the floor beside his bed because he was vomiting a lot and he was really extraordinarily ill, and at the age of four, what I can remember is that I was sent across the laneway to the Dickson household to be minded while my parents took Arthur to Melbourne. I can remember being taken down to the Canberra railway station, they put Arthur in a bunk there, and my parents both took off for Melbourne. And at four, I didn’t really realise the complete significance of anything that was going on, I didn’t mind because Mrs Dickson used to put Johnson’s baby powder on me after the bath and that didn’t happen at home, so I thought that was pretty special.
M Richards: How did Arthur do?
N Boyd: Arthur died in 1934, so it was very sad and when my parents came back, I didn’t really have a concept of what had happened – I was only four – but my playmate didn’t come back, so I guess it had its own psychological impact on me as a child.
M Richards: So it’s a small circle – the neighbours, the neighbours’ kids – you mentioned a housekeeper, was that a live-in housekeeper?
N Boyd: Yes that was a live-in housekeeper, we always had one.
M Richards: Was there one particular person or was there a succession?
N Boyd: There have been – over the years there has been a succession of people…
M Richards: Do you remember any of their names?
N Boyd: I can’t at the moment, but I can tell you that one was a Scottish lady and she – for instance one of the things that we always remember about her, she – my mother said to her ‘when you’re ordering the vegetables will you order some pumpkin’ and she said ‘pumpkin? Pumpkin? We feed that to the pigs at home, we couldn’t possibly eat that here’, so there were interesting times… M Richards: Any other servants in the house?
N Boyd: No other servants in the house, but at one stage we had two Aboriginal girls with us and with all the history that we’ve got of what we did to the Aboriginals or what we didn’t do, my opinion would be that those girls had an opportunity that was really most beneficial to them.
M Richards: How old were they when they came…?
N Boyd: They were probably be about seven – fifteen, seventeen somewhere there.
M Richards: And how long did they stay with you?
N Boyd: I can’t tell you that, because I’m not sure. We went down to Cootamundra to a place where Aboriginal girls where and picked them up. We took them to Sydney with us, so they were only new, we went straight from Cootamundra to Sydney – I can remember we got in a lift and we just – we were used to getting into lifts, but they had no idea so they were terrified in the lift and when we pressed it to go up or down, whichever it was, they were sort of in a state of shock, so it was a learning experience for us, it was a learning experience for them. And when we came to the escalator, and asked them to step on this moving thing, it was also quite a new experience for them – and they’d never seen the see before, we went to Manly – that was a whole new – but I think from the point of view of comfort and personal enrichment that their time with us was good for them.
M Richards: Were they doing work in the house or…?
N Boyd: Oh yes they were. My mother had to train them because we had official guests and official people coming to the house from time to time – my mother, when they were first there – their names were Effie and Jean, Effie was closer to full blood and Jean was more half-caste. And my mother needed to train them in practical ways to do what – to behave the way she thought they should when people came. So one day she said to the girls ‘I’m going out now and you know what to do, you know what has to be done, so do that’, and my mother walked out the gate and went away a little bit and then came back and rang the front door bell to see how the girls would respond. And Effie came to the door and my mother said ‘oh good afternoon, is Mrs Daley in?’ and Effie of course knew that she was Mrs Daley so Effie was all embarrassed and her head when down and she screwed up her apron with her hands and that was one of the training things that I noticed as a child that went on.
M Richards: Do you have any idea of where they went after they left you?
N Boyd: No but I would love to know, I think this is one of the things in our lives – what happened to people that you knew at school or you knew at university, or you had in the home, what’s happened to them? And it would be of great interest to me to know what happened to the girls.
M Richards: Where did they sleep?
N Boyd: They had their own – they shared a bedroom which had a basin with hot and cold water in it, and it was carpeted and built in wardroom and a big dressing table and so on. So…
M Richards: And were they paid?
N Boyd: I really can’t answer that because I don’t know, see I was still very young.
M Richards: How old were you at that time?
N Boyd: I might have been about eight or nine.
M Richards: So you’d started school by that stage…
N Boyd: Oh yes I’d started…
M Richards: So where did you go to school?
N Boyd: Well I went to school at Telopea Park School, the choice of going to primary school was Telopea Park School or Ainslie School or St Christopher’s, that was the choice, there were three schools in Canberra. And we went to Telopea Park so we had to walk down the laneway which went at the back gates to Liversidge Street bus stop, and we’d catch the bus there, and we would stop to pick up all the children who went from this side of Canberra across to Telopea Park, which is at Barton.
M Richards: Why didn’t you go to Ainslie, which would have been closer?
N Boyd: I have no idea why we didn’t do that. Subsequently my father – as history will tell us – wrote the school song for Ainslie and did other things for the school out of his love for education I suppose and also did lots of things, and I think there’s a school sports house at Campbell High that carries his name, so he was always on – my father was always on the platform whenever there was any official education day at all the schools you see, and my friends used to say to me ‘tell your dad not to go on and on and on with his speech’ so…
M Richards: He was Charles Daley wasn’t he, so you were Nancy Daley at that time…
N Boyd: I was, yes, Nancy Beatrice Daley.
M Richards: And what was your mother’s name?
N Boyd: Mother had a very long name, her name was Henrietta Jessie Shaw Obbinson – before she was married – and she became Henrietta Jessie Shaw Daley, but she was known as Jessie.
M Richards: And they were both – obviously your father was very senior in the civic administration and became civic commissioner, but your mother was very prominent too in social life, in community life in Canberra?
N Boyd: She was indeed and coming to Canberra with four children and subsequently having – well at that stage before she had a fifth child, she realised that families and women who are having babies were being – were all being brought to Canberra for the public service from all parts of Australia, so the people – the women who were having babies, as my mother had a fourth child, she knew what to do with a baby, she knew how to feed it and how to put a nappy on it and so on, but there were many first time mothers who had no idea and there was no Mothercraft centre or anywhere where they could get advice. So the history books tells us that my mother called likeminded women to meet with her in the lounge room of our home at Acton – very big, lovely room it was – to see how they could work together to get a Mothercraft centre established, so that was her first involvement.
M Richards: Did she get a good response, did people turn up?
N Boyd: Yes she did, and I’ve seen a picture in the archives I think it is, a committee and they’re sitting under a big, spreading tree outside, and they’re all sitting there with their knees together and their gloves on and their broad-brimmed hats and they’re all smiling at the camera – it’s a lovely picture of the past…
M Richards: So did you get involved in any of the things she started – you joined the Guides didn’t you?
N Boyd: I did indeed…
M Richards: Anything else…?
N Boyd: It was Brownies before – Brownies before the Guides.
M Richards: Which Brownies group would that have been – where did you meet?
N Boyd: We met in a little hut, the name of which I can’t tell you, but it was at Acton quite close to where we lived – between Acton – the Department of Interior was opposite where the hospital was – the hospital that fell down – was blown up. And so we used to always meet there for our Guides and Brownies.
M Richards: So you went on to Guides – you would have been a Guide at about the time the war broke out wouldn’t you?
N Boyd: I was in Guides at the time the war broke out, yes. My other sister Meg – we called her Meg but her name was Margaret Rose, she was the oldest in the family – was a Guide captain at that time.
M Richards: So what impact did the war have on you as a Guide, did you have war duties as a Guide?
N Boyd: As a Guide I think we participated in the various activities that the authorities felt we should do to help because the men were away at the war, and they needed help with various things – so the school and the Guides and any other groups of young people – we went out to pick peas and potatoes on the farms and we did other activities ‘in case of emergencies’ I think it was called. Bobby Llewellyn had a horse farm at Acton, not far from where we lived and they ran a course – he ran a course there to teach people how to shoe a horse – that’s what he showed us – and how to put a horse into a jinker in case of automated – cars being unavailable to transport people we would know how to substitute with the horses.
My sister Joan and I – only two years apart, and very good friends – used to love going there because afterwards if we were very good and polite and so on, we were allowed to ride his horses, we got a free ride. We remember one time Joan was riding the horse and I was riding the bike and we rode out to the airport because they were widening the airport tarmac I suppose, or the airport roads to make the runway longer and she remembers riding out there on the horse and with me on the bike.
M Richards: So did you ever actually have to use a horse and cart instead of a car?
N Boyd: No.
M Richards: No it didn’t quite come to that.
N Boyd: No, it was somebody’s vision of what might be needed, but of course it didn’t happen. We also went to Telopea Park School to the cookery department and learnt how to make cakes as though we didn’t know – in case we had to make food for masses of people in case of war coming to Australia.
M Richards: So you didn’t every actually have to do that…
N Boyd: No.
M Richards: Were you very conscious of soldiers in the town – the Americans who were stationed near Canberra?
N Boyd: Indeed we were, we had the Dutch Air Force had moved into Canberra en masse, so there were lots of Dutch servicemen here – airmen in particular – and some of the – as my sister Meg was nine years older than I was, she was into the era of becoming engaged and marrying, and so many of the Canberra girls married the Dutch airmen, and my sister used to talk about it ‘oh I used to meet them’ and so on. One of the things that I – upset me, even though I was only a child, was in our kitchen in Canberra, we had a round kitchen table, fairly large kitchen, which had a cork tiled floor, and they were visiting and for some reason – I can’t imagine why it would be, maybe I wasn’t in my kitchen but maybe I was in the kitchen of this lady that I will speak about – she was down – she was pregnant, I suppose seven or eight months because she was very obviously pregnant – and she was down on her hands and knees scrubbing the tiled floor while her husband sat back in a chair just relaxing and as a child I thought that was not right, I didn’t know much I suppose about carrying a baby but…
M Richards: So who was that, who was this lady that you were talking about?
N Boyd: I really can’t give you a name for her either – don’t have that. Michael could I just go back to the school bit? Because that was interesting.
M Richards: Mmm…
N Boyd: We used to go on the bus, and I said we picked up everybody along the way, and the bus used to go to Eastland – East Lake which was before the Prime Minister’s Lodge, and East Lake and Causeway was spoken of by adults and children as the slums of Canberra, and I’m rather ashamed now that I can reason things out for myself that we called them the slum kids. I feel a bit ashamed of that, but never the less that’s the way it was, and some of these children came to school without shoes and with clothes dishevelled or dirty and there were episodes of school that I’ll mention in a minute. But after we went to East Lake, we pulled in to the driveway of the Prime Minister’s lodge, and at this time Prime Minister was Joe Lyons and his wife Dame Enid Lyons, and Dame Enid and my mother were both the same build, had the same sort of hair cut and they often could have been mistaken for each other if you had not known who they were.
That plays a part in our future life – but Joe and Enid Lyons had eleven children and those children used to crocodile out of the Lodge and get on the bus, and we all knew them although they weren’t at our school, and all of these eleven children and the last of the children – who was in the crocodile – was little Barry who was a dwarf. Barry had a very big head and a very tiny body and very bandy little legs, and I can still see in my mind now Barry trying to keep up with the big brothers and sisters to get on the bus. Everybody loved Barry, he was a gorgeous little boy, and they would be dropped off at the St Christopher’s Convent for school and we would then go on to Telopea Park for our school day. And Telopea Park at the time was primary and secondary – so at the end of the day, the reverse process would happen, we’d drop the children off at the lodge and Barry would be last out again and we’d see him running to catch up with the others to get in to the lodge, and we’d drop off slum kids and we’d come back to Acton, so it was a big day.
M Richards: So did you ever become at all friendly with either the children of Joe and Enid Lyons or any of the slum kids?
N Boyd: Well I guess the slum kids at our school I – in that Causeway was also called the slums, and so I just knew that that was what a slum was like – or I thought that that was what a slum was like, the houses there were on their own plot of land, they were fenced around, so they weren’t up against any other house and they all had water on and electricity and they could have a garden, so far from being a slum. And I didn’t really realise the difference until I was taken on a train to Sydney and my mother said to me ‘that’s a slum’ at Redfern and from the train I could see the backyards of the houses together, so that was the stage at which I realised that Causeway was not a slum.
M Richards: So did your parents call Causeway a slum, or was this the kids that had labelled it?
N Boyd: I think largely it was the kids, but I heard other parents or other people calling it slums – I don’t think my parents would have called it the slums but…
M Richards: Were the kids treated separately in the school – did you play with them or was there a separation in the playground for example?
N Boyd: There was no – do you mean a separation between boys and girls?
M Richards: No, no just in terms of social interaction. I mean were they just treated as other kids by the rest of you or…?
N Boyd: By us, yes, and it really bothers my conscience when I think of the injustice to anybody – there was a boy in my class and we had the same teacher for two years running, the class – call her Miss Smith – Miss Smith took a dislike to a boy called Walter Gregory. Walter used to come to school without any shoes, she used to say that he smelt and as soon as he’d arrive in the classroom she would say ‘Walter’ in a very angry voice, ‘go home and don’t come back until you’re clean’, and I thought that was a huge injustice, but worse than that, whenever he was in the classroom, she sat him in the very back desk and there were two seats behind one desk, and Walter always sat in that seat of so called disgrace because of his economic circumstances, and worse than that, she used to say to the class ‘if you misbehave you’ll go and sit next to Walter Gregory’, and I thought that was the most shocking – even as a child that rankled for me as a huge injustice. And we had that teacher for two years, so I still wonder what happened to Walter Gregory, and if I could meet him today and give him a hug and say ‘how’s life been Walter, I hope things have made out for the time that you had in those two years at the school’. So I suppose the sense of injustice is something that works in our being…
M Richards: Do you think the other kids in your class felt that that was unjust as well? Or was it just you?
N Boyd: I’m sure everybody would have felt it because it was so prominent…
M Richards: But you didn’t talk about it…
N Boyd: It was so prominent, yes.
M Richards: There was nothing much you could do about it though…
N Boyd: No, no, very little.
M Richards: Did you ever tell your parents?
N Boyd: Probably I did. My parents were often a lot of time at committee meetings remember. I’ll get back Michael – I’ll get back to you asking me about the servicemen and the war.
M Richards: Yes.
N Boyd: The Canberra Community Hospital, which in the beginning was beside our place or just across the road at Balmain Crescent, Acton – but then they built the big new hospital and that was down the road near – across the road from the Department of Interior, big brick – new brick hospital. But when the war started the Americans took over that hospital, the whole of the hospital for their service people. I started to wonder yesterday where the Canberra people went in that time, but I don’t know the answer to that either. But the hospital then became full of American servicemen, particularly soldiers and some sailors and so on. And they used to walk from that hospital along the path coming back towards Liversidge Street where I caught the bus for school.
And my father who was working at the Department of the Interior, used to walk the same path to get to – to come home for lunch, and many times they would catch up with him or get in to conversation with him, and the thing that he said they would always ask was ‘have you got any daughters?’ and ‘can we meet them’, so father who had three daughters was not about to introduce us to anybody. And I have to say that at that age, even when I was 17, the servicemen – there was a rec hut, called the Recreation Hut, but we called it the Rec Hut at Manuka, and it was a hut for entertainment for the servicemen when they were not on duty, and I was permitted at the age of 17 to go down to that Rec Hut – which I thought was a huge privilege because I was only 17, and I thought that at 17 you didn’t do these sorts of things, you didn’t have an older friend or go out on dates or anything like that.
So different today – but I used to go down to the Rec Hut to help cook meals and to help serve them – particularly to serve them, and the American soldiers would ask you for chops and sausages and bacon and steak. And they would ask you also for jelly and ice cream and they would ask you bring them all at the same time. And they would tip the jelly and the ice cream on to the steak and sausages and bacon and then they would mix it all up, and often it would be sprayed or peppered around with cigarette ask – because they were smoking a lot – and then they would eat this – what we considered a ghastly mess on the plate – they would eat this food. And that to us was quite extraordinary. Sometimes we danced with the servicemen, and again I felt, you know ‘fancy me at 17 dancing with grown men’. My sister Joan can also remember being there and giving service in the Rec Hut.
M Richards: Did you have to fend them off? Where they trying to take you out, trying to go on dates…?
N Boyd: I suppose in that I – I suppose in that I considered at 17 I was too young, I probably wasn’t aware of anything like that, I probably would have just said no.
M Richards: But you were asked?
N Boyd: I don’t remember that either Michael, a long time ago.
M Richards: So they – they were basically polite?
N Boyd: Oh yes they were pleased to be at the Rec Hut because of the relaxation from their chores and things of being part of the services. My brother Geoff had gone to the army – joined the army – Geoff was seven years older than I was, he was the second son – the second child in the family. And he joined the army and became a commando and he went up to Canungra in Queensland to do the commando training. And then he went to New Guinea in the Second Seventh Independent Company, Double Brown Diamonds, and he was fighting the Japanese up in the Finisterre Ranges. It became a very sad time for our family because quite tragic things happened at that stage. My – I was learning – I’m a bit unsure here…
M Richards: Take your time.
N Boyd: In the context in which order to put these things, there’s so much in my mind. So my brother was up there in New Guinea fighting, my sister Meg who was nine years older than I, her fiancé was Wally Campbell, and he was a pilot fighting the Germans in the desert overseas, and so he was away for three years – they became engaged and then they didn’t see each other for three years – so he was over there and my brother was up in New Guinea and my mother became very ill, and we’re talking about 1943, I was at school here doing my final year – in those days it was called the matric year – and I was captain of the school, the new Canberra High School – it was at the time Canberra High School, it opened in 1939 – and I was doing piano as a subject for my Matric and I was learning from the nuns as the St Christopher’s Convent because my father – we were not Catholic people, but my father thought that they were the best teachers available at the time, so I used to go there every Saturday morning and have my lesson and so on.
And at this particular time my mother in August of that year – 1943 – went to Sydney to get the best treatment that she thought. She had cancer, and my sister Meg eventually went down to be with her so we were at home without Mother or sister and my father decided that we should move in to the Hotel Kurrajong and have our meals there, that would be home. So my father and Joan and I moved in to the Hotel Kurrajong, and we were living there and going to school. And when it got to swot vac – that’s the week before the exams – sister Mary Justine had said to me ‘when the examiners come up from the Conservatorium in October, don’t do the exam at that time because your circumstances – your family circumstance is so difficult, give yourself the extra time to practice and get your pieces ready and you’ll go down the weekend before the exams start, on Tuesday, you’ll go down to Sydney to the Conservatorium and do your exam there’.
So the week before was swot vac and father was at work and Joan was at school and I was doing swot vac at the Hotel Kurrajong and I went down to have a lesson with the nun and when I got back there was a message to say ‘ring Nan’ from Dad’s secretary – Helen Reynolds she was – to say ‘I think you should ring your father because there’s bad news’. So I had five miles to ride on my bike, and I was all the time thinking in my mind a question that you cannot possibly answer, and that was if either my mother or my brother had died, which one would I prefer it to be. And you can’t answer that question. So I had five miles on my bike and when I got home my father said to me ‘Your mother has died in Sydney do you want to come down to the funeral tomorrow or do you want to stay here and practice your piano for your exam?’ and I said ‘I think I’d better practice the piano’ and he said ‘Well you’ll catch the train at the railway station on Friday, you’ll bring your sister Joan with you and you’ll be there four o’clock to catch the train and you’ll come to Sydney’, which is what happened.
On that day in the Hotel Kurrajong – so we had no family here, no family, no relatives, no, no one. So we did catch the train on the day – he told me this and he disappeared to Sydney – some lady whom we didn’t know at all, and because my parents were so prominent in Canberra and everybody knew my mother and my father, she took us for a picnic up Mt Ainslie, I remember. I don’t know who she was and we hadn’t known her before that, but she just put a picnic together and I just kept saying ‘my mother couldn’t possibly be dead’, but there it was in the Canberra Times, and I thought they’d made a mistake, couldn’t be that. So it was a very, very, very difficult time, and when I got to Sydney, they took me on the Saturday morning to see where my mother had been ill and died, and in the afternoon at two o’clock they took me to the Conservatorium and said ‘play your pieces’ for the exam, which was shocking – I was quite a mess – I think the examiner was told the circumstances and I passed.
And on Sunday we drove the car home, ACT 1, which we always had, and on Monday we moved out of Hotel Kurrajong in to the house at Acton. And on Tuesday morning at nine o’clock I rode my bike to the school to do the exam and all the children gathered around me and saying ‘I’m sorry your mum died’ and the staff did the same. So it was a very trying time. For my brother trying as well because up in the Finisterre Ranges, he was – he got scrub typhus, now they didn’t know how to treat to scrub typhus, they knew how to treat malaria, but scrub typhus was new. And so you get it by being bitten by a mite from a rat, and that’s what happened to Geoff, so he was unconscious for ten days, and the fuzzy wuzzy angels carried him down out of the Finisterre Ranges to Port Moresby and at the end of ten days he became conscious again and they sent the Padre in to say ‘your mother has died in Sydney’. So for the family it was very traumatic.
M Richards: In that time, you were living in Canberra and you’d even moved to the Hotel Kurrajong in 1943 for a while, how aware of Parliament House were you? Did you ever come here to see the parliament, did you see politicians going around?
N Boyd: There were politicians living in Hotel Kurrajong.
M Richards: Of course.
N Boyd: Arthur Calwell was one. We were aware that his table manners and ours didn’t match and so…
M Richards: You’ll have to expand on that comment.
N Boyd: [laughs] well I think his children of – our parents as they were – we had very strict rules about behaviour and about the way to behave and the correct way to do all things, exceedingly strict rules about those sort of things – you would never have gone outside the guidelines, except one day when I had either chickenpox or measles or something where you stay in bed as a child. And I guess this – stop.
I’ve mentioned that we had very strict table manners and so on and often we had international visitors in our home – that’s a whole ‘nother story, but we knew exactly – we were told exactly how to speak and we were told that – or we knew that you don’t divulge anything that’s said in the family or anything that my father might have said that was meant to not go outside. So we knew all those sorts of things and the discipline I guess was just quite strict.
So I can remember one day when I had measles or chickenpox and I was in the bedroom that Joan and I shared, and my bed looked at the dressing table which had a very large mirror. And they brought up my meal on a tray and the rest of the family were eating their meal all the way down in the other part of the house. So there was no close proximity and as I ate my meal I was watching myself in this big mirror and I did all the things that we were not allowed to do – I stuck my mouth as full as I could get it with the food until it was dribbling out of my mouth onto the plate and I got my knife and fork and said ‘and this one’s over here’ as I pointed to the heavens ‘and that one’s over there’ as I pointed the fork in the opposite direction. And I put food in my mouth to make it full and then I started to give a long dissertation of something or rather that I chose to talk with my mouth full. And I suppose in some sort of way that was a release for me – I didn’t dare tell anybody, but you know now, now…
M Richards: So what was wrong with Arthur Calwell’s table manners?
N Boyd: I suppose we – he just did some of these things that we were never allowed to do. He probably put his knife and fork on the side of the plate leaning down onto the table – we would never be allowed to do that. And he probably spoke with his mouth full, we would have observed these things as a big difference for us.
M Richards: So were they commented on?
N Boyd: They were by us, we talked about it.
M Richards: Okay. Did you ever talk to him or any of the other politicians who lived at the Kurrajong – Ben Chifley was there too.
N Boyd: Yes I suppose – our time there became a very traumatic time because of the events that I’ve just described, and so I don’t really remember a huge amount about that. Our Phys Ed teacher from Canberra High School, who was a very favoured lady of mine – I liked her very much because I was into all the active things at school – and she was the first Phys Ed teacher that we’d ever had in Canberra, it was at the high school – so I thought this phys ed business was really great. And in our bedroom at Hotel Kurrajong, Joan and I could look out the window and see things, and she had a friend who was becoming a very close friend – close relationship, and they were probably kissing or hugging or just something like that and not too far away from our bedroom window, so we thought it was quite fascinating to see what the teachers were doing in their time off. And she was living I think perhaps in the same place or…
M Richards: So you’re keeping an eye on the teachers but not on the politicians?
N Boyd: Yes.
M Richards: Did you ever come to Parliament House at that time?
N Boyd: I’ve come to Parliament House ever since I can remember that I walked with my mother. My mother used to come here frequently because part of her job was to entertain overseas people and important people from Australia that had come here for whatever reason. So my mother would entertain these people and of course she would bring to show them Parliament House. And we’d often come at those times – I came here with her and she’d just come to the front desk – and the security in those days was nothing like it is today – and whoever was in charge at the door would say ‘Oh good morning Mrs Daley, just go ahead’. So ‘Just go ahead’ we did with our guests. And we – she would show them all over Parliament House, just show them everything. And we used to go into the Prime Minister’s apartment and I loved the back as a little girl because he had a pullout bed from the wall – the bed pulled out from the wall and it looked like a cupboard before when it was up, and it pulled out – well I thought this was the most marvellous thing and we couldn’t way to get in to his room to pull the bed down.
M Richards: So you’d pull the bed down…?
N Boyd: Saw that many times.
M Richards: Did you jump on the bed?
N Boyd: No [laughs] oh no that would not do.
M Richards: So you would show the pull off – pull out bed to the visitors?
N Boyd: Yes, every time because – I suppose because it was unusual or it was unusual for us.
M Richards: Right, so where else would you take the visitors?
N Boyd: My mother would take them wherever she chose to go, and that to me – you know in this day and age would be unheard of.
M Richards: Would you go on the roof?
N Boyd: Don’t remember much about the roof, but we just went everywhere – probably we’d go on the roof to see the view, to see what Canberra looked like – look at the sheep that were walking around outside.
M Richards: You remember that?
N Boyd: Oh yes because a lot of Canberra was just fields – open fields. Travelling to school on that bus we’d travel through lots of fields because there weren’t houses.
M Richards: So if parliament was sitting, would you go in to the gallery?
N Boyd: Probably go in to the visitor’s gallery.
M Richards: The one up the stairs or down on the floor of the House?
N Boyd: I think up the stairs.
M Richards: Right. Do you remember…
N Boyd: It might have been both, I’m not really sure, but I’ve been in there many, many, many times and…
M Richards: Do you remember any particular speeches or particular politicians; is there anyone that really struck you as being memorable in those years? Mr Curtin for example, do you remember… N Boyd: I remember what all of those people looked like because I’d have known them and people like Joe Lyons I would remember because my father had a huge amount to do with Joe Lyons – in consultation about building Canberra and what was happening. And they had been right from the start and I heard stories – my father telling us stories about him, and so my father told me this story about how we came to have ACT 1 in the beginning it was FCT 1. My father told me that they had to decide about car registration in Canberra and how it was going to happen and who was going to have the numbers. And then they came to see who was going to have the – it was the Federal Capital Territory in those days – who was going to have FCT 1.
And Dad said to Joe Lyons ‘Of course you’ll have that because you’re the Prime Minister, you’re the number one person’ and he said ‘oh no I want you to have that and I’ll establish red C star 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, and I’ll have red C star 1 and you will have FCT 1’. So we had FCT 1 right from the earliest times that I can remember it was – I’m trying to think of the name of the car, that’ll probably come – but we had an old car with a big open back and the celluloid type windows in those days and FCT 1 and we subsequently had ACT 1 – I can always remember for ever that we were always pointed at, people always pointed at the car that was FCT 1 and then even heard people say ‘I wonder what the first act is?’ When it became ACT 1, people that didn’t know and didn’t know much about Canberra either said ‘I wonder what ACT 1 means?’
M Richards: You said earlier on…
N Boyd: ‘Armstrong Siddeley’, excuse me. An Armstrong Siddeley we had.
M Richards: Right, that was what the Commonwealth car fleet was at that time.
N Boyd: Yes.
M Richards: You said earlier on that your mother and Mrs Lyons were remarkably alike and that that would one day prove to be important; what’s the story about that?
N Boyd: It’s an amusing story, my mother as we mentioned started – had a part in starting all the cultural things for women and girls here starting with the Mothercraft centre. And then she was involved in starting Girl Guides; she was the first commissioner of Girl Guides here. She was also hugely involved in the YWCA and getting that started and going. And they eventually named a room after in the YWCA which was over at Civic Centre. There was the Lady Hopetoun room, I remember, but then they named this other room the Jessie Daley room after my mother. And she was also involved in starting the National Council of Women, and hugely involved in that and she used to go to conferences in Sydney and Melbourne represent the National Council of Women. And we as children loved her doing that, mostly because when she came back she brought us presents.
So it was the present that we were all interested in, we didn’t know what she did down there but when she came back there’d be a present and that’s what we enjoyed – I still have a couple of those little things. And so this particular time she was at a conference in Sydney, and a lady who – part of the conference – said to her ‘what do you do at Christmas time?’ and my mother said ‘we always go to Manly and we always stay in a boarding house there for six weeks of the school holidays and then we go back to Canberra’, and this lady said ‘well I wonder if you could do me a favour?’ And my mother said ‘what’s the favour?’ And she said ‘the Anthony Hordern House’ – which was a magnificent mansion with lawns sweeping down to the harbour and superb interior decor and sweeping stair cases that came down on both sides to the entrance and a parquetry floor, and she said ‘I wonder would you be kind enough to bring your family and live in this house for six weeks at Christmas?’. She was the principal of a girls’ finishing school and they liked to have the house occupied by a family and there was a guard on the gate with a gun in his belt – well I’d never seen anything like that before, but the war time things were starting to happen – and my mother said ‘how could I resist?’ And so we moved into this Anthony Hordern’s mansion at Darling Point. And I’m coming to the story about the ACT 1 car and the fact that my mother and Dame Enid who had a lot to do with each other always, and looked alike.
On this particular day that I remember, my mother said to Joan and me ‘we are going out and I want you to be ready and I want you to get in the car’, so we were travelling from this magnificent mansion, my mother was driving the car and we had to come around a bend, a curve actually, into a street that was a T intersection at the top and at the top was a policeman on point duty letting this lot go and then that lot and so on. And as we came around the curve he must have seen the numberplate ACT 1 and he said in his Sydney – little Sydney head, that must be Dame Enid Lyons – and so he stopped everything, everything ‘stop, stop, stop’ and then he marched up in his very best style down the middle of the road – I can still see him in my mind today – it was obvious then that he was coming to our car, and my mother was thinking ‘What did I do wrong’ you know ‘what’s the problem’, and when he got to her car window, she wound the window down for him and he clicked his heels and he bowed very nicely and said ‘Now you may go Dame Enid’ and mother said ‘Thank you constable’ and we drove out around all these other cars that were lined up in the queue to go somewhere and we as children was huge fun. So that’s one of the stories that I love.
M Richards: We need to stop there because that’s…
Interview with Nan Boyd part 2
M Richards: This is tape two of an interview with NaN Boyd at Old Parliament House on the 14th of April 2005. The interviewer is Michael Richards.
Nan, we’ve been talking about the war years, and we’ve talked about difficult times for your family – your mother dies, your brother is off fighting in New Guinea and your sister’s fiancé is off in the desert – if you were asked to give three words that describe your memory of that time as a young person living in Australia, particularly the time after the war with Japan broke out in 1941, what three words would you use?
N Boyd: That takes a lot of thinking about, that’s a very thought provoking thing to do – three words – one of the words I think would be a feeling of helplessness because there was the war and I discovered that the war was on when I went home for lunch from the Canberra High School back to our house at 20 Balmain Crescent – it was about a five minute ride at that – and I’d ridden home for lunch, which I did every day, and at 12 o’clock the news came on and it was Winston Churchill and he said ‘we are at war with Germany’ and so I was in my first year of secondary school, so I was probably 11 or 12 and it was a shocking thing to hear – I didn’t really know what war was I suppose in its full intensity, so it was a shock thing, I had to just continue doing what I did on that day – I had to ride my bike back to school and go to school and do the lessons wondering what it was going to mean to me and the family. And having no idea in the wide world really what it means.
M Richards: So you heard…
N Boyd: So a feeling of helplessness because what could you do about it? When you’ve got a problem you think of ways to meet the challenge and alleviate anything, but there seemed to be nothing that I could do – or probably our family.
M Richards: I’ll just stop you for a second there – you heard Mr Churchill, did you hear Mr Menzies?
N Boyd: I don’t remember hearing him then, but I would have heard him at night – I would have heard him at night.
M Richards: Okay, well that’s one of your three words used up, can you think of another one?
N Boyd: Ah fear, I would say. Because the announcement was made with a very ominous, tragic – tones in the voice, and also a determination that that’s what was going to happen and nothing could alter it so – and there was a big question mark about how we were all going to be affected by this. So I’d have to say fear, fear of the unknown. So we’ve got helplessness or hopelessness and fear – I suppose curiosity would have to come into it, because as a child I hadn’t ever experienced war before or given a thought to the fact that we could be involved – they were already talking about – that our men would have to go and help fight in the war I suppose in those early days. Not at the time of the announcement because I didn’t – you know they wouldn’t have organised Australian troops at that time, but – yes I think they’re the three words that I’d – off the cuff.
M Richards: Mmm, and when the Japanese attacked in 1941, what three words would you use then?
N Boyd: Incredulous or unbelievable, meaning unbelievable, fear again – because it was our place, our country – and what the third one is – anger probably, anger that our country was going to be attacked, being attacked from outside by anybody – how dare they? Yes I think anger would have to be in there.
M Richards: So do you remember hearing about the bombing of Darwin and the other bombings down the coast?
N Boyd: Yes but we were told very little, and in subsequent years when we’ve been looking at the history of what happened and hearing about it, we realise that the Australian people were told very little – as little as possible about what happened up there. And in reading modern history about it we realise that huge – the extent of the damage there and the fear of the people…
M Richards: Didn’t have any idea at the time…
N Boyd: No we had no idea about that.
M Richards: Did you think that you might yourself end up in uniform? You were very young at the outbreak of the war, but the war went on and on and on…
N Boyd: Yes, well the war started in ’39 didn’t it, so I was in my first years of high school, but the war was still going in – it finished in 1945 and I – in 1943 when my mother died in November, five days before I did my matric exam, I was in such as state of grief and so on and one of the things about living in Canberra and being in grief was that there were no wider family relatives or anybody to support you, so we’ve never ever had relatives here – there’ve never been any aunts or cousins or anybody, just our family. And this was the state with my mother had died and my brother was in New Guinea and going to be repatriated in the Red Cross train, so I’m – there’s always that feeling of lack of support from our wider family.
M Richards: So did you think about joining the services or something like that…? N Boyd: That was the question, yes, I was trying to remember the question. So because my mother died then, and because our whole situation – the two other men in the family, my sister’s fiancé and my brother were still at the war – my father suggested I do the matriculation exam again, do another year at school. So I did that and then the following year I thought I might join one of the women’s services – my father wasn’t keen on that. And so instead of that I went down to Melbourne University and I did physical education down there. So the answer is I thought about it, but I didn’t join the forces.
M Richards: Mmm, okay. We’ll just stop for a second, there seems to be a PA announcement going on. No, it’s finished. Okay. We might have a loud speaker bursting into life here.
So you yourself didn’t join up, you’ve got one brother and a fiancé/ brother in law – anyone else in the family in uniform at that time?
N Boyd: Not in my family, but this is recorded in the Peoplescape thing we had at Federation 2001, we decided we should put my father in for that because he had to be there as one of the people that’s made a contribution to Australia in federation time. And then we thought about his brothers, so one of his brothers, Frank Daley was controller of Munitions Australia in the war years which you can imagine what a huge job that was, munitions controller. And prior to that in many years earlier than that, he’d been the productions engineer for General Motors Holden and he did all the work over in American for 12 months he lived over there before Holden ever came on the market.
So he had to have a place in Peoplescape and then the younger of those, my father’s brothers – four boys – the youngest one was Air Vice-Marshal EA, or Ted we called him, Daley – and he was the director of medical services to the air force during the war. So those family members were making an enormous contribution and that was all part of the war. But my brother who was being repatriated in the Red Cross train coming down the coast of Australia slowly from Cairns, I remember he was telling us about it and he said they got to Brisbane and the – was it the RTO they called them? The transport officer from the army? Told them that the train would be leaving, they could have leave and go out but the train would be leaving at four o’clock, so they knew that as long as they were back by four everything was fine. So they went in to the town and did whatever they wanted to do, my brother Geoff and his mate. And they went back at four o’clock and the train had left at three, earlier. So they were AWOL and my brother said the RTO called them a name that sounded very like ‘wicker baskets’.
M Richards: [laughs]
N Boyd: But he came home to us – so our mother had already died and the brother in law is still in the desert and I can remember at that time because they were war years, we – food was not easily available, many things were not available – tinned fruit became unavailable, so did Vegemite and any tinned vegetables or tinned anything were all sent – kept and sent to the army. And we had managed to buy some but we kept it in the cupboard and that was being kept for when Geoff came home. And I can see – remember when on the day Geoff – we got first news he was coming home, and he rang somehow and said ‘put the chops on’ Geoff said. And we were thrilled because we were going to open all this tinned fruit and a minimal amount of Vegemite that we had. And we opened up something out of the tin and Geoff said ‘do you think I could have a fresh egg’, so we’d been keeping all these things for Geoff and not really realising that he’d been fed bully-beef and biscuits. He used to write, and they weren’t allowed to say anything much – so one letter would say ‘today we had bully-beef and biscuits for lunch and tomorrow’ he’d say ‘tomorrow we’ll have biscuits and bully-beef and yesterday we had bully biscuits and salt – bully beef and salt, and today we had bully-beef without salt’. So these were the sort of letters that we’d get from Geoff. When Geoff came home and we were sitting in the large breakfast room at Acton – again a very big table and so on – and we were amused and appalled at the same time when my brother finished his drink – and in those days you used to leave a little bit of the liquid in the bottom of the cup, that was good manners – and there were tea leaves in there as well that once escaped – my brother drank his drink, and when he got down to the dregs he threw them over his shoulder on to the war, and there were streaks of liquid on the wall and tea leaves all – and as a family we were quite horrified, but we understood. And I went for a walk down our little laneway to Liversidge Street with Geoff, and I can remember he all the time was looking up like this into the gumtrees and he was looking for snipers, it had become so much a part of his life that he – when he was in a treed area he’d just look for the snipers.
So for me to understand how he felt and what the war years had done to him – and I was 17 at the time you remember – and I wondered what on earth my brother had been doing for five years – wouldn’t have known you see, I’d been at school – and I wondered exactly what had gone on in that time, what did he do on any one day, or had he been actually fighting hand-to-hand with the Japanese or shooting or killing – what was he doing. And I knew that he’d been bitten by a mite from a rat, so from that I knew the conditions of being a soldier in those days must have been shocking, where did they sleep? And how did they eat? Or what did they eat? And how uncomfortable would it be to be in the forest when it was wet and slimy – and I didn’t know any of those things so one day I just said to Geoff ‘did you ever come face to face with a Japanese?’ and I realise now it was – logical enough I suppose for a 17 year old to ask that – and he said to me ‘do you think the price of fish will rise tomorrow?’ So that was the only explanation he was happy to give at the time.
M Richards: He wouldn’t talk about it…?
N Boyd: He didn’t want to talk about it, no. And so I just respected that.
M Richards: Did he ever talk about it later on?
N Boyd: He didn’t ever talk about it later on to me. In the next year I went down to Melbourne University as I said, for the first time and before the war Geoff had done one year of law part time at the Canberra University College while working in the public service. He was in the Solicitor-General’s department. And after he came back from New Guinea and was repatriated and regained his strength, they offered him a job at Sydney base as a clerk. And Geoff said ‘no way I’ll take my discharge’. So he got his discharge and he decided to go down to Melbourne to Ormond College where my father was invited to be a student all those years before – a thing that had never happened before – Geoff decided to go down and finish his law degree full time. So he and I both went to Melbourne together and – to finish the degree. And it was a very difficult time for him because he’d been fighting the Japanese and the war and then he’d been through the illness and lost mother and so on. So he had some horrendous years to cope with and he was now going to study law which is a pretty tough thing to settle down at all.
And the first days he was in Ormond – one of the senior men who would have been all of – let’s see, three years – 21 or 22 who hadn’t been to the war and had no idea in the wide world what our senior soldiers had experienced – came to Geoff’s study door and said ‘come on Daley down in the quadrangle there initiation ceremonies are going to be held’, and Geoff said ‘and what do you propose to do?’ and he said ‘throw flour bombs and drown you in water’ and whatever, and Geoff said ‘I wasn’t a commando in New Guinea fighting Japanese for five years’ or whatever time it was ‘for nothing. If you are not removed from my doorstep in two minutes I will personally throw you off’, and the fellow, the little, young boy or young man scampered off down the corridor. But you see Geoff said how shockingly difficult it was to settle down and be doing lectures and studying law which was pretty dry. And getting back to any sort of normality in life. So I guess – I suppose all these things had their impact on me.
I was mentioning to you the fiancé of my sister Meg who was in the desert, who did extraordinary things there as well. One time a plane he was in had crashed but he survived and one of the co-pilots with him was injured and – Wally Campbell was the name of my sister’s – who became her husband eventually – he had to carry this other man for long distances through sandy desert and very difficult conditions. So in June of the following year, that’s 1944, Geoff had come home just before that and we got news that Wally Campbell was coming home – he had ten days leave and the wedding was going to be on. And so we had to decide and of course Dad knowing so very many people and limitations on things like a wedding reception or availability of materials – we had coupons and we had coupons for meat and sugar and petrol and clothing, so once you’d used your set of coupons for that month, that was it, you didn’t get any more until the next month.
And there was lots of trust with the coupons when I went down to university and lived in places hoping that nobody else would help themselves to your sugar. Everything had to have a label on it saying, you know ‘Nan Daley’s sugar’ and ‘Nan Daley’s tea’ and all of these things. So all those restrictions were on here in Canberra but we wanted to have the wedding because they’d waited three and a half years I think it was. And the wedding took place here and Joan and I were both bridesmaids to Meg. And they were married and he went back in to the air force and so on. So all of these things had an impact on my growing up years.
M Richards: What do you think that impact was? How do you think it affected you in later years?
N Boyd: I think it affected me in a matter of maturity because I was asked to face up to extraordinary things at a fairly young age – all Australians were asked to face up to the result of us being at war and so on – but I also had the death of my mother when I’d just turned 17, and the fact that she was high profile in Canberra – and so the maturity angle was very important and in that – when I described how Arthur died when I was four and I didn’t really understand the significance of what had gone on except that my playmate went away and never came back – I would have been very aware of that, I didn’t have a concept of what it was like to lose a child or what my mother must have been experiencing, or how she felt about it, or how sad she was, or that she was grieving – which she must have been doing – he was a beautiful child, people used the cliché, you know ‘he was too nice a child to not live’.
So life has interesting ways of teaching lessons I suppose and my husband Bob and I have been married 53 years now and we had three daughters. And when our middle girl was 14 she became ill, when she was – yes when she was 14 she became ill and – she had Hodgkin’s Disease and we watched her die for 14 months and that’s a huge learning experience to lose a child and I realised in thinking much later, ‘this is how my mother must have felt all those years ago’ when I was four and didn’t have an understanding of what it was all about and the concept of her strength of character in handling that and still being a supportive wife to Dad doing his official job and so on. So life has interesting ways to teach us things.
M Richards: Was very much your personal circle, your family circle, your friends and relations…
N Boyd: No relations so…
M Richards: Is there any involvement with a church at all – was that another support system? N Boyd: It is, because in our family, our father was a keen Church of England man – Anglican man – before he came to Canberra, and he used to attend church at St John’s in Braddon. And my mother was Christian Scientist and she and Dad didn’t see eye to eye about what we would be. Dad wanted us to be Church of England and mother wanted us to be Christian Science, so the arrangement was that we – one week we would go with Dad to St John’s and the next week we would go with Mother to the Christian Science, however they built St Andrew’s Presbyterian Cathedral and they didn’t have an organist and my father was a gifted pianist – very gifted pianist – at home we had a magnificent Rönisch baby grand piano which he treated like another child in the family. We joke about the fact that when the cleaning lady came in, he would always say to her ‘now I don’t want you to bark the legs of the piano with a vacuum cleaner, I don’t want you to scratch the top with a duster’ with the result that about five yards around the piano, because they had the fear of God into them and never got cleaned – but that’s just our little family joke.
And so when they built the St Andrew’s Cathedral they didn’t have an organist and so they asked my father if he would play there, just for six months until they got somebody else, and he played there for 29 years. And being a public servant you couldn’t accept money in those days or anything outside your job, so he was a voluntary organist and that meant morning and evening services on Sundays, choir practice on Thursday night and he had to be there, another night to select music and to decide which keys he was going to play and on which level, and when the organ loft broke down – different pipes broke down – the nearest person that knew, or was able to fix it was in Goulburn, so you can’t really call somebody up in a hurry – and my father used to get up into the loft and mend the organ pipes as well, so he could play at the services. So you can see it was a huge time involvement, considering the job he was doing as a civic administrator.
We had another little family joke – the first time he played in the Scottish Church, he had two hands involved on different levels or keyboards, and he had both feet involved on the pedals of the organ and they brought the collection plate around for his money, and he just turned to the man and said, you know ‘this is really a Scottish Church I can see, get the money’ and he said ‘do you expect me to hold it in my teeth and drop it in the plate when you bring it around?’ So that was just another funny little story about – but Dad was very dedicated, so as children we had divided loyalties.
M Richards: You didn’t go to the Presbyterian church with him…?
N Boyd: Yes we did…
M Richards: Oh you did…
N Boyd: We were meant to be Church of England, which we weren’t and we were meant to be going to the Church of England church which we weren’t because Dad was going to the Presbyterian, so we were going to the Presbyterian church and the Christian Science church. And we weren’t anything – I mean it’s – we didn’t belong anywhere so to speak.
M Richards: So you were never Confirmed or anything like that?
N Boyd: No my mother didn’t agree with us being Confirmed. And in school they used to bring religious instruction teachers in who were called – so called knowledgeable members of the public who volunteered to give religious instruction in school and we – Joan and I were very embarrassed because in the class this religious instruction person said one day ‘stand up all those who are not Confirmed’ and we stood up and all the other kids look at you as much as to say ‘Oh, fancy not being Confirmed! How can you be Church of England and not be Confirmed?’ Well I think we felt a feeling of helplessness because it wasn’t our decision whether we’d be Confirmed or not – our parents had made those decisions because they couldn’t come to any common agreement about it. So things like that stick in your mind until your old enough to work out the importance of it in your life.
M Richards: Were there many Christian Scientists in Canberra?
N Boyd: I can remember the place where we went being fairly full all the time, I don’t know what proportion was – my mother was extraordinarily interested in Christian Science.
M Richards: Had she been brought up in that faith or had she found it as an adult?
N Boyd: I don’t – I don’t really know anything about that. She lived in Melbourne and went to university in Melbourne, went to PLC there and I don’t really know. See this is another thing about the questions that you’re asking that I say ‘I don’t know’, she died when I’d just turned 17, and you don’t really ask lots of questions or they don’t occur to you until much later in your life. But the questions I hadn’t asked before I was 17 was just to Dad – there was no one to ask.
M Richards: Looking back on her – she sounds like an extraordinary woman – would you call her a feminist? Using the word in its – the way it was used then, not now, so not a women’s liberationist perhaps, but someone who is strongly convinced that women have an important and equal role in society?
N Boyd: I’m sure she believed that, but in that day and age women were not considered equal to the men and for instance when I came up to research for the Peoplescape and I went to the National Library and I went to the archives to pick up all the information I could about my parents, I fed in my father’s name into the computer, and the computer poured out masses and masses and masses – in fact the director of the records in the National Library when I went there one day said to me ‘oh you’re the daughter of C. S. Daley, it’s very good to talk to you. What do you want to see?’ and I said ‘Well what have you got?’ and he said ‘I’ve got 37 feet’, and I said ‘I don’t understand what that means’, and he said ‘I’ve got 37 feet of material of things that he’s done’, his private papers and so on. But everything he’d done in Canberra and so on, and he said ‘and also there are 37 feet in the archives about him’ so that was my learning about the amount of material.
When I fed my mother into the computer, there wasn’t a single word, there was nothing to say she played a huge part in getting a Mothercraft centre for Canberra – folk starting Girl Guides, greeting Lady Baden-Powell, hosting Lady Baden-Powell when she came here, and Lord Baden-Powell – they came together. And starting the YWCA and putting a huge amount of effort into that, having a room named after her for her feats. And other things in Canberra that are named after Dad but not after mother. And her work with the National Council of Women – not a word, which tells me she was a woman and Dad was man. And she wasn’t doing an official job, therefore her job was not as important if you like, but they were building Canberra’s cultural scene and her contribution was huge. And not only for those organisations, but there are pictures – history – that tells us that she was also involved in participating in the Repertory Society, the Canberra Musical Society – which my father started – and the Canberra Choir and all of those other things, so they were very busy people.
My mother played a huge part in that but nothing is recorded which tells us that women – it was just expected of them I suppose that they do that. And you know, her official support of my father doing his official job was just something unsung. For instance, and example of this, I told you that my father was involved with starting a musical society – as a pianist – he used to invite the ABC artists – all the ones that you would hear in Sydney and Melbourne – to give concerts here in Canberra, would be arranged by the Musical Society, Dad would go down to the railway station and pick them up – because there were no planes in those days, so they came by train. He would take them to the Hotel Canberra were he’d have made the bookings for their accommodation, then he would take them and show them his Canberra. And we would have the concert night in the Albert Hall, and then the – after the concert we would have supper in the ante-room it was called, little room on the left as you came out the main doors of the ballroom – and on some occasions these artists came to our home in Acton, and I’ve heard played on Dad’s beautiful Rönisch baby grand piano Artur Schnabel, and Arthur Rubinstein, and a leading Gilbert and Sullivan – the patter singer Ivan Menzies and I saw him doing a patter song in the middle of our lounge room and kick up his legs and sing – I thought it was the most wonderful thing.
Gilbert and Sullivan music I knew because my father played the piano every night before he went to bed, and from the age when I was born, that’s what I heard. So I didn’t necessarily know where it came from or what it was, and I didn’t see any performances of Gilbert and Sullivan – because there weren’t any here – and so I knew the music and knew classical music because that’s what he played. My mother would have the job of entertaining those people in our home and one time they brought the Italian opera – a whole bunch of them, I’m not sure how many – but I can still see them in our lounge room because the Hotel Canberra refused to do their meals after the concert, and they don’t sing – they don’t have an evening meal before they sing, but they need the meal at 11 o’clock. Hotel Canberra said ‘we’re not going to do it’ so Mother thought ‘well they’ve got to be fed’ and there were no restaurants in Canberra at that time, there was the Blue Moon Cafe at Civic but hardly where you’d take the Italian opera – and my Mother said ‘well come to our home’ and so she and the housekeeper and so on tried to prepare the meal to feed these people. I can remember it vividly because they all talked and they all talked at the same time – and if two people were talking together they talked over each other and if somebody came to join the group all three talked over each other and I was absolutely wide eyed at this extraordinary babble of noise with the Italians in our home. So in our mother’s role was written and sung I would say except for the people who benefitted I suppose.
M Richards: Did she talk about the National Council of Women involvement at home at all – did she ever talk about what they were doing or the issues that they were grappling with in those years?
N Boyd: Well again I’d have to say that in those years when she was doing that, I’m not sure which year the National Council of Women – but I was probably only about 13, 14 and she was always at committee meetings, so I think the answer to that has to be I didn’t really know very much about what the National Council of Women were.
M Richards: She never mentioned names like Jessie Street, women like…
N Boyd: Oh I’m sure in the home she did probably in discussion at meal times with my father or something – but I think I was too young to take that information in.
M Richards: So looking back on it all – I want to bring the conversation back to Parliament House just for a second if I might – one of the questions that I always ask people when I’m interviewing them here is just try and talk a little bit about what your feelings are – what your feelings were this morning when you arrived and came up the front stairs about coming to this building. What does it mean to you as a person?
N Boyd: As a person it’s – just wondering about the word icon, as far as Canberra is concerned – it was the first connection I had with government and it was always the most elegant, lovely, white building, and it was associated with special ceremonies and as a Brownie and a Girl Guide I was always here whenever we had functions and there was the excitement of seeing the Royal Military College cadets parading up and down, and the band playing – all of that was a very exciting thing from the age of being a Brownie and up through Guides – while it still happened – and of course thinking that I’d come up these stairs many, many, many times with my mother and gone on a tour throughout the building, so probably I think also that it should always be here. They should never demolish a building like this, and also I feel that with the new Parliament House, it’s excellent that this building is used in the way it is to have programs where they record and display things of visual interest to the public. And I hope that it will continue – it’s very important. History is very important to me and lost history makes me angry because – and it’s happened twice, I mentioned that my father – did I mention that my father wanted to write the official history?
M Richards: You haven’t done it on tape so maybe talk about that…
N Boyd: Well my father – over many, many years my father was seeing that Canberra was built and had all that responsibility of getting everything into the shape of being the capital of Australia, and people from overseas would often write to him because there were no books on Australia and if they were doing a PhD or something they’d write – get Dad’s name somehow – I suppose his name was the one that was put – the fact that his name was put forward as the person of contact who knows all about it is relevant to this story – many times I’ve seen my husband at the old fashioned typewriter typing out pages and pages of what Canberra is and how it’s coming together or what it’s going to be, etcetera and sending them off to Joe Blow in America or England or wherever the letter came from and saying good luck with your PhD. He would never, ever charge because that’s not the nature of the man, and I can remember that happening frequently.
So all the knowledge about Canberra and the discussions about whether we do this or whether we do that and how it will come in to being, were in my father’s head, because he lived it. So when he retired, in about 1950 the one thing that he wanted to do always was to write the official history of Canberra, and the information was in his head. And all he asked for was $3,000 to cover the expenses and access to the archives for details he might need to know. And for whatever reason – I don’t know the reasons – for whatever the reason the authorities said ‘no, you can’t do it’, and he was bitterly disappointed about that, so he started writing articles for the Canberra Times every Saturday, and his picture was up on the top right hand corner and he called those articles As I Recall, so in his own way – but a limited way – he was writing Canberra’s history, and when he died, we were asked to keep everything of my father’s – whether it was to do with Rotary or anything else that he had connections with – and we did and past those over to the…
M Richards: They’re in the National Library…
N Boyd: National Library that’s right.
M Richards: So you said there were two instances of history being lost…
N Boyd: Yes, so in my opinion that was a grave error and that history that could have been something authentic, was subsequently done by three men later to whom they payed $11,000 each as I understand it – I’m not sure of that, that’s just what I was told – so $33,000 to write the history by people that were not there at the time. So I just see that as very bad. Well then they opened new Parliament House in 1988 it was said that the people who had been at the opening of the first parliament were entitled to an invitation to the opening of the new Parliament House, and since I was one of the only family members still alive, I wrote and asked if I could have an invitation for my husband and myself. They sent this invitation – the invitation asked us to be up at Russell Hill early in the morning, and they bussed us in from Russell Hill in to the car park and it entitled us to a seat on the forecourt outside Parliament House, it didn’t entitle us to go in to the opening inside, it didn’t entitle us to the ball to the Queen and – but it was better to sit on the forecourt there than elbow your way on the fence.
So I was happy about that, and the whole ceremony had been planned for a very long period of time, and people had come from all over Australia and overseas – amongst those were the 500 who were sitting on the forecourt, all early Canberra residents, and all with their history there collected, a once off, ever. And the people who planned it had not even – the minimal thing they could have done was to put a marquee up, and if they didn’t want the marquee in the view of the people and the press they could have put it around the back or somewhere else, in the gardens – and have historians or people with tape recorders, people who were really interested in Canberra history, and record all that history. And the best they could have done was to have it in Albert Hall which is only down the road and put a few urns in and some bikkies and have the people there and let the Canberra people tell their stories.
And what happened was – because they did none of this – immediately the ceremony was over, 500 people all disappeared in all directions and their history went with them, and that really made me very angry and I said to my husband Bob ‘We’re going to take our’ – I said that ‘The boys that I was in school with and now are in high places, that could lead to the Prime Minister or whatever, I’m sure if I could get in touch I could get a list of these 500 people and you and I will get in our motor home and we will take our tape recorder and we will travel around Australia and get these stories and bring them back for posterity’. We didn’t do that, we weren’t able to do that, and that I suppose you’d have to call it a pipe dream but it just made me quite angry that historical facts and events of interest are just cast over with planning. Surely we know that we must record…
M Richards: Well in a small way and I hope we’ve started to do that…
N Boyd: Exactly.
M Richards: Well I think that’s probably the point at which we should probably finish because we’re coming up to the second hour. Thank you very much.
N Boyd: Thank you Michael, I’m very happy to have done this.
[End of transcript]
This history has multiple parts.1 2
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