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Heartbeat of My Life
A Memoir for Personal Transformation
By Julie Evans Posted in Non-fiction 8 min read
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Heartbeat of My Life

by Julie Evans

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Chapter 1

Memory Fragments of Early Childhood

Mount Murray is a glorious, green mountain in New South Wales. It is 6 kilometres from Robertson, a large village in the Southern Highlands {in the Illawarra escarpment} about 35 minutes from the coast. We lived opposite the former Mount Murray Railway Station. A green hill was at the back of our house, and around about us was the secret land charm of the woods. Here we had many childhood wanderings and adventures. For us it was a paradise of splendid beauty. With the comforting reassurance of mum and dad’s love, we were as happy as bees in clover; there were always scattering distractions to keep us amused.

My mother Margarite and my father William were a devoted couple, with a very special tenderness for each other and all of their children. My parents had three children together; Margaret, Bill and me, Julie. William had four children to a previous wife; Jack, Ron, Ray and Pauline. Margarite had two children to a previous husband; Monica and Martin. The causes and circumstances of my mother’s appalling difficulties from World War Two and relocation to Australia were burdensome. Margarite’s past caused irrational and excessive suffering, resulting in her having to go to hospital at various times. William was a kind, loving and compassionate man. He was a good provider and worked at Mount Murray Railway Station.

Random thoughts, fading memories, departed glories of my earliest childhood: there was the time Bill and I walked to the railway crossing and were given a penny each from a stranger, who told us to go home. We hurried home, our treasure in our hand, with childish enthusiasm. Mum promised she would buy us some sweets the next time she went to town. She did – green spearmint leaves. Another time, Bill and I climbed an apple tree, but unfortunately for us we could not get down. Mum rescued us promising to bake an apple pie, which she did. Bill and I were always curious, seeking out marvels and mysteries, which kept our mother busy. My fondest memory was when dad took us for rides on a red railway cart. He would often stop and let us play on the side of a hill or embankment in some sand. These times were always full of sunshine and smiles for us.

Deep wells of sorrow would be the result of our childhood mischief and curiosity. My brother Bill found my mother’s medication, and we mistook them for sweets. I ate one with devastating consequences and I had to go to hospital, and mum and dad were charged with neglect. My mother’s psychological medical reports were taken into consideration. It was 17 May 1962 and Margaret was taken into care. Bill and I were taken 18 May 1962. Margaret, Bill and I were escorted to Bidura, a children’s remand and receiving centre in Glebe, Sydney. Bidura was temporary accommodation before finding us alternative accommodation. Recollections of my six other brothers and sisters had disappeared like ghosts from my mind.

Report: said I was a sweet, very shy little girl with a pig tail, brown eyes, fair complexion and of medium build. I was well behaved and healthy.

Report: said I was placed with a family in Dangarsleigh Road in Armidale on 9 June 1962. It said that I had settled down in foster care without bother and seemed perfectly happy.

The two sons of the family had accepted me as part of the family. I presume that my brother Bill was with me in this family. My mind is a blank canvass concerning my stay there. Armidale is a city in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales.

Report: Bill and I were returned back to our mum and dad on 4 July 1963 and Margaret on 4 December 1964.

The small cottage, which was our home, had the fireplace always burning in the winter, warming the whole house. Curling smoke drifted from the chimney. It was idyllic, the life we lived, with much love. I have a vision of the night, everything changed. It was cool and fresh, the sky was drowned in stars. Mum came from the toilet, which was outside, and she eagerly went to warm herself in front of the fireplace. Her dress caught on fire. In horror we looked on helplessly. Her piercing screams broke the silence of the night. Dad rushed in from outdoors, he threw mum onto a red floor rug and rolled her in it. In his work boots he stamped out the remaining flames. Mum survived this accident but at a price; we would be taken into care. Life punishes some with tragic intensity, as after mum’s accident, dad had an accident, breaking his arm at work.

Criticism of dad’s helplessness strengthened the influence of child welfare into taking us into the care of the state minister. It was said to be in our best interest. Dad’s brother Jack and wife Phyllis wanted to foster us. Child welfare denied them on the grounds that my mum would try and steal us back when she returned from hospital.

They said she would not be well enough to look after us. It was argued with tense feelings and in spite of dad’s best efforts to care for us in mum’s long absence, we were again placed into care on 28 January 1965. Dad resigned himself to the fact that this would only be a temporary solution, but this was a pure assumption and he spent his entire life battling to get us back. I also mourned a lifetime for mum and dad.

Bidura was a place for children, girls up to the age of eighteen and for boys under five. It was a place of love-starved children, sadness and routine. This is where we would go, once again. From the courtroom to Bidura I was given a brown teddy bear and I played with it until I plucked out his eyes. Did I think myself clever or was it that I wanted to spare him from the sights that I had experienced. I don’t know.

From our short stay at Bidura with our sadness interwoven with the threat of confusion, and a bleak longing for mum and dad’s love and security, we went to Montrose Children’s Home. Montrose was in Burwood, a suburb in the inner west of Sydney about 10 kilometres from the inner city. Montrose was a home for pre-school children usually preparing them for foster care. It had a kindergarten and I remember we had to take a daily nap on a camp bed which was very uncomfortable. The home had a tall, pale blue painted fence around the perimeter with tall timber gates to match.

On our short journey, the escort lady who took us to Montrose made a vain promise to come and visit us. She never came. I would often walk to the corner of the yard where there was a big pile of leaves, and there I would think, and listen to the sounds of the outside world; cars; people talking and walking; and the bark of a dog. It was if I was a captured bird pressed up against the bars of its cage. Quickly I was learning to mistrust adults as they lie. Standing in this spot, a young jubilant boy, in a gesture of dazzling triumph came running up to me, “I am going to big school, I am going to big school”, he told me. This scene took me by surprise and I have never forgotten it. My eyes had gazed intently on the small boy as a lady had called him to her, then I saw them walk away and they vanished out of sight. My heart was heavy like a stone with the senseless wishing that I too was free, free to go home. My mother was home for five months and then my father started the endless battle to have us returned to their care. Mum and dad believed that now my mother had recovered we would be returned to them. The welfare system stood firm and said that the responsibility of family management would be too difficult for my mum and dad.

Report: said I was considered in the mildly defective range of intellectual functioning, with retarded speech. I was very distractible, chattering incessantly and incoherent, often complicated by poor speech.

My talk centred around my mum and my brother Bill. I confused past and present events. I was confused by my mother’s absence and bewildered by my placement at Montrose. The constant mention of my mum was an effort to reassure myself and it was similar with my brother Bill. My intellectual limitations made placement difficult and in addition they felt enough signs of disturbance to preclude foster placement.

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