Leah Francis : Finding the Way contents

Orphanage to Foster-Home

LETTERS from Auntie Bel (Isobel Anforth) to her English Relatives.

September 1933

Dear Jane,

Thank you for finding us. It's lovely to be in touch with you again. Dad and mum are always talking about "the Old Country" and our relatives there.

As you know, we left Bernley, Lancashire, in 1910 when I was eight. Victor and I were brought along with Edric, but we still do not understand why we were taken away from our parents. Nobody speaks about these things.

I'm not sure of everything that happened when we reached Australia, but I know we started off in Queesland. Dad would find jobs, mostly in the bush, and Mum, with us three kiddies, would go wherever work took him. Living was hard and hot.

After a few years we settled in Springwood on the lower Blue Mountains of NSW, west of Sydney. Dad was a good worker then, and could turn his hand to anything in the building and carpentry trades.

I was happy in Springwood and so were the boys. Both were married in their mid-teens, but dad kept me under his thumb. I wasn't allowed to get a job or to go out with boys. When I went to church socials dad would be outside the hall at ten o'clock sharp and would whistle for me to leave and walk home with him. Even when I was twenty-one he controlled my life. He forced me to break off friendships with boys.

I think it was late in 1922 when dad finished building a row of seven shops and came home with his final payment of fifty sovereigns in his pocket. That night our house and the shops burnt to the ground and the sovereigns melted.

Dad mistrusted banks and insurance companies so our family was left with nothing. He had a nervous collapse and tried to throw himself under a train. The tragedy was averted, but dad was never again a well man. He and mum lived in rented premises until they died.

By this time both Edric and Victor were married with children. I should have been married too. My social life centred on the church where I played the organ and taught Sunday school.

From the time of the fire until after mum died in 1943, and dad died eight years later, I was the chief bread-winner. My parents, though sharing the work, depended on me.

We rented a shop in Redfern and turned it into a good mixed business.

Mum loved children and was always eager to be involved with them. As you know, she had raised Victor and me along with her only child, Edric, and before the fire in Springwood she had also taken responsibility for Joyce, the first baby to Edrick and his wife, Kate. Kate had found it difficult to cope with her two eldest daughters who were born eleven months apart. She had several miscarriages and was not well.

Soon after the fire we moved to Redfern where we rented a shop and set up a mixed business. I managed the shop and became the main bread-winner, though at that time dad and mum shared the work load.

And load it was. The standard of living was low in Redfern and the great depression was soon upon us. We had much to learn about the retail trade. Our income was low and our debts and expenses were high.

It was not long before mum began talking about adding to our income by fostering a baby. She preferred girls.

In less than a year she had taken two babies but before they were ready to begin school their mothers took them back. We all loved them and the parting was hard.

Toward the end of 1933 a woman from the Child Welfare Department begged us to take on a baby who was blind. At first mum would not agree. It would break her heart, she said, to have a child like that in the house.

We talked it over, and in the end mum agreed to take the baby for a week or two. She would certainly need some fattening-up after being in an orphanage.

On the day the banks closed, Friday 13th of October 1933, I collected Leah, a suitcase full of baby clothes and a large tin of Lactogen.

The trains were packed and the crowds were unsettled and volatile as they went home to uncertainty, unemployment and a prospect of hungry families and nothing they could do about it.

Our new baby was to escape poverty and insecurity. She has almost everything a person could want, and soon acquired the ability to grasp and make use of almost everything that came her way.

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