The Most Wanted Child in the Wimmera
One warm November day in 1926 a baby girl was born.
The doctor held her up high and declared with a broad smile, “This is the most wanted child in the Wimmera!”
These words nourished that newly sprouted human, and carried her through a life of twists and turns from the forest floor to the canopy above.
The girl was named Dorothy, later shortened to Dot – a warm, affectionate, no nonsense abbreviation that perfectly suited her emerging character.
Dot grew and thrived through an idyllic childhood with her school master father – James, glamorous mother – Muriel, elder sister – Betty and younger sister Jetty.
By the time I met James he was called Pop and had a shiny head completely devoid of hair, a rotund belly dressed in tweed and kind world-weary eyes.
Muriel, whom everyone called Martha was a triumph of her generation. A wonderful homemaker, always impeccably dressed, horrified at the thought of being seen without her lippy and loved to entertain. The house would often be filled with people; the dining table brimming with immaculately presented dishes and expertly arranged flowers.
Betty, seven years Dot’s senior, was responsible and protective as most eldest siblings are. But she also had a rebellious streak that would cause Martha to purse her lips and lament to their father, “Oh Daddy, Betty will put me into an early grave.”
As it turned out Martha lived well into her 90s and never went a day without wearing lippy and pearls.
Early on Betty did her parents proud by becoming a teacher, wife and mother. Unfortunately, or perhaps not, her husband was masterful at gazing into space, sipping sherry at all times of day and tapping long artistic fingers along chiseled cheek bones in between penning lines of verse; however terrible at both providing for his family and monogamy.
That’s where Betty’s life branched in a completely new direction. She divorced her philandering poet, raised her three children alone, became the first ever female principle of an Australian technical college, an equal pay campaigner and conversational communist.
The baby of the family was intended to be a June and not a Jetty. However during a family holiday by the sea, June ran out onto a pier in windy choppy weather; concerned, Martha called out, “Jetty, get off the June.” The whole family thought it was hilarious and that is how June became Jetty.
Of the three girls Dot was the tomboy. She didn’t care for cooking, clothes or needlework; she much preferred to be outside exploring. Although naughty at school as every good headmaster’s daughter must be, after school Dot was often by her father’s side, especially when they were giving and helping in whatever way they could, the less fortunate families during the great depression… Of course parents don’t have favourites, but if they did, she was his.
After finishing school, Dot held high hopes of becoming a nurse, but catching a chill whilst skiing one winter gave her a nasty kidney infection and put an end to starting the course that year.
By the time the next year of intake rolled around Dot had met a tall, dark and handsome young farmer. His charisma and charm swept Dot up and straight into his strong sun-browned arms; and before she knew it they were married.
Dot left the privileged middleclass city existence she’d known and began life as a wife on a farm in rural northeast Victoria.
The old family homestead had no electricity or running water, an outback dunny and in-laws.
You might imagine this would be a nightmare for most young, middleclass ladies. But Dot would tell people with authentic cheer that it was just like camping all the time. And as for living with her mother-in-law? “Oh it’s wonderful. We are good friends. She still likes to do all the cooking, which leaves me free to be outside riding horses and exploring the bush.”
It wasn’t long before her own bundle of baby girl was born. Immortalised for future generations by a whimsical sepia photograph of Dot bathing her baby daughter in a porcelain urn on the homestead’s front verandah.
...Stay tuned for part two next week!
>>> Leonie Orton is a writer, editor and marketing communications consultant. She'll create communication mediums in the shape of words, graphics and webs for your business, connecting you with the people who need you. Get in touch by email, facebook or twitter. And if you're not already signed up for new writings and special offers, get hooked up here.