My mother-in-law, Marjorie Young née Sullivan (1920-2007), supported me in my family history research. We would often talk about her family history and when I compared her reminiscences I found that her recollections matched well with the documentation I had found, and often helped to point the way to a more accurate tree.

Besides her relatives, Marjorie would talk about her own life.

She was born in Oakleigh, a suburb of Melbourne, in 1920, the fourth of six children.

In 1926 Marjorie started school in Tatura, a small town near Shepparton in northern Victoria. She recalled that her father would not allow any of his children to begin school before they were six years old nor start work before sixteen. Marjorie did well at school and wanted to become a teacher. But she couldn’t. Her family, at that time living in Malmsbury, was too poor to send her off to a teachers’ college.

From the age of about thirteen, Marjorie was a junior teacher in the Malmsbury school helping to look  after the kindergarten classes; as a result she was awarded the Merit Certificate without being required to pass the usual examination at the end of Grade 8. She left school at 14.

After leaving school Marjorie helped to look after her youngest sister Gwenny (1933-1935). Sadly Gwenny died of meningitis after a few day’s illness when she was only two years old.

Marjorie’s first job, at the age of 16, was in Kyneton where she went to be a mother’s helper. She enjoyed the work. There was one baby when she started and by the time she left there were two more. She left when she was 19, moving with her family to Castlemaine. She had been happy in the Kyneton job.

In Castlemaine Marjorie learned to be a weaver in the woollen mills there. This was 1939, the year war broke out. The mills were busy making cloth for uniforms and blankets.

In 1941, when she was 21, Marjorie and a girlfriend, one of her workmates, decided to go to Melbourne to work for the Laconia blankets woollen mill.  In 1942 Marjorie met her future husband, Peter, while working there.

Peter and Marjorie in 1942 in the garden of Marjorie’s parents’ house in Castlemaine

Peter enlisted in the army in 1943. They became engaged and married in 1944 when he was on leave.

In 1990 Marjorie told me about a trip she made to Sydney during the war to see Peter.

When Peter went back to an army camp near Sydney after his leave he became ill with malaria and was admitted to hospital. It was then that Marjorie decided to go to Sydney to be near him.

She applied to Manpower, a Commonwealth wartime employment regulatory authority, for permission to leave her work and travel to Sydney. Manpower deemed the journey to be unnecessary and refused her request.

So Marjorie packed her suitcase and took the train to Albury, on the New South Wales border. Because she had no travel permit, she could not be too open about asking for accommodation, so she got a taxi driver to recommend a hotel. He found one and suggested that she should get up very early the next morning and catch a milk truck going to Culcairn, further up the line. In Culcairn she would be able to catch the Albury to Sydney train without any difficulty. But the hotel didn’t give her an early call so she found another taxi to take her to Culcairn where she waited at a hotel. She paid hush money to both taxi drivers, to the hotel keeper in Culcairn, to the hotel rouse-about, who went to the station and bought her ticket, and also to the conductor of the train.

Marjorie stayed in Sydney for three months with Peter’s cousin Betty [this was possibly Bessie Bridges, wife of Robert Charles Cross], but then she got a please-explain letter from both Manpower and the travel authorities. Her Melbourne flat mate had dobbed her in.

She felt she had to return to Melbourne – was afraid not to go back – but did not want to repeat her journey through Albury with hotels and taxis, so she bought a ticket from Sydney to Tocumwal, on the New South Wales border further down the river, paid hush money to the ticket-seller at the Tocumwal station, bought a first class ticket (to lessen the chances of being spotted as a border-hopper) to Melbourne. She paid hush money to the conductor of that train too.

Peter Young’s military records show he had malaria in 1944. He was first ill with malaria in June and then re-admitted to hospital with malaria in August.

Manpower

In January 1942 the Commonwealth Government established the Manpower Directorate which was responsible for administering ‘reserved occupations and industrial priorities’. The Director-General of Manpower was authorised to prevent employees from leaving their employment. In March 1942 the whole of the civilian population of Australia over the age of 16 was required to register with Manpower. Nearly three million people were placed in employment from January 1942 to January 1946. There were 13,500 direction orders. I suppose it was a direction order to return to work that Marjorie received in Sydney.

Marjorie left weaving later in the war. She said she got germs under the nails from the wool. Manpower would not otherwise have let her resign.

The Laconia Woollen Mills building still stands in South Melbourne, refurbished as offices. The present tenant is a travel company.

Further reading