Mother’s Day is bittersweet. As I’ve been without my own mother for more than half my life, I have no one to nurture and spoil. I’m a Mother’s Day orphan. I have 2 children- who don’t believe in the concept of a special day for celebrating their mama. They tell me they appreciate me 364 days per year and see no reason to go any effort on the 365th.
It’s at this time of the year, that I usually go through the family treasure chests and papers. Photos can tell a story, as do old postcards and letters and diaries.
But it was none of these that caught my eye this year. I found some old job references for my mother over an 8 year period.
After studying at Zerchos Business College she became a stenographer and bookkeeper. I have her Zerchos textbook with all the practice squiggles and exercises.
She learned Pitman’s shorthand. Here is the text book.
She had her first job at 16 in a grain warehouse in King Street, Melbourne. She took me there once in the early 80s; it became a nightclub called The Melbourne Underground and it is now a strip club.
Most telling is the next reference written in 1942. The reference concluded, “She left us to be married on 12 November 1941.”
At this point, her personal history is a bit blurred. I know she had a short-lived marriage that only lasted a year or two.
From late 1942, She worked for the Netherlands Indies government processing Dutch refugees who had fled to Australia from Indonesia after the Japanese invasion. She was transferred to Brisbane and was there for 12 months. By that time, her divorce was finalised and she reverted to her maiden name. She loved her time in Brisbane.
There are no more references after late 1947. By then, her divorce had gone through and she became Sylvia McGill again. Yet, I know through sketchy family history that she moved to Sydney for 10 years and the trail goes cold. I don’t know what she did in Sydney. I know she had apartments in Lavender Bay and Woolloomooloo. It was a time of parties and dancing and rooftop shindigs. She met my father at a party in Kings Cross in the days when she still wore black cocktail frocks and smoked cigarettes in a holder and wore clip on earrings.
As mum didn’t leave diaries or letters, these job references are some of the few official documents that tell of a professional life well- lived, show off the fabulous letterheads of the 1940s and give an approximate timeline of places worked.