Stories to be told – Betty (Part 2)

In this article, we continue to hear from Betty as we resume her amazing life story.

Part 2 takes us from Betty’s arrival in Australia through to marriage and motherhood, and her life in the RAAF. She explains how life’s circumstances eventually brought her to join us here at Yukana Private.  

Joining the RAAF

At 21, Betty became engaged to a fellow Post Office worker, however it wasn’t meant to be. After deciding to call off her engagement, Betty saw a recruitment ad for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). It promised she would ‘see the world!’, something Betty was quite keen to do. She applied and within a month found herself on a train headed for Victoria.

Ladies RAAF summer uniform
Betty (in the middle) in her summer uniform during her service in the RAAF

Betty completed her recruitment training at Point Cook, Melbourne, before being posted to Ballarat. As she had done previously, she worked in the Education section at the Library. This was where she met her husband, John, an Accountant and an Officer. Despite it being against Air Force protocol, they began dating. They announced their engagement during a visit to John’s parents in Sydney. Of course, this meant Betty had to resign from the Air Force. It was something women were expected to do when getting married in those days.

Marriage and motherhood

Betty and John married when Betty was 25 and continued to live in Victoria. John remained in the Air Force.

young couple on their wedding day in 1956
Betty and John on their wedding day

They started married life in a room they rented at the back of a house. When Betty and John had their first child, Sue, in 1957, they moved to a unit in Elstonwick.

The couple were eventually provided with a married quarters at Laverton. Betty recalls it was a two bedroom house with no sewerage connection. By this time Betty was pregnant with twins. She remembers it was an interesting time trying to juggle her young daughter and manage her morning sickness, particularly with the old outhouse out the back.

Betty’s life became hectic after the birth of their twin boys, Peter and Bruce, in 1959.  The family was moved to a three bedroom house which, to her relief, had an indoor toilet. She was very grateful to have wonderful neighbours who helped out with the twin’s daily routine of four-hourly feeds.

It wasn’t long before Betty was pregnant again with their fourth child, Doug, who was born in 1960. It was quite a struggle with four children under the age of four.

Life overseas

Doug was just 15 months old when John was posted to Butterworth, Malaysia. The family’s possessions were packed up and they began their eventful journey. Betty laughs as she recalls memories of the twins and interactions with crew members on their two week boat trip to Singapore. From there, a short flight to Penang delivered them to their new life.

For the first two nights they stayed in the Runnymeade British Hotel until their house was ready. Despite being in an unfamiliar country with four very young children, Betty found life much easier. She was provided with hired help who looked after the cooking, housekeeping and gardening. This gave Betty an opportunity to really enjoy time with her children.

They remained in Penang for three years before John was posted to the military base in Fairbairn, Canberra. Their youngest, Doug, had started school which meant Betty was able to go back to work. She recalls visiting the National Library to request a job. Despite Betty noting a list of conditions, they welcomed her with open arms. She enjoyed finally having adult company during the day again.

children with their grandfather in 1964
Douglas, Sue, Bruce and Peter with their Grandfather after returning from Malaysia in 1964

As with most military families, it wasn’t long before the next posting came along. This time they were off to Pearce, Western Australia. They lived there for 3 years before being posted back to Penang.

At this time, Sue was 14. The RAAF school in Malaysia was unable to teach children from the age of 16. The decision was made to place her into a Perth boarding school. It seemed better than sending her back from Malaysia after establishing her in school there. It was a difficult decision for Betty to leave her daughter in Australia while they seemed so far away.

After arriving in Malaysia the boys were away all day attending school. Betty had started enjoying golf and found herself with plenty of time to play.

Boys read for school in Malaysia
Bruce, Douglas and Peter ready for school in Malaysia

Returning to Australia

They eventually returned to Victoria and purchased a house in Glen Waverley. They were only there for a year before John was asked to return to Malaysia. With great reluctance they returned for a third time.

This time the twins were placed into boarding school at the Blue Mountains Grammar School. At 17, Sue refused to return to the boarding school in Perth. Instead, she accompanied her parents to Malaysia and attended a College there. Betty returned for a time, about a year later, to settle Doug into boarding school with his brothers.

Within two years John was posted to Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. The boys changed from boarders to day students at the Grammar School. Betty went back to work after gaining a Library job at the Patrician Brothers College in Fairfield. Sue found her passion and began her training as a nurse at Prince Alfred Hospital.

Sue around the time she was training to become a nurse

The family stayed at Glenbrook for three years. By this time John was 52 and had achieved the rank of Wing Commander. Not content to accept a posting back to Melbourne, he made the choice to resign from the RAAF. By this time, Peter and Bruce had finished school and joined the RAAF. Both were cadets training at 7SD RAAF Base in Toowoomba. Doug was in his last year of school and was working. Sue was nursing.

John and Betty eventually sold their house in Melbourne and decided to travel, enjoying games of golf along the way. It soon became evident to Betty that something wasn’t right with John. He had begun to experience more and more pain, and was beginning to find it difficult to play golf. Despite her insistence, John refused to take his pain seriously so Betty stepped in. She got the ball rolling for John to see a specialist. By this time, John was in constant excruciating pain. At just 58 he was diagnosed with cancer.

Betty in her golfing days after retirement
Betty in her golfing days after retirement

Just like her mum told her, Betty got on with it. She was managing looking after John until one day she received a call from Sue’s husband, Dennis. They had only been married a year and he had been away in Adelaide for work. He was worried as he hadn’t been able to get a hold of Sue on the phone. She also hadn’t arrived at work on the Monday. Concerned she might have had an accident, Betty advised Dennis to contact the police. They discovered Sue at home. She had passed away after having a severe asthma attack.

Betty recalls at that point she felt hopeless. Nothing seemed to bring comfort. John would insist she head off to play golf. She would only manage two holes before packing up and heading to the cemetery to be with Sue.

The only thing that helped Betty through this period was her good friend Lorraine. She got Betty back on track through her love of patchwork. Betty liked the fact that she had something else to concentrate on without having to leave the house. She didn’t have to speak with anyone apart from John. Eventually Lorraine asked Betty to teach others the art of patchwork. This helped bring her out of her black hole.

Patchworking display
Betty with some of her patchworking

In 1994, John passed away. He was just 67.

It took years before Betty felt really ready to get back into life. Finding herself alone in a big house she decided to buy a villa. She joined a choir, Sing Australia, and made friends with the conductor, Mary, and a fellow singer, Merilyn.

It was at this time Betty was diagnosed with breast cancer. For a whole year, she had treatment. The prognosis wasn’t very positive however, luckily for Betty, a new drug came onto the market which saved her life.

After finishing treatment, Betty decided to move in to a house with Mary, Merilyn and her daughter-in-law. They were happy there for a long time and there was always plenty of music in the house.

One day Betty woke up in severe pain. It turned out she had broken five ribs while in bed. She was inevitably diagnosed with Osteoporosis. Betty’s boys jumped in to help look after her while she recovered.

Not wanting to burden her house mates, she felt it made sense to move closer to the boys. After all, she wasn’t getting any younger. After some consideration, she decided to move to Toowoomba where Peter was still living. Peter and Bruce started looking for somewhere suitable for Betty to settle. They took her to several villages before deciding on Yukana Private.

Betty likes the unit she chose, it provides the space she needs to do her patchworking.

ANZAC Day Service 2019 at Yukana Private
Betty (centre) as a guest speaker at Yukana’s 2019 ANZAC Day Service. Pictured with her twin sons, Peter and Bruce.

We are so happy Betty selected Yukana Private, as we watch her build new friendships and enjoy her life here. We look forward to being a part of her continuing story.

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