matron

Topping the Teatotallers

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Bill had Sergeant Eiser’s ‘we’re watching you’ message confirmed every time he drove into town. The police had him absolutely bluffed.

Bill was absolutely bluffed about the ‘We’re watching you’ warning from Police Sergeant Eiser and Constable Stagg.  The cops were as good as their word. Every time Bill had to go into Tambo, he had it confirmed that they watching.

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All Oil Drilling and Exploration (ODE) vehicles available to Bill were clearly marked with decals like this one on the door of the International ute.

In the end, it just wasn’t worth going to the pub.  Every vehicle had ODE decals on the doors and stood out like a sore thumb.  If he went incognito in the Land-Rover, it would break down and consume more repair time and more money on parts.  In any case, it had Mineral Sands signwriting on it and would be readily noticeable.

Bill had been on a serious alcoholic slide for a couple of years.  He had drunk his way through much of the initial payment for the Fraser Island mineral sands.  If there were more options for single mothers in 1957, he would have been on his own.

But Bill’s slide was arrested with a jolt, after he weighed up some options.

He had no doubt that the Sergeant Eiser didn’t need much incentive to put him in the lockup.  With Val now at home, the Sergeant no longer had to work out what to do with the children.  There was nothing to stop a little ‘holiday’ happening.

Basically, there was no way he could have a drink in peace, so why bother?

Bill decided that he may as well give the grog away altogether.  So he did.

The pendulum swung to the opposite extreme.

Bill and Val  joined the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Adventists made teetotallers look like indulgers.  The Church embraced most aspects of the Temperance Movement of the mid-nineteenth century and took it a bit further.  “Moderation in the things that are good for you, and abstinence from those things that are bad for you.”  Hard to argue with when you think about it.

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The Adventists had a religious genealogy that harks back to the reformers. And there was certainly something to reform. The title of this brochure borrows from that famous work, The Pilgrims Progress.

Good Adventists didn’t smoke or drink alcohol, didn’t drink tea or coffee, didn’t eat meat, didn’t go to the movies, didn’t work on Saturday, didn’t shop on Saturday, didn’t swim on Saturday…. and paid 10% of their income in tithe.

Adventists topped the teatotallers.

Tea and coffee hit the Adventist list of things that are not good for you and thereby made the ‘thou shalt not’ list.  In that sense, Adventist went further than the Temperance Movement teatotallers.

But that was just what Bill needed.

He could never have just one drink.

However, Bill never gave tea away.  He would have his tea, even if it meant being a Badventist.

All Bill’s pendulum opposite jolt took was a call to his father Bert, who was working on the Seventh Day Adventist Mona Mona Mission near Kuranda.  Before Bill knew it, Adventist Colporteur George Walker was on the case and on the doorstep.  Ironically, as an ex-detective, George was on the case.

So there we have it.  Some ‘Bossy Matron and Caring Cop love’ probably kept a family together.

Now here’s the thing about the ‘topping the teatotallers’ Adventist experience….  Bill and Val enjoyed quality family time and they never got on better together.

As for the tithing, that didn’t seem to do much harm.   They worked their way out of debt and were starting to save.

In fact, they could have had savings at the end of the Heartbreak Corner experience, except they had a hungry Land-Rover to feed, but that’s another story.

A Deferral and a Slap

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It was visiting hours at Tambo Hospital on the 9th September, 1957.

Val had a baby on the preceding Saturday.  Bill had been ordered out of town by the Sergeant Eiser after being overzealous in celebrating.imgres-3

Bill had visited out of hours on Sunday night to plead with Val to come home.

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Bill used the Crane for travel into Tambo because he had hit a pig in the ute and it took some time to repair. The cabin of the truck was big and the whole family could fit. There was no requirement to wear seat-belts in vehicles in 1957.

Bill brought the 3 children in the 25 miles from Oil Rig to pick up their new brother and their mother.

They travelled in the crane truck rather than the ute, because the ute had a stoved-in mudguard from Bill hitting a pig.

He brought the children expectantly into the maternity ward. They would sort out the arrangements and Val would come home with him.

Life was about to return to normal except for the minor distraction of the most celebrated son.

But suddenly, that party was over.

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The matron of a hospital had considerable authority in 1957, particularly in small places like Tambo where there was generally no resident doctor.

In marched the Matron.

‘Nurse, take these children and give them a bath and something to eat.’, she ordered. The nurse dutifully whisked the children off and Bill was left impotently protesting, ‘They are clean and I’ve fed them’.

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Sergeant Eiser had warned Bill that they woud be watching him. Tambo was small and the Oil Rig vehicles were clearly marked so he had no chance of slipping under the radar. Robert De Niro in Meet the Folkers.

There was little doubt that the Police Sergeant Eiser and the Matron had a little child welfare network going and they knew just how to handle fellows like Bill – no ifs or buts.

Bill seethed as he put up with the indignity. He could still hear the Sergeant’s warning, ‘We’re watching you.’ Any objection here would probably involve another lecture from the Sergeant and maybe some time in the lockup.

What was even worse, Val was not coming home. The Matron had put her foot down. ‘Your wife needs rest and she is staying here’, she said in a way that did not brook argument.

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The nurses whisked the 3 children and washed and fed them.

She was bossy enough herself in those days when the matron ruled with a rod of iron. There was little doubt that she had the backing of the local law enforcement officers.

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Johanne, Billy, Lynda and Bill. The children went home scrubbed to the point of shining and full of food. Bill simply had to cop the obvious slap in the face to his standard of washing and feeding children.

Visiting hours over, Bill bundled the super-clean and well-fed children into the crane truck and lumbered 25 mile back to the Oil Rig, resigned to whole week as superdad.

In Bill’s own phraseology, his ears hung down like a mule, as he made his way back over the 25 bumpy miles back to Oil Rig in the crane truck.

He was resigned to his fate, but worse was yet to come.

Monday Rounds at Tambo Hospital

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Val had just given birth to her 4th child Allen at the Tambo Hospital on the 7th September, 1957 and was now recovering in the Maternity Ward.

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The confinement time in maternity used to be around a week which gaves mothers time to get to recover and prepare for the rigours of home life with a new baby.

The normal confinement time was a week. This time was intended to give the new mother time to recover and the time to get the baby into routine.

Labour had come quickly and had caught them by surprise and Bill had to do the last minute shop by himself at Millers General Store.

Val had received a late night visit from Bill who had pleaded with her to get out early.

On the Monday morning, the Matron was doing the rounds of the wards.

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Matrons were real authority figures. Few patients would question a direction from a nursing sister, let alone a matron in 1957.

‘How are we, today, Mrs Wight?’, Matron asked, in that caring way that good nurses do.

‘I’m doing fine, thank you’, Val responded, ‘but actually, (long pause), I really do need to go home’.

‘Oh no, you need your rest, Mrs Wight’, responded Matron in her best matron manner.

‘But I do really need to go home’, persisted Val.

‘No! You need to be here and you need to be getting your rest’, came the firmer, more authoritarian response.

‘You see, my husbands not really coping’, bargained Val, ‘he really can’t manage’.

‘Well, he’s just going to have to’, finalised Matron, ‘he’s just going to have to.’ You’re staying here!’ in end of conversation tone.

imgres-1There wasn’t much doubt Matron and Sergeant Eiser had a good working relationship and that the channels of communication were open.

So Val stayed the usual 7 days in hospital, Bill got by as best he could, and all of the children made it too.

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