I always think that putting yourself
out for others has been more than repaid and also, I have been protesting
for over fifty years now but I am not going to stop while I have breath
in my body and a working head to think about it all.
Throughout my life I have been grateful that I grew up
in the country in NSW, on the land, because I learnt a lot about the environment.
I had a father who was really into the environment. If he were alive today
he would be a supporter.
I also saw a lot of struggles because the 1929-30 depression
hit the farmland.
We didn't have to go without much up till then, but that
made a big difference in our lives - with food, clothing, watching the
animals not being able to be sold, bags of wheat just rotting in paddocks.
All that, I think, stayed in the back of my mind.
I also had uncles and a grandfather who were shearers,
who never stopped talking about unions and politics.
A lot of political talk used to go on in my home. As
a child, I think, you are running around and not really listening, but
at the same time things are still sticking in the back of your mind so
when you are older you can compare things. When I was about 15 or 16 I
wanted to be a nurse - because I had cared for my mother, who died when
I was 10 - but I could not pass the exams because I had never had the
schooling. I had to leave school at 13 to care for my younger sisters,
so when I went to the hospital to work they said 'well, you can't do the
exams, but we would like you to work in the nurses' dining room'.
It was here that I found that when the lunch was to be
put out for the nurses, I had to put it all on the table, but when it
was to be put out for the sisters, I had to keep it in the oven to have
it piping hot to put out in front of them. I never used to think that
was fair. I had a cousin who was a nurse and she was always complaining
about her cold food.
Also, we lived on the premises. The domestic staff had
their quarters and the nursing staff had their quarters. Through my cousin
I became friendly with some of the nurses. The matron called me into the
office. She said 'I can't stop you from seeing your cousin or your friends,
but you must not go to their quarters, or see them while you are on these
premises. I thought that was a most terrible thing.
All that stayed in my head for later.
In 1940 I moved to the city to live with my aunt. I had
spent my time with her when we had weekends off work. This was when I
was thrown into the factories to work. That, for me, was a whole new world.
I feel now for migrants when they come here. To me it was just so different,
I had never seen anything like it.
I was working in a factory making silk stockings and
I noticed a man walking up and down with a watch. I wasn't taking much
notice, but at lunchtime I found out what was going on. The women said
'hey you, what do you think you are doing, working fast like that? You
will have us all doing that! That was a time and motion man! Don't let
him see you work like that!
The memories of my uncle came back. He used to say 'They
would have us shearing dozens of sheep more if they could, but we are
not going to let them. We are going on strike!' I thought, 'Oh, this is
what that means'. So, once again childhood memories were coming back to
Then the war. I was moved to a new factory, which was
making men's underwear. That was when I got engaged, when Fred was called
up to go into the army.
I was married in 1942. I moved into rooms with my sisters
when Fred went off to the war. Here was another new experience - many
different people living in houses in Carlton. You would live in one room
- a bed-sitter. Down the passageway or under the stairs would be the little
gas stoves where you had to do your cooking. There would be notices up
everywhere - 'Turn off the light. Shut the door. Don't do this. Don't
do that.' I thought 'We have to get out of this house, we can't cope with
So, we found another place. That was no better. 'No noise
after 11pm' etc. Somebody told me this was wrong - to enforce these things
unless we upset someone else. I rang some government department, I don't
remember which, and a man came out and had a really good talk to the landlady.
He gave her a good dressing down.
There were about six different families renting rooms
in that house. That is what Carlton and Fitzroy were like then, all these
people packed in. Now you will go to those houses and there might be just
one or two people living there. My own aunt opened up a boarding house,
now there are just two people living there.
Even when the war finished, people were living in places
like Camp Pell - families living in 'nissan' army huts. My husband remembers
people living under bits of tin at the flats in South Melbourne - Dudley
Flats it was called.
Then things changed. Public housing was looked into in
a serious manner.
When Fred came back from the war, he spent time in and
out of hospital. It was here that I saw the physical and emotional impact
the war had on these men and, of course, the families who also suffered.
This is still upsetting.
We were still living in two rooms, we had to get out
and look for a house. We heard of a place in Collingwood, but you had
to pay 'key money'. This was not bond - you didn't get it back when you
left. It was a black-market bribe when you think about it.
Anyway, we paid it and we moved in. Well, the walls were
all smoked. We found out that this was caused by the substance the people
in Collingwood used to burn for cooking and heating. It was called 'Collingwood
Coke'. It was boot leather offcuts from the shoe factories and they used
to burn it when they couldn't afford wood. We had to scrub all the walls.
We were only there two or three years when the factory
next door wanted to enlarge his factory - to expand onto our land. The
owner gave me a nice little letter, telling me to move out! My brain just
went back to the depression and I thought 'Where is the justice? What
are they doing to people?'
I thought 'I am not going to move.' I had two children
and I refused to move. He gave me this eviction order. I had to go to
the Collingwood court. They said 'You have to give this woman three months
notice and you have to find her somewhere else to live'.
But the owner was a very smart man. He bought up houses
on corner blocks to resell for service stations and he moved me into this
house he bought, but I was only there for a couple of years when he gave
me an eviction order again.
I said, 'Well, I am not going', so he took me to court
There was a different magistrate this time. He said 'Well,
you can stay there for thirty days but you will have to be out at 10 a.m.
on such and such a date and you will have to find yourself somewhere else
to live'. That had changed in housing in a few years - the first time
was in 1956 and this was 1960.
I had not met Dr Jim Cairns, the Labor Party federal
member for Yarra, before this. He must have heard about the stand I took
on the eviction order and he came to my home to congratulate me. I was
most impressed. It made me a strong supporter of the labour movement.
We used to go to Chelsea for weekends. Fred's sister
lived there and we used to take the children down to the beach. The back
of Chelsea, Chelsea Heights, was just starting to develop. We used to
go bushwalking out there to the swamps, birds and wildflowers.
We would see these blocks of land for sale. I had a hundred
pounds my dad had left me when he died. We had to find somewhere. There
was one telephone box in the area and when I went to ring an agent I started
talking to a woman on a bicycle while we were waiting for the 'phone.
She said 'look, I am selling my place. It has a two-room
bungalow on it, with a verandah you could close in for the children to
sleep in. I want cash, but I am up against it too. You give me a deposit
then you can pay me off later. Then I can move and you can move'. We accepted.
Next to this block of land there was a neighbour with
a truck. He offered to move us, but couldn't come until 5pm when we had
to be out at 10am. At 10am the police were knocking at the door. I told
them I couldn't move until 5pm. They didn't want to put me in the street
so they went to see the sergeant.
At that time I was working in a General Store where the
police used to come for their sandwiches. The sergeant knew me from there
and said 'if Molly says she will be out at 5 o'clock, she will. Leave
her'. They came back at 5 o'clock and there we were, loading the truck.
It must have been terrible for people who were evicted who had nowhere
to go and didn't have that protection. I suppose that was when I became
an activist, though they didn't use that term then.
It was 1960 when we moved to Chelsea. That was a whole
new life again. There was no sewerage, unmade roads, no footpaths - we
were a mile from the station. But there were wonderful people living there,
like the man who moved us. At that time, no one who had a car would pass
you on the road. We sometimes nursed each other, we were so jammed in.
Then I had to look for work. It was hard to get work,
even then. Fred was a builder's' labourer, out of work from December until
the next February, so they didn't have to pay him over the holidays. I
had an enormous worry getting the kid's books and clothes for school.
One night, when I was coming home from work, talking
to a woman on the train, she invited me to a Progress Association meeting.
I went along and joined. There was a wonderful group there. They were
struggling for well, the first thing I was worried about was the
kids walking a mile to the station in all weathers to get to school. At
times, they would start the day wet through.
They needed a bus. I went around doorknocking and everyone
agreed, so I got in touch with the bus driver and organised a bus service
for the children. Unfortunately, only three kids got on. The driver came
knocking at my door saying he would cancel the bus. Anyway, at work the
next day, people said that he couldn't do that, so I rang the Transport
Board, I think it was. They agreed with me and said they would come and
monitor the service.
He had to keep the service on. Of course, in no time,
the kids started using it. Then the adults started using it too. Then
it became overcrowded. I asked the driver to tell the kids to move back
so more could get on. He refused, he hated me. He told me to stop complaining
and if I didn't like it, to get off. Well I didn't. I hung on and when
I got to Frankston I went to the same people as before.
What I have found is that there are some wonderful women.
These women were so supportive, even though they weren't in that position
So we got another bus on that route, but the driver never
forgave me. He used to deliberately go slowly as we reached the station
so we would miss the train, or he would leave the station just before
I got on. I heard he used to say that he did it deliberately to annoy
'those old hags'.
Next we looked at kindergartens and community centres,
the private footpaths and roads. We used to have to borrow money from
the Council to have them put in. They were not included in the price of
the land, as they are now. The poor man next door who had this truck spent
so much time pulling people out of bogholes. We used to wear gumboots
until we got onto a 'made' road, then change into our shoes to walk into
When we saved some money we bought a house in Chelsea
and moved it onto our land. You should have seen it! I was at work and
missed it, but everyone was there to watch. There were some English people
who took photos to send home.
I had to change jobs often. The slump hit in the sixties,
but there were other slumps. The factories were moving out of Collingwood.
I went to work in a printing factory in Moorabin where they brought in
an enormous machine that did the work of lots and lots of us.
Economic Rationalism or neo-liberalism hasn't just hit
us now. At different times, the economic situation affects different people
in different ways. And, even then, people in the Progress Association
made the effort to work for social justice and for things for the community.
We were so tired some nights, we couldn't keep awake,
but we still went to the Progress Association meetings. We used to run
dances and picnics and things to get the money to get the things like
the Community Centre or the kindergarten.
We set up a play group - it is still going. They invited
me back to their 21st year celebration in 1996. I went on the committee
at the Community Centre, which was something like a neighbourhood house
with meeting halls to hire out.
In those days, land was put aside - lobbied for by the
members of the Progress Association and similar people - for these things.
It was not just left to developers. We had good councillors. They knew
it was not just a matter of putting up houses. Also, the people moving
in were supportive and progressive.
What worries me today is that areas are developed without
looking at all this first. It is too late when the land is gone. Anyway,
then the Community Centre was built. Then a football ground and tennis
courts. It was quite a big area put aside for community use. The school
- there was land put aside for a high school, next to the primary school
- was never used.
In the 1980's they decided to sell part of it so I went
to the local member to try and get the land used for public housing. By
this stage I was involved in the Older Person's Action Centre. I had retired
and I thought I had done enough for kids.
We had a Labor Government. They secured the land for
twenty-five units for older people, but people objected. They didn't want
aged people in the area. They said it would ruin the value of their properties
with all the traffic that would come with ambulances and Meals on Wheels.
They said it would be dangerous for the children.
If it hadn't been for the wonderful Springvale Council,
a wonderful man there who spent hours and hours doing surveys on the children's
movements and the traffic, we would have lost it. It was taken to Court.
We had to go to the Tribunal to support the council and we won. The units
and gardens are beautiful and they are a wonderful group of people looking
But I have jumped from the sixties to the eighties! The
seventies brought a bit of a different life for me. In 1970 I was offered
a job in the city, in the International Bookshop. It was at the height
of the Women's Movement. I was travelling backwards and forwards - going
home late at night because of conferences and workshops.
I decided that this was ridiculous. My son was working
at Fitzroy and had a little house he was renovating. I didn't care. I
used to come to Fitzroy on Monday and go home for the weekends. That wasn't
very popular at all! But I was determined. This was a whole new life opening
up before me - to go to those conferences and meetings, to read all these
I got locked out a few times, but I persisted. I decided
that my husband and I would become independent, go our own ways, but still
stay together. I am still doing that, after nearly sixty years of marriage.
I often think the Women's Movement was great, not only
for me, but also for hundreds and hundreds of women. It has got to come
up again, to rise up again. My auntie used to say that we have always
had a women's movement. 'Don't ever think they have stopped', she said,
'they will rise up again when issues arise which affect them'. I think
she is right.
Although I think it might be a bit easier now because
some of our men have grown up with feminist mothers, or so my granddaughters
tell me. I don't really know if the men you see pushing the pram or caring
the babies are just showing off or if they have really changed. Do they
do the nappies at home? Still, they wouldn't have even pushed the pram
That was my life in the seventies. It was absolutely
fantastic. There was another generation moved into Chelsea Heights. I
left there in 1993 and moved to Preston to live. I had become interested
in aged care and things were in the city.
The new Community Health Centre had requested women to
come and set up an auxilliary to advertise the Centre. We had lunches
- I always seemed to be making pumpkin soup. We were so good that everyone
seemed to want us. I don't believe in running anything without a guest
speaker from the community, so we had local speakers every time. That
was great. We built up a great social feeling. Everyone had a turn who
worked at the Health Centre, to let people know what they were doing.
People like food. It doesn't have to be much, but people
will become involved where there is food. It is probably a social thing.
I met lots of good people there. When you think that I received seventy
two Christmas cards from people who knew me from that time, I always think
that putting yourself out - I don't know whether you would call it being
a volunteer or being an activist - has always been more than repaid.
Any voluntary work I have done has been in an activist
sort of way, and yet, it looked just voluntary when I took on a family
- two older sisters and a brother. This was through the Guardianship Board
and the State Trustees. I knew the brother and his wife well for thirty
years and before his wife died I promised her I would look after him.
I was doing that, but then along came his two sisters
with dementia who needed looking after too! It took ten years. Out of
that, I attended meetings and I lobbied on aged care issues, so there
are the two sides - voluntary and activist. I had to get the support of
the Community Health Centre so I went on to the management committee.
One of my pet things is health - looking at Complementary medicine in
particular. I felt that Community Health Centres were doing a great job
and enjoyed every minute of my involvement there.
The Labor Party then decided to set up District Health
Councils. I was part of that, getting that started, off the ground. We
lost all that when the government changed.
Being involved in the Older Person's Action Centre, the
Consumer Forum for the aged, and Housing for the Aged Action Group was
a wonderful experience for me, like it had been in the women's movement.
The aged care movement was coming forward. You were learning and could
put it back into your community. It had been the same with the feminist
movement. Maybe the same thing will happen now with social justice to
help people in these current conditions of no housing, unemployment and
public education cuts. I think it will.
Look at Housing for the Aged Action Group. I became involved
with them in Frankston, when I was living in Chelsea. They were just getting
off the ground, wanting units for older people. They were, and are, an
incredible group, just fantastic. Only the other day I found a letter
that I had written at that time. I had said that we would like one worker
for eight hours and there are five people working there now.
Although my main interest is health, we are not going
to have health if we can't get more housing - you have ill health if you
haven't got a home to live in. As to private housing, in my experience
you never feel safe, you never feel secure. I am not saying there shouldn't
be a choice, but people can't afford the rents today. I see this with
my own grandchildren. If it affects them, it affects older people as well.
Public housing is an absolute must. When I think back
to what happened to me with those evictions, it would not have happened
if I had been in public housing. Public housing is the only safe, secure
housing for people on low or insecure incomes.
They are talking about social housing. There has always
been what they now call social housing and there is nothing wrong with
that but feel strongly that they must not take money away from public
housing for it. I noticed in the elections that we have just had in 2001,
no one talked about housing, it wasn't even mentioned.
Is it a dirty word? Don't they like saying 'public housing'?
We don't want welfare housing. We don't want to have to beg for things
again, surely. I never want to have to see that again!
It does worry me. My grandchildren believe they will
never be able to afford to buy a house. They are in their thirties and
they don't feel secure in their jobs or in their housing. If they feel
this way, I am sure they are not alone.
What is happening now is not new. What must it have been
like in the 1930's? It is no wonder so many people were ill. There have
always been struggles, but there is a nasty sort of struggle developing.
People are more and more encouraged to become just individuals and their
problems just personal ones. They say globalisation is bringing people
together, but in what form? A very greedy one, it seems. Big corporations
with the power - is it going back to fascism?
When I think of the second world war and the suffering
it caused, it brings back too many memories. I saw those men and what
fascism and war had done to them! I thought we were never to have it again,
but I woke up this morning to hear the Americans were bombing women and
kids in the snow in Afghanistan.
We need a new peace movement. I just found a booklet
the other day. It was from the early sixties - leading up to the Vietnam
War - advertising meetings. CICD set up meetings I attended in the fifties
and sixties. We met in our homes and used with a telephone tree to communicate
and support each other.
We had a march from Frankston to Melbourne protesting
nuclear war in 1963 and again in 1981. Then, when the Vietnam war was
taking place, we had that wonderful day when one hundred thousand people
sat down in Bourke Street - it was led by Jim Cairns and Sam Goldbloom
with many activists from CICD and elsewhere. They were great people. A
lot of them have died now, but there are young people who are really good.
Remember the S11 demonstrations, when the World Trade
Organization (WTO) met at the casino in Melbourne? Our S11, not the recent
one! Now the big 'powers that be' are hiding away in the hills to have
This globalisation is a whole new thing. How should we
look at it? Isn't it just globalising wealth? What happens when the money
collapses, when they want to lock it all up from themselves? There are
plenty of struggles out there. For example, I was recently invited to
meeting at the Trades Centre where the bank workers were protesting their
conditions. These employees, speaking about their conditions, reminded
me of working in the factories back in the 1950's and 1960's. We were
timed when we went to the toilet, but the tellers now are not even allowed
to leave to go to the toilet when they are working for under five hours.
One woman was pregnant. You know what that means, with the pressure on
The staff, for example, had to work unpaid overtime if
they were interviewing someone applying for a loan. Also, they had to
do these jobs with just a couple of hours training. It isn't even good
for the customers.
I have been protesting for over fifty years now. I had
better stop, I suppose, but, no, I don't want to stop. I am not going
to stop while I have breath in my body and a working head to think about
it all! . There have always been worries and struggles. It is just that
they come in a different package.
For example, we have to be looking at education. We have
to learn to think and if you don't start reading and writing early, and
are supported then, you lose a lot. That has always been my biggest drawback.
Education is the number one thing you need to start your life, that is
why I support it from playgroups to childcare to kindergarten to schools
and on. Money has been taken away and put into private schools.
What is to happen to the poor kids? Education helps you
to have health, it helps you to think, and it helps you in to do many
things. Look what has happened. Our school and community hall at Aspendale
were just taken from us with more money put into private schools. I am
sure that happened in many other communities.
We need free, public and secular education with many
different types to suit different people. Then we need housing. Out of
that will come health and work. If more money is put in to support people
with disabilities you are making good jobs as well as creating community.
How different people will feel then!