The Hills State Emergency Service - Evelyn Lester


Interviewee: Evelyn Lester, born 1953

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for The Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 7 June, 2013

Transcription: Frank Heimans, June 2013

This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee

Evelyn let's talk about you, for people who might be listening to this interview now and in future years, can you tell us a bit about where you were born?

I was born in 1953 in a town called Kilsyth in Scotland and in 1962 I moved with my family over to Australia and started a life in Australia, in The Hills Shire.

Tell me a bit about your father's occupation in Scotland, what was he doing there?

My father was in the Navy in World War II and then he became a painter, a house painter, after the war.

He didn’t use the grey paint that they used for the submarines, I suppose?

No, a house painter.

You said he was in submarines, what did he tell you about those times?

He didn’t really talk much about it, I think you find a lot of the war fellows that they talk more with their mates than they will with their family and they like to sort of keep that life away. He did have a lot of mates and I remember him spending weekends away and having good times with that and having good recreational times.

So you think he might have seen quite a bit of action during the Second World War?

I’ve still got the history of where he was and he was assigned to about ten different vessels in his time, so he would get around a bit.

It would have been a very trying time for your mother at that stage?

Yes, but as I say, it wasn’t a thing that was spoken about, that is what happened in life and just got on with it.

So tell me a bit about your mother, what is her background?

Mum was a conductress on the buses in Scotland and then when she came to Australia she then worked in Dural in the orchid industry. She continued working there until the mid-1980s and then she just became a stay-at-home mum.

How large a family was the family you were born into?

I have one brother and he lives in Townsville, so there are just the two of us. My brother was older and he has two children and four grandchildren and I think about three or four great-grandchildren.

Tell me about what you recall about growing up in Scotland?

As I said, we came from a town Kilsyth and Kilsyth is in the Stirling Shire, so there were a lot of lochs and glens behind. Then my weekends were usually up doing bushwalks, or walking through the rivers and things like that, lots of pleasant memories there. Playing football on the street with the rest of the boys, I was the only girl in the street so I became very much of a tomboy.

Was it wild nature where you were living?

There were lots of mountainous walks to go through, but the paths were well worn. We lived on quite a large hill, so the scenery beautiful, as Scotland is. I went back in 2001 for a visit and I was really quite amazed that I didn’t need a street map and I knew exactly where I was going, so that was quite good. Yes, the memories are there.

Now can you tell me a bit about some of the values that your parents might have taught you at an early age, what sort of values did they have?

I was doing a recollection of that the other day and wondering why I followed the path that I have done with volunteering and my parents, that is what they did, they were always there helping someone. When we came to Australia my mother was with an organisation that they went out and assisted the needy and also did lots of hospital visitations and sitting with people who were sick in hospital. My father belonged to the RSL because of being a veteran and so he also went out and did things for people as well, so he was always there, putting a hand up to assist anyone.

So you think that is where you got your desire to help other people do you think?

I think so because mum and dad’s door was always open to anyone who needed help, they were only a phone call away, was how I always sort of found them to be.

Was your family a religious one?

Well, not extremely religious, but we followed the Ten Commandments and we understood. We weren’t churchgoers, but we had the bible in the house and it worked that way.

Was it Sunday school as well for you?

Yes, in Scotland I would go to church every Sunday in Scotland, I remember going there, and that was a church that I visited when I went back, and I have always got fond memories of sitting there. As you can imagine in Scotland we had big churches, so that is still there after all these years.

What were the reasons that your parents decided to come to Australia?

They felt that there was more of an opportunity for a family in Australia and my mother’s sister was already living in Australia with her family, so they had sort of advised of what was happening and the advantages for bringing up a family. I always remember my mother saying that when you go to Australia, because it is such a young country, get to know the history because it is such a young country.

How old was your father when you actually came here?

Dad was born in 1925, so about nearly forty.

So he was young enough to adapt to a new country. Did he find work easily?

With being a painter my uncle was already here and he had his business and he was a painter as well, so my father worked with him. Then my father broke off and started his own company and my brother then joined him. My father had that same company until he passed away in 1980.

Orchards out past Dural in the 1950s

What do you remember about the trip coming from Glasgow - was it Glasgow?

From Kilsyth we caught a train from Glasgow down to London and at the time we were leaving, it was in January, 17th January we left Scotland and we were going through a snow blizzard. The train stopped three times with the engine freezing over on the way to London. Then we caught the plane from London to Australia and we arrived in Australia on January the 19th and we were in a heatwave, it was a hundred and four, or something like that, so it was a bit of a shock to the system. I remember getting off, my mother had gone onto the plane with a fur coat and fur boots on and on the plane her feet swelled and she couldn’t get the fur boots off. I remember wearing a pyjama top when I got to Australia because I had all winter woollies, that was the only thing that I had that was cool for the climate, which was polyester, so it wasn’t really that suitable but that’s what we got.

What a shock, coming from Scotland to Australia in opposite seasons?


Did you like the life in Australia?

Yes, we moved to Dural and I went to Dural Primary for ten months. Then my father got ulcerative colitis, a bowel complaint and he was hospitalised. Coming from Scotland you had flushing toilets and when we came to Australia it was the outside toilet and having to dig the hole, and my mother blamed that for my father’s illness, so while he was in hospital mum went off looking for another property and we moved to Arcadia and that was the only thing we looked for, the flushing toilet. One funny recollection of when we first came to Australia, we being at Dural there is a lot of wildlife still around and my mother went to step out the front door and there was goanna lying on the front door mat, sunning itself, and my mother thought the crocodiles had arrived.

Another shock about coming to Australia?

My terror, I have a fear of tarantulas, in that ten-month period I had a tarantula in the house. My mum had gone down to visit my aunt, who was about four hundred metres down the road, and I was there with my brother and this tarantula, every time I moved it followed me around the house so I was really quite petrified. My brother had no support for me, thought I was quite a little girl. When my parents came I went and said this was happening and even when they tried to kill it jumped towards me. So I just have this fear of big spiders now. Now that I’ve joined SES that phobia has sort of subsided, I am getting a bit better now.

So tell me, what was Dural like in the early 1960s?

Completely different to today. It was very rural, we walked everywhere, rode our bikes. Again, I was brought up with an atmosphere of that you were there to help your neighbour and your neighbours were there for you at any time, so I think through my life that is how I have grown. We moved back from Arcadia to Dural in 1967, mum and dad bought a property in Dural and I stayed there until I got married in 1975. In that period of time I could see the changes of Dural growing and I didn’t like the busy life that was happening. One day I was sitting on the verandah and I saw this lady walking a lamb down the street on a leash and I said, ‘Oh, that is fine we are still rural, she is not walking a dog, she’s walking a lamb.'

Now you spent nine months at Dural Public School, what do you recall about those times?

It was getting people to understand an accent, at that time I did have an accent, but I did have my cousins there as well, so the transition was made a lot easier. The class size was the same as what I had left in Scotland so I just sort of settled into it and tried to remember the curriculum from what Australia gets taught and to what we were taught over there. No, the transition was fine.

After Dural, as I said, we moved to Arcadia and that is where the difference in the school was. I went to Arcadia and we had six students in our class, so that was sort of coming down from twenty-eight students down to six, that was a bit of a changing over and having three classes in the one room, whereas in Scotland I was used to having big rooms and big classes. That sort of put me in to the rural feel of what Australia was all about and that was where the feelings too, because as a young child you can imagine, you are coming over to what Australia is told about, that we’ve got kangaroos and you ride horses to school, well, I was expecting my horse and all I got was a pushbike. I ended up, in later years I did get my horse.

When was that?

I purchased the horse and that would have been late in the 1960s, so probably only waited about ten years and I got my own horse.

How was the standard of education that you got in Arcadia, was it as good as that you had received in Scotland?

Yes, I still have very vivid memories of my time in Arcadia, more so than any of the other schools. The Friday tests that we used to have and having to sit and memorise all the Christmas carols for the Christmas pageants that they had, the sports days that we had. In Scotland you don’t really have the big sports carnivals that we do have in Australia, so that was a bit of a transition of getting out there and running and doing relays and discus throwing and things like that.

Buses at Dural in 1968

Tell me bit about your high school, what were they like, the years there?

I started my first year in high school, I went to Asquith Girls’ so I would travel from Arcadia across the gorge and that was an experience. In those days the bus went across the gorge, so it was the three turns on the hairpin bends to get around. The boys would put their cans of drink on the guide rails as we were driving along because that is as close as you were driving. Asquith Girls’ - it was a very strict school, you had to have your beret and your gloves on - as you left the Principal was standing at the gate watching. I remember one day I lost my glove and I did get caught and I only had the one bus to get back to Arcadia and I had to do a big run and just caught the bus.

Just the one bus?

Yes. At that time coming through because of being at Asquith from the school going across the gorge back to Arcadia, there was only the one.

How long did that take you?

I can’t remember, it was probably about forty-five minutes I’d say.

You must have lost your Scottish accent along the way somewhere?

Yes, I put that down to my mother. When mum started working people couldn’t understand her, so she learnt very quickly that you had to learn to talk slower and more pronounced and they were able to understand. I would say being with children that is how you grow up. At times my accent does come back and my brother is the same, he is very much an Aussie to talk to but if we get into the Scottish group all of a sudden an accent will come back.

How were you accepted by the other students in high school?

I was just one of the students, there was no discrimination with me being from overseas. When I was in primary school the headmaster, if it was doing poetry and it was Scottish poetry it would be, ‘Evelyn, you can read this,’ because I would know how to do the little twangs to it all. I also found that the only thing that would catch me with my accent would be ‘r’s’ and so I always was very sort of aware if I had to spell things and hoped that I would not get a word that had an ‘r’ in it.

I suppose the poetry would have been Robbie Burns, would it?

That is correct and then I would be asked what the words meant and there was I, being a person of ten years old, thinking well, I have not been that focussed on Robbie Burns.

Did you play any sport at school?

Yes, played softball and I also then went on to competition tennis and my daughter has followed that through. When she was seven years old she started playing tennis, so I had inbred that in to her.

Tell me when you moved to Arcadia what kind of a house were you living in then?

The house we moved in to was beautiful at that time, it was a hundred-year old sandstone three bedroom home with the very big log fire, so it was very colonial in style. It was really good times, we were on quite a lot of acreage with orange trees and there was a pig farm in the area as well and my two next door neighbours, they had poultry farms, so we were right in the rural area. I paired up very quickly with someone who had horses, so every afternoon and every weekend we would jump on the horses and go, even though I didn’t have my own I was still able to get that horse.

Were the fruit trees bearing fruit?

Yes, they were orange trees. Mum was renting the property then and we assisted the people who owned the property to pick the oranges. I was riding on tractors and things like that, the normal tomboy things that you do.

If you had to describe the house in Arcadia, say standing at the front door, take me for an imaginary walk through the house, how was it laid out?

Okay. Coming through the back door you’d go through the verandah, it wasn’t enclosed but it had its sandstone walls to it. Then you would go into the kitchen, which was a large eat-in kitchen. Off to your right would be one of the bedrooms. If you followed through the kitchen you then went into the large lounge room with, as I have mentioned before, the big fireplace. You continued straight on, you went then on to an enclosed verandah, which was another bedroom. To the right there was my parents’ bedroom and then off there, there was another enclosed verandah, which was another bedroom.

You mentioned that it had a toilet, so there was sewerage laid on?

Yes, the toilet was an external toilet and on many occasions you would go out and find the green frog sitting in the toilet. We also had problems with it being rural, another thing for being Scottish and coming into a new life, of having the possums in the roof as well and having to get rid of the possums.

At least no wolves?

That’s right, no wolves.

Was it heated in winter, the house?

By the fire.

So the rest of the house was pretty cold?

Yes, well being Arcadia it was, but the fireplace: it wasn’t the little fires, it was the big ones that you could really sit in and have a nook in there as well.

What sort of mod cons did your mother use, was there a proper washing machine?

The laundry was outside and we used the Simpson wringers, so get your fingers jammed putting the clothes in, you had to keep on bashing it to release it and the rubber rollers.

There are people around who will remember that, but not too many.

When we moved to Dural we upgraded and we went in to the twin-tubs, that was the washing machine with spinner beside it, so that was an upgrade to that one.

How did your mother cook the meals, on what sort of stove?

Normal stove. We didn’t work on an Aga. I have had experiences with the Aga and we have had friends that have had them and filling up the fuel stove. When we first came to Dural that was how we’d heat up our hot water system, was by having to put the wood into the heater to heat up the water, it wasn’t an electrical thing.

So you didn’t have hot showers?

No, we had baths, there wasn’t showers, you had to have a bath because the water trickled through the little pipes as it got heated up with the fire.

So how far did you go with your high school education?

I finished high school in 1969 with my School Certificate because I wanted to go on and do a nursing career. I then had one year before nursing was going to start, so my mother wanted me to have a backing and sent me off to Hornsby TAFE to do my secretarial sort of diploma, so I got that in that time before nursing started.

York Rd Kellyville in 1997

What made you decide on nursing?

Again, I think it is just caring for people and my mother wasn’t a well lady. I remember a time in Scotland she was blind for six months, they don’t really know what happened, it was a virus or something that was in the eyes, but she was totally blind for six months. Then she also would come down with illnesses quite regularly which led on to being in 1970 she was diagnosed with a form of leukaemia, so I would say that was probably the lead up to it in those times beforehand.

So did you find that nursing was the career for you?

Yes. Then I got married and the hours didn’t suit me, so then came back to the fall-back of what my mother had said, ‘Actually, make sure that you have something behind’, so I then became a secretary. But the medical background still stayed with me in that I became a secretary in the pathology area of Royal North Shore, so I still didn’t leave the hospital.

Tell me about how you met your husband, and tell me about your marriage?

Meeting my husband - I was introduced to him by friends at a dance at Carlingford. Then we got married in 1975 and I moved to Baulkham Hills and we lived at Baulkham Hills from 1975 to 1997 and then we moved onto a property in Kellyville, where we are at the moment. We had a daughter in 1977 and a son in 1983.

And what are they doing now?

My daughter is at home, she has three children, she is a stay-at-home mum. Andrew has just turned thirty at the beginning of last week and Andrew has Asperger’s Syndrome and an intellectual disability, so he is still at home with us.


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