Hills Musical Society - Betty Tougher


Interviewee: Betty Tougher

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for The Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 7 November, 2013

Transcription: Frank Heimans, November 2013

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

Betty, tell me a little bit about where and when you were born?

I was born in Southampton, which is at the very bottom of England, most people know it as the place where the liners come in. My father came from Glasgow and my mother came from Cork, so I am half Irish, half Scottish, that is why I am so short. By the time I was two or three the war was on and my father was an entertainer, he went round entertaining troops in army camps, went and did one in a submarine, in a battleship, in all sorts of places. My brother and I joined my father after we found an unexploded incendiary bomb in our front garden and my mother put her foot down and said, ‘If we go, we go together’ and put the children in the act.

My brother was two years older than me and Laurie and I went in to the act with dad and I think I caught the bug then because I have never let it go since. One of the places we did entertain was a place called Nether Wallop, it is a bit like the Midsummer Murders thing, there is Nether Wallop, Over Wallop, Under Wallop, Wallop. Nether Wallop was the staging post for the Australian airmen and if they came to England most of them went through Nether Wallop and then were sent elsewhere and that is where I met my first Australians. I disappeared after the concert and they found me in the sergeants’ mess with all the Aussies.

What were your first impressions of the Aussies?

I liked them, I wasn’t a bit frightened of being on my own with all these big men, not at all. We went to Nether Wallop several times to entertain. In fact, something happened only last year - I belong to a national seniors’ group and the national seniors had one of the Darrell Lea brothers come to give us a talk about the chocolates. Afterwards, when we were having lunch he said he had been a fighter pilot in England and I said, ‘You were at Nether Wallop, and he said, ‘How did you know?’ and I said, ‘I might have entertained you when I was a little girl.’ He is not the first one I have met, I have met about three.

So did you enjoy performing on stage, did you have any stage fright at all?

No not at all, I never had any stage fright on stage, except for the first time when I had a big part in this fighting and had to sing, I was a bit nervous then, but no, I never was nervous on stage. I was very shy, as a child, I was very shy, but once you got me on stage it went.

What sort of shows did you perform in?

Well, to start with, the concerts, I did Scottish things with my father, the first thing I ever sang on stage was I belong to Glasgow. My brother and I used to do duets of well-known Scottish songs and my father did the two kinds. He did the one where he was in his full Scottish kilt and everything, which was what Sir Harry Lauder used to do, he was quite famous on the music hall. The other thing he did was Will Fyffe things: now Will Fyffe was the common man, comedian and that, but he also made films and there are quite a lot of his films where he is playing the funny character in a black and white film, so dad took after both of those.

Was your father a professional entertainer?

He was when he was younger. He actually trained as a carpenter in the shipyards in Glasgow, which was the only place for any young fellow from the slums, and he was from the slums - he had shoes to wear for school but took them off when he got home so they wouldn’t wear out. After he finished his apprenticeship he signed on as an entertainer, but evidently back then entertainers were not listed as entertainers, he was listed as a steward and paid extra to entertain. I gathered from him that sometimes even the whole orchestra were listed as stewards and not as entertainers.

Now what sort of routine did your father entertain, about apart from doing the Scottish kilt thing?

That was mainly what he did, he did the Scottish things. He was a very funny man, very funny. But my mother, she didn’t do anything she would never go on stage, but she always made the clothes and did all the back stage stuff.

Did your father have a very good singing voice?

Not bad, pretty good, and a comedian. I always say, ‘I am not a good singer, I am an actor who happens to be able to hold a tune’ and I think that is what you would say of dad. He could put over a song, not necessarily with a very good voice.

He had a bit of charisma, stage presence, as you call it?

Yes, and that is what I get from him.

Did he work as a carpenter?

Yes, when I was a child. Actually, he was blind in one eye and so he couldn’t be in the forces and he was in a factory. But we were okay because if your father didn’t go away that was bad, you were looked down on, and my brother and I stood shoulder to shoulder and said, ‘Our father makes Spitfires, so there!’ and that made it all right.

He was a carpenter on the production of the Spitfires?

Yes, he made the templates, he was a shop steward in the area where they made the templates. In fact, all the people under him were deaf and they couldn’t go away to the war either, all the people under him making the templates, they were deaf.

And your father was blind in one eye?

Yes, so quite young my brother and I could do the sign language but now there are so many abbreviations in that, that it is way beyond me.

Now your father went entertaining on cruise ships, did he?

This is before the war, but he sort of settled down when my brother and I were born. He spent, I think about nine or ten years on different cruise ships, mainly going to South America.

How did your mother cope with those long periods of absence?

Well, he only carried on doing it for a year after they were married and then he decided to give up and come home. Then after the war he got a job in London because nobody was pushing to make Spitfires anymore, so he got a job in London and for a year he came home every weekend and then my mother put her foot down again and said, ‘We’re all coming, thank you,’ so we moved to London when I was eight.

Tell me a little bit more about the war years - what sort of things do you recall about it, apart from the shell that landed in your front yard?

There was another thing that happened. Our house was fairly far back from the main road; the road in front of us was the main road from Southampton to Portsmouth, so it was a very busy road, but our house was built on the little side road to it. My mother was in the front garden one day and a German plane flew straight down the road and machine-gunned the road, and when I came home from school it looked as if somebody had put a zip fastener down middle of the road. He was so low my mother could tell he had a moustache. But because I was so young when the war started I didn’t know anything was any different. We did get sweets, we got lollies, because sometimes we did things at an American Army depot or something, and they would give us sweets and things, but other than that everything was rationed.

Tell me more about your mother, what kind of person was she?

She was very quiet, my mother. She was Molly McCarthy, now can you get more Irish than Molly McCarthy? She was the eldest of seven girls, she had an older brother, he was in the first ship torpedoed in the First World War. My grandmother expected her - it was the done thing then, the eldest girl stays home and looks after grandma and my mother got married and grandma was very cross, especially as she married somebody who was beneath her, like my father.

Was she very young when she married?

No she wasn’t, she was in her thirties when she met dad and she hadn’t expected to get married but he swept her off her feet.

Aerial view of Balcombe Heights taken from above Junction Road in 1947

She was a good mum to you?

She was. She was a very good mum to me, actually, because I was born with a clubfoot. My mum was a hairdresser and in those days hairdressers did manicures, chiropody and massage, they were all part of hairdressing - now they are all separate. She massaged my leg straight, took her three years, but she got it straight. These days then can straighten a clubfoot in about three or four months, but it took my mum three years, but she did it. I have had trouble with that leg, I got arthritis in it before everywhere else, but she really worked hard on me, so I had a lot I owed her when she was elderly. She lived to be ninety-one, which was pretty good going.

Was she a bit of a fiery Irish person?

No, she wasn’t, very quiet, but everybody loved her, all the teenagers. She’d be at one of the shows because she was first wardrobe mistress for Hills and she’d be at one of the shows and she’d sit there and before you knew it all the teenagers were around her. She got on so well with the young people in the Society, but my father, he died at fifty.

That is very early?

He died on my nineteenth birthday.

Was that a big shock to you?

Yes it was, he had a stroke, but the doctor said afterwards that a lot of the men who didn’t go away tried to replace four or five men and they literally wore themselves out. He said it was happening a lot in the ‘fifties that men who hadn’t been away to the war were dying.

Maybe they had guilt feelings that they couldn’t fight?

Well, they were made to feel guilty quite often, even if they were disabled they were made to feel guilty. You don’t see anybody parading for the men who stayed home.

Do you actually recall the end of the war?

Yes I do, we had a street party. That was the thing in England, that you had a street party to celebrate things and they put tables out in the street. But it wasn’t in the street that I was in, we were a kind of a corner house, it was in the street around the corner. Everybody who could provide anything made up a big tea and all the children had a party, so I do remember that.

Now tell me something about your education?

I was never very brainy at school but I went to Junior School in Southampton and then when we came to London I was at a Catholic school. I took what they called the 11 Plus and I got through, I didn’t think I would, but I got through with a very low mark, I just wasn’t brainy in that way. I went to Notre Dame High School and I was there until I was sixteen and then I went straight from there into day nurseries and did my two years training and two years of three-days-a-week working and two-days-a -week at Tech and passed with flying colours at the end, which was lovely. Came out as a Nursery Nurse, that is what they called them in those days. When I came over here I became a Nursery Assistant. Then I worked for another twelve years or more in London and my brother was in the Air Force and he met a lady with three grown-up children that he liked and he married her. After a while they decided they would come to Australia, so they said, ‘Will you come with us?’ and I said, ‘No, you go and settle and when you settle then we’ll come over,’ and that is what happened. When they were here three years and could sponsor us mum and I came over too, the best thing we ever did.

So was it a difficult decision for you to make to come to Australia?

Not really. My brother sent lots of photographs over. One of them confused me, it said ‘Blackboys in the bush’ and we looked everywhere for them. Didn’t find out until later that is was the flower that they were talking about. They sent a lot of photos and we thought it would be nice. At that time they were living in Kellyville, so we came out and we stayed with them and then when they moved to Baulkham Hills we bought the house across the road, in Junction Road, eventually it went under the M2.

What was Baulkham Hills like as a place to live when you first came there in 1968?

I was surprised at how old-fashioned it was compared from where we’d come from in the southern part of London. The fibro houses tickled me, I hadn’t seen them for years, and things like that. It was a bit like stepping back in time to begin with. But Baulkham Hills was quite busy even then, but I was surprised - one of the cafes we went to in Baulkham Hills had photographs of when there was a stable there and a little shop and that sort of thing. I thought, ‘Oh gee, that must have been last century’. No, it was 1952. But it was very friendly there, it had that country feel still and it was very friendly. The other end of Junction Road where we lived, it was all market gardens, where the big shopping centre is at Winston Hills, that was all market gardens when we first went there.

And who were the people running the market gardens, were they Aussies?

I think quite a lot of them were Italian, or Ukrainian, or something like that.

House in Baulkham Hills with Watkins and Junction Roads in the distance in 1959 

You said it was friendly, but did you feel a bit isolated there?

No, not really. I decided I was going to have a rest from being in a Musical Society because I had been in a light opera group, in fact I had been in two in London and I thought I’ll have a rest from that. I lasted about six months and then I joined Parramatta Musical Comedy, so I was making friends the way I knew how, which was to join a Society.

Going back to the house in Junction Road, the first house that you bought in Australia, so people can get an idea of what sort of a house it was, can you take me for an imaginary walk through that house?

It had a front verandah and you walked up the steps to the front verandah. You went through the door and actually, I can’t remember what colour it was, we had it painted later on and brightened it up a bit, we had it painted in a nice pale green. When you went through the door, if you turned left there was the master bedroom and then the smaller bedroom, so that was one for my mother and one for me. Then when you turned right you came to the lounge room, which was on the right at the front of the house. On the left was the dining room, and off the dining room was the kitchen. At the end of the hallway there was the bathroom and it had a kerosene water heater, which was really quite difficult to light and we thought, ‘What is this thing?’ but I learned how to do it. You had to fill up this container with kerosene and then you turned it upside down and had to light it with a match.

That was primitive, even for 1968. There was power in the house, of course?

There was power in the house and about four or five years after we had been in there, when I got enough money together I had a water heater put in so that we could both have a shower, you could only get one shower out of this kerosene one. There was a laundry off the back, the back door and a very long garden, very long garden. In fact, at one point one of the friends we made her daughter had a horse and we fenced off a part of the garden and the horse lived in there because he could get good feed.

Was there an internal or external toilet?

It was internal, it was in the bathroom, but there still was an outhouse that had been the toilet. No, it was a sewered one.

It sounds really that you came at the time when the transformation was happening in Baulkham Hills from the country to the city?

Yes, there was. I repapered the lounge room; actually, the day that the Opera House opened I was repapering the lounge room because my mother was watching it. She had a ticket from her seniors’ group to go so I repapered it. I discovered that one end of the wall was an inch higher than the other end of the wall, with a curve in the middle of it. I found out afterwards that a gentleman who lived next to my brother on the other side of the road, he and his two brothers had built his house, my house and the house next door to mine.

He was a builder?

No, I don’t think so, they had just all clubbed in together to build it.

Did you have a telephone?

Yes we did. There wasn’t one in the house when we moved in, but we got one, yes.

What was the state of the roads like in those days in Baulkham Hills?

Junction Road wasn’t bad, that was made up, but a couple of the ones off Junction Road, going down the hill on the right there, they were not really good roads. The ones on the right were good because they were in the new part - that was Winston Hills, when they were opening up Winston Hills.

So there were unmade roads, they were gravel, were they?

Yes, a couple of them into the market gardens, that was gravel.

How multicultural was Baulkham Hills at that time?

I think it was fairly multicultural, the people opposite us were Italian, the people in the market gardens were European. I don’t think it was as much as it is now, of course, but there were several different nationalities. I found that when I joined the first Musical Society I was in, that there were a few nationalities there.

Were there any people living there from Asia?

No, I don’t think there were. On the title for my house it showed you who had owned the house before, it went back to Pye, who owned all that area.

Who was Pye?

He was one of the early settlers of Baulkham Hills.

What were some of the big changes that affected the community at Baulkham Hills during the 1970s and 1980s, when there was a lot of change happening?

I think the shopping centre, when the shopping centre went up, I can’t remember when that was either, but I think it was in the late 1970s. I think that made a big difference, it brought more people in. Of course, particularly along Junction Road all of these little farms were all sold and houses went up and again, Winston Hills shopping centre went up. I can remember when Winston Hills shopping centre was a Safeways, I think it was, and about six shops. That wasn’t under cover, Safeways one side and six or seven shops on the other side.

What was transport like in Baulkham Hills in those days, in the 1960s and 1970s?

It was all buses and I didn’t drive in those days, I didn’t learn to drive until I was forty, having lived in London, you don’t need to drive in London. The public transport was very good, but public transport later at night wasn’t very good out to Baulkham Hills, so I got lifts to places because I needed to get into Parramatta for rehearsals and the buses didn’t run very late and sometimes we were rehearsing very late. Buses were quite good earlier in the day. To get to work: I worked at Lalor Park, to get to Lalor Park I had to get one bus that took me out to where Baulkham Hills Hospital is now and then I had to walk up the road and pick up another bus to go to Blacktown and then another bus to go out to Lalor Park. Then they put on a new bus and the new bus went all the way to Blacktown, so then it was only two buses to get to work. I did try going by bicycle but there were too many hills and it was too difficult.

So how long did you actually live in Junction Road?

Well, when we first moved into the house we knew it was on the Road Scheme for the M2, they told us that, we knew all about that. They said it would be five years at the most and I said that’s lovely, we’ll have a good deposit to put on the next house. It was twenty-seven years before they did it. Luckily for us they changed the law just two years before we had to give up the house and they changed it so that they didn’t value the house as a house on the Road Scheme, they had to pick another house similar to it in the area and take the value of that, so we did very well. I had enough to buy another house and I had enough to get a new second-hand car and a little bit over to save, so that worked out well.

My mother died the year before they claimed the house, which in a way was a good thing because she wouldn’t have stood moving. I also retired the year that they bought the house so everything worked out right for me. I am not so sure about for other people, a few people were very loathe to give up their houses. Evidently a few people said, ‘I didn’t know it was on the Road Scheme’ and I thought the day after I came to Australia I bought a UBD and it had it in there, that it was on the Road Scheme, so how could they miss it?

Aerial view of M2 between Baulkham Hills and Winston Hills in 2001

Was it very traumatic for most of the people in Baulkham Hills?

For some of them who had lived there, and their previous family had lived there, yes.

So was there a fair bit of resentment amongst the community?

There was some. They had a public meeting about eighteen months before to explain it all to us and the number of people who had just bought a house and didn’t know it was on the Road Scheme, I mean that was up to their agent to tell them that. I can’t believe that they didn’t find out but they evidently didn’t, so those people, yes, they were resentful. There was a young couple who had just bought a house to settle in, only to find they are not going to have it for very long, so there were a few people who were hurt about it, but for me it came at just the right time.

What do you think of the M2 now it is up and running and working for years already - what has it done for the shire?

It has certainly made it more accessible but it took them a long time to run it on and off at Windsor Road, they should have done that in the first place. I felt with the M2 that they didn’t think ahead enough. I mean they have had to widen it, it has taken them two years to widen it, they should have been able to see ahead that they would have needed that extra space. The space was there, so I don’t know, I suppose it is all politics and I’m no good at that.

How much has the M2 changed the character of the surrounding country, do you think?

I think there is a lot of people who work in the city now live around the M2, it opened up a lot of new building areas in Baulkham Hills, I think.


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