Sunday, March 9, 2014

Molly Callcott - Hardie Rubber Factory Worker Music Teacher Single Mum in 1930s in Thirroul

Television "soaps" often paint the past very nostalgically - happy families, Dad at work and Mum at home looking after the kids. However that was not every family's reality - in the 1930's there were marriage breakdowns or women were widowed over the decades.

These women had to become breadwinners, during all too often during troubled times like the depression years and then during wartime eras of World Wars I and II. Often untrained for a career, they sought work where they could. Thirroul's Hardie Rubber Factory employed not only young single women, but also older single mothers like Molly Callcott, my maternal grandmother, from the post WWII years.

Various articles have been written of how women worked at Hardies, before it burned down in a spectacular fire. Ultimately it was replaced by the Thirroul Plaza Shopping Centre.

This is the story of one of the women who worked at the Hardie Rubber Factory. It is not a story of great deeds and achievements by a woman of Thirroul - but instead of a Thirroul woman's going out to work and surviving during adversity, in the tough years of the late 1930's, through to the late 1950's when her health finally succumbed.

"Molly" (Mary) Constance Callcott lived in Thirroul at various times in her early life, and for the twenty years before her illness, and then passing, at Garrawarra Hospital in 1960. I barely remember Molly, as she died in my first year at school in 1960. Molly seems to have enjoyed a comfortable life in her early years, her father John Charles Joy, worked in the legal field, and she grew up in the family home of Penshurst, which was quite large. She seems to have visited and lived with her grandmother Mary Ann Hicks (nee McKenzie) in Thirroul, prior to Mary Ann's passing in 1930..

Perhaps the first challenge in Molly's life was when her father died in 1910. Her mother, Edith Florence Joy (nee Hicks), was widowed with Molly only four years old, and her brother, Kenneth Charles Joy, seven years old.

Kenneth joined the Navy in 1917, putting up his age by at least a year and  Molly studied Music, becoming a Piano Teacher. Marriage to "Russ" Louis Russell Freeman Callcott  came in 1929. The Thirroul Dressmaker known as Miss Nelly Parr was the bridesmaid - Nelly would go on to make many, many school uniforms for girls attending Thirroul School - right through until the 1960's. There seems to have been great love between Molly and Russ at that point.

Russ Callcott was a Railwayman, like his father, Alf, and so the family moved around NSW with his work. Along the way Molly and Russ came to have five children, the eldest girl, Joan, was my mother.

By 1938 and the birth of the youngest child, Joy, the family had returned to Thirroul to live in Harbord Street, near to Russ's mother, Lucy Callcott. There seems to have been tension in the Callcott family, and Molly's marriage broke down, her husband took off across to the other side of Harbord Street Thirroul to live with his mother. Lucy Callcott seems to have been a tough woman, and perhaps she had to be, as real estate agent and landlady for tourists and permanent tenants from 1915 to 1939.

On Molly's marriage breakdown, she began to teach the Piano to support her five children, as financial support from her estranged/former husband was not always reliable and ongoing. Paying for food on the table, and to clothe her five children, was an ongoing struggle, of which her daughter Joan would share with her own children.

Among Molly's students in Thirroul during the 1940's was Pat Bowyer, future wife of fellow teacher Ken Bowyer and mother of Wendy Akhurst. Pat was studying to become a junior primary school teacher and needed to learn to play the piano. Later Pat, would teach me at Thirroul Public School, and her daughter Wendy would become Bulli High School Captain, and a teacher herself. Coincidentally, two years after Wendy, my sister Julie would also become the Bulli High School Captain and also a teacher.

Molly and her children moved to her mother's new home in Soudan Street Thirroul in the late 1940's. She intended to move the piano with her and continue teaching, to support her family of five children. However her former husband Russ Callcott and his mother Lucy somehow "reclaimed" the Piano on the day of moving.

Thus began Molly's working life in the Thirroul Hardie Rubber Factory.

Molly would work at Hardies for perhaps only five years, or so, but long enough to see four of her five children settled into jobs and marriage. There would be fourteen grandchildren - but Molly had only a few years to enjoy some of the older ones.  All the challenges and stress claimed her health, a stroke and then dementia. So Molly moved to ultimately live for a while with eldest daughter Joan, a young mother with two pre-schooler daughters, Kerrie and Julie. Her mother, Edith Florence Joy, also experienced poor health, and moved to live with her younger sister, "Jummy", Ida McKenzie Webb, and husband Arthur Frederick Webb, in Sydney. Later, as Molly's illness progressed she was admitted to Garrawarra Hospital, remaining there until her death in 1960 aged 54 years. Her mother Edith had lived to nearly 80 years old, her grandmother Mary Ann was 90 at her death - her oldest daughter Joan would live to 80 years - Molly's death at 54 years was so very, very young.

Perhaps it was Molly's strength that inspired her daughter, Joan Adams, who would work so hard in so many of areas of community service over the following 50 years - War Widows, Legacy, Laurel Club, Red Cross, Stroke Support Groups, as well as Tennis Club, School Mothers Club and more. And Joan's own strength would in turn inspire her eldest daughter, Kerrie Adams, as I evolved into Kerrie Anne Christian, a scientist-engineer, youth leader, community environmental activist, union official, local council politician, steel industry manager and a mother.