Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan, Ireland
Dublin, Ireland on 29 November 1967
Sydney on 16 December 1967
Unit in North Sydney
Bread counter at Woolworths, Chatswood, Sydney
Childminding business, Sydney
I was born in a little village called Ballyconnell in County Cavan (Ireland). It was a very simple but very happy life. My father worked on the council as a stonemason. He built part of our home and even helped us at school with our compositions. Mam was a very loving woman but kept in the background.
I left my Roman Catholic school on the day I was 14 and went to a technical school for a few months. My parents were very poor and I was the eldest. I worked in this big, three storey doctor’s house as a maid and receptionist. I used to get up at 6am and light all the fires – there was no central heating or anything like that. I got 10 shillings a week and gave it to my dad to help buy off the car.
I used to go home once every three weeks. My sister, Kathleen, and I were terribly close and we went everywhere together, to dances with boyfriends and the usual that everybody does. To this day I miss my sister so, so much. My two brothers were tied to my mam’s apron strings and I have a younger sister, Patricia. Kathleen and I were the wild ones.
Michael, my husband, we’re inter-related a bit! His sister is married to my uncle. Michael had been in Australia for ten years. Everyone was looking forward to this Australian coming home. The “Australian Coming”, that was Michael, my husband now. He came to Australia simply because there was no work [in Ireland]. He was from a huge family of 11 and his parents died when he was about ten. They reared themselves and did jobs on farms. As they saved money some took to America and some took to Australia.
[Michael] come back [to Ireland] for a holiday. All his friends got married and he was left on his own. He was the odd man out. He knew he was coming back for a bride. You know, they’re a great country for matchmaking, Ireland!
My uncle was trying to match him up with girls his own age but it didn’t seem to work. I’m 11 years younger and was 24. I kind of got a feeling for the man. And Michael said the only one he’s interested in is me. My sister said, “if you start going with him, you know it’s only for marriage”. My mother, God love her, was so much against immigration. We only knew each other for three months and got engaged. Michael was over the moon of course. He’d got his bride and I was happy with the fuss.
My mother was heartbroken; she never forgive me. She said it was bad enough to get married to practically a stranger without going to Australia. I might as well be dead, she said. That’s the words she said, I might as well be dead. It was very sad, it broke my heart.
We married on 25 November in 1967. On top of it, my mother’s brother dropped dead on the eve of our wedding. It was very tragic. I cried so much when all this happened.
Mam didn’t mean it, I know she loved us dearly but she’d give us the impression that we’d be no good for anything. With my mother being so much, we said we’ll come out [to Australia] for two years and see what it’s like. Maybe there’s a little bit of rebellion and I wanted to see a bit of the world. [It was the] first time I’d ever been outside Ireland.
I packed a little teapot and my photo album. Because we were travelling, we got money as wedding presents and I wrote a wedding gift list. [The teapot] was a wedding present a dear friend gave – I knew she couldn’t afford it but she did. It’s got a little Irish cottage and shamrocks on it. It reminds me of dear old friends back home.
I bought a beautiful hat for my going away outfit and I wore it all the time in America – we stayed with Michael’s sister for a fortnight and met family and friends. We went by plane from Dublin. We had a lovely time but it was absolutely freezing. I kept the hat on me because of the cold. I’ve always loved the hat. It’s shape was a kind of a pillow, you know the way you can sit it on the side of your head. I think that’s what attracted me to buy it. I’ve kept it all these years and will always bring me back to the honeymoon and Ireland.
[We flew] from America [to] Honolulu; that was very nice. We came into Sydney airport and it was the hottest morning. Everybody was very nice. They put on a big party to welcome us and we lived in a unit in North Sydney.
I found the people in the shops and hospitals were ever so kind and willing. But I still was very lonely. The distance was great then, it was very harsh. My parents had no phone. I think the first phone call I made would have been for Kathleen’s wedding – which would have been 1.5 years [later] – because she married in a hotel [that had a telephone]. It’s not like now where you can ring up and send texts.
What I found hard to adopt to was city life. Everybody was bustling around on the train. I had never been on trains in my life before. After being brought up in the country, it was like being jailed.
I got a job in Woolworths. The pay was many times more the pay in Ireland. I was on the bread counter. I didn’t last long because I got pregnant right away and I was sick and it was hot.
I remember going to my doctor and he said to me, “good on ya”. I came home and said to Michael, “how did he know my name in Irish? Good Onya”. Onya is Anna in Irish. These expressions are so different!
We stayed in the unit for six months. This (current home) was the first house we looked at and bought it. Paul was born in the September but he had a major heart condition and a cleft lip. For the next two years my life was devoted to him and I kind of took a hatred to Australia. I missed my family and the culture and [was] with a very sick little child. I knew nothing about babies. I had nobody which is very hard when you’re in a strange country.
But there’s one thing I remember. One day this fellow came to the door. He was English and says, “how do you like it?”. I said, “I hate it. I’m kind of living between two countries”. He said he was doing the same but that we’re silly. We have to make up our minds and live in one country or another. And do you know, I’ve never forgot his words and he’s right, you have to make the best at wherever you are. So that was the start of me settling in Australia with a few words from a complete stranger at the door!
After two years we lost Paul, he died after a major operation. I always wanted another little boy but it just wasn’t meant to be. We’re blessed with six beautiful girls. Because I was rearing six children I was not able to enter the workforce and childminded here [at home] for about 16 years. I looked after other children with my own, mostly the teachers’ children from Willoughby Public School. You’d be recommended by word of mouth.
The children made friends at school and you make friends in the church. Everything started to come together. I don’t think I’d ever go back to live in Ireland again. I couldn’t take the damp and the cold.
I went in 1980 back to Ireland to see my mum and found a vast change. I wouldn’t even have known my brothers; [they] were teenagers [when I left] and when I went home again, they were 30.
I don’t think Mam ever forgive me. She said, “it’s about time you come home to see your poor old mother”. My father was lovely, he drove me everywhere and prepared the house and Mum’s attitude was, “why are you going to all that nonsense?”. She didn’t mean it, she was heartbroken that there was no chance of me ever coming back.
Do you know, my girls said to me too, “Mummy, you always put us down”. I can understand my mother now but I’ve tried not to be like that to my girls. If they want to live in England or France, that’s their life.
Oh I love it here. I really do. It’s a great country and the people are lovely. It was just me, it wasn’t the people here. I can’t explain how it is when you emigrate and have a sick child.
[I still miss] the sense of humour and the simple fun back home. It’s probably changed now, but at that time, it was so simple and just fun. As I say, completely different types of people live in the country and the city. I will probably always call Ireland, the land of my birth, home. But when I’m in Ireland, I call Australia home!
Andrea Fernandes, NSW Migration Heritage Centre
24 May 2006
With assistance from Angela Noel (nee Fox)