Portsmouth, England on 14 July 1960
Sydney in August 1960
Rented fibro house in North Ryde, Sydney
Radiotherapy department at Sydney Hospital
Musician for ABC, Newcastle; lecturer at Newcastle Conservatorium of Music; music teacher.
My name is Lorna Eileen Mary Denham. My maiden name was Race. I was born on 14 January 1936 in Bournemouth on the south of England and was an only child.
I am a retired musician having been a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London where I studied piano and flute for seven years. I also studied the organ externally and was organist at several London churches, which paid generously when I was a student. At the same time, from 1951 to 1955, I played the flute in the London Schools Symphony Orchestra.
I met my future husband, John, through playing the organ for his sister’s wedding in 1958. He was already organised for migrating to Australia and he asked me to come too and we became engaged. He came out on a two year working contract and sailed for Australia in May 1958. I was due to travel a few months later. However, as time passed, and John being so far away, I began to have serious doubts about our plans and so broke off the engagement.
Time passed and we resumed communication thanks to John’s sister who was a friend of mine. John’s immediate response was to send a cable saying, “Will you marry me?”, which was one of those heart fluttering moments in life.
Before I left England, my mother had given me this ceramic koala to remember my friends in England. John’s mother had given me some music that had belonged to her long dead sister-in-law and it included this volume of Chopin scherzos.
Between 1956 and 1960, I had a part-time job as an usherette at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden. This, amongst other things, involved selling programs and the ones I still have are memories of gala performances and opening nights. It was hard work but a privilege to be able to see ballet and opera in such a place so often. In some ways not the best preparation for life in the Sydney of 1960 as a poor migrant.
In July 1960, I sailed from Portsmouth on the SS Fairsea as a ‘ten pound Pom’. We called in at Fremantle where the first thing I noticed was that all the shops had awnings, which reminded me of American western films. Then onto Melbourne, just in time for the “six o’clock swill” (rush to buy drinks before the bar closed).
Then, I duly arrived in Sydney to a very cold, wintry August. I was 24 and I remember feeling immortal at this age. Sydney Harbour was very beautiful and I took photographs of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
It was wonderful to see John again. He was extremely good-looking like a young Peter O’Toole! We married six weeks later in September at St Anne’s Church, Ryde and I was wearing this blue suit. We set up house in a rented cardboard (fibro) house in North Ryde, Sydney.
Our first baby, Simon, was born in November 1961 and I was packed off in the September to medical friends in Victoria to be sure of good care. It was a mistake for us to be separated but it seemed a good idea at the time. However, I did not see John from then until January 1962, which was tough. We drove back to Sydney in a ute with the Moses [baby] basket between us on the seat. There were roadworks on the way creating hold ups – and it was very hot – no air conditioning in those days!
We then moved to a house in Forest Lodge in Sydney, which we eventually bought. It had a flat underneath which provided a small income. Sara, our second child, was born when we lived here. But, I am horrified when I think back to the night she was born. She decided to arrive around late evening. We had no telephone and John could not find a taxi – so it seemed the best idea to start walking up to the hospital. Every few minutes I would say to John, “We just have to stop for a minute”, and we duly arrived at the King George V Hospital and she was born one-and-a-half hours later. It is only in recent years that I have realised the possible scenario of John having to deliver a baby on the pavement, and the drama that might have been.
We had one friend who lived at Neutral Bay and who was the mother of an old London boyfriend of mine. We used to take the bus and the ferry to visit her, which was lovely. I worked at Sydney Hospital in the radiotherapy department, then at the new Qantas house in Hunter Street, Sydney.
Our next house was in Glebe and I was able to be a landlady to three university students who lived in our basement flat. They would babysit our children once a week so that John and I could have a meal out together as a treat.
Through his job in Sydney, John was able to move to Newcastle as an industrial designer in 1966. I will never forget the very bendy road from Sydney to Newcastle in those days. We settled in Warners Bay in a house with a beautiful view of Lake Macquarie. In 1969, our third child Lucy was born at Belmont Hospital.
Although I had a lovely family I was still very homesick and I would find myself pushing a pram wearing dark glasses with tears streaming down my face. It was a terrible feeling but probably caused by the fact that I had originally only expected to stay here for two years. However, John did not want to live back in England even though I pleaded with him and I felt that as we had a family I must stay too. I tried to think of myself as a pioneer and how hard it must have been for the early settlers.
It was sad not having any grandparents around for the children. I found Christmas was one of the hardest times of the year to get through. I remembered the ones back in the UK with the lights, smells of cooking, fires burning in the grate and all cosy and warm inside. Here, in Australia, it never held the same magic for me but, of course, hot Christmases are all that my children know.
Here in Newcastle my interest in music was rekindled partly because we had made a friend who was a journalist at the ABC. I had already acquired a piano and was teaching at home. In 1969, my journalist friend mentioned the Local Artists programs at the ABC and suggested that I audition for them, which I did successfully. It was all very exciting as well as being able to have an income. The other musicians that I met helped me to begin to feel more settled than at any other time before.
I was fortunate in another way because Newcastle had a Conservatorium and in 1973, I began what was to be a 20 year teaching life there.
I was a reluctant migrant, but after a tough start, I am pleased to be able to say that I am an Australian citizen, as John and I were naturalised in the 1980s. I think that Newcastle is a wonderful place in which to have spent much of my life. People change, times change and England has changed too. I am still in touch with three old student friends from Academy days, which is nice.
Our children have grown into fine people and we have five grandchildren aged between two and seventeen years of age.
I have been back to the UK enough times to be always glad to be coming home to Australia.
The famous Australian painter Judy Cassab, born in Vienna, expressed things well when she said that she feels like a hybrid – neither quite one thing nor the other, and I feel a little of that too.
Nevertheless, life has been kind enough to let me be content in the long run.