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Seniors' Stories

Seniors Stories - Violet Evans

During October as part of the annual Seniors Festival, we’re celebrating the lives of some of the colourful, diverse and interesting seniors in our community. Meet local seniors' Violet Evans, Elfie Golles, Carlyn McGufficke and Enrique Bas.

Seniors Stories - Carlyn McGufficke
Carlyn McGufficke

Seniors' Stories - Carlyn McGufficke

1943 was a challenging year for me. I was 16 years old and too young to sign up to the Armed Forces, as many of my generation had—those who were over 18. And my mother had just decided to move on from her domestic job with a well-to-do couple, where I’d been happily working alongside her for two years. In her new cooking position, there was nothing for me to do.

There had been call-outs for young people to become part of the Land Army—a boon for farmers who needed support on the farm while their usual workers were away serving. I decided to join.

I can still remember meeting the train with mother, my big Duffel bag over my arm. Here was an adventure for me! There were about six girls in the entourage and a matron met us on the platform to accompany us, who was very nice.

We hopped on the train, and I waved my mother goodbye. I was bound for what was to be our living quarters for the next two years: Hawksbury Agricultural College in Richmond, New South Wales.

There were boys on campus, students of the college too young to join the war effort. The girls lived in their own, separate wing, which had its own kitchen, bathroom and washing facilities. There was even a pool, and that was great for me, a keen swimmer.

Every day in the Land Army was different—and it was all very interesting for a city girl like me! A bus would come to pick us up and take us to the farm we’d been allocated.

I spent time baling hay; but mostly my work was harvesting the crops of sweet corn that had been planted to feed American troops posted in Australia. Each of us was assigned a row and a bag that strapped around our shoulders and rested open in front of us for the cobs of corn. I don’t think that there were corn crops here, before the Americans came.

It was a lovely life and I have many happy memories from that time—we had lots of company. I remember one of the old men on the farm had a pony he allowed me to ride. Standing with him at the shop one day, the pony turned and bit me on the bum!

I met a young man from Northern New South Wales, and there was a little bit of romance involved. I wrote to him and he even came to visit me when I was living back in Sydney, but by then I felt I’d outgrown him.

One day, when I was harvesting corn, I finished earlier than the others and went to sit on the bank nearby. I was joined by a girl named Moira, who I hadn’t met before, and with that conversation we became life-long friends. After our time on the land she and I used to catch up on weekends and days off. We even worked together at a B & B up on Mount Kosciusko—me in the kitchen and Moira in the dining room.

These happy moments came out of a time of insecurity for me—when I needed to find my own way. I think that, so long as our disappointments and challenges aren’t too devastating for us, none of us can fail to learn from them.

Seniors Stories - Elfie Golles
Elfie Golles

Seniors' Stories - Elfie Golles

I was brought up by my grandparents in Vienna, until the age of 14, when I went to live with my mum. That’s when I started to look for work.

I wanted to be a hairdresser but found that I couldn’t stand the smell of the hair. So, I got a job as a sales lady in a delicatessen instead. In those days you had to do what was like an apprenticeship. I worked in the shop and went to school one day a week—to learn shorthand, typing, bookkeeping and what I needed to know about the food industry. I was very happy in the shop and, even though I was as shy as anything, I got to know a lot of the customers. In the end some of them only wanted to be served by me!

When I was 18, I met Peter, my husband, and I really, really loved him. He was doing his apprenticeship as a fitter and turner, and after he finished (we had been together about a year) he got restless and decided he wanted to travel to Australia. If he’d stayed in Vienna, he would have had to do two years in the Army—and he didn’t want to do that. I begged him on my knees not to go, but he was young and eager and wouldn’t stay. When he left, I couldn’t eat. I lost a lot of weight. He travelled around Australia doing odd jobs and lots of fruit picking, and we wrote to each other once a week.

After about a year Peter got really homesick, and came back. We were married when I was 21 and I think it was the happiest day of my life—and we were together for 52 very happy years after that. Anita, my daughter, was born. She was only about 18 months old when we moved to Australia. When Peter had asked me about emigrating, at first, I said no. But it wasn’t that hard to decide really—you go where your love is.

It was January 1961 when we arrived, and that first month in Caufield was so hot that I just couldn’t handle it—I cried a lot and I wanted to go home. After three years in Melbourne, Peter’s aunt and uncle moved to Castlemaine and we followed them. Young Peter, my son, was born.

My husband was a very good tradesman, but when you’re new to a small town, you’re the last in line. We lived very poorly in those first few years, paying off our house while Peter worked where he could: at the Woollen Mills, the Foundry, and the hospital doing maintenance jobs. It was very hard, but we were so happy because we started to make friends and have visitors—even though the only thing we could offer them was a cuppa and maybe a biscuit.

Eventually Peter was able to start his own business in a hire shed, just little welding jobs, here and there. He loved his work—and his tools. He would always buy tools, never clothes—I had to buy those for him or he would’ve lived in rags! I helped him in the shed, drilling holes, holding up beams for him to weld, cleaning up spiderwebs, and keeping him company.

One day he came home and said, ‘Guess who I saw today?’ He’d picked up a contract with Mr. McClure, owner of the big earthmoving business here in Castlemaine. We were able to build our own shed after that, and the business took off. My husband hired welders to work for him; a very trustworthy man who stayed with us for 15 years was Ray Fellos.

When our son was apprenticed into the business Peter said that he was very clever—and even better at the trade than he was.
I love everything about living in Australia. We were able to start our own business, and the harder you work, the more you get back. I’ve also made so many friends, and the hardest thing about getting older is that everyone dies. But I’m thankful for so much.

All the people at Council are really lovely, they do so much for us. I have my daughter, Anita—she’s my angel—and my grandchildren.

I’m losing my vision, but I can still cook for my family—and that’s my biggest pleasure now. I would like to say thank you to everyone who knows me.

Seniors Stories - Violet Evans
Violet Evans

Seniors' Stories - Violet Evans

I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter. My father worked in Backworth, a coal mining village in the North East of England. I was one of seven children. My brother was born first, then us six girls. I was third in line, born in 1926.

As a man living with seven females, my father didn’t have a lot to say! He was a quiet man. He’d started out in the mine as a ‘hewer’. It was his job to use an axe to hammer out the coal. He worked there all his life and came to be the overman—the one in charge. My mother, she had the brains in the family. She eventually got into politics and became a delegate for the Labour Party. But being so dedicated to such a big family, that didn’t happen until later in her life. As a coal miner’s wife, she worked equally as hard as my dad.

When I was about two and a half, the Duke of Windsor came to meet the coal miners of Backworth. My father was one of the men he visited at his home. Everyone else got dressed up for the occasion, but my father said, ‘If the Duke of Windsor wants to see what the working man looks like, then this is it.’ He’d come straight from the mine, so he was black from head to toe. The story goes that the duke came inside wearing his bowler hat and knocked his head against a fiddle hanging on the wall. He asked, ‘Who’s the musician?’ and my father said, ‘I play a bit, but I prefer the mandolin’. Later, the duke had three or four mandolins sent to my father from different parts of the world. I remember they had different coloured ribbons hanging off them—one of the instruments came from Cannibal Island.

They’re still in the family. The duke’s visit was televised on the news. My aunty was at the cinema when that particular newsreel came on, and she stood up and shouted, ‘That’s my brother!’.

After the war I joined the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI), a government company that ran establishments and sold goods needed by people in the forces and their families. I worked in different Army canteens. Once, the men from the sergeants’ mess invited us NAAFI girls to a dance. That’s where I met George, my husband. He’d been drinking, so I thought he was a bit of an idiot at the time. But eventually I warmed to him. As the son of a soldier he’d been ‘military’ since he was nine years old. We lived the ‘Army Married’ life and had six children.

When my son, Robert, was four he came down with polio, it was rampant at the time. He spent 21 days in hospital, and I had to be in isolation at home with my other children during that period. The only chance I got to go out was when the Army vehicle would come to take me to visit, and I’d sit in the back and cry my eyes out. It was a harassing time. Robert took his favourite toy, a little painted metal truck, with him into hospital. When he finally came home it didn’t have a skerrick of paint left on it—they’d had to put it through the steriliser. Fortunately, he’s still going strong.

Back in the 1970s, two of my sons decided to travel, and they ended up living in Campbell’s Creek. They encouraged me and their father to come to Australia. So, in 1979 we made the move and flew out here with Qantas. I’ve never regretted it. I love everything about this country—the people, the climate. I’ve seen quite a bit of it now—and there are so many different aspects to the landscape, it’s just immense.

Castlemaine’s the center of the world, to me it’s home. I think of my parents and how hard they worked, and I know they would be just so proud of how their family’s progressed. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Seniors' Stories - Enrique Bas
Enrique Bas

Seniors' Stories - Enrique Bas

I grew up in Bernal, a town at the southeast of the province of Buenos Aires, with my parents and sister. My mother spoiled me, so I was a naughty boy! I loved spending time with my neighbourhood friends and playing soccer.

I’m also very musical and have a ‘good ear’ for a tune—so I taught myself how to play the harmonica.

When I was about 13, I came down with tuberculosis (T.B.). It was very common at the time. People nowadays think it’s a sickness that only affects the poor, but this is not true—it affected people of all classes.

I remember hiding my illness from my girlfriend, but she found out, and ran away. I spent a lot of time in hospital getting treatment and one day a doctor saw that I played the harmonica. He said it was the best hobby I could have for strengthening my lungs. I recovered so well that I was able to return to playing soccer with the neighbourhood club.

I had a few different jobs in my younger years. I worked at Harrods, the department store, and also in the electricity industry. Then I was a salesman, selling books door-to-door. I sold them to schools too, which I loved because I got to meet a lot of different people. I also love to read— especially history books about WWII—I know a lot about history because of that.

I’d go to social dances as a young man. You’d meet people and dance the foxtrot, the cha cha, the waltz and the tango. I met Josephine (pictured with me) on the dance floor and we fell in love with each other. We were married for around 50 years and had two girls, Patricia and Marcela.

Josephine, my wife, worked in the car manufacturing industry. One day in 1955 she was sitting in the office at Renault when she looked out the window and saw many planes flying over. They had objects falling from them. She thought to herself, they must be dropping presents. But they were actually dropping bombs.

She was working a couple of blocks away from the Casa Rosada: the official seat of government where a large crowd were demonstrating their support of the president, Juan Perón. The Navy and Airforce had tried to bomb it, but instead they got Buenos Aires' main square. Over 300 people died on that day.

There has been a lot of political unrest and a lot of war in Buenos Aires. The 1970s was another difficult period. 30,000 citizens either died or disappeared under the military dictatorship of that time.

In 1997 I played my harmonica for an arts tournament put on at the theatre by the Premier’s wife at the time. I won the main prize—a trip to Europe. I loved the trip so much that my wife and I saved up and went back a year later.

Europe has good food!

My eldest daughter, Patricia, made the move to Australia first. Back in Argentina she was a doctor working for the emergency services. When she reported that some of the ambulance drivers were working while under the influence of drugs, she started getting phone calls threatening herself and her family. She decided to move from Argentina for their safety and is now working at a clinic in Horsham.

In 2013 my wife had a necklace stolen from her neck and she fell and broke her femur. She died during surgery. Josephine was 78 years old. At the time my younger daughter, Marcela, was two weeks away from moving to Australia. She didn’t want to leave her father, now an 84-year-old widower, behind. So, she decided to take me with her. I never thought that at this age I would be picking up and moving to another country, but here I am.

I’m very happy to be living with Marcela and her family (and the animals) on their property in Muckleford. I love Castlemaine and the people here too, especially those from the Shire and the Hospital, they've been really kind.

I enjoy doing home exercises with the lovely ladies from the Shire; I also spend my days watching a YouTube channel from Argentina, gardening, playing piano—and I’m still playing the harmonica, of course!

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