My mother came to Sydney from Auckland, New Zealand, in December 1938. I was born in St Luke’s Hospital in Kings Cross in April 1939. My mother, Anne Urquhart, returned to Auckland leaving me in Sydney to be adopted. It would be sixty years before I located her, but she had died before I got to meet her.
My birth mother, Anne May Urquhart
My Supreme Court adoption document
I now had a new Mother, Enid Annie James who came to Australia from England with her Mother, my future Grandmother, and lived in Homebush, Sydney.
Enid was sometimes not home for days and nights at a time as she was a nursing sister (Registered Nurse) and stayed at Prince of Wales Hospital where she worked.
My new Mother Enid James
I didn’t know Enid was my mother. She told me she was my Aunty and that my parents had died in an accident. I think she did this because if she told people she was my mother she might have been socially ostracised as an ‘unmarried mother’ and therefore in disgrace in those extremely conservative times. I had no inkling that I had been adopted until I applied for my Birth Certificate in order to get a Passport so that I could travel overseas. I was twenty-three years old.
Enid loved me. I know, because she told me she did.
My Grandmother Maude Ethel James, born 1879
I think it looks a bit funny how she’s holding me so I won’t topple over.
Because there were railway signals right opposite our house lots of trains stopped there. During World War II there were plenty of troop trains going by, including those we called ‘hospital trains’ which were white with a large red cross painted on their sides. My Grandmother stood me on our verandah to wave at the injured troops who would hang out the train calling to me, ‘g’day Snowy’. A very powerful memory which has not faded.
My Grandmother told me how she loved me very much. I loved her a lot too, we had a very happy life together. Maude died in her sleep in 1959, aged 80. I found her in her bed when I went to wake her with her usual cup of tea. I was totally devastated.
Within a month I was in Western Suburbs Hospital in a coma with a smashed up head and face after driving my car into a brick wall. I was in hospital and rehab for most of the rest of 1959. I was twenty years old.
When I was five years old Enid sent me to a Catholic boarding school in Bowral, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, so that I could have a ‘good education’. I don’t recall much about my primary schooling, but I do have vivid memories of the nun’s ability to control us through punishment using the favoured Catholic instrument of torture of the time – the leather strap. I think it did little to encourage learning.
With my friend Barry Gardiner at school
From there I went to Chevalier College high school in Burradoo also in the Southern Highlands of NSW. I had a truly terrible time there: I was mercilessly teased by other boys and sexually abused by one of the Sacred Heart priests. I am certain my homosexuality was becoming evident. I left there and went to school at Lewisham, not far from home. Though I wasn’t sexually abused there the Christian Brothers were brutal. I left school altogether after three years of high school.
In nineteen sixty-eight my Mother, Enid, asked me to ‘change my way of life’ or find somewhere else to live. To my Mother’s mind my way of life consisted of being homosexual. I was unaware that she knew I was camp (‘gay’ was not yet in use to describe homosexuals). I asked what brought her to this challenging position but she didn’t want to talk about it.
I left home forever the next day; I was no longer welcome there. I moved to a flat in Kings Cross. Years later I discovered that the building to which I moved was next door to St Lukes Hospital where I was born. I was familiar with the area as I had regularly socialised with friends in gay bars there.
I had a series of menial jobs for which I had no qualifications. Eventually I found a job with a textile manufacturer and later with department store David Jones (DJs). It was at DJs that I met gay men who worked there. It was difficult making initial contact as we had closeted lives. When I was accepted they became wonderful friends. I travelled with one of them to the UK and Europe. Some of them would visit me at home. Enid met many of my gay friends; they came for dinner or just to hang out. One of them regularly knitted with her. I was not surprised that Enid couldn’t recognise my homosexuality but I was surprised that she never asked questions. Apparently she did eventually work it out or someone else worked it out for her.