Tuesday, October 24, 2017
CHAPTER 35: LEARNING ABOUT CLIVE
Clive Edgar Fisher, my biological father, wrote letters to his father from Moonee Ponds at least once a week. He would begin with "Dear Dad, I hope this letter finds you well as it leaves me". He had recently left the Royal Australian Navy to begin his life as a civilian. He lived in a boarding house on Mt Alexander Rd. Incidentally, according to Google Maps it is exactly eleven minutes from his address to the house I grew up in.
He had just started a new job at the Melbourne rail-yard and attended night school. He expressed to his father that "he WILL become a geologist". His tenacity is inspiring to read about. He left school at fourteen years of age to help support his family- but he clearly didn't stop the learning process- and never gave up hope of continuing his education.
He described an active social life. He went to local dances and had at least two girl-friends that were nurses. He didn't mention their names- but it piques my interest because my mother was a nurse when she became pregnant with me.
He talked about possibly going to England; inquiring if his father would like to take the trip with him. William (my grandfather- known as "Papa" to all the grandkids) was living in Wyangala, New South Wales- a couple hundred miles from Sydney. The Wyangala Dam is a well known tourist attraction. It seems that Papa was working a pensioners job there at the canteen. The home base for the family was Deniliquin, NSW, about half way between Sydney and Melbourne. My Aunt Jean lived there still with her husband and kids and it was where most family gatherings were held.
These letters began (at least the ones that I have seen) in June of 1963. There were plenty of mentions of older siblings Max and Jean. I believe, sometime in 1963, Jean's twin, Don, had died a tragic, early death. I seem to have gotten the last part of a letter that was written as early as 1960 in which Clive gave his father Don's mailing address. In a letter from "papa" to Clive there was mention of the cost of Don's funeral. Other than that it is clear that Clive was being careful to be sensitive and supportive of his probably grieving father- not to mention himself and his two remaining siblings. Knowing this fact makes the letters all the more poignant for me. The fact that Clive's mother, Thelma Heather Grace (nee) Parker had died in 1948 when he was only 9 meant that this was a close knit family that looked out for one another- and were no strangers to loss.
The letters read like a diary- only better. As he had an audience, my father was descriptive about his experiences and painted pictures of his surroundings and adventures. He talked about taking day trips to Mount Dona Buang, Healesville Sanctuary and Air Shows at Laverton. He could write pages about aircraft and their capabilities. He described conversations he had at dinner with his housemates, and related impressions of movies and newsreels that he had seen that week. He described the troubles he was having with his car- and relayed hilarious stories of constantly breaking down in remote areas- only to be rescued by well meaning locals. He talked about girls as "dolls" or "sorts"- in a way that seems old fashioned- even respectable.
He had a pen-pal in England named Frances. She had sent him photographs of herself in a bikini, and another of herself with her horse in some sort of horse show. The bikini picture really made an impression because he brought it up more than once. I think this was probably what inspired his desire to travel to the UK.
This stream of regular letters continued for a year. I started to realize that it was getting close to the time for me to be- ummm- created? On April 8, 1964 (364 days before my birth) Clive wrote about having had a brief phone conversation with his dad the previous night- before getting cut off before the three minutes were up. He complained about trying to get through to the Wyangala Dam Cafeteria- but the "silly old crow" at the Wyangala exchange said there is no phone at the cafeteria, "there is isn't there?" He talked about missing his school lecture because he ran out of petrol on the way there. A couple of weeks ago he visited "Bert and Lil" around dinner time, brought a projector and showed them some of his slides. My research has proven helpful as I realize that he is referring to his paternal uncle Albert Leslie Fisher and his wife Lillian Hazel. It also appears that Uncle Bert passed away just a few months later.
The next letter was dated October 19, 1964. It was coming from the SS Canberra- a passenger ship bound for Southhampton. After messaging cousin Kaylene- it appears that there are no transcribed letters between Clive and "Papa" from April 8, 1964 to October 19, 1964. According to my birthdate, I was conceived in mid July- right in the middle of that six month gap.