I grew up as an only child in Casterton, a small country town in the far western district of Victoria, Australia.
My father was the town's public accountant. He also acted as secretary for a number of organisations in the town: the Water Trust, the Racing Club and others. On Saturday nights he drove to a neighbouring town, 17 miles away to be the projectionist of that town's only movie 'theatre' - in the local hall. From him I gained an understanding of how some of these organisations operate. He often allowed me to help by folding mail, writing on envelopes, etc, which I loved to do. I also loved to visit his office and use the typewriter and the adding machine.
My mother was active in Church groups, taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and played tennis and later lawn bowls. I often met her in the shopping centre ('down the street') after school. Shopping was done in the afternoons and became a social event as everyone met at the shops and exchanged news and gossip.
There were number of unexplained things about my childhood: questions that were avoided, photographs not in evidence, such as baby photos, information about which my mother seemed vague, such as where I was born, at what age I crawled or walked. As I grew older and talked with other children, some time in my primary school years, I discovered that there was such a thing as 'adoption'. When I thought about all my unanswered questions and small 'mysteries' in my life, I decided that adoption was the explanation. From that time on I did not think much more about it.
My childhood was happy; I was cherished in my family. The only thing I would have added if I could was brothers and sisters - especially a brother.
I grew up, went through school, went to Teachers' College, met my future husband, married and we started a family. We had four very healthy children.
After the children were born I again began to think about being adopted, especially when I was asked for background health information and I knew that the 'family' details I gave were not the real ones. I heard of an organisation which helped people find their birth families and briefly considered contacting them and beginning a search, but decided it really wasn't important enough and the search process at that time sounded as if it would use a lot of time and energy. At that time it was not possible to apply for original birth certificates in Victoria.
In 1984, my husband and I travelled to USA on my first overseas trip. To obtain a passport, I needed a copy of my full birth certificate. I applied for this, paid my correct fee. We also decided to obtain the full certificates for all the children. I wondered what my birth certificate would tell me. When the certificates arrived, it was obvious that mine was different from all the others and gave me no more information than the 'extract of birth' which I had used previously.
I was angry that I had paid the full fee for a birth certificate and had neither received what I had applied for, nor an explanation of what I had received!
During, I think, 1984, the law was changed and the adoption registers were opened. I decided to apply for my original birth certificate so that what I would have would be correct.
I applied four weeks after the registers were opened and was informed that there would be a waiting period of around 18 months as there had been so many applications.
Three years later, I was still waiting!
I then received a letter from an adoption agency informing me that since there was such a backlog of applications, the Government had 'farmed' them out to agencies to deal with. Before original birth certificates could be issued, each applicant had to undergo some counselling. I had a choice of a group session within the next few weeks or a private session in about six months time. I chose the group session.
So, at the end of 1987, I had my certificate. The Agency offered to follow up and assist us to find birth families if we wished. At first I declined as I thought that all I wanted was the original certificate. However, during the counselling group, which was attended by both adopted children and relinquishing parents, I heard some stories which made me realise the anguish that relinquishing parents suffer for many, many years after they have given up their children. I decided to try to find my birth parents, if only to be able to reassure them that, in giving me up, they had provided me with a secure and happy childhood. The Agency assured us that the usual period for finding birth families was around 4 - 6 weeks.
Three months later they gave me what scanty information they had been able to discover. They had found my mother's marriage certificate, birth certificate and the birth certificates of my two older sisters. They referred me to a specialist agency that had an excellent reputation for finding 'difficult' families.
Two years later, that Agency informed me that they did not know where else to go!
During that period the worker assigned to my search had become frustrated and decided to abandon the normal procedures. She collected from all Victorian phone books the names and phone numbers of people with my mother's married surname and phoned them. None were related. But a few days later an elderly lady phoned back. She had received a letter from someone in N.S.W. who was looking for the same family
We contacted that person - and I discovered a brother!
He had also been adopted. He had been put into foster care as a babe in arms and later adopted by his foster parents. When they and his two adopted siblings had died, he began searching for his birth parents. To that date he had only found the same information that I had.
We talked on the phone, exchanged letters and he visited us for a weekend. I was to visit him for a week during the next school holidays.
I had become interested in family history research and by this time had a book full of family names - a 'disembodied family'. I decided to begin to trace forward the families of my grandparents' siblings in an attempt to perhaps find cousins of my birth mother who I hoped may know where she was. I had no luck with this until I also became frustrated and decided to phone people with the surname of my grandfather's youngest sister - considerably younger than him.
I discovered that this youngest sister was at that time still living and with all her faculties. In 1997 she celebrated her 95th birthday. She died in 1998 - a wonderful life well lived.
I phoned her, explained who I was and what I was looking for. She said she was sure she had my mother's address as she always received Christmas cards from her. She invited me to visit. "Come early," she said. "We can have lunch together and talk." This was about 10 days before I was to stay with my brother.
I arrived the following Saturday at around 11 am. We - or rather she - talked. I heard all about her family and her husband's family. I saw photos of many of the people I had in my family tree. Finally, around 5 pm, I asked again about my mother's address. Then we had to go through all her collection of Christmas cards, birthday cards and I heard the stories of all those people! She finally found my mother's card. No address on it!
She was sure she must have it in her address book. Guess what we did while she looked through the address book? I heard the stories of all the people whose names were written in it. Finally, she found my mother's address and phone number in Sydney.
After that entertaining day, I wrote to my birth mother, telling her my story, the story of my brother, enclosing photos of myself and my children. I told her I was to visit my brother the following week and would be then only around 2 hours' drive away from her. I said we would both love to meet her, but would understand if she was not in a position to do that.
The following week I drove to my brother's, arriving in mid Saturday afternoon, I found a bemused man who had been inundated with phone calls all day from people telling him they were his brother and his sisters and asking whether I had arrived yet.
We discovered we had another brother - the one I had spent my first 18 months with - and four sisters, including the two older ones whose birth certificates we had. Our mother had spent an agonising week after receiving my letter and had, by the Friday, decided to tell them all about us. They were all as excited as we were.
On the Saturday we went to meet our oldest sister who lived only about 10 miles from this brother. We laughed and cried and laughed and looked at photos - an emotional evening.
On the Sunday, my other brother and his wife came and collected me and took me back to Sydney to meet the rest of the family and my mother. My first discovered brother and I had a wonderful, exciting and very emotional few days in Sydney before we returned to his home for the rest of my visit with him.
During the time with our mother, she told us her story and about my birth father and his family. She also told us what she could remember about my brother's father, which was not a great deal. That time of her life had been so traumatic, she had blocked it out of her memory. But it was great to see the expression on her face when she looked at my brother whom she'd lost as a baby. She had never known what had happened to him. Whereas, she had known what kind of family was adopting me.
Her story was that she had married a man many years her senior during the Depression. She had three very happy, though hard, years with him and had three children- two girls and a boy. The boy was born while her husband was away on a peddling trip, which was one of the many things he did to provide for his family. When he returned she was in hospital with the baby about a week old. He visited her, held the baby, left the hospital - and she never saw him again. For seven years she was neither wife nor widow - a single parent at a time when there was not much tolerance for single mothers and no government support. She earned a living of sorts by house cleaning and doing laundry. She became pregnant to the son of a family who had taken her in - that was my first-discovered brother. She did not tell the man she was pregnant and left. She put the girls in a children's home in Sydney and the boy went to an aunt while she had the new baby, who was taken away from her at some stage. We are not sure how and why. She then got her other boy back and went to be a housekeeper for my father and his youngest children. He was a widower, also much older than she.
She became pregnant with me, had me and lived in my father's house for at least a few months. We don't know why she left there. She brought my brother and me to Melbourne and stayed with different relatives for a time, presumably while she looked for work. Eventually, she gave up, put my brother in an orphanage in Melbourne and had me adopted. She then joined the Army as a military policewoman and met the man who eventually became her husband after her first husband was legally declared dead.
When they were teenagers, she finally got my older sisters and brother returned to her.
She had two daughters in her second marriage.
When I returned home, I then began to search for my father's family. That was not difficult as I had information my mother had given me about where they lived and many of them were still living in the same place. I obtained my father's death certificate and then wrote to the son ( another brother) whose name and address were on that. He took some months to contact me, but eventually did. And so did other members of that family.
I have met them all - all those who are still alive. I was my father's 11th child. My mother had six other children. So I am in fact one of 17. I have been to numerous family celebrations on both sides and have met nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews galore.
The greatest thing for me has been the feeling of an instant 'bond' between us all. There has never been any feelings of awkwardness. Another wonderful thing was the reaction of my adopted mother when I finally gained the courage to tell her about the family I had discovered. She was nearly as excited about it as I was. My two mothers had an afternoon together and exchanged stories.
I had three years getting to know my birth mother before she died in 1992.