By Norma King
My name is Phyllis McMillan and I was born Phyllis Ogle Moore. My father was a manager for the engineering firm of Bewick Moring. When my mother and father were married they had their honeymoon in Midland Junction.
They then went on to Coolgardie by train. There were separate compartments on the train they said that at night a man came along the roof at some station and put this extraordinary lamp thing down through a hole in each carriage. It could have been an oil lamp. We were locked in the carriage. I heard there was one night when a man died on the train and because the carriage was full he had to sit there between the other passengers until they arrived at the next station, a fair distance away.
I was born in Fremantle and soon after we went to Coolgardie. I have a sister called Jean. She is two years younger than me.
Herbert Hoover (later to become the President of the United States) was also an engineer for Bewick Moreing and he became my godfather. He gave me a handsome silver mug and a table napkin ring. I have used the napkin ring three times a day all my life. When he went to America, he and mother corresponded intermittently. It is a shame she never kept those letters but she destroyed them and other things over the years as you do.
We moved to Gwalia when I was three or four. I can remember that very well. I can remember the miners with their yokes across their shoulders and a kerosene tin hanging each side going up to the mine to get condensed water. The water there was very hard and full of magnesia. It was condensed in the boilers at the mine.
Then we moved to Kalgoorlie and we children there lived a very petted and marvellous life. We went to dancing class. I never went to school until I was eight and I couldn’t read. I was always read to. I had a nanny who loved me, and a grandmother who read stories to me. Then I went to Miss Watson’s School. It was a private school and there were about twenty of us there. Miss Watson was quite a remarkable woman. She said, ‘What sort of poetry would you like to learn Phyliss?’ I said, ‘the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam please.’ I did it and I loved it. She was tickled pink and rang Mummy up that night and told her I was very pert.
The two Fimister children went to the school, Jean and Jack Fimister. When Jack grew up he had businesses in Kalgoorlie and was that town’s Mayor for a time. I used to play with a little girl called Alice Cummins. Her father owned the Big K Brewery. She became a wonderful woman. She was a marine engineer, a lawyer and a brewer. I used to love going to play at Alice’s because her father gave us big wads of silver paper, which they used to put on the bottles of beer. And we used to play trams. Alice had real money a tram’s purse thing, a tram man’s hat and real tram tickets.
I went to the first moving picture here. That was in 1912 when I was ten. It was in a hall, I think it was the Hippodrome. I remember one picture was of a train in the Swiss Alps and the train seemed to be coming towards us and the people were screaming. Another memory was one about butterflies and a man was pinned to a cork like you do butterflies, and he was pinned by his legs and arms. I can remember those quite clearly. They were only small films, done to amuse people. I also saw Titell, a famous actress, in Peter Pan.
Then we went to dancing classes. Mrs Roulles Dancing Class. They were held every Saturday morning in a hall in Hannan Street. We did tap dancing and castanets and a horrible dance called the Baby Dance the Sailor’s dance, the Rose Ballet, and you know, proper ballet dancing. The Bernales used to go there too. There were four Bernales children. There were Marjorie, Daphne and I can’t remember the name of the boys. Then there was Dr lrwin’s daughter, Susan. She used to come in from Boulder, and there were Dr Barbers two daughters, Jean and Kathleen, and Dr Sawles daughters. Anyway, Anna Pavlova came to Kalgoorlie. I danced for her and she thought I was very good but my Granny said she wouldn’t allow her granddaughter to have anything to do with the stage.
I remember Albany Bells, the Brennans and Montgornery’s, who also ended up having businesses in Kalgoorlie and Boulder, and the fish shop, which was most attractive. It had a window where water ran down all the time. As a child I was fascinated by it. Brennans always made a feature of a window for special times such as the annual Race Round. The dresses had the names of horses on them or something like that. They also had model horses in the window. I remember one specifically. In the window one Christmas there was Moses in the bulrushes. There was Moses in the basket and Pharaoh’ s daughter wearing a beautiful white dress and a crown.
Now Warden Finnerty. I can’t remember being in their house but I must have because I remember seeing a marvellous painting on an easel. It was done by either his sister or his daughter.
The Earl of Fingall owned a mine. Now my father’s people were Irish and very much the Aristocracy. I think my father was sent to London to do the business about the Great Fingall Gold Mine because the Earl of Fingall was Irish. Anyway, he went over to England a rich man and while he was there, the great Fingall collapsed and he came back a poor one. I don’t know what my father did after that because my mother divorced him. We never had anything to do with him after that. Meg caught up with him once and she said he was absolutely delightful, a most fascinating man.
My mother was a very spoiled woman and very beautiful. She would go down to the coast for the summer, and what’s a man to do? He had an affair with a housemaid or whatever, and that was that. My mother divorced him. I sometimes wonder if around Kalgoorlie I have any half brothers or sisters.
I used to think up things that were funny, for effect. I can remember going for a walk with my father and we met another man and we stopped and talked. I said, ‘Now are we going to the Club to have a whiskey?’ At eight years old this was considered very clever. It was the Hannans Club.
One of the mine managers in those days was Mr Burrows. Mr and Mrs Williams lived on one of the mines, and I used to go there and play because they had two girls.
We lived in various places, one was in Mullingar. The Cowles also lived there. I think he was a solicitor and she was a Miss Bird, and you know Woodrow House that has just been opened, that was her father. There were the Yeos. We lived near them. Fay Yeo, the little girl and I were great friends. She lives near me now and is blind and I see a lot of her. Next door to us were three men who lived in camps. They had gardens. One man was Arthur Norris and Mr Bradley who was a vet. I think the other was a Mr King.
We were never allowed to skate, but our parents did. It was roller skating on granolithic paving. Our parents and their friends were called the Fast Set. They played bridge and had Fancy Dress parties and dressed up like anything. I’ve got lovely pictures of some of them.
In our dance classes we had a concert at the end of the year. We had sets, like the Chinese set and the Lancers. We had one set where we were shepherds and shepherdesses and we had lovely dresses of satin and silk. We got the first prize and there was a great deal of feeling about it because it was a costly set. So the next time we went to a Fancy Dress Ball our mothers got together and we went as ragamuffins. We had caps and hessian bags and were selling papers and calling out ‘Piper’. The girls wore mob caps and raggedy dresses and we got the prize again. It was a fabulous life.
Our parents played croquet; it wasn’t on lawn, it was on ant beds which were spread out and rolled flat with a roller. The courts were just below Mullingar. Then they went to the Races. Did you know the Race Course was famous for its masses of red geraniums?
Our parents didn’t do any housework; they had maids and I had a Nanny when I was young. All of the people I knew had maids.
When he was a little boy Jackie Fimister had been playing with something like a piece of tin, and he was running along with it and it hit something and stuck in his throat. He couldn’t speak properly after that. He went to Miss Watson’s school.
Their were Dr’s Irwin, Sawell, Connolly, Barber, Mt Tratman. The Connelly girl married someone in the Eastern States. Fifi Irwin married The Honorable Nigel Somerset in England. One of the Barber girls is now non compos mentis and is now in a home. Kathleen married one of the Sandovers and she is now dead.
Mr Yeo was on the Stock Exchange and he bought Jack, his son, a seat on the Stock Exchange. I don’t think he did very well.
We children had all of our meals separately from our parents. We had a good cook. I don’t think I had a nanny after I started school. After the Great Fingall disaster things weren’t so affluent, but my grandmother would never let my mother go without. When my mother divorced my father, my mother, Jean and I went down to Fremantle to live with my grandmother. She had a house in Forrest Street, Peppermint Grove. My mother married again to a man called Phillips when I was about sixteen.
I had a classical education. Girls of my class did you see. It would have been a lot better if I had commercial lessons. It would have been more useful for me.
After we went to live with my Grandmother in Peppermint Grove all the little girls and all the little boys went to Miss Armies’ School. After they had graduated from there they went on to other schools. Peppermint Grove was a bit of a closed society. Miss Annie taught me from cave men to William The Conqueror to 1066 and if l made a mistake I had to go back to the cave men. I know the cave men intimately. Some pupils boarded with Miss Annie and at one stage I boarded with her. She had other teachers as it was quite a large school. I remember one little girl there, Olgar Phillips. She wore a short skirt and rings and Miss Annie told to take those rings off and change that skirt. She was a tarter
My sister married Ted Dempster and went to live on a station up in the north-west. When Teddy had finished his meal he put his spoon or knife together and turned the fork over, and Jean said, ‘You’ve been to Miss Annie’s. She made us do that.” He said ‘She was brought out from Scotland to be our governess.’ She told us she would teach us manners and we thought our manners were beyond reproach. Some of us had to be taught. I knew mine.
My mother didn’t want to rely on my grandmother for money all the time and she taught needlework. She made enough money to keep us. She was a wonderful woman. When my daughter Meg got on to talking to people who knew my father, she found out that I am related to nearly all the big station owners in New South Wales. This is a part of life I don’t know about. I worked hard on the farm after I was married, but so what, it hasn’t hurt me. That was the only time in my life I had to set to.
I went around the world in 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1970 and 1971. Two trips were around the world and the others were always to Africa to the animal reserve and twice to Greece. I went as a companion to a friend and she paid all expenses. I loved it and that is why I went back to Greece again later with Meg. Taken all into consideration I consider I have had a very happy life.
This article was unpublished and found among Norma Kings papers.