Linden is a small town in the Blue Mountains of NSW. It was here my father was born in 1907. His father was the stationmaster, a role held in high esteem in those days. When the family left Linden they were given a silver cutlery set with their initials on the handles and a silver tea set similarly engraved. That the local community would go to so much trouble beggars belief from a modern viewpoint.
My father’s name was also Linden, although he found it didn’t fit well in the rough and tough world of the Australian bush, so he was later known as Bill. When his father died he was only six and his mother had to find a way to make ends meet. Working as a housekeeper on a rural cattle station was a way she could keep her son with her and earn enough money to plan for his future.
Linden was sent to Newington College in Stanmore, Sydney, probably with the help of my grandmother’s employer, Mr Munro. It was not a happy time as teasing and bullying was common in those days. Because he had no father or wealth he was looked down upon by the other boys. He told me of initiation ceremonies where he was pelted with sand in the showers. On his arm he showed me a scar where he had been caught in a door. A group of tormenting boys thought it very amusing to lean on the door so that he was trapped. The agony was excruciating and he thought he would lose his arm. Along came his saviour, a fellow student who happened to be the Crown Prince of Tonga*. He used his not inconsiderable strength to remove the boys and release my father’s arm.
In the year he was due to sit for the Intermediate Certificate he spent several weeks off school with an illness. He refused to go back so that was the end of his formal education.
With advice from Mr Munro he went off to train as a wool classer. He was not suited to this occupation. The rest of his life was spent seeking business opportunities as he was determined to be his own boss.
When he met my mother he had made the local Goondiwindi newspaper for being the man with most shirts in town. He would buy a shirt, wear it for a couple of days and then buy a new one. He was dabbling in various money making occupations, owning a racehorse, working as a bookmaker and always in the background was Mr Munro, offering work on his sheep and cattle properties.
He was 28 and my mother was 18 when they married in 1936. They became graziers, leasing 3000 acres from Mr Munro. Drought, footrot and World War 2 forced them off the land. They moved to Sydney and had a stint of operating first a guest house and a then a milk bar. In 1949 they moved to Mildura in Victoria where Linden marketed irrigation equipment, supplying many soldier settlers who were establishing new farms. Elsa, meanwhile, surprised everyone by becoming pregnant with me, after 15 years of marriage.
Moving back to Sydney Linden pursued some more unsuccessful business opportunities culminating in his bankruptcy in 1956. It seems Mr Munro loaned him the money to buy the twelve acres at “The Waterhole” in Yerrinbool. Here he was able to set up his steel and piping business but a businessman he was not. People owed him money far and wide and the collection of watches in the bowl on the dresser was testament to the IOUs which were never paid.
Before his death Linden was dreaming of a new enterprise. He had bought land at Mulgoa and was planning on operating a Truckie’s Café. My mother, however, was not thrilled with the idea of cooking steak and eggs every morning for passing truck drivers.
Linden was not well. Finally he went to the doctor and the news was bad. He had a heart condition. Nothing could be done for it except rest and extreme care. In modern times he could have had a heart bypass but they were almost unheard of in 1961. In January of 1962 he began to rake some gravel in one of the outhouses and fell. My mother found him some time later and I watched from the corner of the building as she cradled him in her arms. His face was grey and he was already cold. He was only 54.
- the only Crown Prince of Tonga I could find who went to Newington was born in 1918 so the dates do not add up. Is this a case of wishful thinking or was there some other Tongan attending the school at the time? The ties between Tonga and the school are very close. How many other family stories are exaggerations of the truth?