One year on

Today marks the first anniversary of the death of my mother, Betty.

Betty Lorraine Mullineaux was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on 9th March 1930. Her middle name was Lorraine; not because it meant anything special to the family, but because her mother Elsie happened to be reading a book with a character called Lorraine in it at the time. Two years after Betty was born, the family decided to return to Preston, with a journey that took them first to Sydney and the opening of the Harbour Bridge; Betty was carried across in her father’s arms. She repeated the experience, on foot, many years later as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations in 1982.

Back in England, her father found work as a joiner, and her mother ran a lodging house in Fishergate Hill, Preston. Betty’s bedroom was on the top floor. Both her daughters, Catriona and Rachael, have made the pilgrimage back to stay in the old house, in its various incarnations as a B&B.

Betty went first to infants school, where she had the same teacher as her mother many years before, then won a scholarship along with her cousin Renee to attend a grammar school at Moor Park. She always had to miss the first week of school term, though, as her family would take their annual holidays in September, which was the only time her father could get away.

When WWII broke out, the family had just been about to set off for Bournmouth for the first time. Betty was greatly excited, as she had never been, but the outbreak of war led to their holiday being cancelled. Being sensible folk, Elsie and Geoff immediately took their holiday money and spent it all on tinned food.

Towards the end of the war, word came that a boarding house in Blackpool would be coming up for sale. This was in Gynn Avenue, and was to become the next family home. Betty moved here with her parents when she was 14 or 15. Unlike their last business, they provided their boarders with hot meals. This meant Betty had to come home from school during her lunch break and wait on the tables. Business also took precedence over family; in the winter, everybody had their own room, but when the summer season came, they were put into any corner that was available. Elsie and Geoff made do with a fold-out bed in the living room, Grandma Heald went into the pantry, and Betty was sent out to sleep in the shed with the potatoes.

In 1948 Betty left school, and went to Goldsmith’s College in London to do her teacher training. She spent two years doing a range of subjects, then a third year diploma specialising in geography. She made the most of her time in London, joining the Table Tennis Club, Youth Hostel Association and Geographical Society, and enjoying local theatre and ballet. Her teaching was said at the time to be ‘lively and whole-hearted’.

Then, with her certificate under her arm, she moved up to Hayes in Middlesex to do her probationary teaching at Townfield School. The family has a strange piece of documentary evidence from her time there: a newspaper clipping from 1955 showing Betty reading a comic called the ‘Tomb of Terror’. She had attended a lecture on the damaging effect of horror comics on modern youth, an event which caused her great amusement.

By this time, Betty’s parents had moved back to Preston and opened an icecream parlour and newsagent there. Betty would help out in the shop on her visits home, sleeping in the stockroom, surrounded by chocolates and cigarettes. This was no doubt an improvement on the potatoes of Blackpool, and she helped herself on more than one occasion.

It was during this period that she first met Cameron, her future husband. She had been staying with Hetty Fitch, Cameron’s aunt. Like any good nephew, Cam decided to look up his aunt when he visited the UK. Hetty called Betty & said “For god’s sake come & talk to our Australian nephew because he won’t talk to anyone!” They met looking over a hedge, as Betty was taking a shortcut. She took one look at him and thought “that’s the man I’m going to marry”.

Cam liked Betty as a person immediately. He responded to her character. They went to the Festival Hall in London just across the bridge from Blackfriars and, later on,  cycling through the lowlands of Holland and Belgium.

Says Cam: “Betty had a good intelligence. We were a very good match. We worked in places together. While teaching in Tamworth, she was known as Auntie Betty & I was known as Auntie Betty’s husband. She had a good sense of humour. She was good company & a good person. I can only think good things about Betty.”

In the mid 1950s Betty was seconded from her job in Hayes to the Imperial Institute in London, and that must have been when she decided to emigrate. A reference that the director of the Institute wrote for her to support her search for teaching work in Australia mentions that while at the Imperial Institute she had done visual teaching in history and geography in their exhibition galleries, and between her and three other teachers, taught some 43,000 students in one year alone. While she was there she also started a Saturday Morning Club to teach young children modelling and other crafts.

Betty emigrated to Australia as one of the Ten Pound Poms. She had tossed up whether she would go to Australia or Gibraltar, but I think the fact that she had met Cam by then swung it our way. She and Cam got married in Sydney on 16th December 1960. Close friends Kim and John were witnesses. Kim’s mother made the wedding cake.

While teaching at Gardiner’s Road school in Sydney Betty met Shirley Herbert who would become her lifelong friend. Catriona was born in 1965, Rachael in 1967. Shirley and her husband Siets served as aunt and uncle to the girls alongside Cameron’s brother and sisters, Peter, Joan and Thyrza.

Betty was initially a stay-at-home Mum but started teaching at North Sydney Demonstration School where her daughters both attended when the headmistress, Miss Eulenstein, with whom she was friendly, revealed the difficulty she was having getting casual teachers at short notice when regular staff members called in sick. Although not officially qualified to teach primary school, Betty stepped up to the plate, the rule being that casual jobs must be offered to “qualified” teachers first. Betty expected to be given a stray day’s work here and there but because of her willingness to drop everything and race up to the school at a moment’s notice, she found herself working pretty constantly. The phone would ring and there’d be a mad scramble to get dressed and sorted and up to the school for first bell. The income she brought in paid for household extras such as wall-to-wall shag carpet — the height of interior decor style at the time.

Betty took good care of her own Mother, Elsie. Her parents joined her in Australia when the girls were small. After Elsie was widowed she moved into a flat in nearby Wollstonecraft where Betty, Catriona and Rachael used to visit her once a week. Elsie made it to 100 years old and received her letter from the Queen.

In 2009, tragedy struck the family when Cameron was violently assaulted. He spent six months in hospital. Betty visited him every single day and for most of that time his prognosis was uncertain. When at last she learned that he was going to recover, Betty surprised her family by dancing an impromptu jig of joy in the hospital lift.

Betty was one of the founding members of Waverton Probus in 1997. Within that organisation she found true friendship and camaraderie. She enjoyed the walking group, the special events group (special events being a euphemism for lunch), tours and Meeting House. She liked the bus trips but wouldn’t go without her good friend Ena. She and Ena shared the same Preston background and loved to natter in the back of the bus. Rob, the bus driver, had also hailed from Preston.

“People think I’m stuffy and I’m not a bit like that really”, she said of herself. Betty was private. Within herself, not an open ended type of person. There was a certain determination about her — she would steer the conversation where she wanted it to go.

Betty left the smallest environmental footprint imaginable. The depravations of the great depression had left their mark. Nothing was ever wasted. Everything resused, recycled, repurposed, reimagined.

Her big passion was bargain shopping, as much a hunt for hidden treasure as any archaeological dig or jewel fossicking expedition. The sheer joy at scoring a expensive label garment for a few dollars on her local op shop circuit. The magical way that desired second-hand household items seemed to materialise just at the point when they were needed most. Almost as if she possessed some supernatural power of divination.

Betty had a very mathematical mind, expressed later in life in her passion for the stock exchange, which, she insisted, did not involve gambling in the least if you knew what you were doing.

Friends describe Betty as being “aggressively British”. She never left England really, not in her heart. She would spend late nights listening to BBC World Service, and in her later years was always planning trips back to Preston to visit her beloved cousin Renee who had always been like a sister to her. Not to mention singing Land of Hope and Glory, very loudly, when watching the Last Night of the Proms on TV.

By Rachael & Catriona Sparks

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