Vincentia couple share a country love story

The following is a Valentine’s Day story of a women in love and the difficulties some country women faced 60 years ago. It’s written by Don Oberg of Vincentia. 

On Thursday, February 2, Vincentia residents Don and Norma Oberg celebrated their 60th diamond jubilee wedding anniversary.

They marked the anniversary with a romantic seven day cruise on the “Good Ship Lollypop (aka the Princess Cruises Dawn Princess).  

There were some 40 odd Probus members to help drink champagne and make it the very happy occasion that it was.

Norma is the daughter of the then Head Ranger at the Royal National Park Audley.  

Don was a lowly second year apprentice at The Colonial Refining Company’s (CSR) Engineering Workshops at Pyrmont.  Do not forget the capital “T”.

They meet square dancing at Chapman’s Ballroom at Rockdale. 

It was true love of course but Don’s apprenticeship wage of two pounds five shillings a week which translated as $4.50 a week in totoday's money.

It was hardly enough to run a decent push bike and certainly not enough to contemplate anything like marriage.

He always met Norma inside the dance hall. He didn’t have enough money to pay for her ticket and buy Pineapple Crushes as well.

He always met Norma inside the dance hall.  He didn’t have enough money to pay for her ticket and buy Pineapple Crushes as well. For the uninitiated, Pineapple Crush was just pulverized pineapple, very popular in the 1950s.

But Norma was very patient girl. In fact she waited through three very long years of courtship until that wonderful day arrived.  

Don handed in his thesis for his Degree in Engineering on the Thursday, and they were married on the Saturday at the Elephant House Cronulla. No, she was not pregnant!

Within the year they had bought a lovely timber home at Como and Norma set about “Nest Building” as any young lady would do.   

Enter Simon Legree from stage wings left. 

Technically Don was a fully qualified engineer by now but without the necessary three years experience to work alone without supervision.  

Then again, the CSR was desperately short of qualified engineers of any caliber, and rules are made to be bent.

The CSR had acquired the rights to a very rich deposit of Gypsum on Kangaroo Island. 

They needed someone to design and supervise the erection of a Ship Loading Installation off the Island’s southern shore.  

Of course the island only had about 3,000 inhabitants, none of whom had the faintest idea as to how to drive four tonne turpentine piles into the sea bed, or how to erect and weld heavy structural steelwork on land, let alone over the booming surf and howling winds straight from the Antarctic.

The CSR thought that the Site Engineer might also like to design and erect the crushing plant and install a few miles of pipe work to bring fresh water to the washing plant.

What is gypsum?   It is Calcium Sulphate, a crystal found in its free form in nature and used to make Plaster of Paris. 

Indeed, if you live in a house in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia, built in the period 1960 to about 1990 then it is almost certain that your walls and ceilings are of wallboard from far off Kangaroo Island.

What of Norma? She is certainly made of the right stuff.  

Our first child was just over 12 months old when she locked the front door of 1 Yambah Road Como and took that DC3 Ansett Airways Service to join her husband. 

There was no town water, electricity, sewerage, telephones, public transport or hot water service.

It was sheep and dairy country much like around here but drier so it was more sheep than dairy.     

She had exchanged her lovely weatherboard cottage in Sydney for an unlined, corrugated iron tin shed of just two tiny bedrooms and a utility room that combined the eating area and kitchen complete with a fuel stove.

There was no town water, electricity, sewerage, telephones, public transport or hot water service. 

There were no shops within a 60 km radius of the place or neighbours within say six kilometres.

It did have a fuel copper. Don is an engineer but how was he to know that the flue of the copper boiler had a damper?  

His poor wife had to put up with smoky fires for six months until her father visited them and put the matter to rights.

I mentioned that there were shops in the town of Kingscote, some 60 kilometres away over rotten roads.

There was also a “Cottage Hospital” with one doctor. Well he was the doctor until he was caught sleeping with matron. 

It seems that his offence was not depravity so such as the misuse of a public hospital bed.   

The doctor was disbarred and Norma’s medical assistance was now 80 km away by Air Ambulance.  

Add to that, the 60 km of corrugated road from her shack to the airport.  With one stroke of a pen, the blue nosed medical board had put 3000 islanders at the same risk.

Milk was in short supply for their young lad. It was sold to them reluctantly on a day to day basis by farmer’s wife who was sure that the cow was going dry. 

Did you know that a letter from the secretary of the CWA would work miracles with cow’s entrails? But that is another story. 

Of course many staff officers of CSR from the Chairman of the Board down found an excuse to come and see the wonders being worked on this far away, romantic island.

She also has love, courage and common sense in equal portions, but the greatest of these is her love.

There was no local restaurant to be had so they put their feet under the family’s humble table with the full expectation of being fed.    That was the way it was in the company in those days. Poor Norma and that wretched fuel stove.

Our little family was not that badly off by comparison.  

Some of their neighbours were soldier settlers from a war just past.  

Building materials were scarce and mothers lived and raised kids in unlined machinery sheds while their homes were being built. 

What had first priority to a farmer, foundations for the new house or a deposit on a second hand tractor?   

All that time, Norma knew that her little nest at Yambah Road Como was waiting for her return.

It was not to be of course.   

It seems that Mother Nature resented this intrusion on her coastline so she decided to sort out this upstart young engineer. The crew of the pile driving rig were no fools either. 

All major storms on the island came from south to south west.   Every night the pile driving rig was carefully moored in the north eastern quadrant of its anchorage. 

So one night dear sweet Mother Nature presented them all with an awful and unexpected north easterly gale.  

It was true love of course but Don’s apprenticeship wage of two pounds five shillings a week which translated as $4.50 a week in today's money.

The five cables securing the pile driving rig broke and the wreckage threatened to smash the steelwork of the jetty already erected.   Instead it destroyed their one and only pile driving rig, with just six of the 92 piles still to be driven. Six stinking piles! It would have taken just two to three days to complete.

This and other natural disasters delayed the work by about four months and this brought changes to the family plans as well.

Within six months of completion of the works, her dear home was gone.  

The family moved into a rented house provided by a grateful employer at a peppercorn rent.   

One drawback was that this lovely house was in Adelaide, far from Norma’s family and friends in Sydney.     

Over the years there were to be other houses in other suburbs, in other towns and in other states.  

Somehow none of them could match up to that first home that she loved so much.

There have been other sacrifices and tragedies along the way for Norma.  

Some couples do it easy, while others are much worse off.  Norma had no right to expect it to be different. 

Let’s just say that she had more than her fair share of trouble.

She also has love, courage and common sense in equal portions, but the greatest of these is her love.

Mum, you done good! (sons Jim and Ken Oberg and daughter Linda Fawsett)