A SIMPLE chalk drawing of a saucepan and lid is a reminder of a happy childhood for Carmel Durant.
The drawing was done 74 years ago, when Mrs Durant was just 10 years old, in the months before she and her siblings were made wards of the state and packed off to orphanages.
With the award it won from the Mudgee Show in 1938 still attached, the framed picture yesterday left for the Australian National Museum in Canberra to be part of a display on a group dubbed the “forgotten Australians”, who spent much of their lives as wards of the state.
Mrs Durant was one of five children taken when both their parents were sick – one of the lesser acknowledged consequences of the Great Depression.
She recalled being taken away just days after seeing her sick mother in hospital.
“We were just whipped away; we didn’t know where we were going,” she said.
They ended up in a children’s home in Glebe where clothes were replaced with uniforms, chores were allocated and children routinely taken away to have their tonsils and adenoids removed.
Before long Mrs Durant and two of her sisters were sent to a guardian, where the three of them were forced to sleep in one bed and spent their Saturdays burning the bedbugs with candles.
Meals were eaten in the laundry and the children were given drinks made from discarded tea leaves over which hot water was poured.
School lunches were sandwiches filled with often rotten tomatoes that were unfit for consumption and were regularly thrown out.
Mrs Durant said the nuns at the school she was attending started giving her money to buy something for lunch but she always split the money with her sisters “so at least we all got a nibble”.
The treatment resulted in the
sisters being returned to the
children’s home, where they
fitted back into the routine of chores and uniforms before being given to another guardian, who Mrs Durant said was “a very caring person”.
However, the placement was only brief because the woman suffered a stroke and died.
A third guardian was worse than the first, Mrs Durant said, forcing the sisters onto their hands and knees to cut lawns using scissors or sweep and scrub floors with brushes.
When their mother and later their father died, “There were no hugs or comfort of soothing words,” Mrs Durant recalled.
A birthday was spent placing flowers on the grave of a guardian’s former husband, while one Christmas in the children’s home saw each child given just two boiled lollies.
“For a long time my own daughters wouldn’t believe what happened,” Mrs Durant said.
The girls were discouraged from having friends and from talking because they were taught children were to be seen and not heard.
“It’s funny how what you grew up with would stick with you,” Mrs Durant said.
“You grew up not wanting to talk to people.”
Craft became a refuge for Mrs Durant, and she became so skilled she won first prize at the Royal Easter Show a couple of years ago for a jumper knitted from yarn she had spun.
The strict discipline equipped her well for training as a nurse in a hospital, which led to her moving to the Shoalhaven in 1950 “just to help out” at the old hospital in Bridge Road.
She stayed at the Shoalhaven Hospital for 30 years and her oldest daughter was the last baby born at the facility when it was in Bridge Road.
Despite her years in nursing, Mrs Durant has no intention of ever going into a nursing home.
“I’ve done my time in institutions, I’m not going back to another one,” she said.