The things he did to me…

In one of his recent letters, Gerald Murnane tells me about the furore created within the University of Melbourne when the historian Geoffrey Blainey questioned what Gerald Murnane calls ‘multiracialism’.

Elsewhere, Gerald wrote that Blainey also suggested during ‘the great age of religion’ parents in the 1940s post-war Australia sent their children to Sunday school in order to have their time free so they might ‘be alone together’.

I read this euphemistically as time free for the purposes of having sex. 

And I read into it the implication that it was the foreign folks from Europe who brought their odd over sexed ways with them.

The thought of sex on weekends during the day still makes my stomach curdle, not the adult me but the child in me, who remembers my father calling out to my mother on a Saturday afternoon after he had invited all his daughters in turn to join him in bed. 

A time when we children sat in the loungeroom after our mother had gone to him to pacify our father in some unspoken way, which in these days I recognise as having sex. 

But what sort of sex? 

‘The things he did to me…’ my mother once told me when she was in her nineties. She was reluctant to speak further and the child in me did not want to know. 

The things he did to me… 

So, Geoffrey Blainey’s idea that people stayed home on Sunday mornings to be alone together while their children were learning about Jesus, sends the same distaste into me.

Besides, I wonder is this a patriarchal perspective. 

If there were countless children, as I imagine was the case in many households, not only the Catholic ones post-war, given the baby boom, how many mothers would have wanted to spend their child-free time pleasing their husbands and risking the possibility of still more children?

The contraceptive pill did not arrive on our shores till 1952, so they’d have had to go to some trouble to find ways of protecting themselves from still more children. And those mothers, most of them at home every day to look after the children already there, unable to work because women were required to stop work at least within the public sector the minute they married, were already overwhelmed. Such a world. 

It makes my stomach churn almost as much as the memory of my father calling out to my mother or my sister or me to join him in the bedroom where he was drunk and disorganised on a Saturday afternoon. 

By Sunday morning in the days of the six o’clock closing when hotels were shut from Saturday evening through to Monday morning, it was usually a safe time to go instead to Mass – not Sunday school, a protestant invention – with our mother.

She did not need to stay home then to pacify her husband, because by Sunday morning when he had run out of alcohol and had no way of getting more, we enjoyed what children called ‘our day of peace’ while our father sat all day in his chair in the loungeroom feeling sorry for himself and apologising to our mother for whatever he had done the day before. Not that he could remember, and I don’t know that she ever told him, other than to complain that he behaved badly.

My father in his younger days pre-war, before he became the man of my memory.

Such was the degree to which my mother protected our father, and herself from the dangers of living in our household during the 1950s post war, post migration. Menzies Australia, a place of freeze-dried conservatism and narrow horizons. 

They still exist but many of us now try to see beyond them. 

2 thoughts on “The things he did to me…”

  1. He was a handsome young man. It is hard to believe what a creature he became. Humans are very flawed animals. I wonder if you have some good memories of him? Some kindness at times?

  2. My mother never talked to me about what sex was like with Dad. I have no recollection of them ever having sex—no noises coming from the other side of the wall—and growing up I took no interest in the fact they might still even have an active sex life. As an adult I do have one memory however. I’d been in my mid-twenties at the time and for whatever reason was with my sister’s first husband (don’t get me started on him). It was during the day but my dad worked nights so it wasn’t unusual for him to be in bed but this was the first time I’d even known my mother to join him. Ian and I were going up the stairs when we heard noises and it was pretty obvious what we were overhearing so we froze and made to back down quietly but what I’ll never forget is my drunken father—this was in the middle of the bad years—asking my mother to be “nice” to him: “Why are you never nice to me?” he asked. For years I’ve wondered about that, read between the lines, tried to make sense out of it. It made me feel very uncomfortable. I also, in reference to your last post, never understood why my mother stayed with him. Granted, he never raised a hand to her but his thumb was quite enough. I mean I know why she didn’t leave, the practical reasons, but I never understood it; they were utterly incompatible. The day after my dad died Mum had my sister and her second husband (a lot better than the first but still a bully) take all of my dad’s clothes to a charity shop. She wanted every trace of him out of the house which kinda miffed me because by then we were the same size and I could’ve used some of his shirts at least. The only thing they overlooked was his good trilby which is sitting on top of the bookcase to the right of me as I type this. I wore it on the train journey home but it’s really too small for me; I have a big head. Small hands, big head.

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