I Was Only 19

Forty years ago, I left home as a young 19-year-old to take up employment at the Commonwealth Treasury in Canberra.  I was to start work as a Programming Assistant Grade 1, the bottom of the professional ranks in the IT world at the time.

I travelled to Canberra from Sydney by plane and it was, indeed, my very first plane trip.  It was in a Fokker Friendship and I thoroughly enjoyed the flight.

On arrival in Canberra I bumped into John Gorton (deposed as Prime Minister earlier that year) and his assistant, Ainsley Gotto, as I waited to collect my luggage.  I was then driven in a long black “C” plated car to my new residence, Lawley House.

Lawley House was a Commonwealth Hostel which housed the influx of public servants arriving in Canberra until they could find a house to live in.  It cost me $50 per fortnight to live there (I was earning $80 a fortnight) and that provided me with a room (cleaned daily by a maid), and three meals a day.

After I unpacked on that Sunday afternoon, I sat in my room and thought “Shit, what have I done”.  I was in a strange city, and about to start work in a field I had no knowledge of.   (The Commonwealth Public Service was desperate for programmers and I was selected on the basis of an IQ test.)

I thought I would learn all I could about computers and after a couple of years return to Sydney.  Little did I know that ten years later I would be married with 3 beautiful children and a mortgage and that I would have moved rapidly up the ranks at work to be a project manager.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

I left the public service at the age of 45 and had no financial need to ever work again.  I am now a woman approaching 60 with six delightful young grandchildren and am about to retire from my part-time job at the national university.

I love my life and would never have dared to imagine all those years ago that it would turn out so well.


I still love flying but I detest airlines and airports.

The building that was Lawley House is now the Australian Federal Police’s Training College in Brisbane Avenue.


Evocative sounds

I am anosmic. Can’t smell a thing.  Have never been able to smell anything.  If you are going to be lacking one of the senses, I’d rather be anosmic than have sight or hearing impairments.

People who can smell often find themselves (I’m told) having memories triggered by a particular smell.  Obviously this doesn’t happen to me.  But if I hear Frank Sinatra singing Love and Marriage or Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera, I’m immediately taken back to our kitchen in Concord and I’m 4 years old again.

There were no televisions then.  But the radio (or wireless as it was then called) was ever on and providing the background sounds to my early years.

I don’t know why, but if I hear Ain’t She Sweet or California Here I Come I’m back in the stalls at the Ritz in Central Concord on a Saturday afternoon as a six year-old.

The sounds of the sixties are most evocative.  I clearly remember the first time I heard the Beatles.  It was electric.  The Beach Boys, the Atlantics, the Stones, the Kinks, the Doors – it was a bewildering time for me but the music was great.  Waterloo Sunset struck a chord (so to speak).  I seemed to be an observer of life rather than a participant, looking at the world from my window.

In my dark periods  the sounds of Mad World and Everybody Hurts provided a perverse comfort and those songs are still dear to me.

Forty Years On

In November 1969, as we put our pens down at the conclusion of our Higher School Certificate Examinations, the group of people with whom I shared the experience of journeying from childhood to adulthood – my high school classmates – went our separate ways.

Last Friday, about 60 of us gathered in Sydney as we have done a few times since our school days.  We had last gathered 5 years ago and it was at that reunion that my former schoolmates finally got to see the essential me.

During my school days I felt I had this terrible secret that I couldn’t let anyone discover so my life was spent just trying to blend in – to be invisible and draw no attention to myself.  (I’m aware that many T folk have  memories of a horrid time at school).

As I entered the venue I was warmly greeted by a large group of men – for I had attended a Christian Brothers School.  Time has been kinder to some more than others.  Some I barely recognised while others looked exactly the same.

A couple of our cohort had died in the 5 years since our last gathering and I think that about 7 have died since we left school.  And to think I came so close all those years ago to joining the dearly departed.

A number of us now have grandchildren and talking to the other grandparents there, we all appreciate the joy that our grandchildren bring us.  

Among our group there are many doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, IT folk and other professionals.  What is most satisfying is that so many of us came from working class and lower middle class families.  But the thing is, most of us now recognise that true success lies not in material wealth but in having sound relationships with our families and friends.

A professional photographer was hired for a Class Photo.  We lined up as we had done each year at school  –  tall ones up the back, short ones sitting cross-legged on the ground in front and the rest of us arranged in tiers in between.  I’m looking forward to receiving my copy in the next few weeks.

I’m sure there were one or two present who do not approve of my direction in life.  They didn’t however come near me.  The overwhelming majority treated me with respect and were very warm towards me.  I was able to spend most of the time joking and reminiscing about our school days and having the occasional chat to others who just wanted to know more about transsexualism and how I dealt with it.  I’m OK with that – it’s my form of activism.

We partied on until the wee small hours and I returned to my hotel glad that I had attended and with much appreciation for my old school friends.  I’m already looking forward to the next reunion.


In 1964 at the start of high school


Forty years ago and yet it seems like yesterday.

Australia’s population was around 12 million.  I had just got my driver’s licence and was in my final year of high school, studying for the NSW Higher School Certificate. 

There was the moon landing.  There was Woodstock.  There was the Manson murders.  Abbey Road. Police raided the Stonewall Inn in NY. Mick Jagger was in Australia filming “Ned Kelly”.  Marianne Faithfull survived an overdose in Sydney.  “Hair” premiered in Sydney. John married Yoko.  Paul married Linda.  The first flight of the Concorde.  Ex Rolling Stone Brian Jones died. Mary Jo Kopechne drowned ‘cos Ted fled.  “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” screened for the first time.

The principle of  “Equal Pay for Women” was endorsed by the Arbitration Commission.  33% of women aged 19-45 were on “the Pill”.

And the Balmain Tigers won the premiership.

And I was very confused.  I did what was required.  Passed my exams.  Won a University Scholarship.

Forty years on and I’m content.  Three wonderful daughters. Four cute grandkids.  Loving friends.  Congruity.