About the author
Daryl R Farry
was an infantry medic during the Vietnam War and on return to
During his time
Daryl is now
retired and lives with his wife in
O’Shea was born in
Patrick and Katherine toiled hard to support their enlarging brood; he as a wharf labourer and she as a seamstress. At times day-to-day living was extremely hard going especially when sickness and disease hit the family. But with their strong faith in God the O’Shea family managed to keep their heads above water, giving their children a good upbringing with a sound Catholic education, which in time gave them a solid foundation for entry into the workforce.
Bernadette Mary was a fragile, sickly child at birth and the attending midwife told her mother that she probably would not survive. However, with typical Irish steadfastness, Katherine O’Shea was determined to fight for her daughter’s survival. With the help of the friendly Dr Bernard O’Dowd giving advice, and medication, her daughter rallied and started to show improvement. When she was one year of age Dr O’Dowd told Katherine O’Shea that her daughter was out of danger, as long as she kept to his advice. This Katherine did and Bernadette prospered. However, during a typhoid outbreak one of her brothers was not so fortunate and died after contracting the disease. A sister was also stricken but survived, leaving the family now with five children to support.
When Thomas, the eldest, was fifteen he was apprenticed to a butcher and brought in much needed funds to boost the coffers, which in turn helped Vincent, the next in line, to attend university to study for a journalism degree. Vincent was gifted in English and his ambition was to be a correspondent with the world famous newspaper, Reuters. With the family’s help and encouragement he was able to start a four-year degree course and took a job after hours waiting on tables at Galliano’s Italian restaurant downtown.
Geraldine, the oldest girl, applied to Saint Vincent’s Hospital to study nursing and as Gabriel and Bernadette were still attending the local Catholic primary school they helped in the home. Growing up in the suburb of Fitzroy was a pleasant experience for the sisters, as they had plenty of other children their own ages to play with and also had the opportunity to take piano lessons with the kindly spinster, Miss Skullthorpe, who conducted a music academy at the end of the street.
After being on the wharves for thirteen years the children’s father applied for a crane operating ticket and was successful in gaining a job as a gantry operator unloading cargo from the many ships. He worked permanent night shifts and was earning a good wage allowing the family to live more comfortably.
After leaving school, Bernadette applied to a secretarial school to study bookkeeping, typing and shorthand and also took night classes in French. Gabriel, in turn, left school to work for Myer’s department store, and after six months showed enough promise to become a buyer in the ladies’ apparel department.
Three years passed and the eldest, Thomas had become a qualified butcher and a year later Patrick finished his journalism course and commenced working for the Melbourne Age newspaper. In another eighteen months Geraldine had qualified as a registered nurse and decided to stay at the same hospital to do midwifery training, while Gabriel now had a sweetheart and had become one of the chief buyers with the Myer Emporium Limited.
It was a grey day in August, 1934 when Bernadette, still only in the first year of secretarial school, arrived home to find her mother in a state of shock and her sister Geraldine looking sad and forlorn.
“Mother, Geraldine! Whatever is wrong?” Bernadette inquired.
“Oh, Bernadette, it is terrible! Our dad has been involved in an accident on the wharves and is in hospital, seriously injured!” Geraldine said, now weeping.
“Oh no! Poor Daddy!” Bernadette wailed.
Bernadette raced toward the door and her sister called after her, “Bernadette! Bernadette! Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the hospital. I must see Dad!” she cried out.
She raced out
the door and down the street hailing a cab to take her to the
On arrival, she was ushered into her father’s room and became upset and started to sob after seeing her father bandaged from head to toe. Both his legs were broken and one was in a plaster cast, with the other in a type of splint, but stretched by a cord which ran over the end of the bed with a considerable weight hanging from the end of it. He also had an arm fracture, rib injuries and a severe scalp laceration which had been closed with many sutures. Her father was unconscious. Bernadette soothed his brow with cool water and whispered to him that she loved him, holding his hand and encouraging him to fight and to get better again.
A workmate of her dad’s, Johnny Angel, arrived. He had seen the accident happen and was able to tell Bernadette how her father had been injured. “What happened Mr Angel?” Bernadette inquired. “How was Dad injured?”
Johnny, gesturing with his hands, said, “Well miss, you know the gantry your father operates is in a fixed position on the wharf and swings to and fro while unloading cargo?”
“Yes, Mr Angel, go on!” Bernadette answered, still wiping her eyes.
“We don’t really know what happened, but it looks as though the crane buckled under the weight of the cargo it was lifting and it collapsed sending everything crashing to the ground.”
He went on, “Your father was cut out of the cabin. We thought he was dead. But someone found a pulse and quickly called an ambulance and rushed him here.”
“The inspectors on site can’t fathom it out, as a rigorous stress test was conducted on that particular crane only last Thursday, and at the time of the accident it wasn’t lifting over its capacity. The crane was only manufactured three years ago, so in reality it is still a new crane.”
A nurse and a doctor entered the room to check on the patient’s condition and told Bernadette and Mr Angel to wait outside. When they emerged from the room Bernadette asked the doctor what her father’s chances were with regard to his recovery.
The doctor answered, “Your father has had multiple injuries sustained to most of his body and tonight will be crucial for him. So miss, we’ll just have to wait and see how he is faring in the morning.”
The doctor went on, “Will you tell your mother to be here tonight to sign more consent forms? We have to operate on his other leg.”
“Yes doctor. But will my dad be alright?” Bernadette replied.
The doctor said abruptly, “As I have said, tonight will be the test and after that we’ll see if he regains consciousness. A nurse will be with him throughout the night. That’s all I can tell you.”
Johnny Angel offered to take Bernadette home in the wharf truck, but Bernadette decided that she wanted some time alone and caught a tram to the docks area. She wanted to see for herself the twisted tangle of metal that her father had to be cut from, and then to sit in peace at the duck pond to contemplate his life and her love for him. She then went to the cathedral to pray for God to grant her father the strength to give him the will to fight at this difficult time that now engulfed his life.
It was 6.30 p.m. when Bernadette arrived home. Her mother was still upset and was being comforted by Mrs Jones, the butcher’s wife, while Geraldine and Gabriel had started cooking the evening meal. After Mrs Jones left and the priest, Father Benjamin had arrived, they all sat down to eat. The general mood was sombre, everyone suggesting how they could help their father recover and to get fit again, with the priest offering guidance and encouragement to all family suggestions.
Father Benjamin rose after finishing the meal and said, “With the grace of God we know He in his wisdom will do his best to help your father get well again. But we all know it will be a struggle for him, especially getting over the initial stage, and with a long and slow recovery after that. In the meantime I will be praying for him. So chin up everyone and may God be with you. You know your father wouldn’t want you to be moping around worrying too much about him.”
The priest went on, “I’ll take your mother to the hospital now and we will say a prayer for your father and place a crucifix over his bed for his divine protection.”
Katherine and the priest left and more neighbours and relations started calling to inquire of their father’s condition. It was nearly 10.30 p.m. when their mother returned home and the last of the relatives and friends had left, allowing the family to wind down after a very sad and hectic day.
Sleep came fitfully to most members of the family that night and in the morning they were early to rise. The first up was Thomas who started work at five in the butcher shop and then Mrs O’Shea and Geraldine who were to start at eight, and finally Vincent, Gabriel and Bernadette who started at nine. Mrs O’Shea called in to the corner store to use the telephone before going to the sweat shop where she worked, to inquire about her husband and how he fared throughout the night. She was pleased to hear that he had regained consciousness, but anxious, knowing that her husband was scheduled to go back into surgery to fix his other leg. Before arriving at the sewing factory she called into the cathedral to pray for God’s strength to help her soldier on. Her twice daily religious dalliances gave her reassurance that God was with her in her quest to keep her husband safe.
The operation on Patrick’s leg was successful and the whole family made it their business to be present to give support when he came out of surgery. He was able to whisper a few words to his children, but immediately after, all were told to leave by the nurse-in-charge, only allowing his wife to stay on with him. At this stage Patrick did not know it, but he had a long time of mending and recuperating ahead of him, along with continual therapy and rehabilitation to get his damaged body working again.
One month after the operation Patrick O’Shea put his legs to the ground, and with the help of two nurses walked the entire length of the hospital corridor. This was a milestone for Patrick who was not expected to walk properly for some time. He now had one leg slightly shorter than the other and a built-up plaster cast which enabled him to gingerly get about on crutches. After the long process of rehabilitation and recuperation, it was to be arranged that he be posted to the stores area of the wharf precinct to work only day shift in a desk job until his health had completely returned to normal.
It was around
Bernadette’s birthday in July when she finished her secretarial course and
French studies. She was pleased, as three years of study had made her into a
secretary, but whether she was to be a good one only time would tell. Her
ambition was to work overseas, and as her brother, Vincent, was now working as a
She spoke French reasonably well, but needed to polish up on the language to be able to converse better, so she decided to work for a year at home and continue on with advanced French lessons and save enough money to fulfil her dream of international travel. She applied for a secretarial job with the merchants, Thomas O’Malley and Sons and was most pleased when she was appointed as secretary to the sales manager. The manager was a member of the Catholic community and a staunch churchgoer and had contacts with the bishop and priests of the cathedral parish, so it was inevitable that Bernadette didn’t have to wait long for employment. She had confidence in her abilities and was determined to be a good secretary, but importantly, to use her new job as a stepping stone for higher ambitions.
worked for Thomas O’Malley and Sons for a year and previously had written to her
brother, Vincent, to ask if she could join him in
She was on her way to new adventures.
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