Amy Lawrence


(from Jo's diary)

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Moonee Ponds - Aunt Lucy Vercoe - School Days - New Zealand Connections - Cousin Aubrey
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Moonee Ponds

When I was about four, my father bought a bigger and better business nearby in Moonee Ponds and we moved there where I lived all my unmarried life. Whether due to my illness or due to rather extra care of those around me I was a super sensitive and nervous child and I could not bear to be far away from mother, obsessed with the idea that something might happen to her. Though my Aunt was only second in my life to my mother and I often spent a night at their home, I would never go away with them for any length of time. My greatest friend was the Doctor’s youngest child but I must have been a constant annoyance to them as I would only be at their home a little while when I would say ‘I must go home, I know my mother’s crying for me’. From that I date my earliest recollections and I could not have been more than four because after that we moved. Mrs. S. in exasperation told her second daughter to take me home and I have a vivid picture of my mother standing in the garden trying to excuse me. Five years old, bar about 3 weeks, and I started school at Miss Sprigg’s private school, then called Ascot Vale Girls High School. It was in reality in Moonee Ponds and subsequently changed its name to Penleigh when it became the habit of State Schools to called their advanced schools ‘High Schools’.

Amy and Geoff Amy Paddy and Su
Amy Moxon Beck.
Left: With her younger brother Geoffrey.
Right: With her two daughters, Patricia and Suzette, born 11 months apart

Aunt Lucy Vercoe

Everyone sets their school days as a definite ‘set apart’ period of their lives so I take my first 16 years and highlight them. Six years and a half, and my father taking Jessie and I to the pantomime because my mother was in bed with my baby brother, Geoffrey Frederick. Periodic holidays to my Aunt Lucie [Lucy] who with her family had fallen on hard times and moved to Albert Park, first to a business and later to a little home. We had lovely times, my Aunt Lucy and I. She was different to my mother who was very reserved and held her responses in check until she was quite sure; who never repeated gossip and took other peoples troubles onto her own shoulders. Lucy was volatile, fiercely loyal to her family. Her life was one sorrow after another but when she went out she shut the door on them. We always went to a show in these holidays; ‘up in the Gods’. She would say ‘Stand behind me and when the doors open, follow me’ and even now I can see her running up the stairs as eagerly as a girl sometimes. She brought her troubles over to tell my mother but mother used to have to hear them in silence for even an agreement turned the tide fiercely on herself.

When I was 8, I think, word came that my grandmother had died - and a bit more of my mother died. Then Geoff was sick and then Lucy had a poisoned leg and came to us to be nursed and then when I was 12 years old I became very ill again with a chill on my kidneys and after all this my mother had a bad breakdown. She had to go away for some months and though he could not do anything else at the time, my father felt that she never forgave him for this. When I was about 14 we went to a University Conference of the Xian [= Christian] Union of our School and as we went to go up the tower of Ormond College a group of boys who passed us said ‘It isn’t safe to go up’ and a friend of mine said ‘that was Arthur Lawrence from Moonee Ponds, do you know him’: to which I replied ‘Never heard of him’.


School Days

My interest in the opposite sex seemed to wake when I was fifteen. At a Sunday school picnic I announced to a friend that I would have a certain boy interested in me before the day was out. I did, but unfortunately he became interested in us both and for the next eighteen months we shared him to walk home from socials and evening church. We did all the silly things, ringing up and talking of him and were in a way quite amicable about our joint ‘beau’. Then my friend became very serious about him and eventually took him away. I did not see much of them for years and then was horrified when she said she had been avoiding me because she was afraid I would take him back. By that time I would not have had him served on a gold platter!

Just about this time, Faye Lawrence came to our school and after a time we became great friends and I went to her home where I met her mother and three brothers. It was a very different home to my own in atmosphere and after our quiet orderly household I very much enjoyed the young people Mrs Lawrence as a Sunday School teacher and church worker gathered around her. In a little while a tennis club was formed of about 9 boys and 9 girls and that began a very happy time. My school days I am sorry to say to the great disappointment of my mother did not end in a burst of glory. I did win the badminton championship but during the final year I contracted mumps, which as well as being humiliating kept me out of the prize winning for almost the first time.

However I obtained my ‘Junior Public’ with 2 Honours which compensated somewhat. I had, I think, the first lovely holiday at ‘Arcadia’ [Lawrence holiday house at Ferny Creek] during that final year, probably in the September holidays. Faye had two older brothers and one younger one. The elder one was of the opinion that all girls would fall for him which successfully determined me to be the exception. The second was a student who interested me for his apparent indifference to the other sex. It was the habit of the boys to draw lots as to who should take whom home. I frequently to my annoyance got George which I was supposed to regard as a compliment but I used to be very pleased when it was Arthur, yes the same one we had passed at University.

New Zealand Connections

Well, I left school at Christmas, 1910 and a letter arrived from NZ asking if the son of a cousin of my father might come and stay with us. Before he arrives I might say a little about these NZ relatives.

My grandfather, William Coker Beck, had a sister Bessie who married a Charles Duke. They migrated to NZ and arrived after months of travelling during which time Bessie buried one of her many babes at sea. They pitched a tent along with others and when you were not at home you placed a log on the flap of your tent. One child, a boy of four had lived, and as one after another baby died Bessie’s sister in law (my grandmother Jane) begged her to come back but Charles and Bessie were of the stuff of pioneers and they stuck, eventually the tent was exchanged for a big hut. Once when they had gone to Church Charles went back to be sure that Willie was not afraid shut alone in the hut but a little voice said ‘there’s only me and the cat here’. Charles became Harbour Master at Port Chalmers and Bessie became matron to the girls who came out to marry the settlers and later they built a lovely home at Sawyers Bay. They lived there many years and of all of their numerous progeny only two reached marrying age. Mary was the daughter and she married a Geoffrey Stephens in Dunedin. It was their eldest son, Aubrey Stephens, who was coming to stay with us.

That Christmas, I think I went to Arcadia again. Arcadia was the Lawrence’s country cottage at Ferny Creek and at that time it had about 5 acres of land sloping down to the creek. It was an old cottage, and Mrs Lawrence was an indefatigable alterer but it was the centre of very happy holidays. There were patchwork quilts on the beds and we used to lie in bed in the candle lit rooms and guess where all the patches originated. We were very modest in those days and the privy was opposite the back verandah so someone always had to make sure there were none of the opposite sex about. We went on lovely long walks sometimes by moonlight up to the lookout and organised ‘concerts’ where everyone was supposed to do something. Mr Griffiths (of tea fame) used to hold a church meeting along very original lines at the Mechanics Institute.


Cousin Aubrey

Soon after I got home Aubrey arrived. He had been Dux of the Otago School and was to do Law. We saw a very quiet shy boy with a long upper lip and very little to say. ‘Whatever are we going to do with him’, I said to ‘Harpy’, my Mother’s deaf companion. ‘Make no mistake, there’s a twinkle in his eye’ she replied. The next few weeks were just wonderful for me. We had quite a lot in common and went about a great deal and then, alas, I fell right in love. I didn’t know the symptoms at first. Then as the time came for his departure I knew the meaning it had for me. It was my first big loss. I knew then that though fond of me, his feelings were not as deep as mine. Fortunately, an invitation came almost at once to go to Sydney to stay with an old friend.

When I was five I had gone with my mother for a holiday to these friends who had lost their only daughter my age. Now they lived in a lovely house in Drummoyne with a garden that sloped down to the bay with its own enclosed swimming pool. I went off on my own on a ship called the Yongala. I had never been any length of time on a ship before. Just as we were leaving the steward came on deck and played ‘Auld Lang Syne’. I was dreadfully ill, and only had the time to make the acquaintance of a good-looking youngish man when I was laid very low. I was ill without ceasing as we rolled along the coast on a very rough trip. I rose, as we sailed through the Heads and renewed acquaintance with my nice man. Mrs Stewart (my host) was scandalised and very quickly put him off. The Yongala went on to Brisbane and went down with every soul on board!

The Becks
Amy Moxon Lawrence.
Top left, with her daughter Suzette
Top centre with her friend and sister-inlaw, Mary Fabian Lawrence (Fay)

The next two years I passed uneventfully at home, quite content with little mild flirtations. Then an invitation came for me to go to NZ for Aubrey’s 21st birthday. We had corresponded very regularly and it was soon arranged that I should travel with a friend and his sister Phyllis who was returning to NZ with her mother. Again I was very sick as we wended our way via Hobart and the Bluff to Dunedin.

We arrived at Dunedin one cold morning though it was summer time, after quite a lovely memorable trip up the Sound from Pt. Chalmers. Most of the family were there to meet me and I soon saw Aubrey, but an Aubrey who was most anxious in front of relatives that I should not take my tone from the letters we had exchanged. However, it was 3 months of the loveliest time of my life and I was so happy that it has stayed with me all my life. Even though I knew it would come to an end, that did not shadow it till the very end. Apart from the fact that I could not help caring too much. I would never have left my mother to live in NZ and I never let myself think of that. After all these years it seems childish and dramatic but I can remember as if it was yesterday how after we came in the last night I knelt by my bed and really said goodbye forever and asked God to let me keep his friendship always.

Bessie Duke and Charles were still alive and approaching their diamond wedding. Bessie had had heart attacks for many years and so they had moved from the Sawyers Bay house (they took me down to see it). And had built a large room with its own front door onto their son Williams house in Dunedin. They asked me to call them Grandma and Grandpa instead of Great Aunt and Uncle which I gladly did. Charles was my Godfather. It was a great anxiety to him that Bessie should live to the diamond wedding and Bessie used to say ‘I hope Grandpa is taken first because I can manage for the little time that is left but he would be so helpless without me’. Her wish was granted. She was the ideal grandmother; simple happy and contented with a passion for a love affair! She was greatly worried at what she feared between Aubrey and me and hinted darkly of the dire results of cousins marrying so to allay her fears I told her that I had left someone in Melbourne. To my surprise, I had a letter from Arthur Lawrence so I gave it to her to read. ‘It isn’t very love-like’ she said rather sadly, but I told her it was just his way. Dear Grandma and Grandpa Duke, I grew to love them both very much indeed.

I was put in the care of the Captain coming home. His wife also was on board and she and I were almost the only two sick. She said to me ‘If I live to see Melbourne I’ll never go to sea again’ and I said ‘If I do Id come again in 3 weeks’. I arrived home, though still sad very delighted to all the family again.

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