I couldn’t have asked for more

I’m Phyllis Klumpp (née Craig) fifth child of six, all of us raised in Sydenham, a suburb of Sydney. My Dad was a tram driver and loved to garden.

At age 14 I left school and left home (to get away from a controlling step-mother that I resented.) I got a job at the woollen mills in Marrickvilee. I received thirteen shillings and sixpence a week. I had two dresses and one pair of black-and-white shoes. I wore these shoes every day when I stood up at the winding machine.

I rented a room close by for eight shillings and sixpence a week. My landlady was Scottish and had two sons. They used to take me with them to Scottish dancing at Dulwich Hills every Saturday night. One of the sons took a fancy to me. One day I came home to find that she had packed all my things. She ordered me to go.

Two girls I worked with (Mabel and Lily) took me home with them and asked their Mother if I could stay. Even though her husband had left her and they were very poor she said I could stay until I found somewhere else. I then stayed with my older sister Billie for a little while until I found a small room to rent.

My sewing career began through necessity. One of the girls at the mill had admired a dress I had made for myself and I offered to make her one for a few shillings. She bought the material and I remember holding my breath as I cut into it. It turned out O.K. and I made her quite a few more. My sister helped me with a deposit on a treadle sewing machine and I paid it off using the money I earned from sewing.

About this time I met Charlie Russell, who worked as a ‘penciller’ for his brother, an SP. bookie. This was illegal, but lots of people did it. When war broke out in 1939 he and his brothers joined up. We were married at a church in Redfern, with me wearing a blue dress I had made myself and a little black hat with a feather on it. The next day Charlie and one of his brothers were posted to Darwin. We never saw or heard from either of them again. At the end of the war I was informed by the war department that Charlie and his brother had been taken prisoner and died at sea when the Japanese boat they were on was sunk by American bombers.

So there I was, now a married woman, living alone in a room in Redfern, still working at the woollen mill during the day and still sewing at night. However, at least Charlie had arranged for both his mother and me to get an allotment from the army, so thar was a help.

The American forces arrived in Sydney and soon everyone was dancing the jive and jitterbug, we girls in our short dresses and flat white shoes. The Trocadero and other places had lots of dances and big bands and that’s how I met my second husband, John Klumpp.

John was part of a big, very close-knit family, poor but happy. They included me straight away. I developed a rapport with his mother, we never had a cross word and that lasted till the day she died. The house was always full of people coming and going. Mum (Mahala) always had a big pot of mince and another big pot of boiled veggies on the stove – it was mince-on-toast for breakfast and mince and veggies for dinner.

For the first time I felt I belonged somewhere.

John and I were married at the Methodist Ladies College in Burwood. This time my sister Billie made my dress, beige, embroidered with bronze beads. Mum gave us a little party with cakes and sandwiches on the verandah of the family home in Ashfield, then we caught the train and boat to Avalon for our honeymoon. Only four days, John had to get back to work.

Mine has been a good marriage, with a loving husband, two wonderful children and three marvellous great grandchildren. I could not have asked for more.

Phyllis Klumpp
Port Macquarie U3A