24.05.1892 TO 04.01.1987

Tapestry series no. 101

Date contributed: 21/4/2006

Contributed by Ray Cavenagh

I would like to acknowledge Isabel Sarah Hodge, married name Cavenagh.

Isabel was born at Calarie, near Forbes NSW, on the 1 June 1914. Her father was a gold miner, but in 1916 he got a 600 acre block of land near Garema, about fourteen miles east of Forbes. Closer settlement brought the railway through from Forbes to Stockinbingal in 1919 and Garema became the centre of the district.

Farm life was not easy. Family resources were limited. The place was never large enough to make a decent living. There were eleven children, and the older ones went out to work as soon as possible.

Mum started school in May 1919, in a schoolhouse built on the corner of their farm. All of the younger members of the family went to school there. Isabel finished school at the Primary Final. Only the youngest of the family went on to secondary education.

She started casual domestic work at local farms. Pay was irregular and low. One wonders whether she ever paid tax, or was even recorded as an employee. She never had a permanent job.

In her own story, written for her eightieth birthday, she talks about the life on the farm, the perpetual round of small jobs to be done, the cooking of breakfast, morning tea, dinner, afternoon tea, tea, and supper. The domestic work all fell on the girls Cows to be milked and rabbits shot. Washing in the copper outdoors.. Summer evenings saw games outside but there was no electricity and work started early.

Life was simple, and although a Rugby car came along in the late 1920s travel to Garema and neighbours was mainly by sulky. Garema had its own football team, and cricket was played in the village, but there was no organized girls’ sport. The girls got their turn at local sports days. Mum was taller than her sisters, and could run, and she treasured the books that she won in various races around the district.

Her father died at 51 in 1929. Isabel had taken the major responsibility for nursing him. After his death she was sent to Sydney for a brief holiday, and saw the sea for the first time.

She married in 1937. Ron Cavenagh had come to Garema visiting his widowed father, who had married a widow with a small store in the village. Ron worked for Babcock and Wilcox, an engineering firm, and he and Isabel went to Newcastle, where a son was born, then Yallourn, then back to Villawood. They bought a house in Baulkham Hills, and milked a cow and had chooks. The war came on the day they got the key for their house, a couple of weeks before a daughter was born.

In between Pearl Harbour and the fall of Singapore they sold up and Mum and the two kids were evacuated back to Garema. She stayed there for five months only and then returned to Sydney. They rented on the outskirts again, this time at Moorebank. Ron joined up in 1943 and Isabel was lonely in the large old timber house some distance from any other. The nights were difficult, and she would roam through the house with a torch, looking for the source of strange noises that came from timbers and galvanized iron roofs. She had never been on her own before, and was frightened. Finally another family moved in with her and the kids, and the night prowling stopped.

Ron was away for two years. After the war he used his war pay to buy a small cottage at Moorebank, where life settled down somewhat. Another daughter was born in 1946 and another son in 1949. In 1952 Ron and a mate decided to make some money out of the wool boom and went to Coonamble fencing. He was offered a job there, on a property, and he and Isabel went back to the bush.

They stayed in Coonamble from 1952 to 1958, and Isabel was happy there. Ron came in from the farm at weekends, the kids were at school, and in 1955 she had another son to care for. She had good friends, and enough extra money to enjoy a few beers at the Terminus Hotel. They bought a new car in 1954, a Holden Ute, the first new car since the Austin Wasp in 1939.

They returned to Moorebank in 1958, but in 1960 Ron had an accident at work which activated a brain tumour and he died, aged 51, in November. There was no compensation and with three kids still at school Isabel had to go to work. She cleaned and she ironed, and struggled on, but the house needed major work and in the early 1960s she sold up and moved to St Mary’s, to a much smaller place. The three older children were all married in the 1960s. Grandchildren started to arrive.

In 1975 she moved back to Forbes, but she was lonely again and eventually moved in with her daughter Meg and her teacher son-in-law Mick, in Geurie. She stayed with them for another twenty-five years. She also went overseas, with her second son, and they traveled Europe for some months in a VW van. This was high adventure, and she relished the different peoples and languages and the lifestyles. She was passionately anti-racist and hated discrimination.

In 1979 her daughter Beverley, born 1946, died of cancer. This was devastating for Isabel and all her family. In the early 1980s Mick was appointed to Bateman’s Bay PS, and she spent the following years in that pleasant town, visiting her children and grandchildren whenever possible.

Over the years problems arose. Her memory faded and her behaviour became erratic. She had trouble with vision and hearing. She declined steadily until living with Meg became impossible and she was placed in a nursing home in Forbes. Her anger about what she saw as this treachery and injustice was formidable. She declined rapidly, and lay in care, seemingly unknowing, until her death on 27 January 2006. She is buried in Forbes.