Oral History

After having been to the State Coroner’s Court of NSW for the past couple of days and hearing a lot about Gaby’s Life and Death I was reminded how Peter and I talked a lot about Gaby’s life when Frances interviewed us for the ORAL HISTORY recordings. We did get the finished disks sent to us as expected but we never listened to them yet! I guess I am too chicken to listen to my own voice, and Peter probably feels the same about the recordings of his voice. I was thinking the past few days that maybe Frances would be interested in the findings of the Coroner’s Court?

I wrote this on the 21st of February 2013;

“Today, Frances arrived for the last part of the interview.
All went well. Now we have to wait for just a few weeks before we’ll be sent the finished disks. Not that I’m looking forward to listening to my recorded voice! Thanks to all the encouragement I have been given by Frances, I survived the interviews. But I’m glad it’s over now. Talking to Frances was great. I very much liked our conversations. It was just a bit difficult at times knowing what I said was being recorded. Still it was overall a good, enjoyable experience. Frances always tried to put me at ease before the recordings and helped me along by asking relevant questions.”

http://www.nla.gov.au/what-we-collect/oral-history-and-folklore

I wrote on the 16th of February 2013:

“The past week Peter and I have been busy with the telling of our lives’ story. We had a very lovely visitor recording everything for the Oral History section of the library at Canberra. It takes a few weeks before these recordings are accessible. I understand they are going to be preserved for future generations. This whole project is of course extremely exciting for us.

Frances, who’s interviewing us, tells us, we as migrants from Germany, having been through WW II and post war years as children in Germany have experiences to recall which people would be interested to hear about. Also of interest are our experiences in Australia as migrants. In this regard it is of special interest to find out how our lives were shaped by having had a daughter who had been severely disabled by polio.

Neither Peter or I are experienced speakers. Having our voices recorded is something completely new to us. However Frances is very good at encouraging us. She gently guides us into the relevant sections of our lives by asking some questions. Peter and I are always being interviewed separately. Usually we have one hour each in the morning, then a lunch-break, and maybe another hour each in the afternoon.

I found out having to talk for one hour at a time about my life can be rather tiring and sometimes a bit stressful too. But I love doing it especially with such a good interviewer as Frances. By the middle of next week she’s going to be back for the conclusion of the interviews.”

And here is what I wrote on the 13th of March 2013:

“Our daughter Monika said the other day: ‘I knew, Mum, that you’d like Frances.’ She wasn’t surprised at all that I very much loved having her around. Peter and I were always very much looking forward seeing her here at our home. This was some weeks ago. Very soon now we should get the result of these recording sessions with Frances.

I think Frances saw our daughter Gaby just a few days before Gaby died. Sadly the planned interview with Gaby could not take place at the time. There was some difficulty with incoming calls Gaby was expecting that day. Apparently Gaby was reluctant to switch off her mobile phone!

Gaby’s passing must have been a shock to Frances as it was to all of us. Frances had already been looking with Gaby at some of her documents. She was aware how Gaby caught polio at age four, and that she had lived as a quadriplegic with breathing difficulties for over fifty years. After Gaby’s passing she was keen to interview someone of Gaby’s family.

Frances found out from daughter Monika that we, Gaby’s parents, had gone overseas soon after Gaby’s death and wouldn’t be back for quite some time. In the meantime Frances started interviewing Monika. This is how Monika did get to know Frances. Monika agreed to be interviewed about her life in connection with Gaby. So Frances recorded twice one hour with Monika. Some time later, after our return from our long overseas trip, Peter’s and my tale was recorded too. Peter’s took eight times one hour, mine seven times one hour.”

The “Pioneer Family”

Today I was looking for some more pictures from the past. I came up with two pictures from 1958 and another two pictures from 1960

Peter with Gaby
Peter with Gaby

This pictures was taken in Düsseldorf, Germany, in a park called ‘Hofgarten’, on 17th June 1958. Gaby was not quite nine months yet at the time.

Uta and Peter with Gaby
Uta and Peter with Gaby

This pictures was taken by Uta’s Mum on her balcony in Berlin in August 1958. Gaby was nearly one year old. We were for a visit in Berlin at the time.

Uta with Baby Martin, two months, Monika, eighteen months, and Gaby  thirty-three months.
Uta with Baby Martin, two months, Monika, eighteen months, and Gaby thirty-three months.

This pictures was taken near Fairy Meadow Beach, New South Wales, Australia, in June 1960.

Uta and Peter (25) with all three children
Uta and Peter (25) with all three children

This is where the pioneer family ended up in Oak Flats, NSW, Australia, which was ‘the sticks’ at the time. This picture was taken on the 28th August 1960 which was Gaby’s birthday. We were building a garage at the time. One year later the children were stricken by polio; as it turned out, Gaby very severely.

I wrote the above in January 2013. I was looking for a photo from our Berlin visit in August 1958 and found one in this blog. I was pregnant at the time. In December our daughter Monika was born in Düsseldorf where we had one room in my father’s apartment. We thought being given the opportunity to go to Australia as migrants was the best thing that could have happened to us.

11 Responses to “The “Pioneer Family””

berlioz1935
January 23, 2013 at 4:47 pm Edit #
The beginning in Australia was tough and sometimes we felt like a “pioneer family”.. On the beach picture you can clearly see the Fairy Meadow Hostel were we lived for a while.

REPLY

auntyuta
January 23, 2013 at 5:18 pm Edit #
You’re right, Peter, the beach was only a few steps away from the hostel. I thought it was great to have the beach so close. The picture you refer to was taken in June, in the middle of the Australian winter!

REPLY

Robert M. WeissR
January 25, 2013 at 8:41 am Edit #
Great archival type photos, which reminds me it’s time to straighten up our family photos.

REPLY

auntyuta
January 25, 2013 at 11:12 am Edit #
Thanks for commenting, Robert. I read your profile, which is very interesting. Do you do any writing? You seem to be a very contemplative person. If you’re writing, I’d like to hear more about it.
Cheerio, Uta.

REPLY

backonmyown
January 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm Edit #
I love the old photos. Your family was beautiful. My youngest sister Gerry had polio when she was two years old. Fortunately she had no lingering effects, and recovered completely. I was ten at the time. I remember how scared we all were.

REPLY

auntyuta
January 26, 2013 at 6:01 pm Edit #
Hi, Pam. We always love to look at all our old photos. Gaby was severely effected, She became a quadriplegic and needed an iron lung.
Monika had some lingering effects in one of her legs and Martin recovered completely. It was a very scary time for us when all three children suffered from the disease.

REPLY

backonmyown
January 27, 2013 at 2:44 am Edit #
I can’t even imagine how terrified you and Peter must have been with all three children seriously ill at the same. My middle daughter is a public health lawyer. She has asked me lots of questions about the polio epidemics. I’ll tell her about your family’s story. Thanks for sharing it. Pat

Three Well Beings
January 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm Edit #
I really enjoyed seeing family photos, Uta. From what you’re sharing, the children were very young when they contracted polio. I cannot imagine how difficult that must have been! I do remember when that disease frightened families and changed lives forever!

REPLY

auntyuta
January 26, 2013 at 6:07 pm Edit #
That’s right, Debra, they all contracted polio. Martin was 1, Monika 2 and Gaby was struck down with the disease on her fourth birthday. No vaccinations were available at the time. A bit later oral vaccinations were introduced. I think this stopped the spread of polio in Australia.

REPLY

Three Well Beings
January 26, 2013 at 6:50 pm Edit #
I really can’t imagine, Uta! As a mom, this must have been devastating. They were just babies. I’m a little awed you can even talk about it. oxo

auntyuta
January 26, 2013 at 8:45 pm Edit #
It was a very emotional time for Peter too. All three children were admitted to Wollongong Hospital. Gaby went on to Intensive Care at Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney where she was in a coma. According to the specialist there was not much chance of her surviving. We had gone in the ambulance with her and stayed with her through the night. Early in the morning we went back to Wollongong on the milk-train. That morning after a lot of weeping we went to see Monika and Martin in Wollongong Hospital. Martin Baby soon became the darling of the nurses. He looked so cute. When we saw him he started throwing all the toys out of his cot the nurses had put in there for him. Monika was more sick than Martin and absolutely quiet. A few days later Martin was allowed to go back home. We were overwhelmed when we had him back home. Monika had to stay in hospital a bit longer. Once she was home she was referred to a specialist who treated her leg. Some muscles were weakened because of polio. She had to wear special boots and a splint on her left leg which she hated!

With Love from Gaby, Dave, Bonnie & Clyde

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Gaby came down with poliomyelitis on her fourth birthday. That was in 1961. When she was 32, in 1989, she left institutional care and moved into her own home in Merrylands West, a Western suburb of Sydney. David (Dave) became her full time carer. But as a quadriplegic with breathing difficulties who needed to sleep in an iron lung, she needed several people to come in on a daily basis to look after her diverse needs.

Anyhow, Gaby was happy to leave the home for disabled people and move into her own home. 40 year old David did for nearly twenty years a marvellous job in doing whatever he could for Gaby. But in the end his health deteriorated more and more. It became impossible for him to the the things for Gaby he would normally have to do as her carer. It was a rather sad situation. Gaby knew that David needed help but she did not know how to provide this for him.

Gaby and David both loved animals. Soon after moving in Gaby acquired a companion dog provided by the people who train dogs for blind people. Dave liked that dog too. They called her Bonnie. A cat named Clyde became Bonnie’s companion. Gaby just adored her animals. They were like her children. She always saw to it that they had everything they needed.

Gaby with Bonnie
Gaby with Bonnie
Gaby with Clyde
Gaby with Clyde
Bonnie and Clyde in front of the gas heater
Bonnie and Clyde in front of the gas heater

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Bonnie is being spoiled!
Bonnie is being spoiled!

I happen to have still a Christmas card from Gaby and Dave with a calendar for 1998 in it. The card came with a book: A Tolstoy biography by A.N. Wilson, first published in Great Britain in 1988. This is a great reference book and a great read. Gaby chose this book for me as a Christmas gift. She did choose very well. She always took great care to choose gifts for all the family for birthdays and for Christmas. Of course her funds were limited. So she always looked for bargains. Quite often her choices were astoundingly good.

This is the outside of the card.
This is the outside of the Christmas card.
And this is the inside of it.
And this is the inside of it.
Gaby moved her electric chair with her chin, she used her mouth stick for phone and computer.
Gaby moved her electric chair with her chin, she used her mouth stick for phone and computer.
Here she looks like having grown up a bit more.
Here she looks like having grown up a bit more.
Here she is in her bedroom getting ready for the day.
Here she is in her bedroom getting ready for the day.
After Gaby lost Clyde, she did get a new kitten.
After Gaby lost Clyde, she did get a new kitten.
Blackie, the kitten, grew into this.
Blackie, the kitten, grew into this.
Gaby is having fun seeing Father Christmas.
Gaby is having fun seeing Father Christmas.

Sadly Gaby lost Bonnie. She was lucky that after some time she was given a replacement dog which she called ‘Honey’.  Honey was quite skinny at first but soon filled out a bit.

Gaby can celebrate Christmas 2003 with companion dog Honey.
Gaby can celebrate Christmas 2003 with companion dog Honey.

 

Recollections

Some bloggers may not want to read any more about the lives of Gaby and David.  However I am still at this stage where I keep thinking about it a lot. Recently I wrote two long replies to comments from ‘Words fall from my Eyes’ and ‘Island Traveler’. Just for recollection I want to publish these two replies here. They only touch on the lives of Gaby and David. But anyhow here is what I wrote:

Wow, Noeleen, there’s so much to remember. Both had kind, big hearts. But Gaby was very demanding. It did get too much for David over the years. He just wanted to be left alone. He led a very unhealthy life over many years and often drove Gaby’s carers round the bend with little bursts of energy, screaming, yelling. this sort of thing. But most of the time he would stay semi conscious in his room. A nursing sister who would come to see him after he had been in hospital for a while he would chase away. He would not visit his siblings any more. They just could not cope with him. The only person who could always cope best with him was his long time friend Steve. But even he could not do much for him after Gaby had died and it was apparent David could not cope on his own. However he strictly refused to make any changes in his living arrangements. until he collapsed last Christmas. Sheila, his neighbour, noticed and called an ambulance.

It’s very sad when someone ends like this. But I think he went peacefully. And this is a comfort. We do remember a lot of good things about David. He was the only person who would take on the challenging task of taking on a life together with Gaby, and he did so out of his big good heart. He stuck with Gaby right to the end. I think he had the feeling that he could not desert her. Yes, great honour to him! Dear, dear David and wonderful life loving and caring Gaby!

—–

You are right, IT. It was quite amazing how Gaby always tried to be there for David. It must have been very difficult for her at times. Everyone kept telling her that David was too sick to stay at her place. He should be in a nursing home where he’d be given proper care. When Gaby died last year David refused to move to a different place. Any attempts by his siblings to help him were in vain. David just did not want to be helped!
For as long as Gaby was alive, the house got cleaned by Gaby’s carers. The carers often had a hard time when David was in a bad mood. If something displeased him, he would shout at them. We often wondered how Gaby and the carers could cope with all this.

The last few months of his life David received very good care in  Parramatta Nursing Home.. He was not allowed alcohol; and cigarettes he could afford only very few and had to smoke them in some outside area, wheeling himself out there a few times every day. He could not eat very well any more. It turned out there was something wrong with his gall bladder apart from many other things. But he was not an angry man any more. He didn’t give the staff any trouble. I think they liked looking after him.

For years David had always told me: Don’t worry, Mama! I could not make him change his mind about anything. 

The youngest brother of David, Anthony, took very good care of David after he collapsed last Christmas and ended up in hospital again. During the two months in hospital they had to amputate his left leg below the knee. After this he spent the last months of his life  in Parramatta Nursing Home. It’s good to know that he did get proper care there and was able to die peacefully.

– – – – –

Gabriele (Gaby) was Peter’s and my first born daughter, an extremely lively child who was struck down by poliomyelitis on her fourth birthday. She ended up being a quadriplegic. She also had breathing difficulties and needed to sleep in an Iron Lung. Towards the end of 1989, when Gaby was 32 and David 40, they moved in together into a house provided by the Department of Housing. David became Gaby’s main carer at this stage. But David was never Gaby’s only carer. At that stage Gaby was always provided extra outside help. And when David needed a break, there was always one carer who could sleep in Gaby’s house overnight so she wouldn’t be alone in the house. When we were much younger  Peter and I would sometimes stay together with our youngest daughter Caroline in the house for a few nights so that David could have a break. When David was supposed to go on holidays for five nights, he often would return already after three nights. That would then mean we, Peter, myself, and Caroline, would be able to drive back home after three nights already.

Well, this is just a bit about the lives of Gaby and David.

RIMG0877 (2)
Peter and David in an outside area of the Nursing Home
RIMG0880
David was allowed to have his lunch outside. But he hardly touched it.
RIMG0879
David gave me this Mother’s Day gift on the day Peter and I visited him. He said he had bought raffle tickets to win this to give it to me. I was very touched by this.

Here is ow another recollection I want to add:

With some departed loved ones you get the feeling that it was time for them to leave. You are grateful for the times they could be in your lives. But when the time runs out you have to accept that they really want to be somewhere else. In my family’s case I think they are at peace and with God, which is a great comfort. I am very touched by what both families did to give them the last rest. Both our daughter Gaby and her long time carer David led rather difficult lives. But there were times when they could greatly enjoy each other. And Gaby was always very life confirming and always found ways overcoming some of her disabilities. Last year Gaby died rather suddenly but knowing her disabilities not all that unexpectedly. She died when she was the most happy. David survived her by a bit over a year even though he had been in extremely bad health for many years. David’s family gave him a very good funeral and I was very touched by this.
When our daughter died so suddenly last year it was our family who put together to give her a good parting. Sadly David had neglected to inform his family. So they weren’t part of the celebration of Gaby’s life. Yes, I feel very sad about this. We shouldn’t have left it up to David to inform them. Somehow we thought because he had informed us about Gaby’s passing he would be able to ring someone in his family too. But he didn’t.
Last Mondays celebration of David’s life somehow made up for it now. We were able to talk to David’s four brothers and three sisters.

Interviews for Oral History

The back of our home where we had morning tea with Frances
The back of our home where we had morning tea with Frances

Our daughter Monika said the other day: ‘I knew, Mum, that you’d like Frances.’ She wasn’t surprised at all that I very much loved having her around. Peter and I were always very much looking forward seeing her here at our home. This was some weeks ago. Very soon now we should get the result of these recording sessions with Frances.

I think Frances saw our daughter Gaby just a few days before Gaby died. Sadly the planned interview with Gaby could not take place at the time. There was some difficulty with incoming calls Gaby was expecting that day. Apparently Gaby was reluctant to switch off her mobile phone!

Gaby’s passing must have been a shock to Frances as it was to all of us. Frances had already been looking with Gaby at some of her documents. She was aware how Gaby caught polio at age four, and that she had lived as a quadriplegic with breathing difficulties for over fifty years. After Gaby’s passing she was keen to interview someone of Gaby’s family.

Frances found out from daughter Monika that we, Gaby’s parents, had gone overseas soon after Gaby’s death and wouldn’t be back for quite some time. In the meantime Frances started interviewing Monika. This is how Monika did get to know Frances. Monika agreed to be interviewed about her life in connection with Gaby. So Frances recorded twice one hour with Monika. Some time later, after our return from our long overseas trip, Peter’s and my tale was recorded too. Peter’s took eight times one hour, mine seven times one hour.

Oral History

http://www.nla.gov.au/what-we-collect/oral-history-and-folklore

 

The past week Peter and I have been busy with the telling  of our lives’ story. We had a very lovely visitor recording everything for the Oral History section of the library at Canberra. It takes a few weeks before these recordings are accessible. I understand they are going to be preserved for future generations. This whole project is of course extremely exciting for us.

Frances, who’s interviewing us, tells us,  we as migrants from Germany, having been through WW II  and post war years as children in Germany have experiences to recall which people would be interested to hear about. Also of interest are our experiences in Australia as migrants. In this regard it is of special interest to find out how our lives were shaped by having had a daughter who had been severely disabled by polio.

Neither Peter or I are experienced speakers. Having our voices recorded is something completely new to us. However Frances is very good at encouraging us. She gently guides us into the relevant sections of our lives by asking some questions. Peter and I are always being interviewed separately. Usually we have one hour each in the morning, then a lunch-break, and maybe another hour each in the afternoon.

I found out having to talk for one hour at a time about my life can be rather tiring and sometimes a bit stressful too. But I love doing it especially with such a good interviewer as Frances. By the middle of next week she’s going to be back for the conclusion of the interviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

frances

Going shopping with Gaby . . . .

Going shopping with Gaby and Honey, who’s Gaby’s lovely companion dog. Once every two weeks we meet our daughter Gaby in Merrylands Shopping Centre to help her with her shopping. Gaby loves to bring her dog along too. Since Honey is a registered companion dog for a wheelchair person, she’s allowed to take the dog into the shopping  centre. However when she goes to the supermarket to buy her groceries, the dog has to stay outside, that means ‘Grandma’ Uta has to stay outside too to mind Honey, while Grandpa Peter helps Gaby with her grocery shopping which usually takes her the best part of an hour. I don’t mind sitting outside, where there are some comfortable seating arrangements and carpets for the dog to stretch out on. Honey is no trouble whatsoever. I’ve been known to sometimes nod off a bit when I feel tired!

Yesterday however, when we met Gaby again, I kept myself awake the whole time while waiting for Gaby and Peter. What kept me really awake was an e-book which I liked reading very much. When we had some coffee earlier on, I asked Peter to take a picture of Gaby and me. Then I thought it would be nice if Honey was in the picture too. So I lifted her up. That made me laugh outragesly because it’s not normally my habit at all to lift Honey up. (Can’t remember ever having done it before.) Looking at the picture now, I really don’t like it very much, but I’m going to include it anyway for I don’t have any other pictures for today. I asked Gaby, would she mind if I put her pictures in my blog. Her answer was, that she didn’t mind at all, since she’s always being recognised by a lot of people anyway.

While I minded Honey, quite a few people talked to me about her,  recogning her as Gaby’s dog, petting her and asking about Gaby’s whereabouts. Yeh, Gaby is well known, that’s for sure. And not just in Merrylands but also in a lot of other suburbs of Sydney. In her electrified wheelchair Gaby travels around a lot on trains, busses and taxis. Nearly every day she goes out on her own somewhere. A collection box sits on the table in front of her, also her mobile phone. She collects money for a charitable organisation.  Some people approach Gaby on a regular basis to give her a donation. Honey, being fastened to Gaby’s wheelchair, always makes the rounds with Gaby. So no wonder that Gaby is a well known identity in Sydney.

Gaby was born 1957 in Berlin and came to Australia before she was two years old. On her fourth birthday she became very ill. The doctor who saw her at home, said the measles were around. That Gaby could not move at all, did not seem to make him suspicious. Then we called another doctor who established immediately that Gaby indeed could not move at all and an ambulance was called to take her to the hospital. It turned out she was struck down by polio. So that was fifty years ago!  – – – – –

It is amazing, what a well adjusted person Gaby is. She loves to live and do all the things that are possible for her to do. She loves eating and collecting recipies, going out with people, talking to people. In the evening she spends time with facebook, but Friday nights and sometimes weekends too she likes to go out. Overall she seems to enjoy life and makes the most of it.  I think that makes able bodied people perhaps wonder about their lives when they  find it hard to get enjoyment out of their lives.