This story starts in 1955 when I was five years old. At that time I lived with my parents who owned a service station combined with a car dealership on the Great Western Highway at Penrith NSW near the Nepean River. Our home adjoined the business on the same property.
At that time I felt surrounded by a huge extended family and circle of friends which included my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who were always around and never far away. My father was a good business man and was well liked by everyone who worked for him or did business with him. Most of the town knew him and most of the town were familiar with my family from my mother’s side as well as she and her twin sister and two brothers had grown up in what was Penrith as a very small and friendly country town during the earlier depression years. My maternal grandfather and his father were master builders who had built many of the buildings in old Penrith. My maternal grandmother was very well known for her community work and work with the ambulance.
When I look back over the years I realise that it was an idyllic existence. We were not rich but we had enough to live on reasonably well. No one was sick and we all cared for each other. The years were full of little highlights like Christmas and birthdays. There was also the big regatta (we called it boat race day) when half of Sydney converged on tiny Penrith to watch the elite Sydney schools compete in the rowing races on the Nepean River. There was of course Empire Night (or cracker night) when we built our bonfires and let off our cherished fire works and had half a day off school as well. Our time together then was spent in simple pleasures like picnics and swims at the river, bush walks, picking wild flowers in the bush (it wasn’t illegal then), bed time stories from my grandmother, tending the garden and regular trips in the family car. That period in a person’s life is called “The Garden of Childhood” and rightly so.
Now at this time in my life there came a person who I can now see had a profound influence on my life; her name was Marjory Thompson. Unfortunately I have had no contact with her since those far off times. I have no idea where she is or how to contact her or even if she is still alive. When I was five years old Marjory was a young adult of around nineteen years of age so that makes her fourteen years older than me so she aught to still be living.
I remember Marjory as tall and fairly thin with dark brown hair. She wasn’t strikingly beautiful in the super model sense but she was very beautiful to me. She took a ‘big sisterly’ and ‘motherly’ interest in me as a young child and I could talk to her. She used to make me little things to play with. I remember in particular she made me out of circles of paper a little perpetual calendar with which I was most impressed. I credit her with my early interest in numbers and I later became a teacher of Mathematics.
Marjory was in my life for probably only around five years and she lived with her mother who I only knew as Mrs Thompson. She was a fairly stern slightly older woman (slightly older than my parents) who worked for my father as his secretary. I found Mrs Thompson a bit unapproachable but she was kind enough to me especially at Christmas time or birthdays. At those times she usually gave me quite a good present which did not overly please my mother as the presents she gave were usually more expensive than the ones my mother could afford for me. I sensed that my mother didn’t like Mrs Thompson and that she felt in some way threatened by her. However my mother always maintained a polite, if distant, attitude towards her.
There was no Mr Thompson. I remember asking my parents about this several times as a child but was always given the casual adult brush off. Basically it was don’t ask, he’s gone, he was never here or whatever and as a child I left it at that.
I enjoyed Marjory’s company while I had it and life carried on over time as it inevitably does with the days, weeks and months drifting into years. My father sold the business and opened up another one near to the centre of High Street Penrith. Mrs Thompson went with him for a time as his secretary but then after that both Mrs Thompson and Marjory were gone from my life forever.
But the story doesn’t end there or at least I don’t think it does. What follows is a mixture of probable fact (although based on hearsay) and my own conjecture based on certain events and occurrences ‘adding up’ as it were. Both my parents are gone now as are all of my father’s siblings so even the so called facts cannot be checked. My father (known as Jack in his family) had three brothers and a sister.
So now the story fast forwards twenty three years to 1978. At this time I was twenty eight years old. My father’s sister had had a large family which was not too unusual in those days but I didn’t have much contact with these children who were my cousins while we were growing up. In 1978 one of these cousins told me a story which her mother had told to her about an event which supposedly had occurred back in my father’s home town of Cootamundra when my father and his siblings were still children.
It would have been a huge scandal back then but the story was that when my father was fifteen years old he got a local girl pregnant! This was of course many years before he met my mother. The girl eventually gave birth to a baby girl. What they would have done about it back then I have no idea. My father as a fifteen year old would not have been in a position to offer any financial support. Remember there was no dole or single mother’s pension or indeed anything at all back then. I can only guess that the girl’s parents must have offered her support while the baby was young. When this information was originally given to me in 1978 I was initially a little sceptical about it. My father had died back in 1972 and I reasoned that if it were true it was probably something that my mother would not want to hear about. So I filed it away and basically forgot about it.
Over the years since then I occasionally thought about the possibility that I might have a half sister somewhere out in the world. As an only child it was sometimes an encouraging thought. And then one day it suddenly occurred to me that there may be a connection. When I was born my father was twenty nine years old. He was supposed to be fifteen when the baby girl was born. That is a fourteen year difference!
I thought about the kind of man my father was. I thought about how strong and protective he always was and about how he had always been there for me. He never had much spare cash about him in fact he barely had enough to support my mother and me. He certainly would not have been rich enough to support another family as well. So then I thought, if there really was a woman out there with his young child, what would he do?
He wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay maintenance but then I know for absolute fact that he would never have abandoned them either. So what would he have done? My father was a deep thinker and a quiet achiever who could always think quietly outside the square. I reasoned that the mother and daughter would not have been far away. He would have had them close by; in fact he would have given her a job! My father was in business with his garage and he had to have and pay his staff. He would have given the mother a job which would most likely have been as a secretary as that is what most women did in those days.
It all seems to fit. And so it is that I have strong reason to suspect that I do indeed have a half sister in the world and that for a few short years I had the great privilege of knowing her.
To Marjory Thompson! I hope that you are well and that life has been kind to you. Half sister or not I really wish that I could see you again some day.
Gary J McCleary.