One afternoon when Nanna had walked the two kilometres to visit me and we were having a cup of tea, Keith arrived home unexpectedly.
Nanna asked us: "How are you both getting on?"
"Her and me's mates!" Keith exclaimed. He drove Nanna home, and upon returning shortly came into the kitchen, looked at me, tilted his head and said:
"Well, if you're staying here you might as well make yourself useful. Get a hat and you can come out on the boat with me. We have to pick up the nets in an hour or so and you can untangle the fish as we go."
That was my introduction to many years of holidays and weekends spent working with Keith at hard physical labour of various kinds that all led in different ways to the occupations and interests I pursued in my life. None of these jobs I did with Keith exist any more but have become part of Phillip Island's history.
Whether it was because Keith felt sorry for me, or simply because I was young and fit and at a loose end, Keith happily took me on as a workmate and never mentioned that the jobs he asked of me were really 'men’s' jobs'. He simply expected me to pull my weight, do the work, and in return he paid me a share of the cheques when they came in.
Most of my contemporaries were spending their school holidays working in one of the many small retail businesses in Melbourne on suburban shopping strips in those days - delicatessens, grocers, haberdashery shops, babywear shops, clothing boutiques, newsagents, book and record stores – or tramming into central Melbourne each day to work as a junior for one of the major department stores. While they were stuck in menial inside jobs where they were paid a pittance and subjected to sexual and other forms of harassment, I was out in a beautiful environment and my fiercely protective uncle sheltered me from any unsavoury characters.
Netting fish, lugging kelp and wet cuttlebone, and drying chicory were all hard work; no doubt about that. Although I played softball at school and did all the housework at home, I was definitely not physically prepared for just how tough these jobs were. But over the weeks and years I became strong, fit and adaptable.
Fishing was the first job I did with Keith, and continued on and off for 15 years. He only had a 14 foot bondwood boat which he rowed as it had no motor. He fished for 'table fish' - whiting, flathead, pike, red mullet - which paid well for relatively small catches, and meant he did not often have to seine for larger quantities of less valuable fish such as mullet. Keith was the fourth generation in his family to fish in Western Port, dating back to the 1860s. He eventually sold his fishing licence to a keen young man from Rhyll, who is still licensed, although now of course all netting is stopped in Western Port so he fishes with a fishing rod.
Keith was an early member of the Phillip Island Conservation Society and quickly got me involved. I started fighting for the Phillip Island and Western Port environment at the age of
16. I am 66 this year, and still fighting after 50 years of environmental activism. There is no doubt that my years on Western Port, out on the edge of the channel with the dolphins, inshore with the gulls, sometimes visited by a hungry Albatross, watching the seals fluidly cruise the water and the huge black rays sliding under the boat, dipping the oars in a sea of bright green phosphorous at night - all of these experiences led to my great love of Western Port and my vow to fight for it as long as I live.
I wasn't the only woman helping on fishing boats in Western Port in those days. Various fishermen's wives helped out at times. But fishing wasn't all the work I did for Keith over the years of my early womanhood.
In my first year of spending my holidays and weekends with Keith, we helped a local elderly farmer, Ken, kiln-dry a crop of chicory. Ken was slight and weak, with a weakness that in the next ten years would leave him slumped in a chair watching TV all day. But on this day he was trying his best to help my uncle Keith and I load bags of his topped and harvested chicory roots onto the trailer at the back of his tractor. After his one solo attempt, he then pretended to be helping me, who was a new comer at the game. I let him pretend. I was young and brash, but already knew about the importance of dignity.
Ken had a little grey Massey Ferguson tractor, which he slowly climbed up onto, even though it was quite low to the ground. Keith and I started walking down the paddock towards the kiln, and Ken started the tractor and steered down past us; slowly so as not to upset the bags of chicory.
His cattle looked on as we opened the gate to the chicory kiln. They seemed to approach as though they were thinking of breaking in and demolishing the long succulent grass around the kiln, but Keith and I waved our hands and shouted "Getoutofit!" and they stopped, tossing their heads to show their disapproval.
Once at the kiln, Ken turned on the hose that fed into the big concrete trough. Keith began upturning the bags of chicory into the trough and using a special fork with 90 degree prongs to swirl the roots around and take off the rest of the dirt. The trough took about four bags at once, and the washing took about 10 minutes. Ken then went to the wall of the kiln and flicked a switch, starting the covered elevator that went from just above the trough to about half way up the roof of the kiln.
Keith started shovelling the chicory onto the elevator so that it could ascend to the slicing blades. Ken and I watched the top as the sliced chicory flew out of the chute and sprayed onto the kiln's mesh floor. Ken had designed and built this kiln himself years before, and it was an engineering marvel. The mesh floor was World War Two Airforce disposal material, used as a base to make a temporary runway in some jungle island. It was much stronger than the mesh used in most of Phillip Island's kilns.
Many of the island's chicory growers would not harvest their crop until after the autumn break - the rains we never seem to get nowadays. But Keith reckoned that was a 'mug's game', and insisted that Ken harvest before Easter. Otherwise the root just filled with water that took more wood to dry out. Since Keith was doing most of the work now, Ken decided to agree. Consequently, instead of harvesting in biting cold, wind and rain like the other growers, we were working in pleasant autumn weather. In fact, as Keith continued to wash chicory and shovel it up the elevator, sweat showed on his shirt, and he wiped his forehead with the back of his muddy hand.
Keith went inside the kiln where a staircase led up to the floor. This was now half covered with piled high sliced chicory root, which needed then to be spread evenly over the floor. I helped Keith, as this was no place for Ken. We each used a special wooden shovel with a metal strip on the lip, scooping and throwing shovelfuls of chicory into the corners of the floor, until we were standing shin deep in our gum boots in an even floor of the. strong smelling slices of root.
Keith had been chopping wood into three foot lengths for weeks for this. It takes two tons of wood to dry one ton of chicory, or three tons of wood if growers left the chicory roots in the ground to swell with rain. Phillip Island's trees paid a terrible price for farmers to continue the chicory industry for so long.
Keith had stacked the lengths of wood all in one direction under a tin shed. We went down to the lean-to from the kiln that housed the entry to the kiln fireplace. Ken got newspaper twists and armfuls of kindling and set them in the fireplace. Keith brought in a few dry logs and lay them over the kindling. With a quick flare of the match, the paper caught and within minutes the kindling crackled. Within fifteen minutes the logs were alight, and Keith was piling on several more.
Outside it was growing dark. Inside, the lean-to had an old couch and a kerosene box for a table.
"I'll be back soon," Ken told us. We stayed in the lean-to watching the fire as we heard the tractor start, stop at the gate, then trundle back up the hill to the house.
I was getting hungry and starting to wonder if I should offer to walk the kilometre back to our house and make up some sandwiches, when I heard the tractor trundling back again. Ken arrived in the doorway with two Wheat Bix boxes full of supplies. Pressed under his arm he carried a jaffle iron with long Bakelite handles. He carefully put them all on the kerosene box.
"If you want to get the jaffles ready," he said to me, "I'll be back shortly." And we heard the tractor trundle up the hill again. I greased the iron, buttered two slices of bread, put the bread either side of the iron and covered it with an egg, bacon, cheese and pineapple from a tin. The tricky bit was closing it quickly, but Keith and I often used our own jaffle iron to make hearty snacks after fishing, so we were experts. Once snibbed closed, the iron was placed onto the coals already formed at the entry to the fireplace.
Ken was back within minutes, carrying a bundle wrapped in a hessian sack. He gently placed it at the end of the couch away from the fire.
Meanwhile we had a factory conveyor belt happening with the jaffles, and we were all able to tuck in to a cooked jaffle within about 15 minutes, thanks to the hot coals. Ken had also brought a thermos and a Mylanta bottle of milk, and ferreting the tea caddy and some cups out of the hut near the kiln, quickly organised us all a welcome cup of tea.
But the best was yet to come. Out of the other Wheatbix box, Ken produced two packets of crumpets and a jar of honey. A long, home-made wire fork lent against the outside wall of the fireplace, and we quickly put it into service toasting the crumpets on the coals before Keith had to put more logs on the fire. We dawdled over our delicious crumpets, savouring every sweet mouthful.
The heat from the open fire warmed the little lean-to despite all the holes and gaps letting in the cold night air. We were tired from a hard day's work, but sated from our hearty feast, so we just relaxed on the couch and stared for a while into the dancing flames, occasionally speaking of the day, the crop, how long we should keep the fire going, when we should turn the chicory - it was all new to me.
After about an hour, Ken reached over to the sack and produced his squeeze box. I knew lots of the old tunes from many occasions singing around the piano with all of my relatives at my maternal grandparents' parties, and so of course did Ken, who used to play at all the dances once held weekly at the Ventnor Hall.
Ken squeaked out a few random notes, getting a feel for pumping his ancient little instrument. Then he burst out with "When Irish Eyes are Smiling", and Keith and I sang along. Well, I sang along, and Keith, who could never keep a tune, more or less said the words in time. This was followed by "Ain’t we got fun?", "Take me out to the ballgame", "When I grow too old to dream", "When you were sweet sixteen" (the age I was then) and so on, well into the night, while Keith kept piling on the wood, and we stopped to indulge in another round of crumpets and honey.
It was well past midnight by the time Ken and I said goodnight to Keith, who had to stay and feed the fire. He would sleep on the old couch. Ken trundled off on his tractor back up the hill, and I nervously walked home in the moonlight with no torch. In those days I had excellent night eyes, and could easily make out the shapes of the cattle grazing or lying in the paddocks as I walked.
I was back to help Keith turn the floor of hot chicory the next day to help it dry evenly. A few days later, Ken's revolutionary design allowed the floor to roll out over the wooden floor below for the chicory to be tipped out and bagged. Soon the whole crop would have been dealt with the same, and all on its way to the Chicory Marketing Board in Melbourne.
That was the first and last crop of chicory I ever handled, and it turned out to be Ken's last crop he would ever grow after fifty years of being in the industry. I remember the hard work in the paddock, the sweat running off me as I turned the chicory on the floor, and the scooping of the dried chicory chips into their Chicory Marketing Board bags hung on round spiked hoops suspended from beams. But most of all I remember our night of mple feasting and song in the lean-to while Ken coaxed old tunes from his wheezy squeeze box, which he never played again.
Many women and children too helped with the annual chicory harvest for over 100 years on Phillip Island. It was the annual booster cheque that got them through the year, and the unsatisfactory transport by ferry in the early days, during which time the uncovered chicory sometimes got wet and went mouldy, was one of the main reasons that the first Phillip Island bridge was built in 1939. It was my involvement in the last crop for Ventnor which sparked my life-long interest in the history of Phillip Island and led to many years of active research on many topics and work for the local history society and museum.
Collecting of 'stormcast' kelp by hand was a lot more unorthodox, especially for a woman. As far as I know, Keith was one of the few people in Western Port to have this as an occupation, and I was almost certainly the only woman to be involved in the industry locally. We did this over a number of summers, and I particularly recall one summer when I was on university break in 1973.
The sun baked the black rocks and the glistening yellow sand. Glare bounced off the rock pools and the sleepy waves washed in from the silver sea. Oil tankers and gas tankers occasionally slid up the channel past us as we worked. The seagulls gathered in loose pods further up the beach from us, and terns sometimes flapped overhead on their way to Seal Rocks. Penguins came to the entrances of their burrows to escape the heat of the sandy earth.
The basalt rocks above the stretch of sandy beach resembled a landscape from another planet, with ribbons of glistening dark brown kelp stretched out, drying in the sun, as we added more and more along the rocks. Our hats and our shirts were drenched with sweat, and our eyes stung from the salt sweat running down our foreheads.
Busses regularly stopped on the road to the Nobbies above us, the passengers gawking out at the strange activity below. They saw a middle aged man with a decided limp and a young woman with long brown hair. They pulled together at a length of rubbery kelp tangled together with scores of others. They pulled in unison, then rippled the free length of kelp in the air like athletes training with heavy ropes. Then they pulled in unison again. Eventually the kelp gave way from its surrounding lengths, and the man and young woman took hold of the root end and dragged it up over the sand and lay it on the rocks alongside the others.
Each length of kelp weighed about 15-20 kilos when wet like this, and by sunset there was fifty lengths of kelp lying straight on the rocks.
We drove home before the penguins arrived so that we did not run over any of them on the road, which was not closed off at dusk in those days. Plenty of drivers did run over them in the night, in their quest to find somewhere to watch the penguins arrive without paying at the Penguin Parade.
The next morning I was lying in bed thinking about getting up. It was about 6.30 a.m. Keith was already up and about and I could hear him cracking eggs into the poacher and turning toast in the toaster. Suddenly I heard a clatter and a bash. I leapt out and raced into the kitchen to find Keith barely conscious on the floor. We did not have a phone in those days, and the neighbours were not early risers. I quickly concluded that Keith had had a massive hypo, so had no choice but to run over to their house and knock frantically until Gloria shuffled out. She rang the ambulance as I went back to Keith. He was breathing fast and shallow, and was very pale and sweaty. I tried not to panic, but just knelt beside him telling him that the ambulance would be here soon and he would be OK.
The ambulance officer took about 20 minutes to arrive, and when I told him that Keith was a severe diabetic, he immediately squirted in glucose into the side of his mouth with a syringe. He took Keith's blood pressure and checked his pulse. After about 15 minutes Keith started to stir, swallow and look about him. He registered me but seemed very puzzled and confused to see the ambulance officer there. It was decided to take Keith into Warley Hospital to see what the doctor thought.
Keith ended up in hospital for two days. Two days in which the kelp in the rock pool gutters would start to rot and be no good to us. Leaving Keith sleeping in Warley, I went home and ate a hearty breakfast, then drove out to the kelp beach. Another stinking hot day.
I set about the grim task of separating the long ribbons of kelp from their surrounding kelp mass. With only one of me, and without Keith's huge strength, the work was almost impossible at first. It was about nine a.m. and not many people were about, so no one to see my feeble struggles. My fingers ached from gripping the kelp and my arms and shoulders ached from pulling the tangled mass. But I kept at it, and by midday when I stopped to eat my sandwiches and drink tea from a thermos, I had untangled the kelp sufficiently so that the rest would come away quite easily.
By now there was not much room left on the rocks, as scores of kelp ribbons lay drying in the sun. By mid-afternoon I had hauled enough to fill the available space, and decided it was time to visit Keith.
Partly because I didn't want Keith worrying, and partly because I wanted a pleasant surprise to be waiting for him when he was better, I did not actually tell Keith that I had hauled the last of the kelp and we now had a good load drying on the beach. He did ask me what I had been doing, and I lied terribly - housework, I said. Then I immediately wondered how I was going to get around to actually do a day's worth of housework to justify my excuse.
The next day, Gloria came across at about 9 a.m. to tell me that the nurse had rung and that Keith could go home today. I drove in to Warley, where Keith was waiting in the lounge room, already dressed and looking a much better colour. He greeted me cheerfully, thanked the nurses, and went out the hospital door into another hot morning.
As we drove home, Keith said "Well, I'm right now, so we can go out and get the rest of the kelp."
"Oh, OK," I responded, and kept driving past Ventnor and headed out towards the Nobbies. I parked up the top and we started to walk down the track.
"What's gone on here?" Keith asked, stopping in his tracks, surveying the long stretch of kelp ribbons drying on the rocks - twice as much as when he last saw it.
"Well, I thought I'd do some more yesterday," I confessed, wondering how Keith would take it. I know he worried about me over-exerting myself. (I didn't worry about it much then, but I'm paying for it now in my sixties.)
"You're a real brick!" he exclaimed, thumping me on the back. With that, he turned back to the car with me following, and we drove off home to morning tea.
The next edition of 'fun' for the kelp business was picking it all up and loading it on the trailer on the back of the tractor, which accessed the beach via an old quarry track and along a stretch of sand between the rocks and the vegetation where the penguins had their burrows. By the time the kelp had dried for 4-5 days in the hot sun, it was rock hard and scratched every square millimetre of exposed skin. At least it was really light, and even I could throw a 3 metre length high up on top of the growing pile on the trailer. The trick was to make sure all the holdfast ends were all facing the same way. Keith tied them down with that special magic knot that truckies used in those days, that allowed you to somehow loop the rope then pull it tight. I never did get the hang of it.
I drove in the car and waited at Ken's kiln for Keith to arrive with the tractor and trailer. The hammermill was in position waiting. If only I knew then what I know now, I would never have attempted to put dried kelp through a hammermill without ear protection! As the kelp lengths were fed through the mill, a droning howl split the air which Ventnor residents told
us could be heard all over the township. Even when no kelp was going through the mill it roared. But it was quick and by the end of the day all of the kelp had been reduced to one inch fragments. Keith then hooked up a strong light over the kiln door, hung a bag hoop from the doorway, and we shovelled dried, milled kelp for hours into thick hessian bags, bought especially from the greengrocer for the task.
By midnight the kiln lean-to was full of bags of kelp, waiting to be picked up by the truck driver known as "The Spook", because his surname was Spokes and he always stared without blinking. Finally we had sewed the tops of all the bags with a bag hook each and some hay band, and they were ready to go to the factory in Melbourne where the kelp was used for supplements and manufactured into various materials.
And Keith and I, covered in kelp dust, were ready to go home, stoke up the woodchip heater, hand-pump the water up into the header tank, enjoy a hot shower each, a feed each of chops and eggs, and fall into our cumfy beds for the few hours sleep before daybreak.
The experience of collecting kelp on the beach near the Nobbies instilled in me a great respect for and a fascination with Little Penguins. In my thirties, from 1984-1989, and living on Phillip Island full-time, I was accepted onto the Penguin Reserve Committee of Management, which the Minister for Conservation had set up to take control of the management of Summerland, including the Penguin Parade, from the Phillip Island Council, which had shown itself to be clearly not qualified in environmental management. My experience on the Committee taught me perseverance, co-operation and negotiating skills which were up to that point not in my repertoire. And we did great things for the Little Penguins.
A quite common supplement to various people's incomes in the Bass Coast area in the twentieth century was the collection of cuttlefish bone. This was not only done on Phillip Island, but as far as Walkerville, which in those days was just wild paddocks of tussocks and blowing sand dunes. Keith had an ex-army Blitz truck and he and his brother went over to Walkerville after every big storm to collect the cuttlefish bone which would thickly litter the beach. They pioneered the track used as the access road today, and would winch the Blitz up and down from the beach. They could drive along the beach which saved lugging heavy bags of wet cuttlefish. That was not possible on Phillip Island, where all cuttlefish bone collecting was done on foot.
By the time I arrived in Keith's working life the Blitz had been driven to a stop in the paddock never to go again and the Walkerville days were behind him. He only collected on Phillip Island's beaches, so naturally I fell into step with him on the cuttlefish bone collecting too.
This was in the 1970s to early 1980s and he had a ready buyer in a monumental mason in High Street Armadale who used the cuttlebone to polish headstones.
In those days before climate change set in we could rely completely on 'mutton-bird gales' in September-October when the birds arrived and in April when they left. There were also gales that blew for a week at a-time In July and August; months when we rarely wet a net. It was these gales that blew in the 'cuttlebone' from Bass Strait.
We would wait til the tide was going out, then drive to a beach access point along the Bass Strait or Ventnor to Flynn's Beach coasts. Two chaff bags each slung over our shoulders, and Keith would head off in one direction, and I in the other. As we walked our separate ways we would gather the cuttlebone into piles on the beach to collect on the way back. The cuttlebone would be scattered along between the high water mark and low tide, so our footprints looped up and down the beach as we went, and disappeared on patches of basalt. Some days the sun shone weakly through the cold, and other days sleet lashed our exposed faces.
As we went we estimated how much we could fit in our bags and stopped and turned back when we felt we'd gathered up enough to fill the big chaff bags.
Then the hard work began. Stopping at each pile, dropping the bag gently on the sand, holding the top open against the wind with one hand and carefully stacking the cuttlebone in with the other. Hoisting the ever-heavier bag over a shoulder and trudging to the next pile, and so on until both bags were full. With one over each shoulder and us bent double with the weight we would meet at the bottom of the track to the car park and then have the job of lugging the bags up the access track to the car.
One day Keith suggested I could take my own car and collect from Kitty Miller Bay eastward while he covered Ventnor's beaches. I loved the Kitty Miller section of coast he suggested because of the richness of Thorny's and Hutchinson's Beaches, the middens in the foredunes, and a few small coves full of dunnage funnelled in from Bass Strait where crates had washed off ships' decks. Here were rich pickings - not just of cuttlebone, and not the timbers or the shells on the tide line, but also of storm-killed seabirds washed in on huge seas. It was this stretch of beach and my seabird gleanings there that encouraged me to buy my first bird identification book: A Field Guide to Australian Birds - Non-Passerines by Peter Slater.
The weather had been ferocious for a week, but on this day it was calm and the sea lapped tenderly onto the smooth sand at low tide. By the time I reached the eastern end of Thorny's Beach I decided I had enough cuttlebone to go back on my tracks, collecting and bagging up the cuttlebone as I went.
As I struggled over the varied sized boulders of the most prolific dunnage cove my eye landed on a dark matted insignificant pile of feathers and bone. It was not the colour of the bird, or its bedraggled condition that drew me up the steep boulder beach for a closer look, but its small size. At first glance and with wet darkened plumage it could have been a shearwater. But I knew it wasn't big enough. And as I drew closer, I realised it was actually grey, not brown. Its bill was thicker and more compressed than a shearwater's. This, I knew, was a Petrel. But what sort? None that I had seen before.
Excited now, but faced with a quandary of how to get the bird home to identify it and continue to collect the cuttlebone, I carefully folded the broken bundle of bird into the top of my overalls between my breasts and continued on with my job with more haste than usual.
As soon as I got home I headed for Slater, bird in hand. This wonderful little but fat book was published in 1970 and I still refer to it, because it has an excellent 9 page pen and ink drawing guide to the bills in actual size of all the main seabirds, arranged around the three edges of the pages so that the 'birdo' can hold the bird against the drawing and get an accurate comparison of the bill. On the Petrels pages I narrowed it down to five possible Petrels before I decided it could only be one: Kerguelen Petrel, Pterodroma brevirostris. The accompanying map showed nothing remotely near Phillip Island. This was certainly a discovery!
Collecting cuttlebone is only part of the job. The rest involves spreading it over a well ventilated floor with a hard surface and waiting several days for it to dry out somewhat. Then with a hearth brush, sitting on low stools, we had to gently brush over each piece top and bottom to remove any sand and any tiny barnacles that may have clung to it as it floated on the sea's surface. Once cleaned it had to be carefully and neatly stacked into thick hessian bags with two very large pieces, about 35 centimetres long, laid across the top to allow for cross-stitching hay band to join the two sides of the bag. Cuttlebone can break easily, and the monumental masons preferred big, fat pieces they could hold in their big hands and easily rotate over the marble or the granite.
While this was all happening, I had to curtail my excitement. I bagged my Kerguelen Petrel in a plastic bag, wrapped it in newspaper and stowed it in the freezer.
Keith and I usually loaded the bags of cuttlebone into Keith's panel van and drove them up in the middle of the night to the lane at the back of the monumental mason's business where we dozed until they opened at 7.30 a.m. Not having a phone we never contacted them ahead, but they never seemed surprised to see us. Quickly and carefully they unloaded the bags of precious cargo, weighed them and reported the weights to the office lady. In a trice she brought out our cheque and we were on our way. But this day it was not homewards. We were headed to the Melbourne Museum in Russell Street.
Amazingly, in the 1970s, you could get a park in Russell Street at 8.00 a.m. so we parked and we ate our packed sandwiches and drank our thermos tea while we waited in the car for the museum to open at 10 a.m. As soon as the door was propped open, I was out with my newspaper bundle running for the stairs.
Despite my unexpected arrival and dishevelled appearance, Ornithologist curator Dr Alistair McEvoy did come up from his basement workshop in his dust coat, greeted me civilly, and led me down. We unwrapped the pathetic bundle and with one glance he beckoned me to follow. He took me straight past many rows of grey cabinets to one cabinet of long shallow drawers and pulled one drawer out. There in neat rows, were perfect Kerguelen Petrels with white cotton wool eyes and their little feet tucked neatly against their tummies. They were exquisite, and I was instantly smitten with museum practice - a love affair that has lasted all my life and led me to be a museum curator and earn a Lifetime Achievement Award in the field.
Yes, I had identified the bird correctly, and yes, it was a rare sighting for Phillip Island.
Elated, I took the wheel and drove Keith and I home through the city traffic, singing all the way. We had a hefty cuttlebone cheque for all our work, and I had not only discovered a new bird sighting record for Phillip Island, but also had the privilege of glimpsing the workings of a large museum.
But being basically a farming community, women did a lot of hard physical work alongside their husbands and offspring. Unfortunately they did not receive acknowledgement for this in society until about the 1980s. Like those women farmers, I also did my share of hay carting, harrowing and fencing during my university and subsequent employment and leave breaks.
The work Keith accepted unquestioningly that I could do with him paid my living expenses for my four-year university course at La Trobe University; the radical campus of its era. In keeping with many young people from working class backgrounds of my generation I was the first person in both my parents' families to gain a university degree, thanks.to fee-free university courses having been introduced by the Whitlam Government.
Not only did that mean escaping the poverty I had experienced growing up but it also meant that I could study history with some of the great Australian historians - such as Inga Clendinnen and John Hirst. I also studied sociology; a relatively new subject. Both streams enabled me to dissect society and understand its workings and injustices, including the systemic inequality of men and women and the abuse of the environment throughout Australia's colonial history to the present.
I was incredibly fortunate as a teenager and young woman to land on this particular island at that particular time and work with some of the last great characters to live on Phillip Island in the pre-seachange era. There is no doubt that the locals regarded me as an eccentric free spirit, but due to their great respect for Keith they always treated me well and shared their lives with me.
My life's course of activism in the realms of heritage and environment on Phillip Island and in Western Port was set in my younger life, working for years in those hard, physical jobs so close to nature.
A member of Ibis Writers for about 28 years, Christine has edited, produced and/or written six non-fiction books, including An Island Worth Conserving; a history of the Phillip Island Conservation Society 1968-2008, which won the collaborative category of the Victorian Community History Awards in 2009.