Lillian Merle Gibson – formerly Thom, Hunter, nee Lane
1958 to 2005
As told by Merle Gibson to her son Grahame Thom during February 1997 in Melbourne and to a limited degree added to by Grahame.
While living at Holt Avenue, Cremorne, Bob decided to leave the trams (the writing was on the wall for the trams to cease operating in Sydney in the next couple of years) and get his own business. I supported this move by Bob as it would help him and our marriage.
Holt Avenue was sold in about August 1958 and we purchased a “corner store” shop for 8000 pounds at 250 Falcon Street, North Sydney. It was located on the north east corner of Falcon and Alfred Streets diagonally opposite St Leonards Park. We were there for only 20 months. Running a shop is hard work and we became tied. Also we could not take holidays. Leaving was prompted by the fact that we started to hear rumours that the land would be resumed for an expressway.
While at Falcon Street, in the early months Grahame had to get the bread from the bakery at Cremorne in the mornings, as he was the only family member with a driving licence. We purchased a second hand light green Hillman Minx station wagon prior to getting our licenses.
The trams ceased running on the north side of Sydney Harbour in 1961 and a couple of years later 250 Falcon Street was resumed for the construction of the Warringah Expressway in the mid 1960s.
We then purchased a private hotel, “Strathaird” at 10 East Crescent Street, McMahons Point in about May 1960 for 23,000 pounds, with a deposit of 5,000 pounds. We also purchased a new two tone green Austin Freeway stationwagon. I did most of the purchasing of supplies and the cooking and between us we did the cleaning and Bob kept the books.
We had about 20 guests in about 16 rooms. There were three floors with excellent views of the harbour and the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the flat roof. Along the north side of the ground floor from the front was the TV room, our bedroom, Grahame’s very small bedroom, bathroom, Carole’s bedroom, and laundry. On the south side were the dining room and the kitchen. The other two floors were occupied by guests in single rooms. By modern day standards the facilities were poor, as guests on each floor had to share a single bathroom and toilet.
There was a lane at the back of the block where we had 3 garages. We had small front and back yards; the front was quite steep, rising from the street.
Carole married Fred Mackinney on 9 March 1963 at St Phillips Church in the city. Grahame had joined the Commonwealth public service in August 1960 working for the Department of Civil Aviation at nearby Waverton and then got a promotion to the Commonwealth Government Printing Office in Canberra; he left Sydney in late March 1963.
The well known author, Richard Pape, became a regular guest from 1963 (he died on 19 June 1995 in Canberra aged 79 years).
Our marriage relationship became worse. I had formed a close relationship in 1966 with Alec Gibson an Irishman. Alec had joined the British Navy when he was 15 years old and trained to be a ship’s plumber. Some years later, his ship visited Hobart and together with his best mate Jock, he jumped ship. Alec got a job as a rigger on the building of the Tasman Bridge across the Derwent River and stayed there until the Bridge was finished. He went to Whyalla in South Australia, and then to the Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney for three years; Jock was with him all this time. Alec was a boarder in a house only 2 blocks away from where we had lived in West Street, Crows Nest.
In July 1967, Bob hit me and I suffered a burst eardrum and had to go to hospital. On discharge I did not return to the Hotel but got a flat with Alec opposite the Gore Hill Cemetery. I kept the Austin Freeway, which I traded in on a Renault 10 not long after coming out of hospital. I purchased the Renault from the Advanced Motoring trainer, who trained Grahame and I. It was a red wine colour, number EPR 085.
I got a job at East Willoughby, delivering car parts all over the northern suburbs. I really enjoyed driving; I drove a Voltswagon at work.
Strathaird was sold for 25,000 pounds and we took half each. Bob Wade of Tyrrell Real Estate helped me a lot at this time and we became good friends. We were not in the flat long as I purchased a semi detached brick house in Wood Street, Chatswood.
Bob purchased a sandwich shop in Naremburn, where most of the trade was from people making deliveries to factories nearby. He got into financial difficulties and asked me for money. Instead of giving Bob money I said I would work for him. Bob had a woman friend helping at the shop so he put her off.
I found that Bob employed a girl on the till and 5 girls preparing food in the back room. The till was packed with money. After a short time there I worked out that the girl on the till was taking money. After six weeks, with Bob’s agreement, I arranged for the business to be sold. I managed to get Bob’s money back.
I had a break for some weeks and then got a job for about 3 months managing a new Gordon and Gotch work canteen at St Leonards. Next I did voluntary work at the Smith Family at Chatswood in a big building, near the railway station, that had recently been Woolworths. The Smith Family was setting up a shop to be called the White Elephant selling second hand goods, obtained by donations or from deceased estates, and was to open in six weeks just on Christmas 1968. I was put on to price goods for sale. The Manager offered me a paid job and I stayed there till after Alec died.
Alec became quite ill and was diagnosed as having terminal cancer, probably caused by asbestosis from his days in the Navy. Alec and I decided we should marry after I gained my divorce, even though he was in hospital. I found Bob living with a lady he had met on a bus trip to Perth. Bob agreed to obtain the divorce so long as I paid for it. I agreed. Bob was represented by Mr Ash.
At the same time, as I now had power of attorney for Alec, we decided to sell a block of land Alec owned in Sandy Bay, Hobart. I signed the papers selling the block for 750 pounds, a week before Alec died.
Our divorce was finalised on a Thursday, Alec and I were married on Saturday at Wood Street, by the Royal North Shore Hospital chaplain (Church of England), and Alec died in hospital the following Saturday, in September 1969.
Then I helped Carole following the birth of their first child Adam who was born on 26 September 1969. Wanting a break from Sydney, I flew to Mount Isa for a 3 weeks holiday and liked what I found there. Not long after returning to Wood Street, I decided to go back to Mount Isa to see if I could find work there. I rented Wood Street and off I went in my car.
But I could not get a job and the money from selling Alec’s block, was running out after 5 months. So I drove back to Sydney; the car was full of bull dust after four days of travelling. As Wood Street was still leased I stayed with Carole and family at Turramurra.
I got a job with the CSIRO, near the Northern Suburbs Crematorium at Chatswood, testing the quality of bread dough. I stayed there until the end of 1970.
Then I met Hedley Hunter. I had gone to see the wife of Norm Strong (well known ex North Sydney and Australian Ruby League Test hooker) about making a dress and Hedley was there. I took him to the nearby railway station and we exchanged personal details. Hedley then courted me from Brymedura; a property he was managing just north of Manildra on the road to Molong, NSW. I visited Hedley there and towards the end of 1970 gave up my job at the CSIRO and moved in with Hedley at Brymedura.
After about a year or so Hedley decided that managing the property was getting too much for him and the market for cattle was depressed. So we moved to Sydney and got a flat in the hotel in Charles Street, Chatswood, as an interim step prior to moving back to Wood Street when the people renting it moved out at the end of the lease.
I purchased a second hand antique shop at Chatswood. Hedley’s financial position was not good and he liked to live the life of a gentleman. He got bored doing little at the antique shop so he worked for awhile at a second hand car dealer in order to supplement takings from the shop.
Hedley’s son Mervyn owned a house on a large block of land at Macquarie Fields. Prior to Merv, Hedley owned the block years ago. Merv wanted to move out so Hedley and I decided to move there in about 1974 to establish a riding school. It was on eastern side of Wills Road just south of Oakley Road and extended down to the Georges River. We called it the Macquarie Fields Riding School and were there for 7.5 years. It was a successful business with me doing the administration and Hedley looking after the horses and conducting the trail rides and training. We were able to board about 15 people in four bedrooms (double bunks), so during school holidays we took on groups of young people who were keen to ride horses.
In the later years we were there Hedley and I had some difficult personal incidents. He became very jealous. A local Sergeant of Police, a friend of the Hunters in past years, helped us a lot on a voluntary basis, especially with the disabled riding group sessions. Hedley kept a gun (not loaded) under his bed and used it to threaten me from time to time; he would get very nasty. He had another gun under the seat of his Holden stationwagon.
On one occasion Hedley became so nasty he removed the rota button from my car. I reacted by walking out with the intention of getting the train. However Hedley caught me and took me back to our house. After things cooled down I rang the Sergeant. He came immediately, talked to me, then to Hedley down at the stables. He recovered the rota button from Hedley and went off with the gun and bullets from the bedroom. Hedley could not get it back. Some time later my brother Edgar came and gave Hedley his un-used rifle.
While at the riding school I traded in my Renault for a new green Renault stationwagon. Then towards the end Hedley illegally traded in my Renault on a new white Toyota Celica car. Also at my insistence, we purchased in joint names a new one ton Toyota truck to replace the aging Holden stationwagon.
I could not continue our marriage so we decided to separate. I went to Edgar and Vi’s house at Loftus in the Celica and stayed there for a few days. My solicitor advised me to hide the car seeing that it was in Hedley’s name, so I left it at Loftus.
People at Beacon Hill were selling a house so they accepted my offer as part payment. I was there for only a short period during which time I cleaned it up and put it on the market. I was in the process of finalising the sale when Hedley found out. As he felt that he was not getting a fair deal as a result of our separation, he went to Court and obtained a caveat. In the meantime I had driven up to stay with Carole in Brisbane. In discussions with Hedley I pretended I was going to go back to him; but he only wanted more of my proceeds from the sale of Macquarie Fields. By prior agreement with Hedley, I retained the sale proceeds of $95,000 for the Riding School, while Hedley retained the 10 horses, associated gear, and the leased riding facility at Camden.
I wanted the caveat lifted so that I could get the proceeds to enable me to buy a house at Thornlands in Brisbane.
My solicitor advised me to go back to Hedley’s flat at Campbelltown but don’t share a bedroom, etc, in other words remain separated under the same roof. Hedley and I started to look for a new property, but I explained to Hedley that I could not provide the funds until the caveat was lifted. After 3 weeks Hedley had the caveat lifted on a Thursday. My solicitor advised me to come in when ready, to sign some papers and then leave immediately. On the following Saturday I said to Hedley I had some washing to do, so he went off by himself to his riding facility at Camden. I had about an hour to pack and leave in the Celica. I left a note and drove to Brisbane to Carole’s house.
Not long after, the purchase of my house in Thornlands was finalised and I moved there. Somehow Hedley found out from Edgar and Vi where the Celica was. They were keen for Hedley and I to get together again. Then he managed to find out from the removalist that I was living at Thornlands. He sold his horses and moved to live with his son on the Gold Coast.
I immediately traded in the Celica on a yellow Toyota Corolla. While at Thornlands Albert (Bert) Davison and I became friends and he later moved in with me. Bert had lived his whole life in Queensland and had worked as a forester. On our first trip to Canberra Bert found after a day he could not stand the cold so we went home immediately.
Some years later I fell outside a shop in Bloomfield Street, Cleveland and injured my wrist. After it healed I found I could not drive a car with gears. I put in a claim for compensation and received $6,000. As a result I traded in the Corolla on a white automatic Pulsar. About this time I sold Thornlands in a swap deal for a large house at 77 Squire Street, Scarness in Hervey Bay.
One night I was returning alone from Brisbane to home and somewhere north of Gympie I fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road. The Pulsar was only 7 months old and was write-off. I was taken to Gympie Hospital. My injuries were not serious and after a couple of days I was discharged. Bert drove from Scarness to pick me up.
With the insurance payout I purchased a new car. Squire Street was getting difficult for us to handle because of its large size, so we looked around for another place in Hervey Bay. I bought 10A Taylor Street, Pialba in 1987, a flat roofed brick house on a battleaxe block next to the Bowling Club. It was in a convenient location, being very close to the Pialba shops and the Bay. We really enjoyed living there.
Bert became ill in April 1992 and died in hospital in May. Over the next few years I deliberated in my mind and discussed with Grahame and Carole, the possibility of moving back to Brisbane. Taylor Street was difficult to sell and then when a couple decided to purchase I accepted their offer. The papers were signed but then they tried to get out of the contract as they had found another place. The matter was put in the hands of our solicitors and it delayed the sale. The time for me to move out (under the contract) was fast approaching and it looked like I would not be able to finalise the sale and let them forego the deposit. But at the last moment they said they would settle, giving me only 24 hours to move out, perhaps thinking I would not be able to move out in time. Luckily, I had the removalists lined up to act on short noticed, and so I managed to hand over the keys the next day.
I had selected a very nice unit in Rochedale South, near Carole’s home, so I was able to move there in early December 1996.
One of the most difficult decisions of my life was to give up my car. I had been giving it serious consideration when quite by accident, a young chap I met made me an offer of $3,000 so I lost my ability to get around easily – late 1999.
Merle Gibson died on 22 October 2005 aged 87 years in Brisbane.