Just before 3pm on Wednesday 15th December, on a beautiful sunny afternoon opposite the Fitzroy Gardens just to the east of Melbourne’s CBD, Marjorie Veronica (Billie) Curnow’s spirit left her stroke ridden body behind, flew out the window and entered the next life.
Born, in Ultima in North Western Victoria on the 28th March 1916, the youngest of seven children, she was the child of an Irish community. She remained proud of her Irish heritage throughout her life. Although she loved her father, his English/Scottish lineage didn’t seem to enter the equation. His death when she was only seven, must have been a major part in the formation of her self image. Regardless, being ‘Irish’ was always figured strongly in our upbringing.
In true Irish tradition, Mum knew both great happiness and great sadness during her life. The great tragedies of her life were the death of her father, her handsome young husband returning disfigured from the war, a series of miscarriages and the death of our brother, Roger, from a long illness in 1975.
Despite these events Mum found time to be happy. She would tell us stories of fun and hijincks as a child. When her mother moved to Melbourne and took over a cake shop in King Street they took rooms in the People’s Palace. Years later Mum had a good giggle telling us they later found out the top floor was used by ‘ladies of the night’.
Happy sad is the story of her walking with her younger sisters from their home in Lennox Street, Richmond to visit her eldest sister in Ascot Vale. Mum’s mother had only one useable leg, having being dropped as an infant and never had the injury properly set. Because of this, her mother had to take the tram this day but couldn’t afford the fare for the children.
Christened ‘Marjorie Veronica’ her dad nicknamed her ‘Billie’ apparently after Prime Minister Billie Hughes. The nickname stuck and she was known by it throughout her life. It was a term of affection but I always thought it a little sad that she did not use Marjorie more often because she grew into a very attractive young lady.
And as she grew up so came the next series of happy events for her. From all accounts she wasn’t short of suitors although she was quite choosy. There was the young man with one arm. One day they were out driving with her sister, Nancy and brother-in-law Jim who also had only one arm. At one stage they had a minor accident. Mum thought it was extraordinarily funny when the driver of the other car nearly fainted when his first thought was that two men had lost their arms in the collision. Finally Mum met Dad. Joy will continue that story.
Mum’s abiding happiness , though, was found in her children and grandchildren and providing for them. After three boys, Mum’s happiness is remembered always in the name she gave our little sister ‘Joy’. Even though money was always tight, Mum made sure that birthdays and Christmases were always happy times at 17 Henry St, Highett.
As her children we will always be grateful for the 20 years of happiness that Mum and Dad had following Dad’s retirement.
Mum’s memory will live with me always. She has been the single most import influence on the formation of my beliefs and values