Mum’s death and Dinny

Mum’s death and Dinny

 In the middle of 1977 after the bushfire which destroyed so much of our farm, Mum started to have pain in her lower abdomen. She tried to ignore it but it gradually got worse. She started taking pain killers to help her through it. She went to the local General Practitioner, a Welshman called Robin Handscombe who had been the doctor in the Willaura-Glenthompson district for many years. He was generally an agreeable man, although not particularly skilled. He checked Mum out, but could find nothing wrong with her, so sent her home. The pain continued, gradually getting worse and a couple of months later, Mum returned to the doctor. He checked her out again and, again finding nothing wrong with her, declared “Oh, you ex-nurses, you always imagine there’s something wrong with you” and sent her home.  Mum had done her nursing training at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne and her Midwifery training at St Andrews. Neither of those hospitals still exist, but training in those days was rigorous and thorough and nurses had very good insight into a patient’s condition, even their own. Mum knew there was something wrong with her, but experience had taught her that, even if you disagree, you always defer to the doctor. So, she shut up and tried to bear it as best she could. She resorted to stronger pain killers. In October she went back to the doctor for a third time because she was in so much pain and he virtually shouted at her and told her to get out and stop wasting his time. A year later, Sue and I went to visit him because we were both suffering from the flu. He threw us out and told us he didn’t have time to attend to us. When Mum told of her pain to Dad, who was not a helpful person at the best of times, he simply said that because of the bushfire we were all suffering and she would just have to grin and bear it. So she did. I knew something was wrong but when I pressed Mum about it she told me not to worry. Being traumatised by my years at College, I was not as attuned to Mum’s problem as I would like to have been.

In January 1978, she and Dad went to church one Sunday. By this time she was jaundiced – the cancer had spread to her liver, causing her to look quite yellow. A friend who saw her was horrified and promptly dragged Dad aside after church and gave him an earful about how sick Mum was and told him – no, ordered him to take Mum to Ballarat to a proper doctor the very next day. This shocked Dad into action and he did as he was told. Mum arrived at the Ballarat Base Hospital on Monday morning and the specialist took one look at her and promptly put her into hospital. On Tuesday they performed an exploratory operation and discovered cancer in the uterus, ovaries, liver, kidneys, pancreas and was spreading to the lungs. Mum was advised that afternoon to get her affairs in order because she had a maximum of two months to live.

I was away on holidays and when I returned on the Wednesday evening, I learnt of Mum’s illness. We were all in shock. Auntie Joan came over from Tasmania straight away to be by Mum’s side. Mum stayed in hospital for another week or so and then came home, ostensibly to die.

There is definitely something mysterious about the bond between twins. As mirror image twins, Mum and Auntie Joan had spent their whole lives together. They trained together at the same hospital, worked together, did everything together and were only physically separated once they were married. Even then, they still wrote to each other 3 times every week without fail and rang each other every 10 days. Apart from a slight downturn on the left side of Mum’s mouth from polio she had when she was 21, Mum and Auntie Joan looked exactly alike and people in the street would confuse them every time. Mum’s finger prints on her left hand were identical with the finger prints on Auntie Joan’s right hand and vice versa. Mum used to knit sweaters for both of them and Auntie Joan would make a dress for both of them, usually of the same material and pattern. We children knew the difference between them and those closest to us did, but to the rest of the world they were an enigma. If Mum was having a bad day, Auntie Joan would be on the phone that night wanting to know what was wrong. She knew Mum was suffering through her pain but didn’t understand why. Mum became withdrawn and even shut herself off from Joan because she didn’t want her to worry.

For the next two months, Joan lived with us full time, caring for Mum. She helped her to bathe, fed her, dressed her, gave her medicines and slowly watched her die. Mum became thinner and thinner as the cancer spread. Her breathing became laboured as her lungs were engulfed. She was given a colostomy in the hospital and was permanently jaundiced.  As word spread that Mum was dying, people from the local township and district and many relatives came to pay their last respects. Mum’s sisters came up and stayed with us from time to time. Sue and I were away at boarding school, but now were coming home every single weekend.

Auntie Joan guarded Mum like a jealous lover. She protected Mum from everybody except Dad, even Sue and me. If she felt Mum was too tired, she would usher us out of Mum’s room and we were banished like naughty kids until Mum felt a little better. Visitors were given a strict time limit and were swiftly removed when that time was up. I understood exactly why she did it, but I had been extremely close to Mum for my whole life and suddenly I was being denied access to her. Auntie Joan was also grieving incredibly. She was losing half of her whole life – her rock, her anchor was being taken away from her. She told me many times later how she suffered so much after Mum’s death.

One weekend, the local minister, a young woman recently out of bible college, came to visit – not so much to visit Mum but to visit Sue and me. Without invitation, she sat us down and starting giving us a lecture about God’s need to take his children to Heaven and how we needed to accept Mum’s death. She then wanted to know if we had any questions. We were so stunned we didn’t know what to say. So she left. We didn’t see her again.

Two local ladies who were devout members of the Catholic Church had recently completed a pilgrimage to Lourdes, in France. They brought back with them some holy water. They were so kind that they brought the holy water out for Mum to drink, in the hope that it might help cure her. Mum and Auntie Joan were both touched by this beautiful gesture and thanked the ladies profoundly.

I remember when Auntie Eva came to visit. She is Eric’s sister, had trained with Mum and Auntie Joan in the same hospital and was a lovely, lovely woman. She had not been able to come up and see Mum until late in her illness and she was extremely shocked and distraught when she saw Mum. After she left Mum’s bedroom, she came out to the verandah and burst into tears. I had never seen Auntie Eva cry before. I remember this image as vividly as if it were yesterday because it really cemented in my mind the reality of the fact that the end was near. It hit home to me very strongly that I was soon to lose my mother.

February passed and March came. Mum was getting weaker. On the 10th of March Sue and I came home for Easter. Dad met us at the bus station and announced that Sue would spend the night at a friend’s house and I would come home with him. Sue never saw Mum again. Upon arrival I visited Mum’s room and saw her lying peacefully, barely awake. Her face was thin, lined with wrinkles as though she had spent too much time under water. She recognized me and told me that I was a good boy. She spoke in a whisper, her mouth dry, almost silently mouthing the words. I felt so far from her, so removed. I was looking at the shell of what was formerly my mother and I silently gave up. I knew she was already lost to me. We had dinner quietly that evening – Dad, Auntie Joan, Auntie Edna who had also come up to stay and me. I’ve never felt so alone.

After we cleared up the dishes we went into Mum’s room about 9:30pm. Mum was breathing quietly. We just sat. Dad was very teary, holding a handkerchief to his nose from time to time. Mum’s breathing became more pronounced with a slight murmur. It continued like this for nearly an hour, until it got weaker and weaker and finally at 18 minutes to 11:00 she stopped breathing. At that moment, she turned grey and all of the yellow that I had become accustomed to faded away.  Dad and Auntie Joan hugged. The doctor was rung and he came over to pronounce Mum dead. The funeral directors also arrived and I was asked to leave Mum’s room whilst Auntie Joan and Dad put Mum’s favourite nightie on her before she was taken away to the undertakers.  Despite my sorrow, I was very grateful that Dad and Auntie Joan had the good sense to allow me to witness Mum’s death. I would have felt extremely cheated otherwise. She died two months to the day after diagnosis by the specialist.

The next day, Auntie Joan related to me the story of what had happened the night before Mum died. At about 2am, Mum woke up and suddenly sat bolt upright. Auntie Joan, who slept very lightly, was in the room in a second. She tells me that Mum looked out into space and said “…but, I’m ready to go now. You don’t want me? But I want to go….” And then she lay down again, saying “they don’t want me yet”, and went back to sleep.  Now, I’m not particularly religious, but I can only say that if you have a deep and devout belief in Jesus Christ and life after death, then maybe there is a paradise and people waiting to take you to Heaven. I don’t know. All I can say is that both Auntie Joan and Dad related the story to me exactly as I have told it here. Draw your own conclusions.

A couple of days later we had the funeral at the church and the cremation at the Ballarat Crematorium. Uncle Bob had arrived from Tasmania and we all got ready in our finest clothes. The day was fine with clear skies. We drove into Glenthomspon and turned the corner into the main street where the church was. I sobbed inwardly when I saw row upon row of cars lined on either side of the road, virtually from one end of Glenthompson to the other. I had never seen so many cars before and I knew that every one of them was there for the funeral of my mother. The church was packed to the gills. All standing room was taken up and there were scores of people standing outside the open doors, unable to get inside. We were escorted inside by the funeral directors. All eyes were upon us as the crowds parted like Moses parting the sea. I felt like a criminal being led to the guillotine because at that very moment, more than anything else, I wished like I’d never wished before that my life had been taken and Mum’s life had been spared. I was racked with guilt and despair.

I don’t remember much of the service, but I remember leaving the church behind the coffin and standing outside as it was loaded into the hearse. I saw grown men crying. I sat down on a patch of grass at the front of the church, totally numb. People came up to me to give their condolences. I acknowledged them and even managed a faint smile, but I could have been on another planet, so disengaged I was. The rest of the day was a blur. We drove to Ballarat, had the cremation and then drove back to Glenthompson.  I didn’t cry that day. It was a week later that I was going through some photographs and finally I cried. It was the start of a grieving process that took over a year. A week after that it was time for Auntie Joan and Uncle Bob to go back to Tasmania. Dad was completely distraught. It was also time for Sue and me to go back to College. The day we left Dad hugged Sue and told us both that from now on we needed to pull together as a family. Nothing could have been further from my mind. I wanted to run away – get away from Dad and Sue and the house in which I had so recently experienced such pain. I actually looked forward to going back to college just to be away from all this. Various relatives berated me on how I had to be the man of the family now and it was my responsibility to look after Dad and Sue. They even told me how lucky I was to have had such a wonderful mother and how I didn’t deserve her.

Didn’t deserve. I’d heard that phrase before. When I was four, my grandmother and great Auntie Oll told me that the only reason I was adopted was to take on the farm. I was so lucky to live on the farm and I didn’t deserve my parents. Didn’t deserve was to become the phrase that applied to me for many years henceforth. I heard it so often after Mum died that I began to believe it. I didn’t deserve.

Every weekend for some months, we went back to Glenthompson, mostly out of a sense of duty to Dad. I was never close to him and seeing him without Mum was a constant torture to me. I cooked meals for him and put them in the freezer with instructions on how to heat them. Dad had no idea how to cook. His mother had looked after him until he was married and then Mum looked after him until she died.  He got home help in. The woman who arrived was Dinny Cuming.

Diana (Dinny) Julian Cuming, nee Maddocks, was the daughter of a very wealthy businessman who lived in retirement with his wife, Mignon in a townhouse in South Yarra. In the 70s Dinny had married our next door neighbour, John Cuming who, with his family, owned Fernleigh, a property similar in size to ours. They had two children, Josephine and James. Josephine was a very pretty girl and quite sensible, James was younger and quite good looking, as well. Sometime during the course of their marriage, Dinny walked out on the family and moved to Ballarat. She was a chain smoker and a reformed alcoholic. For a while she worked in Marketing for Sovereign Hill, but in 1978 decided to move back to Glenthompson, ostensibly to be closer to her children. She got a job working as a home helper.

The day she turned up at our house to start home help, it was only a matter of an hour or so before she ended up in my father’s bed. This was 3 months after Mum died. About a week later she moved into our house. Stan was horrified, as was Auntie Joan. I was a little surprised at the speed at which this had occurred, however, I was also mindful of the fact that I knew that Dad was so desolate without Mum’s companionship that he would try to recreate it in any way possible. Dinny was the first person to look at him sideways since Mum’s death. She was 20 years his junior and still good looking enough to make a man turn his head. Unfortunately, she had a terrible reputation around the district for sleeping with other men. Glenthompson is a small and conservative town. Everybody knew everything about everybody else and shortly the whole town knew that Dinny had moved in with Dad. I also knew that Mum didn’t particularly like Dinny which was a cause for some consternation to me. Two occasions stand out in my mind that gave Mum cause for disliking Dinny. Firstly, not long after the new community swimming pool was built, Dinny jumped fully clothed into the pool in front of many people. This wasn’t the done thing and the comments flew thick and fast. Secondly, one day outside the local supermarket when Josephine was very little, she fell over and hurt her knee. She started crying and instead of comforting her, Dinny taunted her and laughed at her. Mum was shocked at the way Dinny was treating her child.

In any case, Dinny was now resident in our house as the new partner of my father. Stan wasted no time in condemning this behaviour to everybody in the town and he and I had many arguments because he felt that I should tell Dad that I disapproved of his behaviour. Stan cited examples of other local men whose wives had died and who waited some unspoken approved period of time to mourn, usually a year or more, before finding another wife and bringing her to the family home. I agreed with Stan on one hand, but on the other hand I wanted Dad to be happy. Besides, Dinny being in the house meant that she did the cooking and cleaning, relieving me of the responsibility. In November 1978, six months after Mum died, they were married at the local registry in Ballarat. Sue and I were present and a couple of other friends.

Dinny and I didn’t get on from the start. Although I was happy for Dad, I didn’t trust her an inch and with good reason. I knew from the outset that she was after Dad for his money and I also knew that she wanted to get back at her ex-husband and his family next door. John’s mother and Dinny hated each other with a passion and Mrs Cuming senior had done everything in her power to get Dinny out of the property. Now, Dad had played right into Dinny’s hands. It was time for retribution and she was going to get everything she wanted.

January 1979 Dad and Dinny took John Cuming to the Family Law Court to gain custody of their children. Sue and I had to be present to make statements to the effect that we were prepared to have Dinny’s children in our family. The case was won and suddenly we were six people in our family. Sue had finished Form 5 at College in 1978 and had decided to do a secretarial course in 1979. I was to start a Bachelor of Education at Ballarat College of Advanced Education, so it was decided that we would rent a flat together in Ballarat which Dinny organised. Mum’s share of the property was a third share in the sheep with Dad and Stan. Auntie Joan was the executor of Mum’s estate and, as Sue and I were the beneficiaries, we were entitled to a small regular payout until we reached the age of 21 years, after which time we would receive the balance. So, it was agreed that Mum’s estate would give us $45 per week for the rent and $45 per week each for living expenses.

We lived in a small but pleasant two bedroom flat on the first floor of a block of flats in Wendouree Parade, right next to the Lake View Hotel. We soon got friendly with occupants of the other flats and there lived two brothers in a flat below us. The boys were about our age and they loved to party. Sue, who was not interested in the least in her secretarial course, became involved with them and partied regularly with them. One night the three of them decided to get drunk and play “spin the bottle”. You sit in a circle, place a bottle on its side and take it in turns to spin the bottle. When it stops in front of one of the players, he or she has to ask one of the other players to do something. It often involves taking off items of clothing and engaging in sex. Suffice to say, during the course of the evening all three of them ended up naked and both boys had sex with my sister. Not surprisingly, she became pregnant that night. She was 17 years old.  Soon after, Dinny arranged for Sue to have an abortion, announcing that it was easy – she had a couple of abortions in the past, herself.  I told Sue to make sure she went on the pill from then on. She never did. A few months later she got pregnant a 2nd time and once again went off to have an abortion.  She continued to party and bring boys home to stay over night. One week I went away on holidays. When I returned I discovered that Sue had had an ongoing party in the flat and various people had slept together in my bed. She hadn’t even bothered to wash the sheets before I got home. By September I was getting totally sick of the never-ending party and I made Sue move out. I helped her find a flat and gave her some of the furniture. I had a huge row with Dinny who told me that I was extremely selfish. But I stood my ground. I was never getting any peace in the flat.

Dinny made it clear from the outset that she didn’t like Stan. Whereas he had always been an integral part of our family, after Mum died and Dinny moved in, he was soundly ostracized. Stan had been loud and vocal in his condemnation of  Dad’s relationship with her and Dinny was determined to get back at him. Stan had always been the sort of person who needed a woman around and with Mum he had a good friendship and she had looked after him and cared for him in virtually every way except the bedroom. Stan always ate with us, Mum did his washing and cleaned his house once a week. But she drew the line at anything else. Now, with her gone, Stan felt as rudderless as Dad did. And this new, evil sister-in-law wasn’t even close in comparison. So, unhappy with the situation, he went in search of female companionship. He found it in a woman in Ballarat whom he had known as an acquaintance for some years.

Val Brimacombe was the matron of the Clunes Hospital and she took a shine to Stan. I was absolutely delighted. They started courting and in July 1979 decided to marry. Val was the best thing that ever happened to Stan. She is kind, generous, an excellent cook, a devout Christian, adapted to life in the country brilliantly and was befriended and loved by all in the district. She was everything that Stan could have wished for. Val and I managed to convince Stan to go on an overseas trip with her and a friend of hers not long before their wedding. He was hesitant at first, but after he came back he couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful it was. Some years earlier, Stan had berated me about making sure that you work all your working life, then when you retire you can go away on holidays. I had already been overseas several times and Stan thought it quite unseemly. However, once he travelled, he crowed about his trip to anybody who would listen and half the townsfolk thought that he was a most experienced and marvellous traveller. I was somewhat unamused, although happy that he’d finally done it.

Early 1979, Dinny wanted to show off Dad and us kids to her friends and family. We drove to Melbourne and attended a party at Dinny’s parents’ townhouse in South Yarra. Some of Melbourne’s wealthier people attended and it was a rather salubrious event. Mr & Mrs Hatton, owners of a large shoe company and parents of Lady Tryon, whose husband for many years held the Queen’s privy purse, were there, as was a former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, a senior surgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and many other elevated guests. We felt completely out of water whilst Dinny strutted around like Lady Muck. She had married into Western District squattocracy, been divorced from it and fallen from grace, then re-married into it, thereby reinstating her position in Melbourne society. She clucked and preened like a prize duck. It was awful.

In May, Dinny declared that the family home was too small and requested that Dad renovate. He agreed and they drew up some plans. Dinny’s plans were ambitious, to say the least. They effectively doubled the size of the house, adding a huge family/dining room, a large master bedroom, en-suite bathroom, office with a wine rack in one wall and an entrance hall. All of this required the whole roof structure to be changed. She also added a large outside patio area. She certainly had style and her plans were quite good, but Dad didn’t really have the money to cover it. Renovations proceeded and took nearly a year.

She was a scheming woman and was determined to get as much a share of our property as she could. She had managed to convince Dad that it would be good if he bought Sue and me out of our inheritance of Mum’s estate and gave that share to Dinny. In order to do so, he would have to get permission from Auntie Joan, the executor of Mum’s estate. Dad had the papers drawn up and sent them to Auntie Joan for her to sign. Stan was very suspicious. He couldn’t advise Auntie Joan what to do, but he let her know that she should think very carefully before signing the papers. It didn’t take too long for Auntie Joan to realise that if she signed the papers that would give Dinny an entrance to the property. With Dad on her side, she could wipe Stan out of his share and take the whole property away from the Cundy family. Auntie Joan refused to sign. Dinny was furious and branded Auntie Joan a selfish, interfering woman. But for now, the property and our inheritance was safe.

In July Dad had his first stroke. He had a bad heart like all the other Cundy males. Several of his uncles and his father had died from heart attacks and we knew that Dad had also inherited the gene. Fortunately, being adopted, I didn’t have it. Dad spent a week in St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Melbourne and Dinny didn’t visit him once. Her excuse was that “I have my children to look after”. I  went down to Melbourne 3 times that week and visited Dad when I could. I drove him home from the hospital.  He continued to work with the builders on the house renovations as well as continuing to work on the farm. It took its toll and in September Dad had another stroke. Another week in St Vincent’s and another no-show by Dinny.  He was a surprisingly strong man because again he recovered and continued working.

When Mum died she left all her possessions to Dad and Sue and me. When Dinny moved in they became hers by default. Morally, Mum’s possessions were ours, but Dinny soon made sure that she was the mistress of all she surveyed. She hung onto everything of Mum’s except what I managed to smuggle out of the house. Over time, however, she started to discard possessions that she no longer wanted. Instead of offering them to Sue and me, she loaded them up into our little Suzuki four-wheel drive farm vehicle and drove to the tip which was 2 kilometres on the other side of Glenthompson. She threw away crockery, cutlery, furniture – anything she didn’t fancy. The locals soon got used to her regular weekly afternoon trips to the tip and once they saw her returning to our farm, they would race out to scavenge what had been dumped. Much of it was very good quality. One day Stan visited a friend in the town and was shown with much pride an Ansonia clock that had been collected from the tip. Stan was mortified – he had given it to Mum and Dad on their wedding day back in 1952.

I managed to retrieve some special gifts that Auntie Joan had given Mum and I also smuggled out the sewing machine. Dinny couldn’t sew and had no interest in repairing clothes. Once the item was damaged it was out! I discovered that Dad, who had not the faintest idea about sewing, tried to repair a shirt of his and had somehow managed to get the sewing machine to wrap almost an entire cotton reel of thread around the bobbin. Mum had taught me how to sew, so I was pretty familiar with the machine and it took me 3 hours to clear out the cotton from around the bobbin. I was sad for Dad because I knew that in his desperation with no help from Dinny, he had tried to do some sewing.  From then on, I sewed Dad’s clothes for him.

Christmas came and I was not in the mood to enjoy much. We ate lunch in the new family/dining room and Dinny had made her usual Brandy Snaps with more brandy than snap. I fell asleep and was useless for the rest of the day. In January 1980 I went with a couple of acquaintances from school to Noosa for a week. I had taken some money, but when we were returning, I ran out. I rang Dinny and asked if Dad could wire $50 to the Canberra Post Office so that I could collect it to pay my way home. Dinny never told Dad and I had to borrow the money to get home.  I was so angry, I didn’t go back to Glenthompson, nor ring them for some months, but returned to Ballarat.

Whilst I was in Noosa, Sue had gone to Mildura with her then boyfriend, Jamie, to go fruit picking. She stayed there until Easter time, when she brought him down to Glenthompson. One warm Sunday afternoon in April when they were having afternoon tea, Dad came in from doing some plumbing under the house. He had spent all his money on the renovations and had borrowed more, so he resorted to finishing it off himself. He was exhausted. Dinny was sitting at the kitchen table, holding court as she always did. On this occasion she was berating Sue for living in sin with Jamie – something I found rather odd, given her history. Suddenly, Dad fell off his chair onto the floor and blood dribbled out of his mouth. He never moved again. His third and final stroke had caused a cerebral haemorrhage. Sue rang me in Ballarat that night to advise that Dad had passed on – April 8th, 1980 – not quite 2 years and one month since Mum had died.  I took the bus to Glenthompson the next day. Sue tells me that within 15 minutes of Dad dying, Dinny had grabbed his will to have a read. All she said was “we have all been well catered for”. The truth was that it was not nearly as much in her favour as she had wanted. Dad gave her 100% of the profit from his share of the farm until she turned 50, after which time it was to be divided ¼ share to Dinny’s children and ¾ share to Sue and me. To add to her annoyance, Dinny and I had been appointed co-executors of Dad’s Estate. And thus began the biggest and longest fight in Cundy family history.

The funeral was arranged at the same church as Mum’s funeral. Auntie Joan and Uncle Bob and many of Mum’s relatives who had known Dad for nearly 30 years came to pay their respects. Dinny’s family and friends also came up. On the night before the funeral, Dinny’s mother, Mignon, who was one of the most pretentious people I had ever met, was pretending to be nice to Auntie Joan and showed a gift that Dinny had given her. In shock, Auntie Joan blurted out “that was Betty’s!”, to which Mignon replied haughtily, “Well, it’s Dinny’s now”.  Auntie Joan was flabbergasted. Mum’s possessions were in Dinny’s hands and there was nothing that could be done about it. Up until that point, Auntie Joan had been prepared to give Dinny the benefit of the doubt, but from that point forward she realised that Dinny was in it for the money only. The funeral was a fiasco. Dinny blubbered her way through the service, carrying on about how her children had lost their step-father – no mention about how Sue and I had lost our father. We had the Cremation in Ballarat. I drove Auntie Joan and Uncle Bob there and back again and they stayed with Stan and Val.

A few days later, I was still in Glenthompson and relations between Dinny and me had broken down to such a level that we only snarled at each other, not really having any form of civil conversation. One night I decided to go out and visit some of Mum’s old friends. I took the family car. The Toyota Crown Saloon, which was a far nicer car than Dinny’s aging Datsun 120Y, had always been a bone of contention ever since Dinny had arrived. It belonged to the farm – Stan had equal share in it, but Dinny, incorrectly, always maintained that it belonged to Dad only, seemingly giving her exclusive use of it. I took the car to visit the friends and returned a few hours later. When I returned, Dinny, Sue and the boyfriend Jamie were sitting in the kitchen waiting for me. Dinny flew off the handle with how dare I take “her” car. I, of course, informed her that the car did not belong to her and I had just as much right to it, etc. She jumped up and screamed, “Hit him Jamie! His father would have!”  Sue rushed over to me and took my glasses off me. Jamie aimed a couple of good punches at me and got me fair and square in first one eye, then the other. I was shocked beyond belief. I couldn’t believe that this would happen in my own home. Firstly, Dad never hit me, not once in my whole life. He screamed at me frequently, but he never, ever laid a hand on me. Then Dinny, with Jamie’s help forced me to sit down and write a note stating that I would comply with all her requests and that I was not being forced to do so – all of this without my glasses which Sue had so kindly taken from me. I scrawled something on the note and rushed off to bed in tears.

The next morning, I got up, determined to give Dinny the worst time in her life. I stomped into the kitchen. Dinny was up and said “I hope you’ve learnt your lesson”. To her horror, I roared back at her “If it’s war you want, bitch, it’s war you’ll get!!”. I spied the note that I’d written on the bench and before she could get to it, I raced over, shoved her out of the way and proceeded to tear it into a million bits. She fell against the cupboard, hitting her head. I stomped off to the shower. When I returned, I went to my bedroom, grabbed a bag, packed some clothes and stormed out of the house. I neve again slept in that house. I walked over to Stan and Val’s who were horrified to see my two beautiful black eyes. I looked like a raccoon. I related the events of the preceding night as we headed off to Ballarat for the day to do some shopping.

Over the course of the next few months, I maintained the pressure on Dinny, never letting up for a minute. As co-executor of Dad’s will, I had to counter-sign everything. In order for her to get money, she had to write out one of Dad’s cheques and I had to counter-sign it. If I thought it was too much I refused to sign it, or I would take days and days to sign it. She hated me with a passion. Every time she said something nasty to me, I would refuse to sign a cheque for a few days. Because Dad had borrowed $10,000 extra to finish off the house renovations, I arranged for the family car to be sold to pay back the bank. Dinny was beside herself with rage. She was back to driving her shitty Datsun 120Y.

With Dad gone, we were in need of someone else to work the farm. Sue and Jamie were still there and Sue begged, pleaded and cajoled Stan into giving Jamie a job, promising that he would work hard, all the while promising Jamie that if he played his cards right, he could inherit the farm. Stan, much against his better judgement, gave in and gave Jamie a job. Jamie (or boof-head, as we used to call him because of his extraordinary lack of intellect), was useless from the start. He hated work and did everything he could to get out of it. He loved riding the motorbikes and performed as many wheelies and donuts as he could. He drove Stan and Norman clean out of their skulls. He and I maintained an uneasy distance, snarling at each other from time to time.  Dinny, Sue and Jamie schemed against me as much as they could but the problem was that I have a far superior memory to any of them and never missed a thing. I always managed to keep track of what they were doing and to keep one step ahead. One day, I was in the room where we changed from our street clothes to our farm work clothes and I moved Jamie’s jeans to put my clothes down. A set of keys fell out of his pocket. Instantly, they looked familiar and I compared them to my keys to the flat which I still was renting in Ballarat – they were a perfect match. Unbeknownst to me, when Dinny arranged the rental of the flat originally, she had an extra set of keys made so she could sneak in whenever she wanted. She’d given them to Jamie who was planning a trip to Ballarat so that he could steal my stuff and trash the joint. I made sure the keys mysteriously disappeared and were never found again. I also withheld signing a cheque for Dinny for a month as punishment. One day, Jamie and I had a huge row and he jumped out of the truck to come and hit me. I was so angry I grabbed his arms and smashed his head into the fuel pump that we were standing next to. Stan had had enough of Jamie and his trouble-making and sacked him on the spot.  He and Sue left Glenthompson the next day. I then decided to leave the course I was doing in Ballarat and return to help Stan on the farm.

Dinny was still throwing things out from the home and always did her tip trips on Thursday afternoons. One week we advised her that Thursday would not be suitable for her to use the Suzuki farm vehicle as it was required for some sheep work. It was her normal habit to drive her car over to the sheds and take the Suzuki, which she would return a few hours later. Despite being told she couldn’t use it, she took it anyway. When she returned from the tip, I went over to the house to confront her. She had locked the Suzuki up and was standing inside the house with all the doors locked. She taunted me through the window, saying “What are you going to do about it? Call the solicitor?” So, I opened the bonnet of the Suzuki, which wasn’t normally locked, removed the lead from the coil to the distributor so she couldn’t start it, then raced back over to the sheds, grabbed the spare key, raced back to the Suzuki, reinserted the lead and drove it back to the sheds and locked it up minus the lead again. Dinny had to walk all the way over to the sheds to return the key and get her car back. She was furious. Stan confronted her and told her that she was not to take the farm vehicles again unless she checked with him first. All sorts of things like this happened all the time. She would take vehicles, take tools, take supplies, use things out of the sheds without asking. We got to locking everything up. I got to taking longer and longer to sign cheques.  It was a war of wills.

For the next few years, Dinny brought in stock and station agent, after agent, after agent, to value the property for sale. She led them to believe that she had the power to sell the property. They always came rushing down from Hamilton to take a look and a drive around the property, thinking they were going to get a huge commission from it. I felt a bit sorry for the poor suckers because there was no way I was going to approve a sale, nor was Stan. She spent a fortune on solicitors’ fees, to no avail. I wasn’t going to sign anything.

In 1981 Sue had a daughter by Jamie, called Terri. Jamie, when he found out that Sue was pregnant,  walked out on her. It wasn’t the first child he had fathered. Sue decided to move to the Gold Coast. In 1980, I bought my first car with my share of Mum’s estate. Auntie Joan had allowed me to use the money early because I decided to move to Melbourne in 1981 and needed a car to get around. I bought a Volkswagen Golf Diesel. I had it for 8 years and did nearly 600,000 kilometres.  In 1983, I had been working for a record company in Melbourne and decided to take 3 weeks holiday. I drove to Rockhampton and back, stopping at various places along the way. Sue had rented a house on the Gold Coast and our cousin, Robert, was also living there. A few nights before I left on the holiday, I rang Sue and told her that I would be coming through and was prepared to catch up for a coffee. She said that would be okay. The night before I left, she rang and left a message to “tell David not to come because I won’t be there”. I thought this was very strange and resolved to turn up at the house anyway. I did the trip, drove several thousand kilometres up to Rockhampton and on the way down through the Gold Coast I went to visit Sue. I turned the corner into the cul-de-sac where she lived only to discover a burnt out shell of a house.  Sue and Robert had had a party and set the house on fire. Whilst I was on holidays she had been in touch with Auntie Joan to ask her to send her inheritance as urgently as possible – it was about $25,000. I don’t know this for sure, but I believe that the owner of the place probably told Sue that since she was the tenant listed on the lease she had better pay him for the house or he’ll send her to jail. My sister would have caved in and promptly paid the money. Of course, the owner would also have claimed the insurance, so he probably walked away with a profit. Stupid Sue.

Life slowly improved for me as I made my way in Melbourne. I sometimes shared living situations with people and sometimes rented alone. I had a stable job and gradually I was becoming less bitter about all the things that had happened to me. Every three or four weeks I would drive back to the farm to spend the weekend with Stan and Val and sometimes would sign cheques for Dinny.  I’m pleased to say that she gradually left Stan and Val alone.

In 1984, Dinny decided that she had lost the battle to take the farm away from us and moved to Melbourne. She rented a house in Heathmont, near Ringwood, and occasionally I went out to her house to sign cheques. She developed breast cancer and had both breasts removed. She died in August 1985 at the ripe old age of 37.  I was the only member of the Cundy family to go to her funeral and, in all honesty, it was only to see if she were really dead. But I was professional and wished the family condolences, for which they were grateful.

Thus ended an era in our family. July 1978 to August 1985 were what I call my seven years of hell. These seven years, coming straight after six years of hell in boarding school, messed me up a fair bit and I firmly believe that my personal development and maturity were put on hold by these traumatic events.