My parents married in 1937 in St Clements Danes church on the Strand in London. My Mother was one the first women in Queensland to graduate as a pharmacist. My father had been educated at Ardingly in Sussex; however he hankered for wide open spaces after being a jobber at the Stock Exchange in London. He came to Australia as a young man and became a jackaroo, as he wanted a life on the land. He was the consummate gentleman and got rather a shock initially at the Aussie way of doing things!
I was born in Cunnamulla, the Queensland Outback, 900 kms from Brisbane. Mother had a chemist shop there and Daddy was away at the war. A straight line due West from Brisbane at that time was known as the Brisbane line. (More info on that) After the war ended my parents bought a cattle property at Yuleba …still in the Outback.
I can recall the excitement of the once a week trip in the truck with my Father to the mailbox, which was an empty half of a 44 gallon drum at the side of the road, where the mailman left our mailbag and provisions. In that bag was my schoolwork for the next week and my corrected work from the Correspondence School in Brisbane. This was years before School of the Air, which the children in the Outback have now. Mother was my teacher at the kitchen table.
Like most children born in the bush, I couldn’t wait to escape all this learning and be outside. That where all the action was ….particularly when the mustering was on, whips cracking, horses galloping, dust and cattle bellowing in the heat as the drafting process began into the cattle yards. My father rode a chestnut stallion called “Victory” who actually had a white shaped V on his forehead. I was not allowed to be on my pony, Bess, at this time being only 6. But I would watch from a safe position on the cattle yard rails and can remember praying very hard that all the mothers would find their calves in this melee.
Then disaster struck. My Mother became very ill and suddenly we were on a ship to England. Mother was seeing Doctors in London and Switzerland and my schooling which was supposed to continue, was a non event. Instead Daddy took me to every museum and art gallery he could find. And it was at Covent Garden that I found what I wanted to be when I grew up…a ballerina.
We returned to Australia and Mother put me into boarding school in the hope that I would catch up two years lost schooling. Well I did to some extent, as I was determined to stay with my age group. My school days at an Anglican boarding school for country girls in Toowoomba, the famous Glennie School, were the happiest days of my life. In retrospect I should have spent more time on Latin and maths instead of the sports field.
When it became obvious to me that I didn’t have the talent or the feet to be a ballerina, I set my sights on joining the Australian Navy. My mother nearly had a fit at this choice, and quickly shot me off to Brisbane and Queensland University to get a teaching diploma. In those days one actually did what you were told, so my first teaching job was in New Guinea. At the end of the year I had saved enough money to return to London, a place I couldn’t wait to return to….these were the heady days of the swinging 60’s….of Rolfe Harris, Edna Everidge, Clive James, Germaine Greer, and countless other Aussies all wanting to stay and live out their dreams in this exciting city.
I loved every second living in London and despite continual jobs, was invariably broke. In desperation to get back to Australia (only for a visit…I couldn’t bear to leave London!) I applied to BOAC . This began the second happiest time in my life! However my Mother, strictly imbued with the Protestant work ethic, saw it differently. She felt that “flying to glamorous parties in exotic locations in all parts of the world” was NOT a proper job. For 18 months I flew around the world which took anything from 20 to 28 days on a Boeing 707. The sectors were shorter on most of the routes and flying was leisurely and elegant. The camaraderie of the crews and the whole lifestyle of flying in those halcyon days was simply great fun – we were very fortunate.
I was now at a time in my life where I wanted some stability so after two and half years of flying round the world every month I applied for a training position in BOAC. This was to be a pivotal point in my life as BOAC offered me many developmental programmes, which many years later I put to use in my own Training consultancy. Suddenly I had a career to get my teeth into and ended up doing all sorts of different airline training programmes, including a forerunner of passenger behavioural psychology. In my 6 years at the Training School I trained hundreds of stewardesses and one of my greatest joys now is still hearing from them with news of their lives, 40 years later.
I was now in my early thirties and feared that my biological clock was running out…so did my Mother, who thought she would have a spinster daughter. As it happened I met and consequently married a Queensland grazier Peter Schmidt and guess what?? I ended up only 100 kms from where I was born.. Yes, the Queensland Outback. There is a moral here: never make enemies as you never know when you will be back in the same place.
This was to be a very formative part of my life. I returned to a cattle and sheep property and none of the facilities I had been used to…..a 32 volt generator for light. I had a kerosene fridge which was a sturdy but hopeless machine, a wooden stove on which I cooked a sheep a week. We stood the legs of the food safe in cans of water to keep the ants at bay and the flies!!!!. Iceblocks in my gin and tonic were now a luxury. I realised that I missed an incredible amount of things which were part of my past life. I had a baby son, Trader, and was now dealing with a lot of fears to keep him safe in this environment. It was time of dust storms, locust and mice plagues, bushfires, drought and the deadly brown snake, which I constantly feared for my baby son. The Charleville hospital was 125 ks away….I felt very vulnerable…..a sandy road, creeks to cross, isolation…..I felt totally cut off from the world. I missed my London friends and my career far more than I realised. The Australian Women’s Weekly described my life as “From the Glamour to the Dust”…and they were right!.
When I was in London towards the latter time of my career with BOAC the British Women of the Year sent me an invitation to their auspicious occasion to celebrate women who had achieved in their particular form of endeavour. Unfortunately I was not able to attend, but as a result of my apology, the Marchioness of Lothian, now sadly deceased and who founded this Luncheon in the United Kingdom, granted me permission to emulate this event in Australia. This was a lifeline for me in the Outback. I did all the initial research and for 21 years was the National Chairman. This function raised a great deal of money over the years, primarily for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
But by now I knew I had to make a new life for myself. I retrained by returning to University, and I had a second son, Rupert. I refused to return to the outback with another baby. I chose to go it alone and start a new life and career. I started my own Training and Management company in Brisbane. My target market was women at the lower levels of companies and Government who were often overlooked for development.
Having my own company, Victrix, was a very steep learning curve. I trained all over Australia, Hong Kong, Manila and the Emirates. We were the first training company in Australia to train only women at all levels.
Burn-out happened on a few occasions but I was determined to make up for lost time. My company had me flying all over the place, my two sons were at boarding school, I was completing my MA and still running the Women of the Year. Something had to give and it was the Luncheon.
In the following year, 1995, I received the Order of Australia, which was a tremendous honour. The citation read “For being an advocate for women” and was presented to me by the then Governor of Queensland, who had attended many of our Women of the Year Luncheons. I hoped my boys, who were there, were proud of me.
Always in my heart I knew I wanted to write a history of British Airways and their predecessors in relation to the airline stewardess.
Over the years I researched, collected and annotated what I could find….this book was to be a tribute to all the stewardesses over the years in civil aviation, many who lost their lives and those who gave to what civil aviation has now become. I remember in the 60’s, hearing stories from the older crews of the years gone by and thought then, these must be recorded. ‘ Glamour in the Skies’ is my contribution to that era, 1936 to 1980…… the Golden Age.