Phyllis Higgins

Phyllis Higgins

My name is Phyllis Maud Higgins nee Greaves and I was born in Kempton on 12th February 1926. I am 92 years old.  My parents were Alice May Wendoline Greaves (nee Constable) and William Thomas Greaves and they were married in 1924.  I had one sister Lesley and one brother named Barry.

My mother lived at Spreyton with her parents who owned a bacon factory and apple orchards - I can remember helping to sell apples and pears at the weekend to passing traffic.  My mother worked as a “monitor”  which is like a teacher’s aide, at the Spreyton School and that was where she met my father.

My father served in the First World War until 1918 when at the age of 20, he was seriously wounded and returned home.  He became a school teacher and then headmaster of a small school in Kempton.  Our family moved a number of times, Stowport, North Motton, Wilmot, Sprent, Montello, East Devonport and then in 1936 to Wivenhoe.  In those days teachers were moved around fairly often unless there was a good reason why they didn’t want to be moved.  We lived there for 15 years, so obviously we didn’t want to leave.

I was very young and still at State School during World War II, I remember the school had trenches dug in the school grounds. I don't know what purpose they would have served but they were dug anyway.  Back in my day, Grade 7 was the end of primary school and those students wanting to go on to High School had to sit and pass an ‘Ability Test’.  Those who failed the test went straight to work.  I passed the test and did one year of a general science course at High School, then enrolled at the Remington Business College in Alexander Street, Burnie. Here I studied English, Arithmetic, Shorthand, Typing, and Book-Keeping, and I was Dux of my year.

The following year I started work at Crisp, Edwards & Wilson at 41 Cattley Street, aged just 14 years and 11 months, taking shorthand and typing letters and documents. There were a number of documents written on parchment paper: Memorials, Property Deeds, and Wills. There was no room for error, if you made a mistake you had to start again.  During my time there I became head girl but got rather tired of being a ‘policeman’, it wasn’t easy keeping the rest of the staff in order.

When I was 18 I met and fell in love with Dern. We were engaged to be married, but sadly he died of appendicitis just before I turned 21.  The Doctors had initially diagnosed his illness as Peritonitis and by the time they realised, his appendix had burst and there was nothing more that could be done. 

In 1948, I was 22 years old and began working with Australian Titan Products. After two years I was promoted to Secretary to the Commercial Manager, Mr Don Fraser, which I performed for the next 16½ years.  In 1956 I went with friends to Darwin, to help them set up an accommodation business, I was offered six months special leave with a guarantee of work when I returned.

While travelling to Alice Springs I saw my first glimpse of an Indigenous Australian, striding along with his partner at a respectable distance behind.  She carried the week’s ration of kangaroo meat on her head while he carried his hunting spear.  I must admit I enjoyed travelling to Darwin more than I did living there as the temperatures didn’t agree with me.  While in Alice Springs I met an Aboriginal man called Tudawalli, he had appeared in a couple of films but was the main actor in a movie called ‘Jedda’.  While here, I received a letter from my boss begging me to come back to work anytime and he was delighted when I did eventually return.

It was at Titan where I met my future husband Brian William Higgins, a draughtsman and later a Project Manager.  We married in 1964, I was 38 and he was 36, I was a bit of a cradle-snatcher.  I left work once I got married, as a lot of people did then, they don’t now of course, they just carry on working regardless.

In 1960, I joined the North West Walking Club. The club was in its early infancy in those days but I absolutely loved it and later became their Secretary.  I had many interesting walks including: The Overland Track, Three Hummock Island, Flinders Island and the walk from Rosebery to Queenstown.  I remained a member of the club after I was married and continued on as Secretary but didn’t do many more walks.  I left the club in 1966 when I became pregnant with my daughter Michelle.

My husband left Titan and then began working for the Burnie Technical College where he worked about 6½ days a week, he was a workaholic and worked himself into the ground.  Brian’s health started to deteriorate, and after a number of years of illness he died in 2000, aged 71.  So I have been on my own for 18 years and, up until now, have managed quite well.

After living in my home for 42 years, I am selling up and going into St Anne’s in Hobart - taking just a few chosen items after many happy years on the North West Coast. 

Taken with permission from Phyllis’ oral history with the Burnie Regional Museum, 2018.      

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