Chapter 1951 has proven the most difficult chapter to write so far, partly because of the story's events and partly because life has thrown a few of its usual disruptive curve balls, the saddest being the passing of one of Eileen's sisters, Judith (Auntie Judy). Judy and Eileen were close sisters and good friends, sharing time together in their latter years. Auntie Judy was a strong and resourceful woman, sharp with her tongue and soft with her heart. She looked after my youngest daughter for a short while when her mother began part-time work and I still hunger for Auntie Judy's boiled fruit cake because it was amazing! My heart goes out to her two children, my cousins, Dean and Diane.
Much of the research for Chapter 1951 was covered in a previous post around TB and rehabilitation centres in Adelaide at the time. In the latter weeks of rehabilitation, Eileen stayed with her brother, Bruce, and sister-in-law and former nursing colleague, Betty. I lived and worked in Whyalla between 1978-84, so the area is familiar to me: the red iron ore dust and steelworks and housing trust homes.
In 1951, the fledgling city was on the verge of dramatic growth, its hopes resting in the shipyards and steelworks and the migrants brought in from post-war Europe to build the future. The Morgan to Whyalla pipeline was commissioned in 1940 as part of the war effort to support the steel mill, completed in 1944 and officially opened in 1945, supplying fresh water from the Murray River to the fringe desert city. Members of my mother's family were working as builders, constructing cheap government-funded homes for the workers.
The BHP-owned shipyards were thriving post-war. The first ship - HMAS Whyalla - was launched in 1941, and the shipyards went on to construct a further 63 vessels before the yards were shut down in 1978 by escalating costs and cheaper overseas competition.
Founded as a tiny mining town, Hummocks Hill, in 1901, Whyalla grew rapidly in the 1950s and town planners were preparing for a future population of 100,000, but it peaked in the 1970s somewhere between 30-40,000, and the shipyards closure, followed by progressive employee cutbacks at the steelworks in the 1980s, saw the population rapidly decline, stabilising in recent times at around 21,000 people.
So, Mum, or our central character for the novel, was briefly in a place that was glowing with hope for the future, appropriate for a young woman who had walked the valley of death and emerged on the other side, recuperating to begin life again.
Onto Chapter 1952, 83,000 words passed in the draft.