Excerpts from a memoir, by Lisa Sharkey
Dad, Father, solid build and solid in my life.
His strength was physical, built from the pounding of steel, day in day out. Cutting and welding heavy metals. Building large vessels, trains, earth moving equipment, pipelines, barges during the war and fine wrought iron domestic items like telephone tables, house signage, screen doors. He built go cart frames for racing and he also welded trampoline frames, we had one in our backyard. Later he built cryogenic vessels, he had certificates for welding every kind of metal.
He would challenge us kids, especially David, to punch him in the stomach to show his strength, my fists did not make any indent.
Yet he could make cakes, he even won prizes, until the other women in the competition requested that he not enter. He sewed Teddy bears and drew fine pencil illustrations of the objects and structures that he designed and would weld for the community.
If a child or an animal required soothing, he had a magical charm to ease the crying of a baby he would rock them to sleep in his strong and patient arms.
2. (Content warning — the following piece contains graphic details that may be upsetting).
Mick and I were making up games while Mother was in the dining room with mountains of ironing. She was ironing on the steel-based ironing board that Dad had welded. It had a timber top that was shaped like a surfboard at the front and it had a thick wad of sheets to pad it.
There were scorch marks in the shape of the iron at one end, possibly from Dad when ironing his own shirts. He could get distracted whilst the iron was heating up, or sometimes during wash-up times he would leave the water filling the sink and go off to do something else and we would find a flooded kitchen. The Masonite cupboards were swollen from the many floodings, and the amount of times that we had to salvage Mother’s cook books out of one of the drawers was many. We’d take everything out of the cupboard and dry it off. When Mother came home she would be so furious because it would take a good warm day for the cupboards to dry out. That meant that all the crockery that usually was inside the cupboards was stacked in the dining room.
The house was so small for our burgeoning family of nine that anything out of its place made it messy and Mother couldn’t stand that.
This particular day we were trying to be quiet as Tony our younger brother must have been asleep, the others at school perhaps.
We knew that Mother hid the Christmas presents amongst the blankets in the big linen bag that hung behind the door in Sue and Trisha’s room.
This huge bag had a zipper down one side and we quietly unzipped it. I had to stand on a suitcase to reach the top of the zip.
Mick and I then tried to feel through the many blankets and flannelette sheets to see if we could find any goodies.
It was a risky exercise with Mother only a few rooms away. I slipped on the school case and it flipped sideways.
Mother’s eagle hearing and her hyper-alert state meant she was briskly walking up the hall, while I was aware that the zip was still undone.
Mother rounded the corner from the hall and we were hiding behind the door.
She pulled Michael out first and then grabbed me and marched us out to the dining room.
She yelled at us, “What were you up to?”
We were crying by this time and we were honest and both said that we had been looking for Xmas presents.
It wasn’t worth lying I had figured, but no. This time even though we were telling the truth she didn’t believe us. She said that we had been playing with each other sexually.
Something we wouldn’t have even thought of.
Seeing as I was the older one I would have to be punished. Michael had to watch while she took my hands and put the hot iron on them one at a time, to which I screamed and Michael ran away to the front room to hide.
I had burn marks on my hands, worse on the right, as I wouldn’t hold still.
She then said, “See what you made me do.”
She put the iron down and I was screaming in pain. She said, “Shut up or you’ll wake Anthony.”
She dragged me to the bathroom sink to wash my hands. Then, I don’t know what.
Next thing I remember is she is putting paraffin-soaked gauze strips on my hands, bandaging them.
I couldn’t escape from the house: I wasn’t tall enough to reach the handle to turn the key that was always in the back door.
I so wanted to escape from this mad woman.
When Dad came home of course she lied and said I had burnt them myself.
© Lisa Sharkey 2022.
Lisa Sharkey is an art curator and installation consultant based in Sydney. She is currently writing a memoir called Fibro Bread Box — Stories of a 60s Childhood. Set in Sydney’s Western Suburbs in the sixties and seventies. Liddie, daughter number six, tells the shocking and humorous stories of growing up in a large working class family with a controlling and violent mother and a kind, but helpless father.
The first excerpt was written in response to an exercise on presence (inspired by the presence of the mountains) on our Easter Writer’s Retreat at Namgyalgar in the Glass House Mts, Queensland.
Jan Cornall leads international writers retreats and workshops. See pics here.