This is the story of Dot - a lady who, in simply living her life to the full, touched the lives of many.
A lady who went from brain tumour surgeries over a period of 10 or 11 years to not being able to walk far, bathe / feed / toilet herself, comprehend instructions, not knowing anyone, not knowing what year it was or where she was.
All this while being in a wheelchair and having no speech but the smiles and sparkle in her eyes was immeasurable. She was adventurous and spirited in her previous years .. and you only get one shot at life. There is a phrase on the internet that
Why not? Why live a life less than all it can be?
Dot was many things to many people ..
Dot was born in 1933, the youngest of 8 children of Henry Reimers and Maud Biddle.
Betty had died as a toddler only two months before Dot was born on 19 August 1933 so it would have been both a happy and sad time. Two siblings remain now – her sister Beryl and brother Eric.
Before she was born, Dots parents travelled a lot as her father worked in the railways. It was said that if the family wasn't unpacking, they were packing and it was always in remote areas - railway sidings- so Dot was fortunate that they had permanently settled in Emerald when she was 2.
Their house was a great social meeting place. It had verandahs wide enough for parties so Dot would have always enjoyed a lot of company. There was always singing and dancing at the parties. With her parents living in remote areas, they HAD to know how to provide everything for themselves .. there weren’t shops to pop in to. Growing crops, running poultry and maintaining vegetable gardens and water supplies weren't optional skills. They were needed to survive. If something needed mending or building, in those days you just did it yourself – so did Dot.
Because of her father’s building skills, he put a tennis court in their yard. The base was made from pulverized mud from termite mounds; tree trunks were used around the perimeter and wire wrapped around that for the fence.. Because of being able to practice at home, Dot continued playing high level tennis into adulthood.
By the time she was 6, the war had broken out and her brothers, Eric and Les went away to serve in the army. Her other brother, Henry had contracted polio and wore calipers for a time. The family were bold enough to opt for treatment by the famous Sister Kenny in Sydney - a radical in her time. For her whole childhood, from age 6 – 12, her life was lived under those conditions of war, shortages, disruption to the community and loss of many townspeople.
In primary school, Dot had one teacher, Grace Lidstone, who indelibly instilled in her the love of learning. Dot shone in athletics and embroidery .. Her work was as neat on the back as it was on the front and even exhibited in the town show. After primary school, there was no opportunity to go high school in Emerald so she learnt from the University of Life.
Her first job was at age 14 waitressing at the Emerald Picture Show and Café. At 15, her mother had taken her to Rockhampton to be an apprentice dressmaker but missing home, she returned to Emerald and the following year started as a telephonist with the PMG (later Telecom). Her switchboard she was the old plug & cord type as in the photo above. The B & W shows her as a teen operating the board, the colour photo was in 2009 in South Australia. There was a surreal moment as we came out of the room where the switchboard was, the song playing on the loudspeakers at the historic village was "Room Full of Roses". That had been her favourite piece to play on the piano.
Dot met her future husband as a young teenager and they married in 1953 moving to a house in Brief St. Emerald .. it was idyllic .. only two houses in the street and the road was pure white sand. Beyond the houses was an enormous flood plain and through it ran a creek which kept the children occupied for eternities. In those days, Guy Fawkes Day was a time everyone could let off firecrackers. We would have a HUGE bonfired down on the flood plains (swamp) and set off the fireworks.
Our house was on about 40 perches and was fenced into four areas
Dot was passionate about her roses, as her mother had also grown them. She made it look so easy to grow them and yet I struggle to keep one small one going.
Emerald was only a small town so the bush was close - we would go there to either cut wood for the stove or collect native honey from tree trunks. Sometimes we would bring home orphaned joeys when their mothers were killed by cars. They’d hang in a hessian sack on the back of our door.
As if Dot didn’t have enough skills already, she also played the piano. Her favourite tunes were "Room Full of Roses", "Beautiful Brown Eyes", Tennessee Waltz" and "Anniversary Waltz". As a family, we would sing around the piano just as she would have in her childhood. No-one could sing properly but that wasn't necessary - it was a shared time of fun and laughs. I never saw her play it, but have been told, that she could play the Banjo too. Simply a multi-talented woman.
Fishing was another skill - catching yellow bellies in the Nogoa River. The novelty for ourselves as children was making the bush “mossie repellent” while waiting for the fish.
To make one: Put holes in a tin and add manure & green grass. Light and it will then smoke deterring mossies. I haven’t seen those ingredients for sale in Coles or Woolworths here in Brisbane. Wonder why?
Any country person is usually a great dancer .. again Dot was no exception .. AND she would make her ownoutfits and travel to different small towns and attend as many as possible. Their means of transport was a horse and sulky.
As for swimming, she had access to that in the River or the Weir .. a beautiful natural bush setting with ropes to swing out and bomb dive in the water or logs to walk on.
She was proudest of her tennis skills .. many, many times she would say that she could put a ball on a threepence on the other side of the net .. pin point, perfect accuracy. Another way she referred to herself was as “one shot Dot”
She grew up in the Methodist Church and prior to leaving Emerald had taught in Sunday School.
Dot had three children when her fourth child came along. He died the same day he was born and it was devastating beyond words for her. His name was Kevin and he is buried in Emerald.
She went on to have two more children bringing the number to 5 and at that point, we moved to Brisbane in 1964.
Our home in Brisbane wasn’t like the convenient homes of today. Our shower was under the house and in winter the wind would whistle through the battens. After you’d got clean, you had to walk across the dirt to go back upstairs. Later on with Dot’s ingenuity and business sense, she divided the house into half and rented out one side of it so as well as having our family of 9, there were different tenants living with us on the other side of the house. The house could never be described as quiet or uneventful.
Having seven children meant that Dot’s time was at a premium and yet she was always very calm and quiet. She never complained and because she came from a big family thoroughly enjoyed having children around her.
The washing up (no dishwashers in those days) was huge for 9 people, sometimes more, and we were all assigned rosters to take turns at washing or drying. Because there was only one person washing & several drying, it was common practice for the washing person to re-wet the dishes in the draining board so that the “drying” kids didn't get out of their share of work. The process with arguments & singing took ages and yet the one bowl of water did all - went cold and was probably a veritable cocktail for germs given that there was crockery and cutlery for 9 people.
In Brisbane, Dot pursued outside work to supplement the income needed to raise 7 children. For a time she worked at the cafe in the army barracks at Enoggera and as a party plan seller of fine crockery driving all over Brisbane selling in private homes. With her past training as a telephonist, she had a beautiful, soft, clear musical voice which would have made her a great saleswoman. Not only did she have an elegant manner(although a through and through bushie), she understood sales techniques fully. She was able to remain quiet (unlike me) for as long as it took to not interrupt the buyer’s train of thought. This was a skill inherited by one of her sons when he went on to be involved in sales.
Even with the extra income, she still needed to shop for bargains – her haunts were the fruit markets at Rocklea to buy in bulk; McDonnell & East in George Street at sales time or the auctions to get big items cheaper. The classic purchase at an auction, which we all remember, is a huge carton containing many, many Rubiks Cubes .. not just one .. TONS of them.
Always pursuing new avenues, Dot went on a TV show called “Concentration” in the 1960’s with Terry Dear (Channel 9). A cryptic puzzle was behind prizes on a board of numbers. The contestant picked two numbers and when the prizes matched, they won those prizes and revealed a part of the puzzle. It was a memory game and Dot excelled bringing home many prizes, some of which were hair care products. With a large family, there were never luxury items in the house. I assumed one particular hair product was shampoo as that was all that I knew .. applied the usual quantity but nothing happened .. no foaming suds like shampoo .. so applied some more and more and more .. still no suds. I had to go to school looking like I'd washed in an oil bath .. the product was "conditioner" .. and at the time didn't know that other shampoo would have washed it out!
With her sewing and knitting skills, she was a deft hand at making clothes both for herself and her children. Her work was so meticulous that classmates 30 years later said they were envious of what she made for us. There was absolutely no limit to what she could make - jumpers, bootees, evening dresses, school uniforms even a fancy dress Martian outfit.
Dot separated in the late 70's. There was no financial assistance for separated women at that time. Eventually buying a run down house at Margate ... that became her home for 28 years. It was a ramshackle place when she bought it but because there is nothing that Dot can’t do .. she cleared the yard, painted the walls, wallpapered, planted crops and did it all on a tight budget.
Not long after that, she bought 5 acres of land at Brighton to have the freedom of the bush. It was a massive job to clear AND dry out. Most of the land was wetlands and many is the time that our thongs or shoes would be sucked down into the mud. Future archaeologists are going to be wondering why there are so many fossilized thongs!
She was most proud of the fact that the land had underground water (supposedly an old watering hole for Cobb and Co coach horses). Words could never describe how astute and creative Dot was. She arranged for three moats to be dug so that she could have a water supply. She bought two small windmills to pump water to certain areas. These were later stolen.
What is probably unique to her block .. is that even though there was no house or fixed dwelling on the property, she still had a piano in her storage shed!
There were paddocks for chooks, ducks, turkeys and sheep. The fencing was tree trunks from the land.
Her permanent home was at Margate but every morning at sunrise, she would prepare some vegetables & meat, pack some containers of water and drive to “the block”. She didn’t want any power, phone, electricity or sewerage connected both for the cost and because she had the skills to live off the land. To have cooking facilities and somewhere to rest, she’d bought an old caravan. Her first job was always to put her meat and vegies in the caravan stove to roast while she did odd jobs.
The pinnacle of her ingenuity and resourcefulness was making a large solar oven. It was memorable!!! Made simply from a large cardboard box, contact paper and glass, then fully lined with alfoil. To insulate the sides, she used fleece from her sheep. The shearers from the Australian Woolshed would come out to do it for her. All that she had to do was put a cake mix in and leave the box in the sun. It would cook just brilliantly.
At lunch time, she would sit in amongst the trees, birds and butterflies watching her animals and have a hot roast dinner, with solar cooked cake. The water she’d brought from Margate would be boiled over an open fire. It was peace, perfect peace ..
Dot had a boundless love of all animals. She nurtured many broods of chickens, turkeys, ducks etc. All her life she had dogs. They were never pedigreed dogs, just ones rescued from the pound or ones that owners couldn't keep. Her cattle dog “Blue” - was hit by a car on the highway and required extensive surgery a long time ago but is still alive in 2009 .. it seems he is as old as time itself !; others were Dana, Red & Tibby.
Dot’s behaviour changed in the mid 1990’s for a long time, she and her family went through many rough patches. It wasn’t until 1998, after having symptoms for a long time, that she was diagnosed at the Redcliffe Hospital with a brain tumour. They sent her to the Royal Brisbane Hospital straight away. She seemed drunk, had slurred words, was disorientated and had memory problems. They did an emergency operation the same night to reduce the pressure on her brain
Although physically she bounced back, there were problems with all aspects of mental function - disorientation, not knowing what year it was or who people were. Sometimes she would wander away from the ward. In the beginning, she could communicate well enough to conduct a conversation - although not always factual. You could see in her eyes, she knew her words weren’t coming out right and she would try to disguise the mistakes. Even though she was in a bad way, the ward was full of cases not so lucky - some died, others were left with marked disabilities, regardless of age.
Eventually she was sent home to recouperate. Her head had been totally shaved and she had a prominent scar. There were some things she could do for herself but the old Dot was gone. Her next surgery was cutting a hole at the top of her skull and approaching it that way but still were unable to remove it all.
This operation really affected her brain’s processing skills - she would wander away from the wards thinking she had to meet her old girl friend from the 1950's. Some things were jumbled in her memory, some things had been totally erased.
It took many months but she made improvement. After 18 months, she suggested she begin to drive again. I nearly had a heart attack! But I went with her to a quiet area to see how she went. Remarkably she did fine but didn't drive on the roads. Her ability to overcome adversity is legendary.
She lived on her own at Margate for awhile with family dropping in to help. There were a couple of glitches but manageable. One of the biggest problems was her becoming lost ..
One night when she had been found by someone else, they took her to the hospital and she received immediate attention. Not because of her condition but because I had bought her what I thought was a lovely lanyard with palm trees. I had her medical details and contact numbers on it. The nurses seemed a little nervous when I came in .. it was only when they explained what the images were on the lanyard that I understood why they took notice of her – I had bought her a lanyard with pictures of marijhuana leaves on it without knowing what they were.
By 2002, she needed others to attend to her financial matters. Her former husband went to live with her as she needed help and supervision. He provided wonderful meals and did the housework with her children taking her out for activities and helping with her day-to-day affairs.
While she was recovering from the neuro surgeries, her ride-on mower was stolen from the shed on her land and over time many other things were taken, even down to the posts, fencing & windmills. If only they were aware of who they were taking them from.
Dot is one helluva fighter. She tried all things like reading, watching TV for news, crosswords to keep her memory but it wasn’t to be. It was a slow process losing her life skills, many other people we knew with brain tumours passed away so she was one of the lucky ones. It was only in the last two years of her life that she lost her speech.
She was able to remain in her own home with increasing care but because her house was highset, she went to live with her eldest daughter in February 2009. Other family members would take her out and Oz Care also assisted Dot towards the end.
From her ..
I learnt that even though she didn’t attend a University,
I learned that a person can be happy with only nature around them.
I learned that there is always a solution to a problem.
I learned that it is resourceful to shop around for the best price.
I learned that what you learn is from actions not words.
The secret is to live our life " out-of-the-box "