Broome, at the time, was a male-dominated society and the few white women in town were mainly school teachers, nurses, waitresses and hotel workers. It was depression time and Pat’s mother, Lila, and her friend had come up from down south to work. Lila was a barmaid, and it was at work that she met her future husband, Bill Dobson, who had been in Broome since 1902. Their daughter, Patricia Dorothy, was born on 7 November 1929 at the Broome Hospital.

This is Pat’s story.

My grandfather, Edward Gilbert, had an amazing education at a high-class school in Belgium where seven languages were taught — say Russian for breakfast, French for lunch and German for tea. Anyway, he played up there and was expelled and sent back to England. His family didn’t know what to do with him. They had a business in Manchester making furniture where all the mattresses, bedding and chairs were stuffed with horsehair.

Edward’s father had died and his uncle, who had emigrated to Australia, had a mansion in Sydney and was in business there. He asked his mother to come out so he could be a guardian to Edward. So mother, son and daughter came to Australia. However, within a short time Edward was in trouble again and was sent to Queensland. Months later, he returned to Sydney with a bride which surprised everybody.

It was just when the gold rush in Western Australia was starting. and Edward told his uncle that he was going. He had a pregnant wife and no money, but Edward insisted. This brought about a rift with his guardian, so Edward was on his own. It was the first time he was not going to be looked after by the family.

Edward and his family arrived in Perth, and he did various jobs around the town. He was actually trained as a silk merchant, but that was not much help in a primitive city. Edward finally got on the train to Coolgardie, but stopped off at a place called Bullen, a watering stop with an endless supply of spring water used by the trains heading to the goldfields. By this time, Edward had two children and another on the way. He started prospecting but decided that the work was too hard and so he went into business supplying miners with food, tools and everything else they needed.

It was quite a good business until Edward put in a manager who didn’t keep track of expenditure or sales. At the same time, the gold petered out and the prospectors moved on. Edward was in debt and did a runner, not paying his creditors or acknowledging his responsibilities. He went back to Perth to work and get some money together before moving up to Broome with his wife, who was pregnant, and their three children. They did not stay long before moving to Derby and, at last, a little girl was born after three boys.

Shortly after the move, disaster struck. Edward broke his pelvis in a horse-riding accident and the family was destitute again. Edward’s wife had to go and live in a small shack on the marsh. The previous tenant had left rat poison in the cupboard which the little girl found. She ate it and died. Bill, my father, was about 11 by then and, to help the family, he went to work for a bullock driver taking supplies to stations up the Gibb River Road.

Once Edward got better, they moved back to Broome and started a business delivering fresh supplies by horse and cart. Edward then found some premises and began running the family store which sold everything and supplied the stations. It was called Dobsons Store and was on the corner of Frederick and Hamersley Streets.

My parents, Bill and Lila, had two girls and two boys. The first girl was born in Perth. Mum went down by ship and my father followed by car. There were no made roads in 1927 but Mrs Loch who owned the Conti Hotel wanted to go to Perth to buy a new car. My father drove her, and they stayed at all the stations on the way. It took so long to get to Perth, the baby was born days before they arrived. After that, the rest of the children were born in Broome.

I went to the State School (unfortunately that old building was burnt down in 2020). It was only for whites then. My first year was with the famous Mr Gill who had been there for 18 years. He was very fond of the strap, and he used to walk down the path between the oleander bushes and cut his sticks from them. There was an open manhole in the school room and, when he was out of the room, the boys used to throw his straps up into the ceiling. In the end, the parents sent a petition — which was unusual in those days — to the Education Department to have him relocated.

On Saturdays, I remember going over to the orphanage for music lessons where the Sisters of St John of God were teaching. I think it was Sister Cecilia (not sure) who taught us piano. Yes, and I still play piano today at the age of 90 plus. We also had some art lessons. Of course, in those days a girl was not properly educated unless she had music and art! Our house was on the corner of Anne and Herbert. Herbert Street was the Common Boundary — the end of town.

I went to the State School until I was twelve. Most kids in those days, if they had any aptitude, sat for State Scholarships as there was no high school in Broome. My sister did not get a scholarship, but she was sent to Santa Maria College in Perth and my elder brother went to Gerald- ton on a scholarship. I got a scholarship to Santa Maria and my younger brother went to Bunbury. So, it was very difficult for us to have contact with our parents and the rest of the family. There were children as young as six being sent away to boarding school.

In 1942, I was booked to start high school in Perth. For the Christmas holidays, I went to Nulgi Station to stay with my friend, Margaret Spry. Nulgi wasn’t a very big station. I don’t know if it is now amalgamated into Wallal Station or part of Mandora.

It was war time, and by the end of February it was clear that the Japanese were going to invade the north. People in Broome, mostly women and children, had already started evacuation by ship. Others tried to leave by car, but it had been a very wet Wet Season. Most vehicles couldn’t get through so had to return to Broome.

Being in the middle of station country, which was also flooded, I was a bit of a nuisance. Margaret’s family asked the mail plane to divert to Wallal and take me to Perth. The plane was jam-packed and I had to sit on a little stool at the back. We were meant to land at Carnarvon to deliver the mail, but there was this huge dust storm that seemed to fill the sky and I was moved up the front of the plane. In Carnarvon, they opened the door and threw the mail out on the landing strip. I cannot remember the exact date I flew out, but it was early March.

Dad was in Broome for the bombing on 3 March 1942. He was in the local defence force, and he was defending the airport. After that, Dad joined the air force although he was too old to go overseas. He did his training at Cunderdin and was then sent back to Broome where he worked in the canteen. He didn’t enjoy these years as the town was so different. He would sometimes visit a home he knew well and not recognise it. There was also a lot of pilfering as many places were just left abandoned. I did not see my dad until the war was over. I was 15 by then.

Boarding school I hated. The regimentation, the hour-by-hour schedules and the awful meals. The food was appalling, and I was hungry for three years. Mum came to visit infrequently as she was not the most maternal mother. She was the stern one and my father was a lovely easygoing gentleman.

After the war, Dad had no job and he felt Broome would take years to get back on its feet. The people had not returned, and the business had really just disappeared. Some of the stock had been bought by Streeter and Male and the rest just deteriorated. So, Mum and Dad moved to Perth. Luckily, Dad was friends with the Premier, Frank Wise, and Bill Coverley, a government minister, He got a job at the government stores down south in Pemberton as the mill was government-owned.

I was 15 and had finished school so was sent to Burroughs Business College to do a course. Mum said there was no work in Pemberton, and I had to stay in Perth and get a job. I boarded with the family of a friend. Pat was a singer, and I was a musician, so we performed together. Pat’s father was in Changi Prison camp and did not come home for three years after the war as he was so ill. It was pretty dreadful. Pat’s mother was not a good cook, so my food life had not improved. We used to have polony and mashed potato frequently.

I was permanently broke for the next few years, even though I had a job in the Audit Department of the WA Government. I met Bill, my future husband, at a local church group in Claremont–Graylands. He was working for an electronics group making radios. Bill had been to university, but he had not concentrated on his studies and played too much table tennis and bridge. He failed a year, so he left uni and went to work.

When we got married, there was a shortage of accommodation in Perth as everyone was coming back from the war. You think there is a shortage now. Well, this was worse. In the end we rented a room with the use of the kitchen. The little old lady would sit in the kitchen and watch how much gas you used. It was 1950. I had left my job as companies were not happy to employ married women. The old lady said to me, ‘Don’t think you are going to sit around here doing nothing’, so I had to find another job fast. I ended up as machinist and costing clerk at ES Lazarus & Co., an importer.

Getting accommodation was almost impossible for about five years after the war ended so we moved to the Hills. We spent 14 years at Carmel and another 40-odd years in Lesmurdie. During those years, we built three houses and sub-contracted them all. We bought a book called the Australian Carpenter which took you from the first nail to the completed house and we followed it religiously.

I had six children — three boys and three girls — and by the time they were teenagers, six of us were at university. Three were at Curtin University and three at UWA. I did an arts degree majoring in music and English, then a Diploma of Education, and then a music masters followed by a Diploma of Art at TAFE.

Between the ages of 40 and 50, I was studying. I also went to WAAPA, formerly the Conservatorium, to do a performance diploma. I didn’t finish it as I was offered a job at Curtin University teaching music to primary school teachers. Bill was finishing his engineering degree. The four children finished their studies — Matthew did electrical and chemical engineering, Teresa did medical science, Louise completed a PHD in environmental philosophy, and Philip did a physics degree. Michael is an electrician, and Patricia and her husband had a drafting and design business. That was a very busy decade, and all were living at home.

We started travelling north in our forties, usually up to Karijini National Park. It wasn’t until Bill retired that we started staying in Broome for six months at a time at the Roebuck Bay Caravan Park. We did that for over 20 years. We probably would have retired in Broome, but Bill was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease, and we needed to be closer to medical treatment. Also, I had six children to keep in touch with. I had to make do with many holidays in Broome. I was lucky to come back in 2021 for three weeks and even went to Barn Hill for a few days. I thoroughly enjoyed being back and have always hankered for the bay.

Broome to me is unique and being a peninsula, you have so many options — view wise, swimming wise, way of life. You can swim at around a dozen different places depending on tide and wind. Yes, I feel I am a bit of a saltwater woman. At 91, it is great to come back. I have all those memories of holidays with Bill and my early life in Broome.