The year was 1964 and Rock and Roll was in full swing around the globe. Three young people in the prime of their lives were searching for new adventures, unaware of the profound effect they would have on one another.
Tall, handsome Roger Orland had just completed celebrating his 19th birthday in his hometown of Brisbane in Queensland. After completing his senior year in high school, he had embarked on architectural studies, but somewhat disillusioned he had quit at the end of his first semester. Having a desire for fast cars and a property portfolio, he believed the only path to achieve his goal was to secure a government position as a Level 1 clerk. The Northern Territory was offering good, incentive packages and the opportunity to live in another city was appealing. The pay wasn’t bad either.
He kissed his mother gently on the forehead and bid his father and younger brother farewell. With his brand new Morris Minor 1100, loaded up with his few worldly possessions, he headed off on his five day journey to the city of Darwin1. Arriving just at sunset, he pulled over to gaze over the intoxicating and sparkling blue Arafura Sea. Exhausted, he checked in to the first available motel on Mitchell Street and fell into a deep slumber.
In the 60’s and 70’s, Arnhem Land was a big attraction for naturalists like Sir David Attenborough and Sydney Press photographers Ernie McQuillan and Ray Jamieson. Actor Chips Rafferty and film producers Mike and Mal Leyland of the Leyland Brothers and Charles and Elsa Chauvel were visitors while filming the film Jedda, a film about a young aboriginal girl.
Months before Roger began exploring this great land, an equally ambitious and attractive blonde girl flew from Australia’s capital city, Canberra to start her new government job. Her name was Elizabeth Edwards. At 21, she had left her family troubles behind her which seemed a good idea at the time. Having had a private boarding school education and a start in Canberra’s Parliament House offices, she was destined for a successful career elsewhere.
Young people from many parts of Australia had flown or driven the lengthy Stuart Highway to be part of this exciting world and young Peter Stewart of Bondi, New South Wales was no different. Peter and his mother had struggled after his injured father, Allan, had left Sydney to follow his earlier public relations career which lead him to the Territory. Peter, missing his father who had gone to Darwin, worked for him for several months in Kakadu National Park but having worked as a clerk in Sydney secured a job in the government office as well.
Roger Orland had settled in well into his new job. He was enjoying the endless social functions provided by his new employer and had quickly spotted Elizabeth, standing out from all the other girls in the office. With her medium length hair coiffed in the 60’s beehive, thick false eyelashes and wearing a mini length, tailored suit and high heels, she turned the eye of many young men in their colourfully striped, skivies and bell-bottomed trousers. Punching well above his weight, Rogers persistence paid off and he soon won a date with the popular-‘Elizabeth Edwards’. Known to her close friends as ‘Liz’, she and Roger became ‘an item’ and soon their dates turned into long sensual nights spent together. Roger imagined their wedding was a forgone conclusion and was about to declare his undying love for her when Liz, believing their relationship had run its course, began dating someone else. Roger’s hopes were dashed. He didn’t cope well with the jealousy he soon felt when seeing Liz walking around on the arm of a another handsome young fellow. Invited to go out hunting crocodile and buffalo in Kakadu with a small group of work colleagues one weekend, he didn’t hesitate and off he went. A few months later, coming home from work, he found Liz sitting on his front doorstep, crying. She was pregnant.
Wholly Moly! The love of his life, whom he had thought was lost to him had now returned saying the baby was his. She confirmed he was the father and their engagement was set. They celebrated with their friends in Darwin and left for Brisbane soon after.
As Liz would soon “show” and not having any savings behind them, they moved in with Roger’s parents and plans for their nuptials were made. Rogers hopes for a government career were tarnished back in Darwin as at first, on hearing of her pregnancy, he had gone on a ‘bender’ and after pinching some alcohol from the government stores with a few pals, he ended up losing his job. Meanwhile the prospect of becoming Liz’s husband and a father, filled his thoughts both day and night with excitement. Then, suddenly, without warning, Liz left in the early hours and the family were shattered.
A short time later, Roger located Liz in the North Shore of Sydney where she was staying with a sympathetic relative. He secured a job pumping gas nearby and began visiting Liz; once again they began dating. Convinced by her parents and friends to give up her baby, she moved into ‘Carramar’- a home for unwed mothers. Adoption was a popular, yet secret solution to the common problem of unplanned pregnancies and for married couples who could not conceive. There was still much stigma surrounding these issues and young adults still did as they were told so Liz agreed to give up her baby. Roger pleaded with her to keep their child but she seemed to have her heart set on the idea. At this time the Vietnam war had escalated and Roger, having applied to the Royal Australian Air Force, had been accepted and was called up for training in Queensland a few days prior to Liz giving birth. In August 1965, alone and afraid, Liz held her 5lb 14 oz baby girl. She noticed her teeny tiny ears and sweet sad little blue eyes, she knew would one day turn to brown. Leaving the hospital, she tried never to look in the rear view mirror. She fought back an overpowering flood of tears.
This is the first of a three part story. Look out for part II in the next few days.
Susan Margaret Best lives in Sydney.