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 adventure, unaware of the profound effect their meeting would have on one another.
Tall, rather handsome, Rodger Orland, had just celebrated his nineteenth birthday in his hometown of Brisbane. He had completed his senior year and had only just managed to get through the first term of architectural studies at Queensland University. Rodger felt somewhat disillusioned. He had convinced himself that he must gain a worthwhile position within the Government if he was to fulfil his desire for fast cars and expensive property portfolio. The Northern Territory was offering incentive packages and the opportunity to live in another city was an attractive proposition. The pay wasn’t bad either.
After kissing his mother gently on the forehead and bidding his father and younger brother farewell, he began his four day journey to Darwin1. He had loaded his new Morris minor 1100, with his most precious possessions and arrived just on sunset, feeling exhausted. Finally, as he gazed over the intoxicating Arafura Sea, he was filled with a new energy and excitement. He checked into the first available motel on Darwin’s busiest street, Mitchell Street and fell into a deep lull.
Darwin was considered by many to be the ‘wild west’ of Australia. With it’s hot, humid climate building up to its wet season, cyclonic weather patterns and native languages, it held a long and proud indigenous history. Arnhem land with its tropical water ways and billabongs, towered over by sky high waterfalls and gorges, showed off its rich red earth to all who passed through. Considered ‘a paradise’, Kakadu in the centre was home to native kangaroo, wallaby, buffalo, crocodile, dingo, cute but not so cuddly koalas, lizards, snakes, spinifex grass and pandana2.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, Arnhem Land was a huge draw card for the young photographers such as Sir David Attenborough and amateur hunters such as American racing car driver, Stirling Moss and Australia’s Airline magnate, Sir Reg Ansett. Other well-known personalities to visit the area were Kerry Packer, The Leyland Brothers, Film producers Charles and Elsa Chauvel, Sydney Press photographers Ernie McQuillan and Ray Jamieson and Australian actor Chips Rafferty. The area was to become the background for the film ‘Jedda’.
Some months before Rodger had begun exploring this great land, an equally ambitious and attractive blonde girl named Elizabeth flew into Darwin from Canberra, Australia’s new Capital City. At twenty one, leaving her family troubles behind seemed an awfully good idea. Liz, as she was known to her closest friends had secured a coveted level three government administrative position. Highly motivated and with above average intelligence, she dressed immaculately even on the hottest of days. Each day she walked to and from the women’s hostel and her new government office gaining more than a little attention from a variety of government employed, eligible, bell-bottomed, suitors. Liz was raised near Canberra and with a private boarding school education in Goulburn and an early start as a young clerk in the offices of parliament, she was destined for success.
Young people from many parts of Australia had flown or driven the lengthy Stuart Highway,to be part of this exciting world and Peter Stewart of Bondi, New South Wales, was no different. His early years had not been without struggle as after the Second World War, his father, Allan, had not recovered well. He had been a Black Watch Lieutenant and CCMF Lieutenant Colonel whose marriage had broken down under the pressure. As an early PR man, Allan had worked for the New South Wales and Northern Territory Governments. While working on the Humpty Doo Rice Project near Darwin he had eventually left the jungle of Sydney for another. Looking to reunite with his father, Pete had set out for Darwin too with the prospect of employment.
Meanwhile, Rodger Orland had settled into his new job, enjoying the endless social functions provided by his new employer. No shortage of pretty gals in Darwin, he had set his eyes on only one. He admired Elizabeth Edwards from afar, with her medium length blonde hair in an immaculate beehive, false eyelashes and a red lipstick pout any man would drool over. Punching well above his weight, Rodger was feeling quietly confident and persistence soon won him a date. Their dates turned into long sensual evenings and after many wonderful months, Rodger began to imagine their wedding was on the horizon; but his hopes were dashed.
It seemed on Liz’s side, the relationship had run its course and she began dating other men. Having been on the verge of declaring his love, Rodger just didn’t cope. Completely besotted with her, he became jealous and he hit the Vic Hotel hard and in the process found himself in trouble with the law. Liz had begun dating the now popular, Peter Stewart. As were the times in the Territory, guns often saddled the hips of ‘real Aussie men’ and Rodger, ever wanting to experience all that the Northern Territory had to offer had taken a break in Kakadu, hunting crocodile and buffalo with his work colleagues. On returning from one of these weekend trips, he found Liz sitting on his doorstep, crying. She was pregnant. Wholly Moly! The love of his life, whom he thought was lost to him had now returned and the baby was his. After initial questions regarding his paternity, she confirmed he was indeed the baby’s father and their engagement was set. They celebrated with friends in Darwin soon after.
In a time when unwed mothers were judged harshly by family and the wider community, the couple moved into Rodger’s family home back in sunny Queensland. A wedding date was set which was greatly anticipated by all. They would live in Rodger’s parent’s home until he was able to support Elizabeth and the baby himself. Rodger’s plans for a government career were put on hold. The prospect of becoming a father and marrying the girl of his dreams filled his thoughts both day and night. Then without warning, Liz left Queensland in the wee hours of the morning. The family was shattered.
A month later Rodger relocated to Sydney to be near her. Liz had panicked and moved in with a sympathetic relative living on the North Shore. Rodger pleaded with her to keep their baby but Liz seemed to have her heart set on having their child adopted by a ‘good family’. Over the coming months the couple seemed to reunite, spent time together going on dates; yet Liz had moved into Carramar, an organised home designed specifically to house unwed mothers. Although supportive, there was pressure from all sides to fulfil a quota of ‘wanting Mothers’ who sadly, had not produced children of their own. There was still so much stigma surrounding unplanned pregnancies and adoption was an accepted although secretive alternative. During this time the Vietnam war had come into play and Rodger, who had applied to the RAAF had been accepted was called up for training. He had tried everything he could to convince Liz to keep her baby but had clearly failed.
In August 1965, Liz gave birth to a petite 5 1b 14 oz baby girl. With a quick glance at the nursery, she couldn’t help but notice the teeny-weeny ears on this blue-eyed baby. Liz knew deep down, that one day her sad little eyes would turn brown. Leaving the hospital, she tried not to look in the rear vision mirror, while fighting back an overpowering flood of tears.
This is the first of a three part story. Look out for the next part in the next few days.
Susan Margaret Best lives in Sydney.