In your family archives, do you have an old letter or two?
One is a 3-page letter dated 13 March 1952 my father wrote to my mother, brother and me. I would recognise my father’s handwriting anywhere. Seeing his handwriting and reading the words and expressions he used in this letter makes me feel keenly my father’s presence (even though he died 20 years ago).
This letter is part of my father’s legacy.
I’m not sure why my mother kept this letter and not others. My father must have written many letters during the period 1946-1952 when he worked as a commercial traveller, his business trips taking him far from home for weeks on end. He travelled throughout central and northern Queensland, visiting business owners and shopkeepers from the Queensland coast west to the Queensland-Northern Territory border.
I’m so grateful my mother kept this letter.
My father’s 1952 letter is a rich family history resource. Importantly, it’s the earliest record – in my father’s hand – of his love for my mother, brother and me. Indeed, it’s the only letter of my father’s I have from those early years. Clearly, his wife and children were very important to him. The tone and content of my father’s letter is proof of this. Moreover, the letter reveals the man I came to know as I grew up: communicative, scrupulous, hard-working, ambitious, sociable, interested in “the other”, witty and playful.
This letter, together with photographs and other items in my family archives, enables me to build a picture of my father’s work and travel, and our family life, in the post-World War II period. Added to this are the tales my parents and brother told me over the years. At the time my father wrote this letter, my brother was six years old and I was not yet 12 months old.
Setting the scene
Lieutenant William (“Bill”) Proposch was discharged from the army on 6 December 1945, after 5½ years continuous service in the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) in Australia and overseas.
He met his future wife, Evelyn Beaumont, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF), at a dance in the Brisbane City Hall two years earlier (September 1943). At the time Bill was in Brisbane on leave and Evelyn was based in Brisbane (read My mother’s years in the WAAAF (Part 1): Brisbane). The couple married at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Rockhampton, on 26 March 1945.
Following their marriage, Bill was appointed to the Australian Army’s 103rd General Hospital, Baulkham Hills, New South Wales. He served there from April 1945 until his discharge in December 1945. An Education Officer in the Australian Army Education Service, his role was to assist in the repatriation of servicemen who had experienced trauma and/or serious injury (including loss of limbs) during their overseas service.
One of Lieutenant Proposch’s tasks was to help the men find meaningful employment when they were ready to return to civilian life. However, according to Evelyn, Bill didn’t know what work he would do himself after he completed his military service!
At the beginning of 1946, Bill and Evelyn moved to Rockhampton, Queensland’s third largest city at the time.
Not long afterwards, they welcomed their first child, a son. They made their home in rented accommodation, an old Queenslander, a large highset timber dwelling in Bolsover Street, not far from Rockhampton’s city centre.
A civilian again, Bill had to find work. He had a wife and child to support.
Following his army experience, Bill was sure about one thing: He wanted to be his own boss. Prior to the war, he worked as a clerk for an accountancy firm in Melbourne city and took night classes as part of a commerce degree at The University of Melbourne. After a 5½ year hiatus, Bill was keen to re-enter the world of commerce.
In March 1946, Bill established his first commercial enterprise.
The “Central Trading Company”, as he called it, included wholesale and manufacturers’ agencies and a dressmaking arm (“The Evelyn Frock Salon”). He rented premises upstairs at 97 East Street, Rockhampton, next door to the National Bank of Australasia and over the road from Stewart’s, a leading Rockhampton department store.
Soon after settling in Rockhampton, Bill and Evelyn bought a car.
It was an Austin 8 Saloon, small by today’s standards. I guess it was all they could afford. Bill took this vehicle on most of his business trips. It served our family well for many years (not that my mother had a licence or drove a car in those days).
Bill was a representative for various wholesale and manufacturing agencies.
He promoted products such as haberdashery, fabric, Manchester and homewares. I still have samples of haberdashery my father peddled during those years and I well remember the many lengths of fabric, lace and ribbon my mother stored in suitcases at our home and used in her dressmaking long after my father’s travelling days.
According to my brother, our father was also an agent for MacRoberston’s chocolates and confectionery and drove a big MacRobertson’s delivery van, which he used on some of his trips.
My father’s agency work meant he had to travel, visiting clients (and prospective clients) and marketing his agency products throughout central, northern and western Queensland. He was often away from home.
In 1951, Bill, Evelyn and their 5-year old son moved to a house they purchased in North Rockhampton.
Like so many couples in post-World War II Australia, Bill and Evelyn wanted a home of their own. As a returned serviceman, my father qualified for a low-interest 30-year term Commonwealth Government war service home loan. He was able to borrow 95% of the total cost of the home (around ₤3000). Typical of dwellings built in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the house was lowset, modest in size, and constructed from cheap readily available materials (fibrolite, timber and corrugated iron).
I was born soon after my parents and brother moved into their new home. This dwelling was to be our family home for the next 20 years.
My father’s 1952 business trip
In early 1952, my father made one of his business trips to north and north western Queensland. It was not his first. “So far I have had a very good trip indeed and certainly far above my expectations – if fact it’s been about my best trip up here so far,” he wrote in his letter. Bill visited Mackay, Bowen, Townsville, Charters Towers, Mount Isa and Cairns (and probably many other places in-between).
The trip lasted four or five weeks.
It was a long time to be away from home, but not long enough for Bill to achieve his business goals. In his words, “It’s too much for me to do in such a short time.” To make the best use of his time, on most days he worked day and night. “I have been flat out”, he wrote. One day he made 28 calls!
Despite his busy schedule, Bill took time out to relax.
Always a keen sportsman, Bill played a couple of games of bowls and attended the Bowen Championship (Swimming) Carnival during his stay in Bowen. At the carnival Australia’s much-acclaimed Olympic swimming champion at the time, Nancy Lyons, gave swimming demonstrations. She was visiting Bowen at the invitation of Bowen’s Railway Swimming Club.
In his letter Bill refers to two racehorses, “Glen Lyon” and “Osmond”, both of which belonged to Evelyn’s father, Donald Beaumont, of Rannes. Not surprisingly, my father was always interested in horseracing and for many years he was a keen punter.
On this trip, Bill took the Austin 8 Saloon.
“The car has behaved very well and we have not had a moments’ worry in that regard,” Bill was happy to report. A man named Alan accompanied Bill as co-driver and travelling companion. I don’t know whether my father always took someone with him, but I’m sure it would have helped during the long hours on the road.
In those days, Queensland roads weren’t in good condition.
Not all of the main roads were sealed and even those that were sealed were narrow with rough edges. If it rained, the unsealed roads became slippery and dangerous, even impassable. Even in good weather, travel times were much longer than they are today. My father took photos of some of the roads he travelled on this (and/or a similar) trip. The following photographs show the condition of sections of the main highway between Rockhampton and Mackay at the time.
Once in Townsville, Bill and Alan stayed 6 days.
In 1952, Townsville was the fourth most populous city in Queensland (after Brisbane, Toowoomba and Rockhampton). I presume there were plenty of clients (and potential clients) there for Bill to call upon. As the following photograph shows, Bill wore a suit and tie when he was travelling and meeting clients. He was always impeccably dressed.
Bill and Alan lodged at the Sea-View Hotel on Townsville’s famous seafront, The Strand. Interestingly, the Sea-View Hotel was used in World War II as an Officers’ Mess. Perhaps Bill (an officer) visited it during his wartime service. The Seaview Hotel (as it is now known) is still standing today. Apparently the oldest part of the hotel, which dates from 1929, is one of the few remaining Art Deco masonry hotels in Townsville built in the first half of the 20th century.
• • • • •
My father’s letter
Sea View Hotel
Thursday 13 Mar 52
My Darling Evelyn, Bevan & Judith
We arrived in Townsville last night just as the clocks were striking 12 and we were both very glad to get to bed. So far I have had a very good trip indeed and certainly far above my expectations – if fact it’s been about my best trip up here so far, but it’s too much for me to do in such a short time.
As I had a large amount of writing to do this morning I decided to take time off to catch up on it and so far have spent the morning writing my reports and orders. But before sitting down to it we drove down to the P.O. and picked up my mail, including your letter, which was very good to get, but I was upset to think you were having such an awful time of it. I sincerely hope you are feeling better. If not, why not get Mrs Frazer or somebody to look after Judith while you see a dentist?
I have been working most nights or travelling therefore have not had the chance really to drop you a line before this although I suppose I could have done so last weekend, but it seemed too early to write a few words.
The car has behaved very well and we have not had a moments’ worry in that regard. Alan has driven me around about and kept himself amused that way whilst I have been flat out – I did just on 28 calls yesterday. Last Saturday and Sunday I played bowls in Bowen, losing each time, but had a really good time. On Sunday night there was a swimming carnival in Bowen & we went along to that – quite good, and we saw Nancy Lyons giving demonstrations.
At the moment we will be in T’ville till next Tuesday when we will push off to Charters Towers and then gradually work our way out to Mt Isa, probably getting there about Tuesday or Wednesday week, and I shall probably leave Alan there, fly back to T’ville and carry on up to Cairns. However, I’ll be writing again at the weekend and will probably be able to let you know more then.
There has been no rain on the trip and consequently the roads have been dry and good. I only hope it remains that way so that we can get to Mt Isa safely, for otherwise we could be held up for days.
I saw from last Sunday’s papers that Glen Lyon must have been scratched. And so he goes home without another race – perhaps it’s just as well as personally I don’t believe he could win a 5th div. And Osmond is coming down – well well.
The time has now advanced to 12.50 and very shortly I must close this and have lunch and then see some of my Townsville clients – I must get round to get home as early as possible.
Now Bevan, are you looking after Mummy and your sister? Don’t forget you are the only man about the house at the moment & I want you to be good – and manly. Are you keeping well? What about writing to me, eh?
Evelyn, please give my darling Judith a hug and kisses from me & tell her that Daddy misses his little girl, his little boy and his ‘fat chicken’.
Will close now – hope you are feeling better – look after yourself – we are both fit up here. And to all of you my fondest and deepest love & kisses.
Bill / Daddy
X X X X X X X X X X X X X For Mummy
X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X For Judith
X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X For Bevan
That will give you something to count, Bevan.
• • • • •
What happened in the ensuing years
It must have been only a year or so after my father wrote this letter that he relinquished his agency work. My father’s days as a commercial traveller were over. Bill’s many trips away from home, which commenced in the late 1940s, were hard on Evelyn who was left with the responsibility of managing the dressmaking arm of the business as well as caring for first, one child, then later, two small children. There was no child care in those days, and Evelyn had no family living nearby to help her with the children.
I was too young at the time to know or understand how much my father’s absences adversely affected my mother and our family life. My brother (who remembers) tells me it was a good thing that our father gave up travelling.
I understand now that it was our family’s salvation.
In 1954, my father registered a new company (W.E. Proposch and Co.), doing business in and around Rockhampton as general commission agents, house and property salesmen and auctioneers. This was the second of my father’s post-war commercial ventures (and not his last). As before, my mother assisted him in every way she could, a pattern that continued throughout their married life.
Like most couples (if the truth be told), my parents’ relationship had its ups and downs. But their love for each other and commitment to their marriage vows stood the test of time: Their marriage lasted 54 years.
Bill died in 1999; he was 80. Evelyn outlived her husband by 12 years. She died in 2011, aged 95.
When my father was in his late 70s and terminally ill, I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me and that I would miss him dearly when he was no longer with us. However, it was difficult to find the right time and circumstances to do so. And some things are just too hard to say to your father, no matter how old you are. If you’d like to know how I solved this problem, read How to tell your father you love him, which I posted on my blog on June 24, 2017.
‘Land of Opportunity: Australia’s post-war reconstruction’. In National Archives of Australia Research Guides (website). Online: http://guides.naa.gov.au/land-of-opportunity/chapter14/
‘War service homes and war loans’. In National Archives of Australia Research Guides (website). Online: http://guides.naa.gov.au/records-about-south-australia/chapter6/war-service-homes-loans.aspx
‘Rockhampton-Mackay Road “Bush Track”’. In Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), Thursday 26 August 1948, page 2. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/171189327
‘Highway Shaping’. In Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), Thursday 12 January 1950, page 2. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/171075754
‘Rockhampton-Mackay Road Is Reasonable’. In Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), Thursday 12 June 1952, page 2. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/172091048
‘Olympic Team for Bowen. Sequel to Nancy Lyons’ Visit.’ In Bowen Independent (Qld. : 1911 – 1954), Friday 14 March 1952, page 1. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/203945053
‘Glen Lyon – Gar Zacka For Double’. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Friday 1 February 1952, page 10. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/57090414
‘Good Fields At Callaghan Park’. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Friday 7 March 1952, page 4. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/57093707
‘Callaghan Park Details.’ In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Tuesday 17 June 1952, page 10. Online: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/57104417