‘A baby is born’
As the small ship Castel Felice made its voyage south, it headed down the Bay of Biscay, through the Mediterranean, docking in Port Said, then down through the Suez Canal, before stopping again in Aden (little did Gloria know then that Bill, her future husband was stationed in Aden with the Royal Engineers at this time, but their story was not to begin for several more years)
Many passengers were hit by sea sickness along the way and found themselves confined to their cabins. Gloria however quickly found that she had very good sea legs (something which thankfully both myself and my children have inherited) and with few passengers up and around the ship or attending meals in the Dining Room, it was a good opportunity for Gloria to socialise and make new friends.
Gloria was an attractive young redheaded woman and apparently quickly started to gain some flattery & attention from a gentleman called Joe whose wife was stuck in her cabin sick! Gloria’s eyes however were already set on an Italian Dining room steward whose name was Gabriele Scordamaglia.
Pauline recalled to me how Gloria would sneak out of the cabin during the night saying she was going to use the bathroom, but would be gone ages and so it was assumed that these late night escapades were actually Gloria sneaking off for “a canoodle with Gabriele in the broom cupboard”
Whist Gloria was making the most of her new found freedom and life away from her very suffocating parents, Pauline was already feeling very homesick. She had only recently met her ‘husband to be’ David at their cousin Edwards birthday party in the November before and both already realised they had very strong feelings for one another. Indeed David had been on the phone to Pauline in tears before they left pleading with her not to go. She was completely torn, but didn’t want to let Gloria down.
Over the course of the voyage the romance blossomed between Gabriele and Gloria, but they knew even then that it was going to be something which was short lived.
After 5 weeks at sea the Castel Felice finally reached Melbourne and this is where Gloria and Pauline were to disembark. Gloria had already secured a job at the Heidelberg Hospital in St Kilda and arrangements had been made for transport to collect both Gloria and Pauline from the Docks. Gloria was taken to the hospital first and then Pauline taken to her accommodation.
However no sooner had Gloria settled into her nursing quarters when she sneaked out again and headed back to the docks, this time to spend her very first night in Australia in a hotel..with Gabriele!
The next morning Gabriele was back on the ship for its return voyage to Europe. He promised to see Gloria again on his next voyage to Melbourne, but as the ship sailed back out to see that was the last Gloria was ever to see or hear from him again.
She already had a new love though – Australia. This truly was the beginning of a life long love affair, she loved the Country, she loved her new job and she loved all the people she met, both through her work and the Catholic Church she had immediately started attending.
Pauline however was not so happy, she did like Australia and she was pining for David, so almost as soon as they arrived she was making plans to return home to England. This was going to take time to save for the ticket though and go through the required paper, so even though Pauline was planning her return voyage, she and Gloria still enjoyed a few happy weeks together in Melbourne. They went to Healesville Zoo together, they attended a production of the Mikado…and they saw The Beatles on the balcony of a local hotel.
But then overnight life changed for Gloria, she discovered she was pregnant. Gabriele had sailed off without a care in the world and whilst she did try writing to him to tell him, she never received a response.
Gloria was terrified, not knowing what to do or who to turn to, with her very Victorian upbringing she knew that returning back to England or telling her parents was not an option. Her devout Catholic beliefs immediately ruled out a termination. She had no long term friends to turn to, mail still took 5-6 weeks to reach home, a pre-booked phone call back to England cost £3 for 3 minutes, something which she couldn’t afford. Never had she felt so scared or so alone. All she knew was that she wanted to do the very best for the little life growing inside her.
She confided in Pauline, but by this time Pauline had already arranged her passage home. Gloria turned to the only other person she felt she could trust, her parish priest Fr Burns. He promised Gloria that the church would take care of everything and made arrangements for her to go to ‘Waitara’ in Sydney. The Waitara Foundling Home had been established in 1898 by the Sisters of Mercy in Northern Sydney as a home for babies and for unmarried mothers. Before leaving Melbourne Gloria went out and brought herself a wedding ring to mask her status as an un-married mother. She said her goodbyes to Pauline and departed on what she described as her “journey of shame” to Sydney.
Gloria arrived in Waitara in June 1964, her accommodation beyond basic, it was the equivalent of a hospital bed in a shared dormitory with other pregnant girls and women, ranging from younger teenagers to those in their early 40’s. The Sisters of Mercy were not unkind to her, they provided for their basic needs but it was made clear from day 1 that in Gods eyes her ‘sins’ were en-par with that of a murderer!!
For so long Gloria had dreamed of what her life in Australia was going to look like, but none of those visions looked liked this.
When I was 15 and Mum told me her story of going out to Australia at the age of 25 it seemed like quite a ‘grown up’ age. I remember getting to the age of 25 myself and feeling a growing empathy towards what Mum had been through, and now I have a 25 yr old daughter myself I cannot begin to comprehend her having to go through something like that alone on the other side of the world without me knowing about it and doing everything in my capacity to help. The older I get, my horror of the isolated situation Mum found herself in upsets me more and more.
During her pregnancy Gloria suffered with a severe back problem and was allowed to attend a physiotherapists appointment once a week. She was driven there in patient transport by the same lady each week, Sylvia. Sylvia was the first person to show her real empathy, she became Gloria’s “Australian Mother” and they struck up a friendship which was to last for life.
The next few months at Waitara were incredibly difficult for Gloria, she was both scared and lonely. Each and every day she felt her child growing inside her, she felt it’s first kicks and every twist and turn. She didn’t have anyone to share these milestones with though, no husband to cuddle up with at night, to put his hand on her belly, to share in the excitement and tell her everything was going to be OK. Most nights Gloria silently cried herself to sleep on her small metal bed frame in Waitara. Holding her bump, loving her baby and wishing desperately she could give him or her the life they both deserved.
On 9th December 1964 after more than 5 months living at Waitara, Gloria was transferred to the Mater Misercordia hospital where she gave birth to her baby. A little boy, he was absolutely PERFECT in every way and she named him Michael William. Unlike Gloria and myself who both have pale skin and red hair, Michael inherited his fathers Italian genes with olive skin, lots brown hair and big brown eyes.
The nuns wanted to take Michael from Gloria immediately, but she fought for him and insisted in keeping him with her until her went to his adoptive family, she did not want him to ever be alone. She kept him and fed him for the first 10 days of his life, telling him day and night how much she loved him and always would. She told him that his new Mummy & Daddy would be able to give him so much more than she would ever be able to, and how he would be able to grow up with his head held high instead of being the innocent victim of other peoples prejudice and gossip.
Within a few days Gloria was told by the nuns that an adoptive family had been found for Michael, she didn’t know much, but she knew he was going to a good Catholic family (something which was very important to her) a family who had already adopted children and who were living up in the Blue Mountains.
To Gloria they sounded as perfect as any perspective family could be, and as heartbreaking as she knew it was going to be to give him up, she felt as though this was a family who could give her beautiful baby boy the life her deserved, the life she would have so longed to have been able to give him herself and was neither able to, nor allowed to. So 10 days after Michael was born, Gloria lovingly wrapped him up in his shawl, cuddled him for the final time whilst whispering a lifetime of loving, tender wishes to him. Then she kissed his little head goodbye and handed him to one of the waiting nuns. She sent off to his new family with a christening gown and bible she had brought for him, in the hope that one day he would be given these and told how much his birth mother loved and cherished him.
Gloria had already signed the paperwork in front of the Mother Superior, yet another occasion when she was de-graded and humiliated for her ‘sins’. With Michael now taken from her arms, Sylvia picked Gloria up from Waitara and took her home to live with her, her husband (also Michael) and their two grown up sons. Mum told me how with hormones still raging throughout her body, and grief ripping her heart wide open, she was screaming internally and yet was so numb that she couldn’t physically shed a tear.
Her only comfort was knowing that baby Michael was going to be in his new home and with his new family in time for his first Christmas…………….(or was he?????)