When Joe Healy met a beautiful red-headed girl at a dance in a parish hall in East Brunswick he knew he was not the only one who had noticed her.
The lad from Whitfield was now a young man, a licensed plumber working for an established company on the best building site in Melbourne city, opposite the Melbourne Town Hall. This building has, as he predicted, lasted for a century. Joe had done well in his apprenticeship and was now teaching night school at South Melbourne Tech. He was proud of his firm. They were developing this city.
The Healy family lived in the Station Master’s house in Moonee Ponds. Vera Martin lived in Jarvie Street East Brunswick and worked in the silk-stocking factory around the corner. Her grandmother, Annie Stahl and other relatives lived nearby.
I can tell Vera’s memory of her first meeting with Joe because she wrote it in a notebook. ‘Every year the parish ran a fete. Mrs Healy [Charlotte] being a good cook made a cake for each day and Joe arrived with it each night. It wasn’t until 40 years later she told me she had kept her fingers crossed until he came home to see how he was progressing. It worked.’ Joe found his way into Vera’s inner circle: her brother Leo who loved to play the saxophone and was ‘going out’ with Vera’s friend Jessie; her sister Rita who was ‘going out’ with Jack Cosgrave.
This courtship of Vera and Joe involved beach picnics at Black Rock, Half Moon bay and Mordialloc where Joe was a member of the Life Saving squad. There was music of the jazz age. The Martin clan sang around the piano on Sunday nights with Leo playing sax. There were ferry trips to Queenscliff, picture shows and theatres.
With the depression of the 1930s good times ended. Joe’s ‘established construction company’ crashed. Joe and Vera were engaged to marry but it was difficult to live week by week. It was not until October 1934 that Joe found a permanent job. They waited no longer, they put a $25 deposit on a house in East Coburg. In November they began paying the mortgage of three pounds, five shillings and eight pence per month. They married on Boxing Day that year, headed by bus to Marysville for their honeymoon, then moved into their new home. There was not much furniture, timber fruit-packing cases served as seating.
Vera wrote, ‘In 1935 our family began. Joan was born. I can still remember cuddling her in my arms and saying … she’s ours. Nobody on earth can take her from us. Our family soon grew to four girls.’
I need to skip, for now, the stories of the next forty-two years.
At the end of his life my father asked me to find a poem of Elizabeth Barrett Browning that he needed to give to my mother.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach …
I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.