Dorothy Church

Dorothy Church


Dorothy Jarvis Church the fifth and youngest child of the Church family, was born on 12 September 1916 at Canterbury Sydney. Her parents were Charles Sidney Church, born 24 April 1880 at Dubbo and May Cunningham, born 16 March 1867 Sydney. Charles Church never completed his school education, as in those days when old age pensions were unheard of, he had to find work to support his mother and grandmother. He was not able to marry until he was 30. Regardless of these problems Charles did well for himself and later for his own family.

When Dorothy was born Charles worked as a Drapery Traveller. In 1920 he banded together with a few friends and started the Australian Cash Order and Home Furnishers in Sydney. He was its manager for more than 30 years. The firm employed up to 60 travellers and a large number of office staff with branches in Wollongong and Brisbane.

Dorothy had many happy childhood memories. Saturdays were often spend on Bondi Beach where the family would be joined in the afternoon by Charles after he finished work. For the Christmas holidays they usually rented a house at Blackheath and were able to visit the Jenolan Caves. Once again her father would join the family on the weekends. In 1921 Charles bought a car, the first one in the street and now there were even more family outings.

As Dorothy turned 6 she went to Stanmore Public School and later the Stanmore Baptist Church and Sunday school. Three years later the family moved to a larger house at Haberfield where Dorothy attended the local Public School. With their new house came a tennis court and large orchard. They now played tennis and croquet on Saturday afternoons and had many friends staying for tea. Charles did well enough to employ a gardener and a cleaning lady who stayed with them for 30 years.

Because of her father’s financially secure position, Dorothy was able to continue her education at Fort Street Girls High School and passed her Intermediate Certificate with 5 As and 2 Bs. She now enrolled at the Metropolitan Business College for a one year course in typing and shorthand. On completion she started work at the Federal Mutual Insurance Company. During this time she still managed to teach Sunday school at Camperdown City Mission.

After three years as an office worker Dorothy decided she wanted to do something more worthwhile and rewarding, resigned from her job and started nursing. At that time there was no preliminary training required, you just learned while on the job under supervision of a senior nurse. She started at the Prince Henry Hospital on Sunday 14 February 1937. Shifts were 52 hours on day and 55 hours on nightshift. No loading for weekend or public holidays either.

If all this was not enough to turn you off, it was the rule that lectures had to be attended during off duty time. If something was broken you had to pay for it as well as for the uniform. All this for a financial reward of 13 shillings a week!! During this time Dorothy contracted diphtheria, and cellulitis and septicaemia from nursing patients and was critically ill for many months. A new drug then – sulphathiazole – was trialled on her and she recovered but complications meant she was in and out of hospital for the next two years. When it was discovered how to distill penicillin from the urine of troops who had had it (penicillin was reserved for them at that time) this was available to the public.

Dorothy then quickly recovered and finished her training in November 1943 For something to do in between she learned Braille and later transcribed several books. While doing some further training she met Phyllis Jones, another nurse and they became lifelong friends. Phyll had been at Dunbar in Queensland with the Australian Inland Mission (AIM) and Dorothy applied for a nursing position with them. They were to go to Fitzroy Crossing in W.A. but the S.A. government wanted a Hostel at the new Leigh Creek Coalfields. As Phyll had experience they were appointed to open and run the hostel. The two Nursing Sisters left Sydney by train on Monday 30 July 1945 to start their inland adventure. On the stopover in Adelaide, they were assisted with the buying of furniture and other equipment, by Sister M. Henderson of Oodnadatta.

They met Premier Thomas Playford and were received at Government House by Sir Willoughby and Lady Norrie. When they left Adelaide for Leigh Creek they were accompanied by the Rev. D. McTaggert, who would stay with them until they were settled into their new home, which turned out rather small for a nursing home and nurses’ quarters. However according to plans a modern District Hospital would be erected and the present building turned into nurses’ quarters.

It must have been a real culture shock for both of them coming from well to do families and green surroundings to a place almost as barren as the moon’s landscape, where temperatures could reach 45 degrees or more and dust storms were a regular occurrence. If or when it rained it would in most cases not even settle the dust. However when it really rained it resulted in major floods and wash aways of fences, roads and railways.

On their arrival at Copley the two Sisters stayed with Mrs Pierpoint for a few days whilst unpacking and setting up the Hostel. When everything was finished, the AIM hostel was opened by the Hon. Chief Secretary Lyell McEwin on 18 October 1945. The Hostel was a newly built house intended for the mine manager. It was however made into two wards with the verandahs closed in for the Sisters’ bedroom. A dispensary was built on the side verandah and the patients’ bathroom and toilet on the front verandah. One of the first official visitors to call at the AIM Hostel was Lady Norrie, who had nothing but praise for Sisters Church and Jones.

As both Sisters lived on the hospital grounds, they were probably the two busiest women out of the eight living on the field. They attended to all the medical needs of the residents, and those of the surrounding area, did their own cleaning and cooking, looked after a vegetable and flower garden and kept chickens in the yard for a supply of fresh eggs. They even prepared bodies for burial in mail-order coffins, which were not always available or when at hand were the wrong size.

During the first five months they nursed 29 in-patients for 117 days and attended to 235 out-patients who required a total of 576 treatments. Even so, the two Sisters still managed to provide a Christmas Tree party on 15 December for 32 children. They also opened and conducted the first Sunday School attended by 28 children and a Sunday Evening Sing Song.

They also had to cope with being in a men’s world. The total population at that time consisted of 12 families living at Leigh Creek, 20 men living in single men’s quarters and a few hundred men, of many different nationalities and mostly Displaced Persons, in tents. All in all a place of hard work, heavy drinking, fighting and gambling. While at Leigh Creek Dorothy travelled to Nepabunna, Arkaroola, Beltana, Hawker, Quorn and even Adelaide to attend to patients or bring them south for further treatment, naturally always in the company of a male driver.

Many of the single men came along to the Evening Sing Song, obviously more interested in meeting these two single ladies and the supper afterwards than anything else. Among some of the regulars were Bill and Don Knuckey. The Sisters were also kept busy cooking cakes and entertaining the many parties of official visitors at morning and afternoon teas.

Dorothy and Don soon saw a lot of each other and finally decided to get married. This would mean that Dorothy had to resign from the AIM as it only employed single women. It would also mean a radical change in her lifestyle. Dorothy left Leigh Creek in November 1947 and married Donald Gough Knuckey at the Haberfield Baptist Church, Sydney on 7 February 1948. It goes without saying that her Friend Phyllis Jones was bridesmaid.

Gool Mohamet

After their honeymoon it was back to South Australia. This time to it was to be Copley and to a life of continuous moving, isolation and coping with even fewer facilities than those available on the coalfield. Don had decided that he would go dam and well sinking. His first job was at Mulgaria Station near Farina and owned by Afghan Gool Mohamet and family. When after a few months work the tractor broke down it had to be taken on a slow 650 kilometre trip south to Adelaide.

While waiting for parts and the repairs to be completed Don worked as a taxi driver while Dorothy worked in the Mail Order department of Myer. After the repairs had been done it was another slow trip back to continue the job on Mulgaria Station. A few months later Dorothy went back to Adelaide by herself to stay with Don’s parents before giving birth to their first child Marilyn on 20 January 1949.

After completing the job at Mulgaria the young Knuckey family moved back to Copley and lived in the old police station. Don went truck driving on the coalfield and also bought a bus to do a run between Leigh Creek and Orroroo. On weekends they often went visiting people or different places. Some of the favourite sites were Aroona Waters, Depot Springs, Myrtle Springs, Angepena and Angorichina Hostel. They even tried their luck on the Boolooroo goldfield.

When the police building was taken away at short notice Don built a large shed to be used as their house. In December 1950 Dorothy went down to Adelaide again to have her second child Anne at the Memorial Hospital on 14 January 1951.

While in hospital Don came to visit her with the news that he had sold up everything, bought a tractor and was going back to dam and well sinking. Don preferred the peace and quiet of the bush, where he would be his own boss, working in the wide open spaces of the outback, camping under the stars with an occasional dust or rain storm thrown in for added excitement.

Even Dorothy had a good measure of Wanderlust herself which she had probably inherited from her uncle Ernest Church. Being much older than his brother Charles, he had been to the Californian gold rushes and later to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, where he made a fortune. He paid for his brother Charles to go to boarding school, which came to a sad and sudden stop when on his way home from attending a meeting he was bashed up and robbed. He died from the injuries and left a wife and 6 children.

After some further work at Mulgaria other jobs were undertaken at Mount Lyndhurst, Witchelina, Whyalla and Murnpeowie Stations. Come December 1952 Dorothy made her now familiar trip to Adelaide to give birth to her third child Christine on 15 January 1953. Barely six months later the next job turned out to be in Queensland where dams had to be excavated on Bulloo Downs and Norley Stations.

Mount Lyndhurst

Bulloo Downs was managed at that time by Jack Watt, a South Australian born in Quorn in 1912. He had started working for Sidney Kidman at the age of 12 on Cowarie Station on the Birdsville Track, which he later managed. Norley Station was on the outside channel of the Bulloo River some 25 Kilometres north from Thargomindah and owned by Sid Reid who acquired it after the split in 1939 with the Kidman Conpany.

Bulloo Downs

When those jobs were completed it was on to Nockatunga. This was a bonus for Dorothy as its manager Bill Hughes had married her old friend Phyll Jones. This would have provided a welcome break for both of them as they were able to have a few yarns. Unfortunately it was not too often as the job was a fair distance from the station homestead. As before life changed very little. Isolation was still the order of the day as was the carting of water over long distances. Bread had to be made every day… outside, as only a fuel stove was available and made temperatures inside unbearable. No electricity or generator yet.


When Don had to be away getting parts or supplies Dorothy would be on her own with the children, a long way from anywhere without transport, radio or telephone. Still she insisted on keeping up standards. Clothes were ironed children dressed neatly and assisted with their correspondence lessons. It seemed as very little had changed since Henry Lawson wrote The Drover’s Wife.

In June 1956 the whole family decided to go to Sydney to await the birth of the fourth child Graham. This turned out easier said than done. This was the flood year and only Christine (3years old) was able to go with her mother on the long trip from Nockatunga to the airport at Cunnamulla. Due to rains roads had become heavy or impassable and they missed the plane. No such thing as waiting in the airport terminal for an hour to catch the next one. Not then. Dorothy and Christine had to stay in a hotel at Cunnamulla for a week waiting for the first plane. Still Dorothy managed to get to Leichardt Hospital for the birth on 8 July 1956. It was eight weeks before Don and the other girls arrived in Sydney.

Before and after the rain

During the latter part of 1958 Don had to go once more to Adelaide for a major tractor overhaul. The whole family came along which made it possible for the three girls to attend a real school. They returned to Queensland early in 1959 but six months later they were on the road again with their four caravans, two tractors, fuel truck and a utility, back to South Australia where a job was waiting at Murnpeowie. When that job was completed they settled once again at Copley next to Wally Sires’ garage and the children attended the Leigh Creek School.

Don had a job for Smorgons servicing the rabbit and roo chillers dotted about the northeast of South Australia and bringing the carcases back to the railhead so was away for weeks at a time. Dorothy taught Sunday School and Scripture and helped in the Leigh Creek School library and ran an unofficial taxi for Copley aboriginal families who needed to go Leigh Creek.

By 1961 Don was looking for a different kind of job where he would be home more often and the place a little closer to civilisation where the family could settle down. They bought a property, Glenwarra near Coonabarabran. It proved a lot of hard work but at least there was some regularity. Children at school, attending church and Sunday school, visiting neighbours, entertaining, and being visited by family and friends. It was here Dorothy became involved in the Far West fundraising.

With the children growing up it came a bit as a surprise when Dorothy was pregnant again. Child number five Kathy was born at the Coonabarabran Hospital on 13 May 1965. Now some of the children were also spreading their wings to university, work in Sydney or to get married. After some ten years Glenwarra was sold and a move made to Ashfield in Sydney where Dorothy took up nursing again at Bethel Nursing Home, where her sole surviving sibling Lillian moved decades later in 2010 at the age of 95.

After nearly 25 years of sharing heat, dust, floods, isolation, separation, Spartan living conditions, sickness and health, Dorothy and Don parted to go their own separate ways. On 27 December 1974 Dorothy, now 58, married Allen Hamilton Sargeant and settled with him first at Grose Vale and then at Stanley Park, Curlewis, growing wheat and fattening lambs. It turned out a completely different experience from what she had done before. Dorothy now became an active member of the CWA.

There were some other changes as well. No more trips to Australia’s inland. Instead there were many overseas trips to follow. From Norfolk Island, where they honeymooned, to Dubai in 1979. Other places visited during these years and later were Norway, Holland, Scotland, England, France, Italy, Greece, Hong Kong, New Zealand, America, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Still it was not just a life of travel.

Between their travels they sold Stanley Park and moved to Blackman’s Point to grow turf… 15 acres of it. This would have been enough for most people, but not for Dorothy. In 1984 and now 68 years old, Dorothy and Allen went to Bathurst and later across the Nullarbor to Perth. After that it was back to where it all had started, Leigh Creek, Copley, Marree, Wilpena Pound and Coober Pedy. Six years later she was back in Adelaide visiting Kangaroo Island before flying to Singapore. After another trip to America in 1993 a visit was made to Alice Springs, Ayer’s Rock, Katherine, Groote Island and Burketown.

Dorothy and her 5 children

Dorothy’s 80th birthday was celebrated with a party, organised by husband Allen and attended by all family members, including the grandchildren. Five years later on 7 March 1998 Allen died. During her 25 years with him Dorothy had been involved and contributed to his ventures on the land but also found time to pursue her own interests. She became a member of the Historical Society organising tours and contributing to historical research. After joining the local CWA she served as its president for three years. Meals on Wheels was another organisation which benefitted from her help as was the Billabong Koala Centre where she became a committee member.

From its beginning until a few weeks before her death Dorothy was the roster secretary for Port Macquarie Driver Reviver – the largest one in Australia with well over two hundred volunteers on a 24 hour roster for over months each year. After her death a memorial to her was incorporated into the permanent Driver Reviver Rest Centre. She was also awarded a Local Government Australia Day Citizenship award.

Dorothy and Phyllis

Never one to sit still and waste time Dorothy thought it a good idea to become computer literate. After all she was only 80! By the end of 2001 she had used the computer and the help of her eldest daughter Marilyn to write her life story. Dorothy died after a long illness on 8 March 2006, aged 89. Her ashes are in the Port Macquarie Cemetery. Phyll Jones and Dorothy remained friends until death did part them with Phyll able to visit Dorothy in her last illnes.


With many thanks to Dorothy's children.
They supplied most of the information and all pictures.

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