A Great Sorrow

Marge wearing victory roll hair copyGeorge 1947 copy

Our mother's sister, Marge, who had been close to marrying an American Serviceman during the war, had had a whirlwind romance with George Rostos, a Hungarian Jew, who had emigrated to Australia during the war. His parents, who were later to join him and Marge in Australia, had been in a Nazi concentration camp. George and Marge were married in 1945, the year the war ended.
Marge George wedding with Alice copy
From left: Alice, George and Marge

Jim and Alice, our parents, were married later the same year. A busy year, as in October of that same year, George was offered a job in Sydney at the CSIRO. It was an exciting and welcome offer but it led to “a great family sorrow” as George and Marge moved to Sydney. They travelled to their new life on The Spirit of Progress, then a steam train.

The night before Marge and George went to Sydney 1 copy
The family gathering the night before. From left: George, Alice, Freda, Alf, Auntie Bert and Marge.

To us in the world of instant communication and Skype, we may think, “What’s all the fuss about, it’s only Sydney?” But, in 1945, five months after World War 2 ended, it was quite a different matter. During the war people had not travelled much, and even long-distance train fares were expensive and airfares, prohibitive. Once the train pulled out of the station one of the few means of communication was by letter:
The only other means of communication was by telegram. Telegrams were expensive, as you paid per word, and therefore they were usually only used in an emergency. You would take the message to the post office where it was translated into Morse Code, and then transmitted along telegraph wires, decoded at the other end and delivered to your home by the telegram boy on his bicycle.
Telegram -

And so began their new life in Sydney. The first three places from 1945 to 1949 were all in fashionable, post-war, cosmopolitan Sydney.

Marge and George had only known each about a year when they moved to Sydney. Marge speaks of their friendship group in Sydney as Hungarian Jewish refugees. This included Bandi, their housemate. What an amazing new world she lived in! Rose Bay and Potts Point were, and still are, in the heart of fashionable Sydney.
Map showing Rose Bay and Potts point.
Marge speaks of watching the flying boats landing at Rose Bay. It had been a busy “airport” during the war, and, in 1945, was still used for overseas travel.

Their exciting new life continued in another inner city apartment.

Potts Point  copy
Potts Point is right on the harbour.

Bellevue Hill, where Marge and George lived for three years from 1947, is in much the same area of Sydney.

They shared this flat with Phyllis, who seems to have worked in a job where she had access to otherwise unobtainable items. Marge speaks of her often in her letters.

These two extracts are from letters Marge wrote to Alice from Bellevue Hill, in 1947:

We, George, Phyllis and I, went to the beach (Tamarama) yesterday. Phyllis got let down by one of her blokes whom she had quite a crush on and she came with us. I must admit she took it with great dignity and amusement, though I know she was a bit crushed. So we sunned from 11 o'clock till 3. George and Phyll went nicely pink, but I did not change from my pale putty.
The job is still quite within my scope. I mean the two jobs. Phyllis helps a lot and, even if she is not home for dinner, never neglects to make us a delicious sweet from her American Cookery Book and peel some veggies for me.
She helps in many small ways which are not noticeable too, and I often go to do a small job to find it is already done. She brings lots of things from the planes - fruit and soap and face tissues; and brings me Persil (laundry powder) and Lux (toilet soap) and Velvet Soap (used for washing dishes, floors, surfaces, hand washing clothes etc), which have been unobtainable here for months.

This one was written acknowledging a birthday present:

I am so terribly thrilled with the cloth. When i first opened it I thought you must have got cloth at some art shop with stamped design and spoked hem and advised colours, but on reading your letter I find it is all a family affair and I am truly amazed and pleased with your taste and industry. Did you really do that spoked edge all on your own? I just love the colours, especially as my favourite colour is yellow. Thank you darling so very much. I shall cherish it and wash it so carefully and it will only be used on very special occasions. Tait also gave me a cloth - a beige one, very tasteful and good material. She also gave me a coffee pot to go with my set. Stephen left me a beautiful round cloth in Hungarian lace too, so i am not so badly off now. Phyll bought me a butter knife, a rolling pin and a beautiful round crystal bowl with two little handles and that engraved work around the sides- grape design and I love using it. I am now serving up my meals continental fashion these days, piling everything on dishes in pretty patterns and let the folks serve themselves. - It’s fun…..
…….if George were Australian I would certainly encourage him to take a job in Melbourne, but good jobs for foreigners don’t grow on gooseberry bushes. Here is an example: Last week Knox Schlapp advertised for a clerk. Several people called and one among them with a German name. I announced him to Mr Shaw who said to me, “That’s a foreign name. Is he a foreigner? I don’t want to see him.” I had to go and tell the chap to go away, and he had by far the most intelligent face of all that we interviewed. (Mr Shaw doesn’t know that George is a foreigner) They are turned down before even given the chance. Then again, George is not treated as a foreigner out there (CSIRO). In the atmosphere of prize scientific research, which exists there, such things do not matter and he is gaining the confidence and poise which he certainly would not out in the industry and commercial field.

Life was to change dramatically for Marge and George when they moved out of fashionable, lively Sydney into a house in a newly developed housing estate at Seven Hills, 37 kilometres west of the city.

seven hills aerial shot
Seven Hills Estate in 1945.

It was not until the mid 1950s that George finally got a job in Melbourne CSRIO, and they all moved back to live close to their family.