Osborne Field, always called Ossie, was born in Macksville on the Nambucca River, in 1923. His dad, Jim, was one of 12 adult children from a family of settlers who had a grant of farming land on the northern side of the river, and his mum, Mary, was English, from Margate. She had emigrated with her sister and brother-in- law.
Ossie was the oldest child; he had a sister, Audrey, and two brothers, Harold (Bruiser) and Ronald (Ron). His dad was working as a storeman and they were living in a rented house when the depression hit, causing hardship to the family. He had an early memory of his mother crying as they were evicted for not paying the rent. They then had to move to live in spare rooms and back sheds of friends in town. They sold all valuables to keep the family going and both parents took any work they could find.
Eventually his father and uncles built a two-room shack from rough-hewn timber on his grandparents’ farm and the family moved in, growing most of their food until the economy started to pick up again, when his father got a job as a butcher.
Ossie, Audrey, Harold and Ron had a farm-based childhood, in the orbit of their grandmother and bachelor uncles Quinton (nicknamed Derek) and Cliff. They were dairy farmers who planted crops, kept poultry and fished in the creek surrounding the farm. Jim, Derek and Cliff also built boats, lashed together farm machinery such as a motorised wood chopping machine, built and flew model planes, turned wood and did some amateur photography.
Ossie went to Macksville Primary School, then Super Primary until he was 14. In 1938 he started high school in Coffs Harbour, which involved a 12-hour day including travel on the all-stations train, missing two classes each day and doing homework by kerosene lamp.
On February 3, 1938, his brother Harold took ill. Ossie rode his bike into town to get the doctor out to the farm. The doctor took Harold away in the rear seat of his car to the hospital, his parents following on foot and returning that evening with the news that Harold had died due to a burst appendix. He was 10 years old.
In March, Ossie left school and took a job as a junior grocery assistant at the local store: Reid and Fotheringhams. His uncle Cliff bought a shortwave capable radio with which they could listen to the crackling BBC London service covering pre-war events in Germany, the blitzkreig on a hapless Poland, the British declaration of war, followed by Robert Menzies’ announcement that Australia was also at war.
His dad hung a coloured map of Europe on the wall so they could follow war reports. He wanted to sign up at 18, but his mum refused to sign the papers. In December 1941, as the Japanese despatched forces into South East Asia moving towards Australia, and Pearl Harbour occurred in Hawaii, he was called up for service.
Due to a policy of not sending soldiers under 20-years-old to overseas theatres of war, he spent the initial years training and performing Australia-based duties. Australian WWII soldier accommodation was basic—in Maitland he slept on a hessian bag filled with straw. The army even had to vacate on days when greyhound racing meetings were held.
He trained in West Maitland, Sandgate, Merrylands (Sydney), Geelong (Vic) and finally at the Jungle Warfare Training Centre at Canungra (Qld) before boarding a ship from Brisbane to Lae, PNG, in September 1944.
He described Lae as a hellhole: flat, hot and humid with torrential downpours in the afternoons, and rusting ship hulks (debris of heavy fighting some months earlier), in the shallow waters at the end of the airstrip. He had his first flight (in a DC3) to Medang where he was a supernumerary with the 229 Australian Supply Depot Platoon. Apart from contracting Dengue fever, he enjoyed the camaraderie of the platoon.
In June 1945 he was posted to 8th Australian Infantry Brigade which was camping on Borum Beach in Wewak, on the north coast of PNG. He described Wewak as beautiful, with beaches like the north coast of NSW, but full of the marks of recent, gruesome battles. The Japanese were entrenched in the mountains, but no longer well enough equipped to mount a wholescale offensive. In September he witnessed the Japanese surrender in PNG, by General Adachi to Australian General Robertson.
Being young and single, he was assigned to work on the wind-up logistics after the surrender, initially in Wewak, then Rabaul, on the volcanic island of New Britain. In Rabaul he became aware that Australia was sending a contingent to the 1946 Victory Parade in London, and in true ‘give it a go’ style, he applied. To his great delight, he was accepted, and travelled to Melbourne in late March for drills and fitting out. They set out on the HMAS Shropshire to London via Perth and South Africa, camping in Kensington Gardens in what he described as “large, comfortable tents”.
While in London he got to meet his mother’s family—she had never been able to return since she left in 1912—and participate in their post-war family reunion and celebration. The parade on June 8 had a crowd of over a million spectators. It involved contingents from all the allied countries marching seven miles through the streets of London, culminating at Pall Mall where there was a saluting base housing the English royal family and prime ministers of the allied countries.
On the return trip, through the Mediterranean and Suez Canal, they made stops in Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Aden, Sri Lanka, Perth and Adelaide. Throughout the trip, he had acted as assistant to the Adjunct Captain, a professional military man, who then offered him a three-year posting in Washington. He had already spent five years in the army and decided it was time to return to Civvy Street.
He was discharged, feeling cast adrift, from the army in October 1946. He returned to Macksville, to a position in the menswear department of Reid and Fotheringhams. His grandma had died and his parents, Derek, and Cliff, had bought out their siblings’ share of the farm. They all lived together in the farmhouse with the two uncles running the farm. Ossie and Audrey contributed their ‘board’ to pay for new floor coverings and furnishings in the house, finally making the family comfortable.
There were rations and shortages. He suffered from wanderlust for the first year, but post war optimism was infectious. Dance halls and cafes sprung up. They got involved in all the community initiatives, raising funds through local theatre groups, establishing a bowling club, sports fields, the district rugby league comp, reinstatement of the Nambucca River regattas, a volunteer fire station and eventually a high school and a new hospital in Macksville.
Dear to Ossie’s heart was the creation of the licensed Macksville RSL Club. They purchased land with an old timber building but needed a list of paid up financial members to be able to get a license and a beer quota from the Sydney breweries. Pubs were tied to breweries (Tooths and Tooheys) and had to close at 6pm, but clubs had more leeway. At one pound per year, they could only get 47 people to sign up to a not-yet licensed club. They got their license in time for Christmas 1948 and instituted evening hours, beer offerings, prawn nights and they even rented in two poker machines (they were early adopters).
In 1949 Ron McNeil, a Macksville son, returned from Melbourne to join his father’s business. Ron (affectionately known as Macca) and Ossie hit it off straight away, doing Vaudeville acts, trips to the Nambucca Pallais de Dance, and late night capers such as poaching oysters on the way home and cooking them up in white sauce. Ossie described it as letting off steam after the war.
One night when the circus was in town, they persuaded the elephant handler to loan them the elephant in exchange for a bottle of wine. After a crash course on elephant handling they took it down the main street of town. While passing the home of a friend they decided to knock on the door. The elephant started snacking on the zinnias in the front garden, so when their poor friend stuck his head out the bedroom window to see what was going on, he keeled over backward causing the bed to collapse under him. Ron and Ossie decided to quickly return the elephant and go to ground for a bit.
In 1950 two new girls came to town. Pauline (known to us as Auntie Pauline) was posted to the Rural Bank and Doreen, a dark-eyed, brunette nursing sister, had moved to Macksville to be close to friends. Ron and Ossie made their respective moves: Ossie got a chance to sell Doreen a pair of gumboots at the store. He put on the charm, enough to feel he could approach her at the next Pallais de Dance night, and the rest is history.
They married in 1953, bought a block of land along the river and built their first home, moving in before Christmas in 1955, just weeks after the birth of their first daughter, Vicki.
Ossie aspired to do more than work as a department store clerk, maybe even eventually buying into the business. One day a representative from the Commonwealth Oil Refinery (now BP) walked into the shop and asked him if he knew of anyone who would be interested in managing a petroleum storage depot they were planning to build in Macksville. In that spirit of ‘give it a go’, he applied. This involved travelling to Sydney for interviews and getting his drivers license. But he got the job. In a final offer, the possibility of transferring to other towns was raised with him. He spoke with Doreen and they decided to go for it.
He started with COR, in the newly built storage facility, in May 1957. They were moved to Inverell in November 1958 and just one month later, I, Helen, came into the world. His Inverell job was a sales representative to the northern tablelands district of NSW. He was given a shiny new company car (a Holden) and had to cover an area from the tobacco farms in the far north down to Coonabarabran.
There was a thriving Chinese community in the town and an open, friendly social life. The townsfolk would take trips to the Mid North Coast for their vacation, so the Nambucca Valley went from being their home to their favourite holiday destination. They never bought a house in Inverell—they knew they wouldn’t be there for the long term.
In 1962 Os and Doreen moved to Orange, then on the day JFK was assassinated they moved to their new home in Sale Street. Another town for Os and Doreen generally meant another baby, and sure enough this is where Sue appeared, daughter number three.
Similar to Inverell, Os’ work in Orange covered a chunk of the state—this time the Central Tablelands. This meant driving—and a lot of it—covering up to Gilgandra and Dunedoo to the north, east to Lithgow and Oberon, south to Young and west to West Wyalong and Condoblin. As a result he knew many of the roads of regional NSW like the back of his hand and genuinely loved being out and about on the road and among the people.
In 1968, Os lost his dad, which left his ageing mum living with Derrick and Cliff who, with his brother Ron, cared for her during her final years. Os and his sister Audrey made regular trips to Macksville to help with her care.
Os and Doreen spent eight years in Orange, which meant toughing out eight icy winters. This wasn’t all bad, winter meant snowmen and snow fights, but during this time we always had the annual Christmas holiday at Nambucca Heads, three weeks in what seemed like paradise. Then in July 1971, Os had the opportunity to move to the lovely city of Newcastle, back on the coast. No need for the annual beach holiday anymore. But several years on, the lure of the Nambucca Valley and his family beckoned, and those annual holidays started again. I’ll just add that our holidays never involved camping. After his army time, Os was more than happy to kiss tents goodbye.
March 1972 saw them move into the house they would live in for 43 happy years, at Dalvern Close – a street where the adults were well and truly outnumbered. At its peak, the street had upward of 30 rather free-range kids—enough to have our own impromptu bush dance. We had skateboards, bikes, scooters, handball, street cricket and tennis, Monopoly and best of all, backyard swimming pools (but sadly not in our backyard–Os carefully considered it but, much to my disappointment, didn’t go ahead with it).
Then in December 1972 Os’s mother Mary died, leaving behind Derrick and Cliff living alone in the Macksville farmhouse. It was a modest fibro house on land with a hill on which grew an old turpentine tree, something of a Macksville landmark. Os continued to help support Derrick and Cliff through their lives, and after they both passed on in 2000, the Macksville house and land was sold which for Os, was like losing a part of himself.
Os’ career in BP continued in Newcastle, but now it was managing fuel distribution throughout the Hunter. He was based in Carrington alongside the Shell, Ampol, Mobil and Caltex harbour headquarters. Now Christmas was a time of giving, even to these rivals. So Os would send a bottle of grog to each of his peers at Shell, Ampol, Mobil and Caltex, and coincidentally, he’d receive a bottle back from each. Doreen was convinced it was a racket and that they gave each other their Christmas orders in advance.
In 1974 he then took on another role managing the Newcastle operations of BP, including shipping, storage and distribution, which also meant dealing with the waterfront. This involved early starts timed with ship arrivals. It also involved the odd terse phone call at all hours, presumably with members of the waterfront during a period in Australia of heavy industrial action.
Then in 1982, after 25 years of service, Os retired from BP. As with many when they retire, this left a little bit of a hole in his life, but he eventually became involved with the Probus Club which helped fill that void. Here he met new people, built a new social circle, got out and about on short trips, even went on to became president for several years, recruiting several of the Dalvern Close crew into the fold. He could again get on the road and amongst people.
Os was also keenly interested in his family history, particularly that of his father’s family. He made contacts both locally and abroad to put together extensive documentation about it, and then in Easter 1980 he organised a family reunion of descendants of his father’s parents. It was attended by several hundred people and held up on the hill of the old farm, fittingly under that old turpentine tree.
Ossie was a keen diarist, and has written memoirs based on his childhood aptly titled ‘Under the Turpentine’, his years in the army, titled ‘The Army’, and life after the army, titled ‘Civvy Street’.
Retirement also introduced the prospect of travel into Os and Doreen’s lives which they did with gusto. Os loved it all, whether it was a road trip around NSW, the Australian outback, a Pacific Island or Europe. As in his work, he just loved hitting the road and seeing new country and being around people. One European trip included a visit to his mother’s home town, Margate, the second was an extended stay with Susan and Mariano to meet the newly acquired Italian relatives.
But age marches on, and over the years Os saw the passing on of a great deal of his friends. Perhaps the toughest loss was in 2002—that of his mate Macca, his partner in the great Macksville elephant incident.
The last few years of Os’ life weren’t easy ones for him, and in 2015 the final chapter of their lives brought more change, this time away from Dalvern Close and into Lindsay Gardens Aged Care, a place staffed by some pretty special people who showed great heart, compassion and dignity. Then sadly, last September, Os lost Doreen, one week off 63 years of marriage.
So after 94 years of life, five years of army service, a varied and satisfying career, a long and happy marriage to Doreen, three children, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren, Os’ life was a happy and fulfilled one. He was a caring and mostly patient father (remember that this is a man who endured the antics of three teenage daughters). Personally speaking, he awoke my political awareness and values, something we shared. He is responsible for my ongoing addiction to the ABC news and current affairs, my subscription to the Sydney Morning Herald, and gave me insights into leadership, both good and bad.
So here’s to you, Osborne Sidgwick, our dear Fars. In my eyes he was a fantastic father, a people-person and a true gentleman. At six-foot-one he was certainly a man we could all look up to. Together he and Doreen gave us a loving upbringing, wanting for nothing (except that backyard swimming pool). We loved him a lot and we will all miss him dearly.