It was the fifth of October 1946. I was standing on the platform at Donnybrook, clutching the precious gift in my hands. I was nine years old and wearing my new frock made of white mosquito netting.
Remember, it was just after the war and we still had clothing coupons, for the time of rationing was not yet over. With others I was waiting for our special visitors – Royalty, no less.
My frock had a round neck, puffed sleeves gathered into a band and a gathered skirt. I wore white socks with black patent leather shoes, my auburn ringlets were tied in two bunches.
In my hands I carried a posy of golden roses and maiden hair fern, especially made by Lou Taylor, who lived not far from my grandfather. Lou had picked the golden roses with care, as she thought everyone else would have given wildflowers.
H.R.H. the Duke of Gloucester, Governor-General of Australia, and H.R.H. the Duchess of Gloucester were on a tour of the South West and their train was shortly due to pull in. My father, Alan Frost, was a member of the Preston Road Board, and as the only girl child of a sitting member, I had been chosen to present the bouquet to our distinguished guests.
I was the last to hear of this honor. The previous Sunday I had been walking along the South West Highway to Sunday School, a regular practice since I was five, when the two sons of the Road Board Secretary were riding their horses and stopped in front of me.
I was jeered at for being stuck up and for being “Lady Muck of the Chook House” as I was to present flowers to the Duchess. Totally bewildered I froze and just waited for those two big horses to pass me by.
At that time I knew nothing of the prestigious event, for my father was a stickler for not discussing such matters in front of children and in my family in those days, it was believed that praise of any kind would result in a swelled head. I was not told till the morning of the Big Day what lay ahead.
When the black engine steamed to a stop at our station, the Royal Visitors alighted. I managed that curtsy without tripping over and presented the golden roses to a small dainty woman with lovely eyes.
How different this story would be if told through the voice of the Duchess, the stationmaster, Lou Taylor or my father…
My next memory of Donnybrook Railway Station is thirty years later. June, 1976. My father, his three grandchildren, my sister and I, were all dressed in period costume. This time we were the distinguished guests and we traveled aboard the steam train, the Leschenault Lady.
When the train hissed to a halt, the door opened and my father stepped on the platform where he was greeted by the Shire President and other local dignitaries. We were escorted along a red carpet and assisted into a horse and buggy, and driven through the town to the Donnybrook Memorial Hall.
There we mounted the stage, scene of many childhood memories. The annual Fancy Dress Ball with its Grand Parade, ballet concerts, Nativity Concerts, my parents performing in repertory plays, the making of magnificent patchwork curtains and even a Debutante Ball. Now, my father, his two daughters, and three grandchildren were center stage.
Alan Frost was being congratulated and made welcome for the launch of the story of Donnybrook as recorded in his book “Green Gold: a history of Donnybrook 1842 to 1974.” When you look carefully through the pages of this book, you will not find a single mention of the Royal Visit and of the role played by his daughter. There was little chance of a swelled head in our family.
A final glimpse of Donnybrook Railway Station was in September, 1992, sixteen years later. This time it was to celebrate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Donnybrook. The stationmaster was long gone, and the Railway Station was now the home of the local Tourist Bureau.
My father, now aged ninety was in a wheelchair and this time, the community gathered under the old oak tree that spread its branches just outside the old station in front of the old stationmaster’s house. A dear family friend, Mrs. Olive Kemp, unveiled a commemorative stone and local children buried a time capsule with other stories that will not be opened until 2042.
And so time marches on … and yet … and yet, I still see before me, a little girl in a white frock made from mosquito netting, with auburn curls, curtsying and giving golden roses to her Duchess.
And now her story is told.
Jenni Woodroffe is an Elder in children’s literature and storytelling. Her love of stories began with books from her grandparents and parents that featured the flora, fauna and stories of the Australian bush.