When Wally & Stan Phillips were born in 1922 weighing a scant 2.5lb (1134g) apiece, their mother was told not to bother taking them home. No one counted on the fierce love of a country woman with a pantry full of condensed milk. Photographer: David Field
My parents had two sets of twins. The first set of twins died shortly after birth. They were boys too. Then we came along and we weren’t doing so well either. When Mum wanted to take us home from Pyramid Hill Hospital the doctors said: “You know you won’t rear them.” Mum said: “Well, I left the first set of twins up here and they died, so I am going to take these home and give it my best shot.”
We had terrible trouble keeping the tucker down. There was an old matron who lived next door and she said: “Feed ’em on condensed milk. That’s very easily digested.” So that’s what Mum did.
I can remember when we were about six or eight dad bought a Model A Ford. We went for a ride in the new car up to Pyramid and were driving past the hospital when Mum said: “Let’s call in here and show them the twins I wasn’t going to rear.”
When I first left school I got a job up at Gunbower on a diary farm up there. I was up there about six months and then I came home to help Dad on the farm until 1942 when we were called up in the draft.
I wound up in Darwin about a week before the big bombing raid. We were digging trenches or something in our camp a few miles out of Darwin. I remember we heard this droning, humming noise. We looked up and there was dozens and dozens of aeroplanes. They were heading for Darwin and we thought it must be the Yanks. Then a couple of minutes later we heard the “Boom! Boom!” and saw the smoke rising and woke up to the fact it was the Japs.
It was up in Darwin I met a chap called Ron Hamley. When I came out of the Army in February ’43 to help Dad get the harvest off, Ron said: “You’ve got to go and see my parents and tell them how I’m getting on up here”. They lived at Dingee, so when I came home I went up there to meet the family including Ron’s sister Melva, who everyone called Tot.
We had a drought in ’43 and it turned out Dad had no harvest at all, so Mr Hamley got me to help him with his clover harvest. Of course I finished up marrying Tot. We will have been married 65 years next year. We’ve got four children, three boys and a girl. We’ve got 13 grandchildren including two sets of twins – all girls – and 14 great grandchildren.
And I still love condensed milk.
Don’t get me started on condensed milk. I’m not meant to touch it because I have the sugar diabetes, but I wish I could. When I was in the Army I used to go down to the canteen of a night and I’d get a tin of condensed milk and put a hole each side of the top with me bayonet and I’d down the whole lot.
It can’t have done us too much harm. Very few twins both make old age. Before poor old Mum died she said: “After what I learned from rearing you boys, I know I could have saved the first two. Instead they just put them in a shoe box and let them die.”
I went into the Army on the 5th of November ’41 just as I turned 19. It was supposed to be for six months, but after about six weeks the Japanese come in and I didn’t get home from the Army until halfway through ’46 – they kept me back because I wasn’t married.
I didn’t mind the Army. I was in the 38th Battalion. They picked the 39th Battalion to go up to New Guinea first. To bring the 39thup to full strength they lined us up and picked every second man out of the 38th.
The men either side of me are still up there. They ended up on the Kokoda Trail and never came home. We went up to the islands about a year after the 39th – they sent us in to Bougainville to push the Japs out. We were outnumbered by about 15 to one. We would have got a terrible hiding, but the bomb saved us.
I eventually come home and all the girls in my area were all taken or married so I was a lone cocky. There were a couple of us lads who decided at the end of harvest we would go on a trip together, so we had an eight-day bus tour to Adelaide. On that last afternoon we were at the Grosvenor Hotel and I saw a nice girl sitting on a piano stool. That’s how I met my Lil.
We went for a walk and I asked if she would write to me. Trouble was I had no education and could barely write my own name. She was such a brilliant girl and it took a while before I plucked up the courage to write back. We wrote for about 12 months. Then dear old Mum died and Lil had a big goitre operation done by Weary Dunlop and after that we decided to get married.
She was such a wonderful person. We didn’t have children because of how the goitre operation affected the hormones, but we were very happy. She loved the farm, but then she got very sick because the goitre came back and we came off the farm to get treatment.
I lost her in 1996 and I still miss her every day. That’s one thing life has taught me – just how short it is. I don’t know where the 90 years have gone – they have just flown by.