Responding to a difference of opinion regarding behaviour and disobedience, hands on hips, nearly four years old, Melanie stubbornly announced ‘I’M THE BOSSY BOOTS IN THIS HOUSE’ this assertiveness she would carry through the rest of her life. I am inclined to attribute this strength in her character to spending time at The Christian Day Care Centre in Moonee Ponds run by Mr and Mrs Potger (parents of Keith Potger of The Seekers fame). Mr Potty, as she called him, had acquired a Golden Labrador puppy and he seconded Melanie from the play area to assist when training the puppy.
Her father, Colin had died after suffering from colon cancer and at the young age of 22 months she was somewhat shielded from the full impact of this loss. After forming a bond with her grandfather, he allowed her to accompany him while performing his policing duties. The Police Station at Riddell’s Creek, where she was now residing, was attached to the residence; she practiced her typing skills on his typewriter and played with date stamps etc. According to some of the locals in what was then a rather small community, she accompanied him in his vehicle to homes where he delivered summonses. It was claimed by a resident, that because she had fallen asleep against him in the car and not wanting to disturb her, he tooted the horn for the unsuspecting recipient to approach the vehicle to receive a summons. It wasn’t too long before Melanie considered herself as second in charge of the Police Station and one day, in Jack’s absence, she rushed to answer a knock at the front door, beating her grandmother by at least a couple of metres. The caller barely had time to announce himself when she blurted out “Pa’s at the pub”. The smiling District Inspector thanked her, said a polite ‘Good afternoon” to Betty and continued on his way through to Kyneton.
Together Melanie, Damian and Mum had recently moved to Ascot Vale after spending six months or so living with the grandparents at the Riddell’s Creek Police Station. They moved to Melbourne for work and to start a new life. One Saturday, the end of the working week, her mother was particularly busy with washing and housework; Melanie decided to slip out the front door and go walkabout, she crossed two very busy suburban roads including Mount Alexander Road which had trams constantly bearing down, rattling along clanging and screeching and overhead wires flashing. About two and a half miles away was the even busier freeway which for her was the road back to Riddell’s Creek and her grandparents. She had spent a large part of her very young life there. Emerging from the bathroom her Mum couldn’t see or hear her playing or watching TV, after a quick look around the house and yard she realised Melanie had done a runner; she ran for the phone, called Uncle Mick who was Commander of the CIB at Russell Street Headquarters; no sooner had she hung up the phone than an announcement and description of Melanie came over the radio airwaves and within minutes two patrol cars screamed to a halt outside the house; what seemed to be a swarm of plain clothed and uniformed police emerged swinging into action. Firstly, they started searching along the railway tracks at the back of the house and interviewing neighbours. They sternly ordered Mum not to move from the house and a patrol car left and returned in about 20 minutes with a little blonde, quite unperturbed, passenger. Her mother’s relief was immeasurable. Not far from the freeway, a couple of council workmen had seen a little barefoot child in shorts over a nappy and no shirt, making her way, at quite a pace towards the busy freeway; they asked her where she lived and where she was going; her answers being unsatisfactory they took her to a nearby service station and the police were contacted. When they arrived to identify and collect her, she had by this time consumed her fill of ice-cream and soft drink.
Damian Stockton was born in Melbourne after a long and tiresome labour. His first months were plagued by episodes of projectile vomiting which made feeding times worrisome, he was also a hyper-active child, though treasured by his parents, any thoughts of having another child were quickly dismissed…best laid plans and all that. Melanie Caroline Stockton was born at Calvary Hospital in Adelaide in April 1970. She wasn’t a planned baby. Her parents went to a party, over-imbibed, and frolicked with gay abandon upon returning home in the early hours. She was the first granddaughter for Betty and Jack; this was of significance after quite a few grandsons had been born to the family. A telegram went to the Gisborne Post Office and the telegram delivery boy was instructed by the Postmaster to do a sweep of the shops as it was shopping day in the Patterson household and Betty and Jack were somewhere in the commercial centre, it didn’t take long to locate them and give them the good news “It’s a girl”! This was a sweet victory for her mother who secretly wished for a female knowing that if she openly expressed this preference then she would surely have another boy.
Melanie would be a much easier baby to enjoy partly due to her brother Damian doting on her. Often, when she woke in the early hours of the morning, he would climb into her cot where he read her a story until her sleeping mother roused. He was quite tender and affectionate towards her as was her father. At eighteen months of age she was shipped over to her grandparents in Victoria with her father who was diagnosed with terminal cancer; her mother stayed in Adelaide working at Kelvinator’s and tidying up affairs until she could follow with Damian and all be reunited at Riddell’s Creek. This separation was difficult but just a lead up to what was to follow. Colon cancer in a man of 33 years of age was not such a common occurrence in those days and less likely to respond to treatment or lack of it as in 1972 there was not the chemotherapy that we have today. Although Colin was anxious to return to work as a real-estate salesman, this was not an option as his condition had deteriorated. It seemed longer, but it was only 4 months later that his funeral service was held in the little Catholic Church next to the Police Station. Damian, now six years old, was sent to good friends in Ballarat for a couple of weeks as it took that long for his mother to pluck up the courage to tell him that his father had died. To her regret and due to a lack of emotional fortitude, she couldn’t have him beside her at his father’s funeral even though he and his Dad had been a very close unit from the time he was born.
Two years in Melbourne were enough for Lesla to know that there were better places in Australia to raise children. Melbourne had very long, cold and miserable winters which didn’t seem to be beneficial for the children’s health. Rodney had come into their lives (uncle Waddely as Melanie called him) and the decision was made to move to Perth on the other side of the country. It didn’t take long to pack some belongings on the Volkswagen roof rack and head west to Port Pirie in South Australia; they boarded the Indian Pacific train that would then take this newly formed family unit across the Nullarbor Plain to new beginnings in a new city.
Lesla and Rodney were married in the Spiritualist Church in Mosman Park, Damian was resplendent in footy socks and Melanie with a little bouquet was flower girl. After the ceremony we moved onto, The Briar Patch for a performance of the play ‘Dimboola’, which was based on a country wedding; the audience were treated as the guests, the performers were seated at a table and played the wedding party. Our table consisted of John and Jean Davis, Lindsay (Lesla’s brother) Sean and Kathy O’Sullivan and Lesla (the second time bride) and Rodney (the first time groom).
Soon after we moved from Perth as a family, to Northam and settled in a small cottage in Duke St., Rodney initiated a discussion about adoption of the children; Damian decided to keep his Father’s name and Melanie was happy to take the Soulsby family name. Rodney and Melanie had disagreements on disciplinary matters though he was the one she pleaded should assist with injuries such as grazed knees or splinters that needed removing, his medical specialty was wiping tears and using magic ointment (spit) to salve wounds. At an earlier period in their relationship he was able to persuade her to eat pumpkin by calling it ‘pink potato’. She was still quite young when he first came into her life he bought some stability to the family that was trying to find their feet after Colin had died, they had had several moves both inter and intra state in a short period of time. Rodney was quite adept in the early years at having both children organized for breakfast and getting to school and nursery; Picture Melanie sitting on her potty, eating her breakfast and watching cartoons on the TV all at once - no mean feat.
At this time we also extended the family when joined by Brock, a basset Hound and Fluffy a ginger cat. A kindergarten was conveniently situated a few minutes down the street for Melanie to attend. Damian repeated grade four at St. Joseph’s Northam primary school, then went on to grade five where he was taught by Sister Monica who had taught his mother many years before in Gisborne Victoria.
Melanie started school at St. Joseph’s the following year and her teacher, who she was quite fond of, said she was a delight to teach. If Miss Barretto requested that a student come forward to the front of the class and supervise, Melanie would respond with alacrity and enthusiasm. She bonded in close friendship with Marcia and Claire and seemed to get along with her class-mates very well. A foray into Jazz ballet was a disaster and ended in tears after less than one term. The ‘Grasshoppers’ was a team of six year old little hopefuls for a future as hockey players, this ambition was never achieved; swinging from the crossbeam on the goal posts by your hockey stick, waiting for the ball to arrive, would never produce a star. She liked to read and would often have her light burning at all hours of the night, reading in bed. These formative years were good for the children as they could walk to and from school safely and could play in and enjoy their environment.
One Christmas grandmother Patterson sent a reasonable cheque for the family, enough for Melanie and her Mum to take a trip to Penang where Uncle Lindsay (Unk as she called him) was stationed at Butterworth Air Force Base. This trip proved to be quite the eye-opener for a young eight year old Melanie. Although Lindsay was recalled to Australia within a day or two of their arrival, he billeted Melanie and Lesla with another air-force family who were very generous in taking these travellers to see the sights. A ride in a tri-shaw and a visit to the Kek Lok Si Temple a Buddhist temple situated in Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, and is also an important pilgrimage centre for Buddhists from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and other countries in Southeast Asia. The main draw in the complex is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of Rama VI with 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha, and the 36.57-metre-tall bronze statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and traditional Chinese rituals blend into a harmonious whole, both in the temple architecture and artwork as well as in the daily activities of worshippers. Also, Penang Hill which was used as a retreat during the British colonial period is now a popular tourist destination in Penang. The top of the hill is accessible via the Penang Hill Railway. To date, this funicular railway system is the only one of its kind in Malaysia. On the return home a couple of days in Singapore allowed for visits to The Japanese Gardens and The Chinese Gardens, locations of such serenity, a bird sanctuary and Singapore Zoo.
The family move to Lesmurdie on the outskirts of Perth in 1980 was welcomed by Damian who was to start High School at Kalamunda High. It was not so welcomed by Melanie who expressed quite strongly that Northam felt like her home.
From an early age Melanie had aspirations to one day become a Police Constable, this ambition was encouraged by a dear family friend Kathy O’Sullivan who was head Librarian for the Police Training Library in Maylands, as the designer and manager of the Library it was named in her honour after her death in 1983. This ambition and interest sadly waned in her teen years under the influence of her peer group and different opportunities. Kathy also gave her a kitten which she called Tuffy and was a loyal companion for many years. Another of her loyal companions was Bonnie, a bull terrier cross that came into our lives as a puppy, every day she would signal her impending arrival home from school at least ten minutes prior to her skipping down the driveway; sitting at the front window, watching the driveway for her appearance with intense anticipation; also if Melanie had occasion to be away from the house for a day or two, Bonnie moped around with her snout almost dragging on the ground and a listless tail hanging down; a pathetic figure if ever you saw one.
St Brigid’s school in Lesmurdie 1985 Year book had Melanie down as ‘The class clown”. She keeps her class in line and enjoys a good joke. Lesmurdie High school was an adventure in her usual ease at making friends. One occasion stands out when this did not apply. Having been directed to sit at the back of the classroom next to a young fellow she didn’t have a lot of time for, inevitably an argument ensued and when her teacher observed Melanie starting to appear flushed and aggravated by a confrontation with this awkward for his age and annoying redheaded lad she was instructed to go to the headmistresses office; swinging on her heel Melanie headed for the door and flounced out into the corridor at the same time having the last word as she passed the open classroom window, “You’re a f###ing wanker” she directed this at Paul’s smug overly pimpled face.
When United States decided to bomb Libya in response to attacks on U.S. citizens and targets in 1986, Melanie’s social conscience swung into action and she penned a letter to both Colonel Gadhafi and American President Ronald Regan, pleading with them to stop the conflict, as she would like to have a world fit for habitation to grow up in. She received a reply from Gadhafi who strangely enough thanked her for her support and no response from Ronald Regan, only from the FBI. At about this time, Rodney taught her to play chess which she took to with her usual enthusiasm and they enjoyed occasional clashes over this pastime. She carved out her own position for occasions when guests were dined within the household and made it her business to serve the desert and coffee. Although endeavours in home domestics were not her strong point, Saturday mornings she complied with a family house cleaning ritual where she tidied her own room and cleaned the bathroom wet areas. Damian had his room and yard duty (cleaning up the dog shit) and Mother (as she referred to her Mum) did the kitchen and dining area and Rodney was allocated the main bedroom and vacuuming, including the lounge.
At about age sixteen one day Melanie arrived home from netball practice and sprawled across the lounge with a radiant look on her face and announced to her Mother, “He spoke to me mum”; apparently she had been eyeing off a handsome young blond lad who eventually noticed her and sparked teenage feelings that most girls her age fall victim to. She was very fond of Kim for some years and at this stage lost all interest in school, though up until then she had been a fairly adequate student. The relationship lasted more than 2 years, and then it was over.
When ‘The Rents’ or ‘The Olds’ as she referred to her parents, had moved to Goldsworthy, a remote mining town about a 2 hour drive from Port Hedland in the north of Western Australia. Her mother persuaded her to think about joining them as there was a recession and jobs were scarce in Perth at that time. She decided to make the journey and quickly making friends in the town and would eventually work in the ‘Wet Mess’. After 6 months or so the parents moved back to Perth; a raffle she had bullied Rodney into entering, he won, was a trip for 2 to Bali so he told her to take the trip and a friend with her, as a birthday present, a chance she happily took up.
Dannielle sent Mel’s mother a letter from which has been extracted some fond memories.
Mum asked me to write to tell you a few things about our dear Mel. Travelling to Darwin in 1990, we got to Goldsworthy wet mess around 2.00pm, we spoke to Mel’s friend behind the bar, and she rang Mel at home and told her she had V.I.P. visitors. She took her time getting there but finally when she did, her face lit up to see who it was she hugged me or should I say I hugged her (you know Mel), husband Niele kissed her and she grabbed baby Jamie and was talking to him, he was really comfortable with her. We sat and talked for ages about everything. I noticed everyone saying “Hi Mel how’s things?” She seemed liked by all, her smile, I’ve never seen her as happy, even though she had put on weight she still glowed.
She told me she went to Perth the week before, drove down, and only had a few days with family and was glad to be back in Goldsworthy, she only missed “The Olds” in Perth no-one else. She mentioned this Wanka who got pissed at the pub, said things about her Dad; she cut his liquor supply off for a couple of nights. Everyone respected her for it.
We went back to her place and she served us Lasagne, Neale pigged out, she was a good cook and we talked and laughed. After dinner Neale and Melanie played Chess on a lovely chess board she bought in Bali, Neale flogged her but she was still pretty good for a beginner. Then she had to go to work at 10.00pm, Neale dropped her off and we slept in her bed and she woke us at 6.00pm. Jamie was playing with the phone, Melanie rang the time number so he could hear voices. She told everyone he was her godson, she was so proud. Mel got him Weetbix for breakfast and she and Neale sat out the front with Jamie while I showered, when I came out she put the hose on for Jamie, he was having so much fun. We had to go, we kissed her and as we reversed I yelled “Love Ya Mel, take care”. I have so many wonderful memories to share from the past.
In August Melanie came home to Perth for a brief week-end visit and told her parents that if all went well she should be coming home at Christmas for good. On the 12th or 13th of September she rang her Mother to say that she had heard that her ex-boyfriend Kim had had an accident on his motor-bike and she was concerned, “Could you contact his father Mum and find out if he is going to be OK?” She had spent the day cleaning her room and informed her Mother that she had had tints put in her hair, “You’ll like it when you see it Mum”. Her Mother said, she would make enquiries about Kim and get back to her.
At about 5.30am on the 15th of September 1990, a police vehicle pulled into the driveway in Lesmurdie 2 officers, one quite young and the other a more senior officer, knocked on the front door and upon answering, Rodney was asked if he had a daughter named Melanie Soulsby, to which he replied yes. They said there had been an accident; at this time her Mother was lying in bed thinking there may be a summons or enquiry about one or other of the children. When she heard the word accident, she found herself transported to the door asking if she was OK, the younger officer, rather abruptly, said “She is deceased.” Her Mother felt her insides leave her body and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness pervaded that space to never again entirely return to normal again.
Her parent’s first response was to go to her, which would have involved two expensive airline fares to Port Hedland; as her father was out of work at this time, this was a practical impossibility knowing that it would cost two fares to get her home. A week or so later, after an autopsy, Melanie came home from Port Hedland as freight. Her Soulsby grandparents (without being asked) and with the greatest human kindness, paid for her funeral and her brother Damian arranged everything to what could be said would be to her approval.
Her Ex-boyfriend Kim having been badly injured in a motor bike accident a couple of days before her accident was unable to attend her funeral, however some time later he rang her mother to request the return a of ring he had given her during their relationship some years previous.
Being ripped from their lives in a sudden and traumatic manner has left a profound, long term effect on Melanie’s parents; their life, thirty years on, is sectioned into three parts … What was … what is … and what could have been.