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Muriel Wuchatsch (1918–2007)

by Robert Wuchatsch

Muriel Jean Wuchatsch was born on 20 March 1918, the fifth of seven children to John and Caroline Dunn (nee Hudson). She was born in their small weatherboard house which stood just east of the railway line from Robert Street, where a pine tree still stands, at 398 Station Street, Lalor.

Muriel attended Thomastown and Epping Primary Schools and went to Sunday School at the Thomastown Methodist and Epping Anglican churches. She was reliable even then and the family still has many of the books she received as prizes for regular attendance. When she was 13 years old, she had appendicitis and was rushed into Melbourne for an operation, which fortunately went well.

In 1933, when she was 15 and had just left school, she was sent to Wuchatsch’s Farm to housekeep, when her future husband Norman Wuchatsch’s elderly Aunt Christina took ill. Norman’s mother had died in 1905 when he was only 3 years old, so his Aunt did all the housework, as well as the milking. His father Charles, then aged 73, did all the other farm work. Muriel later told her children she didn’t have any choice about going there to keep house. One Sunday when she arrived home from Sunday School, her mother said “You’ve got to go to Wuchatsch’s”. It was an order, not a request. 74 years later, she was still there and had grown to love the place. So her whole 89 years of life was lived within one kilometre of her birthplace, first when the area was part of Thomastown’s northern farmlands and later when it became known as Lalor.

Aunt Christina died in 1935. Not long after, Norman sold the cows and took up roof tiling with his brother-in-law, Ted Iles, of Reservoir. Later, Muriel’s youngest brother Alan joined them.

On 22 December 1941, Muriel and Norman were married at Regent. In 1943 Dorothy was born, followed by Betty in 1945 and Robert in 1950. Muriel looked after the home and children while Norman worked. Her father-in-law, Charles Wuchatsch, whom she had helped look after since 1933, died in 1946.

During the war Norman gave up roof tiling and had a number of different jobs over the next few years. In 1949, he leased the sheds on the farm to Northern Fibrous Plaster, a new company formed to make plaster sheets and cornices for the booming post-war housing industry. In 1950, he joined Northern as a fixer and stayed with them until he retired in 1966. One of the perks of working for Northern was that they had the phone connected, but Muriel had to wait until 1966 to get electricity.

In about 1963, Muriel suffered badly from high blood pressure and was on medication for it for the rest of her life. Robert says he can’t remember what he was up to in 1963 to raise her blood pressure so much. For a time during the 1960s, Muriel’s mother Caroline also came to live with them.

Dorothy remembers that one day she banished the twins from the house for some misdeeds, then when they hadn’t returned, searched the streets looking for them, only to eventually find they were safely at Nan’s being entertained and fed.

Betty recalls that when her children went to school her mother looked after them after school. She used to get frustrated when they always came home saying how much better Nan’s cooking was than hers.

One of Robert’s fondest early recollections of his mother was the time she bought a set of six encyclopedias from a travelling salesmen. Norman was furious when he found out she had spent so much money on them but Robert read them over and over again from cover to cover and still thinks they were one of the best purchases she ever made. His children too were lovingly cared for by their Nan.

After Norman’s retirement in 1966, life became easier for both of them. They sold all but two acres for subdivision, so had some more money. They bought a new car to replace their old 1935 Ford and went on several holidays over the next few years until 1975, when Norman became ill. They travelled to North Queensland several times, chasing warmer weather; Western Australia once; and Tasmania (twice). Robert says getting his Mum up in a light plane in 1975 to fly from Cairns-Cooktown-Chillagoe and back to Cairns when he visited them was a personal triumph for him.

Following Norman’s death in 1978, Muriel’s life remained very active. She had spent years looking after Norman as his health failed, then continued to look after her grandchildren well into her 80’s. She had cats (12 at one time), dogs (usually three), chooks, turkeys, the garden etc. She continued to attend church services here at Thomastown Lutheran Church until 1997, when she fell at home and dislocated her shoulder.

Over the last ten years she also suffered terribly from arthritis, particularly in the hips and knees. While her mind remained sharp right to the end and her memory prodigious, her mobility gradually became more restricted, and increasingly painful. It was rarely revealed, but evident to those close to her. Her wish was always to spend her remaining days in the old home she loved so much and not enter a nursing home. This goal was achieved, but only by Dorothy and Betty’s devoted and continuing care over the last few years. After a short time at the Northern Hospital and Bundoora Extended Care in October and November, she came home, but soon after was readmitted to the Northern Hospital where she died on 23 December 2007.