Oral History Interview with Michael
“From a research perspective, oral history is the recording or a personal testimony, delivered orally, recorded, but with resolves beyond the actual recording. Michael was keen to have his oral history, his story, recorded for anyone to access…”
Dr David Sweet
University of South Australia
The interviewer for this oral history was, Dr David Sweet, an Adjunct Researcher at the University of South Australia, oral historian and co-founder of the UniSA Oral History Hub (ohh…).
oral history; Dr Michael Noble; South Australia; interview; personal history
From a research perspective, oral history is the recording or a personal testimony, delivered orally, recorded, but with resolves beyond the actual recording.
Michael was keen to have his oral history, his story, recorded for anyone to access. The plan was to have about six or seven interview sessions for between forty-five and sixty minutes recorded over a period of a month to six weeks, depending on his failing health. Following is the transcript of the only interview Michael could complete before the cancer made it too difficult for him to continue. These are his words, unedited, raw, where he talks of his early life, school, family tensions, death and his world of pain through bullying. His narrative is incomplete, but that is a fitting tribute to Michael as his story will never be fully told. Michael’s voice, with his passion and feeling can be heard on the UniSA Oral History Hub website at www.unisa.edu.au/ohh and go to the ‘Social Inclusion’ Collection.
Interview Transcript with Dr Michael Noble
David: Good morning Michael and thank you for agreeing to participate in these oral history interviews. Today is the twenty-ninth of March 2018. And we’re at Michael’s home at Newton. This is the first of what will be a series of interviews and being conducted by myself, David Sweet, with informed consent of Michael Noble and under the ethical guidelines of Oral History Australia. What is your earliest memory?
Michael: Would be where I grew up in Magill in a house and it would have been when I have very clear memory of Mum pulling all the furniture into the middle of the room while she’s vacuuming and we were bouncing around the furniture and there was a “Louie the Fly ad” being played on the TV in the background.
Michael: And that for some reason I think now because we know that I’m Asperger’s and that image of that fly dancing around really kind of just, I locked onto that. So that’s my earliest memory.
David: When you say we, were they your brothers and sisters?
Michael: I’ve got two sisters. They would have been my younger sister, my older sister would have been at school by then, so I would’ve been about four, younger sister’s three and my older sister would’ve been six.
David: And when were you born?
Michael: 13th of April 1959. I was born in the, what’s it called, the… it’s one of the private hospitals in North Adelaide, Memorial Hospital.
David: Magill, what do you remember of your home in the house in the area there?
Michael: It was one of the new, in those days, one of these was one of the new housing estates, so it was primarily asbestos houses. They were built initially as temporary housing. You know, because this was after the war and they needed to get lots of houses are pretty quick because of the baby boomers.
Michael: And so, it was a very, in Magill in those days, it was very stark it was just say the houses and there was no trees or virtually no trees just various young trees no street trees, or anything like that. And it was a kind of a very nice childhood a lot of… we used to… one of things it’s just really starkly different now is that this…
Michael: I lived in Magill up to the age of nine, so anything like that happened before nine and I have distinct memories of Mother throwing us, all those kids out, of all the mothers in the street would chuck the kids out of the house at about eight o’clock in the morning… the Christmas break and tell us to come back when it is dark and so we would ride our bikes up to the Morialta Falls, or other places… the Shakespeare Avenue Park which is near the Magill University campus. Spent a lot time there, actually played in the what is now the university campus. It used to be a horse stud called Murray Park and I got vivid memories of playing around the old house and stuff like that which is all now university campus.
David: Your family Noble, do you know much of the background and history?
Michael: Oh yes significant, my sister’s done the full history. My dad’s family came out to Adelaide in 1839. So, I only got three years after settlement. They were brought out as labourers and you could probably understand the history of South Australia, they had the landowners, and they would sponsor the labourers to come out and then that’s how Adelaide got filled up with people. And so my dad’s family moved first to the Tea Tree Gully area and my sister discovered that the first house they had was just a simple timber frame, or timber house, built on what is now the site of the Tea Tree Gully Civic Centre and they were labourers up there, but they got into working with sheep and stuff like that sort of early pastoralism .
Michael: I don’t know too much about that, there’s no remnants of the family up there, but in 1870 my dad’s branch the family moved to Norwood and that branch lived in the Norwood council area right up until my father got married and moved to Magill and I remember my mother saying that my dad thought that moving to Magill was like moving to another side of the planet. He was just so used to living within a square mile of the Norwood Town Hall.
David: Your father, what type of work did he do?
Michael: He was, after the war, he became a sign writer. So, with the Municipal, Municipal Tramways Trust. So unlike today where all the advertising on the buses is transfers in the old days I’ve actually painted directly onto the bus and he also made those, I don’t know if you remember before they had the electronic destination sign, the signs were on a huge roll like a wallpaper roll with them, with the name and there used to be hand crank which would turn the, you know, turn the roll so that the name of the bus and we had some of those rolls right up until when I was in my twenties and thirties because I used to use them as drop sheets for painting. And yeah so that’s he lived.
Michael: He worked. He was in the Second World War stationed up at New Guinea.
David: And what Corps was he in, do you know?
Michael: I don’t know the Corps, but oh yes it was I don’t know what the Corps was called, but he was with mechanics so he could fix the cars because that’s what he was before he joined the war he worked for General Motors or something like that I think that’s called something else in those days. And he was a mechanic in those days and so he fixed all the trucks and the motorcycles and stuff like that.
David: And your mother did she have a job outside of the home?
Michael: Not after she got married. She was well-educated for a working-class family and Mum’s side of the family were all teachers. Unfortunately, the war interfered with Mum becoming a teacher but all of my aunts, my grandparents, they were all teachers. In fact, they were very very involved in teaching and there’s a lot of historical information about my mum’s side of the family teaching. And so after the war she worked for what is now known as the South Australian Film Corporation, but once which she got married, it was pretty standard in those days, once you got married and had kids you had to basically just become a housewife and stuff.
Michael: But even so because she was well-skilled in reception and secretarial work she was always on the parents’ committees of the schools. I can always remember her you know sitting in the lounge chair with her typewriter on her lap typing up all the minutes and stuff like that.
David: And the home you lived in Magill, your parents owned it, or?
Michael: Yes they owned the house and during my lifetime my father extended it, built two more bedrooms on the back because unlike many families of today, or even when I was growing up, my grandmother lived with us, so there was an extended family in my household. And so, when Grandma moved down from Port Pirie, he, my dad, built two more bedrooms on the back.
David: And do you remember any kind of ritual with the house, like Monday was washing day?
Michael: Oh yes yeah yeah. It was the typical Anglo-Australian you know weekly rituals. I was brought up a Catholic. My mum was Catholic. My father wasn’t. He converted to Catholicism when he got married which you had to do in those days. But he never went to church so he would drive us to the local church on Reid Avenue which is still there. And that was actually a prefab as well as church.
Michael: And so every Sunday Mum would put the… prepare the roast and would stick it in the in the oven and then give Dad strict instructions that at a certain time he had to light the gas and then I can still remember church very well in fact I can look back now and my god it’s amazing we can get you know chronic diseases because we used… there used to be a font of water and when you went in you had to put your fingers in and then kind of anoint yourself and then would suck up fingers afterwards and imagine with the amount of things that were in those fonts. So yes, but so that was something I had the Sunday roast and those days the cheapest meat was either a leg of lamb or a side of beef.
Michael: And with all the roast and stuff like that. And then the next couple of days, we weren’t poor, but I think it was just a tradition that my mother picked up when she was growing up in the Depression years that nothing went to waste. So, it was the roast on Sunday and then cold meats on the Monday and then if it was lamb it would be shepherd’s pie on Tuesday. So, anything they made was totally used up and bubble and squeak. You know anything left over from the veggies was all mixed together and fried up.
Michael: And so yeah Monday was washing day and Mum had one of those washing machines that was very popular in the sixties and looked like a forty-four-gallon drum with a wringer on the top and I have a distinct memory of my sister getting their fingers caught in the wringer and it swallowing her hand right up to the elbow before the safety switch went off. And so generally my childhood life, up until my father died, at the age of eight was actually quite idyllic.
Michael: My dad was very unlike the other fathers in the street and his workplace. Most of the fathers on Friday night would go to the pub. My dad would go for one drink to be social and then come home and he would play with us, play with us. So, Dad was always taking us to parks after work, he would actually spend time with us, take us to the park and stuff like that. And yes, I distinctly remember that all the other kids in the street especially the ones directly across the road would always come with us because their fathers were always too busy.
Michael: Yeah but unfortunately my father died when I was eight years old of liver cancer caused by the drugs he was taking because he also had what we now know is post-traumatic stress disorder from the war, and talking about the house—this is just kind of an interesting little bit—some years later Mum told us that they chose that particular house because of the location of the bedrooms that unlike most of the houses there was different designs that you could choose from.
Michael: And Mum and Dad chose the design where the parents’ bedroom was at the other end of the house. And it was specifically so that I didn’t hear my father. We didn’t hear my father had his night terrors. And that was also the reason why my grandmother moved down from Port Pirie to live with us, because she would, like I said, my dad built two more bedrooms at the rear which was close to where the other bedrooms were, and it was so that Grandma was at the other end of the house where the kids were and we didn’t know about this until years later. We knew nothing about my dad’s illness.
David: Did you find that you were kind of cloistered and those secrets were kept within the family?
Michael: I would say so, but like I said all those secrets didn’t come out until we were in our twenties and it was just natural for us. But we also, looking back I think that my dad also knew that he wouldn’t be around very long. And I think that’s why he spent every waking moment with us as kids. He would have got started getting sick; I do remember him lying on the couch constantly and then just got worse and worse and I would have been about seven when I noticed something was going on, but it was also the age where children didn’t go to funerals.
Michael: So, my father went into hospital around about October 1967 and we went visited him a few times but just before Christmas we stopped going and Mum said, “Oh Dad’s just too sick”. But Dad had actually made a request that we not visit him anymore because he started to physically go downhill very quickly. He wanted us to remember him as he was, not the skeleton he apparently became.
Michael: And so he died in February 1968. But we didn’t find out for at least three weeks until after the fact because we couldn’t even go to his funeral, which I think it had an impact, I know it had impact on the three of us.
Michael: I remember the day with three children, my two sisters and myself. I think it’s had a significant emotional impact on my older sister. Even to this day she refers to our dad in the present tense. She has never been to the grave. So, it’s decided she blanked out the whole lot. And it might explain some of her behaviour these days. Which I won’t go in to. But. Yeah. So, there were lots of secret steps, or omissions I’d probably say.
David: So how did you cope, you personally cope with the death of your father?
Michael: I can still remember being told. Where was it was… in fact the house is still standing. My Aunty Hazel was… that wasn’t a blood relative of my father but was a very close friend. And she lived in a house which is still there right next door to St Peter’s College. And that house has got a lot of significance for me right up until my dad got sick, every Saturday, my dad and mum go shopping on the Norwood Parade where my dad’s sister lived and then we would go there and have coffee and biscuits and lunch and go and see my Aunty Hazel and her house is beautiful that its got so many happy memories there.
Michael: But anyway, we ended up staying there for a few days. Mum just needed a rest. And it was because Mum was arranging the funeral. And so, they brought us into the lounge room, and I can still remember as if it happened yesterday, and I can still remember just standing there and then telling, telling us that Dad had died, and I just went blank. I didn’t cry and do anything, and my sister went absolutely hysterical, older sister. She just screamed and screamed and screamed and I think I just emotionally closed down because I never cried, and I think that I probably don’t even today, but it’s getting better.
Michael: And which is probably [unclear] to say it starts getting better within months of dying myself. But yeah actually Dad’s death had a massive impact, because even though everybody in the street knew that Mum’s situation, was Mum was a widow, it was very unusual to have a single parent household and within six months we were ostracised by the neighbours.
Michael: We weren’t allowed to play with their kids because, you know, being single parent. And then the bullying started and a lot of bullying was towards me. A lot of beatings and stuff like that. And I think it’s also because, now we know I had Asperger autism, so I had enough problems as it is to develop friendships and stuff. But obviously things were going on which I still don’t understand but my sisters seem to have managed to weasel their ways back into the neighbours’ families. But I was always ostracised and end up getting beaten up. And that was the reason Mother, my mother, sold the house.
Michael: And also, a year after Dad died my grandmother had a stroke and she died. So, we ended up with Mother and three kids rattling around in a five-bedroom house and the house was just too big for Mum to manage. And so especially the land as well because in those days it was the quarter-acre block type of thing. And so, but one of the catalysts for us moving was the constant bullying that I was subjected to. So, in 19, so Dad died in 1968.
Michael: In 1971 we moved from Magill to Paradise. And like I said that was the catalyst that stirred the bullying. And it’s just so bizarre because you know, but it’s just the mindset, I think of the Anglo-Australians of the 1960s everything had to be regimented. Everybody had to have a mother and father and children and if there was a break, you know, people just had acted really strangely.
David: So, the death of your father obviously had a significant impact on you and the family. What was the transition from Magill to Paradise like for you as a child?
Michael: Oh, I was, initially it was like going to Fairyland, Paradise, in the 1970s there was probably eighty-percent market gardens. And there was the Lower Athelstone Road then it came George Street which was the road just south of the River Torrens and that was the original Paradise Village. So that street had all old houses along it, our street was built directly behind George Street which was one of the first streets in the Paradise area.
Michael: And that was a housing estate that was opened up in the 1960s and it was Wood Road. It’s called Wood Road because the bloke who built all the houses surname was Wood. And so, we just had you know it was just fantastic they just had either market gardens or empty paddocks and then we had the River Torrens which was just like the Amazon. So, it was just an ideal place for kids. And we used to… every weekend we’d go down to the River Torrens and again in those days it was a wild, wild, wild, chock-a-block full of bamboos and exotic willows and…
Michael: Introduced trees, you know, feral trees and stuff and we would do, because the banks were virtually vertical going down to the river, that the river would have been about three metres lower than the than the land surface and we would dig into the sand banks of the of the river and build forts and stuff like that.
Michael: And we would make rafts with the bamboos and I just had a wow of time catching frogs and so it was a really idyllic childhood and again we’d ride our bikes up to the to the Adelaide Hills and spend our time.
Michael: But you know… it just compares today with these days with the kids you know who very rarely go out the house we just had an idyllic…and we were fit. There was no fat kids when I was growing up and Mum struggled somewhat being a widow. She didn’t want us to become latchkey kids. Meaning that she didn’t want us to come home and she wasn’t going to be there even though when she did become a widow, I understand that somebody offered her employment because obviously she was highly skilled in her area. She was highly educated. She didn’t go to university but because Mum’s family were teachers they were very well educated, very very articulate and so she was on the widow’s pension which in those days wasn’t very much.
Michael: So, we even though we owned our own house we grew up in poverty, but I never noticed. Mum always… rarely got new clothes it was always in the second-hand stores. My aunties would make up clothes and stuff like that. Mum was terrible at things like that. But, you know, Mum extended the roast lamb to last nearly five days.
Michael: But again we ate healthily even though boringly. In fact, this is kind of jumping ahead a little bit, but Mum was the typical Anglo-Australian cook so it was chops, or sausages, or some kind of simple roasted, or grilled meats and then the potatoes, the peas, and the carrots. All boiled up in the same pan until they were a grey mass, tasteless, mass and then throw away the ingredient that held most of the vitamins which was the cooking water. And often Mother would lose track, and the amount of times there was saucepans out in the sun. Apparently, there was an old wives’ tale that if you put the saucepan upside down in the sun all the burnt food inside would come off much easier.
Michael: And but I got to when I got into my teens, I said to my mother I’m not eating this food anymore it’s crap. And she said to me well if you don’t like it you have to learn to cook yourself, so I did. Only problem is that these fantastic curries and Italian dishes and she, being the woman of her times, would take one bite or mouthful of it and then give the rest to the dog. But that’s kind of jumping ahead a little bit that.
David: It’s all part of your story. Did you find it difficult to make friends as a kid?
Michael: Very much so and it soon became obvious that, while I shouldn’t say the problem was me, but the source of a lot of the issues was me and the Asperger’s, definitely not an the inability to engage and to make friends, because within a couple of years the same kind of scenario that happens in Magill with the neighbourhood kids started to replicate with me. Also we’re talking now when I’m hitting thirteen and unbeknownst to us, and it wasn’t diagnosed until thirty years later, I was born with an extra X chromosome. Which are, the chromosomes ironically the chromosomes themselves were discovered by medical science in the year that I was born. So, in 1959.
Michael: And, but the extra X chromosome and the condition called Klinefelter’s Syndrome was virtually unknown.
David: Sorry, what was it again?
Michael: The extra X chromosome and the condition that directly is related to the extra X chromosome is called Klinefelter’s Syndrome. And the most common medical problem caused by the extra X chromosome is the inability for the body to produce its own testosterone.
Michael: But then there’s a whole swag of other medical issues which was shyness and, what is now known, or now called Asperger. But it’s a bit of a misnomer because the autism associated with the extra X chromosome has got some similarities to Asperger but also other differences so even though it’s convenient to say I’ve got Asperger, it’s actually a form of autism, still high-functioning but they quite two different conditions. And so, also with again we now know years later that Asperger’s individuals have problems. What’s the word called… sorry, my being on painkillers I’m forgetting words. So, the Asperger, Klinefelter, that sort of thing, the inability to process emotions.
Michael: There’s a word but I can’t think what it’s called. And so that’s kind of all locked, locked up in there and so when all the boys started going through puberty, I started to develop more feminised body and the emotions because, we were all talking about hormones, my hormones were all over the place but they weren’t a lot of normal hormones like a boy.
Michael: And that made things worse and so I became very highly emotional, highly charged. Tantrums all over the place just basically all over the place and also going back I was identified as having learning disabilities which made things bad. Kind of stepping back, a few years when I was diagnosed as having learning disabilities, I would say with “air quotes”, my mother, they wanted to put me into a home at seven years old. And they said oh you know he needs to go to a home or to a special school for intellectually disabled children.
Michael: Mum and Grandma wouldn’t have a bar of it. My grandmother was a retired teacher and she knew there was… that I wasn’t stupid. And so, they elected to keep me in regular school and Mum and my grandmother spent a huge amount of time at home and school trying to help me.
Michael: And it worked to some extent, but the area where I most struggled was mathematics and stuff like that. So that kind of had a roll-on effect as I was growing up. And that also isolated me from people because people thought I was stupid and spastic and all that kind of stuff. And then when I started to not mature like the other boys that created a whole new set of problems because it’s, like I said, instead of my body becoming masculine it feminised and showing up with a body like a female so much so that I had breasts and that caused a lot of trauma especially you’d understand in the sports days.
Michael: So, I didn’t, and you know how sports is one way of bringing the boys together or bringing the girls together, I refuse to play sport. Not because of the sport itself but because of the change rooms afterwards. And that created even more isolation and stuff, but because I was different. And again 13–14 people started to, their sexual identity started happening you know, you had a boyfriend or you had a girlfriend, because I was physically different I look more female, like a lot, because in those days you might remember was the era the of the long hair. So, I had long hair down to my shoulders and I looked like Cleopatra because I had a barber who couldn’t do long hair, so I just had to literally looked like Cleopatra because was like my hair was long and straight and I looked like a girl.
Michael: And I won’t go and I don’t wanna talk about what happens, but there was too much detail, but I was subjected to quite a bit of instances of sexual assault because again the girl in those days the seventies, the girls were with the girls and the boys with the boys and very there was little kind of mixing, because there was a boy in the change rooms, he looked like a girl, including breasts, there was things went on in that change room, which were, these days they would be a case of sexual assault. And so that further alienated me and I was labelled gay and I took on that persona of being gay, but I never felt gay and I wasn’t sexually active.
Michael: One interesting thing which is amusing but it was traumatic at the time is that, and it kind of comes out now, if you come across a guy, a man who is really, really homophobic you can bet there’s a very good chance he’s in the closet, or he’s battling with certain internal desires which he doesn’t like, because that came to the fore really. Again, it was years later discovered, but two young men, or teenagers that, we were 14–15 at the time, I won’t give their surnames out, one was Lyle and the other one was Jeff and they were terrible to me, beating me up, calling me a poof.
Michael: They beat me up so badly they tore my shoulder out of right out of my joints and I still have problems with my shoulder joint to this day because of what they did. And anyway, years later I kind of reconnected with a school friend, or somebody I went to school with, and I told them about my childhood and because we weren’t, we didn’t really socialise at school.
Michael: And years later I found out he was, when I met re-met up with him, he was homosexual. And he said you know that I was bonking Jeff, and Lyle, like bunny rabbits when we were 14 or 15. I thought, that’s interesting and then it’s the soci…sociological thing with a psy…psychological thing that these two young men obviously had very, very strong homosexual desires. They enacted them. But then they felt guilty and they needed a scapegoat to get their anger out and I was the scapegoat. So, yes…
David: Not dismissing that, but just putting it aside at the moment. What primary schools to go to?
Michael: Until I started to become, because, again going back, jumping back, I developed epilepsy when I was six-seven, I went to Payneham Catholic School on Portrush Road and in those days all the teachers were nuns. And that was a happy time. And I had to leave there in Grade Two when I started having epileptic fits, not fits, I never had the grand mal fits which is where they shake and froth at the mouth.
Michael: I had, I just basically pass out. In fact, the first time it happened to me it’s occurred in my mind that the nuns, the teacher, thought I was being lazy, and I was, and I had fallen asleep and she’s shaking, apparently she was shaking me and realised was unconscious. But I have a vague memory of her carrying me to the principal’s office, or the headmistress’ office, and lying me down on a couch and I can still remember that. And then there’s just bits and pieces where Mum came and got me and then brought me home and stuff and, and I still there might be time lapses or confusions, but I again remember waking up and Mum and my neighbour was sitting by the bed with me, and…
Michael: But going back to the Catholic school I remember I brought a boomerang to school and my neighbours had got from Alice Springs when he was working near Alice Springs when he was working on the new rocket ranges all around those areas. And he was an engineer anyway so that’s beside the point. He bought back all these boomerangs and stuff for the kids and I had a boomerang. So, they had a large play area out the front which has now all eaten up by buildings and I threw the boomerang and sure enough it hit some girl in the head and cracked her skull open. And so that’s a happy memory [sarcastic tone].
Michael: And we also had sports day, but it wasn’t the kind of sports day that we have today. It was very regimental, so we all had to kind of get up in lines and do these kind of line dancing and with streamers and stuff like that. And again, that was good, but even though I went to a public school and my younger sister came with us, my older sister remained at that school.
Michael: And the nuns got, because Mum was on the teacher committee, she volunteered my father to be the chauffeur for the nuns. And so… Dad, every so often, especially on weekends would go down to the Mary MacKillop monastery… nunnery which is just near the Parade on the corner near the cathedral across the road and pick up the nuns but he will always take one of us with him, as in me or my two sisters, because I think he was frightened of these nuns and I’ve still got very good memories of Dad being in the front seat and me being in the front seat and in those days that there wasn’t a seatbelt so I’m leaning over the seat to talk to these three nuns who are sitting like you know regal madams you know being chauffeured around Adelaide by my father.
Michael: And so, after I left, I went to Hectorville Primary School, which is in Magill and that was a good, good until the bullying started because this was before I moved. And again that was around about the time the bullying started, but yes so we moved from, from Magill, from Magill to Paradise when I was just starting Year Seven and I went to Campbelltown Primary School which is still there on the corner of Newton [now Darling] Road and Gorge Road and spent a year… I was in Grade Six, so both Grade Six and Seven.
Michael: And even though I struggled, still struggling at school, I had a terrible teacher. And again I won’t give her name out for slanderous reasons probably well dead now and I have as distinct… in fact she actually did a very, very bad thing for me but she did also a good thing at the same time, because I was struggling at school and she was intolerant and she put me out to the front of the class and said to all the class, she said this is an example of an idiot. And my mother heard about it, naturally, and she went down there and tore strips off of this teacher. But in those days, you could really do much about these kinds of abuse.
Michael: But it kind of, I can still remember that I became so angry that I decided then and there that I’d really apply myself because before that I was just kind of avoiding because I think it’s because I felt dumb, I was avoiding a lot of stuff [short break for medication].
Michael: And I can remember distinctly sitting there and thinking I’m gonna teach you. And I started applying myself and things started to improve a little bit. I’m just going to take this [medication].
David: You okay?
Michael: I’m fine it’s just that, I have, if I don’t take a pill when I need to, in ten-minutes, I start getting pain. So yeah, it’s a kind of a precaution. I should say.
Michael: Anyway so, I still struggled but I really started to apply myself and so I think that even though she did a horrible thing, in the long run, it helped me and so I, I think that’s the school wanted to keep me back in Year Seven because I was failing, but this teacher would have had to have me again because of the shortage of teachers at the time and I think she thought, “No I’m not going to have him for another year”.
Michael: So, she convinced the school that it would be better, and my mum, that it would be better to move me to the high school and then repeat first year which I think possibly was a good thing. So, I just went to what… it started off as Campbelltown Technical High School, so it wasn’t a high school as we understood now it was really to try to train up tradespeople from childhood, I don’t think they have them these days.
Michael: And like, they didn’t, they wouldn’t, wouldn’t have matriculation we probably would’ve gone straight into technical things in fact it was a well-equipped school that had still has a entire wing which was, had metal working rooms and rooms where you learn to work with plastics and photography and woodwork. And I actually really enjoyed the woodwork. In fact, I think that if I had stayed… hadn’t gotten interested in humanities I think I would have become a cabinet maker or something like that I really liked working with wood and in fact the cabinet behind you that 1930s art-deco cabinet, I restored myself. It was in very bad condition and I got a lot of boxes and stuff, like out here, that I restored and that comes from when I was at school. And but anyway, in year I’m trying to think for the new year so it would have been first year high school but now it would be Year Eight.
Michael: So, I repeated Year Eight and Year Nine. No Year Eight twice. And then in Year Nine the school changed from a technical high school to a regular high school, and then they started introducing what we now know as humanities subjects and things and I started getting a liking to English and History and Geography and I started to blossom and because they also introduced a kind of a system where instead of just remaining in the class every class had different kids in it depending on their level of skill. So unsurprisingly I was in a maths class which was basic maths which was basically the no hopers.
Michael: And then I started off in a standard for my other classes, but by the time I reached Year Ten I was in advanced for all my classes other than Maths and Science and Biology.
Michael: And I just kind of, I found my niche and that’s we now know with people with Asperger’s slash autism, if the kid can find their niche, the thing that they’re good at. Focus on that. So I started focussing on that and I found out I could write well, my spelling was atrocious but things like in, in the class doing things like exercises called comprehension, they used to have these kits and these kits and they had these cards and the kids had to take them to work on a one-on-one basis and I was going through those cards twice as fast as all the other kids. And yeah, so by the time I reached Year Twelve I was doing very, very well.
Michael: Unfortunately again in those days they had an obsession to be able to get into university you had to do a set group of subjects which included Maths and Science and because I couldn’t do Maths and Science I did what was called an internal Year Twelve. So, I was a Year Twelve, but I would never ever get me into university. And so, I did that. And I did pretty well. And but again I actually, we actually had choices, so I didn’t do Maths and Science in that year.
Michael: And again, that’s the reason what separated us from the ones who did do Maths and Science and, got going through those years, things improved somewhat when I was in Year Eleven and Twelve. I started making friends more and they became friends, that lasted for a few years after after school, but also I think because I was a bit more intellectually normal, or even intellectually above normal I think I was noticing it more and accepted a bit more for some of the skills I did have, I still did terrible at the sport.
David: With the bullying that you subjected to in primary school and high school, putting aside the sexual assaults that you mentioned earlier, what type of, what form did it take, was it physical or psychological?
Michael: Oh physical, yeah, yeah. Physical bullying, and I wasn’t the only one. In fact, I hung out and that’s again kind of stereotypical, I hung out with a lot of the kids who were the subject of bullying. We all had some kind of difference.
Michael: For example, one was a young Italian guy, Enzo, I think his name was and he would have been a dwarf or a midget. He was, he wasn’t, no he would’ve been a midget because he was perfectly formed but he was only four-foot-tall, maybe four and a half. Anyway, he came up to my stomach so whatever that is. And he was subjected to a lot of bullying you know. But he and I were good friends possibly because we were both subjected to bullying. And those are mostly of, some physical, but a lot of psychological alienation and being treated as being invisible which is something that has happened was, I experienced right throughout my life, just being; I’m not there. They couldn’t deal with me. They couldn’t put me into a box so it’s best to pretend that I wasn’t there. So yeah there was a lot of bullying and…
Michael: But again, like I said a lot of this kind of psychological warfare, but as I got older, I started becoming a little bit more… I can’t think of the word I want, but fighting back, resilient, but fighting back but not physically fighting back.
Michael: I started using my brain and started running rings around these especially young men just using my head and just wisecracks and comments that would cut very, very deeply and scare the shit out of them. And yes, so my mouth became my weapon. So, so yeah, so things kind of did improve a little bit towards the end.
David: How did you feel you; did you feel yourself as this being different?
Michael: I felt different, I was labelled gay. I wasn’t sexually active. I wasn’t sexually active willingly, but there was no language, there was no… there was no concept about what I was. It wouldn’t be until thirty-years later that those terms… I discovered those terms. So, when I was growing up and again, I grew up in a Catholic household. My difference as in not developing male features was put down to, like your body hair and stuff like that and certain parts of my anatomy not growing, as being a late developer because I virtually looked like an androgynous, a twelve-year-old. And, and that was put down to “Michael’s a late developer” and then are you talking about secrets that was never talked about in the household other than Michael was a late developer. It wasn’t till I started getting in my early to mid-twenties that that excuse became very well worn.
Michael: But yes, I was bullied because of my difference. And about that, and I felt different. I didn’t feel like I was one of the boys, but I haven’t had even, back then I knew I wasn’t one of the girls. But there was just a kind of neutrality towards me. I think that neutrality was looking back, my physique mirrored my sense of self.
David: Did religion play a significant role in your life?
Michael: No. When we moved to Paradise there wasn’t a church close by. And even though my mother did remain religious throughout her entire life we stopped going to church and I became a bit of… again when I started becoming more intellectually engaged, I started to believe less and less and less. And in those days, I now look back and realise I was quite cruel to my mother by asking her questions that I knew she wouldn’t be able to answer.
Michael: And but no, by the time I was about fifteen no religion at all for me. Mum still observes the rituals of fish on Friday and the Lent and stuff like that. But it was often personal for her and I never got engaged in it, so.
David: Your siblings, your two sisters, growing up with them, what was that like?
Michael: Well now I know that, I never really realised this, and if they’re listening to this then I’m dead. You know the reason why I like cut, cut ties with you, is that yes, I was an arsehole growing up, I must’ve been challenging for them, but as we got into our teens, they were the lead isolators. And so, I was isolated from their friends. I wasn’t allowed to socialise. I had to basically get out when they had their friends were around, I was bullied as being a no-hoper, “You say stupid things”. Those kinds of things made to feel inferior.
Michael: Made to feel it’s my fault and really quite, well it’s domestic abuse and domestic abuse doesn’t have to be physical, it can be verbal and psychological again. And I think now looking back a lot of my lack of confidence happened because of my sisters.
Michael: I now know that my oldest sister resented me, well she had two points of resentment, which has played right through to the present day. And that is that she was two years old when I was born so she was the apple of the mother’s and father’s eye and also the close relatives. She is such the apple of the eye, there is a picture of, an oil painting I believe, when she was about eighteen months old. So, all the love and all the attention went to Judy. And then I was born and suddenly she had to share. And then by the time I was six and started to develop these problems, these medical problems, Judy and Creina were kind of shuffled off to grandma. And there was a lot of resentment there. And that just got worse and worse and worse.
Michael: Then when Mum made the decision to move house because I was being so bullied, Judy became really hostile because she got, she had to be separated from her friends. And there was a lot of hostility there which has played out right to this very day. And Creina, well I have to say that I was bullying, it went both ways because my younger sister was badly burned when she was born. Ironically by the nursing staff at Burnside Hospital. When she was born, she was laid on a hot water bottle that was too hot and it cause third degree burns, and she ended up with severe scarring of her back and backside. And to my shame we used to tease my sister mercilessly about her burns. So, it wasn’t just one way but again and when we got into our teens because I was such an embarrassment because I was different.
Michael: There was no language to comprehend why I was so different, I was just, I was just really pushed aside and that really, really hurt again, jumping to the future, but I need to tell you this I can understand the kind of bullying that is happening, as the teens were the seeds of it, but into our twenties my sister, my older sister got married when she was eighteen. Her husband was a builder and my younger sister eventually got married to his, one of his friends, so it was always in the family, so Creina’s friends and Judy’s friends were the same friends.
Michael: And anyway, so Creina’s late to-be-husband, Kim, and my other brother-in-law David died, but they built a houseboat. And they put this houseboat on the Murray and there’s all these promises about we would all go on holidays and stuff like that. And I was never invited and Mum would have loved, because in these days I’m still living with Mum, in my twenties, and I asked my sister once how come I was never invited onto the houseboat because everybody else’s brothers and sisters were and she said, “Oh, you’re too much of an embarrassment”. But because if they invited Mum onto the houseboat I would have had to go on as well because Mum would have insisted; Mum, wasn’t invited either. And my mum would have loved to go in his houseboat going up and down the Murray, but because my two sisters are so bitchy and didn’t want me anywhere near their friends, I never step foot onto that houseboat.
David: So, you’re virtually separated from your two siblings, and what about their children or your nieces, nephews?
Michael: A situation happened, again this is only a few years ago, but I thought I got on very well with my nieces and nephews, but my older niece unfortunately became a mirror image of her mother and there was the incident, which I now know was, I thought was perfectly reasonable. I now know I said the wrong thing to a new mother but I insulted my niece on Facebook. Basically, telling her that she should listen to her doctor when a doctor says that her kid should be; “go on a diet, because you’re too fat”. Anyway, all hell broke loose and all of that stuff from the past all this bullying and Michael’s stupid and you say stupid things and it just came out in public.
Michael: And that was when I realised somebody said to my—again I’m going off track, but it’s important—I said to my friend why would Nicola, that’s Judy’s oldest daughter, be so abusive to me in public when she wouldn’t do that to her other aunties and uncles and he said that’s because she has witnessed her mother and aunty do it to you all your… all her life. So, to her to her that was natural. And I, I separated myself from the family pretty much from then. My older sister actually refused to separate for a while until I found out that she was a lot of source of a lot of the lies about me, demonising me. And basically, the bottom line is that they throughout their lives have blamed me for the inconveniences my disabilities had on them and that has played out right to this very moment.
Michael: I’m still blamed, you know, my Asperger’s is apparently, this incident happened to my niece, I thought was a perfectly reasonable thing to say. I realised now it was tactless and I did apologise but it was too late. And but my sister said that I use my Asperger’s as an excuse for bad behaviour.
David: How does the Asperger’s manifest itself for you, because it’s different with every…
Michael: It’s difficult for everybody. Well I’m single for a start. It took me years. It wasn’t until, and again this is an issue might be we can talk about later, but it wasn’t until the Klinefelter’s Syndrome was diagnosed and the things associated with that, that I realised that I wasn’t gay. It was actually to do with my extra X chromosome. But that’s kind of going ahead a little bit, which we can talk about next week possibly. But the Asperger’s for me was tart tantrums, losing my temper, unable to articulate my emotions very well, but also not being able to engage with people more on an intimate level. [clock chiming] sorry, I don’t ever notice it.
Michael: So that’s a family heirloom, that’s nearly one hundred and thirty years old. Anyway, so yeah it just manifested as inability to establish intimate relationships. A lot of Asperger people do, established intimate relationships, do get married, but they’re forced to into it by their sex drives. With my Klinefelter’s Syndrome I didn’t have a sex drive, so I never felt the need to go there. So that’s basically how it does affect me emotionally but also sometimes missing social cues being a bit unfeeling of other people’s feelings. The one thing I’m very proud of is that if I know that I have hurt someone’s feelings I will apologise if it’s pointed out to me but sometimes, I don’t know. But friends do, friends pointed out very nicely. But my sister was always attack, attack, attack, you know, so yeah.
David: So that is about an hour and we might leave it there, Michael. It’s quite fascinating hearing such a different background, a different story, albeit we grew up in similar times.
Michael: Mmm, thank you.
From Michael’s perspective I represented the class of Australian male who was likely to be disparaging and condescending toward him. So, our early times together were somewhat reserved. We first met in 2009 at the Magill Campus of the University of South Australia and had seen each other around the beautiful environs, which Michael loved, had mutual friends, but had not spoken at length. That changed when we sat outside the café one afternoon looking through a photo album full of beautiful black and white images of people, places and buildings in Poland. Michael had recently completed a family history for a friend and he knew that I had a love of photography. Over the next decade we often sat and chatted, we shared our draft PhD chapters and had passionate debates over grammar, scholarly argument, writing structure and life. We became colleagues and friends.
In early 2018, I was driving Michael home after one of his gym sessions at the university when he informed me of his pending death. In typical Michael fashion, it was delivered with feeling, but no remorse or anger. I cannot remember his exact words, but I do remember saying, ‘Oh shit, that sucks’. Over the next few hours I thought about Michael, what little I knew of his life and that even with all his challenges he attained a PhD and proved the bastards wrong. A few days later, me drinking coffee and Michael, water, I proposed that I interview him as an oral history project to record his life in perpetuity. We nutted out the details and with his interest in others, he wanted all the recordings and transcripts to be shared copyright between the University, Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) and Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Melbourne) and myself.
Perks, R. and A. Thomson (2006). The oral history reader. London, Routledge.
Ritchie, D. A., Ed. (2011). The Oxford handbook of oral history. New York, Oxford University Press.
Yow, V. (2015). Recording Oral History. Maryland, Rowman and Littlefield.