How I came to start my novel, Part III: Doris Turpin, the teacher

This is the story of the second owner of the ‘House of Women’, and the woman whose story my novel is loosely based upon.

Doris was born Doris Isabel Turpin in 1893 to Isabelle ‘Bella’ Stokes and Walter Turpin.  She first appeared in the 1916 electoral roll, when she was living with her parents at 63 Guildford Road, Mt Lawley. Walter was an accountant, while Bella was listed as doing ‘home duties.’

Doris lived in her family home until she was in her late 30s, with the 1931 Electoral Roll, showing that Doris had finally moved was now living at 102 Zebina Street in East Perth. By this stage, Doris had been a teacher for more than fifteen years. Her middle name had also changed from Isabel to Isabella – whether this was something she deliberately did following the death of her mother, or simply a typo, I have not been able to determine.

A year later in 1932, Doris purchased the land in Daglish. She was 39 years old, and both her parents had passed away, first her father and then her mother. It is likely that on the death of her mother, Doris inherited a small amount of money which enabled her to purchase the land.

Although Doris purchased the block of land in 1932, it was many years before she built a house in Daglish, allowing the block to sit empty for almost a decade. During this time Doris worked as a teacher, and moved between properties on Hay Street in West Perth.

According to the title, Doris did not organise a mortgage until January 1939 indicating that she paid for the land outright and the mortgage was to finance the building of the house. The mortgage was with the Perth Benefit Building Investment and Loan Society and was for £126, which was more than the cost of the two blocks of land a decade previously. Doris worked hard and was able to pay off the loan by 1950.

It wasn’t until the 1943 Electoral Roll that Doris Turpin was finally listed as living at the house on Lutey Ave in Daglish, although I believe she moved in around 1941/42. At this stage, she would have been fifty years old and working as a teacher at Beaconsfield School. It would be another six years until she was transferred to Subiaco School, which was less than a ten minute walk across the train-line. In all her lifetime, Doris never learned to drive a car, and it must have been a great relief as she got older, that she no longer had to catch buses and trains to get to work every day.

I should admit here, that when I originally started researching Doris, I made a very unfair assumption about her. After she died, the house in Daglish sat empty for almost a full year and I supposed that since she was a spinster, and because the house remained unsold for so long that she had died without a will, with no family and no beneficiaries. Why else would a house sit unsold and empty for so long?

At this stage of my research, I made a second, even more mortifying mistake.

On the 1931 electoral roll, I saw a Walter Turpin living in Pingelly and knowing that Walter was no longer listed as living at the family home in My Lawley [I hadn’t realised he had died], I made the assumption that Doris’s father had left his wife and daughter and remarried. I remember calling my mother, saddened at the break-up of those who I had begun to regard as family. Of course, further research showed that the Walter living in Pingelly was not Doris’ father, but a younger brother I had not previously realised existed (he was born in 1900). He had been living in Melbourne at the time of Walter Sr’s death in 1920, which is why he was not previously on the Electoral Roll. After coming back to Perth following his father’s death, Walter Jr moved out to the country, approximately 160 kilometres from Perth, where the Electoral Roll shows him living with a group of other Turpins, whom I assumed to be a grandfather and uncles. A later conversation with Walter’s daughter, Gwenyth, confirmed that he moved in with his uncle (Walter Sr’s brother) and eventually fell in love with – and married – his first cousin Lucy May.

Back in Perth, Doris was now a middle-aged spinster, a teacher and building her first house. Although the majority of houses in Daglish were built in the years immediately following the suburb’s development (late 1920s/early 1930s), Doris’s house was one of the last in the area to be built, finally being finished around 1941. The block next door, sold to Edwina Henson in the 1920s, sat empty for even longer, with the house finally being finished in the early 1950s.

Because it was at least a decade newer than other houses in the street, Doris’ house did not have some of the traditional ‘interwar’ features, such as gables, or lead-lighting in the windows. It was also quite large for a single woman: featuring a large master bedroom with attached sleep-out, a large lounge-room with fireplace, a second bedroom, internal bathroom, kitchen and a separate dining room. Access to the laundry and toilet was through the kitchen. Very high ceilings, wooden floors and decorated ceiling roses in each room were features common to the era.

It was when Doris finally appeared on the 1943 Electoral Roll as living in her new house in Daglish, that I made the surprising discovery that she was not alone. With World War II in full swing and many young men of Perth away fighting in Europe, it was common for older men living in country areas to be ‘manpowered’ and compelled to return to Perth to assist with occupations that were being unfulfilled due to the shortage of men. This is why Walter Jr, his wife Lucy (who was also Doris’s first cousin) and their three children moved from Pingelly back to Perth. Due to a shortage of housing at the time (with many young men away at war there were less labourers to build), Doris invited her brother and his family to live with her in her brand new house.

Gwenyth, the eldest of Walter’s children was almost 12 at the time she moved from Pingelly to Daglish. She remembered her aunt as being a very nice and patient women. Aunt Dorrie never got upset even though she was a teacher and had been around kids all day, and then returned home to a house full of children. The house had two bedrooms, with Doris living in the main front bedroom, and Walter and Lucy in the second bedroom with their baby. Gwenyth slept in the small sleep-out adjacent to her Aunty and her bother slept on a couch in the dining room. The family stayed with Doris for a number of years (around five or six), enough time for Lucy to have another baby and Gwenyth was old enough to get her first job. By the time the war was over and people were building again, Walter was able buy his own house on Heytesbury Rd in Subiaco. At the age of 56, Doris finally had her house to herself.

She lived alone for almost two more decades. One evening in 1968, Doris attended Lucy’s birthday party in Subiaco. As she did not drive and only travelled by bus, I can only assume that Walter or Lucy (or one of the grown up children) had dropped the elderly Doris home after the party.

The couple next door, May and Fred Mason, who were at least twenty years her junior and who had built their house in 1951, kept an eye on their elderly neighbour, checking each day that Doris had collected her newspaper and was ok. The morning after the party Doris’ neighbour checked for the newspaper as usual, but it had rolled under a bush and he assumed that she had collected it. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that he saw the paper under the bush and he realised that something must have happened to Doris. Fred looked through the front bedroom window and could see Doris lying by the side of her bed. She’d had a stroke. He called an ambulance and Doris was transferred to a hospice. Doris never returned to her home in Daglish and she died soon after, at the age of 75.

It was a conversation I had with Gwenyth, Doris’s niece who would have been in her early 80s at the time of our conversation, that finally sparked the inspiration for my novel and will form the subject of my next blog.

Doris Isabella Turpin 1893-1968

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