I was a 10 year old child when my mother arrived home to our Murrumbeena solid brick house in 1956 with my new born brother Peter John Blakeley. It was a joyous occasion and as an only child for all those years his arrival was welcomed by me, his elder brother, and of course the wider family.
He, like me, was an instrument birth. His at Bethlehem Hospital in Caulfield, mine at Maitland Base Hospital in the city of the same name in New South Wales. Our home was only a modest two bedroom which meant that I was sharing a room with a new born infant. I was fascinated and proud. After some months of his being in a cot in the bedroom of our parents he made his way to my room. I vividly remember him as a chubby, blonde haired baby dressed in lemon pyjamas. Mum and Dad were very social and enjoyed the night life. Now they had an in house baby sitter, a job that I revelled in. They would go to balls and dances and dinners and leave Peter and myself at home. I guess in retrospect, they were confident that he would be looked after by the bespectacled elder brother. As soon as they left the house and the sleep time arrived I would take Peter from his bed and put him in mine. He was the Teddy I never had as it were. I would cuddle him as we both went to sleep.
As was the routine in the mid 50’s, newly born infants were monitored by local Health Centres, staffed by a nurse. In Murrumbeena my mother was able to take Peter for regular visits to see how he was progressing. Immunisations and the like were the everyday business of these Local Council Centres. Infants were weighed each month and their progress recorded.
And to this day I remember my mother returning from one of these visits. She was distressed as the Health Centre Nurse had told her she was concerned about my brother’s head. She had recommended my mother see a specialist, in todays parlance, a paediatrician, or as we say in Melbourne, a Collins Street Specialist. Our family had one wage coming in but my father’s parents were comfortably off, such a 50’s phrase. They offered to assist with the cost of seeing a specialist.
I am not sure how Peter arrived at the rooms of Dr Kate Campbell in the mid 50’s. I guess there would have been a referral from our family doctor, John Perry, whose practice was almost at the end of our street. Although I was only 10 years old all of this is firmly etched, even 60 years later.
Dr Kate Campbell, 1899-1986, was an eminent Melbourne Paediatrician who was to diagnose Peter, in medical terms it was called a Premature Closing of The Skull, and this was a huge blow to my parents and to the wider family. Dr Campbell, later Dame Kate Campbell, told my mother that in time there would need to be a metal sheet inserted into Peter’s skull. It all sounded terribly frightening and dangerous to us all. For some years Dr Campbell was to monitor the progress of Peter’s condition. It involved regular measurement of the optic nerve on the brain.
My mother was born and baptised a Catholic. My father a Protestant. What in those days was called a mixed marriage. My mother was not overtly religious. It was a private issue for her. Her in-laws were never all that comfortable with it and I think she suffered in many ways. But being a strong and independent woman she was not going to be crushed by anyone nor anything really. So sad in retrospect that this woman was to be taken from me, my father and my brother at 66 years of age, so young even in 1989.
Some years after the diagnosis my dear mother, Marie Teresa, sat with Kate Campbell after one of the regular consultations regarding Peter’s condition. Kate Campbell said to mother : ‘Mrs Blakeley, do you believe in miracles?” My mother in her usual fashion replied : ‘Yes” Dr Campbell was to tell my mother that day that Peter’s condition was no longer critical and that the operation was no longer needed. The relief was a joy.
I later learnt that one of our pious neighbors, a woman older than my mother, a woman whom my mother often referred to as a ‘holy joe’ had given my mother a small bottle of water from Lourdes. My mother had, without discussing it with any of us, rubbed it on my brother’s head.
I have no comment other than my dear brother turns 60 next January, our journey has been different. He has two daughters and I have a loving Sammy.