6 June 2016, Mount Barker, South Australia
Betty was born Elizabeth Joan Collins on December 1st, 1942 at the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital, Rose Park, South Australia. Her parents were Gilbert Roland Collins and Elsie Vera Collins who lived at 68 First Avenue, Nailsworth. Betty was the youngest of seven children and her six siblings were Mervyn, Beryl, Alan, Hazel, Marjorie and Kevin.
She entered the world feet first by breech birth and, given the state of the world in December 1942, maybe she was reluctant to join it – or maybe she wanted to hit the ground running, which was the way she mostly led the next 73 years of her life.
Almost from the very start she was known as Betty and that name stuck, although in later life she much preferred her full name of Elizabeth on formal occasions. Betty’s mother was a chronic invalid and a large amount of her early upbringing was by her two closest sisters, Hazel and Marjorie.
Betty attended Nailsworth Primary School from 1947 to 1954 and Adelaide Girls High School from 1955 to 1958, when she matriculated with her Leaving Certificate. After leaving school she worked as a Drafting Assistant at the SA Lands Titles Office.
I started work as a Technician-in-Training with the then Post Master General’s Department in 1957. There I met another trainee, Kevin Collins – Betty’s brother. Sometimes I would visit Kevin at home when we were studying for exams and that is how I met Betty. At that time she was still at Adelaide High and she told me years later that if she saw my car parked in front of her house as she was coming up the street on her way home from school, she would run all the way home in case I left before she got there. That accounted for her always being breathless and bright-eyed as she hung around annoying Kevin and me while we tried to study. A couple of years later I plucked up the courage to ask her out and we started courting.
One thing led to another and on August 6th, 1960 we were married at the Broadview Methodist Church. Our honeymoon was spent at Encounter Bay.
At first we lived with Betty’s sister and brother-in-law, Hazel and Ian Lovett, at Enfield and then we rented a house at Evandale while our new home was being built at 4 Farm Drive, Redwood Park. Meanwhile Catherine had been born. We moved into our new home in January 1962. Things were very tough financially and, having sold our car to raise the deposit on the house, our transport was a motorbike and then we upgraded to a motorbike and sidecar.
In those days Redwood Park was on the outer fringes of the metropolitan area with very few services or shops. Betty used to trek the six kilometres return trip to the Tea Tree Gully post office, pushing the pram, to get the monthly child endowment allowance.
Our second child, Noelene, was born in January 1964 and then Steven in September 1966. The children attended the Kathleen Mellor kindergarten in Tea Tree Gully and Betty was involved in managing the kindergarten op shop. She was also active in the Ridgehaven Primary School parent’s activities while the children were there.
In 1969 I came home from work one day to the news that Betty had seen an advertisement in the paper for a canteen assistant at the Blacks Road drive-in at Gilles Plains and she had applied for and got the job. Getting to the interview for the job had involved catching the bus into Adelaide, joining a large queue of job applicants and dragging the pusher, with Steven in it, up a flight of stairs to the office. She worked at the drive-in from 1969 to 1971 and became expert in making hamburgers, nut sundaes and banana splits.
It wasn’t long before she saw another ad for interviewers for a sport and recreation survey for the proposed Monarto satellite city. She got that job, undertook the training and completed the survey work. That led to her being employed part time as a population survey interviewer with the Bureau of Census and Statistics. She worked in that position from 1973 to 1976.
Those jobs involved interviewing randomly chosen people in their homes to gather statistics on unemployment and other domestic matters. She soon realised that she had a natural ability to listen and relate to people as they opened up to her about things that had nothing whatsoever to do with the questions in the survey.
Anyone who has had a conversation with Betty will know what I mean.
So she undertook an aptitude test with a career advisor and was told that she was suited to being either a teacher or a social worker. Luckily she chose social worker and it wasn’t long before she saw yet another ad in the paper for a cadetship with the Department for Community Welfare to study full time for the Associate Diploma of Social Work at the South Australian Institute of Technology, which is now the University of South Australia. She commenced her study in 1976 and gained her Diploma at the end of 1977.
She then worked as a Community Welfare Worker at the Elizabeth office of the Department for Community Welfare, which she described as a baptism by fire. She worked there for three and a half years from 1978 to 1981 and during that time she discovered she had a talent for helping young girls and women who were victims of abuse, both physical and sexual.
This led to her applying for the position of Social Worker at the newly formed Sexual Assault Referral Centre at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woodville. This was an initiative of Dr Aileen Connon and the centre initially had a staff of three – a doctor, a nurse and a social worker and liaison with the police sexual assault unit.
At first the Centre was located in the old child care building at the hospital, then later it moved to a floor in the nurses quarters and gained additional professional and support staff.
While working there Betty studied part time for her Bachelor of Social Work at the University of South Australia and graduated with her degree in 1988. She also undertook post graduate study, and in 1994 gained her Graduate Diploma of Education, Adult Training.
This all sounds very clinical when presented in a chronological fashion like this, but we need to realise that all this was achieved while Betty was holding a husband and three children together as a loving family. Driving through traffic from Redwood Park to Woodville every day, then listening to absolutely horrible and ghastly things that had happened to her clients and then driving home to cook dinner and nurture her family in the evening (which included helping with homework). In 1975 she even did it on her own while I was working in Sydney for three months.
As she gained experience in her profession she developed a model for helping victims of sexual assault through their trauma and pain. She wrote a paper on her method and called it Simple Things that Work.
In 1986 she was invited to present her paper to The First International Symposium on Rape in Jerusalem and she travelled there alone to speak at the symposium. It was the first time she had gone overseas.
Then, in 1987, she travelled to San Francisco to present her work to a conference on trauma recovery.
In 1989 her work was published in the International Journal of Medicine and Law.
After fifteen years of working in this field, listening to things every working day that nobody should have to hear, her body was starting to break down. Her health was suffering both physically and psychologically and she needed to get out. Finally she was granted retirement on grounds of ill health and she was able to start to regain her health and equilibrium.
On retirement Betty enjoyed her gardening, travel, our grandchildren - and then croquet took over. She became treasurer of the Victor Harbor Croquet Club and was responsible for gaining many thousands of dollars in grants for equipment and facility upgrades.
I am in awe of the way Betty conducted her life. She was constantly optimistic and cheerful. She could always find good in people, but by the same token she would not suffer fools lightly. She was the glue of our marriage and she tolerated my many faults and shortcomings with loving understanding. She loved our three children without reservation and absolutely adored our five grandchildren.
After she became ill with cancer she spent a lot of the last eighteen months educating me in subtle and not so subtle ways on how to survive when she was gone. She taught me to cook (well, she tried), she labelled everything, she made me recite where things are kept, she made lists and generally handed me the reins.
Betty was a unique and wonderful person. Her infectious laugh, her sparkling eyes. She was an amazing wife, companion, friend, mother and grandmother.
Coupled with this is the legacy that she has left of all the lives she has touched, and in some cases saved, of both women and men, through her work in sexual assault counselling. Going through her papers I came across many letters and cards from people who she helped regain control of their lives. A quote from just one:-
I wanted to tell you about all the good things that have come from our sessions together but I find that I am a bit lost for words when I try to thank you. To have met you has been a privilege. You are an amazing person! To think back to some of the things that you said makes me feel in awe of you… you have incredible depth and sensitivity. You are courageous: able to look Hell in the face and to venture into places that may not be safe.
Lastly, Betty made me promise that when I wrote this I would leave you laughing so here goes…
Some time ago, before she became ill, Betty went to the chemist to get a prescription filled for my anti-reflux tablets. Unknowingly she had picked up my prescription for Viagra instead.
When she returned to the chemist later to pick up the prescription the assistant handed her the box of pills and said “That will be seventy six dollars.”
Betty said “What!, they’re not usually that dear!”
The assistant said “No, that’s the correct price.”
Betty, waving the box of Viagra above her head for all the other customers to see said “Oh well, I don’t care how much they cost as long as they do the job!”.
I loved her so much.
This is an excerpt from a poem by Leonard Cohen
A Thousand Kisses Deep
I’m good at love, I’m good at hate
It’s in between I freeze
Been working out but its too late
(Its been too late for years)
But you look good, you really do
They love you on the street
If you were here I’d kneel for you
A thousand kisses deep
The autumn moved across your skin
Got something in my eye
A light that doesn’t need to live
And doesn’t need to die
A riddle in the book of love
Obscure and obsolete
And witnessed here in time and blood
A thousand kisses deep