“She was a tough lady in a time when women weren’t expected to be,” my father said to me regarding his grandmother and my great-grandmother, Mary Maude Jago Hayes, during and after the Great Depression. “She loved her sherry, she loved her children and god forbid anyone who got in the way of either one of her two loves.” My father continued his tale by telling me, “my father told me all these stories about her. I never met her, but I knew her through my father and through the stories that he told me.”
“You didn’t want to be working-class during that time.” – Paul Auprince
Sydney’s working class suburbs aren’t for the faint of heart. It produces tough people who thrive in the worst of times, and this was the case with my Great Grandmother. Born in 1900 to Eliza and James Hayes in the working-class suburb of Burwood, Mary spent her childhood helping her family around the house and learning her place in the world. She would often tell stories of Sydney during the first world war being likened to a ghost town, with many of the men leaving to fight and die on the shores of Gallipoli, leaving the women to start working in jobs that were once male dominated. Burwood began humbly as a settlement following construction of Parramatta Road and remains a humble neighbourhood to this day. 7400 people made Burwood their home in 1900, but this number rose to over 20,000 by 1930 (Local History). A majority of these people were members of working-class families who struggled to survive in the grips of the Great Depression, fighting for the basics of shelter and food. Brick houses lined the streets, giving it a reddish hue that screamed working class. Every brick was supplied by the two brick pits from up the road, with each brick representing a different struggle that every family went through. Mary struggled almost every day in her life, with each brick in her house representing a different challenge that she overcame. She was supported during the troubled times in her life by her parents who emphasises to her that family was important. She would subscribe to this notion, especially after what happened with Andre.
“Not many people liked them together. He didn’t seem fully invested.” – Paul Auprince
A chance meeting at a local dance hall between Mary and Andre Auprince led to a short courtship and marriage in 1922 just after her twenty-second birthday. She saw in him a courteous man who she quickly fell in love with. She soon gave birth to my grandfather Ivan Auprince (1923) and his sister Jacqueline (1927), both of whom she described as being beacons of light in her life. During this time, Andre held many jobs as he looked for ways to support his young family, but he was unable to find steady employment. Whilst the children were a source of joy for Mary, sadly the same cannot be said about their father. Being called a scoundrel by many who knew the couple, Andre deserted the family shortly after the birth of his daughter, leaving Mary to raise the children alone. Rather than wallow in self-pity, Mary instead turned to the rest of her family and they remained a huge influence upon her life, with her children’s upbringing being the responsibility of the community and not just the individual. This was the epitomized working-class Sydney during the Great Depression as Mary’s parents and neighbours took to helping her raise the children quite willingly. (See Photo #1)
“He wasn’t a great singer or dancer. He thought he was. I blame his mum for that.” – Paul Auprince
The horrors of the first world war in the distant past, and in the midst of the Great Depression, there was little for Mary to do during this time except focusing on her children. In a time where her family had next to nothing she made sure that her children had confidence and loved life. Enrolling both Ivan and Jacqueline in many extracurricular activities such as dance and singing classes, whilst neither could sing or dance particularly well, they were encouraged to take life by the horns and live it to the fullest. It also helped that these activities were set up by the local council as being held free of charge. The National Advocatenewspaper (“Town Tattle,” 1936) describes Jacqueline being entered into a dance competition where she excelled beyond what she thought she could. I remember my grandfather showing me the trophies and certificates that he and his sister won from these competitions, imparting to me than even if it was a participation trophy (which quite often they were) or a first place medal, Mary was still as excited for her children, making them know that no matter their successes or failures, they were still loved.
“She always made sure Ivan had shoes for school. He never went barefoot when every other child did.” – Paul Auprince
During the 1920’s and 30’s and through the entirety of the Great Depression, money was hard to come by. Jobs paid hardly anything for back-breaking work. Holding several jobs such as becoming a nanny for local families and doing chores for households around the neighbourhood, Mary made sure that through thick and thin her family came first. Even at their poorest, Mary made sure that Ivan and his sister had shoes when they went to school, three meals a day, and a happy life. Forgoing meals so that her children could eat, working extra jobs to provide for her family and stretching their money as far as it could go was paramount to Mary’s lifestyle that was as harsh and cruel as Mary was kind and tough because “Family was important to Mary. Quite often it was all that she had,” (Paul Auprince) The Great Depression was turned Mary into a fighter.
“It was unheard of. A woman divorcing a man. It just didn’t happen that often back then.” – Paul Auprince
Divorce is pretty commonplace nowadays with most couples today seeming to divorce as quickly as they marry. In the 1920’s and 30’s, divorce was not as common, but when your husband deserts you, it is the only option. Mary took this option in 1937 when she decided to divorce Andre because of his desertion. This garnered widespread attention in the media because she was one of the first women to successfully sue for divorce in the country, though it did happen sometimes, but not to the extent of the other way around. In a ten year period from 1925 to 1935, 6073 couples divorced within Australia alone (Australian Institute of Family Studies). Though divorce was becoming more common with a steady increase every five years, it is clear that this divorce had more exposure because Mary was instigating it, her case was heavily reported on in newspapers. The Sydney Morning Herald, (IN DIVORCE) garnered a new era for Mary and her family as they were finally free from their father. She was a pioneer for Woman’s right’s at this time. For the first time, Mary thought that life was for the taking and that she did not need a man to succeed in this world because she was tough enough. Mary had little if any contact with Andre following his desertion, with little mention of him in newspapers until his death in 1950 as reported on the 4thof December, 1950 in the Sydney Morning Herald(“Family Notices”). Mary always asserted to my grandfather that she was completely in love with him during the opening years of their marriage but towards the its end she began to hate him and herself for his poisonous treatment of her before his eventual desertion.
“Sherry is poison but she swore by it.” – Paul Auprince
If Mary was good at only one thing, it would be enjoying the finer things in life. Throughout her life, throughout the horrors of the world wars, the great depression and the fallout of a failed marriage, she knew how to enjoy herself, whether that was in the bottle of sherry or in taking holidays to country towns to visit relatives and friends. As enjoyable as these diversions were, only the travelling was good for Mary. The sherry was poison. For those who haven’t had it, it is a drink for the seemingly upper class but for the life of me I can’t understand why. My grandfather used to tell me stories about Mary sitting down at the end of a hard day with a “small” glass of sherry. It was that small pleasure at the end of the day which helped her struggle through life, the Great Depression, and raising two children. Drinking sherry is something that she passed on to my grandfather, who always sat down in a chair that had once belonged to Mary, whose smell had seeped into the very fabric of it.
“She loved a drink, and a holiday, and drinking on holidays.” – Paul Auprince
Friends and family that she knew lived in a small country town called Bathurst, located several hours away from Sydney. Whenever she got a chance, especially when Ivan and Jacqueline had grown older, she escaped from the confines of Sydney and travelled there. Several newspapers reported her travels such as the National Advocatein 1939. During one of these holidays, she ran across William Lyle Dowling, a recently widowed man who convinced her to move to Bathurst (See photo #2)and become his children’s nanny. The pair eventually fell in love and married in 1940 when she was 40 and he was 38. This would be the place where she would settle until her death in 1969.
Mary Maude Jago Hayes was tough. In the midst of the Great Depression where women were stereotypically dependant upon men, she showed that toughness that was not the norm for women. Every person I have talked to about Mary said that her toughness helped to drag her and her family through the tumultuous time of the Great Depression. The value she placed on her family is indescribable, with their care and happiness often coming at the expense of herself. Alas, she was not perfect. Quite often she could be found passed out from too much sherry in a chair her father had made for her. On other occasions, she would fall asleep before dinner was made because she had been pulling a double shift at work. But Mary valued the safety and prosperity of her family above all else, something that my grandfather cites as a factor when he signed up for the armed services during the second World War. His family, friends and way of life was at risk and he wanted to protect it, just as Mary had done for her children throughout the decades. At her heart, Mary enjoyed the finer things in life, exemplified toughness and put her family first., These character traits define my family today. I know Mary Maude Jago Hayes though I never met her. I saw her enjoying the finer things in life through my grandfather. I see her toughness in my father. I see her family first attitude in every single one of my family members. I know Mary Maude Jago Hayes. She was a tough lady.
Auprince, Ivan. Personal Interview. Various.
Auprince, Paul. Personal Interview. 1 April 2018.
Australian Government, Institute of Family Studies. Divorce in Australia Source Data. 2018 https://aifs.gov.au/facts-and-figures/divorce-australia/divorce-australia-source-data#rates
“Family Notices.” The Sydney Morning Herald. 4 December, 1950. p. 16.
“IN DIVORCE.” The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 May, 1937. p. 10.
“Local History,” Municipality on Burwood. Date Unknown. http://www.burwood.nsw.gov.au/our_burwood/history/local_history.html
“Town Tattle.” National Advocate. [Bathurst, NSW], 25 May, 1936. p.3. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/160346866?searchTerm=ivan%20auprince&searchLimits=l-decade=193|||l-year=1936
“Town Tattle.” National Advocate. [Bathurst, NSW], 16 July, 1939. p. 3.
A photograph of Mary Maude Jago Hayes with her Grandmother, Mother and Son Ivan Auprince (My Grandfather).
Auprince, Andre. “Mary with her son, mother and grandmother.” 1922.
A photo of the electoral roll showing Mary Maude Jago Hayes was a resident of Bathurst in 1936.
Ancestry.com. “Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903-1954.” Online publication – provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. Original data – Australian Electoral Commission. http://search.ancestry.com.au/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=auselectoralrolls&h=4582219&ti=5544&indiv=try&gss=pt