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My dressmaking roots and when polio came to Yeppoon

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

My Grandma’s name is Marjorie, and she was born in 1928 and is turning 93 this year. She has lived in Yeppoon for majority of her life and although she thinks that she has led a boring and uninteresting life, I love hearing stories about every stage of her life and find every detail fascinating. In my opinion, she has led an amazing life filled with love, rich experiences and dedication to her family and community. I wanted to share a snapshot of her life that she recently shared with me about her experiences of Yeppoon in the late 1940s, early 1950s.

Grandma recalled being 18 or 19 years old working at Richters boarding house which was in the centre of Yeppoon with her best friend Cath. They cleaned the rooms, prepared the breakfast tables and waited on the boarders. This is where she met her husband, Claude who was boarding there when he came to Yeppoon after returning from the war to work as a sign writer. Grandma had been doing some dress making on the side after someone asked her to make a ball gown. She was a very talented seamstress, and when her side hustle began to thrive, she and Cath started a dress making business from a small flat in Normanby Street where the current Yeppoon Family Practice site is. They then moved into another flat in the building next door as their business grew. She said that her dream was to open a shop front in the little shop that is now the home to Shannon Hawkes Florist as that shop was vacant for many years. Grandma and Cath’s plans were put on hold when the worldwide pandemic of polio (poliomyelitis) came to Yeppoon wreaking havoc. Grandma remembered being terrified and the shadows of that dark time was still evident on her face as she recalled her experiences. She said that she knew polio was closing in around them when a young woman in a neighbouring flat and a post office worker a couple of buildings down developed polio. A baby boy living opposite them also became sick and needed to spend time in the iron lung. (Check out this University of Melbourne article about the eradication of polio and how the world is still battling polio. And if you get a chance, have a look at the iron lung, it’s fascinating that kind of medical technology was used not that long ago)

Remembering Australia’s polio scourge | Pursuit by The University of Melbourne (

Grandma couldn’t recall if the baby boy survived. Cath had returned home at her families request and soon after, Grandma’s brother came to collect her to return home too. Both families rode out the worst of the disease on their rural properties in Farnborough until a vaccine was found and they could receive it. It was only then that they returned to their business in Yeppoon. She said that when COVID19 started closing in on our life she was reminded of the horrors of polio and she was one of the first people I knew to receive the COVID19 vaccine. She had no hesitation to get vaccinated and had faith in medical experts that this is what was needed to be done in order for the world to eradicate COVID19 and for life to be able to return to normal. Her faith in the process was reassuring to me when there is such uncertainty and fearmongering on both sides of the vaccination fence in mainstream and social medias. My Grandma doesn’t read the paper or watch the news so perhaps that’s why she isn’t feeling the same anxiety many people are feeling about getting the vaccination. This isn’t the forum for soap boxing but let’s not let the not-so distant memories of diseases such as polio leave our minds while we tackle and learn to live with COVID as our new normal.

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