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Goodbye Nanna

This story is dedicated to my Nanna Laurene Mary Nissen (nee Saal) who passed away at the grand age of 91 years yesterday. She was a true survivor, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great great grandmother. Rest in Peace dear Nanna.

Interview with Rene 10 Nov 2018.

  The room in which she resides is quiet but for the sound of the pump, gently pacing out the steady bursts of oxygen to her lungs. Her voice is a little crackly but understandable and the woman speaking is strong in spirit.  My only surviving grandmother, Rene Nissen, ‘Nanna’, is calm and relaxed in her chair and seems happy to answer my questions.

I ask Nanna if I may record an interview with her, asking questions about her life.

“You never know what you might find out”, she smiles.

After a large cyclone swept through North Queensland, Laurene, affectionately known to all as ‘Rene’, was born in Gordonvale on the 6th of December 1927.[1]  Rene was the fifth child to parents Carl ‘Charlie’ and Grace Saal.[2] 

Charlie and Grace had left the Darling Downs for North Queensland in 1920 to cut cane.[3]  Rene recalls how she was only two years old when the family moved back to the Downs, settling on a farm called ‘Fair View’ in Clifton.[4]  Life on the farm was ‘lovely’, according to Rene, but you ‘had to work hard’. Part of the daily routine was milking cows and feeding all the animals.[5] Over the years the Saal family grew to include ten children, so Rene helped with the cooking, which was no doubt plentiful.[6]

According to Rene, all her siblings got on well. Her elder brother Ernie is never far from her thoughts, he seemed to be the closest to her in age and friendship.  Ernie and Rene liked to hunt hares and rabbits on the property.  “I used to go with him, out in the paddocks, chase em up, I used to enjoy doing that with him”, she recalls, “… we had a creek down the back,  back of the farm and we went crawfishing… Pop’d buy some bones on [sic] the butcher, we’d put em on a bit of string and put em down the creek, catch the little crayfish, take em home, mum’d cook em for us and us kids would eat em.” [7]

Rene’s young life was busy. From the age of about eleven, she helped babysit family friend’s children. “I’d get about ten shillings”, she remembers.  As Rene got older, she worked at a large restaurant, owned by a Greek man. She served customers, as well as making treats such as fruit salad, ice-cream sundaes and malted milks.[8]  During the Second World War, Rene got a job at ‘Morton’s’ Haberdashery in Clifton.[9] She left there before her marriage to Aubrey Nissen, my Grandfather. [10] 

It was virtually love at first sight for Rene. She saw her friend Marjorie walking with a man. It happened to be Aubrey Lewis Nissen, eighteen years old and graduated from Gatton College. Rene knew that he wasn’t Marjorie’s boyfriend and thought “I’d like that man!”.[11]  After being introduced by brother Ernie, Rene and the butter and cheese maker from Pittsworth clicked straight away. It was four years until they were engaged to be married.[12]  The timing was right for the couple as Aub, as he was fondly known, achieved his goal of securing a job with the Government as a Dairy Inspector.[13]   Rene never forgot the most exciting day of her life, their wedding day at St James’s Church of England in Toowoomba. It was an extremely large wedding, as much of their large families attended from far and wide.[14] 

After their honeymoon in Burleigh heads, Rene and Aub moved to Kingaroy.[15]  I knew that baby Robert, their first child born in Kingaroy, had died, being only a day old.[16]  Until this interview I didn’t know the circumstances behind his death.

  “…right until oh, six weeks before he was due, I went to the doctor, and I had high blood pressure, they put me straight into hospital… it was dangerous to the baby, and me, so he had to bring the baby on”, she recalls “And ah I was having the baby in the labour ward, and, it was the middle of the night, and the,… sister went home, and only the two little night nurses on, and I her I let out a great big scream, cause the baby was coming. I was pushing the baby out. And they come running in, and they pushed the baby back inside me…. when they brought the baby down to me the next morning, it wasn’t well. The sister said, ‘There’s something wrong with it’. It was making little noise like a little whine. And um they found out, he had brain damage. And I blame those nurses, and anyway it, it lived… ah I think, a day and a half. It died. Aub had to bury it. I wasn’t allowed out of hospital. Mum and Dad come visit me”.[17]   

I was so shocked to hear about this harrowing event in Nanna’s life and could only imagine the fear and sorrow it caused.  Thankfully, although Rene had high blood pressure again, Graham was born safely nearly eighteen months later.   Rene gave birth to four more children; Judith, Raymond, Pamela and Susan.

“What makes you happy now?”, I asked Nanna. “Happy to see…anyone that comes to visit”, she says smiling “Be kind to each other, and spread your love around”.[18]


                           Australia Death Index 1787-1985, Reg no:004973, Ancestry, accessed 4 December 2018.

Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst, digital recording, Flinders View, 10th November 2018, in author’s possession.

                        MJ’s family tree, author’s own, on Ancestry.  

                        Queensland Times

                                    Saal, Grace Charlotte, ‘My Life’, Sandra Taylor and Pam Molnar Eds, printed by family,1996.

Warwick Daily News

[1] Grace Charlotte Saal, ‘My Life’, Sandra Taylor and Pam Molnar Eds, Book printed by family, 1996, p. 16.

[2] Ancestry, Laurene May Nissen born 6th Dec 1927, MJ’s Family Tree (Author’s own), accessed 2 December 2018; Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst, digital recording, Flinders View, 10th November 2018, in author’s possession.

[3] Saal, ‘My Life’, p. 9.

[4] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst; Saal, ‘My Life’, pp.20-23.

[5] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.

[6] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.

[7] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.

[8] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.

[9] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.

[10] “CLIFTON SOCIAL” Warwick Daily News, 6 December 1949: 4. Web accessed 2 Dec 2018.

[11] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.

[12] Ancestry, Aubrey Lewis Nissen, born 13 December 1924 in Pittsworth QLD, MJ’s Family Tree (Author’s Own), accessed 4 December 2018; Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst; “LIST OF AWARDS” Queensland Times, 17 December 1942, Web accessed 4 Dec 2018.

[13] “CLIFTON SOCIAL” Warwick Daily News, 20 January 1950: 3. Web accessed 2 Dec 2018.

[14] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.

[15] Warwick Daily News; Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.

[16] Ancestry, Robert Charles Nissen died 21 Oct 1950, ‘Australia Death Index 1787-1985’, Reg no:004973, accessed 4 December 2018.

[17] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.

[18] Laurene Nissen, interview by Melanie Smethurst.


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