Dorothy Shield was only a baby when her dad left to fight in World War II. But, she clearly remembers the day her dad returned from Germany, where he’d been a prisoner of war for five years.
‘We went to meet him off the train. He got off and when he grinned, I was terrified. They were given free cigarettes in the prison camp and his teeth were all yellow. I remember he had some missing and when he smiled I just wouldn't go near him. It was must have been awful for him, but I was scared.’
Dorothy was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK in 1939 and has fond memories of her childhood.
‘My grandparents lived on the other side of the road with three maiden aunties, and they spoiled me rotten. During the war I used to say to my Auntie Alice, “If you give me some money and some coupons, I'll buy you some sweets”,’ she laughs.
Dorothy was the only girl in her year to pass the scholarship to go to the high school. Her first job was delivering mail for a solicitors’ office, then she worked for the Transport Workers Union and married Brian Robertson, who she’d met at 15.
Nine months into her first pregnancy, Dorothy went to the hospital with high blood pressure but, because she was small, the nurses didn’t believe her due date and refused to call the doctor to examine her. Her full-term baby boy was stillborn but she was transferred to an annex with other women who’d had their babies.
‘A nurse was standing outside the door with this little boy saying how lovely he was and I started to cry. The nurse said I was being pathetic, “You’re young. You'll have more babies”. That was what it was like in those days.’
They waited two more years before falling pregnant again with the first of two healthy daughters. Their children were in primary school when Brian was offered a two-year transfer to Australia.
‘It was brilliant. They put us up in the Brighton Savoy Hotel. It was about 35 degrees the day we got here, and we had an air-conditioned room overlooking the city, opposite the beach. We thought we'd died and gone to heaven. We had a new car at the door, a great big basket of fruit and big basket of flowers in the room, and everybody was so friendly.’
It was tough returning to the UK, when their two years was up. Particularly as they had to move to Chelmsford, three hours south of family and friends in Newcastle. So, when Brian was offered the Australian job again permanently, they jumped at the chance.
The day after they flew in, they enjoyed a surprise welcome home party with about 50 friends. Despite their jetlag, it was a great night, Dorothy says.
The couple rented a home whilst looking to buy. ‘It had a waterbed. We'd never seen a waterbed before, never thought you had to plug it in and heat it up before you got in and oh my God — it was like sleeping in the North Sea. Crazy. It was massive. It took up most of the bedroom so when you bent down to tuck the sheets in, your bottom hit the wall and in you went!’
Dorothy joined the Sweet Adelines chorus and performed interstate and at the Concert Hall and the couple travelled extensively, both overseas and interstate, making solid friends en route.
They moved to a retirement village in Mornington a decade ago, and have continued their busy social life. Dorothy plays carpet bowls, enjoys trivia nights, table tennis and trained as a barista so she can volunteer for the village’s coffee club.
Dorothy is also known for her devastating backhand in table tennis, taking out four gold medals at the Master Games in 2019.
Listen to the Robertsons' story
Reviewed 31 August 2022