“I have a lot to thank Mum and Dad for, especially Mum with her love of books, languages, music and encouragement. I was born in Whyalla, where I loved to play “schools” in our cubby house with a little German girl. We taught each other how to pronounce tricky words in our own languages, and I was hooked! Little did I know then that one day I would earn a living doing just this!
We lived there until I was 10 and then we moved to Cudlee Creek to get a taste of country life. It was the ferocious fire of the mid 50’s that threatened to engulf the valley we lived in, that sent us hurrying to the safety of Brighton and its beach! Mum had stood with the three of us on the edge of our full dam, praying for rain and that Dad was safe as he fought the inferno. As many fire victims know, there are scenes and smells that are bound to stay with you forever.
After 5 happy years full of musical productions at Brighton High, I was off to Teacher’s college as I had always planned. I had in the meantime contracted an eye disease, which seemed to have the specialist stumped. One really hot evening, just the day before my big sister’s wedding, all catered for by Mum at home, I went for a quick swim and dived into the sea. BANG! The retina in my right eye snapped! No quick fix in those days, so I found myself in hospital, with my head between 2 sandbags, just imagining the wedding scene. My sister’s friend jumped into my flash gold shoes and dress, and all went to plan! As Mum was studying for Braille exams at the time, to take up a teaching position at the local school for the Blind, she was very concerned for her daughter!
I think it was at this time that I decided I was going to travel and see the world. “I’ve got one good eye. I’m going to do this do-or-die”. So as soon as I finished teachers’ college and had been appointed to my city school, I went straight to night school to do a crash course in German. And this is where I met my husband to be, also taking night classes in several subjects.
That was my lucky moment. We found out that we lived just around the corner from each other and so by the end of the year, yes, I passed the class and yes, he helped me with German and yes, two years later, we got married, and yes, he took me back to Germany to meet the family!
After our ‘at home’ wedding and our honeymoon here on Kangaroo Island, we made the promise to save madly for one year and set off on an around-the-world ticket via the Pacific. But we only got as far as Germany, obtained fabulous jobs at IBM and stayed there for three years. I was speaking German in the Five-Year-Plan department during the day and teaching English to the staff in the evenings—perfect! What with lots of short trips to fascinating places in Europe, we remember this as a very special time indeed.
But it was time to return to Australia. The next years were busy; we found ourselves in a tourist business near the Murray Mouth, I started up the Goolwa Kindergarten, and our daughter Roanna was born. I had always said that if we had a child that child would speak German do or die because I had to work very hard to learn it! Once I had met the family over there, I thought it so important that our child had to know who Oma and Opa was. Every two years one of us took her back to Germany for at least three or four weeks to get to know the whole family. Back in Australia, every tape in our car, every finger rhyme and many stories were in German from the times she could sit up.
When she was ten, and after spending months of every year since her birth with dear Gramps and Grandma Duffy at American River on Kangaroo Island, we decided to go back to live in Germany. Roanna was less than impressed with this move, and really missed her unrestricted Australian life. I believe she vowed then and there to return to her beloved Kangaroo Island one day, which has certainly been the case! Theo bought an existing language school that kept us busy for the next fifteen years. We taught eight different languages, and specialised in Blast Furnace English, Banking English, Secretarial English, English for Joint Ventures in the steelmaking sector and many more.
Perhaps the most unforgettable moment of our time in Germany was to witness the boundless joy and emotional tsunami caused by the reunification of East and West Germany on the 3rd of October 1990. Church bells rang from midnight all over Germany, East German cars hurtled over the ‘death strip’ with horns blaring, and people clamoured over the Wall, reuniting split families after more than forty years. What a privilege to set up special English classes for the young people from the East, so keen to finally learn English rather than Russian! Their hopes for new jobs depended on it, as English had become the international business language of Europe!
Then we bought a house on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, and I started up a little Horbelt language school there too with a couple of private students. Roanna was still studying in Brussels, so we just enjoyed living in that Spanish culture where every weekend there were fireworks and dancing in the street somewhere, orchestras and choirs coming from around the globe for competitions, on an island the size of our own. It was a beautiful time and we are so glad we did that.
While we were so involved in languages overseas, back on Kangaroo Island my dear sister Sue Sobey was teaching Japanese to the children in the Kingscote school, whilst my mother Clarice Duffy was writing a weekly column for the local paper, producing children’s books, and holding a little French ‘after school’ class for her grandson and friends. We’ve just always loved languages.
Now we are so glad to be back living here, with the German and Spanish news broadcasts available every morning at coffee time, telling us of what we have left behind. Who would live anywhere else than Kangaroo Island!”