While raising their children, the Ducat household had an open door policy. Every one was welcome. Colleen Ducat shares some of her fond family moments with us.
>What was family life as a child like for you?
I had a carefree happy childhood. I was the eldest of 10 children, my mother had seven children when I was seven, so the household had to run to a routine, there was discipline and a job roster that had to be adhered to every week. Being the eldest involved helping the younger ones, feeding babies bottles etc. and I think this is where I developed my love of babies and children. I am particularly close to my youngest siblings. The younger ones certainly had things a lot easier and I think I did a good job in paving the way for them.
My Dad was the only local Vet for a long time and his Surgery was at the back of the house we lived in on Brown Street. As well as caring for all of us, my mother had to answer the telephone for the veterinary practice and attend to the constant stream of people with their cats and dogs. It was common place for us to witness operations, birthing of animals large and small and postmortems being performed in the back yard. When I was quite young I used to spend the day with my Dad in the car doing his veterinary rounds. He worked long hours and was away a lot on call to properties covering a large area.
I have fond memories living in Brown Street. We had a large backyard and there were many neighbourhood kids to play with. Regularly my paternal grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins would gather at our house. My mother would play the piano and Dad would play the mouth organ. We would sing all the old Irish songs. There would also be weekly card nights with neighbours.
We did not go on family holidays, probably because Dad was too busy and there were too many of us. My sister Julie and I would regularly go to Sydney to spend time with my maternal grandmother. Nanna was a lovely woman and very special to us as she would come and look after us every time Mum had a new baby.
Mum was always well dressed (and still is) and we were all impeccably dressed for Mass each Sunday. Mum spent a lot of time on the sewing machine making our clothes and knitted beautiful jumpers for us all to wear.
When I was 11 my parents built a large house on acreage 5 kms out on the Rockvale Road. My father bought this property because he was reared there as a child. This was a great place for 10 children. We rode horses, swam in the creek and craybobbed in the dams. My father also ran a dairy on this place. During a particularly bad drought in the 1960s, my brother Peter and I during school holidays would look after cattle all day on horseback on the reserve next to our property. My brothers particularly enjoyed this lifestyle. They had pigs, poddy calves, ferrets for rabbiting, and we all drove around in an old ute and nobody was to blame for burning the clutch out all the time.
Mum would spend Saturday afternoons cooking, needless to say she was a good cook, and packing lunches to freeze for the week. She even made butter every day from milk from the dairy.
My brother Michael bought some acreage from my parents and he lives there now with his family. His children are enjoying the same lifestyle we had.
> When you were a child how did you celebrate Mother’s Day?
Looking back to when we were all young, I don’t think my mother got much of a break. Mother’s Day was probably just another busy day. We all used to make her presents at school and we took much delight in giving these to her. I think that she still has some of these treasures tucked away in a drawer. Of course this changed when we were older.
> Valued lessons inherited from mother to mother?
My mother is a very organised person and this certainly rubbed off onto me, along with resilience to cope with whatever comes along.
A sense of responsibility towards myself and others.
Love and kindness for others and a welcoming atmosphere in the home were other values acquired from my mother. I think that every mother does the very best she can for each of her children and they are all different with different needs. It is a lifelong and very demanding commitment and extremely rewarding.
> How many children do you have?
Peter and I have 6 children, 3 girls and 3 boys. We also reared a Papuan New Guinea boy, Mark, for 4 years.
> What are you most proud of in your children?
Like most parents I am immensely proud that they have all grown to be caring, well adjusted young adults in the paths they have chosen so far in their lives. They have all worked hard to achieve what they have wanted to do. I just wish them much happiness in their life pursuits and the strength to deal with the challenges that life will throw at them.
> Do you have many family ‘get togethers’?
Every second Christmas is memorable. I made the rule that every second Christmas all my siblings and their families come to Armidale. There are 60 plus of us and it gives my parents much happiness to have us all together. It is a bit daunting if you are an “in-law” as you have to be able to listen to three conversations at once and know what is going on and we are all very loud. This inevitably will change as some of us now have grandchildren.
Last Christmas and recently at Easter, I had all my children home with their friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, my son-in-law and grandchildren and it was just a wonderful and special time for all of us to be together.
> Advice on juggling parenting and business?
Having our own business, I was fortunate that I could take my children to work with me. Our children were reared in our workplace. I thank them for putting up with a lot, especially the older ones. We had a yard at the back of the office with a sandpit (even though the yard was one big sandpit!) with Tonka toys etc.
It is a huge job juggling family and work. At times it is impossible to have everything the way you would like it. Just do whatever works well to keep things running smoothly and let the things that do not matter so much go. In the long term, kids are not going to remember how tidy the house was.
> Advice to mothers on coping with teenagers?
I don’t know if I am qualified at all to give advice on teenagers. All I can say is what worked in our household to a certain extent.
We had an ‘open door’ policy. Everyone was welcome. Our children brought their friends home and there were some kids who chose to live at our place from time to time. It is important that kids feel secure and loved and that you are approachable if they need you and also to keep a positive attitude no matter how bad things seem to be.
We always encouraged participation in sport, particularly team sports, music or whatever else they were happy with or interested in.
There were many kids who learnt to drive in our Subaru utes in the paddock at the back of work. The kids eventually learnt to drive but our utes did not come out unscathed. There were also many parties, some more memorable than others for various reasons.
They also knew that I would somehow find out about the things they didn’t want me to know.
> How many grandchildren do you have?
I have two grandchildren, the children of my daughter Kate and her husband Rodney Slack-Smith. Tom is 2 ½ and Emma is 7 months. I have this all encompassing love for them that is different to the love you have for your own children.
A lot of grandparents I know share this same sentiment. Grandparents have a lot to offer and I admit to being rather indulgent with them. I see them quite often and talk to them on the ‘phone almost every day.
> Plans for the future?
Peter and I have spent the last 33 years growing our business, raising and still educating children, so we have not had the opportunity to do much travelling. We have recently started having short breaks away which have been great. In the near future we would like to wind back a bit more and take longer breaks to do some overseas travelling. Peter has just acquired a vintage car that he hopes to restore.
As you get older you realise the importance of spending time with your parents. Peter’s Mum is now in her 80s and lives at Tweed Heads. Many weekends are spent visiting her. I am fortunate to have my parents living in Armidale.
In the meantime life keeps moving on!
> Thank you for your time Colleen.