In 1918, King George V reigned in England, Billy Hughes governed Australia, and Irving Berlin was busy composing the Ziegfeld Follies. May Gibbs had just published Snugglepot & Cuddlepie, David Jung invented fortune cookies, and we were yet to discover hair dryers, band aids, and the internet.
On 19 October – 23 days before peace treaties were signed to end the first world war – Charles and Eva McDougall welcomed June Margaret into the world. A world where electricity and cars were yet to become mainstream and Tasmanian Tigers were still living and breathing.
She was the youngest of the three formidable McDougall girls – Carlene, Marjorie and June. Marjorie born in 1914 and June in 1918 were nicknamed war and peace as children. Peace suited June. She was quiet, determined, passionate, devoted, and ofttimes the peacemaker. In adult years, her politics leaned strongly to the left and she had more than the occasional peace sign hanging around the house.
June was born in Patrick Street, North Hobart, but as her educated and cultured family fell on hard times they moved frequently in search of work in the timber and boatbuilding industries. She grew up in many Tasmanian towns – as a toddler in Cockle Creek gathering shells on the beach, starting school in Franklin and walking four miles to get home each day, teenage years spent in Hobart leading bushwalks to the top of Mount Wellington or beach walks to Kingston, then holidaying as frequently as possible on her beloved Bruny Island. In no particular order, she lived and fell in love with West Hobart, Lauderdale, Invermay, Broadbeach, Trevallyn, North Hobart and finally Ranelagh – a home she loved with every ounce of her being, transforming an empty yard into a veritable Garden of Eden.
As a child June developed a deep and abiding love of plants and animals, becoming a passionate gardener and devoted pet owner. She had an uncanny knack for reviving dead plants or bringing an almost lifeless animal back from near death. Her instincts with the sick and injured were spot on – every time. She nursed an orphaned wombat back to life, visited the last living Tasmanian Tiger, and nurtured a henpecked chick into a proud and bossy rooster. Among her many beloved pets were Princess the blind white cat and her litter of kittens, Trotsky & Bella the snappy Maltese terriers and their litters of puppies, and chickens running around at Ranelagh, three of whom she named Carlene, Marjorie and June. “Marjorie just laid an egg!” a gleeful reminder of her sharp wit.
As a young woman, she worked as a milliner and it was there she met her lifelong friend, Lenna – still going strong at 102. Lenna and June shared 83 years of devoted friendship – holidays together on Bruny Island, working together at Maisettes, supporting each other through births, deaths and marriages. A true friend.
Not long after she met Lenna, June was introduced to a dashing young fellow called Maurice James Conley and they became the love story of Bruny Island. Unfamiliar and shy around girls, Maurice first saw her stepping off the ferry and thought, “She was a bit of alright”. They married in 1941, then Carrol was born in 1944 and David in 1945. Having adored and cared for babies for years, June finally had two of her own to cherish. She raised not only her own children, but spent her entire life taking in abandoned, abused or homeless, women, children and pets. Her door was always open, and a spare bed found, no matter the day or time. While never blessed with affluence, a seat at the table was always on offer and all were welcome to share what she had. She was a champion of the underdog with a warm heart and a caring hand.
After a difficult and tumultuous marriage, June and Maurice separated (though never divorced) in 1970. She moved to the Gold Coast where Carrol was now living with her husband and young family. It wasn’t long before she met “Uncle Mac” and a whirlwind romance was ignited. Mac was a Scotsman and one of the great loves of June’s life, a man who adored and cherished her, and they had many wonderful years together in the Queensland sunshine. Squirrelled away in her purse until the very end, was a photo of Mac.
June was renowned for her library – from Shakespeare to Readers Digest, fact to fiction, highbrow to romance. She had everything and read everything. She could recite the sonnets of Shakespeare, recommend a Dickens novel, or quote snippets of Kipling. Of the thousands of books she owned, every single tome was read from beginning to end at least once. Every birthday and Christmas we were gifted a precious book – something hand selected because of a special connection by name, place, or circumstance. Unfortunately, she was also very attached to every volume in her library and invariably forgot she’d gifted it, demanding its return anon.
Capping off the three great loves of her life, was family. She was not demonstrative and was prone to high levels of expectation, but adored each and every one of us, regularly boasting to anyone who would listen how clever, talented, successful, kind and worthy her family were. She was also famous for her fallings out – you could mysteriously find yourself on the outer for a misplaced word or a forgotten task. But all transgressions were quickly forgiven the moment you turned up with a smile and a fresh flower from the garden.
June died peacefully in her sleep at 98 2/3. When she was born the population of Australia was just over five million, a block of land in North Sydney cost £200 and a loaf of bread just four pence. She lived through the great depression, watched three monarchs crowned in Great Britain, and saw Dame Joan Sutherland live at the Hobart Town Hall. She welcomed new life into the world, and farewelled most of her loved ones. Woven through the story of her life was a love of all things Scottish and indulging in an afternoon glass of watered down cask wine.
June was blessed with excellent health and longevity, a sharp mind and quick wit. Her life was simple and ordinary, extraordinary and unique. Now reunited with her adored parents, sisters, and daughter. Maurice and Mac, a grandson, granddaughter and a host of family members. Countless friends, lost lovers and a multitude of pets. She will never be alone. She will not be forgotten. Fly free. Rest in peace June.