Local resident Doreen McCoy celebrated her 90th birthday with a recent gathering of family and friends who have many fond memories of growing up with the Armour and McCoy families during the 1950s and sixties.
Well known as the mother of triplet boys, Ray, Bob and Ron, born in 1953 at Muswellbrook (exactly one year after her marriage to Kevin McCoy at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Gunnedah) and three other children – Jenny, Peter and Greg. Kevin gained his nickname ‘Killer’ from a friend in Muswellbrook who cast it on him after seeing a Mickey Rooney film.
Born at Muswellbrook in 1929, Kevin came to Gunnedah to take up a position as manager in the shoe department at Hawke & Treloars Department Store and it was here that he met the attractive Doreen Armour who was leaning on a lamp post waiting for her sister Jean who worked at the store.
Kevin quipped that ‘the post was able to stand up by itself’ and the rest is history.
Born in the Riverina area in 1933, Doreen was the daughter of Margaret (Commins) and Charlie Armour, who had been working with the Grain Elevator’s Board since 1932. He was ineligible for war service because he had a heart problem caused by Rheumatic Fever as a child.
Because of the manpower shortage during the war, an overseer was needed in the northwest area of NSW and Doreen’s father was seconded to the GEB in Gunnedah as an overseer in 1941.
Doreen was eight years old when her mother packed up the family, including Jean (born 1931), Marie (1936), Garry (1938) and Frank and travelled to Gunnedah by train, unloading at Central Station in Sydney where they were met by Charlie.
“We had to fill in some time before the northwest mail train to Gunnedah so Dad showed us a little bit of Sydney,” Doreen recalled.
The family’s youngest child Allan was born in 1943 after the family moved to Gunnedah.
“For the first couple of weeks we lived at the Court House Hotel and then shared accommodation at 16 Henry Street with families from Sydney who had moved to the country because of fear of an invasion by the Japanese,” Doreen recalled.
The family then moved into a house at 45 Henry Street where Doreen formed many happy childhood memories attending St Xavier’s School, learning piano at the convent and sharing the house with various relatives who came and went.
Because her father’s job involved travelling all around the northwest, Doreen and her siblings would take turns going with him in the school holidays and camping out. She learned to cook in a camp oven on an open fire and how to drive the ute when she was 13.
“Dad had to retire in 1952 because he developed severe asthma from the wheat dust. He then worked for council on the outdoor staff until he dropped dead on April 22, 1960 while helping a mate do a roof job. Both Mum and Dad served without ever leaving the country or wearing a uniform – but the harvest went on and the wheat was delivered to Sydney, so the farmers were happy. Mum made thousands of penny toffees over the years for the Nuns to sell to raise funds for the school. She passed away in 1998 aged 87. Our family salutes our wonderful parents Charlie and Peg Armour.”
Doreen also remembers the mock air raid drills during the war years when the siren would blast, and they all had to walk to ‘a place of safety’ which was often a trench dug along the fence line.
“I remember going to Mass and seeing the Italian POWs all together in their deep red/purple jackets – one man was crying bitterly as he walked up to Holy Communion and Mum explained that he would have been thinking of his family,” Doreen said. “The POWS lived in a house in Barber Street and I believe they had vegetable gardens in the back yard.”
During the summer months the children would swim at The Dip in the Namoi and then walk to the Acropolis Café for an orange freeze.
Doreen’s high school years at St Mary’s College included her friendship with Jean McLeod who later entered the convent. Doreen loved learning and she was especially good at Maths and English. She also learned ballroom dancing when a new physical culture teacher came to the college from the Graham Burrows Centre. Other good friends from those early days included Wilma Law who recently celebrated her 71st wedding anniversary with husband Kevin Smart, who came to Gunnedah when his father was appointed postmaster; and Nancy Kelly whose family owned the property Leighcross on the Bluevale Road.
“I loved PE and we danced on St Pat’s verandah, which certainly gave me a good kick-off in my social life because if there was a dance on anywhere in Gunnedah I would go. I loved basketball and tennis, but I was hopeless at athletics,” Doreen said.
“We also had a wonderful lady called Mrs Mackay who came up from Sydney to teach us singing. When I was 14, I sang Danny Boy for Australia’s Amateur Hour Australia Wide and came second.”
As part of the curriculum at St Mary’s, Doreen also did a business course with Sr Vincent, including typing, shorthand, and business principles, which stood her in good stead when she left school and was offered a position at Green and Conti, one of the biggest accountancy firms in town at the time.
“I learned to write up cash books, do reconciliation, fill out tax returns and type. Adding machines were a luxury item and Mr Conti insisted we add all columns of figures in our heads. This could be anywhere around 10 columns. I have always loved working with figures in preference to typing.”
From 1961 to 1977, Doreen worked in the office at Thompsons machinery business, before accepting a position as office manager at the tannery where she loved every minute of it.
She bought a Holden Belmont car from Cliftons to drive to work and stayed until July 1997 when Kevin was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent three operations in Sydney. He lost his voice box to cancer but was able to speak with the aid of a low-pressure voice prothesis in his throat.
Family life was hectic for Doreen and when they finally moved into their own home at 36 Beulah Street on Anzac Day 1958 – the triplets were just four, Jenny was two and Peter four months.
Kevin was working at the Railway Hotel at the time and they had no car.
“I can still remember the smell of fresh paint, we had to put sheets up at the windows and we had the bare necessities but it was home,” Doreen recalled.
Sport always played a big part in Kevin McCoy’s life and for Doreen it was a constant round of sporting fields, carrying guernseys and other gear along with the children who were all keen on one sport or another.
When Kevin first moved to Gunnedah he played cricket but gradually his interest changed to rugby league where he was a foundation member of junior league and he and Doreen were hard-working committee members over a period of more than 30 years. He was awarded life membership in 1977 and Group 4 in 1985, with Doreen receiving life membership with fellow stalwart Val McCann in 1988.
“I certainly saw a side of sporting life quite new to me,” Doreen said.
“Over the years I was to meet Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson and heaps of other great name players, not because Kevin played big-time cricket but he was involved in local cricket.
“Alan Davidson was an exception, he played against Kevin in the Hunter rep games when they were 18. Davo’s family allowed him to go to Sydney to play but Kevin’s family would not let him go.”
Alan Davidson became one of Australia’s finest post-war Test all-rounders, a superb swing bowler, aggressive left-hand batsman and outstanding fieldsman. He later carved out an impressive career as the long serving president of the NSW Cricket Association. In 1992, Doreen and Kevin met up with Davo in the Hong Kong Rugby Club and the years unfolded as they reminisced about the past.
Every year Killer McCoy would host his traditional Christmas Day backyard cricket match, which always included one of his great mates, the late John (Dallas) Donnelly who played junior and senior league in Gunnedah and went on to play for Western Suburbs in Sydney and World Cup matches for Australia.
Doreen sold their family home in 2005 after Kevin lost his battle with cancer on April 24, 2003. She then moved into a comfortable two-bedroom unit where she has lived independently ever since.
Doreen has always embraced life with gusto and over the years has been a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and enjoyed singing again with the Sing Australia choir.
The family has spread far and wide, with Bob the only one left in Gunnedah, while Ron lives at Glenmore Park in Sydney, Ray lives at Tamworth, Jen is at Buderim and Peter at Paradise Point on the Gold Coast. Greg has now settled at Kensington after several years in South East Asia, which allowed Doreen to enjoy travel to Hong Kong, Bangkok, the Philippines, Phuket and other areas.
Today Doreen is still enjoying life, her Catholic faith has always been important to her and she takes a great interest in the lives of her 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren – she can’t believe that 90 years have passed and often wonders where they went.To order photos from this page click here