1. My Mum Therese / Teresa / Tess Flatt

Updated: Aug 26, 2018

Therese Cecilia Flatt (nee Harrington) 21 January, 1919 – 11 March, 2010

Based on discussions with, and notes written by, my mum in her last few years.


Tess (Theresa, Teresa) was born to Cecilia (nee Hillis) and Patrick James Harrington on 21st January, 1919. Patrick and Cecilia had lived at Wye River (on the flat to the left of the river near where the tennis courts were later erected) since they'd gotten married.


Cecilia was 33 when she had Tess, her sixth child, after having Patrick (Pat), Margaret (Margo), Mary (Mollie) and twins, Kathleen and Eileen (both of whom died prematurely due to an accident - Mollie had fallen into the Wye river. Tess saw Mollie lying face down in the water. Cecilia jumped in and saved her daughter but shortly thereafter miscarried). When Cecilia was again due to give birth, Patrick brought her from Wye to Forrest via coach over a bush track. They then travelled on from Forrest to Colac (where they stayed over­night in a guest house) before proceeding to Geelong via train. Shortly thereafter, Tess was born.


Cecilia had, for quite some time, a cancer in the breast which was believed to have been originally caused by the rubbing of her corset 'stays'. Following Tess's birth, Patrick took Cecilia briefly back to Wye (to show Tess to the family). Shortly after, however, Patrick returned to Geelong with Cecilia and Tess for treatment for Cecilia's cancer. Cecilia was booked into a private hospital owned by Scott Good in Newtown.


Unfortunately, the prognosis was not good and the aggressive cancer was deemed terminal. Cecilia and Patrick asked Aunt Maggie Madden (Patrick's sister) if she would look after Tess while Cecilia was in hospital and thereafter. Cecilia remained in hospital with Patrick spending as much time as possible, lying, during visits, beside her on her bed. This continued until her death not long after (Tess was only 3 months of age when her mother died). Tess spent the rest of her single life with her step-mother, Auntie Maggie (Tess called her ‘mum’), and step-father, Dan Madden Snr. (Tess called him ‘dad’).

Patrick returned to Wye River; where his parents (Matthew and Mary Harrington) were still alive. Patrick and his son, Patrick, lived alone in their own home while the girls (Mollie and Margo) lived in the original family house (up on the rise behind the tennis courts) with their grandparents. At this stage there were five Harrington houses in the valley:

  • Grandparents, Mollie and Margo

  • Patrick and son, Pat

  • Uncle Jack (lived alone)

  • Uncle Ned who was married but lost his wife in childbirth while on a boat sailing to Apollo Bay

  • Uncle Jim & Aunt Dolly

Meanwhile, Tess lived in Geelong with her step mum, Aunt Maggie, aged 57 years, and step-dad, Dan Madden (our uncle Dan's father). Aunt Maggie always said she'd live to see Tess ‘a lady’; which she did - dying when Tess was 21 (Tess was married at 22).


Tess grew up the youngest of the Madden family. Tom, the eldest, and Mat left Wye in their late teens and went on the road. Next was Dan and then Mary (Mollie, the nurse). They rented houses in turn at 13 Pakington Street, 15 Pakington Street (while Tess was still young), 19 Anglesea Terrace (Geelong West), 13 Collins Street, 220 West Melbourne Road (now Shannon Avenue) when Tess was around age 14 and finally 175 Aberdeen Street.


After Tess and Alf were married they continued to rent this house (with Maggie and Dan living with them). Of course, shortly after this Alf went away with the army. When the house came on the market (during the war), the owners couldn't sell it to anyone else but mum; the rule at the time being that a landlord couldn't evict a serviceman/family from their house. Tess bought the house in 1943, by which time Maggie had died (1940). Dan (my grandad) lived with Tess until his death. In 1944 John was born. Alf didn't return until 1946.


During the time Alf was serving, the Army allotted 7 guineas (£7-7-0) a fortnight to the wife. Tess used this money to pay­-off the house within two years, i.e. before Alf returned home. Everyone include Alf's mother (nanna), argued against buying the house. Alf even had legal opinion from the army. They argued against it, reminding him that Tess couldn't be evicted. However, unbeknownst to anyone Tess went ahead and bought it. Tess took on a job as a trammie earning £2,50­0-0 a year. This went straight into house payments. Alf forwarded any winnings from gambling for Tess to live on.


Tess had attended St Patrick's school Geelong West, from grades P to 6. She then went to St Agnes Ladies College of Domestic Arts (where Catholic Regional College, Myers Street is currently situated). There she completed her Merit Certificate (a combined grade 7/8); leaving school at age 12, i.e. after only one year. Maggie gave Tess money, a penny half-penny each day for her to catch the tram to school (though more often than not Tess walked). After leaving school, Tess remained at home helping with cleaning, cooking and housework. The Sacred Heart nuns had offered Tess a scholarship but her step-parents, Maggie and Dan, declined it, saying they could not afford all the accessories.


Tess made her debut at St Peter and Paul’s Ashby hall at age 16. She later met Alf Flatt at the weekly Saturday night dance at St Mary’s hall. After a courtship of five and a half years they were married in 1942; not long before Alf was to embark for the war in the Pacific. It was only six months (Tess aged 23) when Alf went away with the army, Tess applied for her first job. She'd heard that the SEC (State Electricity Commission) was going to operate trams in Melbourne. She then wrote to the SEC (in Geelong) to see if trams were going to be introduced here. They said, "No". However, five months later she heard that they were, in fact, coming to Geelong. So she again wrote to them. She then had to apply in writing explaining why she needed the position. She was next invited to an interview (three interviewers and 120 applicants - 4 positions). Tess worked as a conductress, a position she loved, for a year before Alf came home on leave for a month (prior to being sent to the Pacific). As a result of this visit Tess became pregnant. Having worked for eighteen months (until 1944) she left six months pregnant.


Alf went to North Borneo and came home in 1946. During his time away he served largely as a driver. Margie arrived in November, 1947 and Patrice in 1949. Tess stayed home until they were all at school. She then worked in mothers’ clubs at three schools (Our Ladies, Clonard and St Josephs). Since the age of 14, Tess had been a member of the Manifold Holy Spirit church choir. She remained with it until age 64. She was also president of the Sacred Heart sodality and involved with many areas of parish work. She joined the tennis club when 38 years and played until reaching 77 years of age, retiring then only because of a ‘bad leg’. She worked as a volunteer at Grace McKellar (35 years) and Vincentian House (25 years) and St Vincent’s opportunity shop (30 years). She also enjoyed working on two ‘holiday’ homes at Separation Creek, not far from Wye River, that she and Alf built. The land for the first house had been given to Tess by her brother, Patrick (our uncle Pat) who still owned many blocks in Separation. Tess held countless well-supported fund-raising coffee mornings with proceeds going to support Fr Maurice Adams’ mission at Kanabea, New Guinea. She raised between $15 - $!6,000-00. Tess was also secretary-treasurer of the 1st Newtown Scout Troup (St Josephs) where her son, John, became troop leader and Queen Scout. Tess maintained her work in the parish becoming only the second lady ‘special minister’, distributing the eucharist to parishioners at the Holy Spirit, Grace McKellar, at Lorne and other seaside churches.


Throughout her life, Tess suffered numerous illnesses

  • Lymphoma (small bowel cancer) at age 68 - Successfully treated after seven doses of chemotherapy

  • Multiple skin cancers throughout adulthood (face, arms, legs) - Removed by surgery or burning

  • Successful right hip replacement at age 73

  • Osteoarthritis, dementia and heart attack

My mum died from cancer on 11 March, 2010. The cancer had spread throughout her body; the primary site was unknown.


But, mum still lives on; forever in our hearts and lives...



My mum was a very caring person



My Slide-show: Mum's Story

Warren captured this golden memory: Big Tess and Little Tessa

Microsoft Photos Album: Tess's Collection

Microsoft Photos Video: Mum ~ over the years

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John Flatt

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