Maurie Enright – I Wish I Lived on an Island
My name is Maurie Enright. I hope this story of my life and losing my eye will help someone who has lost an eye overcome some of the hurt and pain that you will go through. It will make you become a stronger person. Don’t put it as a disability, make it work for you, believe me I only wished I’d handled it differently, but I was young.
I lost my right eye when I was about 3 and a half years old. I lived in Fremantle with my four sisters and a brother. The place was called Bay Flats and it was run by the Housing Commission. It was situated where Fremantle Hospital is. I was playing with my sisters as we made a cubby house out of tin. I bent down to pick up a beer bottle as a baby and struck a corner of the sheet of tin with my right eye. I can remember running up this long ramp to our flat crying. My mother and a friend called Jessie carried me to the hospital.
I can’t remember much more with them taking my eye out except waking up in bed with some teddy bears. The doctors told my Mum if we try and save his eye he may lose the other one. So my Mum told them to take it out. He will be better off with one as things back in those days weren’t as modern as today is. I came out of hospital wearing a pink eye patch with cotton wool under it.
Our family moved back to our grandfather’s farm in Hamilton Hill as my father had just died not long after I lost the eye. I attended Hamilton Hill Primary School from the age of six years old with my pink eye patch. From that point, at that early age, I felt rejection and humiliation. I was called all the names; Pirate, One Eye Bill from Hammy Hill. It made me feel a freak and not normal.
I was young and not knowing how to cope I used to run and hide. I would eat my lunch under the school as it was built on stilts and had boards running around the sides. The kids would poke their tongues and push sticks through the boards and call me names. Just thinking about all this brings back the pain and hurt over the years. Teachers didn’t do a lot about what is happening. My sisters and older brother would stick up for me. Particularly my sister Maxine, who had red hair. She was older and fiery. However, my sisters and brother couldn’t be everywhere.
We ended up leaving the farm, as our Grandfather was a very mean man. My mother tried to get him to get me a new eye. Not that there were many places you could go then. We all went to live at a place called Melville Park in Hilton Park. It used to be an old army camp and the State Housing Commission ran it. I attended Hilton Park Primary School at the age of 8 years old. I still wore my patch. I guess you could say it became part of me by now. I was older and I felt like a freak. I hated going to school. I still ate my lunch under the school. I hoped I could kill those kids one day. You could say it made me become a loner, nobody wanted to play with me except my own family. As we know kids can be cruel. I used to always say I wished I lived on an island. All on my own I became very shy and timid – always hiding away from people. My mother was always seeing where I was but she had others to care for too.
My mother eventually found someone to make an eye for me. I don’t know who he was but I can remember getting my first artificial eye. I felt so proud and that I wasn’t a freak any more. It made me feel like everybody else. Now I didn’t have to worry about the kids pinching or pulling the strap of my eye patch. Now when I went to school the taunts stopped a bit but I got called Cross-eye.
One morning before going to school I was sitting around the old wooden open fire with my family pulling my eye out saying to my family, “Look I’ve got an eye.” I was so proud. I just couldn’t wait to show it off. This particular morning I got too close to the fire and the eye crumbled. I can remember how hurt I was. I cried and I didn’t want to go to school. My Mum didn’t know what to do with me. Back in those days having a big family, no husband and no money you could say we were poor and yet we had a grandfather who had everything. In fact even today part of the farm is turned into a reserve that he gave to the Cockburn Shire. In return they put our name of the Reserve in dedication to the Pioneers of the Enright Family. This is in Arthur road, Hamilton Hill. You could say if we had stayed my family and I would have been very well off.
There was a lady from the Welfare Department called Mrs. McGowen and I remember she was very nice to us, even more so to me. She always gave me presents and lots of love. My Mum also did her best, but there were other members of the family to share around.
I can remember my mother took me into Fremantle to a Chemist and the man pulled out a drawer full of false eyes and said, “Take your pick.” My Mum picked out the best she could. I wore the eye for a while. I guess you could say that anything was better than a patch. The eye hurt me and it made my eye weep. I ended up not using it. People started calling me Cross Eye and other names.
The welfare officer, Mrs. McGowan came to my Mum and told her she has found a man who makes very good eyes. So she took us to Perth to meet this man. He turned out to be Mr Alec Raymond Powell. His address was 16 Kings Park Road, West Perth. Mr Powell was a tall lean man. I found him very firm and distinguished. I sat in his barber’s chair, which Jenny and Paul still have today. At the time I was about 8 or 9 years old. Mr Powell took a model of my eye. From then on my mother and I had to go to Perth for appointments to see Mr Powell. To me it was a big day out as I had never been to Perth. I really looked forward to going and knowing I was going to have an eye.
When my eye was finished my mother said to Mr Powell, “I can’t pay for the eye now, but I will pay for it.” Mr Powell knew of our situation and he said to my Mum, “I don’t want any payment for the eye from you.” Then he stood in front of me, and pointing his finger very firmly, said to me, “I give you this eye, and I will never take it back. But all I want from you is to care and look after people who have had misfortune like you. Remember how it felt to not have something special.”
I went away with my new eye and felt like a king. People still noticed my eye, which happens sometimes even today. It is something that will always be there with me. But most of all I am learning to cope with it.
My family shifted to Willagee. I was still 9 years of age and had to start a new school, which I dreaded as there were new people, and I was somebody who looked different. At least I didn’t have to wear a patch. The name-calling started, by this time I was so used to being picked on and bullied. There was a song called The Purple People Eater which had an egg type face with little, funny legs and dotted shorts, one big horn coming out of the top of his head and it could play music. The kids would draw this character and put my name to it. I would come back after school and wash it away.
As time went by I became friends with Danny and Terry as they were in the same situation. Danny had a polio leg and Terry had a deformed arm. I guess you could say we suited each other. At least there were three of us. I felt like I wasn’t the only one with a disability. We looked out for each other the best we could but we still got picked on.
I can remember my friend Danny lost his temper and picked up a shovel and went mad. I felt proud of Danny, as I’d never seen so many kids run. Even the teacher had trouble getting the shovel off Danny. From that day not many kids picked on him, so I felt good being with Danny.
I suppose everybody has a breaking point. Mine was about to come as one day after school two kids chased me home, calling me names. They wanted to fight me because I wasn’t with Danny. I ran and hid under my house. They were name calling outside. My sister Maxine came out and started fighting them. I watched under the house – seeing my sister fight my battle. One of the boys got my sister on the ground. My Mum came out and took to them with a broom and yelled at them, “Get off her you bastards! They ran off down the road. My Mum came over to me where I was hiding under the house. She was so used to me doing this. She took me inside and said, “You are going to have to stand up for yourself. Your sister can’t be there all the time.” From that point on, having seen my sister on the ground with the boys on top of her and taking on board what my Mum had said to me you could say this was my breaking point.
I went back to school and with the help of my two friends you could say we became a team. We stood up against anyone who called us names. I didn’t mind getting hurt by a fight. It was better than being hurt by name-calling. For the first time I knew how to give pain back you could say. I enjoyed it. Over the years of hurt and humiliation I said to my self, “It will never happen to me again”. And that still stands until I die.
I left Willagee Primary School at the age of 12 and went to Melville High School. I didn’t like school, as I never learnt much over the years. Because of all the name calling, you could say, I felt dumb at school. I started getting into trouble – always fighting and not wanting to be told what to do. I started getting a reputation and would fight anyone. The teachers didn’t like me because at this stage I would pull my eye out and put it in the teacher’s drawer and all kinds of tricks. You could say some were pretty sick of it. You could also say that I realised I had a gift in a way with my eye. I can remember one day I was going to get the cane. Just before it happened I pulled my eye out and said to Mr Trissie, the Head Teacher, “Can I have a tissue?” Well Mr Trissie went to his draw and pulled out a hand full of peanuts, gave them to me and said, “Get on your way.”
I left school when I was 13. The legal age back then was 14 but my Mum wrote a letter explaining how I felt about school with all the pain and hurt I went through. I didn’t get time to learn in the early stages. The deal with my Mother was that I had to get a job. I went to Robb’s Jetty, which is an abattoir meatworks. I got a job there by putting my age up to 14. When I turned 14 I started working in the smallgoods where I stayed for many years. I rode my pushbike everyday through the rain and the heat to work, which was quite a few miles. For once I felt free. No more name-calling. Of course I would still get some remarks, but I soon sorted that problem out. I was still mainly working with men. Most of them liked me and accepted me and I felt like a normal human being with them.
At this stage I used my disadvantage as a gift for fun and humour as nobody was ever going to pick on me again. The days of crawling under the house were over. I grew up so much a loner and I still am today. I am the first to help anyone with a disability. I love giving things to people and not wanting anything back. On the weekends I would ride my new pushbike around that I had saved for. I’d have a Kreisler radio around my neck. I loved being on my own. For once I felt rich. My wages were ten pounds a week and two pounds was board. I felt like a king. At this stage of my life I was 16 years old and always wondered if I would be able to get a girlfriend because of my eye.
I turned 17 still at the meatworks. I bought my first car – an Austin 40. It cost ten pounds and that was a lot of money! I did the car up, resprayed it black, and made it look really great. Everything I do has to be perfect – to make up for my eye.
As I mentioned, I thought I would never get a girlfriend. How wrong was I. I went out with a girl who came third in Miss West Coast Australia. I dated quite a few good-looking girls, as they loved my sense of humour. I had learnt at an age how not to hurt people, as I had been hurt at an early age.
You could say that when you lose an eye you replace it by being more of your real self and being honest with your fellow man. Losing an eye has made me the person I am today. I am proud of myself and what I have done for other people. When I take a friend it is for life, in sickness and in health. I give 100%. Once they cheat on me or steal from me they are out of my life for good.
I can remember when I met a very attractive girl called Glenys. I used to drive around Fremantle with her at that time with my FE Holden all done up. The Fremantle crowd would say, “Where did you get her from Enright?” As the years went by I ended up married to her.
I got several eyes from Mr Powell. He had known me since I was the little blonde, curly headed, shy innocent little boy. I had grown up into a wild boy. I would sometimes go to him with black eyes, cuts and tattoos. It sort of shocked him and he used to get angry with me. He used to say,” Why am I making you a new eye when you don’t even care about your good one?” He was very firm in his tone of voice. In fact Mr Powell would have been the only person who could talk like that to me. I could have punished him but I knew he was right. I had the most respect for him and I never forgot him giving me my first real eye. He was like a father to me, as I didn’t have a Dad. I didn’t see a lot of Mr Powell, as you know a glass eye can last for a few years. However one lesson from him lasted me until my next eye. His words have stuck in my head just as one would brand a cow.
I can remember saying to Mr Powell on one of my visits, “Can I pay for the eye that you gave me?” Well he got so angry. He stood in front of the chair and said, “All I want from you is to give and to share and to help others in need.” I never mentioned paying for my eye again. As years went by I realised my eye is going to be a tool in my life – so make the most of it. Stop feeling sorry for myself. I can still see – not like some people with no sight at all. I have had so much fun with my eye. I have gained lots of personality and made people laugh with some of my tricks I played on them with my eye.
I will mention some of the tricks I used to do. I would take my eye out and put it on my shoe and say to a girl, “I know what colour your knickers are.” She would say, “How do you know?” Then I would say, “I am looking up your dress”. Then she would look down at my shoe and see my eye.
I got many remarks from my tricks. Another trick would be if I was sitting in a pub and someone came up to me and said, “could you keep an eye on my drink?” as they left to go to the toilet. I would drop my eye in their glass. It certainly made for a lot of laughs. When the person came back they would say “thanks mate for keeping an eye on my drink.” I would reply “Make sure you don’t swallow it.” The shock on the person’s face was well worth it. Then I’d buy them a fresh beer.
Another good old trick was to sit my eye just in the socket and put my head down. I’d go up to a girl at a party and get very close to her. I’d squint and my eye would fall down her top. Some would scream. Some would yell, “Get it out!” So me being a gentleman, I’d put my hand down her top and remove it. Mind you I got a few smacks in the face, but it was all a lot of laughs. That is very hard trick to do.
My other good one was when we used to hitch hike everywhere as we had no cars. What I would do is get on the end of the line, take my good eye out and replace it with a fluorescent one that glowed in the dark. As a car came along with its headlights on it would reflect back to the driver and no way would they stop. My mates didn’t catch on for quite a while that I had wanted to walk and not catch a lift.
Another trick I used was if my mates were chatting up a girl and getting nowhere I would tell them I bet you I will get a date. I would say to the girl, “I would understand if you wouldn’t as I have one eye” of course it depended what the girl was like. Most of the time they would say, “I will go out with you, your eye doesn’t change the person you are”.
Sometimes the tricks would backfire. On one occasion I was joking around at a party and I placed my eye in my mouth trying to scare people. A mate came up from behind and slapped me on the back to say hi. Well I swallowed it and had to sit on the toilet for a day or so waiting to get it back. I don’t do that trick any more. There were lots of other tricks.
I only wish I had this attitude when I was at school in my early days. So to any one who loses a special part of your body don’t do what I did. Don’t run away and hide make a joke of it because people will not pick on you as much if you don’t let your weakness show. They will try to bring you down even more. I feel all of my experiences have made me a stronger person. It has made me caring and helpful to others.
I am the first to help anyone in need. I hardly ever charge anyone for what I do. People say to me I have to give you something. I reply “just your friendship, your honesty and to help others in need.” My late Mum would say you to me “you would give away your underpants and the shirt off your back to help others.” Mr Powell will live with me till the day I die.
Mind you people have taken advantage of my kindness but you can’t change what you are. They are the ones who will have to live with it. At least I can look in the mirror and say to myself, “At least I have done the right thing by people.” Maybe not all my tricks, but I have made a lot of people laugh. Even today, now I am going on sixty years of age I still play my tricks when the opportunity occurs.
I will mention some of the other things I have done over the years to make Mr Powell proud of me. I have been a volunteer for the past seven years with a major charity. I had to retire from a sore back. Most of the managers of the stores want me with them, as they know how dedicated and helpful I am. I have to share myself around with them. I can get things cheap so I can give to others who have nothing.
When I was younger I would drive to Nedlands and Dalkeith to take some milk off their doorsteps and drive back to Willagee and place it on poorer people’s doorsteps. These people had nothing. I had always classed the Nedlands and Dalkeith people as rich. Of course what I did was wrong you could say I was robbing the rich to give to the poor. I always only took two bottles if they had six. I did this for years. The people who I put the milk on their steps never knew where it came from.
I can remember an old lady Mrs Jelly came over to me and said, “Maurie I’ve been getting all this free milk and I don’t know where it is coming from. I said, “Maybe there is an angel looking over you.” She said it is nice to have fresh milk but she couldn’t afford it. Even to this day Mrs Jelly went to her grave not knowing it was me. I did it to a lot more people. I did put things on people’s doorsteps. The only difference is that these days I don’t steal it.
One day I had a barbeque at my house as I used to have quite a lot. On one of my seats there was a very frail old lady crying. I went to her and asked what was wrong and she told me she was dying. She said she wasn’t afraid of dying but if she could have one wish in the world it would be to have her daughter by her side. I asked her where she was. She told me she was in England. I told her I would help I will sponsor her out here and marry her. So you can get your wish – mind you I had had quite a few drinks that night. The next day the lady came back and said I do not want to hold you to what you said. Well I am the type of person that once I say something I have to stick to it. To cut a long story short it was a lot of hard work to get her daughter out. I did marry her and the old lady got her wish before she died. I didn’t stay married long to her daughter and that is another story.
I got to know a friend called Karen and found out that her mother was dying of cancer. She had no money and when she died she would be placed in an unmarked grave. That is what the government does if you have no money. I became friends with her Mum and I felt sorry for her. It made me think back about Mr Powell giving me my free eye. I took Karen’s Mum to Fremantle Cemetery and let her pick out a plot in the lawn gardens as I was going to buy a plot for her. In the end she got cremated.
One day I was putting some toys on some kids doorstep and the mother actually caught me. She called to her kids, “There, that is the real Santa Claus”.
There is a drunk who lives close by, who has nothing. He is a nice person and it is his fault for drinking his money away. I always put things on his doorstep. Lots of second hand clothes. He asked me one day, “Are you putting things on my doorstep?” I pretended I didn’t know anything about it. That is the way I prefer it.
The most valuable possessions I would have are all the cards and letters that people have given me over the years that thank me for help, kindness or support. I have people ringing me up at all times of the night with personal problems. They know they can trust me, and they listen to my advice. I think that it is an honour. I always share what I have if the person is a good person. I have nothing to do with people who don’t care for others.
One day when I was young I was standing out the front of our garden and these kids went by and shouted back what a junky garden you have. I yelled back and said, “Don’t worry one day I will have the best. I have never forgotten that and as years went by I bought a house in Armadale. I carried all the rocks from the hills and made myself a nice garden. In fact I won the Best Garden award in my area. People drive down to look at my garden as I have made it into a rain forest with palms and trees. I have plenty of wild life in the garden. In fact I have had three weddings in my garden. They all wanted to pay me, but the biggest reward was what I got from them for choosing my garden. It made me feel very proud. Many of the times I think back and would like those kids to see my garden now. Especially when I sit in my kitchen and see my garden award. I say to myself, “well done!”
In fact a friend of mine who is a top lawyer came to my house one day and said he only wished he could have done what I have done. He has a lot of money and gets people to do his work. He said to me “you should be proud of your self”
I was used to working hard all my life. I had to give up my business because of bad back problems. It is very hard to accept not working anymore. As time went by I started my volunteering. I feel valued and respected by the managers at the different stores.
I thank Paul and Jenny who make the eyes now. You couldn’t meet two nicer people. They are so friendly and down to earth. You can say what you want to them as they listen with interest. They let you stay as long as you want until the next appointment comes along. They remind me of everything. Their eye making has to be perfect, just like me in what I do.
I look forward to seeing Paul and Jenny when I need a new eye. They are very nice people – so patient and caring. I thank you Paul and Jenny for the eyes you have made me over the years and thank you for letting me bring Jasper with me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Mr Powell would be so proud of you. You have carried on his hame and business. Keep up the good work. By the way Jenny is better looking than Mr Powell ever was. One day your name will live on just like Mr Powell.
I always wondered what happened to Mr Powell over the years as the last time I saw him was in Onslow Road, Shenton Park. As that was my last eye from him I would have been twenty years old. As time went by my first wife rang me and told me she was nursing Mr Powell at one of her agency placements. I was so excited and wanted to go and visit him and care for him the best way I could. My wife wouldn’t tell me exactly where he was because of professional confidentiality. Later I traced him to an Applecross nursing home. I rang the home and found out he had just passed away. I asked about him and they said he was very frail but a nice gentleman. My ex-wife had told me that too.
Mr Powell passed away on the 8th January 2004 at the age of 89. God bless him. Mr Powell gave me something special. I hope Mr Powell would be proud of me – the way I have turned out. Maybe not all of the things I have done but I feel that my heart was in the right place. When I watched the movie “Saving Private Ryan” it reminds me of Mr Powell and myself. As the soldier stands over the grave of the man who saved his life, he says to his wife, “have I been a good man?” Well that reflects my story too. Mr Powell telling me to share and give – I only hope Mr Powell would be proud of me. I thank you Mr Powell.
Reprinted with permission from Maurie Enright. You may link to this story, but please do not copy or otherwise circulate.