THIS month's Memory Lane column in the NSW edition of The Senior unleashed a flood of reminiscences about the famous Sydney eccentric Bee Miles. Here are some more. And yes, Bee was her preferred spelling, although nearly everyone knew her as Bea! I'm going with her way, lest her presence lingers...
Valerie Griffiths first encountered Bee when she was a trainee nurse at Sydney Hospital from 1952-56. It was one of Bee's favourite haunts and she often stayed overnight.
"I was to discover Bea on my very first day of training. The new probationers had just been shown their bedrooms in the Nightingale Wing and my room looked over the fountain and small garden.
"When settling in as instructed I heard a woman's voice calling 'Here pussy, pussy... here pussy' and when I looked out the window there was this woman chasing a couple of cats on the far side of the garden.
"The nurse who had been attending to all the new girls heard her and said, "Oh! Don't worry about that... that's only Bea Miles... she often walks in from Martin Place. You will get used to her ramblings."
Valerie writes that in those days the casualty ward was on the ground floor of the (now demolished) Travers Pavilion, at the back of the hospital.
"The so-called ambulance end of the ward was full of small rooms - one often used by Bea for her overnight stay," Valerie said.
Valerie says she and Bee became friends when she did nights in casualty as a senior nurse, "despite her wishing to dry her underclothes (just hand-washed) on the very large instrument sterilisers before she went to sleep in what she called 'her room' in the ambulance end".
Valerie wrote back later with another story about another of Bee's haunts, St James Church in King Street, Sydney.
"I was great friends with the organist, who was also my singing teacher all those years ago, Mr George Faunce Allman.
"He told me that Bea used to often enter the church when he was practising. She used to sit right up the back on the organ side of the church and, to his annoyance, would yell out if he had not played the piece to her liking,
"Her favourite arguments regarded the bars of his choice re: crescendos.
"Once he told me that he had been very surprised. He had tried her suggestion after she left the church and found that, indeed, it sounded better.
"She was always full of surprises."
Mary Ann Kavanagh, of Potts Point, writes: "In 1947, my mother entered a Bondi tram with her six-year-old son and sat opposite Bea.
"What's your name," she asked the lad.
"Patrick," he said.
"That's an Irish name," was the reply.
"Then she spoke at length about the kings who ruled Ireland prior to the English invasion in the 12th century.
"Mum was amazed by the extent of Bea's knowledge."
But Mary Ann said there was another side to Bee.
"In her twilight years, however, she had become aggressive and quite fractious, to say the least.
"In January 1969 I sat next to her in a Sydney bus. She glared at me and yelled 'Don't breathe your stinking breath over my face'."
Bee certainly got around (despite her run-ins with taxi drivers, she once got a cabbie to drive her to Perth, and paid) and popped up in the most unexpected places.
Judith Berry remembers: "My father was seconded to Broken Hill hospital in 1936. I was about two years old.
"One day whilst in the park my mother told me not to go to the part where a fat lady was hanging her washing around/in the shrubs.
"Later in life she told me the lady was Bea Miles.
"As Bea lived in Sydney, she was known well by my father, who worked in Sydney Hospital before going to Broken Hill.
"Towards the latter part of Bea's life she lived around the Church of St Laurence in George Street.
"Your article bought back the memories my father used to tell me about her."
Norma Hawkins writes: "I am now 90 years old and worked for a Sydney solicitor in the 1950s.
"Bea Miles was quite a topic of conversation in those days.
"I not only remember seeing her push her way into a cab, I also witnessed her somehow sitting and clinging to the back of a tram as it went down George Street.
"Passers-by were all pointing at her. It was quite a spectacle as she was a big woman."
Terrigal's Barbara Rudd shared a train carriage with Bee one day in 1951 on her way to work at the Commonwealth Bank in Martin Place.
The train was packed. Bea boarded at Auburn station, whereupon she tapped a young chap on the shoulder to get him to stand. He obeyed and she sat in his seat.
"Next to her was a chap reading the paper, which she took out of his hand and did all the crosswords. I thought how clever she was.
"Then she handed the paper back to him. She never said another word," Barbara says.
The memory never left her .
"Years later I read where she had died and her funeral was at Rookwood Cemetery. I drove there with my baby son in the stroller to actually be present - she had left such an impression on me all those years earlier."
And that's it (for now...)
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