Modern Stories of Motherhood: Noelene Lever's Story

Meet Noelene

My name's Noelene and this is my story of how I started caring for kids.  


In 1976, my husband was killed in a car accident and I had five children, still school age, and I was offered a job in Sydney because there's only seasonal work up near Tweed Heads where I'm originally from. And I said to my children, we can go down and I can work and earn a wage or we can stay here and you have bread and butter or we can go to Sydney and I earn a wage, you can have devon and tomato sauce on your bread. 


And they said, yes mum, we'll go. So for a couple of years down there, I worked within the legal system and after a couple of years down there, my children wanted to bring their friends home for the weekend. And I said, yes, but long as their parents know. 

So this went on and then some of the friends asked, can they stay? And I said, well, we have to talk to your parents about it because I can't just say yes without them knowing. So we spoke to the parents and a few of them said, yes, that's fine by me. If you're able to cope with them, that's okay. 

So the children came and stayed with me. Parents kept their clothes and everything, just let the kids come. And from there, I had to talk to my children and tell them that any child who walks through that door, they become family. 

The minute they walk through that door and they get the same amount of love as what you get, no different. And I said, so it's up to you. The ball's in your court. These are your friends. And I said, I'm quite happy to have them come. And then from there, I had to work two jobs to feed them and dress them. And at first it was a little bit hard, but then I trained my kids to do the right thing. If you want your friends to stay here and they're family now, you have to help me. And they said, yes, mum. 

So I was working two jobs and it just went on from there. Then my baby girl, Serena, came into my care. I met her mum and mum asked me, can I just look after her for a little while? I said, yes. 

And then her mum ended up coming and staying with me and she became my oldest child in the house. Oldest girl. And then her mum passed away when she was nine and Serena's still with me, but she has her own family now. 

So it doesn't matter where a child is from, what colour they are, what religion. If the child needs a helping hand, put your hand out to them. It doesn't cost to give love and a little bit of understanding. 

And if a child came into my care, I sat with them and talked to them, not over them. Because if you do that, it puts them on edge. So if you just sit there and talk to them, then they'll listen to you and they will try. 

And a lot of them went back. They went back to school, did well. One of them came up to me a few years later after he'd left. 

I bumped into him in the street and he said, hello, mum. And I said, oh, hi, darling. How are you? He said, I'm good. 

He said, I did my year 12. I'm now studying law. And he said, and guess what? And I said, what? He said me and my mates went over to New Zealand for a week. 
I said, wonderful. I said, I'm so proud of you. And I said, I'm always here for you, son. 

Don't ever forget that. And now I let them all know, a lot of them are adults now, married, have children, but they know I sleep with my phone next to my ear. That if they need me 24-7, I'm there for them. 

Just ring me, whether it's something good or bad, I'll always be there for you. And that's how it is in my home. 

I want to know how many children over time you've fostered and have some of them been, you know, hard cases or have they all been children just simply needing somewhere, someone to look after them and care for them? What's the circumstances around the children coming into your care?  


When one of the kids or him and his sister came into my care and the sister was a little bit iffy.

Serena was in my care then and the young boy, he took off and we didn't know where he was, but he was over in the park hiding, but he came back when it got dark and he ended up staying with me. But all the other kids, when they came into home, they'd call me mum, where he just kept calling me Nolene. And then one day I said to Serena, come on, let's take some photos. 

So we were taking photos in the house and when we were finished, and I was going to make myself a cup of tea, he ran around behind me, put his arm around my shoulder and held me. And I just grabbed his hand and he said, Serena, take a photo of me and mum. And it was the first time he called me mum. 

And I was so over the moon. Yes. And even to today, you know, they're in use, they've got a problem. 


And how many children have you fostered over the years? 

  1. Around 50, yes. I can't remember all of them.

A lot of them have stayed for a long while, some only a few years. But still, they were my kids and to me, they were family. And that's what we were there for, for them, to put them on their right track. 

So maybe a timeframe from what year? Do you remember what year it was that you started fostering? 1978. About two years after I moved to Sydney. Okay. 


Back in 1978, I started taking children in and caring for them. And that went right through. 

The last one left me when I was 76. I'm now 84. So it was worth it. 

Every step of the way. And I wouldn't change anything now. Just to see that smile on their face, and know that there was love there. 

And it doesn't cost to give love to a child. It doesn't matter where they're from. Or, you know, it was worth it. 

And how did you manage, you know, fostering your children and then your biological children as well? No problem. Because I've talked to my children, because it was through them that it started, wanting to bring their friends home for weekends. And I said to them, well, if you want to bring your friends over, you know, when they walk through the door, they become family. 

And they get the same amount of love as what you get. Nothing changes. So it's up to you to do your bit, do your part, and help along the way. 

And help them along the way.  


Did you always, since you were young, do you think you've been a very maternal person? Always loved children?  


Always. Always loved children. 

My grandmother read to me, because my mum was working. My grandmother read to me. And she was so down to earth. 

And she showed nothing but love to everybody. And I think it's through that.  


What do you think the secret to being an amazing mum is?  


As long as it's in your heart and you care. 

And you're willing to give to them. Or help them. If they're in the dumps, be there to help them up. 

Because all they're looking for is a bit of love and understanding. And if you can overcome that, and get them to believe in you, and that you believe in them, it makes it a lot easier.

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