Thank you very much for being so tolerant. It must be nearly seven years since we were in Manila.
Christmas in particular is a curious time when one takes stock and wonders about one’s friends. I had wondered how you were going.
The report over the last seven years would be something like this:
Year 1 – 1973
Glad to be back and without servants. People are friendly, warm, small townish and so dearly Australian – offhand and casual but helpful and interested in one’s doings.
Queensland in particular (not Brisbane, that’s the capital and not typical) has this reputation for having barefoot lotus eaters, who would rather go fishing than build your house or repair your plumbing. Only emergencies need to be attended to promptly. Newcomers to the area take a while to adjust.
Johnny is very busy setting up the Department of Mathematics and Computing.
Marcello, Karen and Gareth attend the primary school down the road. The kids in particular remarked on the friendliness of everyone in Emu Park and deplored the segregation in their primary school in Manila.
Year 2 – 1974
Went north right up to Cook Town – didn’t make it to the Cape York Peninsula. Camped on a jut of land between the sea and a bit of backwater. The fish jumped onto the sand, asking to be eaten. We were warned of crocodiles but didn’t see any. A lone fisherman who was camped nearby gave us huge crabs. They were delicious. We all agreed it was the best of all our camping trips. Did lots of camping nearby. There was a beautiful little waterfall and great beaches, one as long as nine miles and hence called Nine Mile Beach. Needed our four-wheel drive. We slipped away every fortnight when the weather was good.
Johnny still working very hard.
Year 3 – 1975
Had a lot of hassle getting my mother and sister Barbara into Australia. Took two years of persuasive letter writing by Johnny and an appeal to an M.P. My sister is mentally retarded, hence the problem. Things were not quite as carefree at our place after that. Our movements were cramped considerably.
Johnny working harder than ever.
My sister was in a bad way, twenty-nine years of being messed about with witchcraft, neglect, faith healing, drugs and electric shock treatment. She was pathetic, frightened, selfish, repulsive – a nuisance to everyone and yet she had affection to give.
So the next two years was devoted to sorting her out and getting her to relate in a human way to others around her. She was taken on at the Sub-Normal Children’s Therapy Centre and that helped a lot. Now she was going to work like everyone else. She travels with Johnny as the Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education (CIAE) is near the therapy centre. Johnny has been mainly responsible for humanising Barbara, he maintains that Barbara’s home life should be predictable and stable.
Life gets a bit unpleasant when my mother objects to our handling of Barbie, however apart from that, my mother has a good vegetable garden going and a vast number of Australorp hens. We get about a dozen brown eggs a day, bananas when they ripen, the occasional pawpaw, passionfruit, chilli, aubergine, pumpkin, etc, etc.
So our standard of living improved and of course some people envy our extended family. During the 1979 Christmas holidays I was only cooking once a week! Everyone takes turns now with Johnny cooking dinner at weekends. I’ll save telling you of the menus until some other letter.
Grandma, as we call my mother, seems popular at the National Fitness Club (second oldest member), the Singing Ship Bowling Club and the Pensioner’s Club, whose members seem to regard her as a cute oriental mascot. She loves going out and is forever baking or cutting sandwiches for some tea or other. The expression is ‘taking a plate’ to ‘afternoon tea’.
To get back to Barbara; she is beginning to feel secure and has a sense of belonging. She is useful and helpful and good to have around. Above all she can work some things out for herself and does whole jobs on her own rather than working from a set of instructions. She has an excellent sense of humour, especially of the absurd, and it’s nice getting her to laugh.
Skipping to 1979
A year of crises but not all bad; in fact some positive gains. Marcello finished high school reluctantly. He will be a father in mid-January and Johnny and I will be grandparents. Monika is Swedish and dropped out of school mid-grade eleven because of the pregnancy. Apparently she wasn’t enjoying school much anyway. We’ve just added an extra room to the house. Monika has lived with us now for two years.
We always cause a stir when we visit Rockhampton library. Between us we take out forty-eight books and with three sets of surnames listed under one general name, things get a little complicated. Only the more adventurous of the library assistants are willing to tackle us.
After stuffing around all these years organising markets, nursery and candle-making and even giving an adult education course on Indian cooking, I took a preliminary maths course at the CIAE, a pilot course Johnny had introduced, using some material which had proved successful in the UK. The hardest part of the course was getting into the habit of regular study. The course is intensive, with four years of high school maths in one year.
The novelty of the material is that it is maths for adult students and not high school maths. Some of the examples are hilarious like the statement, “Minnie Snodgrass is the most beautiful girl in the world when the light is just right.” One clever device in the text, is the use of a dreadful character called Authur O’Figgis who makes the silly mistakes that one tends to make in maths when one is not thinking. For example, (a + b)2 = a2 + b2 instead of the correct answer a2 + 2ab + b2, so when O’Figgis joins Comp-Ferrat, production drops.
There could be interest in other parts of Australia in this course. Johnny wrote several chapters, eliminating some and rewriting a fourth of the course to suit Australian education requirements. There have been many conferences at which Johnny has delivered papers on P-maths. He is heartily sick of the subject and this is only the beginning.
We will be in Canberra at a conference for maths teachers where he will tell everyone about the Australian experience of ‘Poly-Maths’, as it is called in England. The author of the bridging course will also be at the conference talking about ‘Poly-Maths’. He is a tough, intelligent, beer-drinking, Rugby-playing, Welsh mathematician who will then come to Rockhampton for the second time to discuss P-maths at CIAE. I don’t know if you are aware that a lot of teaching in Australia is done through correspondence. I think Australia leads the world in external teaching. P-maths depends a lot on discussion between lecturer and students. It had to be changed to suit external students. Tapes were made which have proved very successful. Actually on the whole the external students did better than the part-timers and towards the end, the part-timers were demanding the tapes.
At the end of 1979, Johnny and I realised that being hellishly busy without making time for each other was disastrous. After all, our relationship was the most important thing. Every evening we had to stop whatever we were doing to meet at 9 o’clock. If we could meet earlier that was better still. The rule seems to be working very well.
We also took several holidays together, but because of the large number of people in the family and the fairly high probability of things going wrong, we couldn’t go away. So we spent our time at home in Johnny’s study and spare room (called the talking room) and stayed up late and woke up late. The family had to look after itself and only approach us in an emergency. We lived off omlettes, cheese, olives, bread, lots of rum, brandy, creaming soda and coffee. It was a marvellous time. We went for long walks along the beach and along the disused railway track and had long discussions. The family was most circumspect.
So, Marcello looks for a job. Karen has two more years of high school and seems to be doing well. Joined the debating team last year, will work for her Duke of Edinburgh gold medal award this year and is taking science and maths as board subjects. Gareth is in his last year of primary school. If he carries on the way he has been, he should be quite a scholar. He’s read Silmarillion, is attempting to teach himself Greek (not working well at it), is well acquainted with the Iliad and is having the Odyssey re-read to him. He was interested in Aztecs a while back and seems to have enjoyed reading The Once and Future King. Things should be better for him at high school as he lacks intellectual stimulation at his age level.
Johnny still carries a heavy load: Chairman of the School of Science, Planning Committee and the Management Advisory Committee. He is involved in the Computer Centre and would like to organise rotating H.O.D of Maths (sounds like a windmill) to give him more time. So 1980 brings no relief. I have signed on for three subjects: Computer Science I, Algebra I and Probability & Statistics I. Also, in the meanwhile, I’ve decided to read about social anthropology and Australian history with a long reading list on selected books on sociology (some very dull) and philosophy.
You are probably aware of Seymour B Sarason’s writings, two of his books are especially good: The Creation of Settings and the Future Societies and Human Services and Resource Networks. On philosophy, Johnny has discovered an Australian, John Passmore .
Please let me know in some some detail what your interests are and what you’ve been doing.
All the best for 1980 to you and the family
More next time,
Notes and Links
- This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
- These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. It can be found in Archived on the Home page.
- A map of where we lived and a family tree are also at the bottom of the Home page, click here.