90. A Birth and Fish Feast – Journal Entry 10th June 1982

What better way to start a brand new, best ever notebook than to record the birth of a child: TJ born on the 8th of June and brother to Nathaniel, a day after Gareth’s birthday and on the same birthday as Clare Cosgrove. Monika is still in the hospital and due back in a few days.

Thank you Johnny, my Johnny, for finding an unruled notebook for me to write my diary.

Our neighbour Hector also had a birthday so we rang and wished him a happy birthday; we are one of only a few people who know it’s his birthday. When Barbara took him some flowers he told her his daughter was coming for dinner and he was looking forward to it.

Z rang for a chat and announced Mary finally packed all her bags, her purchases are at last over. However, Mary is not looking forward to leaving the girls and Australia, she likes everything here. When Mary stayed with us in Emu Park, I noticed she took a keen interest in all that went on around her and loved the meals Johnny cooked; she insisted I list them all and is keeping a detailed diary of her visit to Australia.

Marcello and Monika have taken some lovely photographs of Mary and her family.

M, R and Z moved easily with the household, pitching in and helping with the work, so the burden was not on any one person.

Among the many memorable meals we had while they were here, I must mention the fish feast that was prepared by M, R and me; the diversity of colour was particularly appealing. Early in the morning, Marcello, Monika, M and R went with Merv to Rosslyn Bay Harbour and caught about thirty-seven steely backs or bony salmon. M made a good South Indian fish curry, R made Bengali stuffed fried fish and I made a herb fish curry.

I shall attempt to describe the fish feast in greater detail: M, R and I initially discussed what we would do with the fish and jointly drew up the menu. First, we picked fresh coriander seedlings, curry leaves, chillies and chives from our garden—a very pleasant activity for M and R after two years of Melbourne city life. M’s curry was excellent, a pleasant dark brown colour with ground coriander, cumin and chilli, fresh coriander leaves and red chilli roughly chopped, and finally thick tamarind pulp and salt to taste. The curry sauce was left to simmer for quite some time, getting browner and thicker with glimmers of red chilli flecks throughout. The prepared fish fillets were slipped in at the end and cooked only for a short while.

My curry, which we chose in contrast to M’s Madras fish curry, was mostly green and yellow, a mixture of finely chopped herbs and turmeric, with a handful of glossy whole red chilli thrown in, and lemon juice as the souring agent—fish curry is greatly improved with a sprinkle of lemon juice, vinegar or tamarind pulp, just before serving.

R made a lovely green herb and white coconut cream stuffing for his fish dish. Whole fish were slit open and cleaned thoroughly, stuffed carefully with coriander, mint, chilli and coconut cream, then shallow-fried until a dark golden brown. When served, the exposed green stuffing was a pleasing contrast to the brown crispy skin with extra stuffing served in a little bowl on the side.

Accompanying dishes were plain buttered rice, chopped tomato and onion salad and a large bowl of yoghurt.

Needless to say, the family were quite impressed and appreciative, our dinner talk as loud as ever.

84. Dear Joyce (Part 2) – Journal Entry 4th November 1981

Last night, Karen and I felt quite nervous when Gran had not returned by ten o’clock. Eighteen months ago she had been in a terrible car accident after a pensioners’ dinner where drinks were plentiful. On that occasion, I sat up for my mother until a policeman came at midnight to break the news. One woman died, the second suffered several broken limbs and my mother sustained an injury to several ribs, a punctured lung and quite bad bruising to her face. The driver, a newcomer to Emu Park, was unharmed but an active eighty-two year old, a beloved long-time resident, was killed instantly in the crash.

With this in mind, I walked down the street just in time to see the bus pull up and to my great relief, Gran stepping out. She was closely followed by Ivy who walked part of the way home with us and had been in the same crash. We bid farewell to Ivy at her gate and continued home in the warm night air; Gran had enjoyed herself thoroughly and talked all the way home.

Summer is almost here, spring begins on the first of September and the wet season usually starts on Christmas Day.

5th Nov 1981

Today, Guy Fawkes Day, is Johnny’s birthday. Originally from Bradford, Johnny studied at Edinburgh University and has enjoyed climbing throughout Scotland.

Gran has encouraged us to celebrate birthdays and there is now a birthday ritual in our household. Weeks before the date, the person whose birthday is coming up, puts up a present list which is almost always ignored. Johnny didn’t put anything up because no-one reminded him, however, we knew he wanted a wide squat two-handled cooking pot for paella he had been admiring for months, in an industrial kitchenware shop.

A very detailed menu for the dinner is also pinned onto the noticeboard, in this case, whole grilled fish, cream sauce, chips, mushrooms, beans and lettuce followed by melon shells filled with melon balls, canned cherries and slices of kiwi fruit. During the meal, we had the usual quiz questions from Mastermind, some of which are so hard we couldn’t even answer on the third or fourth attempt. It was a hot evening and we drank too much Tasmanian cider.

It should be clear by now that our family enjoy cooking and eating enormous meals. We love the meals Johnny and Gareth cook on the weekends and feast days. Johnny lists the menu for a fortnight and tacks it onto the noticeboard in the kitchen so members of the family can check what’s been planned to avoid missing their favourite meals. It’s very convenient and takes the hassle out of deciding what to cook for dinner.

9th Nov 1981

I’ve taken a while over this letter and shall attempt to finish it today. Could you tell me more about the aims of the Women’s Institute you have joined? I noticed in Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, that the Federations of Women’s Institutes have compiled books such as Cornish Recipes: Ancient and Modern (1934, 11th edition), The Isle of Wight Cookery Book and Through Yorkshire’s Kitchen Door (31st edition).

For nearly ten years I enjoyed doing things I had not had an opportunity to do like looking after a child full-time, housekeeping, gardening, going to club functions, driving a car, cooking and sewing. I had to teach myself to behave acceptably in Anglo-Saxon society and Johnny rarely corrected me, which made the learning period longer than necessary. I still have difficulties cleaning the house because I would rather garden or read a book and although I realise it is a common issue, I notice that everyone’s house seems cleaner and tidier than ours. For the past three years, I have been studying mathematics and computer programming after completing a one-year bridging course based on the English Polymaths course. I enjoy studying, even though I make heavy weather of it, and I’m fortunate to have Johnny to help me. The College of Advanced Education serves Central Queensland and does a fair amount of external teaching with a focus on practical applications rather than pure or theoretical subjects. Johnny’s department, Maths and Computing, has a heavy external teaching load.

Gran and I enjoy gardening although I tend to focus more on herbs and vegetables while she prefers flowers and ferns. A couple of years ago with a few of the neighbours, I started a local market and sell candles and potted plants. It’s good fun but very time-consuming.

I must stop and get this letter to you.

49. Letter To Nora, My Sister – Journal Entry 29th Jun 1980

Now that my exams are over, I can take the time to breathe and write the odd letter. Mum wanted me to write and tell you that she had a car accident. I wrote separately to M and at great length about it.

At the end of March, the 30th to be precise, mum went to a pensioners dinner given by a local supermarket. On the journey home, the car crashed into the front end of a bridge. Fortunately, the car didn’t plunge into the water and the driver, who had put his seat belt on, got out without a scratch.

The woman in the front was killed instantly. The second woman, who lives on our street, was sitting in the back seat with mum and had both her arms broken, one in two places, the other near the elbow. Very nasty breaks. She also had a lot of skin ripped off her legs and is still in hospital, having had skin grafts and physiotherapy. She can’t use one arm, even though the bone has healed, the other arm is still in plaster and has been held up the whole three months – can you imagine?. She is over seventy, has a history of not healing well or easily and looks very thin and brittle.

Finally to get to mum: she received a terrific whack to her right cheekbone and the black eye was fearful to see. Her eye, when one opened the puffy eyelid, was red, red, red. She had stitches in her lip and a couple above her chin, stitches on her shin (I don’t know how they damaged their legs) and worst of all she had six of her bottom teeth broken – gums as well. The hospital staff kept the teeth in her mouth until the dentist could see to her. When she did, the dentist removed the remaining two precious bottom teeth. Previously we had spent hundreds of dollars trying to save her bottom teeth!

After a couple of days in the hospital, x-rays showed that mum had a cracked sternum and several cracked ribs. Also, her lungs had blood which was drained by poking a hole in her side and inserting a tube between the ribcage and lung. They took out two litres in the first hour and two more over the next day. Mum suffered a mild heart attack, possibly from the irritation of the drainage tube.

Terrible as all this may sound, she was out of the hospital in about ten days. She spent about a month and a half very quietly at home and is now back at her various social activities. She has been to church about three times.

The uncomfortable part of the accident for her was having to do without teeth for nearly three months. All the food had to be minced. Even when she was fitted with new teeth, the bottom part hurt because of the sensitive, broken gum underneath. Also, bits of bone would push to the surface. The dentist says it will take about a year for the gum to settle down. We went back for another fitting and he put soft padding inside the bottom teeth and now mum can eat without much pain. All the medical treatment and the new teeth were free by the way. The service has been excellent, with nurses and doctors making a great fuss over mum. They were so happy to see her recover quickly from the accident.

Mum’s friends also have been marvellous, with their telephone calls, hospital visits, cards and presents.

By the way, she has not received a card from you for her birthday and she thinks perhaps you are cross with her. I said most likely your card went astray.

We celebrated her 70th birthday twice. The first celebration was with chicken biryani, the second dinner with a very big fish a friend gave her for Mother’s Day. We kept it for her birthday because we knew she would have to eat without her teeth.

She has been worrying about not writing to all of you; mainly worry about not being able to put pen to paper. I don’t know why she hesitates, her English is pretty good and besides, she has been practising by copying bread recipes and other recipes she might want to use when she cooks the family meal.

Apart from the accident, things are pretty much quiet at home, in fact, we are almost back to normal.

Karen is just over her end of first semester exams in eleventh grade. She has a year and a half of high school left and working very hard. Last year she won a few prizes for debating and overall performance at school.

Marcello is working at a small meatworks. He turned down a job with a bank because he doesn’t fancy sitting behind a desk all day. At the meatworks, he works part-time in the office and part-time in the abattoir. He likes it very much because of the homely atmosphere and friendly staff.

Monika is Swedish and a very steady character. She does all the feeding and tending of the chickens, bantams, turkeys and about fifteen ducks that Marcello keeps buying. The bantams are special breeds that he recently bought at the local agricultural show so poor Monika gets more and more work besides looking after the baby. The baby is absolutely gorgeous and is made a great fuss of by everyone in the family. He seems to be bright and alert. He is only five months old and seems pretty grown-up already.

It is cold this morning, Sunday 6th July. The temperature is 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit). Cold enough for socks and a thick sweater. The other way to keep warm is to put the wood stove on or go out in the sun. The sun feels good and one can strip to just a thin shirt and skirt and, if you walk fast enough, you can get down to bikinis. Some people actually swim in the sea… southerners!

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • Added mum’s sister Nora to the family tree.
  • NEWS: this week I interviewed my mum’s best friend, who we knew when we lived in Kathmandu, Nepal in 1968. Cynthia (now Kami) lives on an island in BC, Canada. The interview post is coming soon.
  • 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. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • See the map of where we lived and the family tree at the bottom of the Home page, click here.