14. Cakes and Neighbours Poem – Journal Entry 12th Nov 1969

My goodness Cynthia, I started this letter on the 4th and look what date it is.

Before I forget and I hope this letter gets to you before you leave, could you please post the enclosed letter to my mother? I’m sending it direct to her address (instead of through a friend) because she hasn’t written for several months and I’m rather worried.

Another thing I haven’t sent you your wedding present and will wait until you know a little more clearly what you will be doing and also what you have got so I can look around for something Australian. Still a koala bear or something eh?

I can drive now and back a little; still lots to learn but Johnny doesn’t seem to have much time to spare as there is always something else to do. However, for the past two mornings I drove the car to school and back. Great activity at the school – a fete on Saturday. I’m supposed to bake cakes for the cake stall, get wine bottles filled with cordial for the bottles stall and get some groceries for the groceries gambling stall. Big deal.

It is very nice living in a small community and being part of it. Everybody knows everybody else. You go for Bessemerware* parties, or to a tuckshop** meeting (yes the school has a tuckshop and I’m one of the helpers, once a month) or the P.T. Club^ which I run and all these sorts of things. I try to keep to myself as much as possible otherwise many useless hours are spent at some useless meeting or other.

It is warm again and we’re heading towards really hot weather fast.

I now bake cakes and enjoy doing so. The children have lots of friends calling after school and on weekends and of course mum is there to dish out cakes or biscuits and cordial. It is great to have all these little kids rushing into the kitchen eager for their afternoon tea. TEA is the evening meal, so you say afternoon tea when you mean tea in the English sense. My English is deteriorating fast. Do I make sense?

Emu Park family and friends in the moke, 1969

Gareth is very well – except that his canine and molar teeth are sprouting and he is in slight difficulties over them. We have long conversations together where he says something – very like a flowerpot man – I reply and he points and says something more… He is all over the place and I have to check very often to see where he is. I usually yell and he appears, rather pained at being disturbed from whatever he had been doing. He can also do a few jobs for me, very few of course. It’s a pity I don’t own a camera, however, I shall borrow one so I can send a photograph of him. Anna will be quite proud of him.

Footnotes:

*Bessemerware – An Australian company (Bessemer) started in the early 1960s, currently selling non-stick cookware and other products

**tuckshop – a small canteen selling food and drinks

^P.T. Club – Parent Teacher Club for fundraising

Poem-Neighbours
Poem by Gita 12th Nov 1969

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13. Mrs J’s Joke – Journal Entry 16th Oct 1969

[Disclaimer: If you are easily offended, please do not read the last paragraph of this post.]

“Wait, wait for the days whose shining garland still hangs before me to go out one by one. Finally the last one goes out and it is total blackness.” Camus

The day is so beautiful. Not brilliant because it looks as if it doesn’t know whether to cry or laugh. It has an undecided look which is quite becoming. Don’t know what is wrong with me. I’m like the farmers waiting for the drought to break. But will it? I have been so dry for so long. Insipid. At least the farmers have had a bit of rain.

The local policeman is making arrangements to take his chooks with him. He can’t bear to be parted from them. He is the young, earnest, broody guy who cleaned up Emu Park. The youths from all around would use the one main road as a racing track and terrify the pensioners.

The previous policeman took to writing a book. A detective yarn. People who went to make a complaint or just to pay their state insurance and would be asked to sit down, the complaint waved aside, and be made to listen to several chapters of his book. All the while the youths would be racing outside. The people were glad when he was transferred. The book doesn’t seem to have been published so far though his ‘victims’ look out for it.

Mrs K has been driving since she was 11 years old. They lived on a farm and not many were able to afford cars. Her mother sent a message through the children to the father asking if he would put up $500 if she did the same. He agreed and they were able to buy a more expensive car. Mrs K had her ears boxed when learning to drive. She drove most of her life and had lots of pets on the farm including koala bears. But she had always wanted a monkey so a monkey was brought from overseas – maybe from Africa? Anyway, it was not allowed to dock because of an epidemic in the home of the monkey and was sent back. Mrs K has always regretted it.

20th October 1969

Mrs K bought pullets and laying hens and said she could let them have a run on the lawns at the nun’s rest home. The nuns usually gave her their left-over groceries, at the end of their holiday, for the chooks. Mrs K said the dog had better not get at her chooks or she’d whack it.

Today we went to a poultry farm in Farnborough which used the battery system. What a cruel sight and sound. A real din. Rows and rows of fat white hens in wire cages, front and back, row upon row, some pecking at their food, some making before-laying noises, some almost bald with backsides hanging. The eggs rolled out to the long wire gutter-like contraption, ready for picking and grading.

Is it better to let the chooks scratch around on warm damp earth and then kill them or leave them in cages, their claws clinging onto the large wire mesh and kill them anyway after they’ve laid enough eggs? Why do we eat meat? And yet it’s so delicious. Horrible thought.

Mrs K and I went to visit Mrs J who breeds cats. Had the most beautiful Persian kittens at $22 each. She also had Siamese cats and the tom had it’s eye scratched out. The cockatoo says hello when people appear.

The Siamese tom is chained to prevent him mating with the low-caste neighbourhood cats. A Siamese cat was also chained near him because she is in kitten and Mrs J doesn’t want her too wild and savage. The cats are wild from birth and maybe the tom will be able to tame her.

Mrs J has a beautiful herd of goats, all expensive breeds.

She tells us, “I’m off my top they say because I keep goats. But I tell you something – you can talk to goats and they won’t repeat what you’ve said. That fellow there, I paid $100 for him.”

She also has a stud billy goat, a peacock and three peahens and lots of turkeys, ducks and chickens.

While Mrs K and I were looking at all of this, Mrs J says, “I heard a good joke yesterday – how many animals can you fit into a panty hose?” We didn’t know so she gave us the answer: “Two calves, one pussy and a thousand hairs.” Then she says, “You’d think they’d make up jokes about men for a change.” Mrs K, all Catholic, clean and embarrassed didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t manage a laugh.

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11. Tree Poem and Locals – Journal Entry 17th Jul 1969

Strange sort of evening. First dinner with the speakers of tomorrow’s symposium on technology in Queensland and the way in which the institute* can help. There were about eight or nine spread over this huge dinner table, everyone madly trying to make conversation.

Sketch didn’t come for the dinner, apparently he was very tired and had plonked himself in front of the TV, not looking at it. He did walk in during the dinner to have a word with his wife and then pushed off again.

We then went onto a concert by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. A rather big social event in Rocky but the concert wasn’t good except for a young girl who played the violin rather well. She looked lovely too.

18th July 1969

A beautiful day; cloudy and sunny in turns. I went to visit a friend and read his poetry. I rode there on the bike with Gareth on my back. On the way home, young Buster Brown (Gareth) dropped a shoe. Seeing the darn pair cost four dollars, I went to search for it, found it and we had fish and chips for lunch on the beach.

Couldn’t sleep or think because Gareth thought I lay on the sand to allow him to jump on my back, the sand flying most of the time. He enjoyed himself though. And he does love chips.

A super day all in all.

The things that made it super were:

  1. Being given a seal-top mug for Buster Brown
  2. Being given a duck
  3. Buying tiny tumblers for visiting children at $2 each
  4. Buying cigars
  5. Chatting with Anita P’s mother who I’m going to play cards with one day
  6. The electrician turning up; a huge guy wearing a shirt like mine and humming merrily

We chatted about almost everything. The children and two of their friends came in while we were having tea. They looked confused so I served milk and cakes to them, talking madly to Callow all the time. A very, very, nice man. And he sawed a bit off the legs of a bar stool Johnny bought me. I sat on it at the kitchen table excitedly chopping onions. He had turned up when I was out and Mrs O’D told him I might be at Bunny’s. Well I’d left Bunny’s place for quite a bit, came home and was told Callow was searching for me. So I tried to phone the motel to see if he was working there. A search was made, but no Callow. In fact, he pitched up here while this kind woman who answered the phone was scouring the motel for him.

Marvellous place Emu Park.

Was there ever such a place as Emu Park? Or is it like most small towns, friendly, informal and all-knowing? It has everything has Emu Park, except emus of course. Emus roamed her unborn streets long ago but what was she named before the emus came?

I’ll stop rambling.

SkinnyTreesPoem
Poem by Gita July 1969

Now for the people. I always say it’s the people who make a place. Don’t you think so too? I mean Emu Park has beaches, fish and chips, sunshine and islands the same as everybody else and yet she has more appeal than any she-town.

Why, there is Mrs D who talks in a croak, makes tea, holds raffles and cleans floors for her club. She donated $4 to her club only last week and got her name in the papers for that. Mrs M, who writes a bit of our social chat is sixty, excitable, inquisitive, short-sighted and gets her facts deliberately wrong. She has more dust in her shop than goods, likes cats, has a lover and dines out someplace every Sunday night. Her husband works for her but he is there and not there. Mrs L, who helps her son to run his shop, swears she gets beaten whenever she forgets the price of something. A fisherman, very old, who has a fish run on one of the beaches, loves to fish all day. The shop owners don’t like hawkers because it spoils their sales. The owner of the local dinky supermarket is dying and is such a good man.

Mrs J keeps goats and they think she is off her top.

Footnote:

*The institute refers to the Queensland Institute of Technology (Capricornia) in Rockhampton  where Johnny worked as an academic. In 1972 it became the Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education and then in 1990 it became known as the University College of Central Queensland. Re-branded as CQUniversity Australia in 2008.

 

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8. Rocky Show – Journal Entry 22nd Jun 1969

It’s Saturday today.

I’m sitting on the beach in the sun with the baby. It’s a good place for sitting and gazing at the sea which is so calm and flat.

Gareth, Emu Park beach 1969

We lost a plastic ball a little while ago and nearly lost a friend with it. There was this girl, about eleven or twelve, swimming around when she noticed our green plastic ball and matching surfboard starting to drift out to sea. She tried to get both, got out of her depth and panicked.

I screamed too because I can’t swim.

There was an elderly couple, smiling as they passed by, with their squat, overweight dog. I practically fell on their chests.

“Now it’s alright,” the old man said, “she’s coming out now.”

But the kid was crying and I didn’t know what to do. So, like you see in films, I directed the old woman to stay with Gareth, who was scared stiff of their dog, threw off my jibbah* and tamely walked into the sea in my bikini. Fortunately for me, the girl waded out still sobbing. She’s fine now and busy making Gareth walk up and down the beach. Even though he is a year old, he can’t walk by himself.

What a beautiful beach this is. Islands not very far away, or so it seems, the land jutting well into the sea with cars, trees, beach huts and a white dinghy anchored and ghostly. It’s a bit cold for swimming – it’s cold enough on the beach with the wind blowing.

I’m sitting in a friend’s house with the TV on full blast, it is now 8 o’clock. I thought I would have a quiet time reading and writing. Let me explain. Johnny is acting; the last night of Antigone** and there’s a cast party. I decided to skip the play and get some reading done but this blasted TV is on, with it’s adverts and corny programmes. It’s terrible. Can’t even think and find myself watching the damn screen. I decided to sit in the kitchen and it’s so much better.

Let me tell you about these friends. They are a very good couple. She is dead efficient, finishes her housework in next to no time (they have six kids plus one Aboriginal boy who lives in during school term) and does things like amateur dramatics, social welfare work, reading and I don’t know what else. She is only a tiny creature too. He is marvellous, has lots of racing pigeons, knows about fossicking and is now back in college trying to get a Diploma in Engineering. They are wonderful parents and watching them makes me feel rather inadequate. Johnny has a high regard for them.

I bake our own bread now. The kids and Johnny seem to prefer it to the shop bread, which of course pleases me. We have ducks in the yard and Marcello is supposed to look after them, they are his and meant for the table. Killed one the other day and Johnny cooked it for lunch with lots of green peas and potatoes. We also had a salad of lettuce from the garden. Just think, homegrown duck and lettuce.

Yesterday we went to the Rockhampton Show. My goodness it was expensive at 2.5 rupees^  for a try at any darn game stall. And with two kids wanting to have a go at most things, a bit of money was spent. However, they managed to win some toy each and even I won a couple of packets of toffees.

The birds, fruit and animals on show were so good and it was interesting to see what won prizes. I would have loved to wander around looking at them all day, but that sort of thing doesn’t interest small children. In fact looking at the animals, birds and farm produce made me want to become a ‘cocky’. A cocky being a farmer or man of the soil.

Oh goodness, listen to this. A neighbour of ours was having a birthday, so as a special treat, we sent across a bottle of burgundy. Back comes a report some days later that nobody could drink it; it tasted like vinegar, they said. Honestly, what do you do with people as backward as that? Of course it’s only recently that Australians have started drinking wine. PLONK they called it, in a derogatory tone of voice. Beer was the thing.

Footnotes:

*jibbah is a South Indian name for a ‘kurta’ which is a collarless, long-sleeved shirt to knee-length. However, jibbah also refers to a hand-rolled cigarette containing marijuana…

**Antigone is the name of a tragedy by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles, written around 442 BCE. More information here.

^Equivalent to 30 cents Australian in 1969

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  • A draft letter to a friend living in Kathmandu, Nepal. I have added the footnotes.

7. Rain Poem – Journal Entry 17th Jun 1969

On Monday I walked along the beach. No-one was there except for two pelicans. They could well have been deformed cranes. They walked away, two ugly creatures in love with each other. Something about their rear view gave me a feeling of tenderness for their awkwardness and vulnerability.

The sterility of the town and the place we live in is slightly disappointing. Sterility in the sense of being devoid of such things as flowers in women’s hair, peanut sellers, betel juice squirted on the pavement benches, auto rickshaws and the smell of jasmine. Ah dear me, but still, there are things you don’t get on the Indian scene, like dear ladies (in powder and hat) selling raffle tickets, Aboriginal couples quietly talking to each other, meat shops with plastic fruit and Christmas decorations, supermarkets and fish and chip shops.

RainPoemMum
Poem by Gita 17th June 1969

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6. Cocktail Party – Journal Entry 15th Jun 1969

Sunday was hectic.

First a cocktail party where we were supposed to meet a few famous people like the Chairman of the Meatworks and the Harbour Board, the Archers, who were the first settlers in Rocky.

Best of all were the host and hostess – Shorty Leah and his wife. A good couple, old, who own a pineapple farm in Tanby. Very dramatic is pineapple farming.

In the evening we had six people to dinner. I wish I could describe what went on. One couple kept having digs at one another, the other couple (J&S) egged on another older couple who were hankering for Darwin and felt that Rocky was a dead hole and filled with old people. No culture too. J and Sue, the bright, young, newly married couple stayed the night with us and we sat up till 3am talking about all sorts but mainly about whether one had a purpose in life or not. A subject I’d prefer not to think about.

16th June 1969

This morning was not so good. Had to get up at 7.30am (which wasn’t too early really), fed the kids and myself and the pup on the front verandah that belonged to J&S and then took them all to the beach so the others could sleep on.

Ah! The beach in the early morning.

Saw the boat leave for the Great Keppel Island – one of the reef islands. Apparently there are lots and lots of coral islands, every one of them beautiful, with oysters for the picking. And fine white sand beaches to sit on and eat them. We will be going sometime. The thing to do is to own a boat and go sculling round these islands, fishing or just exploring.

Holidays are fabulous here with everything so conveniently near – mountains, forests, creeks, gem fields, beaches and islands. What more could you want? Not money, because all this costs so little.

It’s been a warm and glorious day today. I find it difficult to describe the days when they are warm and glorious; so difficult…

The swamp twinkles at me from between the trees with ducks and swamp hens foraging into it’s soft belly; the main road is behind the swamp and stray cars flash past the few houses on the hills around me which seem to stretch themselves luxuriously in the not too bright sunlight. Thieving gulls scream hideously at our uncomplaining, fat, good-natured ducks who take not the slightest notice and gulp down their food before the mob of seagulls descend on them. When I see all of this I know it’s a beautiful, warm and glorious day. I hang out of a window and go mushy.

Karen and Gareth, camping near Emu Park 1969
Marcello, Gareth and Karen, camping near Emu Park 1969
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4. Pig’s Cheek – Journal Entry 12th Jun 1969

Shopping day. Each day seems to be so good.

Mrs O’D and I shopped together for a while. She is a person who has lived. That sounds corny but how else could I put it? She has worked hard all her life, brought forth nine children, lost two, and has one with a bad heart.

“Look Gita, she spends so much money on her glory box. She’ll never get married, we don’t even know how long she will live. She thinks she will find a man to love her for herself and that they can adopt a child. She is not grown up. She is twenty-one but acts like she is fifteen. She has no idea of things and I had to mollycoddle her till she got her tonsils out because of her heart, but after her tonsils came out I haven’t mollycoddled her. Look, she didn’t menstruate till she was eighteen. You will be lucky if you see it once in twelve months, the doctor told us, and she’s been as regular as any other woman. She’s a bit cranky at that time but then I say, ‘What are you doing here?’ and she goes back to bed.”

So we had coffee and studied the papers for the special sales, found none except the usual lousy mince and sausages at so much for two pounds.

I bought a pig’s cheek for 25c. I was going to try all sorts with it but when I had to hack the thing I felt all squirmy and it smelled a bit too, even though it was pickled. I suspect the little piggy hadn’t been cleaning his teeth or alternatively not chewing his apple before bedtime. Ugh. So even though the pig cheek was so cheap (and I can’t resist such bargains) I won’t be buying one in a hurry.

Did the week’s shopping. Then went off with L for lunch with B. The house was unusual for central Queensland, arched windows, thick brick walls, big rooms, verandahs and so on. ‘Twas built by a German brickmaker, later taken over by a nunnery in which two nuns committed suicide. It’s a lovely house and B seems to have worked hard on it. Lunch was hilarious and L and I returned to town cheerfully intoxicated.

At least I was disgustingly cheerful.

 

Notes:

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series

3. Sickle and Scythe – Journal Entry 10th Jun 1969

Winter days here seem beautiful days. I don’t know what makes the days so unbearably sweet. Today especially was glorious.

I hacked at the long thick grass. It looked so easy but really wasn’t and besides I don’t know how to handle a sickle. I own a sickle and Johnny owns a scythe, like real country-folk.

Of course after an hour’s work, Gareth and I lay on the newly turned earth.

It was happiness.

Note:

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series

2. Sunday Lunch – Journal Entry 8th Jun 1969

John and Virginia came with their brand new truck carrying a rotary hoe. What a relief to watch the grass disappearing into the earth when the ripper passed over it. In no time the front yard was neatly ploughed and we planned where the trees would go and where the onions and garlic beds were to be.

Emu Park First House 1969
Gareth, Karen, Gita, Marcello | Emu Park first house 1969

The day was lovely with Fritz, Jan, Virginia, the kids and I watching John happily driving the ripper around. There were many little birds after the refugee insects that were disturbed out of their homes. We found a baby snake under a packing case but it ran away.

I baked bread and there was salad, cold meat and salami for lunch. We were all waiting for  lunch to be ready. Then you know what happened? The three men go to the back yard and try to burn the long dry grass.

Just beat it out when you’ve burned a reasonable area,” one of them said…

The fire looked very pretty and we called the kids to watch. Everybody was quite happy. Then, of course, the fire spread quite rapidly and raced up the steep slope of our back yard. Everybody pitched in to help. I tell you it was frightening. Such a wide ring of fire and every minute increasing and increasing. We worked, my goodness how we worked. Two of our neighbours ran to help. We had to beat at the fire with branches off the gum tree. Johnny and I used cloth.

I panicked and phoned the police station. The policeman and another man pitched up just when the fire was put out and gave us a sermon.

“You’ve got to have a permit to light a fire. You could be put into court for this, and be fined $30 to $40 so that you don’t go out and light another fire. You didn’t know about this of course.”

One of our friends interrupted to say he was the one who suggested it, and that it wasn’t our fault, but the policeman continued,

“I don’t care who told who to light the fire, you get prosecuted all the same. Anyway, see it doesn’t happen again!” And he stomped down the hill to his interrupted Sunday lunch.

Oh dear, we were a sad group. I had to prepare the salad. I could hardly stand, let alone hold a knife. We were dirty and covered with prickles from the long grass. The others collapsed onto the verandah and recovered over a glass of beer. Was lunch good? And did we eat enormously?

Of course we did. It was very good.

BushFirePoem
Poem by Gita 8th June 1969

Note:

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series

1. Preamble – My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series

If you haven’t already, please read the Home page for the background to this intimate journal series.

Blog posts will contain my mother’s journal entries in chronological order from June 8th, 1969 (when our family settled in Australia from India) until just prior to my mother’s death in 1985. Some of her poetry and letters will be included.

I have used ‘Gita’ to refer to my mother throughout this journal series as it was the pen name she used for her short stories and articles.

Gita, late 1960s

If you are new to this blog you can read  previous journal entries in date order via Archived on the Home page. Then Follow to receive each new post as it is published.

Sadly, Johnny (the love of my mother’s life), passed away ten years after her death. He was a devoted father to our very large family and I dedicate this journal series to both of them.

Johnny, late 1960s

Let us begin…

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