17. Public Speaking and History – Journal Entry 28th Jul 1970

Muchlater

Many months later, the following year.

Goodness knows what
the date, round about
28th July, 1970

My dear Cynthia,

Thanks for your letter – it makes good reading. Your life is not exactly dull. Goodness knows what news I can give you to come near the cake and pot story.

The weather, yes the weather is always a good starter. Had rain today after a long dry spell. Things were really dry and crisp, but not as bad as out west. Out west is a drought and has been for the past so many years. You hear stories of people selling out their tiny farms and looking for steady jobs. The wool industry is packing up. American meat standards are shooting up – you probably know that most of Australia’s beef and mutton go to America.

What else – general house cleaning and cooking etc. is held on Thursday; this is something new I’ve hit on and a friend who is deaf, or very nearly, comes and helps me. She is so quick in everything and usually pitches up with bunches of freshly plucked herbs and aubergines. Then at 11am more women pitch up and we have a yoga session together, then lunch. Quite pleasant and then I have a fairly clean house.

I’ve been for a Forum meeting – public speaking for housewives it seems. It was good. Very nice to see most of the women take the rostrum and deliver short speeches. Even I got up and said a few words. I was told that I should have prepared my speech by the critic. Told her I didn’t mean to speak but couldn’t resist after hearing a couple of remarks made by previous speakers. “Wot to do,” I said. “If I feel strongly about something,” I said. “Stay quiet?” I said.
“Oh no,” she said. “You don’t have to,” she said.
“Then you’ve probably frightened other women from speaking off the cuff,” I said.
“Oh I hope not,” she said. She (the critic) was a very attractive spinster who worked on a farm during the day.

Then there is this discussion group I seem to have attached myself to. They are a gang of rather rich housewives who think up a subject, get some expert to talk on it and ask questions to get a bit of general knowledge. The meeting tomorrow is on Child Psychology.

I’m also trying to get a picture of Emu Park’s history. Started 80 to 90 years ago. This is the place we live in. It is fascinating. Will probably send you a copy of what notes I put together if and when I do so. In the meantime, I interview the old folk who have lived all their lives here. Remarkable memories some of them. Not much history I grant you, but the men who were here seemed to have had character. There were seven oystermen in 1912 and bags of oysters in their shell were sent out by rail practically everyday. Now only private oyster picking takes place and that too very little.

About 60 years ago a prisoner escaped from New Zealand on a sailboat and landed in Yeppoon (12 miles from here). He either sold or used the boat to go to the coral islands to get fish and oysters. However, this is mere conjecture. He sold the boat to a guy who owned one of the islands and who then managed to ground the boat in Emu Park. A Mr Morris (an oysterman) bought it, repaired it and called it The Crete. He made money by taking people to the islands and back. Many people even got married after such a trip. As many as 40 packed into the boat. Overnight visitors to the islands would catch lurking turtles, turn them onto their backs and when ready for a ride would turn the turtles right way up, hop on to them and be taken out to sea. Imagine a beach full of turrrrrned turrrtles.

In between all this speaking to people I’m trying to learn to make tarts, play the guitar (yes, still), swot up my arithmetic and keep house. Wot a life. Johnny goes to Sydney next week and to Canberra the week after for interviews. Let’s keep fingers crossed.

I got on to a farm which sold me avocado pears. My word Cynthia, I ate them till they came out of my ears. The season is just about over now – sadly enough.

People have been very kind to me. They always give me things like strawberries, and cabbages, and lettuces and clothes for the kids. Living it up?

Much love from all of us to all of
you.

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16. Raising Pigs – Journal Entry 15th Dec 1969

[My mother’s account of raising pigs in India]

Found a book on pig farming. Just the thing I think, all you’ve got to do is get some pigs and you’re in business – what with the Government encouraging pig-farming and all that.

I wrote off to a farm asking permission to purchase a pair of piglets and was asked to call at Katpadi the next day.

We set off on motorbike and scooter, my brother and his friend on the motorbike and my husband and I on the scooter. When we got there we discovered there were only two sizes available, the first size too large to be carried by the pillion rider on his lap and the other still sucklings, with one month to go before weaning.

We settled for the babies. Oh, we’ll bottle feed them, we told ourselves, and off we went.

They squealed almost all the way back – about thirty miles of squeals. Only when we were nearing our farm did they settle down and enjoy the ride.

As soon as we got back there was no time to rest, beds and bottles had to be prepared. Feroke (the male) and Sara (the female) were hungry all the time. They could never get enough. In fact Feroke would quickly finish his bottle (an old beer bottle) and would rush over to where Sara was daintily sucking on hers, scuff her aside, grab the nipple and go guzzle, guzzle. He’d drink till the milk dripped out of his snout. The milk bill was enormous and still they were hungry all the time – so what to do? We decided to feed them on porridge and milk. That solved the problem.

They were kept in a Deal Wood packing case in the common room during the night. The first night they were exhausted and slept right through. The next night I heard a slight noise and cautiously opened my eyes – Feroke and Sara stood cheek to cheek peering at me. I jumped up from my mat, took them to their packing case, tucked them in and went back to sleep. A little later they were back so what to do? I give them their bottles.

All too soon they were grown up. We had to keep them in separate pens till Sara was eight months old, which was a reasonable time to get her mated. The number of times poor Munuswamy had to repair the pens. If dinner and lunch was a little late, we would hear smash and they’d be out to see what was happening. At night the kitchen, which was just a small hut, was attacked because there’d be no-one to chase them away.

The children would go piggy-back on Feroke and Sara, a hilarious sight. Then Faroke took to chasing passing villagers. One man climbed a tree to get out of his way and howled at us to call Feroke back to his pen. Irate housewives would come storming in holding broken pots and warble out a list of misdeeds committed by Feroke and Sara interlaced with juicy words of abuse.

So for their sins, the pigs had to be put in very strong pens.

Then Sara upped and gave us six beautiful bouncing piglets. I attended at the births – but that didn’t give me licence to touch the babies. No. If I did they’d squeal as if I was pinching or poking  them and Sara would charge. Believe me, when a huge sow, however sweet looking, chases you – you run.

The piglets grew round, pink and beautiful and we loved them, except for their nasty habit of squealing about us to their mother. Soon they were weaned and kept in a huge pen by themselves.

We had so much difficulty keeping them in. The smallest piglet would stand near the fence and one by one the others would climb on his back. Then they would be up and over the wooden fence jumping down to freedom. There was only one snag – the little chap who had turned himself into a chair for his brothers and sisters was left in the pen squealing blue murder because there was no-one for him to climb on.

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15. Fair Dinkum Aussies – Journal Entry 13th Dec 1969

My dear Cynthia,

So you are back in Nepal. Thank you for a very nice letter. Things seem not so bad your way. I’ll try and write as much as possible but honestly Cynthia, you can be so busy doing absolutely nothing. Not really, but you know what I mean… school picnics, farewell parties, breakup parties and goodness knows what else. I quite enjoy it all but I hate being rushed. The housework rarely gets done.

Last night we laid tiles on the bathroom floor. We’ve decided to rent this place for another year and the landlord gave us the material and we supplied the labour – the bathroom was in a mess before and water always leaked onto the stairs.

I haven’t given you the good news – we are allowed to stay in Australia for two years, that is two years from February next. And my mother received the letter you posted. Thank you very, very much. I was so relieved (sounds like an ad for constipation pills or something). You know what Cynthia, my mother has been without money from us for nearly 4 months. I don’t know what the bank had been up to. I was absolutely shattered. Poor mum was so worried. Anyway now everything is fine again. My brother is back at work (I think I told you this) and he lost his second son aged  1½ years. They didn’t tell me how.

We are fair dinkum Aussies. Got a new lawn mower and a fridge. We’re paying for them out of the housekeeping money. Grass grows so quickly here and the risk of grass fires is very high. Don’t forget, the houses are made of wood which makes people highly nervous of fires. It is illegal to have a bonfire even. You have to have permission. I told you about the fire we started up the hill at the back of the house and how it got out of hand. My word was I scared. Could have been fined $40 (400 or more rupees) but the cop let us off because we were green and ignorant.

It is summer now and pleasantly hot and mosquitoey. It is miserable in Rockhampton. Don’t forget we are on the coast 35 miles away. Fancy having Christmas in bikinis. I made myself a pair the other day and will be making some more. Much cheaper. The bikinis.

Gareth can now say mum, mum, mum, and sing This Old Man (hum it of course) and two of the children’s school songs. He understands quite a lot and shuts doors when he is told to, and shuts drawers. Gareth can’t see an open drawer without going up to it and pushing it in – I wonder what sort of complex he is going to have? He helps clear the dining table and also likes hosing the ducks, driving the car and mopping the floor. He has long conversations with anyone who is willing to have long conversations with him.

The older kids have just finished school and have been promoted with honours to the next grade. Marcello actually was given an E for mathematics so I’ll be working with them over the holidays trying to get them up to standard for the new term.

Now a couple of requests at your convenience: Could you collect stamps that come your way and shove them into an envelope to send to me? That is you keep them in a drawer until they number four or six or something and then send them. No hurry. There is a very nice kid who has asked me to write to my friends for them. The other request is for a copy of the Peace Corps Nepali cookbook I had. It disappeared in the post and I would very much like to have another copy to help me with the recipe book I’ll be working on. I don’t know how easy it is to get it but could you please try? Anything I can do for you at this end you only have to ask.

KarenProfileCircle120 Updates and Links

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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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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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