20. Arrival Story – Journal Entry 1st Sep 1970

[My mother’s story version of arriving in Australia.]

Gita’s arrival at Brisbane airport was dramatic and foolish. She has flown straight from Kathmandu, the youngest child in a sling on her back, the two elder children clutching at her skirts, big bags in her hands. One child had a Nepalese drum – at the sight of which the Customs officials sighed and took a tight grip on themselves. Gita was dressed in a short thick black cotton sari. These were the sort worn by women in a particular Nepalese tribe to show off the tattoos on their calves. She knew the fumigation was coming and hoped to add to the dramatic effect in retaliation. But Gita didn’t have tattooed calves.

All this was quite stupid. There was a reporter who sensed something and wanted to take photographs. The reporter had noticed Gita exchanging a long intense, slightly smiling glance with Johnny who was waiting outside the customs barrier. Johnny, in his typical cool manner, continued leaning against the pillar, glanced at the reporter and quietly drawled that he had better not. The reporter was a middle-aged Australian, short and plump, a disappearing race of understanding country reporters. He must have sensed tragedy, fear, who knows what, so he didn’t argue but stood by Johnny and watched until Gita was through with Customs and had greeted Johnny with one word, “Hello.”

Gita was taken straight from the Third World into a two-storied wooden house on stilts in a very small coastal village of Australia.

Immediate differences in cultures came fairly quickly one after another. White labourers working on the roads – a strange sight to someone coming from a colonised country. Vendors calling in motorised vehicles. The postman driving to your post box was hard to get used to at first as Gita assumed all postmen walked with heavy bags on their shoulders. There was hot and cold piped water in the house, separate bedrooms for the children, supermarkets in the nearby city and many clubs for people – especially women.

Women called on Gita to invite her to join the CWA, the National Fitness Club and the Bowling Club. She went on to the school tuckshop roster.

The neighbours were a little slow in making contact, they didn’t know what to make of this bizarre family dumped in their midst – two dark-skinned children who talked Gurkhali to each other in a low voice, one small blue-eyed baby boy, one large blond blue-eyed man who smoked a pipe and one South-East Asian woman.

Johnny suggested that Gita make the initial calls on neighbours, first to the couple living on the right and then to the couple on the left. Later they came, a little ashamed of themselves and not quite looking Gita in the eye. They told her what day was garbage collection day, and about milk, bread and newspaper deliveries.

Life in Emu Park was still at the stage where neighbours called on newcomers to welcome them and make their entry into the community as easy and pleasant as possible.

The earliest encounter with the Queensland dialect was when a young lad called with a message from his mother.
“Do you have any spice in your fridge?” he asked politely.
“Oh, no,” replied Gita, “I don’t keep spice in the fridge, I keep them on the shelf.”
A puzzled look came into the lad’s eyes and he almost backed away.
“Mum asked if you have spice in your fridge,” he repeated.
Gita repeated her answer and so it would have gone if the lad hadn’t changed his wording.
“Mum says if your fridge is not big enough, she could keep things for you in her fridge.”
Pretty soon they sat down to tea and biscuits.

It took Gita several years to get over her horror at having people spell words for her over the telephone. The a’s and i’s were hard to differentiate and her English wasn’t all that good either. One man jovially told her it reminded him of Peter Sellers, which surely was a chicken and egg question. On the other hand, Australians were surprised at Gita speaking English at all, and made such remarks as, “How is it that you speak straighter English than we do?”
“I’ve never spoken to one of your kind before,” said a taxi driver in Sydney, “I really enjoyed that.”
And another man asked, “Are you a school teacher?”

On the whole, Gita was mostly absorbed in Johnny and their new life together. Johnny concentrated on Australianising his new family as fast as possible. Gita’s attitude to that was pretty easy until she took the children to a cafe in Sydney where they stuck their fingers into everything and generally behaved so oddly that they soon attracted the attention of the other eaters. It didn’t take very long for the kids to learn to handle knives and forks and say excuse me and please and thank you. Life became a little less conspicuous.

Ah, the freshness of those early years in Australia, despite Johnny and Gita’s fear and sorrow.

The year was the late nineteen sixties, Australia was riding high, beef was expensive because of the export prices cattlemen were getting for their beasts, minerals were being dug up and shipped out at good prices and employment was plentiful.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • Click here to go to Home
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  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • This closes the chapter on the early years in Emu Park. Our family then moved to Neutral Bay in Sydney, Australia.

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

  • Gita’s brother added to Family Tree on home page
  • Map of Where We Lived In the World added to home page
  • Click here to go back to the home page
  • For email followers click here to read this post online
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series

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

Notes and Links

  • Click here for home page
  • Preamble post updated for new blog viewers
  • 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…

Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • The Home page contains a gallery of photos, click here.