67. Maintenance Guarantee – Journal Entry 13th May 1981

Dear Nora,

What a day it has been!

Mum is making an application for a widow’s pension and we were asked to send dad’s death certificate (which we couldn’t find) and his birth certificate (which we suspect is in the same file in some Government office in Manila) hence our telegram to you. I hope it wasn’t too cryptic. 

Telephone calls cost a small fortune.

We spent three to four hours turning the house upside down in our search. Our grandson, who is fifteen months old, joined into the chase making an even bigger mess. Mum was getting quite upset at finding nothing but I managed to calm her down by saying all we could do was wait for news from you. I hope you can get a copy and if we haven’t received anything in a month, I’ll send another telegram.

I haven’t really explained anything, have I?

Originally Johnny signed a maintenance guarantee for mum and Barbara when they migrated to Australia. To be eligible for a widow’s pension you must have been in the country for five years and ten for an aged pension. We tried applying earlier but Johnny’s income was considered too high, even though five adults are managing on one salary in a house with six bedrooms.

It was worse before Marcello started working. He gives us board for his family and it certainly helps. All of this does not cut any ice with the Social Security Department because we signed a maintenance guarantee and that’s that; which is fair enough really.

We have been on a tight budget for as long as I can remember, ever since dad died in 1965. I cannot hold a full-time job while looking after the children, mum and Barbara. I’ve been studying first-year mathematics and computer science so maybe I can get contract work in computing next year. Despite this, life is very good and we eat extremely well. The vegetable garden is flourishing, we buying bulk meat and eat our own chooks, ducks and eggs. I’m often busy at my desk and mum isn’t as strong so we don’t get much gardening done. 

Oh yes, things will get tighter with Karen going to University. She won’t get a student allowance, again because of the means test, and she will need a minimum of $50 a week to live on, maybe even $70. We want her to concentrate on her studies and enjoy her time at University. She is working very hard at her matriculation this year.

I know you would like some photos but the ones I took were terrible; the camera was too old so I shall have to wait until someone takes better photos.

Gareth has started high school this year and is enjoying it. They learn Japanese as a second language.

Mum seems to lead a very busy life. On Tuesday afternoons she goes to indoor bowling. Once a month on Wednesdays the pensioners have an afternoon tea social. A regular physical fitness session is held every Thursday morning and on Saturdays, she goes to afternoon bowling followed by church in the evenings.

Her bowling club has a special day for visiting clubs and each member has to “bring a plate” so mum cooks something or gets us to bake a cake, a tart or whatever.

Then once every two months, either the pensioners club or bowling club organises a long bus journey for the day.

Of course, we encourage mum to go to everything but I tell you, we can hardly keep track of her engagements.

She takes a few medications now for blood pressure, cramps and arthritis in her neck; she is in pain most of the time.

Mum follows “a balanced diet” with gusto. It includes lots of fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese, meat, fish when we can get it, honey, malt, molasses and bran. What a great sight she is at the breakfast table with her yoghurt, honey, molasses, malt, bran and corn flakes mixed in a bowl, followed by brown bread and a couple of eggs from her Australorp hens. Her enormous breakfast ends with a steaming mug of tea or coffee.

Barbara is also being more adventurous and gradually getting used to the fact that she can’t have rice and curry at every meal. She takes almost an hour to eat breakfast after making her own toast and steamed egg. Finally, she prepares a flask of coffee to take to the workshop. Barbie washes up when it’s her turn and is in charge of setting the table.

At the Activities Therapy Centre where she goes every day by bus, they go bowling and horse riding once a week, cook their lunches on Thursdays, go shopping and see school plays for entertainment. They went to the circus and go on picnics once a month. All of this in the last two months! Her new manager is doing a wonderful job.

Mum reads Barbie fairy tales at night, so yes, a vast improvement. However, she tends to withdraw about once a month and on those occasions, we have to give her tranquillisers; very low doses, thank goodness. 

Mum, of course, thinks of all of you but seems unable to put pen to paper to express herself.

I have a Calculus examination in four weeks time and then immediately after I have to buckle down to some serious and concentrated study of computer science which is a quick learning of PASCAL with a long, careful look at the structure of computer languages. Last year I studied Basic, Fortran and Cobol.

Well, my dear, I’d better stop and tackle a few sums. The house gets awfully dusty because we have so little time to spare, apart from cooking and eating large meals!

Your loving sister,
Gita

KarenProfileCircle120NOTES

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • 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 and scroll through to the bottom.

64. Carnage, Dog vs Ducks – Journal Entry 26th Feb 1981

Made oatmeal crunchies for Nathaniel’s playgroup, with extra for the family, and a salad for my lunch. After a little bit of tidying, I took Monika and Nathaniel to Yeppoon and then called on Linda. The Rover was spluttering somewhat, so I looked under the bonnet but couldn’t locate any obvious defect. Had coffee with Linda and we talked about being in our forties, feeling inadequate and frustrated, feeling one has missed the boat and wondering about one’s marriage. We discussed what skills to acquire, at this late age, in order to earn a living.

Made a chilli and coriander omelette for lunch with cold duck, brown bread, carrot salad and cider, put everything onto a tray, and ate outside at the barbecue table. After I had coffee in the kitchen and talked to mum, I managed to collect a few herbs and guava seedlings.

On the way to pick up Monika and Nathaniel, the Rover came to a standstill outside the Island View Caravan Park. After cleaning two spark plugs, I was able to drive off proudly.

When I returned, the family were back from school and work, so I read for a while and then made noodles and liver for dinner.

Johnny rang to say the moke was not back from the garage; he suggested I drive the Rover in the daylight to Rocky so I wouldn’t have to worry about its faulty light switches. Managed to get to CIAE to pick up Johnny, the Rover only “coughed” once or twice. The light, although brighter than twilight, was strange and heartbreaking and the countryside looked bright green. After the rains, Cawarral Road was lined on both sides with tall grass with delicate blades.

27th Feb 1981

A cyclone is heading for the coast, 300 km north of us. The rain is already falling steadily and the wind is very gusty; our chooks and ducks are drenched. The chickens must feel miserable in this weather without adequate dry housing.

11th Apr 1981

Poor mum cried when she saw the carnage in the duck pen. We lost eight ducks, many ducklings and two young Australorps. Another duck carcass was found inside the shed. Later I found a young injured drake that had tried to escape, caught between a sheet of iron and the wire fence. It had managed to stay alive, hiding from the dog that mauled its leg. Marcello’s ducks were safe and another young duck and some of our ducklings crept out of the bushes later that day. However, the next day, the rogue dog, a blue heeler, returned to Marcello’s pen, chasing his bantams around with great leaps. Dusty, our own dog, was encouraging it and, in fact, she nearly joined in the game! We found out who owned the dog and had permission to beat it (which I did) with a hose and a dead hen. Neither hurt the dog and it was glad to get away under a nearby caravan; I was upset and breathless from the effort. One of our other neighbours told me he had seen a few dogs over the weekend, one of them with a brown duck in its mouth.

It was so good to see Hamish. He called in for a visit with an American lass who was studying for a Master’s degree in Zoology at the University of Queensland. She told me the members of the Zoology Department’s Coffee Club owned a Jersey cow. They sold the surplus milk, far too much for their club, to the other department coffee clubs. They also had an egg cooperative, started by an adept member, who was told he could not exceed the limits of hens allowed for any one household. He consulted Legal Aid, then formed a cooperative and now looks after all the hens; the Egg Board can’t do anything about it.

“In true hegemonic style, the locally powerful were busy blaming their victims rather than themselves.” Colin Bell

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • 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 and scroll through to the bottom.

61. Geese Are Magical Birds – Journal Entry 23rd Nov 1980

Had a very sore throat yesterday and a fairly severe earache. Went to bed at 10 pm and woke again at 3 am with the pain. Did some summation of sequences, took a couple of Panadeine, had a hot coffee, worked some more and felt much better. Went back to bed but still couldn’t sleep so I read a book on sorghum. Talked with Johnny this morning and he is worried about me being erratic and unpredictable.

Activities from last week:

Friday: COBOL exam (didn’t do well) and had lunch for Tom.

Saturday: Slaughtered ducks and chooks.

Monday: Met Sam at the camping grounds to talk about what was going on there. Went with others of the protest group to talk to the Lions Club about the park. Dinner was good in spite of the patchwork pastry on the meat and potato pie.

Tuesday: Went out talking to a few people about the petition and then later to the public meeting at the CWA on whether the town needed a youth and citizen association. The library building will be vacant and this group would like to use the building as a community centre. Took Monika to Farnborough. Spent time chatting with friends and didn’t get back until 12 noon. Nancy called in and we picked tomatoes then went to see Joan. Gareth was out and I continued to repair the duck coop.

Wednesday: Felt euphoric after weeks of hard work and long hours. More signatures to collect on the petition and Barbie at home under medication.

Thursday: Went to the library in Rocky and returned at 3 pm for a siesta until 5 pm. Gran is out at Tannum Sands. Johnny returned at 5 pm and helped get dinner ready.

Friday: Cooked all day and made tomato sauce, tomato puree, oatmeal crunch, beans for salad, veal stew and stewed peaches. Mrs D was invited to morning tea. Will make mango pickle and mango chutney.

30th Nov 1980

Draft Letter to Andrew:

Thank you for your last two letters and for that excellent parcel of honey. I must apologise for taking so long to tell you how much the family enjoy the honey. Johnny really liked the comb honey and it is something we have not had before. Not only is comb honey delicious, its structure is so wondrous. I cannot decide which I enjoyed more, the appearance or the taste.

Your news of the geese was appreciated. To me, geese are intelligent and affectionate birds and you seem to feel the same way about them. Of course, you won’t be too upset when they hiss or attack you during brooding time, will you? They make excellent parents. Goslings, on the other hand, tend to give their adult relatives a hard time. The geese seem to find it difficult to control their young!

Study time is over for me for a while, although I have extra revision and study I want to do over the holidays.

Mango season is on us which means chutney time. You must be busy with making your chutney too. We grew a lot of small tomatoes so I’ve been busy converting them into tomato sauce and puree. Guavas were plentiful and I’ve made guava cheese. During semesters I freeze the fruit until I have the spare time to attend to them. It has been a good year for fruit: the mulberries were plentiful; the peach tree was loaded with relatively insect-free fruit; we’ve managed to grow some rockmelon; the tomatoes went crazy and we have a few okra plants; pretty handy for our large family. Oh yes, and my mother’s chooks laid lots of eggs. Life has never been so full of good things to eat.

Grain for the chickens is expensive and we’ve decided to grow sorghum wherever we can. It is difficult to let the chooks scratch for themselves, even though there is ample space, because of the neighbourhood dogs. Watering and my studies are the two main things stopping the garden from being really productive.

I may have told you I’m doing first-year mathematics and computing, a few subjects at a time. I’m a slow worker so I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time studying. Once I get the hang of it, I should be able to do more.

Life has been good and quite exciting these past two years. As I keep saying, we are very lucky to live in this part of the world and in this part of Australia – long may she prosper.

A later entry on 22nd Dec 1980:

Dear Andrew,

Hello and Happy Christmas. I started three letters to you but ended up with this little card.

Thank you for your package of honey and wax. The comb honey was excellent and much enjoyed by us, especially Johnny. I was taken by the beauty and simplicity of the structure of the comb.

I’m very glad you and the geese get on so well. Geese are magical birds. Here’s wishing you a productive and peaceful 1981.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • 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 and scroll through to the bottom.

38. Memories of India – Journal Entry 30th Apr 1979

It was good to receive your letter. We wondered how you had gone with the interview. Johnny certainly enjoyed reading your letter as good letter writers are so rare.

The photographs were very informative, they revived memories and feelings that have been sternly suppressed for twelve years. One is of course grateful for any scrap of news. Averil in a sari was a heartening sight. Johnny and I feel very strongly about being as Indian as possible in India, one is Indian, and any other way is slightly suicidal. Yes, it’s easy for us to speak from this comfortable distance, but we love and miss many of the good things of India. Indians abroad are usually invited to speak on India and are asked many questions about religion, poverty, food, clothing, etc.

I’ve run adult education classes on Indian cooking and given a few talks and demonstrations at the local high school. Many of our Indian friends tell us quietly, but with amusement, that they have had to visit the nearby libraries so they are able to answer the queries put to them about India.

I regret very much not having bothered to learn more of the culture I was born in. Had I a choice of an overseas holiday, I would most likely spend it in India, pursuing a few of my interests like kolams and regional cooking.

I’ve written a teach-yourself-to-cook Indian cookbook but haven’t bothered to revise the manuscript, something I’d been meaning to get to daily for the past three years!

Perhaps R can swap recipes? For instance, I’ve tried making Naan roti but have yet to achieve a reasonable one. The recipe books are not much use. What actually goes into Naan and should the oven be hotter than 550 degrees F?

Today gran and I made brinjal pickle (homegrown) and lemon pickle too. The lemon pickle recipe is one your mother taught us when we were kids.

We can grow most Indian vegetables if we have the seed. We have to depend on what’s available through the seed companies as seeds are not allowed into the country. Our most precious plants are two curry leaf seedlings. We grow, or have grown, okra, brinjal, four different types of chilli, guavas, mangoes, spinach, bitter gourd, snake gourd, pumpkin and dhal greens. Not the proper dhal greens, a weed, but good enough. The house we bought already had four large mango trees.

Gran (or Nana, as you call her) is the keen gardener and raiser of chicks and ducks. The garden suffers when she gets a temporary job – usually looking after invalid old ladies. At the moment she is sewing hats, bags and shirts, to sell in a friend’s craft shop.

19th May 1979

Have lost my perspective of what I was going to do this year. Sidetracked again but something good and right came up. Joan has formed a catering group and there is much work to be done before any return can be seen. In the meantime I have neglected P-maths and am very agitated. Need to sort myself out.

Jobs Pending
  • Meals On Wheels (M.O.W.) – ask Janet to take over
  • Pancakes for tuckshop – what should I do? Give it away?
  • Candles – lots of wax to be used up
  • Plants at Magnussons – continue?
  • Garden – needs attention
  • Chooks and pen
  • Family, of course
  • Car Maintenance

Just phoned Janet, she will take over M.O.W. Also ordered some avocados for Monday evening.

3rd Jul 1979

A few things have to be planned for next week. I’m away Tuesday and Wednesday nights. And maybe Thursday?

  • Cheque to Bankcard
  • Letter of resignation
  • Make cooking and house notes for family
  • Lots of P-maths
  • Sort out insurances
  • Visit Cyss
  • Johnny’s clothes need to be prepared.

Cleansing Diet

The general idea is that if the body is purified, it will heal itself.
So apply (1) and (2) on alternate days.

Breakfast (1)
Grated pineapple with grated seeds
(almonds but not peanuts)

Breakfast (2)
Plain biscuits with butter
1 slice wholemeal toast
2 lightly poached eggs

Mid-morning: juice 3 oranges

Lunch (1)
Salad (any)
Raisin, nuts

Lunch (2)
Fruit (apples in particular)

Mid-afternoon: 3 oranges

Dinner (1)
Steamed veg
Veg rissoles (onions, egg, no sauces)

Dinner (2)
Salad
Nutmeat

No liquids for an hour before and two hours after a meal. No meat, condiments, tea or coffee. If sweets are craved, eat brown rice with milk but no sugar, yoghurt or custard without sugar. Drink Kurk brew instead of tea or coffee.

***

The pain is constant. Time, that clichéd healer, should dull it, but at the moment I welcome the pain – in fact, I deliberately foster it.

Absolute folly, it interferes with day-to-day activities. I wish to write it off as a delightfully human and rare experience and leave it at that. What else is there to do? You must get on with your life, and soon, please. We only have one life each of us, and the years go so quickly. I agree most heartily, I wish we had never met, the agony is terrible. The conflict for me is awful.

All this must seem rather dramatic to you but what the hell, if we can’t make love let us at least attempt to make literature! Shall I put you in a book and thereby absorb you in a less destructive way?

In what way is my behaviour different from Barbie’s behaviour when she withdraws? I have the same urge to be by myself, I don’t feel hungry, well not as much as I normally do. I like wandering about in the garden and I can’t concentrate. Sleep is at a minimum.

The disco was fun. I danced from the time I got there to finishing time which was 11:30pm. My partner was ‘stretch’, a very tall guy. He was young and clean and wore glasses, which gave the impression he was learned. Took a crowd afterwards to the Singing Ship. The moon was disturbingly bright. The young ones went off to make wishes at the well. I sat in the moke and brooded. It had been a wonderful evening.

There is no future or present, only a brief past. A past that should not have been.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes 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.
  • In Emu Park: “The Singing Ship memorial commemorates Captain Cook`s Bicentenary in 1970 and marks his exploration of the bay in May, 1770. The memorial represents the billowing sail, mast and rigging of his ship Endeavour. Concealed organ pipes use the sea breezes to create eerie music.” Ref: Monument Australia, click here.

30. Journey to Ixtlan – Journal Entry 7th Dec 1978

A busy day. We have an order for 35 container candles. Marcello is cutting the stubbies and green wine bottles. It seems such slow work for so little money. Still, it’s money being earned while at home, where we like being.

We picked strawberries, a poor bowlful, from plants covered with weeds. Monika picked strawberry flowers for pressing and has made a batch of greetings cards. Gran bought a dollar’s worth, making it Monika’s first sale. There seems to be a rush to make money for Christmas. The kids were too busy with school to do any work for themselves. Karen is still not free until the end of the week.

Another sick chick is not able to stand up, so Gran dosed it with garlic, milk and bread and put it on a piece of hessian in the cockatoo cage we found at the dump. It won’t live.

It’s a lovely day, sunny and hot outside but with a cool wind blowing, I hear Marcello grinding glass; the geese talk among themselves under the low branch of the Queensland hoop pine. The Rouen duckling is silent for the time being. I’ll disturb them if I fill their plastic water container, so I’ll sit here enjoying writing with this pen. A baby butcherbird is crying for food.  You can tell it’s a young bird because it’s brown and white, not black and white like it’s mother, however, they are the same size.

Lot’s more noises. An earthmoving machine is on the hill a little down the street, it has been working for a while cutting a path to Mrs N’s old house and levelling the yard. Bottles clink – that’s Marcello. The butcherbirdling still whinges in hunger. Gran keeps shouting out messages to us which jars the otherwise warm and peaceful atmosphere. A magpie sings far away; it could be a butcherbird.

I’ve got to leave now to clean my darling’s desk and the file room.

9:30pm
It was twelve hours ago that I stopped writing to clean the study. I did Johnny’s corner fairly well; wiping walls and cleaning louvres. I polished his writing pane of glass – a very large sheet of glass – and put Monika’s drawings under it. Then I did the file room. It needs paint on the walls, roof beams and some floor covering, then it will be a good little room, clean, sweet-smelling and lovely to be in. Monika and I went looking for stubbies and Tooheys beer bottles. Marcello needed more to make the candle containers. None in the hotel bin so Monika suggested the dump. We filled up two small boxes with stubbies. There were a few flowers on the roadside, so we stopped to pick them.

Lunch was good. As usual it was a spread and we talked of catching fish, of Christmas presents and a few other things. I forget what. Had a short nap. Just before dozing I started Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan.

9th Dec 1978 8:40am

Back at the Base Hospital to get my stitches removed. I’ve dropped Mum, Marcello and Monika near the East Street shops. It’s cool here.

I must get a tight grip on myself, I’m in a bad mood. I was aware of it  when I made a remark about Johnny’s hair and he said not to maternalise him. Apparently that meant (what I would call) making cute noises at a child. Fair enough, I make comments without considering the effect they have on the recipient.

Anyway, in fairness to Johnny, I did make several comments about his new haircut. So I just stood under the tree near the old garage and he, after a look at my face, slowly drove away to the airport.

My bad mood was a result of last night. Just a few minutes before dinner, Johnny yelled at Gareth for not having done his bedroom in spite of repeated suggestions. He thumped Gareth on his bottom, then banished him to his room. This sort of occurrence is unpleasant whenever it happens simply because one is yelled at and the other is forced to do the yelling. I had just prepared a very special meal. We hadn’t had fish for weeks and weeks. Also the fish I had crumbed and fried crisp, were caught by Marcello. Now what was going to happen? Was Gareth to stay in his room while we ate a meal that would almost certainly be spoilt by his absence from the table? Why couldn’t Johnny time his chastisement better? I suppose we all are slack in choosing the right time for unpleasant things. And a time for pleasant things too, except pleasant things don’t dampen a scene.

I remember another time sitting down to a meal with Johnny, when he told me my brother had had a nervous breakdown and was in a sanitorium that I knew of and disliked. That was because of it’s uncaring treatment of the patients when the cows were always well stocked with feed. I remember being amazed, in spite of my shock and pain at the news, that Johnny hadn’t told me after the meal. Some would call it nitpicking. I don’t care, I maintain that discretion is essential.

Again, a telephone message came through for a neighbour one night, Johnny wrote out the message and handed it to young Gareth. The kid had to go down the drive, which is dark and spooky, and the neighbour may have been asleep. The message didn’t appear to be urgent at all, it was a confirmation of an arrangement three weeks away.

Anyway, I add to Gareth’s nervous state by shouting at him this morning. He was rude, but on reflection later, it appeared to be a natural exclamation one would make. He wanted a stapler for school and had planned to be taken to the shop and returned home so he could cycle to school.

12th Dec 1978

Jobs that have to be done:
Verandah
Dining room
Sitting room
Bookshelves
Laundry shelves
Get camping gear sorted
Slaughter chook and drake and duck.
Tonight: Put away cakes, make bread, clean bedroom

Don Juan [Notes from Journey to Ixtlan]:

“People hardly ever realise that we can cut anything from our lives, any time, just like that.”

Erasing Personal History

It is best to erase personal history because that would make us free from the encumbering thoughts of other people.

Nobody knows who I am or what I do. Not even I.

You see we only have two alternatives; we either take everything for sure and real, or we don’t. If we follow the second and erase personal history, we create a fog around us, a very exciting and mysterious state in which we don’t know where the rabbit will pop out, not even ourselves.

Losing self-importance

You are too damn important in your own mind. That must be changed. You are so goddamn important that you feel justified to be annoyed with everything. You’re so damn important that you can afford to leave if things don’t go your way. I suppose you think that shows you have character. That’s nonsense. You’re weak and conceited.

Death is an adviser

Death is our eternal companion, it is always to your left at an arm’s length. It is always watching you. It always will until the day it taps you.

How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us?

A thing to do when you’re impatient is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death.

Death may tap you at any moment so really there’s no time for crappy thoughts and moods.

Assuming responsibility

When a man decides to do something he must go all the way, but he must take responsibility for what he does. No matter what he does, he must know first why he is doing it, and then he must proceed with his actions, without any doubts or remorse about them.

In a world where death is the hunter, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.

To assume responsibility of one’s decisions means that one is ready to die for them.

There are no small or big decisions, there are only decisions that we make in the face of our inevitable death.

The Last Battle on Earth

For me the world is weird because it is stupendous, awesome, mysterious, unfathomable, my interest has been to convince you that you must assume responsibility for being here, in this marvellous time. I wanted to convince you that you must learn to make every act count, since you are going to be here for only a short while, in fact, too short for witnessing all the marvels of it.

If this was your last battle on earth, I would say that you are an idiot.

You are wasting your last act on earth in some stupid mood. You have no time, my friend, no time. None of us have time.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • Click here to go to Home
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series

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.