98. Sad Farewell – Journal Entry 23rd July 1982

Early this morning I made Danish pastries for Karen, decorating them with P, C and D in pastry to correspond with her last semester results. Johnny delayed his departure for work until they were cool enough to pack. I brought coffee and warm pastries to the study for breakfast with Johnny; we had a little longer than usual to talk. Among other topics, we discussed the meaning of “polemic”, a word one knew vaguely but not specifically. Even Johnny had a different idea of its meaning. It turned out to be a controversial view or argument of someone’s principles or opinions stated aggressively; either verbally or in writing.

24/7/82

It was a very busy week full of people and cooking. Farewells are sad. I must not feel sad. We were privileged to have known Rolf for such a long time—almost seven years. Must not panic. Sadness and panic are a terrible combination.

25/7/82

Last night was an excellent dinner. The family sat and talked longer than usual; no one seemed in a hurry to leave the table so we indulged in our favourite quizzes. Gran arrived too late to attend her usual church service so now I am waiting in the car, writing in my diary and watching other cars arrive for the next service which will be in an hour and a half.

28/7/82

Yesterday was Gareth’s day in Rocky, the first stop being a long overdue visit to the orthodontist where we were told he would need both top and bottom braces and the removal of two top teeth to make room. We then went shopping to buy him some much-needed clothes and shoes. Monika and bubbies came with us to Rockhampton. Gareth very kindly returned to Monika to give her the small amount of money she needed to make some purchases at Vinnies. 

I dashed off to get through my list of jobs, however, I was disappointed to be refused repayment on Karen’s eye examination at Medibank and only received  0.25% off the orthodontic examination fee for Gareth. 

At the bookshop, things turned around somewhat as a customer overheard me asking the lady at the counter if she had any books on how to make flush doors and general books on woodworking machines. The customer asked if he could help me, having been a manual arts teacher in Darwin, and recommended a list of books and references: Australian Methods of Building Construction by Watson and Sharp, Building Construction by C. Lloyd, Notes on the Science of Building: Experimental Building Station, North Ryde, Sydney, and finally Carpentry and Joinery by Department of Labour and National Service. I made the list of the suggested books, thanked him warmly for his help and bought myself Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston.

Jobs list complete, I went to the pie shop to buy lunch and cold soft drinks for the family. They had been patiently waiting in the library and quickly followed me out.  Nathaniel insisted on carrying the coke to our picnic spot under the sprawling Moreton Bay fig tree at the edge of Rocky Town Hall grounds. We enjoyed lunch and mainly talked about our purchases. Monika had found a skirt just like Karen’s and Gareth and I were pleased with his new clothes.

30/7/82

Managed some yoga yesterday but neglected my diary writing. I didn’t exercise at all due to a headache accompanying a period.

Barbara is at home today and on Mellaril, so it is important to keep her busy. She will drive us all to distraction by sitting and talking to herself.

Trying out a new creamy lemon and mustard sauce for the fish which I will crumb and fry for dinner tonight, accompanied by brown rice, carrots and lettuce from the garden. Pudding will be one of Johnny’s favourites: baked apples and custard. 

Tomorrow I have committed myself to Programming after I finish my Calculus review and Cost Accounting assignment. It is time to focus on study.

96. Plato’s Four Virtues – Journal Entry 14th July 1982

We had a very comforting dinner last night of veal tail stew with turnips, carrots, beans and potatoes for main course followed by fruit and custard. Yesterday was essentially a non-study day. Monika cleaned the kitchen mess after breakfast while gran kindly cleared the concrete area outside and made up a colourful vase of flowers. I cleaned the dining room which was in a filthy state. My clothes were also in a woeful state, dirty and waiting to be washed. I had to borrow one of Johnny’s shirts to greet our first guest of the day. While chatting, I put together some lunch. 

The Livingstone Shire Council’s Strategic Plan meeting went well and a draft list of recommendations were drawn up before the meeting was finalised. After the meeting, Mr T called me aside and asked me about the four virtues I had listed on the board*. In a hushed tone, he asked why they were written up and who had done it. I told him about our family dinner time quizzes and he explained that he belonged to a society that had the four virtues as their tenets. I responded that one could hardly go wrong following them and that nowadays they seem to be lost virtues. Mr T ended the conversation by telling me he tries to live by them every day. And indeed he does, many others sadly do not possess such integrity.
*Ed.—Plato’s four cardinal virtues are wisdom, courage,  moderation and justice. To learn more click here.

The members dispersed fairly quickly as gran’s new bottom dentures were hurting her. I whisked her off to the dentist without further delay; poor thing, she had been eating pap for the past two days and couldn’t stand it any longer. Monika and the boys came with us to Yeppoon. We drove home worrying that Barbara was going to arrive at an empty house because Gareth had afternoon footy practice, however, we arrived to discover all was well, Gareth was home and showered and Barbara her usual chatty self. I took Gareth down to the newsagent for school supplies and then trimmed the hair out of his eyes. Gran prepared a divine vindaloo with rice and dahl for dinner.

I had taken a quick shower and was about to settle down to some study when Yvonne, who had missed the morning meeting, came to discuss the recommendations and work on the strategy for the health centre, as well as several other matters. It was very pleasant without a single interruption throughout our very fruitful discussion.

Before she left, we talked about bread making as she bakes regularly for her family. Yvonne also divulged something interesting about her past: she had not approved of a large sum given to a group whose mandate was to redeem marriages. She felt that if two people were not able to live together, what was the point of wasting time and money trying to keep them together? I had thought so too until David had told Johnny that ‘official’ people just believed everything was over between him and his wife and did not even consider their reconciliation; it was assumed they only needed help to face life apart. 

Yvonne explained that she had left her husband, with whom she had two sons, but didn’t tell me the reason for leaving the marriage. Her ex-husband took another wife—and her  three grown-up sons; one of whom was in the habit of bringing home pregnant women who left their children behind; incredibly, this happened three times to the same stepson. Then, as if things couldn’t get worse, his new wife was caught shoplifting, took an overdose of something and ended up in a psychiatric ward. Finally, on the advice of his sons, Yvonne’s ex-husband sold his house and contents and rented a flat with his second wife. This turned out to be an excellent solution as the rest of the mob had to find a place of their own. Yvonne seems to have lived in Rocky for a long time, one of her sons is studying at the Institute and the other is a policeman, and her elderly mother is still quite active. By the time we finished talking, it was already 9:30 pm, much too late to start intensive studying. After moving some papers around on my desk and drinking a cup of coffee, I went to bed.

Last night I read Čapek’s essay on proletarian art which examines the combinations that appeal to the urban dweller, the worker. He says “folk art is a luxurious primitive production” and I quote:

Proletarian art is that which is consumed by the workers because of their vital necessity. If they care more for a mouth organ than for quarter-time music, let’s talk about mouth organs and not about the music of the future…the actual mission of art is to abolish boredom, anxiety and the greyness of life…the world  needs proletarian art…living joy is passionately sought after…art contains certain natural and constant values like love, courage, intelligence, beauty, optimism, powerful and exciting action, great achievements, adventure, justice and such like motives which have not changed much since the creation of the world. Amazement and sympathy: inexhaustible and deep springs of popular enjoyment, primitive and invincibly human. Certain ancient traditions: news from the court, heroic epics, reportage novels and other grudgingly appreciated resources, should be reexamined and art created out of them.

If he knew how, Karel Čapek would write a novel of love, heroism and other great virtues and it would be so beautiful, so sentimental and so uplifting that worker hands will pass it to other work-worn hands.

95. My Darling Guru – Journal Entry 5th July 1982

Johnny needs me to be affectionate, comforting and well organised. He is overworked and dealing with a tricky staffing problem. Nonetheless, he worries more about me than his other problems because I don’t seem to be getting on with my work. I’m also liable to go off on tracks which are often time-consuming or destructive. We discussed the topic of employment for redundant housewives; it was depressing and I foolishly scared myself again. Not a very pleasant evening.

11th July 1982

Staying in bed in the morning with a full and uncomfortable bladder, Johnny says, is “the height of sloth” but of course, I view it as harmless even though it is not. This attitude of has manifest itself in many ways—yesterday, for instance, I read a crappy book and wasted three hours of precious time. More seriously, I did poorly in the accounting examination through lack of application. I am inclined to blame my father who at the age of forty-five or fifty became fat, and because he sat or slept most of the time became even fatter. 

Nevertheless, let us stick to the existential maxim that one gets through life through one’s efforts. Also to be remembered, by chanting it constantly to oneself, is Solzhenitsyn’s advice to do tasks to their last half or quarter inch. My Johnny is a remarkable man and an excellent example of how a serious person lives. We have been together for seventeen years, so why can’t I improve myself? Can I do something about the “stuckness” I am wallowing in? I must look back as honestly as I can and jot down the good and bad things about myself:

  • As a kid I was wilful and demanding. I wandered alone quite a lot, pursued my desires and ideas and hence was in trouble much more than my siblings.
  • Recently Marcello accused me of neglecting him as a child: not feeding him properly, letting him run around filthy and unshod, not protecting him enough against getting hepatitis and ruining his liver. I answered that some illnesses are through neglect and some through straightforward neglect. This exchange happened because I asked him to keep Nathaniel warmly dressed since he had a second cold almost immediately after the last one. Marcello touched a very vulnerable side of most parents—their hope of having done the right things by their children and their anxiety about messing them up. 
  • My mediocre examination results are from a lack of preparation and study, not from a lack of ability.
  • I expect high standards from others but ignore my own slackness.

Despite this, the first half of the year has been reasonably good, better than the previous year, until I started to worry about money—a recurring theme of mine—and distracted myself from my studies by spending a lot of time with Toby. Then the relatives came; a marvellous visit, but again I really should have been well ahead. I could have done better in the programming exam and had to rely on my assignments to pull me through. I am still worried about the second half of ‘82 which promises to be very busy and Johnny tells me I may have to drop a subject because of my poor track record. If I work consistently and score reasonable marks, next semester I can take a full swag of subjects rather than spending an equivalent amount of study time on only one or two subjects. 

Habituation, that’s what I need to practice every day, says my darling guru. The past few days have been good with Johnny; he is laughing quite a bit even though his work is quite grim. So much administrative work when he ought to be doing real work for himself. How long will this go on?

I read a rather clever romance about a forty-year-old intellectual who falls in love with a first-year nurse. The man, a legend in pathology at the hospital in which he works, was very rich. Worried that women would want him for his wealth and position, he lived a fairly secluded life. The girl, a country girl from a large turkey farm, is attractive, friendly, mature and very sensible. They meet early in the story during a thunderstorm on a hill and take shelter in a shed where the man had been bird watching. She talks at great length under his skilful questioning but doesn’t tell him her name. A few weeks later she receives a letter addressed to her which contain photographs of the birds they had seen together. They exchange more letters and she uses him as an oracle, which amuses him; she is impressed by the quality of his answers to her questions, and also sends him problems from her friends who have nicknamed him her “professor”. The usual misunderstanding arises: he thinks she is interested in a young medical student and she thinks the professor only views her as a young, pleasant friend although she is interested in him. After their first meeting, he visits her parents in the country and asks their permission to court their daughter but not to give his real identity until they hear from her. Naturally, everything works out well in the end, though considering he is very intelligent, it takes a long time.

12th July 1982

Johnny and I had a wonderful evening last night. I told Johnny the story of the professor. Gareth joined us and Johnny read T.S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and some of Hilaire Belloc’s poems.

We discussed the story further this morning and Johnny asked the same question—why did the professor take such a long time if he is allegedly so intelligent? He had even gone to meet the parents after their first encounter. The tale could have been improved by making it less implausible and removing remarkable coincidences or chance meetings. Maybe a twist added: he does not win her before the callow youth does and they are both miserable for the rest of their lives, if only he had spoken to her before…or he approaches her and is turned down on account of his great age…

It was a lovely drive to the hospital today with Gran for her new bottom dentures, Karen and Shannon return from Cooee Bay today, Marcello took a sickie to work on his car, Monika is helping him remove rust spots, Gareth is back at school and Barbie is back at the ATC.

Johnny is on leave today but has gone into Rocky to do the grocery shopping. He will be away in Brisbane for two nights so will get the shopping done today and then bring the girls back home. 

Great rapport between Johnny and me at the moment; when I reflect on it, there always has been, except when I feel nagged or guilty about something. I decided to discuss my latest fears with him. This was the right approach and led to fruitful discussion and resolution. However, I don’t agree that that’s what a mate is for; mates should cultivate and preserve charming illusions about each other considering much mystery is lost by morbid or senseless discussions and delving into telling-it-all. As if “being honest” was what made good relations between people! Being honest usually means saying a few home truths that could have perhaps been left unexpressed. My darling guru is a very discreet man.

92. Exam Stress – Journal Entry 14th June 1982

What needs to be done today?  I still can’t decide what to make for tomorrow’s meal, but first, I must memorise the forms for accounting, do the inventory exercises and finish the last question in the practice exam paper. Johnny’s clothes also need ironing, my next task, and perhaps I can ask Barbara and Gareth to bring up the wood.

16th June 1982

I feel quite gloomy over my performance at yesterday’s exam, even though the subject matter was easy and the exam quite straightforward. I know exactly what happened… I tackled a problem, which I had planned to leave until the end, yet missed a relatively easy question because I assumed I would have to remember the form, when in fact, the form was given. Of course I didn’t realise this until I opened the booklet for answers but even then I didn’t switch the order of questions. Perhaps students ought to be told some forms will be given? And that there are a choice of questions? Now I’m not looking forward to the programming exam because it is trickier and I lack the speed of mind and hand, especially in examinations, where careful revision is required.

Pirsig divides people by classical and romantic modes of understanding. The classical mode is straightforward, unadorned, unemotional, economical and carefully proportioned. Classical understanding is seeing the world primarily as the underlying form itself. Romantic understanding, on the other hand, is seeing the world primarily in terms of immediate appearance and the mode is inspirational, imaginative, creative, intuitive, with feeling rather than fact. The classical aesthetic is often missed by romantics. I must discuss this further with Johnny. I remember his comment that science ignores art at its peril; art is more important than science.

I had eight hours of sleep last night, which is unusual, and stayed in bed for half an hour reading Illich’s article, Vernacular Gender, a provocative piece. Johnny tried to coax me out of bed, to which I responded angrily,  telling him I did not need to leap out of bed this morning as he was leaving late. As it turned out, he only left a little later than usual. He had intended to work at home today but as Mick wanted some notes on the ecumenical course to be run by the priests next year, Johnny stayed up late last night and will take the report to the Institute this morning to be typed and photocopied. He should be home earlier than usual.

I had depressing and rash thoughts on the way back from the exam yesterday. What is the use of studying since I had not performed well in any of the exams so far? Next semester will be much harder. How was I doing to cope? Perhaps I ought to drop out and not embarrass Johnny any more. Am I embarrassing him all that much? Next semester, Karen and I will be sitting the same exam. I wonder how we will perform? I do want to continue methodology as I’m interested in the material and how it is conducted but then there is cost accounting, Programming 1B and Calculus 1B. I’ll stop now and make a detailed plan of Pascal revision.

18th June 1982

It is 9 am and too cold at my desk, so I am working on the side verandah. It is so hot I need to wear a large brimmed hat to keep direct sunlight off my head and avoid a headache. Mum is in the garden with her radio on full blast. I wish she could keep it close to her on low volume, I can’t hear Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” on FM. Rang Toby to arrange a scramble on the rocks at Voss’ Point next Wednesday.

I felt extremely sleepy today and decided to water the stressed-looking ferns near Marcello’s blue car to give myself a break. The hose had a leak and repairing it was a surprisingly pleasant task: first I smoothed black sealant over the leak, wrapped a bandage over it as snugly as possible and then covered the bandage with more sealant. This repair looks good, but the fix to the hose for the chicken pen is not as effective and I will have to remove the sealant and repair it once more.

Time to stop distracting myself with minor tasks and tackle an exam paper.

89. Reflections – Journal Entry 9th February 1982

It is a lovely morning, the household has eaten breakfast and everyone is busy getting on with their day. The time is 7:15 am, Monika and Barbara are at the bus stop, Johnny is about to leave for work and I will ask Gareth to help me put out the garbage. Johnny and I went to the garage earlier to fill the Rover with petrol and put air into the tyres so I can drive grandma to her afternoon bowling.

This is Monika’s typewriter, and I am finding it difficult to use it after an electric machine. One has to hit the keys so much harder and slow down considerably to give the keys time to get back into place.

Yesterday I followed the first half of the day’s schedule and then settled down for a couple of hours to read Johnny’s earliest letters. I took a stroll on the beach with Gran, Monika and Nathaniel for half an hour, but couldn’t fully relax, I was longing to get back to the letters. I wanted to read my early letters to Johnny, starting with our long train journey to Benares. Unfortunately, on our return I noticed the house needed attention, so with my mind elsewhere, I cleaned and dusted. Then Gran asked for some help to prepare our evening meal which meant I couldn’t get back to the letters until after dinner. Johnny went to meet a new member of staff from Canada at Rocky airport, so I settled down to read my journal entry of our train trip. It sounded fun in parts and rather adventurous, especially to one who had never been on a three-day train journey.

The letters are upsetting, fascinating and beautiful, and extremely passionate, especially Johnny’s.

Has living together for fourteen or fifteen years dulled our love for each other?

Certainly, one ghastly incident has placed a large stain on the relationship that one cannot clear away. Our large family and commitments have given us very little time for each other. We are still incredibly close and our relationship has improved, but my ignorance and stubborn ways have marred some of our time together. Now, on reading the letters again I find I was indeed so unaware, Johnny must have been very much in love and endlessly patient to have put up with me all these years. He is so wise, the most understanding and kind man I know, and such a rare human being.

Let me not forget this again, ever.

It is now 7:15 pm and everything went more or less to schedule today. The hardest part of my day was studying as I was constantly fighting the urge to bob up every five minutes from my desk. Now it is time to compose a letter to Madras about the bike parts before Johnny gets home.

88. Relationship Breakup – Journal Entry 30th January 1982

Thursday was a thoroughly enjoyable day. Karen and I left at 7 a.m. for an 8 o’clock meeting I was attending in Rockhampton. Karen waited for me in the car; she read, wrote and slept. My meeting at Warby’s was reasonably crisp and productive, and in fact, covered quite a bit of ground. At about 10 o’clock, Karen and I left for Vinny’s where we examined the goods for sale and tried on some weird outfits. By this time we had spent eight dollars and were yet to buy the rubber thongs Karen wanted, her sole purpose for coming to town. Luckily we found Ersatz school sandals at a bargain price. Without any money left over for a snack or drink, we headed home to have lunch, but just out of Rocky the brakes in the Rover failed completely, it was a slow and cautious trip back. Ah, lunch was so good: fish and chips for Karen and egg and chips for me, followed by jellied mulberries, rice pudding and cream. We snorted in our pits to prepare ourselves for dinner that evening: Karen was shouting us dinner in a fancy French restaurant.

Only four of us were going – Karen, Johnny, Gareth and me. We prepared dinner for the rest of the family, dressed in our best clothes and drove to Rockhampton in high spirits. The dining room of the restaurant was painted a deep red with maroon curtains, tablecloths and table napkins. Everything was hushed and padded with soft background music. Imitation oil lamps, containing clusters of tiny electric bulbs, hung from the ceiling and smartly-dressed waiters hovered expectantly.

Dinner was a great success and a new experience for Gareth who seemed to enjoy it very much. We drank house wine (accompanied by large amounts of cold water to stay sober), sampled the snails, ate numerous brown plaited rolls with gusto and sang rude songs in the car all the way home. Johnny walked around the house with a cheerful expression on his face; he had enjoyed being out with the two young ones and was pleased about the way they were developing.

Saturday was quite eventful. At half-past five in the morning, Johnny and I did our customary walk and physical exercises. After buying the bread for breakfast in town we walked home via the beach. Then Johnny took a few members of the family to Yeppoon after breakfast, dropping off Gareth and the mower at Mrs Reller’s place.

Karen was feeling apprehensive of her meeting with T because she proposes to sever relations with him. He also has something to tell her, so she will try to find out what it is before she gives him her prepared speech, just in case it is no longer relevant, superfluous. Marcello and I were in the kitchen while she awaited T’s arrival. She was mad at Johnny (and me) for offering some advice and then, according to her interpretation of Johnny’s expression, sneering when she turned down the advice. I pointed out that she ought to know Johnny wasn’t in the habit of sneering, in fact, he never sneers. She also complained about Johnny’s remark: that she wanted it both ways.
“What did that mean?” I asked. She didn’t know, too angry to find out what Johnny meant by that.
In the meantime, Marcello tried to find out what we were talking about but Karen refused to tell him; despite this, she did ask how one told someone to piss off.
“Tell him to piss off,” said Marcello. “Just like that… tell him to piss off,  that you have your studies to get through and you aren’t going to follow the example of your brother.”
“You got your balls cut off at Grade 9.” says our Karen to her brother.

We talked about a friend L, who was in a similar position to Marcello. He is at present out of a job. “He should go back to his studies,” I remarked.
“He can’t,” Marcello said. “For the same reasons I can’t.”
“Bullshit,” I said. “You won’t because you are too fond of the good life, and lots of money, unlike the enforced poverty some of us put up with.”
“Mother,” warned Karen, “you said you wouldn’t talk about it.”
In the meantime, Marcello had a breakfast of a couple of steaks with a couple of eggs. I cannot recall if he had any bread with them but he did have a glass of cordial.

T finally arrived and walked up our long gravelly driveway towards Karen. Although I am probably making this up and misinterpreting what I saw, he seemed to have a soft and eager expression on his face.
“Where did she meet him?” Grandma wanted to know, making biscuits in the kitchen.
“At a disco,” I said. “The poor chap is quite taken with her.”
“Where does he work?” she asked.
“At the mines.”

87. Love Stories – Journal Entry 23rd December 1981

Read The Wanderer by Knut Hamsun and Miss Julie by August Strindberg after reading Friends by Henry Miller. Johnny considers Miller’s exploits rather juvenile with all that indiscriminate f@#king. Certainly, because of Miller’s many marriages, it would seem he could not be devoted to only one woman. Why am I raving so much about Miller’s writing? Perhaps because it seems to be so open, naive and accessible. There is a joy of life and no thought of yesterday or tomorrow. Hamsun is an extraordinarily good writer. No wonder Miller was taken by him; he would be the first to admit how much he has been influenced by Hamsun.

My head is filled with the readings of the past week: Graham Greene’s essays and autobiography, Miller’s World of Sex, Friends and Tropic of Capricorn and the books of Strindberg and Hamsun. One has such an itch to write, but to write what?

Spent two hours on a long but condensed version of a love story entitled Zamindar, about the English in India featured in The Woman’s Weekly. This was followed by a short modern love story of a rich man and his mysterious cleaning lady who fall in love. Why do most women like reading love stories? Why do I enjoy reading love stories, even though I know it is not what really happens? Most women look benignly on young women and their lovers and husbands. Perhaps they are thinking of their youth?

D.H. Lawrence comes closest to describing how it is between a man and woman who love one another and enjoy each other’s bodies and Han Suyin would be second. Many of the ancient Chinese stories seem to convey passion and devotion.

Let me look at an idea I had long ago: when younger sister was born, father was with his mistress while his wife was in labour.

25 Dec 1981
Last night, a little before midnight, we went to the Singing Ship. Johnny stayed behind for a phone call but didn’t see Santa Claus putting the presents around the tree.

A lovely time was had by all. First, we drank cold Spumante that Gareth had won at the school fete. Then Johnny’s Christmas cakes were ceremoniously cut: first a Dundee cake and the other a West Indian bride’s cake, dark and moist. Finally, the moment the family had been waiting for, the presents were distributed and opened one at a time while everyone else admired each gift. There was genuine pleasure in the receiving of presents. Barbara was given two books on shells which had many coloured pictures. She was also given a selection of beautiful shells, mainly cowries, and the delicate skeleton of a seahorse. Barbara was absolutely terrified when she opened the package of the seahorse skeleton, believing it was a snake. We had all retired to our beds by 1:30am but she was up by 5am, so mum read the shell books with her.

After a large breakfast of bacon and eggs, the family went to the beach. Barbara found a few shells and we all returned for an excellent lunch of cold ham, lettuce, bread and wine. We now await dinner of roast turkey and three vegetables, followed by a large fruit salad and fruit jellies for dessert.

Started reading A Many-Splendoured Thing by Han Suyin. M and Z rang to wish us a happy Christmas before going out to a family Christmas dinner of forty people. It was good talking to them, they have found people extremely friendly and seem to have made many friends. Mary and Cliffy are coming to Australia on the 15th of February and it was decided that mum would go down to Melbourne when they arrive and then return with them when they come to visit us. Cliffy cooks well and likes doing things for other people but is quite mischievous, swapping things like his clapped-out parts for somebody else’s good parts, his old records or whatever.

26 Dec 1981
Finished A Many-Splendoured Thing. Han Suyin has captured the strong and passionate bond that can form between a male and female. The complete absorption with one another appears to be idealised by the Chinese which is strangely at odds with their polygamous family system. This ideal in Western society is a bit of a nuisance because most people feel cheated when their mating is not perfect or well matched.

Several things were discussed with Johnny this morning. What is said in “true love” is usually the same in ersatz relationships and misunderstandings occur at a phonetic level of conversation rather than at a deeper level. Also, the danger of offering advice is that it is usually misinterpreted or acted on in a totally different way from what the adviser had intended. People rarely check and recheck whether they had understood correctly and cryptic messages are esteemed.

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.

77. Hypertensive Crisis – Journal Entry 19th Sep 1981

So much has happened since I wrote in the diary a week ago. Last Saturday, mum’s blood pressure shot up to two hundred. She felt ill at bowls so we brought her home early. She managed to play through to the end of the match. When she got home she was raving about not wanting to see Les and asking God to forgive her. This was surprising as only earlier that morning she was discussing her plans to move to Les’ house and we hadn’t realised it was cracking her up. Mum hadn’t slept for the past week and she didn’t sleep at the hospital either, despite being heavily sedated.

Mum and Barbara had planned to have lunch at Les’ on Sunday; he had bought three pork chops for their meal and a bottle of orange squash for Barbara. In the meantime, before mum had her turn, I scratched my eye on a leaf and in bed for two days as a result. With all the trips to the hospital for my eye and for mum, we didn’t get around to telling Les; he had a cold saveloy for his Sunday lunch. On Monday, he called to find out what had happened. After telling him, I also explained mum’s attitude toward him.

Les’ reasons for mum backing out of their friendship were that mum was upset at his asking whether they would be sharing expenses and that she had interfered in their lives by going to the priest.

The case against Les was that he ordered her around and fornicated too often; he was not suitable for her and she realised she didn’t love him; her health did not permit her to keep up with his pace. Other reasons were that she wanted to help the family, she was ashamed of his disability and was interested in other men.

The week was taken up with visiting mum in hospital. She was in a highly excited state but one that was not too worrying; she was laughing and boisterous, more than usual. Mum wants male companionship for her remaining years and the two other men who may be interested are a fisherman with a glass eye who says his dog died and that he is lonely and another is Ron who, like Les, has one leg. His wife walked out on Ron because she said he was inordinately jealous of her children from a previous marriage and that she had to support herself and the children throughout her marriage. Even after the children were grown up and married, he continued to be jealous and put a lock on the telephone. She accused him of stealing some of her possessions. Despite this, mum is keen on Ron.

Les called in the day after mum got home. She had already sent him a letter to call things off and delivered the very same message in a loud and excited voice, asking him to bring back her towels and face cloths and pleading with him to forgive and forget before retreating to her bedroom. In the silence that remained, Les turned to me and said this was the opposite of what she had said at his place, and that she told lies.

I asked mum to come back to the kitchen to confront this new statement, but she yelled even more than before and threatened to throw something at him. She denying having said we should not have gone to the priest. She insisted that we were all for their friendship and that we wanted her to be happy. We helped her to her bedroom before she did herself an injury.

Les left saying he learned something new every day and that he was glad he had found out now rather than eight months later when he would be expected to spend his money keeping her.  His parting words were that he had better change the oil in the car and that he had done a lot of gardening in the past few days.

20th Sep 1981

It’s a difficult time and Johnny is not getting much peace at home and doesn’t get much at work either. Mum thinks up little errands which take up time. She doesn’t seem to realise that Johnny has precious little time to himself and that while he is most helpful to all of us, the little tasks we set him should really be scheduled to fit in to his list of tasks.

I am cranky as hell myself and haven’t studied for two weeks from lack of opportunity but also lack of inclination. I tend to get side-tracked by gardening and justifying it to myself as thinking things out.

This morning, members of the family noted my non-study and Johnny repeated his intention to throw out students who did not take thirty percent of the course content. Mum said I went too far in my advice to other people so I went into the garden to think things out. Earlier I dug out the shallots so I could plait some into garlands; the other bulbs I stored in a cardboard box. Finally, I came to the conclusion that there is little point or desire to hang around the house full-time, administering to the family. I don’t do it well and resent the ‘sacrifice’.

How is mum going to live her life without the transport we provide? What about my own transport? If one goes out more, one needs a car to fuel. Is going out more going to help me study more? Do I want to study? What a fickle mind, only a few weeks ago I sorted that one out.

76. The Courtship – Journal Entry 9th Sep 1981

Yesterday Marcello came home with a bag of five corner fruit from a mate of his; he gave some to Glen, telling him that their Tagalog name was ‘bilimbing’. We enjoyed the rest for dessert.

While waiting for the bus which was running late this morning, I spoke to Mrs K about a horse that was somewhat neglected and tied up most of the time. She is going to find out how much they want for the horse and we will see if we can raise the money to buy it for someone who will care for it properly. Mrs K told me she had bought a share in the $200,000 lottery to give to the head of the Fire Brigade; he had burned off the grass behind the convent but refused to take the ticket. “Nevermind,” she said, shaking her head, “he will get the money if we win.”

When I got home, mum was up and about and told me of her decision to stop going to church; she asked if I could tell the nuns so they wouldn’t be worried and to let Pearl know that she wouldn’t be going to the Community Health socials for a while. Making the decision seemed to set her mind at ease. Les came to pick her up for their trip to Rocky for lunch and looked smart in his suit and hat with his empty trouser leg neatly pinned up. Mum came out looking quite dashing and smart too and both looked pleased to be going out together. Even Sam the dog seemed happy, sitting up straight in the back seat with an expectant look on his face. Off they all went in their six-cylinder car.

Monika and I picked mulberries and Nathaniel picked them into his own bowl too, after we showed him how to spot and pick the ripe fruit. Nathaniel is not well today and he is whingeing, his nose thick with snot. They had a great day yesterday in Rocky with Sue and when they came back, Sue and her mother Joan had to sit in the kitchen to give their car engine time to cool off; the oil level was low and smoke was coming out of it. Joan and I looked over the engine and discovered the cooling system had a large leak. I hope they have it fixed by now. Joan complained the car was costing her great sums of money and that she was heartily sick of paying for repairs. One either learns to do basic repairs oneself or gets some good man (preferably one’s own) to do it, rather than paying a packet to the garage.

And now to the rest of the family: Gareth’s news was that a girl chased him around school most of the day and that some boys were trying to frame him, saying he liked the girl; Karen had not had a good day at school. She was chosen to present a birthday cake to the Principal and another girl resented her for it, being nasty to Karen whenever she could. Yesterday she successfully riled Karen who was a bit annoyed with herself for having responded; Barbara seems to be coming out of her withdrawn state, despite the death of a male trainee after an operation.

10th Sep 1981

This morning, Nathaniel and I went for a ride on Barbie’s bus and it was good fun. He sat up the front with a clear view of the road and on the way back from Kinka Beach, he gazed silently at the kids we picked up. Sister Frances gave us two large papayas and when we returned from our bus ride, Johnny was waiting for us at the gate. Mum had been fussing about cashing her pension cheque so as to pay her board and have some shopping money. She was in bed, her mind fuzzy from lack of sleep and worry about wanting to be with Les and also wanting to be with the family.

Les called in that morning and in spite of my mother’s determination to stay in bed, he coaxed her to get up and go home with him. They spend that day and the next playing house, cleaning the kitchen and gardening.

GrandmaNathaniel
Gita’s mum Rosa (our Grandma) and Nathaniel

Johnny is in Gladstone and we picked up mum from Les’ before returning home from our trip to Rockhampton by 8pm. Everybody was in a delightful mood: Karen had a little black dress; Gareth had a new pair of leather sports shoes; Barbie had a pair of sandals; Nathaniel came home with a box of large Lego, excitedly running to the next room to fetch his dad to play. Marcello made a Lego aeroplane which pleased Nathaniel.

11th Sep 1981

Mum was all set to move, saying Les was pressing her to move in with him. At this stage, Barbara seemed to be getting unnerved by my mother’s frequent visits to Les and kept saying that mum didn’t have to help him and that he could do the work himself. Johnny had a quiet talk with mum and advised her to take it easy, not to rush into living with Les because Barbara would take it badly and that over a period of time she may get used to the idea of her mother moving away. Mum agreed and said she’d try it for three months to see if Barbara could be reconciled. There was no question of Barbara living with them; mum quite rightly felt she would not have any privacy.