65. Easter Weekend – Journal Entry 20th April 1981

It was a wonderful Easter weekend, eating excellent meals and spending time with the family.

On Good Friday we enjoyed baked mackerel, freshly caught by a local fisherman, with a delightful fruit salad to follow.

Easter Saturday lunch was an absolute gorge of prawns, aioli and fresh white bread. Mmmmm… I skipped everything except the prawns and aioli. Our usual array of pizzas followed for dinner with stewed mulberries and whipped cream for dessert.

The Easter bunny visited on Easter Sunday so there were loads of Easter eggs. Johnny and I ate bread and chocolate eggs, quite an acceptable way of eating Easter eggs for breakfast without feeling too sick. Everyone piled into the Rover for a picnic lunch of pizza at Stoney Creek, a very nice outing with the family.

Easter Sunday dinner was the event of the weekend if one can call it that with so many wonderful meals eaten already. We had rump steak, Johnny’s cordon bleu standard béarnaise sauce and boiled potatoes, corn and zucchini. After dinner we all went for a quick trip to the Singing Ship – the full moon brought many others to the top of the hill too. We played the dictionary game several times that night, then Gareth, Karen, and her friend Shannon listened to Goon records until late into the evening. 

After eating a large granny smith at 2 am in the morning, I went to bed and was plunged into a long nightmare of monsters surrounding me while I desperately tried various ways of escaping. I can only remember one segment: I was in a room full of people and creatures, circled by tall black lizard-like men with long snarling whips in their hands. I had to wake up to escape, my heart still beating fast.

Had an idea for a story. Through a door into a room leading to a bakery, male voices can be heard and a woman is standing, breaking open eggs. One after the other, they turn out bad with large black spots on the yolks and watery whites. A man comes out of the bakery, stands and looks at the woman. She shows him the bad eggs and says they are bad, breaking a few more. There is no movement from the man who continues to watch her intently; she moves to leave looking appealingly at him. He softens and makes a small movement toward her, she rushes into his arms pressing herself against him. She puts her arms tightly around his neck, her body pressed against him. They stand for a while, then he releases himself to pull curtains closed but does not shut the adjoining door to the bakery, male voices can still be heard in the next room. They lie down on the floor, eyes locked together, the woman gazes down at his face brushing the hair from his forehead.

Did a lot of digging in the garden and planted a few seedlings of brinjal, the genuine eggplant that looks just like eggs, made a list of seeds to be planted and also what goes where. Made a batch of bread and must now iron Johnny’s clothes.

Very much in love.

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.

48. A Difficult Childhood, R’s Memories – Journal Entry 27th Jun 1980

Third day of holidays – we woke up at about 8 o’clock after an excellent night until 2 am. Felt very good after a hot shower, really good. Ate breakfast and went to the CIAE to deliver some exam papers Johnny had marked, and to hand in my assignment.

Met with R who told me some more episodes from his childhood in India. I’m not sure if his vivid recollection has been improved on over the years but I doubt it.

R was separated from his mother at age four and clearly recalls the day. His mother was crying, his father appeared and insisted she come back to him, but she refused. R even remembers the shirt he was wearing when he went away with his father to live with his paternal grandmother.

For some reason he was taken to live with another grandmother, a grandaunt actually. Even while he was there, R hardly saw his father who had to work as a water carrier on the railway station. At about the age of six, he went to live in another strange household. His mother was away at a teacher’s training college and life was very strict, with many rules to live by. When the other children came home from holidays, he noticed the same rules were not enforced on them. R had to bring his own plate to the table and wash it after use. He woke in the morning, went to the lavatory, did yoga, had a bath and then after a cup of milk, had to sit down to his books. He says he didn’t get much time for play.

One day he was sitting at a huge table working and he saw his grandmother arrive. R remained sitting at the table but burst into great sobs; he cried and cried when he saw her. He insisted and pleaded to go away with her.

R went to live with his grandmother. After some time had passed the grandmother said she could not control him, that he was always in trouble and up to mischief. So it was suggested that he go back to the grandaunt’s house. R told all his friends that he would never go back to his grandmother’s place again.

R maintains that he tried very hard to go back to his grandmother’s little village but he did not succeed. He is extremely cautious now about making such definite statements lest they come true, especially when he talks to his wife and children.

He was tutored at his grandaunt’s house, by his mother, who was now a trained primary school teacher. The adults were afraid he would run away if he attended the local primary school. He couldn’t understand their attitude, especially when he had agreed to stay with them.

His mother was an orphan who had to live with relatives. The householders persuaded her to marry an uncle on her mother’s side, even though he was illiterate. Strangely, one uncle’s name was on the wedding invitations but she was married to an elder uncle on the actual day of her wedding.

Don’t leave your children in other people’s houses, R warns me, people can be so inhuman.

So many restrictions were placed on him in that household that now, at thirty-six, he is being firm about not being the one to adjust his ways.

R and his wife are such different people. She has the attitude that if someone else is there to get things done, why not let him. His family seems very dependent on him and he gets very little relief. Minor things niggle: he has his bath early in the morning and his wife likes to bathe at midday or late at night; he would like to stay home and play board games but she doesn’t want to play board games and would rather visit her friends; he wants her to get a bank card to handle more purchases and household matters, but she doesn’t want a bank card – he thinks she doesn’t know how to manage one, and the niggles go on and on.

His wife says that he is the one that loves going out and that he goes out a lot while she likes to stay at home. She says he doesn’t read much. She nags the children and wants them to do well at school, complaining that he is not firm enough with them.

R says he’s had to learn to manage a household and family without having had brothers or sisters, or his mother or father for any length of time.

He feels uneasy because he now has his uncle’s name. When R was in high school his uncle went there and changed it from his father’s name. At that time R’s mother’s age was changed too so there is now only about eight years difference between R’s age and his mother’s age.

Even now he feels a sense of regret. When R was a kid, his father came to live in the same village with him and his mother. The father would follow him about, calling out affectionately, trying to speak to him, but R always ran away.

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. Refer to 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.

45. Hospital Flashback – Journal Entry 7th Jan 1980

It has been raining for the past forty-eight hours; well almost. The Australorp chooks are drenched. The wind is strong. As usual, the front verandah is a bit wet, with fine rain blowing onto the books and papers. The louvres can’t be tightly shut. Also, water is seeping down the walls of the verandah. A good day for tidying the house and cutting bottles for tumblers.

The family went to the Kavlon Theatre last night to see two Terence Hill/Bud Spencer movies. Too much slapstick, with baddies and goodies smashing stores and hitting each other with bottles. Boring to us but the others seemed to have enjoyed them. The cinema was packed.

Today I should like to get the following done:

  1. Pay the bills
  2. Type the letter to Marcie
  3. Do some algebra
  4. Finish networks to get onto SEARCH
  5. Cook some curries

List of items for Canberra:

  • Jeans 2 or 3
  • Tops 2 or 3
  • Skirt, black embroidered + blue
  • 2 saris and blouses
  • 1 cardigan
  • Swimsuit?
  • Lungi
  • Toothbrush, hairbrush
  • Toe-rings
  • Notepad, pencils
  • Algebra?
  • Handbag

What to look for in Canberra:

  • Outline of Social Anthropology Studies
  • Bibliography on Aboriginal studies; esp urban
  • Spices
  • Granite pestle and mortar for Gran
  • Turkish delight
  • Present for Monika

Muchlater

17th Jul 1979

A lovely new biro and a new pad. Ward 13, Room E, just after a meal of Shephard’s pie made of mince and large chunks of meat. Wish I’d bought a bottle of chilli sauce. The noise of the crockery being washed is deafening, such loud crashes and the domestic aid handles them with a stern face and tight lips. I sat next to a short square woman in a blue chenille dressing gown. Her mouth is misshapen. Most likely it is a mild paralysis or stroke. Her specs are as thick as old-fashioned soda water bottles. Perhaps my tastes have changed since last here and now I’m more choosy or more observant. The tea tastes grey and weak, the bread tastes grey and dry, and even the potato and lentil soup tastes grey. This is food produced in vast quantities with no care or love. The pie was fairly tasty though. One patient was on a special diet and was given her pudding first instead of the main course. She plastered it with Worcestershire sauce before she realised it was custard and not scrambled egg.

Back in the ward. I’ve got a bed near a window and Rocky is slowly putting on its lights.

Funny type of conversation going on. There are three people, each determined to tell the others the story of her life. One woman had a particularly hard life with seven kids from five pregnancies: one has had a kidney out, two attend opportunity school, one has a hearing aid and two were in an accident recently.

I’m going to do some sums, this is very boring.

At the dinner table, most of the women claimed to like Kamahl.

19th Jul 1979

Yesterday was an exceptionally long day. We were asked to wash in Phisohex at noon and get dressed in ‘theatre clothes’. These were a grey cotton top, open at the back, and the most awkward crumpled grey cotton tie-on underpants. At two, the woman of the seven pregnancies was taken away for a full hysterectomy. At 3:15 pm it was my turn, fortunately for a very minor operation.

A jolly young bearded man wheeled the trolley into the ward and said, “Who’s next?”
I echoed, “Who’s next?”
He pointed dramatically at me, paused and said loudly, “YOU.”
So I said, “Surely not.”
“You’re Gita aren’t you..?”
He smiled. “Then it’s you.”
He went into his litany in a sing-song voice, “Any nail polish? Wooden leg, false eyelashes, teeth, glass eye, jewellery?”
“Oh well, we have the genuine article,” he concluded and asked me to hop on the stretcher.

I climbed on and was taken to a nurse and to get my medical file. Some slight delay as the nurse has lost a patient. Besides, I haven’t been given an injection to keep me quiet and I’m glad of it. We proceeded to move out of the nurse’s room and towards the lift where the wardsman trotted out his next stock joke: “This lift is not working, so I’m going to have to take you down the stairs.”

We went through the door leading to the operating theatre. There is a very long narrow white corridor in front of me as we glide through. Men stood in front of some of the doors, white-gowned and capped. The women were in purple. The light was strange, almost disco-like without the flashes. Everything had a T.V. science fiction look about it – a Dr Who feeling – except these people could have been baddies. The timid could have very well wrecked their nervous system. What price must one pay to cure one’s ills, especially minor ones? A large white-clad attendant dwarfed the wardsman and me.

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. Refer to 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.
  • The hospital visit was written in the journal after the 7th Jan 1980 entry and has been included here as a flashback.

41. Johnny’s Birthday Feast – Journal Entry 6th Nov 1979

It was Johnny’s birthday yesterday. The day before that, I wondered a bit about D and what he was thinking and feeling. Tried to work up anger over the whole thing and I ended up getting irritated with the family, the people I love.

Yesterday had bright spots, but Johnny found me unpredictable and moody. On the drive home from Yeppoon yesterday, the moke hood was down and Johnny had his shirt off. On houseless stretches of road, I had my shirt off too. The sun and wind delightful on my body. D rang yesterday when I was out. Said he would ring back but didn’t.

We bought so many good things for the birthday feast. Prunes, dried pears, apricots, peaches, figs, brazil nuts, peanuts and cashew nuts. The pistachios were for Johnny and I. The meal was superb with Johnny seeing to some of the cooking: we had lamb kebabs, mushrooms, sprouted beans and rice. The sweet course was half a rockmelon stuffed with strawberries, cream and ice-cream. Later, after the washing up, we brought out the nuts, fruit, rum, Cinzano and coffee.

There was an awkward situation earlier where two diggers were expected to pitch up during the evening. How to stop them coming during the festivities when they would be most unwelcome? Especially as the house had been invaded by diggers for over a month. Most of them were boring, with talk of themselves and whinges about the Australian Army. Johnny especially was fed up and he was not free in his own home. Anyway, to get back to the awkward situation, we talked it over while cleaning the sprouted beans and it was decided that Marcello would write a letter to Kevin, asking him not to call until Thursday, thereby solving two problems (hope it works). Kevin is intelligent but very self-absorbed and insensitive to other people in the room. He talks all the time, about himself and all the things he has done. Impossible to turn the talk. Laurie was to be met at the door, should he come during the meal, and parked in the pub until we retrieved him. However, Marcello and Monika met him at the camp when they went to deliver the letter. Poor Laurie had been scrubbing kitchens all day. He agreed to come at 8:30 pm and turned up at 8 pm. It was a good time to come because we had finished early. He came in filthy with kitchen grease, fed up with work and mentioned he was on duty again at midnight, guarding the equipment loaded on the trucks lined up for departure the next day. It was his last evening with Karen.

Infatuation: a foolish or extravagant love or admiration. D called. I couldn’t muster any anger against him. His gravelly Australian voice was so good to hear. What am I going to do? He feels helpless too, agrees that things are impossible. Can we forget or at least refrain from contact and get on with what we have to? D is all wrong for me and what I value. I could be all wrong for D, in fact, I think I am. His world is unreal, so far removed from the basic, hard, down to earth world I inhabit. His world would destroy us. It seems to have had an unsettling effect on D, always rushing around, restless, not given to reading much, no proper roots, getting his living from the labour of others. What the hell do I see in him? What? What? What?

Johnny says it is an escape from the slightly hard times we’re in, power or whatever D represents. Would I care if D were poor? Is it the life he can offer that attracts – the smell of money that gives D charm and attraction?

7th Nov 1979

  • Concentrate on P-maths
  • Stew, early dinner
  • Out this evening at 7 pm
  • Get clothes ready

8th Nov 1979

D not as fantastic as I had imagined. He was 30 minutes late to phone because he was busy bargaining for a higher rate of interest on his money. Another thing, he was anxious to get on with his appointments and so wanted to give me the taxi fare home. Shit. Next time, if you must pursue or explore people, Gita, find out their views on Aborigines, politics, religion and money! Anyway, D made it very easy to break clean. We agreed that even if I were free, he would not want to change his way of life, and I would not want to change mine. We were pursuing different aims. So why not call it a day and part good friends? There seems no need for false promises. Very little to add, I suppose, except to realise I mustn’t ‘finger sores’, it tends to be very distracting and extremely discourteous to Johnny. It hurts to think I’ve been a fool yet again – surely the ‘cafe’ business was another. Balance for God’s sake.

9th Nov 1979

Last night was good, with the house full of people and the younger ones doing the after-dinner entertainment. Had a long talk with Johnny. He said what I had done to him was worse than anything he could imagine. However, the thing to concentrate on is Johnny and Gita and their great debt to life. Our life had been built upon trust which I have damaged and must now repair. A big repair job I’m told.

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.
  • Australian Army soldiers, commonly known as ‘diggers’, were stationed at a training camp near Emu Park.

39. Relationship Breakdown – Journal Entry 10th Oct 1979

Johnny is a civilised bastard. He makes me feel secure. I see hair and I want to singe it, a habit I acquired from singeing the scraggy ends of my hair.

13th Oct 1979

Johnny sees no hope in his job and in his home. He has hardly seen me for the past few weeks. Says he is even lower on my list of priorities than P-maths and that I appear to be systematically destroying our relationship. He has to hang around most of the time waiting for me, occasionally we have a good evening together. Johnny’s in a bad way; says I have reduced him to a blubbering mess.

My God, this is terrible – a wonderful guy, thoroughly trapped through his love and kindness. What have we given him in return? He is destroying himself in his work because he has all of us to support and cannot just walk out to part-time teaching. He would use his spare time so well.

He calls my suggestions to free him, crazy. I suppose they are. He is to go wherever he wishes. We get support from the Government or work. It is crazy because while mum and Barb could get money, they will be seriously disadvantaged if they don’t have family support. Sure, we can make it on our own but how much warmer and richer our lives are through living together and cooperating. So where’s the problem?

Well, the big problem is me.

A look around the home and a quick scan into my past, gives me a very gloomy opinion of myself. There is a serious air of neglect in the house. I’m always caught up in things, no time to keep the house reasonably tidy and always getting side-tracked. Worse still, the children are infected by my bad habits, slack thinking and behaviour. Are there any good points?

Most of what I am interested in, Johnny possesses, and more besides for his knowledge is years ahead of most people. He is so good-looking, experienced in so many good things and yet, yet I cannot seem to respond steadily.

A couple of nights a week, and then nothing.

What hope is there?

If I love Johnny and help him, then he is not a mess. We have debts and a tight budget for a few more years. He is in a mess if I don’t love him. Then he has nothing and the burden he carries will be unbearable.

14th Oct 1979

The Fiesta captain to trawler in front, over the address system: “Okay guys, give us about ten feet of slack please.” Laughter from the guys in the trawler and dinghies.

It’s good to be sitting in the harbour. The sun is low and warm, the wind not very strong, so it’s pleasant walking about. The second boat has come in full of day-trippers to Keppel Island. I want to watch the people getting off.

18th Oct 1979

A few very dramatic days.

On Saturday, Johnny asked me if I had been unfaithful to him. I ducked the issue. The question was a result of my insistently questioning him on what his attitude to me would be if I were unfaithful. His question was precise, “Are you intending to be unfaithful or have you been unfaithful?”

What was talked over the weekend and early week seems blurred, so soon too. I think most of my talk was manoeuvring Johnny into agreeing to my going away for a weekend or a week. First I said a few months, then reduced it to a week or weekend.

To questions on what I intended to do while away I replied, “Think and just wander around.”

Now there seems no chance of going away. I mustn’t. Sunday night was terrible. I was jittery and my thoughts were far away. I will have to brutally sort them out. Will do so right away and then come back to writing about what took place between Johnny and I.

After fifteen years of being free and devoted to Johnny, I go into a relationship with another man.

“What is he like?”
“What do you mean?”
“As a person.”
“Oh, as a person.” I had to think carefully.

He is good with people, very easy to be with. At the first meeting there was instant recognition of male and female. There was some chat together. He was setting out on a boat with a crew of three or four. The men were packing food and dinghies into the car. He didn’t have to do anything; at the Hotel there are always people doing jobs for him, even taking his crushed shirt off him and ironing it.

The next meeting was when D returned – the weather wasn’t good, so they returned a few days later. We had a talk about four-wheel-drive camping spots on the coast. We always only snatched an exchange when he passed by on his way from some place to another. He also watched me from a distance. A very restless man. Even though he owned the place, to me he seemed not welcomed because of his position, almost alien. Old man T told me of D’s love life and the women involved. D is alleged to have said he likes women

Wild promises made to me by D. “I’ll give everything up for you. Come to Europe for three months. I’ll buy a house here so I get more privacy and not mess up accommodation arrangements at the hotel.”

When he realised the extent of my family commitments he knew all he could hope for was a little of my time. He wants to show me many things, take me to so many places. Alas, there is no future for us, nor a present. He wants an heir and time is running out for him, so he must get another woman.

How do I feel about that?
No right to feel anything. I’d be happy for him and the child. He is good with children. What have I gauged about D?
First his general appearance: he is a little taller than me, 50 years old, holds himself well because of army training and is overweight (but otherwise brown and fit). Has admitted he is restless, always on the move. D has blue eyes and short wiry brown hair. He has a lovely smile and a quiet sense of humour. D is relatively unspoilt in spite of his wealth, but all the same, makes remarks like, “What are the damages?” He pays with money, as if that would cover everything. He believes everyone has a price. I’ll admit he might have been in a tense mood when he said these things.

“I can’t get you out of my mind,” he said when I saw him next. “I had to wait two weeks to get your phone number. I’ve been thinking about you. You little devil, I wish I had never met you, I mean that, this is terrible. I want you with me all the time. I’d take you with me everywhere.” An achievement I think, because D likes moving around alone – more freedom for sexual opportunity?

I laughed and said, “I wished most heartily we had never met.”

“I’m alive when I’m with you,” he said while breathing deeply and leaning back in his seat. “I don’t want to meet your husband, it would spoil things.”

A cruel laugh from me and, “Good, it would solve our problem.”

He gave me a wry look. If I hadn’t seen him in dark blue shorts and shirt relaxed and cleaning the boat I don’t know if I’d have gone with him a second time because he looks very like a Gold Coast businessman – no, I don’t think that’s right.

Anyway, I’ve written him a letter that he will get sooner or later. It is written to end a love affair – let us forget each other – take someone else and be happy. Soulful stuff. I’m not free, so don’t hold yourself up, get on with producing a child as I cannot give you one.

A brutal remark to Johnny when I told him I thought I was in love with someone else: “I don’t want to be here. Do you realise that? That’s how I feel about things.

“It’s more serious than I thought,” Johnny muttered.

I want to go to D but I have a feeling I’d soon find him dull and deadening. I don’t know, it is very presumptuous of me to make this completely unfounded judgement. He is an exciting man and good to be with, but I know nothing about him and there isn’t the complete trust in him that I had, and still have in Johnny. A bit unfair really because I haven’t known D very long and he’s usually surrounded by people. He has to watch what he says for fear of compromising me.

He is free and has no need to hide his women.

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.

27. The Brahmin – Journal Entry 18th July 1978

He was so kind to me, the brahmin with a hare-lip. One could hardly make out what he said, yet he talked without apparent embarrassment. He taught me just one thing: I don’t think he needed to worry about my other faults, the one he pointed out was the worst and most important. My family background was pretty rough and occasionally for entertainment, we made fun of people with physical defects or queer mannerisms.

For some reason, I suppose because Mr Subramaniam carried his hare-lip so naturally and with such dignity, I hardly noticed it. He was so helpful to me, an awkward 15 year old, gaining experience as an unpaid typist. He found the office a busy and unfriendly place.

However, someone else amused me, another person who tried to help me, but who, to me, seemed suspect. He was a droll character, with his techno-coloured silk shirts, large moustache and rolling eyes. His eyes and hands seemed to move together in all directions, but definitely in harmony.

Mr Subramaniam must have seen the mocking amusement on my face, but he didn’t say anything until one day I commented on how funny Mr X looked. He didn’t laugh, just looked at me and asked quietly what right I had to make fun of Mr X; he then softened the rebuke by saying that many people made rude fun of others and that it would be a pity if I behaved like them. He then amused me by jotting down shorthand phrases and getting me to read them; they were practice phrases from the Pitman’s Shorthand Instructor.

Indian Dress

In any society there are three important and highly conventional forms. These three forms are very basic.

  1. The getting and eating of food
  2. The getting and exercise of sex
  3. The way people dress

Studying these three basic forms will give us some idea of a society’s structure and philosophy.

When looking at the dress of another culture, we must remember we are looking at the end result of a long process. For example, European dress allegedly began with some fig leaves then animal-skin loin cloths which rapidly progressed to bustle skirts for women and smoking jackets for men to some present day cheeky swimming gear for the beach.

Long Indian skirts for women and loose Indian lalchi or jibbah for the men are from ancient Indian sculpture and it would appear that the dress of the early Indians of both sexes was simply jewellery around the neck, waist, wrists and ankles. The next stage seems to have been sarong-like garments of fine material, presumably cotton.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • Click here to go to Home
  • Click here to go to this post online
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • This appears to be a story followed by an article, however, my mother had worked in an office in India in the late 60s and knew Pitman’s shorthand.

21. Philippines Snapshot – Journal Entry 2nd May 1971

Muchlater[Our family stayed in Sydney for another year and then spent two years in the Philippines. Unfortunately, there are no journals for this period so I have included the few letters my mother sent from the Philippines. Martial law was introduced to the Philippines by President Marcos in September 1972. This prompted us to return to Emu Park in 1973.]

2nd May 1971

Yes, we’d be delighted to have Mark. Leave him with us for as long as you like. A holiday in the Philippines and the countryside would do him a world of good. Manila is a pleasant city and the countryside in Luzon is magnificent. We haven’t had the chance to visit any of the other islands. The best thing is the people, diverse, very able and friendly in a person to person fashion.

We’ll send him back to you speaking Tagalog.

7th May 1971

So we are here in the Pilipinas. Magandang umaga po = Good morning Sir or Madam.

What have I to report? Nothing very much really. So terribly ordinary – like ordering furniture, looking for kapok and buying fish and coffee beans. We went out to a Welcome to the Philippines Dinner last night and it was all wrong, discreet and rich. I felt sad although the view was good. An 11th floor Sydney view without water and two nice bits of meat spoilt with too much food beforehand. I drank lemon and soda, longing for a cigarette.

We have a fish pond in the tiny garden and we have stocked it with fish. Lost all the guppies because they swam away forever through the outlet pipe. Bought more – very expensive. Anyway, a stupid price for a guppy. Especially guppies given to disappearing down the drain.

Was it hot when we arrived! Man was it hot. Port Moresby was an adventure. A slow roast at 325F. This machine [IBM electric typewriter] sticks at a certain place and all the keys are different for each golf ball and I have a chart which I don’t look at and so get things wrong. My reflexes are all wrong too, I press to get a semi-colon on golf ball courier 72 and I get an N with a curl on top of it. I ask you, how does one disguise an N with a curl on top of it to look like a semi-colon? Life is very difficult.

We have one maid and seem to have difficulty getting another. That’s because Johnny would like a mature woman who is able to cook Pilipino foods. These golf balls are the end and I feel so hungry, it is 1.30pm and I’m waiting for Johnny to return.

We have a betel leaf creeper in the garden and alas and alack, poetic justice and whatnot, I burnt my mouth trying out a betel-nut-lime chew. The lime being wot you whitewash catacombs with.

Can I think of nothing else but food? Yennyway, the place we are in is good. It’s going to rain presently and so things will cool off. Got to type a long paper for Johnny now – wish me luck. I will be at it all weekend if this letter is any guide. So bye for now. Maybe I shall have something worthwhile to say tomorrow.

15th May 1971

So wot to report. I’m sitting in the kanteen of the Philippine Women’s University drinking black instankoffee, facing a notice which says:

PLEASE REPORT
DISCOURTEOUS PERSONNEL
TO THE MANAGEMENT (Establishment?)
IMMEDIATELY

This reminds me of a super one I’d been saving for you. On a noticeboard somewhere I read:

UNAUTHORISED PERSONS
DON’T READ THIS

Alas, nothing below the arrow.

Which brings to mind (though I fail to see the connection) of hundreds of wooden carvings for sale of a fist with the middle finger (extra long) sticking straight up. Wot significance? Dare I ask? Whom?

People here are great. Mostly smiling and bursting into song now and then.

There’s this market filled with 2” by 2” shops (I exaggerate very little) selling ready-made dresses. Thousands and thousands of 2’ by 2’ shops and everyone (der women) wears dresses, she said sadly burning herself with the instakoffee.

Why yam I drinking koffee at the kanteen of the Phil. Women’s Univ.? Because I am waiting for a 9am to strike so that I can present myself for the dance course I am attending.

We’re being taught by der famous Bayanihan dancers. Them dat goes round the world many times. They are good. We’re a mixed class – mainly school teachers and young kids. Every Saturday the Bayanihan dancers put on a show and this Saturday, tomorrow, we will go to see them.

It is now Saturday and I’ve returned from the dance performances and am copying out what I wrote in my notebook to you. We have learnt three dances so far. Jota Canitena, Pandanggo and the well-known Tinikling. There are no fs and vs in Tagalog by the way and c comes out as k; pity me, am I not mixed up already?

There seems to be a natural grace about everybody and the students don’t look awkward learning the dances. I feel like a bluddy giraffe.

The first dance I can only just do, the second needs practice because we’re supposed to balance a glass, with burning candle inside, on our head and a glass (mit said candle) on the back of each hand and dance and smile and look graceful.

17th June 1971

Thank you very much for your letter. It came as a great relief to me because I was worried. I had visions of the three of you in a Nepalese jail gnawing on dry powroti.

You could keep up your reading at least can’t you? When Anna is asleep? I should be the last one to ask that question – I would like to do so many things but what happens? I get side-tracked and end up doing very little. Are we not frail?

It is good to be in Manila but it will be better when we get out of to the Provinces – when we can speak Pilipino. We are here initially for another year, but would like to stay on for another year.

Let me know when you know your short-term and long-term plans. Maybe.

Oh hell, are we not all insecure? That is, most of us don’t have very much money, don’t know where we’re going etc. etc. and all that. This is not much help is it? But above all, don’t worry, it is killing, I know.

The kids are fine, the moves upset them a little initially and then they make friends and enjoy themselves till the next move. Gareth is three now and talks and talks.

I’m using an IBM electric typewriter and when I change the golf ball type I don’t know where everything is and get the queerest things when I want a question mark or say a simple comma.

I had better stop and post this to you soon. Give Anna a big kiss for me, maybe I’ll see you someday. Give my regards to Minoru.

Use the Australian address, it is much quicker.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

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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

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  • This closes the chapter on the early years in Emu Park. Our family then moved to Neutral Bay in Sydney, Australia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20th October 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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12. My Duck Maisy – Journal Entry 19th Jul 1969

[My mother’s childhood memory of keeping ducks.]

My mummy said I wasn’t old enough to own a dog so she bought me some ducks from a farm nearby.

She said that at least the ducks can be eaten.

I went with my dad and mum to pick them up. We bought six ducks. I had to feed the ducks every day and give them clean water. They were always dirtying the bowls of water I’d put out for them. They had baths in their drinking water. We didn’t have a pond for the ducks to swim in nor did we have an old bathtub which we could use as a tiny pond.

So one day my mummy asked my friend’s dad if we could search the village dump for an old tub for my ducks. My friend’s dad is in charge of the dump. He said yes. So we went there and found an old petrol tank which my friend’s dad cut open. Then he hammered the sharp edges and made it into a super swimming pool for my ducks.

At first they didn’t go near the tub when I had filled it with lots and lots of water. They were afraid. The next day they took water in their beaks and threw it over themselves like they did with the bowls of drinking water.

After a few days, one clever black and white duck jumped into the tub. She liked it so much that after she’d had a bath, jumped out and dried herself she jumped back into the tub to have another bath.

Before we found this tub I had to hold a water hose over them so that they could have a shower. Some ducks didn’t like it and tried to run away but I could easily spray them with my hosepipe so the poor things just had to sit quietly and get washed.

Afterwards they loved flapping their wings and fluffing out their feathers to dry themselves. They looked very happy drying themselves in the sun.

One day when I returned from school I found two ducks missing and I saw a few feathers near the back verandah.

I knew my mum had taken them for our dinner.

So I went to her and told her not to kill my favourite little white duck Maisy. Well, at least not till all the other ducks had gone first. And as my mummy said, “The ducks were bought for the table, after all.” She also said she’d buy more ducks and a drake, and that the white moscovy ducks with the black spots on their heads would be kept for me.

Moscovy ducks can fly. They were always flying over their fence and into the garden. They ate the cabbage and for that their wings were clipped. Now they climb up the wire netting fence and jump down into the garden. But they know they mustn’t go near the vegetables and I quickly chase them back to their pen whenever I see them out.

In the afternoons, when I remember, I take them for a walk up the hill at the back of our house. They love eating weeds and catching insects. I have to be very careful though because they head straight for the cabbage patch when they think I’m not looking.

My ducks started laying eggs. The magpies sometimes stole the eggs.

Maisy, my little white duck made a nest right under the duck house. She was so far in that my mummy pulled up a board in the duck house so I could look at Maisy sitting on her eggs.

The other ducks are very rude to her, I don’t know why. They hiss at her with their necks on the ground, their heads up and beak open. They look very nasty and mean. The drake is good to Maisy and talks to her when she comes out to feed.

The other ducks started laying their eggs in Maisy’s nest. She is getting more eggs to sit on now.

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