Chapter 34 BILL GOES TO NEW GUINEA
A few weeks later Bill saw an advertisement for a highly-paid job at Wewak, New Guinea (officially the Territory of New Guinea) for twelve months as a building foreman at an army outpost. It didn't seem to matter to him that he had never been a foreman or that they required "single men" only, he still applied. There was no reply and I persuaded him to enrol at Tech. Then he was offered a place in New Guinea.
"I don't think this is the right time to leave," I said, especially as I had such a suitable job. "If you wait a while until we get the house finished, the place fenced, and the cupboards built we could rent it. There'll be other opportunities for you, especially if you get some qualifications. You've got that business with the windows to settle. You should come to an agreement about that before you consider doing anything else."
"They made the mistake with the windows, I'm not chasing after them."
"Well I think when you accepted the windows, you accepted the price you knew they were charging. You can't argue about it now over a year later."
"They made a mistake. I'm not paying for their mistake."
"Well don't go away and leave it unsettled."
While I was still trying to grasp the full implications, he was gone. My feelings were mixed. I was worried about my marriage, not yet ready to admit it was a failure. It was not easy to adjust to being alone in a somewhat isolated house, fully responsible for the care and safety of three small children. It was lonely when all the children were asleep. But I had sole use of the car. And the heavenly peace and the freedom to do some of the things I had dearly wanted to for so long! The next weekend I rushed off to a nursery and feeling very ignorant, looked at the vast choice of seedlings, learnt that there were advantages to using local plants which were part of the natural environment. There was so much to learn but I had taken the first step, determined to learn to control snails and pests without harmful chemicals. I bought six trees, some native, and planted them and started carting some of the dirt and rubbish. The building wheelbarrow was too heavy for me to manage, so I used a bucket and often got the children to help, using their tricycle. I hired a fencing contractor to fence the back yard which kept out the cows, and the yard cleaner." As I could afford it I got a tiler to lay vinyl tiles in the kitchen and laundry, being averse to the wall-to-wall concrete we had throughout.
On one occasion we were going to town to look at tiles and driving past the Wollongong cemetery. Peter wanted to know what the headstones were for. I realised he had never experienced the loss of a person or animal by death and I explained the cemetery was for people when they died.
"But who takes them their dinner?" he wanted to know. How could I answer?
"They don't need dinner any more," seemed pretty lame. "Like my mother. She was very sick and died a long time ago."
It forced into my thinking that although they were independent for their age they were still immature in their understanding of life. People, especially children in towns and cities were generally protected from facing the fact that death followed all life, was part of life. I tried to find a meaning to tell them but could find none and would not talk about "going to heaven". That was a "cop out".
Bill, on a very good wage was regularly sending "housekeeping" money. After the first upheaval I had begun to get used to being on my own and there was a lot of progress in getting things done. This was satisfying. I thought about our seven years of marriage and couldn't remember one occasion when Bill had ever done anything to help or please me or even consider my wishes. But I had constantly heard how I had failed to please him. I knew we had elevated each other to the position of fulfilling all our dreams and expectations. That was an impossibility.
"A brief quiet moment in a hectic week," I wrote to Bill about four months after he had left. "Jacqueline is asleep and the boys are outside, for how long I don't know, as the weather is very cold again and raining off and on. They have all been inside until now, and I've been trying to clean up. I had heaps of mending and sewing lined up for this weekend, but didn't make much headway on it, also the usual washing, shopping, mowing the grass and gardening.
"I did manage to get the washing dry yesterday, but what I did today had to go downstairs. It is lucky that I managed to get the lawn at the back door planted last weekend, as it had enough sunshine to germinate the seeds and now the rain is bringing it on well. It is about an inch high. I dug out all the rubbish and stones for about four inches, then carted sand and soil, wet it each night and broke up all the lumps, and threw out the stones. The evening I spread the fertiliser it was just beginning to rain, but I wanted to get the lawn started as soon as possible, so I kept on and got the seed scattered just in time. Then we had more warm weather, but now it's cold again. I am trying to get some winter clothes made for the children. Peter needs a school jumper, I have started play pants for the boys from an old skirt of mine.
"Someone came again about the windows. It is now eighteen months since we took delivery of the windows, and they said the matter would go to a collector and maybe to court so I paid the bill. I have also bought new tyres for the car and safety belts."
In my view we had no argument about the windows when they had been accepted and built in. Also I did not wish to be any part of such a dispute and did not want my children to believe that it was OK.
To which I received a reply saying he could not make "head and tails" of it and thought we had been the suckers. He couldn't understand why I had paid the bill. He said they would not come as long as he was there but "rather like to deal with women who can't defend themselves and get sweet-talked into things" he didn't consider correct. He went on that he was sick and tired of living and couldn't write a better letter.
He later wrote that houses for the employees were being built opposite the post office in Wewak and if I came up I could choose the colours for ours as he was friendly with the painter. He suggested that a lot of the men were finding that "the black women look whiter every day".
I was in a dilemma. This was an opportunity to see another country and live in a different culture. In six months the yard looked as if it belonged to someone. If I gave up my job I would never get another so suitable. I could budget and knew where I was financially. My wage for half-days was not very great but I could make decisions without having to justify myself. On the other hand, the longer Bill and I were apart, the more difficult it would be to get together again. The children had reacted to the peaceful atmosphere and had become helpful and co-operative as well as less anxious. I was free to take them to the park and places that interested them. Peter's friend John came to visit and I played cricket with them. I had learnt to live again, to enjoy the simple pleasures of my children. Each day that passed, the children were using more initiative and being more independent without fear of reprimand. I had renewed old acquaintances and found it fun to chat. I listened to television programs and music of my choice. The children had discovered children's programs on the ABC including "Andy Pandy". The ABC also had a program when children having a birthday and their families could see a production. We went up to the studio at Gore Hill and saw our "birthday boy", Peter, nearly six, coming out of a huge birthday card, followed by a show and a party for all of us.
But children need a Dad and I was still clinging to the hope as my mother had twenty years before, that my marriage would improve. My husband and father were very similar in some respects.
I wondered if six months away had taught him to appreciate family life. Would he try to be a father to them, instead of ignoring them? It would take an effort to readjust to living with him again if I decided to go. In his letters Bill described the social life he was enjoying in Wewak, and I thought of all the boring hours I had spent in Freiburg when we first got to Germany. I expected I would be left at home with the children as before. It would be hard, but I was determined not to let him control and override me. I would not be manipulated this time.
I had got a lot done to tidy up and do major tasks such as the fence, but there was still a lot to do.
My mind was on a multitude of matters one day when I was out shopping. I ran out of petrol and had to walk with the children to the service station.
A few days later, when driving to work, the car stopped and I had to call the NRMA. The mechanic said I had water in the petrol.
"That's amazing. How could water get into the petrol?"
"Have you any children? Ask them."
"Who put water into the tank of the car?" I asked when I got home.
"I put petrol in," said David.
"Petrol? Where did you get petrol?"
"Out of the tap," was his innocent reply.
The doctor wanted David to have a duodenal biopsy, to have a sample of his intestine analysed to see if there had been any permanent changes from his coeliac. If so it would mean he would have to remain on the rigid diet, if not he might be able to tolerate a moderate amount of gluten. It was a school day so I was able to stay with him, between attending to the other children. After he was mildly sedated I encouraged him to swallow the long cord with the tiny instrument attached. He was then taken to the Xray department, to make sure it was in the right position, before the doctor pressed the button, like a plunger on the remote control of a camera. This took a tiny piece of the lining of the intestine. It then had to be withdrawn through the mouth.
"He's been very good," said the attendant nurse. "It's an awful business. All finished now."
The pathology report showed that he had been caught before any permanent damage had been done. He could be introduced to small amounts of food containing wheat to see his reaction. But it would have to be gradual or I might have to start all over again. He still had problems with toilet-training. Jacqueline had been trained at the same time and more easily. I wrote to Bill and asked him about obtaining such things as gluten-free products in New Guinea and he replied that other women manage to get everything they need. I still felt very uncertain about the whole idea, but eventually decided that I must at least try.
I packed saucepans and other household items and shipped them to New Guinea, borrowing some from my neighbour as she and her husband were going to Darwin for the winter. To ship the boxes to New Guinea I had to drive to Sydney. At first we sang but as the traffic got thicker, I stopped the car and was adamant we could not proceed until everyone was quiet. Peter did calculations in his head trying to work out how far the earth had to travel around the sun, David began to count and got up to some thousands, and Jacqueline aged two and a half, sang nursery rhymes to herself. I successfully negotiated Sydney traffic and reached the wharf at Circular Quay east where the vessel was berthed.
I put in my resignation from the job which I had liked so much and arranged for the parents of someone I knew to lease the house for a year with an option to renew. They were near retirement age and would go back to Newcastle where they owned a house. Our things would go into the third bedroom on which I got a lock fitted.
We started taking anti-malaria tablets. In August the car was shipped just after my last days working. There was no time to think any more.
My children's welfare was my priority. Perhaps subconsciously my mother had encouraged me to be self-reliant in spite of saying I would be cared for by the good lord. Independence had been an advantage to me, I had never been over-influenced by "peer group pressure", but in other ways I had been naive. I was now facing another major upheaval. Peter would have to make new friends and would miss John.
And a question forced itself into my mind. Had I made the right decision for all of us?