Chapter 36 LEAVING NEW GUINEA
As we were leaving in January 1967, the future seemed full of uncertainty. But after six months I was convinced that I must leave. At the time few women left their husbands even if they were physically ill-treated. It was not generally believed that women also needed to be heard and considered. In some households, women were "allowed" to work but the man always had the control of the income and any property was in his name. Would I be able to cope with going back to work full time, with three young children aged three to six? How would it affect them? For a while at least I was going to stay at home until we had all settled down, until I could decide where I wanted to live and what I could do about housing. One day I hoped to meet someone who genuinely liked me but I was not waiting around, hoping for that to happen. Could I get a bank loan? I had excellent tenants in the house at Wollongong, their rent went into MY bank account to cover the house loan and at least until their lease expired, I would stay at Uncle Viv's place at Pennant Hills, maybe get casual work as my savings would not last long.
When we arrived in Sydney I found that Uncle Viv's widowed sister, my Auntie Vi was expecting her son Bob and daughter-in-law Heather and three teen-age children who would use the main bedrooms. Uncle Viv's son Ken was also there. It was his home. There were eleven of us.
Ken, a middle child, had become seriously involved in Scientology. He had been convinced that he was not reaching his potential and that he needed their course to remove mental blockages which suppressed his achievements. This resulted in short-term feelings of euphoria. As time went on he paid more and more money for further "treatment". He had always been good humoured but quiet, but had a stutter and was socially uncomfortable.
The house was solid brick built by Auntie Clytie while Uncle Viv was away during WWI, with big rooms and small windows. I took over a long narrow closed-in veranda, which had room for four beds and which was difficult to keep in order. Jacqueline, aged three, disgusted when I wouldn't let her help me sweep the cluttered room said "When I'm the big Mummy and you're the little sweetheart, I won't let you sweep." She had learnt to be assertive, which seemed to be natural to her and was endearing.
I soon hired a small caravan which had a small fridge and cooker and was slightly more convenient. When my luggage was due to arrive from New Guinea, I went down to Wollongong, and found that the box Bill had made would need a crane to unload from the truck. Lacking this, it had to be levered off and as it fell it split open. I unpacked what I could, finding that my dinner set and so on were just about unrecognisable and could only be thrown in the bin. I collected some clothes and toys that had survived the trauma. Bill had included heavy tools belonging to the firm he was working for.
Having stayed at Pennant Hills when I was at college, I knew some people including Cecily's family, but I avoided seeing any of them. Auntie Vi was dismayed that Bill and I had parted, her daughter Hazel with whom I had been so friendly when I was at Wellington, wrote that I would no longer be welcome in her house. I knew that she was a religious zealot so this was not surprising but very hurtful.
As soon as possible I went to talk to a Public Solicitor for advice. There was a long wait and the children were getting restless by the time I was heard. His news was not great. A divorce would probably take six years on the grounds of separation. I needed a divorce for peace of mind.
When school started I enrolled the boys, Peter into second class and David into Kindergarten, but I failed to inform the headmistress of my domestic situation. Not yet. I could not bring myself to admit to outsiders the shame of a failed marriage. It was hard to admit it even to myself.
People who were happily married themselves were mostly sympathetic, the most critical were those who were holding on to difficult marriages. My cousin Bob and Heather his wife had a very strong relationship and Heather was a great listener to all my problems, and I think I went over every detail of my marriage and the break-up, during the next few weeks. Talking about it helped me to see more clearly and to accept the situation I was in and the knowledge that it was permanent.
Just before Easter when I was in the city with Jacqueline one day, an overwhelming feeling of weariness possessed me, and without finishing my shopping I went home. The next few days were occupied with nausea and headaches until I went to the doctor.
"Being Saturday I can't arrange any tests for you, so you'll have to assume you have malaria. Have you any of the anti-malaria tablets?"
I had, and as instructed we were still taking them for a period after our return.
"Then double the normal dose and see how you go."
The tablets refused to stay down.
On Thursday as I was trying to prepare dinner for the children, feeling nauseated by the smell and thought of food, just waiting for the moment when I could lie down again, Peter came running in.
"David is lying on the footpath and won't get up."
He was and he couldn't.
Two boys on bikes stood nearby, looking at the snowy-haired boy of almost five who was whimpering softly. It was obvious his leg was broken. Supporting the hurt leg, I carried him across the road to the doctor, telling Peter "Take Jacqueline. Go to Auntie Heather and ask her to turn the dinner off." I knew she would attend to their needs.
Cecily's mother, Mrs Platt, happened to be at the doctor's and offered to drive me to the hospital after the doctor had made a small splint. We were at the hospital for five hours waiting for the radiologist to return to take Xrays, for the anaesthetist and so on, and at ten o'clock we were told he would be admitted.
"Come back tomorrow."
Mrs Platt stayed with me throughout the evening and brought me back the next day.
Back home I had to find a way to bath a child with his leg in plaster. He was soon hopping around on his crutches.
A day or two later I felt hardly human so Heather took David back to school for me but the headmistress would not be responsible for a little boy on crutches, with a number of steps to negotiate, so he had to stay home.
My nausea was getting worse and now there was a plaster leg to cope with as well. I felt wrecked. On Easter Sunday Auntie Vi decided to call the doctor to see me. My urine was by now quite dark and I was beginning to turn a strange pineapple colour. Hepatitis. A friend in New Guinea had it at the same time, so it seemed logical that we were both infected from the same source. Because of the inflammation of the liver, the bilirubin normally produced cannot drain away and gets into the blood stream and circulates around the body. Complete rest and a plain diet were prescribed for me and for the children a large shot of gamma globulin to increase their resistance.
Heather was a woman used to coping with all sorts of conditions. I had first met her at Albion Park Rail, when I was 13 and my uncle was the shire clerk there and his house and the railway cottage were the only two along the highway. I had taken my girlfriend Beverlee there for a holiday. The two youngest boys, David and Keith were at home, Hazel was nursing, Nancy was teaching and Bob the oldest was visiting with his wife and beautiful sun-tanned toddler, Heatherbell. Soon afterwards Bob and Heather went to New Zealand and then to England where he worked as an accountant. By the time they returned, they had three more children, Robert junior, Jenny and Roslyn, all teenagers. Later they were working at a school on a mission station in India, where Jenny contracted an unusual intestinal disease, because of which they had come back to Australia, so that she could have an operation to remove most of her diseased intestine. At first she had to wear a colostomy bag on an incision on her abdomen, but it was hoped that as time passed the intestine would grow and could be rejoined to the anus. In the meantime she had to take large quantities of chalky medicine to control the diahorrea. The girls were at High School, their brother was an apprentice pastry-cook. Heather coped with her husband and the three younger children as well as cooking for me and my children until I was gradually able to take over again.
About three weeks after I contracted hepatitis, David, by now jumping around on crutches and even climbing trees, began to show signs of being unwell. However after half an hour he seemed back to normal. Two days later he developed a fever, but this lasted only a short time. Two days later his temperature was quite high, so I called the doctor, but by the time he came, David was well again. Another two days and his temperature went to at least 105° and we began to suspect malaria. Blood tests verified it. What next?
He spent the next three weeks in hospital, accompanied by Bear, accepting all that happened to him with a minimum of fuss. He was an object of great interest to all the student doctors who were told they might not get another opportunity to see malaria, especially in a little fair-haired boy who had just had his fifth birthday and who also had a broken leg. They thought the malaria would not recur. [This turned out to be correct.]
Auntie Vi and Heather sometimes minded Jacqueline when I went to visit David or I had to leave her in the child care with the "pink ladies" - volunteer child minders. She was not allowed in to the ward.
When Auntie Vi went to Ramsgate to visit her sister Ida, she took Jacqueline with her. My three-year-old enjoyed her day out and reported "I snup out at Auntie Ida's" (snipped out, cut out). She was still an easy child to get along with.
Finally David was discharged, his plaster was removed and he and I were both slowly recovering.
Auntie Dorrie thought we needed a holiday! Things really MUST get better.
"How about spending the winter on the north coast? If you can get a cottage or something I'll pay your fares to get there. A few months in the sun will give you back some colour and some sparkle." She was still at Denistone, but since she was widowed had booked into a retirement village at Castle Hill. Auntie Dorrie had been an important part of my life since before my birth when she had helped and supported my mother. Thirteen years later she and Uncle Perce had rescued me from Cammeray when Mum was in hospital and had shown me how good life can be, was the primary support when Mum was in her final years, nursed me when I got pneumonia. She and Uncle Perce lent us money to get out of financial difficulties while we were in Germany. And that was not her last act of generosity and nurture. Family support.
I wrote to estate agents and was able to rent a reasonably-priced cottage at Lennox Head near Ballina.
"Ballina," said Auntie Vi. "That's providence. Jack and Nancy live there now and they'll look after you. I'll write to them now. Jack has a sewing-machine shop in Ballina."
The hired caravan went back and we set out.
"On Monday," wrote Peter when he started his new school (his fourth) "we went in a sleeping carriage and I couldn't go to sleep until ten o'clock because I was thinking about what school I was going to. Then I went to sleep. Some time later the train stopped at a station and we had breakfast. The train stopped for 16 minutes. The train stopped at a few stations. At Lismore we had lunch and got on a bus that went to Ballina. Then Uncle Jack took us to Lennox Head."
That was the beginning of a peaceful six months with real country treatment from the neighbours which restores one's faith in humanity. The house I had rented was an unpretentious house in an unpretentious village. It gave us more room and there was a yard. When I took the children to their new school I did not omit to inform the teacher of my separation from my husband.
David's leg was still very weak and he was anaemic from the malaria. Someone saw us struggling the half-mile to school and lent us a tricycle which Peter could push. David proudly parked it next to the big children's bikes. David had been to school for only a few weeks before breaking his leg, so now, midyear, he was a beginner again. There were only eighteen children in the Infants' room and the same number in the Primary, with plenty of space and trees in the playground. The teacher-in-charge raised his eyebrows, as had the headmistress at Pennant Hills when I said that Peter would not be seven until the end of August, but was doing well in second class.
"He can read well and is very good at number and spelling, perhaps not so good in composition and handwriting. He started school in May, had two terms in Kindergarten and was in First Class last year. David has had a bad start, he's only been to school for a few weeks. He is inclined to be absent-minded but has more imagination and can become involved with some quite difficult things if they appeal to him. Then he is oblivious to everything else."
The daily walk to and from school was exhausting for me. Within a few days I let the boys go on their own which saved me a lot of energy.
The teacher later confirmed my opinion about the boys.
"Peter is everything you said, exceptional at number. David spends quite a bit of time 'in orbit'. He often does very good drawings. But that says nothing about how they will do later in life."
"The main thing I want is for them to be well-adjusted. Some very intelligent people are unstable. It worries me because of being on my own. They are easier to get on with since I left New Guinea, but I wonder about the long-term effects."
"They behave very well. Perhaps a bit too quiet and conforming."
"Peter's Kindergarten teacher said he was a model student, I think she possibly meant he was compliant. People like that sometimes don't accomplish much even if they have everything in their favour. I hope they will gain more confidence and independence."
I wondered if maybe I'd been too strict with them but I always tried to get co-operation. Having been a teacher, orderliness was very important and I knew how to keep control and had made the rules. I gave them plenty of praise and listened to what they said. Had they had enough scope to express themselves? In art and craft activities children can try too hard to please and gain approval and sacrifice their own original ideas and style. Maybe the same could apply within the family.
My first task was to pick up the threads of my life again and regain my own poise and confidence in my ability to achieve what I had undertaken. Still exhausted after the hepatitis, I divided my day into half-hours and spent one half-hour doing a household chore like getting the breakfast and packing the boys' lunches, David's still basically gluten-free. Then I would rest for half an hour and do some reading, sewing or knitting before tackling the washing up. During the day my little helper and I walked to the shop, did the washing, the ironing or the cleaning. In the evening there was dinner, supervising baths and bedtime stories. There was some security in a routine which got me through each day, doing the essential jobs, producing the clothes we needed and baking special gluten-free bread and biscuits for David.
There was to be a fancy dress ball at the school, which would be attended by nearly everyone in Lennox Head (200 people). For the children I made costumes from old clothes and material I had. They went as "The king, the queen and the Jacqueline". The younger ones had dresses from old party clothes of mine, Peter had a gown of maroon and gold striped material, sent to me by Mutti with an "ermine" collar of cotton wool, big cardboard buckles on his shoes and cardboard crowns for all three. As we walked the half-mile to the function in their outfits, Jacqueline noticed "The moon is following me".
They won a special prize. Well done. Thank you Lennox Head folk.
We often went to Ballina to do our shopping because commodities were cheaper and all essentials available. Jacqueline and I went by bus, spent the day with my cousin and her family and came home in the school bus.
Nancy had been a teacher until she and Jack had married twenty years ago and they had set up home on a farm out of Narromine. She was kept busy with her family of boys. Then they moved to Dubbo, then to Ballina. After six boys Nancy had a daughter, then another son who was a playmate for Jacqueline on our visits. Recently Jack had had a heart attack and Nancy was considering taking up teaching again. The older boys were away at work. The others all came home from school for lunch and Jacqueline and I joined them in the big kitchen, the children sitting on benches at the table.
"How are you coping out there?" asked Jack.
"Pretty well. I just take things very easy. It gets better every day. I've even had time to read that book Nancy lent me last week."
"There are plenty more. Nancy has such a collection of books."
"How's the shop?"
"It keeps me busy. I wish I had more time to make the bamboo ware. There's a big call for it especially in the summer holidays, but the shop has to be kept open and that only leaves the evenings to make the things as well as do repairs to sewing-machines. The sewing-machines are a good standby but not a good living. Nancy gives me some time off now and then."
"If you like I could stay in the shop for you when I come to town and you could have the day doing your bamboo. I could demonstrate the machines and sell the accessories if they have prices on them. I've even thought of advertising for sewing, and I could say in the ad to call at the shop on Tuesdays."
"That sounds a good idea for both of us."
I worded my advertisement to say that I specialised in children's' clothing at which I felt most confident, although I had had plenty of experience sewing for myself and had learnt drafting at Wellington. I got more work than I could cope with, but no children's clothing except one flower girl's dress and a cub scarf. There was mending, uniforms, a bridesmaid's dress, repairs, ordinary dresses for unusually-shaped women, alterations. I was asked to baby-sit in Lennox Head occasionally all of which helped financially and allowed for a few little extras.
For Peter's seventh birthday I could not afford a party, but invited Nancy's younger children and we had a mini campfire and cooked potatoes in the coals. A model train from Germany was his only present. I was able to relax and enjoy the company. Modest plans could be made and carried out without opposition.
Jack was also an agent for World Book encyclopaedias. His family had a well-used set. It had plenty of illustrations. I decided to order a set and pay it off, confident that I would be working by the time instalments were due. When it arrived the children were thrilled. Peter read many volumes of the children's supplement from cover to cover. David looked at volumes in a haphazard way. Jacqueline did not venture past volume one which was nursery rhymes and traditional stories with attractive pictures. The adult volumes would be referred to by me almost daily for the next fifty plus years.
My tenants' rent continued to cover the bank repayments. Bill had been sending maintenance fairly regularly, but as the year went on it became more spasmodic and less in quantity. I always acknowledged each cheque and reported the children's activities but little else. When he wrote he said I should either go to wherever he could get work he liked or "finish what you started". I was not prepared to go back to him. He knew a divorce would take six years. I wrote that I was content to be single and had no attachments or plans.
At last the blood tests indicated that my blood was back to normal. Every task was still exhausting, but if I took care I no longer got headaches, so decided that it was time for me to apply to go back to teaching. I would aim at buying a simple house, all finished, with a garden laid out, nothing grand. It never occurred to me to expect to be supported by the taxpayer or to depend on Bill.
"How would you like to stay here?" I asked the children.
They were unanimous. "Beaut. We could go swimming in the lake all the time. We couldn't do that in Wollongong."
As summer approached the school had daily swimming lessons in the lake and I offered to help. My group consisted of beginners and Jacqueline could join in the games and activities, devised to overcome fear in some children, and encourage confidence and enjoyment. Some parents gave me chocolates in appreciation and I put them aside for Christmas. The boys were progressing well, Peter was learning strokes, David could float on his face so long like a motionless log, that it was a relief to all when he finally moved.
They loved the lake, nicknamed Coca Cola Lake because of the colour brought in from the surrounding tea trees (Melaleucas). Across the road from the lake were sand hills, held there by trees. I sat on the sand relaxing and reading Nancy's books. Within reason I kept out of the sun. I was still "Spotty Dotty", if not "Skinny" or "Kinny". The children climbed the twisted branches and dropped on to the sand and rolled down the other side to the beach. A splash in the ocean, then back to the sand hills and always a dip in the lake before going home. Fresh water a stone's throw away from the ocean. Where else could you find that? Jacqueline leaped about like a gazelle. I could see myself in her although I did not physically cavort to show my returning vigour.
Not long before, the giant tanker Torrey Canyon broke up off the coast of England between Cornwall and the Scilly Isles when it hit rocks at top speed and people world wide were stunned at the loss of wildlife and damage to the environment of Southern England and Brittany. The communities rallied to help clean up the nearby places and the oil-covered birds and animals. We had visited this area four years earlier, Auntie Dorrie's homeland. The community of Lennox Head also worked together to restore the beach after much of the sand had been washed away in a storm while we were there. This did not happen in the city. When country people saw a need they were more likely to say "What can we do about that?" not "The government should fix it."
Some people in some places were beginning to see that PEOPLE are responsible for damage and PEOPLE should move to fix it, involving governments where applicable. Many people were now expecting miracles from the medical profession, scientists and the government and looked to blame someone when anything went wrong, suing if possible.
Nancy's mother, my Auntie Vi came to stay in the big house at Ballina. My children thought this luxury of a Grandma was something special.
"Why don't we have a Grandma?" they asked.
"You do have a great grandmother in Sydney, my grandmother and a Grandma in Germany," I explained." She sends you parcels. She's your Dad's mother. And you've got a Grandpa in Mudgee. He's my father. He married again after my mother died, and if we go to see them some time you could call her Grandma." They had never known my mother.
The intricacies of relationships beyond the immediate members were still too much for them to fathom, but Peter was trying to piece the family tree together. Ours was more complicated than most, because of my great number of aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, and because their father's family was so remote. And of course it was difficult to answer their questions about reproduction in the absence of a loving father. I thought about my mother telling me the facts of life and my disbelief that my parents had done THAT.
"Can we go and see Grandma in Germany?"
"Yes but not just now. I'll have to go back to work next year and we'll have to save hard. It's a long way and it costs a lot."
It was a nebulous idea. But ever since my first trip with Bill when Peter was a baby, I had vague thoughts of another trip. When we were saying goodbye we promised to return after ten years. At that time we didn't know we wouldn't be together much longer and now I wondered if his people would think it strange if I returned without my husband. I had nostalgic feelings for the Black Forest, for Mutti, Tante Gret and Onkel Willi. The children should learn about their roots. I had never regretted my marriage as it had produced three beautiful children and a host of experiences.
Mutti wrote and sent parcels for the children regularly. There were some presents now which I had put aside for Christmas, other than that they would get very little this year. Just before Christmas the maintenance from Bill ceased altogether. Possibly he had moved on. His contract in Wewak had expired and may not have been renewed.
I wrote to Mutti that I had left NG and that he was still there, and she wrote that she hoped we would all be together again soon. I wrote that I didn't hear from him and she wrote that she prayed he would soon be with us. It was not part of my plan.
"We're hoping to stay in the district permanently," I told Nancy. "But you said you thought it was hard to get work here?"
"I've been on the list for ages. You had better see the inspector as soon as you can. You'll have to go to Lismore."
"I hope we can stay. The children love it. And you know that book you lent me about the history of the district. I had a letter from Dad saying that William Yabsley mentioned in it, was my great great grandfather. I'd like to follow that up further."
"Really? There's an old house at Coraki used to belong to the family I think. And a Yabsley St at East Ballina. How interesting. What did he do?"
"He was a shipbuilder and cedar-trader. Dad had a painting of one of the vessels he built. He asked me if I wanted it. William Yabsley arrived on the "Beagle" in 1839 and sent to England for his wife and daughter. When they arrived in Australia she didn't know where he was but came to the north with a captain who said he knew someone answering the description."
"Where does the Kinny name come from?"
"His eldest daughter married William Kinny from Dumfries. They were pioneers in the Bellingen district. They had eleven girls and two boys, one was my grandfather."
"That's the way it goes sometimes," joked Nancy. "I only had six of a kind before I changed sex. You should write a book about them. And our mothers' family had an interesting story too. It should be recorded."
"After I retire. I am getting interested but I know a lot more about my mother's family. They also have more contact with each other and reunions from time to time. But the first thing is get a job."
There was a retired couple who went from Lennox Head to Lismore every week to do their shopping. I asked them for a lift for me and Jacqueline and rang the inspector for an interview and medical. The inspector gave me no hope of getting work on the north coast.
"If you really want to get back to work, you'd be advised to go back to Wollongong. There are too many wives of bank managers, too many daughters of local people who have been on our lists for up to two years."
I was forced to the conclusion that we would have to go back to the Big Smoke. I asked him to put my name down for a school near home and he assured me a job would be available in Wollongong.
"Can't we stay? We like it here," the children begged.
"So do I but I must get back to work. I have to go where the work is. But we'll come back here for a holiday."
Nancy was not surprised. "What will you do?"
"I think I must accept what I can't change. I've written to my tenants that I'll be coming down after Christmas. They want me to clean up the garage and rent it to them. He will be retiring soon and then they'll be going back to the Newcastle area, where they own a house."
"How will you like to share your house in the meantime?"
"Not really, but they'll be quite separate, they are very considerate, it will be a financial help with bank repayments and rates and maintenance and it will be good to have someone around because the place is isolated. I'll save up for a car and we'll be back up here for holidays."