Friday, 16 October 2015
THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY
How well I remember the first real house that we had when we came to Australia and the traumas involved to my parents in re settling their family.
Having arrived in Australia aboard the ‘SS Iberia’ from England as new totally bewildered migrants in 1960 our first hurdle was to find that although we were supposed to disembark at Perth where our sponsors were – we were in fact going to be shipped to Sydney. Seems that whilst we were at sea things had gone belly up, the country was in a depression, and work had dried up. The second shock was finding that half of our belongings had been unloaded at Perth. Big tea chests full of family photographs, Mum’s Wedgewood collection and treasured Apostle Spoons, linen, clothing and other household treasures lost forever. We never saw them again. We often wonder who ended up with them because all our efforts to trace them came to no avail. Wharfies were renowned in those days for their light fingers.
Upon our arrival we were sent to a migrant hostel at Rooty Hill which to us was a one horse town miles away from anywhere. I think Australians saw it in a similar light then. My brother and I attended a one teacher school, amazed at these Aussie kids who must have been really poor because they didn’t wear any shoes. Mum tried to be cheerful about living in a tin Nissan hut in the middle of an Aussie summer, and caring for her baby daughter. All meals were eaten army style in the mess hall along with other migrants and we were all issued with cutlery and pannikins. We – the kids – thought this was great fun – oodles of food and seconds if you wanted them. Don’t recollect what Mum thought of this, but suspect she saw her well mannered children turning into little ferals and running wild. We eventually were moved to Villawood migrant hostel which is now the Villawood detention centre. It was a bit closer to Sydney but Dad had no hope of finding work despite spending hours every day walking the streets and looking. Thousands of others were doing the same. As our sponsors were thousands of miles away in Perth, we were effectively on our own.
My Dad had been Master at Arms on the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth cruise liners for many years and in the course of his travels had met many Australians who had said as we do – if you are in town look us up. So letting go his pride he did just that and contacted a couple who lived at Caloundra who remain family friends to this day…and they, God bless them, in good Aussie style reached out the hand of friendship to a family in strife.
We moved to Caloundra – the long trip on the train was a source of excitement to us, but must have been a nightmare for Mum and Dad. We couldn’t afford the luxury of a sleeper – but who wanted to sleep anyway? We arrived at Landsborough station about 60 kilometres north of Brisbane around midnight – it was as black as the ace of spades with not a streetlight or security light to be seen. Dad’s friends were waiting for us and after bundling us and our meagre belongings into the two trucks we set off for Caloundra. The Donaldson family owned the local caravan park and the school bus run and made us very welcome with a lovely hot cuppa and some supper, then drove us to the little rented furnished home in Bombala Terrace, just below the lighthouse. Being very tired we all slept well that night, with the beam from the lighthouse flashing over our bedroom walls.
With the resilience of children, we kids were up bright and early exploring our new home. My first and lasting memory of Caloundra was the laughing Kookaburra that greeted us new chums that morning as he ushered in the sun. Mums problems were more immediate. Wanting nothing more than a cup of tea and breakfast for her brood she was faced with the daunting task of using a wood stove, a big black monster, that ruled over the tiny kitchen. Being young we took no note of her difficulties which she must have overcome as we never went hungry, it was only when I went out to live on a property in my later years I realized what a daunting task this was for her – as I then walked in her shoes.
Mum then discovered cockroaches, hordes of them and these I think were almost Mums undoing. We didn’t have them in England, but then she discovered the final indignity in the old backyard dunny or thunderbox. This was not what a well bought up middle class Englishwoman was used to. Dad didn’t care so much, he came from up North in England and they were tough working class folks in Preston and they had an outhouse anyway which was hardly any more civilized than the Aussie long-drop.
As Dad had walked past the rusting old water tank outside the back door he noticed a dribble of water – investigating it further he had touched the spot and the tank being rusted now sported a larger hole. The dribble became a flow, the flow became a flood and Dad in true Dutch boy and the dyke tradition was trying to stem the flow with his fist whilst yelling for Mum to bring buckets or jars to catch the water. Even the dumbest pommie knew that Australia had chronic water shortages and droughts and to die through lack of water after working so hard to get here was not part of Dads plan. Meanwhile the next door neighbour stood laconically leaning against the fence rolling a smoke and watching the antics in amazement. Once he had ascertained that this was not some strange tribal dance we were partaking in he pointed out that we were in fact on town water and the tap was around the side of the house. You’d never know we were new chums….not much.
Time for us kids to attend school. A fair walk along dirt roads – and we wanted to be like the Aussie kids and we were not going to wear shoes – despite Mums horror. The pain inflicted on our tender feet by the sharp gravel was horrendous. But we bore it stoically and even grinned. We were Aussies now. We lined up on parade every morning at school for assembly, the hot bitumen of the playground starting to cause a bit of discomfort to our feet, but like the Aussie kids we bore it, standing hand over our heart as we repeated the ode to our flag. I honour my God, I serve my Queen, I salute my flag. Then we marched back into school with the school band playing a rousing if tuneless march – their enthusiasm making up for their lack of expertise, and then before classes started we were all given a small bottle of milk to drink. It was disgusting. Warm from sitting in the sun, often times verging on being off or just on the turn and slightly curdled, but it was the Governments way of ensuring every school child received some nutrition to get their little brains up and working, and grew up big and strong. Sometimes the magpies had beaten the kids to the milk and pecked through the foil tops to get at the cream layer – that was back in the days when milk wasn’t pasteurized and all milk bottles had a layer of cream floating on the top.
Mums first morning tea organized by the neighbourhood ladies was a ‘bring a plate’ affair – with no explanation of that truly Australian saying given. Presuming the hostess to be short of china, Mum obligingly took along six of her best plates – all empty.
Over the course of the years we moved to Nambour where Dad did cane cutting - lasting all of three days in the blazing sun before the heatstroke and the beer got the better of him. Dad was never a drinker but the cane cutters always went to the pub on Friday night so they took Dad along. They also delivered him home - smashed - and asked Mum if she would like a hand putting him to bed. Dad had drunk four beers. I think the cane cutters were truly amazed. Dad managed to get a blue collar job on the local council, doing painting, and carpentry and such. One of his first jobs was at Cotton Tree on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. His claim to fame was the toilet block at Cotton Tree just near the bridge...it still stands...a constant source of amazement to us as Dad’s bricklaying skills were at the best dodgy.
We then moved to Ascot in Brisbane where we attended Ascot State School - my one memory of being there was a bitch of a teacher who took great delight in sending me out to stand on the school verandah after announcing in a loud voice that I was useless, stupid and would amount to nothing. I ran away from that school several times in the first week. After she slapped me across the face one time and Dad took her to task over it, not mincing his words, she thankfully left me alone. I lived to prove her wrong. I even manage to be an editor these days for The Australia Times Group Poetry Magazine.
Dad and Mum bought a corner store at Stevenson Street, Ascot in the days before it became popular with the trendy set and when trams were still running into Brisbane. The little corner shop - was what was known back then as a Mum & Dad store, although Mum ran it on her own as Dad got work at Claude Neon’s as an electrician installing the big flashing Neon advertising signs around Brisbane. Because Mum could buy all of her stock at wholesale prices she managed to keep us all fed on very little $'s - she was a good cook and also made lovely little shortbreads and cupcakes and fruit slices that she sold to customers and very popular they were, although not so much with the Jockeys who were around that area as they were constantly dieting to get to their racing weight.
I was in seventh heaven living at Ascot ...a teenage girl surrounded by horses and jockeys. I had a crush on Danny Frahm who worked at Fred Best's. He was Prunda's jockey for most of his races, and Danny himself went on to be a champion jockey and eventually a trainer himself. He was a couple of years older than me and not really interested at all in a silly horse-mad kid, but I recall him being a nice young bloke. I worked for a while whenever I could for love of the horses and the opportunity to ride them at Harry Hatton’s stables and had for a while the care of Prunda, a gorgeous bay horse with the temperament of a lamb. He was blind in one eye - something that not many people knew, and of course today there was no way he would be allowed to race but things were different back in the 60s. He was a pretty good horse too in his day - still remembered. I have seen streets bearing his name.
Dad bought us a red heeler pup called Rusty - unbeknownst to me at the time, Rusty killed a lot of the neighbour’s chooks and jumped the fence and started rounding up the racehorses as they were being walked through the streets to the racecourse at Doomben. Dad took him to the pound but told me he had run off. I searched for that dog for weeks and broke my heart. I was about 30 before Dad actually told me the truth. Poor little bugger, he was only doing what he was bred to do. I hope someone gave him a loving home.
We then moved to Redcliffe and Mum and Dad both worked as nursing attendants at Eventide until they retired and moved out to Glasshouse Mountains. That was an idyllic time for all of us I think - I continued to attend Hendra High School travelling by bus backwards and forwards each day. I was in the first intake of students to Hendra High and somewhere in that school library is my name on a wooden plaque. These days it is called Aviation High School.
Many years have passed now...My Dad has gone, Mum is now into her nineties and living in a Nursing Home on the Gold Coast close to my Sister – All of us kids have grown and raised our own families and now our kids are now raising their families. Our family gatherings now sport four generations of Australians. Between us we have covered a fair bit of our country. We are dinki di Aussies and bloody proud of it, and we all love our country with a passion.
When we were at Rooty Hill with no car we used to go on ‘constitutionals’ venturing forth in Indian file out along country roads, and I remember Dad stopping to talk with an old farmer who said to him ‘Mate – welcome to the land of Milk and Honey - but hope you bought your own cow and bloody bees.’ I found that hilarious and it stuck in my head and many years later wrote this for Mum and Dad as heartfelt thanks for Dad’s foresight in bringing us to the land of Milk and Honey.
THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY
Maureen Clifford © The #ScribblyBark Poet
Welcome to Gods country, the land of milk and honey
but hope you bought your bees and cows as well as heaps of money
He said it with a grin and no doubt it was a joke
but as I sit reminiscing I recall that Aussie bloke.
It’s a land that’s harsh and brutal but it breeds its people strong.
Its Bushmen are exalted in poetry and song.
This land we call Australia, an island large is she
and I’m bloody glad to be here. She’ll do me.
Whilst some still call me Pommie the majority don’t twig
that I’m not Aussie born and bred and true blue ridgey didge,
‘cause I guess I seem fair dinkum, like a true blue Aussie Mate,
and by crikey that is true an’ all – I think this country’s great.
So to all you British Gentlemen with your Palaces and Halls,
you’re most welcome to come visit and stay within our walls,
but remember us Colonials in our land of milk and honey
have a lifestyle others envy – bought with sweat and toil not money.