Teenagers always think other people’s families are more interesting than their own, but Marjorie’s family really were. Marjorie was my best friend in second and third year high school in Perth, Western Australia. In first year Janice had been my best friend, mainly because neither of us knew anybody else on the first day; I was new in the country, she was new in the area. But Janice was a bit boring, confirmed by the fact that she wanted to do shorthand and typing and sidestepped to the commercial course. Our ways parted.
Marjorie was much more fun and for the next two years leading up to our Junior Exams we must have driven the teachers mad with our incessant giggling and occasional pranks. Our English teacher was driven to comment in front of the whole class
Do you two want to ruin your whole lives?
In time, it turned out that Marjorie had a photographic memory and had no need to pay any attention in class to sail through her exams.
But back to the beginning and the first time I cycled round to Marjorie’s house. Her parents were Dutch and had brought her to Australia as a baby; I don’t think being Dutch had any relevance to the way their home was run, though to me it seemed more exotic than being English or Australian. I was fascinated by the way they pronounced Marjorie and to this day I think of the name with that accent and love the way the Dutch speak.
She had two Australian born brothers, Johnnie and Steve, indistinguishable with their blonde crew cuts. Their house was the only one in the street with a boat and three geese in the front garden. I don’t think the boat ever made it to the Swan River, let alone Fremantle Harbour or the Indian Ocean.
The geese made good guards; somehow I made it to the front door. Inside, the house was dark; that was not unusual, most of the Australian houses were kept in Venetian blinded gloom, shielded from the glaring sun.
Marjorie’s house was SHC, State Housing Commission. It was years before I realised some Australians were very resentful that migrants were housed ahead of them.
We headed for the bedroom to inspect her pop pin ups and she opened her wardrobe to reveal more pictures on the inside of the door. Sitting on a pile of clothes on the shelf was a packet of spaghetti; kept safe from her brothers who liked to eat it raw. When we went back to the lounge her brother was sitting on the settee eating dry cornflakes from a large green bucket. The visit was also more adventurous as her mother was out at work, a novel concept for me.
When my new friend came round to my house for the first time Mum offered her a cool drink and Marjorie said Oh, isn’t your fridge clean.
Ever after Mum wondered what their family fridge was like; empty probably. Her mother only cooked a proper meal on Sundays, when they always had steak, another reason for disapproval by my mother.
Marjorie was the first person I knew who worried about being fat and filled up with bottles of Coke to avoid hunger pangs. In our house meals were regular as clockwork and always delicious. Coca Cola never darkened our fridge, nor did I have any money to buy it from the corner shop near Marjorie’s house.
My novel Quarter Acre Block is not autobiographical, but is inspired by our family’s experience of emigrating to Australia. You can read more about that time at my website.
Read about the time leading up to our family’s departure to Australia in a previous blog.