By Christmas 1964 we were in our new house on a quarter acre block; south of the Swan River in a new suburb laid out in the popular grid pattern. Our street would soon go on for miles, but at the time there was still a sandy track between us and the few shops. The location was ideal for Dad’s new job and we could see my future high school across the paddocks opposite our house. On one side of our house was bush with beautiful ‘Christmas Trees’ covered in yellow blossom. The other side was an empty quarter acre block that mirrored ours with gum trees and black boys – now days they are called grass trees – almost prehistoric, they had black trunks with long tough grass like spikes. They were said to grow just one inch a year, which is probably why they were only waist height.
On the other side of the empty block were our only neighbours, Mable and George, dinky di Aussies who had retired from the goldfields in Kalgoorlie. George got himself a job as a dustman and after work devoted himself to the novelty of a television set. Mum and Mable became good friends, they were both strangers in Perth; to Mum it was a tiny city, but to Mable huge, she had never been on an escalator. Mable and George’s only son lived in The Eastern States, two thousand miles away; he may as well have been in another country. Even today Perth is still the most isolated modern city in the world.
Around the corner were more houses; Dad soon found me some new friends when he went to buy petrol and met a Pommie who worked at the service station. The two families with two girls each were more established and had television sets. Mum and Dad had vowed never to get one now we had got used to its absence, they weren’t missing much, television was quite new in Western Australia.
Christmas was strange, no relatives to come and visit, no parcels to arrive in the post and Mum and Dad on a very tight budget. My parents had not found a church, nor were they likely to find one to match the ancient parish church with a thriving congregation that we had left behind. Candlelit services and the dark greens and reds of winter were now in the past. But when our packing cases finally arrived it was like Christmas as we were reunited with our favourite books and toys.
Only one of my new friends was also starting high school at the beginning of February 1965. I was glad to have someone to go with, but as we walked along the sandy track on the first morning Linda told me that if you didn’t pass your junior exams you had to repeat the whole three years. I believed her.
There were fourteen hundred children in the school, it was a senior high school so that included fourth and fifth years. We all lined up on the grass in front of a long veranda. There was no assembly hall. Names were called and we were allotted to the ten classes, Linda and I were separated. Although education was comprehensive the classes were ranked. 1-9 and 1-8 the only classes to do French, then all the way down to 1.1 and if you were in 1-Special that was bad… I had made it into 1-9, another girl in my class later told me she thought 1-9 was the bottom class and went home and cried.
I was on my own, but not for long, an Australian girl said ‘Do you know anybody?’ she was new to the area and in the same boat, we became friends.