Going for a walk is all many of us are allowed to do in lockdown and a change of scenery is always good. The photos are courtesy of my sister in Australia.
A dozen places you can go to be alone. WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
…and Which, Wonder, Winter, Widowhood, Worries, Will???
In French the Questions will be Quand, Quoi, pourQuoi…
Most of the world is asking when the pandemic will end and a further multitude of questions about variants and mutations, with no straightforward answers. Ironically, while England is still deciding whether to quarantine people in hotels, Perth, Western Australia detected its first case of coronavirus in almost 10 months; a quarantine hotel security guard. Nearly two million residents were placed into a five day lockdown on Sunday.
One thing most of us in lockdown don’t have to worry about is summer bushfires. Thousands were told yesterday and today to ignore the Covid stay-home order and evacuate their homes, as a bushfire in the hills on Perth’s outskirts gained pace. But the most chilling warning is It’s now too late to leave, you must stay in your home. The blaze, which is the largest the Western Australian city has seen in years, has already burnt through more than 9,000 hectares, destroying at least 71 homes.
Perth spotted one little weak spot in its robust Covid protection status, while many of us see great gaping holes in our countries’ defences. Hindsight is a great thing, but I think medical experts and even ordinary folk had enough foresight to see more should have been done earlier. There are people who have isolated completely for nearly a year, but most of us, every time government advice eased off, have had visitors or been on a little outing; some people have been jetting all round the world.
If you listen to the news too often you will drown in numbers and go round in circles. But one positive thing is the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom, which is rattling along at a great pace. With little new to talk about in lockdown, the gossip is who has been immunised lately.
What is everyday life like now after months of Tier systems, November Lockdown 2 and a month in Lockdown 3? Grandparents have been unable to see new grandchildren; weddings, moving home and plans to have babies have been put on hold all round the country. I have been widowed for five months now and half of me is still happy for normal life to be suspended, but the other half is missing family and friends and being able to visit and get out and about. Then there are the not so regular events that can’t take place; luckily Cyberspouse said he didn’t care what we did with his ashes, so he wouldn’t mind that they are still in the cupboard with all his camera equipment…
Going for walks is now the national occupation. I don’t drive, so I am used to walking to get places. Then there is the traditional going for a walk with your partner, family, friends or by yourself to recover from a stressful week at work. Whether locally or on a day out, The Walk used to involve stopping for coffee at a beach front café, lunch in ‘The Stables’ at a National Trust property or popping into interesting shops in that nice town by the river…
In lockdown you may get a takeaway coffee when you meet up with the one person from another household for exercise if you are living on your own. I am too dyspraxic to walk, talk, avoid tripping over dogs and drink out of a hot cardboard cup at the same time. But it is good to be out seeing people. The cliff tops and promenades are full of folk and plenty of those are also taking brisk walks by themselves, though I am the only one in a bright pink coat. Most of us are managing to adhere to social distancing and I think it is safe out in the fresh air or gale force winds.
A walk around residential streets as it’s getting dark is also quite fun; lights are on but curtains and blinds are still open. I have always enjoyed looking in people’s windows, all the different decors and cosy interiors and life going on. Some people still have Christmas lights in the front garden or Christmas trees indoors, it all helps brighten up this strange winter.
When we are not out, many of us are on line. Those of you working from home or trying to teach home schooled pupils are probably heartily sick of Zoom, but it’s still a novelty for me. We could all be in space ships or in a space colony. Is this the future? At the weekly Saturday evening quiz I see people I would never meet in real life. I have started going to our camera club Zoom meetings and members can put their pictures on the screen – not me obviously, my technical skills only stretch as far as typing in the meeting code – but it is nice to chat and see both familiar and new faces. Lounging on the sofa with my ipad instead of sitting on a plastic chair in the church hall, what’s not to like? Will people want to go out on dark winter evenings when they could just stay home? Those who are not on the internet or are nervous of technology could miss out, but the disabled, those who can’t leave children and those without easy transport would all be on an equal footing in Zoomland. Will this be what we wish for?
Today I welcome another guest blog by my sister in Australia. When our family first emigrated to Perth in 1964, going up in the hills to see Mundaring Weir overflowing was a regular outing…
Pipe Dreams by Kate Doswell
As a child, I was both fascinated and saddened by the story of Charles Yelverton O’Connor – always referred to as C. Y. O’Connor. As Western Australia’s Chief engineer at the turn of the last century, he was responsible, amongst other things, for the design and construction of Fremantle Harbour, WA’s main shipping port and – more famously – for the Kalgoorlie pipeline.
Kalgoorlie was the scene of WA’s massive gold rush and by the early 1900s was a busy town; the engine for much of the wealth and development of the fledgling state. The drawback was that it was in an arid area 560 isolating and harsh kilometres from the capital city of Perth. Supplies of water were a major stumbling block to further development and an answer needed to be found.
C. Y. O’Connor had the audacious idea to build a pipeline to take water from Perth to Kalgoorlie, a feat never attempted before over such a large distance. It would involve construction of a large dam at Mundaring, in the hills above the swan coastal plain. The project would require pumping stations at Mundaring and along the route, and steel pipes big enough to carry sufficient water.
It is ultimately a story of triumph – a brilliant idea, carefully planned and skilfully executed, a triumph made even more incredible considering its achievement by a small, isolated European settlement transplanted into an ancient country only 70 years before. But it is also a sad story. C. Y. O’Connor never lived to see its success; he committed suicide. The story I heard as a child was that the tap was turned on at Mundaring, but due to a miscalculation the water took longer than expected to reach Kalgoorlie. C.Y. O’Connor thought he had failed. He rode his favourite horse out into the surf at a Perth beach and drowned himself. The timing wasn’t quite that poignant, but the fact remains that he was driven to a state of despair by the critical and unrelenting attack mounted against him by the foremost (and possibly only) newspaper of the day, The West Australian (still the only state based newspaper in WA). His other major critic and tormentor was the Premier of the state, John Forrest, though he was happy to share in the credit once it was a success.
I recently visited the weir for the first time in many years, and it was an occasion for reflection on its place in our history. Completed in 1903, it was the longest freshwater pipeline in the world at the time, the first to use steel pipes and fed by the highest dam in the Southern hemisphere. In 2009 it was recognised as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers, only the 3rd in Australia and 47th in the world to be awarded, alongside the Panama Canal and the Golden Gate Bridge.
On a more personal level, I remember as a child we visited the weir often, as a family and as part of a youth group with a campsite nearby. I always found it interesting and it has a beautiful setting, surrounded by hills and jarrah forest. As a teenager, my family moved to a wheatbelt town, and the water we drank came from the pipe. The pipe ran under our front garden, though I hasten to add we didn’t have a tap connected directly, since the size of the pipe means it stands as tall as a person when it runs above the ground.
Not only had the pipe delivered water to the miners, it had also allowed the opening up of agricultural towns along the route. It is a constant feature running beside the roads, dipping underground to go through towns, then re-emerging on the other side. It is a guide; I can remember doing a walk-a-thon to raise money, and the route was simple. Just follow the pipeline, you can’t get lost! You can even walk on it if you feel adventurous and have good balance.
My recent visit also gave me pause for thought about our current environmental crises. Perth has traditionally relied to a large part on water from our various dams, but with climate change our rainfall has fallen considerably in the past 20 years. The last time the weir overflowed was in 1996, and visiting some years later it was sad and worrying to see the sloping gravel sides of the dam exposed by the falling water levels, a raw wound running around the circumference of the dam. It was a relief to see a much higher level last week, the water lapping the edge of the forest, but I was disillusioned to discover the pipe that pumped water into the dam from our desalination plant. I reasoned that it was necessary, as the weir still supplies Kalgoorlie and the towns on the way, but to me it was a tangible reminder that we in Australia were failing to take seriously the dangers of climate change. On the driest continent on earth, predicted to suffer most from a warming and drying climate, our politicians and right winged newspapers are happy to sabotage any efforts to address this urgent issue, preferring instead to criticise and lampoon scientists and concerned citizens, and to wilfully ignore the changes we see around us.
As I walked away from the weir lookout it occurred to me; things had not changed much since C.Y. O’Connor’s day.
My novel was inspired by our experiences when our parents emigrated with three children in 1964.
Today I welcome another of the occasional guest blogs written by my sister in Australia. This time she reflects on an unusual find near a country town in Western Australia.
A Tribute to Those That We Love by Kate Doswell
It could be mistaken for the dog that sat on the tucker box, 5 miles from Gundagai, but instead, it was a dog sitting on a small concrete plinth, 5 km from Corrigin. Corrigin is a small wheatbelt town, population 800 or so, 230 km south east of Perth in Western Australia, and the red kelpie dog immortalised in stone was guarding the entrance to the Corrigin dog cemetery.
My visit to Corrigin was nothing to do with dogs, but I couldn’t resist stopping and having a look around. It was quite large and surprisingly well kept, considering it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It was surrounded by the flat dun paddocks and the dry stubble of harvested crops, and only a blur on the skyline to suggest the presence of a town.
The ground around the graves was dry and sandy, with hardly any living green, but all the graves were well tended and each was utterly distinct. The owners of these beloved dogs had used imagination and care in designing the graves, and it gave some sense of the stories that lay behind their pets’ lives with the family, and there was no doubt they were family members and friends.
A black poodle statue with surprised eyes sat on a bed of stones, and the plaque told me she had lived for 14 years. Poor Rusty had died the day after his 10th birthday, and his grave was a simple oblong, surrounded by the railings that I had often seen around human graves for those of a higher standing in the community.
The one that touched me most was that of Dexter, who had a cross formed from bricks laid on a simple slab, with a clay scroll into which a child had carved “Dexter – A dog who is missed Heaps”. It was sad to see a little stuffed puppy sitting on the grave as well, and I wondered if this had been Dexter’s favourite toy.
One dog’s family had improvised with a brass fire screen with a scene of Pointers out hunting. There was no doubt that the image on the next grave was of the dog itself, a hand painted china plate with a picture of the dog and words telling of the wonderful companionship he had given for 15 years.
There was even a multi-story grave that housed 3 successive dogs. Some people cannot face the idea of having another dog when the one they have loved for years dies, but I think most people recognise that each dog is loved for his or her own original personality. A point for writers – one of my teachers firmly instructed me that the animals in my stories (usually – well OK – always, about dogs or horses) should be referred to as it, rather than he or she. I have never been able to comply, as I know they are living, breathing personalities who deserve to be recognised as such. Maybe there would be less cruelty if we could all see them in that way, rather than as objects or commodities.
Looking around this cemetery, there can be no doubt that many people see dogs as valuable and much loved members of our families; companions, helpers, protectors and comforters. This cemetery started as one man burying his dog in the 1970s, then others from Corrigin joined him in laying their dogs to rest. Over the years it has attracted the interest of people from far afield who want a permanent memorial to their companion. So it isn’t just the people of Corrigin who feel so strongly about their animals, though this IS the town that set the record for the most number of “Dogs in Utes” – a parade of 1,527 utes ( Aussie abbreviation for utility, any vehicle with an open cargo area at the rear, which would be called a pickup truck in other countries ) each with a barking, tail wagging dog in the back.
We all have our own ways of remembering those that we love. Personally, I have never felt the need to have something tangible to remind me of a loved one – I have lost 3 dogs, and each have been cremated. I have never wanted an urn with their ashes in, though I understand and respect those that do. With my last dog, a close friend came with me to the veterinary surgery for that final visit, as she had looked after my dog many times when I worked away and loved her as much as I did. When they asked me if I wanted to keep the ashes, I shook my head, but as I did I noticed the look of dismay on her face. “Would you like them?” I asked her and she said yes. I was happy for her to have them, I could think of no better person to keep them.
I have recently lost my Mother. She was 94 yrs old and she had lived close by for many years, so it was sad to have to say goodbye. This Sunday her ashes will be placed in the memorial garden at our church, next to my Father’s ashes. There are no plaques, simply a book inside the church with the names of all those who are in the garden. When I think of my father, I don’t think of the garden, I think of the furniture he built, the advice he gave me, the funny things he said. Likewise with my mother, it is and will continue to be, the memories of all the times we had together, the laughs we shared, and the problems we talked over. It doesn’t matter whether we have a grave to visit, a plaque, or nothing solid to see. The important thing is that we remember our loved ones, human or animal. I wonder if our animals remember us after we’ve gone?
A Covid free blog – almost.
When we are watching Mastermind or University Challenge, one question I can always answer is What is the name, meaning treeless, of the large / vast plain in Au… NULLABOR I yell.
As part of my pandemic escapist reading I have been dipping into Bill Bryson’s book ‘Down Under’ published in 2000. Coincidentally up popped Australian blogger Rowena’s ‘Beyond The Flow’ A-Z challenge ‘N’…
I loved reading about the Nullarbor Plain as I have crossed it! Once. Time and distance have left a romantic feel to the experience which probably did not exist at the time.
When I was browsing on the internet for Nullabor nuggets I came across this
Latin nullus ‘no, none’ + arbor ‘tree’
I never studied Latin, but I like picking up Latin origins and reading that line the Null arbor origins are obvious, but I had always assumed it was an Aboriginal word. It sounds like a name they would have been using for thousands of years before Latin was even invented.
‘The Nullarbor Plain is the world’s largest single exposure of limestone bedrock, and occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometres, stretching about 1,100 kilometres from east to west across the border between South Australia and Western Australia.’
Our trip in the early seventies was from Perth to South Australia and my Aussie friend’s uncle’s orchard; then Melbourne, Sydney and eventually Tasmania. As I ended up back in England the following year ( that’s another story ) it remains my most adventurous trip; at the time there was a three hundred mile section of the highway that was still only gravel.
Back in 1964 when we were new migrants we met another new family (of the whingeing Pom variety) who said if they didn’t like Perth they would drive over to Sydney. When an Aussie mentioned it was rather a long way they said they would take some sandwiches! I often wonder if they made it.
It is a long way. 2,444 miles – 46 hours 34 minutes in moderate traffic if you are planning to drive today.
One of my impressions was that we drove through a vast wheat belt, then the vegetation got smaller and sparser until it barely existed. On the other side the scrub gradually grew again and we drove through an identical wheatbelt. We slept on the beach at Eucla, we certainly never stayed at any accommodation. My friend was of tough farming stock, but the family friend we hitched a lift and shared driving with was another Pommie and I’m sure he and I had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, though we knew the basics; take plenty of water and NEVER wander away from your vehicle. I had never been away from home for more than a week, my parents also had no idea of the journey. Were they worried, I’m not sure. In those pre internet days they would have had no idea if we had arrived safely until they got a picture post card. Absolutely nothing went wrong, though it was a boring drive and so easy to drift off to sleep at the wheel on that endless straight road. But a trip well worth taking to understand the vastness and aridity of a continent where most people cluster round the coast. Here I have to confess that it was so boring that nearing the end of our trip, after meeting up with friends who had flown over, loving Tasmania because it was so green and lush, just like England, I went into a bank and was pleasantly surprised to see a pay cheque had gone in to my meagre account. I booked a flight from Sydney back to Perth. A three hour flight that landed in Perth at the same time we had left Sydney. Sitting next to me was an unescorted child who kept saying ‘Are we nearly there yet’ so the flight felt longer than three hours, but not as long as the drive across the Nullabor.
My children claim I was always talking about ‘when I crossed the Nullarbor Plain’ and it wasn’t till we were all chatting with an Aussie visitor about the trip that my then teenagers revealed they had always assumed I had driven across the Nullabor Plain by myself! No way…
Bill Bryson’s book describes the train journey across the Nullabor, a trip I would love to take, in a comfy sleeper, not the economy sitting all the way. He got to ride for a while in the driver’s cab and describes seeing a railway line that stretched dead straight for hundreds of miles.
Perhaps most intriguing about this journey is to realise how isolated Western Australia is. Holidays in Bali are nearer and cheaper for Perth people than going to the Eastern States. It could be another country especially when there is a pandemic on!
Last updated: 22 April 2020 at 6.07am
Arrivals to Western Australia after 11:59pm on Sunday 5 April 2020
Strict border controls are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 in WA.
Arrivals to Western Australia
You will no longer be able to enter Western Australia after 11.59pm, on Sunday, 5 April 2020 unless an exemption has been granted.
Have you crossed the Nullabor Plain?
My novel Quarter Acre Block was inspired by our family’s emigration to Western Australia.
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.
Read last week’s blog about our arrival in Australia here.
After a week in Perth, Western Australia, Mum and Dad had found a house to rent, but the blinds were down when they viewed it. When we moved in and the blinds were open it was very gloomy and not too clean – certainly not to my mother’s standards – but we did not realise that the aim of Australian houses was to keep the sun out and the house cool in summer. The other thing less visible, but soon revealed was the presence of fleas. They only liked Mum and my sister, so perhaps it was just as well that she was too young to go to school, as the teachers might have got the wrong impression when faced with a flea bitten pommie child.
The wonderful thing about our new street was it had a library. With no television and only what we had brought in our suitcases, books were vital. We had no other possessions because our packing cases were still at Southampton Docks. Dad had made all our packing cases with rough planks from the timber yard; they were sent on ahead for their six week voyage, but there was a strike at the docks so they didn’t move. Mum and Dad had to eat into their capital to buy five of everything, bedding, plates etc. This was when we discovered peanut paste. Hard though it is to imagine a world without peanut butter, we had never tasted it in England and thought it was something exotic Americans had. In Perth it was called paste and came in jars that were actually drinking glasses; we had to eat our way quickly through five jars, lucky we loved our new treat.
The neighbours didn’t talk to Mum, except for a Dutch lady who introduced her dog.
He’s a Kelpie ( Australian sheep dog ) but mit the ears floppin down instead of mit the ears stickin up. Ever after, that was our term of reference for describing dogs.
The summer term was well under way in Australian schools. Children started at six years old, so though my five year old sister had already started school in England she could not go. She was so bored Mum kept sending her to the corner shop to buy one item at a time.
My seven year old brother could fit in with the right age group. I had already started at grammar school in England that September, now I had to go back to primary school. As Australian children started high school at twelve I could have ended up having to start another year of primary in January. Luckily I was put in Grade Seven and the teacher, Mr. Wooldridge, was excellent. He said it would be a disaster for me to be kept behind so determined that I would pass all the end of year tests. The maths setting out seemed to be back to front and upside down to what I was used to and of course I had no idea about Australian geography or history, but I got through. There are teachers who teach the work and teachers who talk to you about life and you always remember them. He told the dark World War Two story that I borrowed for Jennifer’s teacher in my novel, Quarter Acre Block.
The school was very different from my little Church of England junior school. No uniform, no school dinners; we just sat outside with our sandwiches, peanut past of course. The only other difference was the girls were a year older, more grown up and just liked sitting talking at break time instead of belting round the playground, but they were friendly.
We were still going down by the river, but I hadn’t learned to swim yet. The school summer outing was to Yanchep Park – everybody went on outings to Yanchep Park, about 30 miles from Perth; a very large nature reserve with a lake and caves. There was also a swimming pool and I had not told my class mates I couldn’t swim. Everyone was jumping in and I figured I could drop in and catch hold of the bar on my way down and cling on. I just went straight under, but luckily came up again, only to hear some snooty girl saying people who couldn’t swim shouldn’t be in the pool. I suppose it would have been even more embarrassing not to have surfaced.
School broke up before Christmas and we had six weeks holiday ahead. Dad’s search for a job and a house to buy was still on and the packing cases had not yet arrived.
Read the story of the Palmer family for 99 pence or $1.27
What if I had been blogging when I was eleven…
My novel Quarter Acre Block is based on our family’s experiences as Ten Pound Pommies migrating to Perth, Western Australia, but is not autobiographical. Readers ask which parts are real? Some people say ‘weren’t your parents brave.’
Brave is going to a country with a different language or as an asylum seeker, being invited by the Australian government and given free passage with only £10 per adult to pay for administration costs, is not in the same league. Of course leaving your relatives behind and burning your boats with no job to go to and little capital is braver than staying put…
I needed my mother’s help to get the adult point of view, but the Palmer family are not my family. I wanted the story to be realistic, so the Palmers follow the same journey as we did. The ‘six week holiday of a lifetime’ sounded fun and I was envious of those who had come by ship, crossed the equator and met King Neptune, but the Palmer family had to fly.
I knew no one who had been in the migrant camps: I don’t think my father would have persuaded Mum to go at all if she had to face the prospect of a camp! She hadn’t been in the services during the war and had gone from home straight to marriage, so barracks and camps did not fall within her experience. Dad knew ‘someone from the office’ who had migrated and they sponsored us. The chap met us at the airport well gone midnight and as we drove across to the other side of the little city Mum was already looking out of the ‘station wagon’ in dismay. Once on our own, inside the caravan booked for us, she was soon saying ‘Rob, what have you brought us to’. We hadn’t seen much in the dark, but Mum had apparently focused on endless rows of electricity poles. Full of the whole big adventure I was exasperated that she was complaining when we had only been in Australia two hours.
The friend returned at nine am to take us down to Scarborough Beach. His family had taken to beach life and were living ‘the dream’. My younger brother and sister were terrified of the waves and I clung to a plastic surfboard, too embarrassed to tell their children I couldn’t swim. After that experience the only beach my parents wanted to sit on was Crawley Beach by the Swan River. It was very pleasant and Mum and Dad treated this first week as a holiday, we even had an ice cream every day, unprecedented, though it was not like Mr. Whippy and tended to have lumps of ice. Perth City was small then and you couldn’t get lost. Supreme Court Gardens were very pleasant and down by the Swan River was the wide open esplanade, so far we were living the dream.
After one night in the cramped caravan I had been despatched, or invited, I’m not sure which, to stay with the family of our sponsor. I was to be in the boy’s class at school and his younger sister did ballet, so I had nothing in common with her! I cringe now to think of my prepubescent self wandering around a house of strangers in my flimsy baby doll pyjamas, but all was above board.
After a week Mum and Dad had found a house to rent; as the venetian blinds were closed they didn’t see properly what it was like until Mum pulled the blinds up when we moved in. The only neighbour to speak to Mum was a Dutch lady. It was also time for me and my younger brother to start school, where their summer term was in full swing. This was nothing compared to the reality that Dad had to find a job and a house to buy and our packing cases were not going to arrive… more next week.
Read about the strange year leading up to our departure from England in last year’s blog.
Read more about my novel at my website.
Peek inside the book.
What was your worst Christmas, your strangest? Some Christmas memories blend in, others are never forgotten. For those of us who had a happy childhood Christmas remains in our memories as a time of heady excitement; dark winter days brightened with nativity plays, school parties and candlelit churches. There was one traumatic experience that dulled the excitement when I was seven. At school we were told to write a letter to Father Christmas, the girl sitting in front of me turned round and said ‘What’s the point of writing to Father Christmas when he doesn’t really exist?’ I tried to appear nonchalant, I was not going to admit my ignorance, but I was devastated. As soon as I got home from school I asked my mother if it was true; my last hopes were dashed and she swore me to secrecy, not to spoil it for my younger siblings. I soon recovered, the Christmas atmosphere remained and there was still the thrill of presents to unwrap.
When I was eleven we emigrated to Western Australia; our arrival was in October, we moved to our new house in December and my childhood Christmases disappeared forever. This was not the fault of Australia or my parents; I was growing up, the dark mystery of winter days was replaced by bright sunshine, we knew nobody, there were no gift bearing relatives visiting and my parents’ budget was tight. But by the following year Christmases were settling into a new pattern and we acquired family friends to celebrate with.
My first Christmas away from home, when I was nineteen, came about when my best friend and I planned a six week summer holiday trip across Australia, inveigling a mutual friend to share the driving and his car across the Nullabor Plain. She assured me her relatives in South Australia would be delighted to have the three of us for Christmas and indeed they were very welcoming. A collection of aunts and uncles had orchards and shops. On the first morning of our stay my two friends were commandeered to take one of the aunts to hospital with a miscarriage, I was left behind to look after her young children who I had never met before. More relatives arrived and unbeknown to us they had spotted a freezer that didn’t work properly in uncle’s shop, they warned each other not to eat the chicken. A very pleasant Christmas Day was followed by food poisoning on Boxing Day.
Next week – what was I doing at Heathrow Airport 6am one Christmas morning?
Quarter Acre Block follows the Palmer family as they emigrate to Western Australia in October 1964. At Christmas they realise how much they have left behind.