How well do I remember that November evening when I first stepped out of the plane that had brought me and my Australian husband to Brisbane International airport, only to be met by a blast of oven-hot air. It was 1969, I was about three months pregnant, and it was just beginning to dawn on me the enormity of the step I had taken in leaving family and friends behind in England.
We were to begin our Australian life living with my mother-in-law whose last words to my husband Don had been, “Have a good time in the UK but for goodness sake do not come home with a Pommie wife.” I was understandably nervous, but Elvie turned out to be kind and understanding of the delicate flower that her son had transplanted to such foreign climes. The house at Windsor was an old-style Queenslander with a central living-room and bedrooms leading off the living room on to a closed-in veranda. There were no doors but that made it cool if somewhat lacking in privacy I thought.
There was a bathroom upstairs, but downstairs, the wonder of wonders, was a giant shower and an automatic washing machine, something I had never seen before in my entire life. I was still suffering from morning sickness but could enjoy pineapples and strawberries, on which I lived until my nausea abated. There was one fan which lived on the floor, but this did not do much to keep me from suffering from the heat, so I took to the bath where I lay in cold water. “Where is Don’s new wife?” I would hear people ask. “Having a cold bath” would come the reply.
I was hardly fit for visitors, so I would dive deeper into my aqueous refuge. I soon learned about mosquitoes. Why would they bother biting anyone else when they had delicious fresh flesh to feast upon? Those enormous Scotch Greys made straight for any part of my anatomy that was exposed. After a few weeks, Don decided to introduce me to Bribie, tales of which he had used to encourage me to accompany him to his homeland. We traveled by bus as we had not yet acquired a car. Dwelpine, the beach house I was to learn to love so much, was, at first sight, a bit of a shock.
Yes, it did have electricity, and water from a rainwater tank. I turned the tap and water gushed forth, but what were all those wrigglers in the glass? Don gently explained that for a while, at least, we would need to boil the water before drinking it! A further horror was to follow almost immediately. My legs began to itch. I looked down and found them covered in fleas. This did not seem to worry my husband who quickly grabbed a kind of pump which contained some form of insecticide, and pumped away until the floor was covered with tiny corpses.
Since the house had not been used for some time, flea eggs had lain dormant until our footsteps had woken them from their slumber and convinced them it was time for breakfast. We were staying the night and so two beds were pushed together. Don found a large mosquito net and a sheet and we settled down for the night, waking to a glorious sunny morning.
We put on our bathers and rushed down to the beach where we found an old wooden boat, not in the best condition, but it stayed afloat as long as I bailed and Don rowed. We were at some distance from the shore when I heard a strange blowing sound and a head appeared beside us. It was a large turtle. I was beside myself with excitement but my husband had decided it was time for my next lesson.
We headed for the beach and Don decided that if we were to eat that night, we had better catch some fish. He rigged up the rods and demonstrated how to cast using an Alvey reel, always my favourite, and being an amazingly quick learner, I followed suit. Imagine my joy, and perhaps amazement, when I felt a tug on the line and following instructions, hauled in a sizable fish which I took off the line feeling very pleased with myself. Husband, not so impressed, could not stop laughing and said I had a lot to learn.
Apparently, one does not catch mullet with a hook and sinker. All was not lost and later that day I was showing him that my zoology degree was not in vain, and I was catching winter whiting like a professional. I might also add that I learned how to catch, scale and fillet as well as any man, plus packet fish ready for freezing. And I could cook the fish in a delicious beer batter, not such a useless Pom after all! I gave up attempts at baking bread when I discovered Kling’s Bakery, which did the job more efficiently and with less effort on my part. Tomatoes came from Sister Ursula at St Michael’s.
They were five cents a pound if I remember correctly. Meanwhile, Don kept missing out on better and better employment, but I look back on those days together as pure bliss. Even the rat that landed on my face in the middle of the night had its humour. My “Hero” grabbed a broom and chased the rodent into what was laughingly called the washroom, one cold tap and an enamel basin, from whence I heard thumps and bangs until there was silence.
The victorious hero entered the bedroom holding the bloodied rodent by the tail. It was a wonder that the daughter did not arrive before the expected date, but again, my previous experience in handling rats, came in useful, and we were able to see the funny side of the experience. Eventually, Don did obtain a job, and I did my bit by giving birth to a baby girl and so the next episode will be called Post-Partum.