I’ve had quite a long break because I’ve had a lot of trouble with severe sciatic pain and I’ve been concentrating on my artwork at:
because basically it keeps me sane when things get somewhat painful.
Suddenly, however, a fair few comments have popped up about this blog so I decided I’d better get myself into gear and get writing again.
Since my last post was about leaving Australia for the UK in 2002 (it lasted two years, by the way!) I decided to continue with the start of my adventures in Australia in which:
The Intrepid Life Traveller, Ms Goody-Two-Shoes,
Stepped into the Telephone Box in Perth, Western Australia,
in dreary, conscientious, reliable clothing
With Purple Hair
And Bright Red Knickers over the Purple Tights
Founding Member Arty-Farty Brigade!
To be very honest I was quite surprised recently when the guy I travelled with (we broke up but remain good friends) told me recently he was really grateful I’d suggested a holiday in Australia. I actually don’t remember this but I guess Australia had always been on my horizon knowing my parents had got all the approvals to emigrate Downunder in the post-war period until my mother changed her mind at the last moment.
SHIP-JET TO PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
We, Jack and I, travelled to Australia for a working holiday via jet to Singapore and then ship to Perth, Western Australia. It was dirt cheap and, in those days, because we were British, we could enter Australia without visas and work also without needing any visa.
The jet part was one of the early budget flights and I remember it going on and on seemingly forever. I’d muddled up time change so had no idea how long we’d been in the air and how long we’d keep flying. I do remember feeling a bit airsick and had just got a glass of water to take some tablets when we hit severe disturbance. The jet dropped god knows how many feet, the water stayed in the air while the glass went down with me, and looking up it was like slow motion as the water – free of the constraints of the glass – fell down on me and left me soaked to the skin!
Finally we arrived in Singapore to warm, humid weather and a hostile Customs officer who decided that, as Jack’s hair was a bit too long, his passport would be confiscated and only returned when the ship set sail. I remember Singapore being squeaky clean and full of flowers but really was too jetlagged to take much notice.
We set sail on the Patris ship, full of excitement at embarking on a sea cruise, but I have to tell you that it was utterly, utterly boring. I don’t like constant entertainment and every available public area had something on – nightclub, movies, bingo, etc., etc. I spent a lot of time lolling around in deck chairs or down below in the cabin. We were also, by the way, segregated. Women-only cabins and men-only cabins. The only thing to fill the endless days and empty seas were food and booze, and the food was not particularly brilliant. It was even less brilliant when we hit rough seas and meal times were more an exercise in not throwing up rather than getting food down as the restaurant was towards the prow of the boat! So it was with a sigh of relief that we both emerged above decks early one morning in the hazy light of sunrise, to see the shoreline of Australia squatting hazily on the horizon.
And it was THEN I thought to myself, what the heck have we done? Set sail to a strange country the other side of the world, without too much in the way of back-up funds, where we need to find work and accommodation pretty much pronto! Bit late for commonsense to hit but I remember really getting butterflies in my stomach as the dark coastline of Australia came closer and closer, looking quite mysterious and a bit malevolent, until finally we sailed into Fremantle port, south of Perth, and docked at the quayside.
Disembarkation took a while but soon we were traipsing across to Fremantle train station to buy our tickets to Perth. We had a great introduction to Australia: when we asked for our tickets, the ticket officer asked where we’d come from. We said England, just arrived via ship-jet, and his response was: “More Pommie bastards. The place is sinking with ’em. Why don’t you all stay at home?” We were somewhat taken aback but found others we met later were, luckily, a lot more friendly and helpful.
We stayed in a cheap hotel the first few days and got ourselves acclimatised to Perth while we looked for a flat and jobs. Perth at that time was more like a big town than the big metropolis it is now. It was like stepping back twenty years in time as it was old-fashioned, parochial and very quiet after the hustle and bustle of London where Jack and I had both lived and worked prior to our Australian adventure. On Saturdays, shops closed at midday, older ladies wore really old-fashioned dresses (frocks) with long sleeves, stockings, ghastly shoes, prim hats and gloves, all this in really hot temperatures! When we first came across The West Australian, the local newspaper, we thought it was a weekly local rag, a bit like the newsy local publication which appeared once a week in Canterbury. But, no, this was the daily newspaper and it was pathetic – bad layout, anti anything from “the Eastern States”, utterly WA-centric, and hostage to the mining cowboys starting to make their mark. Actually, when I last saw the newspaper when we stopped in Perth on our way to North Cyprus, it hadn’t changed much except to get worse!
JOBS AND SETTLING IN
We found a flat quickly as in those days they were plentiful, cheap and cheerful. After the miserable digs we’d experienced in London we thought we were in clover – a nice bedroom, separate shower and bathroom, fridge, and it was clean and bright. What we didn’t realise was that the flat we’d found was the bottom of the pile, the flats that young people and young couples moved in to to start an independent life. To us, though, it was absolute luxury after the really awful housing you used to get in London if you weren’t among the super-rich. We rapidly bought some more necessities like kitchenware, coffee tables and so on, and then turned to the question of jobs.
On the Monday after we arrived we caught the train to Perth (we’d found a flat on the Fremantle-Perth line) and started haring down the platform when we arrived. Then we noticed the looks of surprise on the faces of other train passengers and realised everyone else was strolling along at a gentle pace! Yes, life was in the slow lane in Perth in 1972 and we soon adapted.
Jack found a job delivering bread to houses which was common in those days while I found a job working in a French company quite a way from where we lived, but it was a job and we both had an income coming in. We were amazed to find how high wages were and how low income tax was compared to the UK. In London I’d been earning £26 a week, with nearly half going on taxes. In Australia I was earning $70 a week and when I saw I’d only paid $3 in taxes, I approached the accountant as I thought there’d been a mistake. But no, tax was minimal and, even more surprising, a couple of weeks later I got a rise to $75 because there was something called an Award which was regulated by a commission and they’d given my class of office worker a raise without my even having to ask! Neither of us could believe our luck!
THE STIRRINGS OF REBELLION
Australia was, however, a huge turning point for me. Until we arrived in Perth, I’d been conventional, conservative and pretty myopic in my thinking. The first stirrings of rebellion in me happened when the guy I worked for in my first job called me “the girl”. I was mortally offended by this term as it was so derogatory. I remember one day my boss and his partner went to a liquid lunch (i.e., they went to a pub and got stuck into the booze) forgot an appointment and when the guy turned up he was ropeable. He rang back later that day and I heard my boss blame “the girl” so I leaned over, grabbed the phone and shouted down it: “I’m not the girl, I didn’t forget, they went and got drunk”. Amazingly I didn’t get the sack, but it was the nail in the coffin for me as far as that job was concerned. I also got further impetus to leave when the accountant, who’d acted rather oddly at times, turned up late one morning as pissed as a parrot and I found out he was a raging alcoholic.
I had a look in the local paper, The West Australian, for a job and found one as the office supervisor and secretary to the Managing Director in a small engineering firm not far from where I lived and, best of all, it had air-conditioning! The first time it hit 100F/37.8C in the brick block which was my first place of work, I thought I’d die with the heat. I stuck it out for a while then crept into the restroom, whipped my pantyhose off and scuttled back to my desk with bare legs which I thought was incredibly daring. Actually, no-one noticed and young women in 1972 had started going without pantyhose in the summer as it was so much more comfortable. It was only the older generation of women who turned out in pantyhose and how they managed to look so cool was quite beyond me!
I also got cranky when I stayed in our flat on a Sunday while Jack went out to play football and have a good time. I did try going to one football match which I found incredibly boring, it seemed to last forever and I had no interest in the women who only talked about their babies, nappies and homes. And so, when I saw a report on members of Women’s Liberation, who had picketed schools to hand out contraception information, I felt the first stirrings of interest. I wrote to them via the newspaper but never heard back. However, when I quit my office job, because the area organiser for Western Australia for the Australian Union of Students and came into contact with members of Women’s Liberation, it was as if lights went off for me and I was off and running on the path very much less travelled!
When I first moved to Perth in 1972, the climate was wet and somewhat cold in winter (quite warm, actually, in comparison to the UK!), while the summers were very dry and hot. If you got a day of 40C, you’d likely get the sea breeze, known as the Fremantle Doctor, coming in around early to mid-afternoon when temperatures would drop very fast to the mid- to high 20Cs. In prolonged hot periods, you’d get hot, gusty gully winds in the hills and blowing through the city, while some nights the temperatures wouldn’t drop too much, which led to hot, sweaty, sleepless nights.
By the time we moved East, Perth had morphed from a bit of an overgrown town to a full-size city. It had stretched its tentacles along the coast and development had covered much of the green areas that had existed when I first lived in the city. By the same token, the climate was changing. Whereas previously the Fremantle Doctor was a given, by 1994 it had weakened and the weather had grown less predictable. Nevertheless, it was still a pretty dry climate.
We’d checked out the climate in Brisbane and it didn’t go much above 36C in summer which thought was pretty terrific. Unfortunately we didn’t know about the humidity which makes life in Queensland pretty challenging in the summer.
Anyway, eager for Mo and Bryan’s Next Big Adventure, we climbed on the plane to Brisbane in September 1994, along with our 3 cats – Mr Smudge, Daisy and Jessie – and Rosie, our Jack Russell who had landed serependitiously in our family after Chloe died.
The first thing that struck me about Brisbane was the warmth, humidity, the dampness, the softness lying in the air, so very different from Perth. This city felt quite different, as if somehow we’d entered another country even though we’d only travelled across the continent to another part of Australia.
We stayed in a truly crappy hotel where the room was miserable and the staff were surly and unpleasant. And on our first night we watched the news to see, in the weather section, that a line of severe storms was moving from Boonah to the Bunyips. We had no idea what sub-tropical storms were like but this little bit of news was a portent as we ended up living in Boonah eventually.
As our car was being trucked across the Nullarbor from Perth to Brisbane, we decided to hire a car. And came across something new again.
“Don’t park under mango trees”, the hire bloke said to us.
Never having come across mango trees in Perth, we were puzzled.
“Their sap ruins the ducco”, he advised. Another hint that things were different in this State.
Now while we sold our home for what was then a good price in Perth, house prices were much higher in Queensland at that time than back in Western Australia. So we panicked a bit. To be absolutely truthful, we panicked a hell of a lot. We couldn’t afford to stay for long in motels, so the first priority was to find a home in new pastures which were completely strange to us.
Welcome to stress city. And also welcome to what I eventually would come to realise were greater forces at work than we realised. Synchronicity started to grease the engine of Mo and Bryan’s descent into the Underworld.
On his holiday in Queensland, Bryan had stayed on the Gold Coast, south-east of the city centre, and had waxed lyrical to me about the beautiful Tamborine Mountain in the hinterland. So while we were house-hunting, we also decided to have a look around this fascinating area. We heard our first whip bird there. The male makes a sound remarkably like a whip and the female bird chimes a “whup-whup” at the end. We climbed among the lush greenery, and stood in awe at the amazing views from the peak of Tamborine.
We started driving down the mountain away from the coast and stopped for a coffee and break at Canungra, halfway down. I suddenly saw a small real estate agency and wandered over to look at the photos of homes for sale. There was a property which suited us down to the ground, so we went to have a look at it, liked it, put in an offer which was accepted and went off to get the deposit cheque. When we got back to the real estate agency the next day, the seller had changed his mind. Whether he thought he’d get us to up our offer, I don’t know as he said he’d had a better offer overnight. As it was, he went begging and I have to admit that, when I saw the property still for sale a year later, I felt a little bit of glee that he’d fallen flat on his face.
After this upset, we really moved into Panic City. The real estate agent was very apologetic, and rustled up another place for us to view – a farm close to a town called Boonah. We had no idea where Boonah was and it was rather like driving off into the wild, blue yonder. We seemed to be driving for ever when we crested a hill and there was a quite beautiful little town below us, nestled in a valley surrounded by absolutely awe-inspiring mountains, in an area known as The Scenic Rim.
The real estate agent we met there took us off to look at the farm. “Dilapidated” would have been too kind a word for it, it was a god-awful wreck. So that was a no go. Then he took us off to look at a smallholding on Mt French, a mountain just behind Boonah. What we didn’t realise was that we were having a close encounter of the White Shoe Brigade kind. This Brigade was a shonky band of real estate operators in Queensland who were renowned for their hustles and scams. And what our personal version of the WSB dished up was that old, old trick – show the punters a clapped-out old house then wheel them into to one that looks heaps better, sit back and whip out your contract for them to sign.
And that’s precisely what happened to us. We were shown a low-set home (not set up on stumps which in Queensland is known as a high-set) which was modern, on one acre and set half-way up the mountain with magnificent views of the Border Ranges to the south and pure silence. We were hooked. Couldn’t wait to sign the contract. Only a few weeks later we realised that we’d been ripped off – a far too high price in a market at rock bottom, plus the real estate agent and seller were friends. We were on a block with tank water but no water of its own. And in the middle of a drought which was still going strong, this was not an ideal situation. But at the time we knew no better.
The first sign that things were not going well was the huge attack of bronchitis and ‘flu to which I succumbed – yet again – while we were living in a motel and waiting for the property settlement. I was as sick as a dog. Closely following on this was a toothache which led to a root canal filling which led to the first dent in our savings. The saving grace for our sanity was that the people renting moved out early and we were able to move in prior to settlement of the house sale.
I can remember standing on the wide verandah of this quite spacious home, staring at the wonderful view, listening to the profound silence except for the wind, and saying to my husband: “What have we done to deserve this?” And, although he didn’t tell me at the time, Bryan looked around and thought: “What the hell have we done?” He has a nose for trouble, my husband, and he was quite right.