Annie’s Secret-11

Chapter 11

In a moment Jack’s world changed forever.  He sat opposite his old friend John Thorne and received the grim news. The cancer that dogged him since the end of the World War 2 had recurred. If he was lucky he would live for eighteen months, maybe two years.

Jack left the surgery with a sense of unreality.  It had been a good life but he wasn’t ready for it to end.  He didn’t want to go home and face his anxious wife.  He needed to talk to people who didn’t know him well, about anything but his health.  Maybe he could call round on Hayden and Annie with a couple of bottles of beer.

After calling Enid to say he would be late he took the short walk from his office to the house on 11th Street.  As he knocked on the door he remembered Hayden had flown to Sydney again to source more equipment.  Oh well, too late to back out now.  Maybe he could pick up the diary he had loaned to Hayden.

Annie looked surprised but asked him in and fetched two glasses.  She brought out Sao biscuits, cheese and pickled onions and lit the fire which was set ready in the grate.

“I was just reading your diary.  I’m up to the time you and a friend discussed the Soldier Settlers Scheme. How did you manage to end up here?”

Glad to tell the familiar story Jack swallowed his beer and lay back in the armchair.  “After the war I went home to Castlemaine.  It was claustrophobic there after the freedom I had experienced travelling the world.  I left for Melbourne to find out more about the Soldier Settlers Scheme.  Just outside Flinders Street Station I saw a display of produce from Mildura so went over to have a look.  There was a very nice lady called Helen helping at the stand. I told her I was interested in settling up here so she said to look up her father, Ted Elliott, an engineer.

Soon after that I caught the train to Mildura.  It was a long tiring journey and when at last the train pulled into the station at 8 o’clock in the morning I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone. You wouldn’t believe it but the person standing just outside the station was someone I knew from the army. He was a bit of a pain so did my best to avoid him.  Too late he saw me and wanted to know what I was doing in Mildura, so I quickly said I was there to meet Ted Elliott.  Blow me down, he pointed and said, ‘Nothing easier, there he is.  Right there.’

Can you imagine how I felt? I had never met this man before so had to do some quick talking to get away from the army buddy. I got invited to Ted’s home.  His daughter Enid, who of course was Helen’s sister, had a birthday party with some of her girlfriends planned for later that day.  They didn’t seem too keen to have me burst in on their party like that but I got on really well with Enid and decided she was the one for me.  I went home, gathered my belongings and in two weeks I was back.  The rest is history.”

“I met some nice girls in France, England and even in America where I went after the war but Enid was different. She was very accomplished, played the piano, sang beautifully and I just knew I would become a better person with her by my side,” he said, pouring another glass of beer. “Tell me how you ended up marrying a chap like Hayden.”

“I had never known anyone like Hayden. Up until I met him it was all about survival but suddenly there were new cars and restaurants, race meetings and good times. For the first time in my life I was having fun and had something to look forward to. Of course it has not been a picnic since we were married. We’ve had drought, diseased sheep and hard work with not much to show for it but Hayden has such enthusiasm for every new project it’s hard not to get caught up in it. However, I’m sick of always moving on. That’s why I want to stay here in Mildura.“

“Maybe now you are settled you can start a family. Raising four wonderful children has been the greatest achievement of my life.” Bert looked at Annie with a smile.

She had promised herself never to tell a soul but the beer loosened her tongue and Jack was such a reassuring presence. She recounted the details of her visit to Dr Thorne. Suddenly she looked defeated and covered her face with her hands. “He must never know,” she said. “Men are different to women.  They think not being able to father a child makes them less of a man.”

“Do you feel less of a woman because you are not a mother?” asked Jack.

“No, of course not.”  She smiled. “Women are made of sterner stuff.” A look of doubt crossed her face. “You won’t say anything?”

“Of course not,” Jack replied.  He paused and thought for a moment. “I’ve got a secret too. The doc told me my time here on earth is coming to an end.  I won’t make old bones.”

Annie was speechless for a while. “I’m so sorry,” she finally said. “How long…?”

“If I’m careful I may have another two years.  Good God, I’m not ready to go yet.  There is still so much to do!  I have a family and they still need me.”

He looked at Annie thoughtfully. “You know, I don’t believe in an after-life but I do think we are here for a reason.  And that reason is to continue the human race.  When you think of our ancestors who came here on sailing ships to start a new life in an unknown country, what was it for?  They did it for their children and their children’s children.  Otherwise, what is the point of life?”

“There is no point,” said Annie. “It’s all about survival and then you die.”

“But a little part of you continues in your descendants,” replied Jack.

“What about those of us who will never have children? I suppose all we can do is live for the moment and try to be good people because in another fifty years we will be just dust and ashes and nothing will remain,” said Annie.

Their eyes met and it was as if the stars had suddenly aligned.  A sense of mutual understanding coupled with a sudden unexpected feeling of longing and sadness overwhelmed them both. All thoughts of wives and husbands, responsibilities and obligations, retreated into the darkness and all that remained was the light of the flickering fire and their need for each other.

As Jack made ready to leave later that evening he looked into Annie’s questioning blue eyes.

“As I said, things happen for a reason. Maybe we are just pawns in the game of life.  I think what happened tonight was meant to be … but it must never happen again.  As the poet Longfellow wrote, ‘we are but ships that pass in the night’. Farewell, my sweet, and may the gods grant you your heart’s desire!”

Annie’s Secret-10

Palace Heliopolis, Cairo

Annie’s throat had been sore for weeks and it was getting worse.  There were several doctors in town so when she dropped off the rent she asked Jack which one he recommended.

“My old friend John Thorne is as good as they get,” he replied.  “We’re on the hospital board together.  He’s a busy man but I’ll put in a good word for you. His treatments are at the cutting edge of medicine.”

Two days later Annie met the tall, somewhat fearsome doctor who examined her throat and made her say “Aaah!”

He shook his head and looked at her directly.  “That is a very bad Strep Throat.  A few years ago you may have had this condition for months.  In fact you may not have fully recovered or had complications.  There is now a drug called penicillin which will clear up your throat infection within twenty four hours.  We can thank the great Australian Howard Florey for that.”

Annie stared at the long needle with fear but lay on her stomach, eyes closed, while the injection took place.

Once more seated opposite the doctor she waited pensively while he wrote something on a paper form.

“Now you are here I will gather some more information.  I see you are married but no children.  Any miscarriages?”

Annie was somewhat taken aback by the doctor’s bluntness but answered quietly.  “No, I’ve never been pregnant.”

“Let’s see.  You are thirty-two years of age and have been married for fourteen years.  I take it you have chosen not to have children?”

Annie couldn’t believe what she was hearing but decided she had no choice but to answer. “I’ve … I mean we’ve never thought about it.  It just hasn’t happened.”

“Well now, I would like you to come for an examination in about two week’s time, when you are better.  Just to make sure there are no underlying conditions.”

“I can’t afford another doctor’s visit,” Annie said with regret.  She thought of the discussion with Hayden over the advisability of this visit.  It was only because she had been so sick and all the old remedies had not helped that they both agreed it was the only solution.

Doctor Thorne leapt out of his seat with a sudden movement.  “Good God, woman, this is not about money.  I’m genuinely interested in your case.  I want to make you part of my research.  Now go and make an appointment at the desk and I’ll see you in a fortnight.”

The penicillin did its work and Annie was feeling her old self within days.  She decided not to mention her next doctor’s visit to Hayden as pregnancy was a subject they avoided discussing.  In fact they never talked about their sex life.  It was something that happened quickly beneath the blankets, in the dark.

Dr Thorne warned of what was to come and asked her to try and relax.  Lying under a sheet she gritted her teeth and closed her eyes.  Eventually the procedure was over and she was left to dress herself before seeing the doctor again.

“You are a very healthy, very fit young woman.  There is absolutely no reason I can see that you have not become pregnant.  Of course, there could be something my examination didn’t find but I think the next step is to test your husband’s sperm.”

“Hayden would never come in to see you about that!”  Annie was wide eyed at the idea.

“He doesn’t need to.  Here is a sterile glass jar.  All you need to do is bring in a fresh sample for testing.  Try to bring it in on the same day and keep it wrapped up so it doesn’t get cold.”

Annie was left with the daunting task of obtaining the sample.  She decided she would have to tell Hayden everything but surprisingly he didn’t object.  He even said it might be nice to have a baby which left her in a state of confusion.


“So there it is,” Dr Thorne looked at Annie sadly.  “The reason you have not become pregnant in fourteen years is your husband has a very low sperm count.”

“Can you do anything about it?” Annie asked.  “Maybe a tonic to improve his…”  She still couldn’t say it.

“One possibility is sperm donation.  It has been happening for hundreds of years.  The old turkey baster…”

Annie looked puzzled.

“Of course,  nowadays a syringe is used.  The donor provides fresh sperm which is injected at the precise time of the month for conception to take place.  Sometimes it works but it often takes many attempts which you can see is difficult for the donor who has to be in the general area at the time.”

“The whole thing is kept very secret.  The child never knows that its father is not the one who raises it.  The only people who know are the parents.  Often not even the donor is told who the mother is.”

Annie shook her head. “My husband would never agree to it.  It looks as though it was not meant to be.  Thank you doctor,  for your help. Could I ask that you not tell Hayden about his results.  I think he would be devastated.”

When Hayden asked what the doctor said she simply replied, “You are fine.  There’s no reason we can’t have children.  I just need to get my anxiety levels down.  That’s all.”


It was several weeks before Annie had time to return to the diary.  Hayden was in Sydney again with strict instruction not to visit Thommo’s and squander their precious money. She left the Customs House early to begin her afternoon of reading. The faded script was hard to see by the dim light of an electric bulb so she planned to use the winter sunshine and a pot of tea to help her decipher it.  Stretching out in a comfortable chair, the sun streaming in through the kitchen window, she turned to the page where she had left off.

Lemnos

I reached my favourite spot in the shade of the Greek Church verandah and gingerly stretched out on the patchy grass.  It was my habit to come here every day to escape the sweltering heat.  My arm still hurt but I had hopes of exploring the island when I felt a bit better.  In the meantime I watched the local children playing in the dust, saw the women in their local costumes coming to draw water from the well and chatted to the passing soldiers from numerous allied countries.

The hospital was not a place you would want to spent time if you could help it.  Forty men, jammed into a marquee like herrings in a tin, lay on lousy mattresses and ate food swarming with flies from the nearby latrines.

Fed up with days of inactivity I decided to explore the nearby hills.  Climbing with a couple of mates I found neglected orchards, admired views of the sea and feasted on grapes in an overrun vineyard.  That night I didn’t feel too good and for the next week hovered near the dreaded latrines until my stomach settled down to normal.  Another week of feeling weak and with my arm still painful, I couldn’t have been more delighted than when I received the call to report to the ship ‘Marathon’.  We steamed to Alexandria where we were given first class train tickets to Cairo.

The Palace Heliopolis in Cairo, all glittering marble and brass, could make a man think he had died and gone to heaven.  After registration I was shown to the bathroom where the steaming hot water was waiting to wash months of accumulated dirt from my body.

Back in my room I met Jim who was to share with me.

“Will you look at this!”  Jim pointed to a box, already opened on the bed, its contents spilling out onto the sheet.

“Chocolate and biscuits.  Lots of ciggies. Toothpaste and a toothbrush.  It’s like bloody Christmas!”

“What else is there?” I asked.

“Writing paper, envelopes, pencils.  No excuse not to write to my girl now. Oh. and smell that soap.  Even a handkerchief to blow me nose on.”  Jim unwrapped the soap and disappeared into the bathroom for his bath.

I slowly unwrapped my box.  The notepaper reminded me of Sheila.  I wrote to her as often as I could but her replies were short and infrequent.  Maybe she had met someone else?  I wandered over to the doors which opened onto a small balcony.  Two cane chairs were placed invitingly facing out towards the garden.  As I sat and pondered I wondered what lay ahead.  This paradise could not last forever but while I was here I would live for the moment and enjoy it while I could.

Tea was waiting downstairs.  Boiled eggs with bread and butter followed by jam and apples.  A mug of ale appeared at 7 o’clock and a cup of cocoa at 8.

A friendly nurse came to check on my wound and dressed it carefully.

“We’ll have you fixed up in no time,” she smiled brightly.

Maybe it was the surroundings, maybe because they were Australian, but the nurses here were lively and full of fun.  I enjoyed their company and the feeling was mutual, I think.

I soon moved to Luna Park Hospital where my only complaint was the bed bugs.  Finally I was discharged and returned to my unit.  Declared unfit for duty I scored an office job in Cairo as a clerk for the army.   With France still on the horizon I began  French lessons but rumour had it that we would soon be in the desert “Scrapping Arabs”.

My first camp in the desert was at Serapeum on the edge of the Suez Canal.  An infantry camp with thousands of Australians was nearby but I was sent with nine others to the railhead in Arabia to sort out a depot which was in chaos. I was officer in Charge of ‘Bread and Biscuits’, complete with an Arab servant and we got things sorted out pretty soon. Overseeing the loading of 2000 camels in the mornings, swimming the horses in the Suez Canal, wearing goggles in the sandstorms and chasing my runaway tent in the wind was all part of the job and kept me from worrying too much about the future.

A young chap by the name of Tyrel Palmer called by to have a chat. We both smoked in the shade of the store pile and let our thoughts wander back home to Australia.

“Have you heard about the Soldier Settlers Scheme?” Tyrel said.  “We both qualify because we’ve served overseas.  All we’ve got to do is make it safely back home.”

“I’ve heard of it,” I considered my cigarette, decided it was done and searched for some tobacco and paper. “Don’t know where you might end up.  They might give you some scrub that’s good for nothing.”

“Well I read that they’re developing land near Mildura.  They already grow grapes there using water from the Murray but this section will have a new pumping station and irrigation to every block.”

“The thing is, what do you do with grapes?  I suppose you can eat them or make wine.”

“You dry them.  Then you can put them in plum puddings.  Apparently there’s a big demand because they used to come from Turkey and Greece.”

I sat there with Tyrel, imagining myself sitting on the verandah of my own house, overlooking the verdant grapevines fed by the mighty Murray River, far from bombs and destruction.  I liked what I saw and decided that if I survived this war I would go to this place and live there for the rest of my days.

Jack Hamilton

Annie looked up.  She could hear the crunch of footsteps on the gravel path.  Then the sound of knocking had her wondering  who would be visiting her at this time of day.  She regretfully put down the diary and went to see who it was. There on the front verandah was Jack Hamilton.

Annie’s Secret-9

Chapter 9

Hayden left all the accounting to Annie.  She often thought of George, her friend at Roma High School, who fancifully suggested she keep the books in his medical practice.  Maybe she should have stayed on at school and taken up Business Studies.  She felt unable to cope with the problems that now faced her.  In front of her was a list of people who owed them money.  A long list.  She had sent them letters reminding them that the money was due but had received only one or two replies.  Those who did reply begged for more time until money was available.

Why buy something when you have no money? she wondered.  Business had been going so well and now they didn’t have enough money to pay for Hayden’s next purchase at the Sydney sales.  Then there was the rent on the Custom’s House and their cottage. As she buried her face in her hands she felt panic rising and her heart beat faster.  Will it always be like this?

A knock at the door brought her back to the present.  It was Jack, looking a little shamefaced.

“I’m sorry to bother you but I wondered if you had forgotten the rent?  It was due a week ago.  If you need more time just let me know but I thought it might have just slipped your mind with Hayden being away.”

Annie was puzzled.  How could she have forgotten?  She was sure she had paid it.  Now she remembered.  She had given it to Hayden in an envelope and asked him to drop it off at the Real Estate Agents just before he flew to Sydney.  He must have forgotten.  She opened the safe, pleased that there was just enough to cover the rent.  That meant nothing for food until some more of those debtors paid up.

“I’m sorry Mr Hamilton.  I promise you that will never happen again.  I’m afraid the accounts get on top of me sometimes.”

She paused, thought for a moment and decided to confide in him.  “I wonder if you could give me some advice.  We have a lot of money owing to us and even though I have written letters no one is paying.  How can I get them to pay what they owe us?”  She smiled.  “I suppose I could do what you did to me and go to their blocks and ask for it?”

Jack sat down on a chair near her desk.  “First of all let’s dispense with this Mr Hamilton business. Call me Jack. Everyone does. Now my suggestion is not to let any more goods go out without being paid on the spot.  Don’t extend any credit.  You can’t afford it.  Then I would treat each case differently depending on who it is.  Do you mind if I have a look at that list?  I might know some of them.”

He cast his eye down the row of names.  “That one, that one and that one.  They can afford to pay.  I would give them seven days to pay or you will send someone to reclaim the goods.  Some of these others genuinely are doing it tough.  Give them the option of paying you a certain amount per week until the debt is paid.  Just a small amount that they can manage.”

Annie felt hopeful for the first time.  She realised that Hayden would never have Jack’s business sense so resolutely determined that from now on she would have much more say in how things were run.

Jack jumped up to leave but turned suddenly.  “Saturday night we are having a few people around for drinks and savouries.  You and Hayden must come.  Think of it as your welcome to Mildura! What do you say?”

“I’ll have to ask Hayden.  But thank you very much for the invitation.”

Annie now had something else to panic about.  Would Hayden want to go?  Would they be able to mingle with Jack’s friends? Would she be able to think of anything to say?  What should she wear?


Hayden sat at the dining table while Annie prepared the evening meal in the kitchen.  Since his return that day she had acted normally but meanwhile planning the surprise that might bring him to his senses.  As she brought out the steaming plates he looked expectantly for his meal.

“What the  ….  Honey, is this meant to be some kind of joke?”

“No, my dear, this is all I had left after paying the overdue rent which you were supposed to give to Jack last week.  It’s porridge, but I’m afraid there’s no milk because I had no money left.”

“Well!”  Hayden didn’t miss a beat but smiled and stood up.  “I have a surprise for you.  We are going out to a restaurant tonight.  I’m sorry I forgot to pay the rent but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  When I was in Sydney I went around to Thommo’s one night, played some poker and found I had an envelope with twenty pounds in it.  Turned it into a hundred and twenty.”

“You gambled our rent money!” Annie stood in the kitchen doorway staring in horror at Hayden. “If you knew how close we are to having no money at all you would never take a risk like that.”

“Are you wearing that or getting changed into something more suitable for dinner at the Rendezvous?” asked Hayden.

Annie sighed.  Hayden was her husband so what could she do but go along with his schemes.  It wasn’t as if she had any alternative.  She certainly wasn’t going to run away to Queensland like her mother did.


Music drifted in the evening air as Annie and Hayden walked the two blocks to Jack’s house.  When they knocked the music stopped and the door was opened by an unseen hand.  They were ushered into a large lounge room by Jack, who, violin in hand, bowed to Annie and began to play Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.

Half singing, half laughing Annie joined in. And I will pledge with mine,

Or leave a kiss within the cup,

And I’ll not ask for wine. Jack completed the verse.

“Talking of wine, what would you like to drink?”

Annie and Hayden settled on a glass of beer each and were soon busy talking to the other guests.  Trays of savouries kept appearing and interludes of music kept them entertained.  Enid played the piano and sang while Jack played his violin. 

“We must rest now,” said Jack. “We used to do this a lot in the old days but I’m not as young as I used to be.”

One of the guests who knew Jack well asked if he had any war stories for the new arrivals.

“I’ll tell you a story about a narrow escape, not long before the war ended,” he said.

“I was leading a platoon in Corbie.  We were told to go in and destroy everything of use to the Germans who were only a short distance away.  We entered the most magnificent chateau.  Opulent is the only word to describe it.  After a bit of exploring we found an open wine cellar filled with marvellous wines and so proceeded to sample them.  Can you imagine us in the cellar, laughing and talking, when suddenly we heard boots on the floor above.  It was the Germans!  Ever so quietly we crept out and headed for the escape road only to find the bridge we had to cross taken by the enemy.  It must have been the good French wine which gave us courage but we managed to blow up the bridge and stop a heavy German transport from crossing.”

“Is that how you earned the Military Medal?” asked Hayden.

“Oh no!  That is one story we kept very quiet from the authorities.  Drinking in the wine cellar wasn’t exactly part of the job description.  Now, talking of wine, I have a delicious local drop made by a friend of mine.  Anyone care for a glass?”

Hayden stayed with beer but Annie accepted a glass of white wine and tasted it gingerly.  She had never drunk wine before and decided she much preferred beer.  However, it was a new experience and she swallowed the rest of the contents bravely.  Her head spun alarmingly and Hayden glared at her. 

“You’re supposed to sip it, not slug it down like lemonade.”

Fortunately, Hayden was side-tracked by another guest and Annie was able to sit down on a sofa and regain her composure.  Enid asked if she could sit beside her.

“It must be quite a change moving from Sydney to Mildura.  I hope you’ve settled into our little country town.”

“Oh yes, I have,” said Annie. “And I think Mildura is the perfect size.  It has everything you would ever need.”

“I have lived here all my life and I must admit when I go to the city I am always glad to get home again.  My son is in England at the moment.  Jack of course was there during the First War but I have never felt the need to travel that far.”

“So you have a married daughter here and a son in England?”

“Yes, and two more daughters, both married.  Do you have any children Mrs Walsh?”

“No, we don’t.  Maybe if we stayed in one place long enough we might … but we have each other and that’s all that matters.”

Hayden was listening with interest to a detailed description from a local blockie, on how to process grapes.

“When the grapes are ready around mid February, they are picked by hand into dip tins. Have you seen them? They are rectangular with a handle and perforated with little holes. The dip tins are loaded onto an iron tray which is lifted by a crane and lowered into a cold dip. After sitting in the solution for a few minutes they are raised and taken to drying racks, tossed out evenly and allowed to dry.

“How long do they take to dry? asked Hayden.

“You have to wait about two weeks before the fruit is shaken down onto hessian. You need fine weather for the fruit to obtain the right colour. When it’s dried properly it is packed into sweat boxes, loaded onto lorries and taken to the packing shed. That’s where the fruit is cleaned, stemmed, graded and packed.“

Annie’s ears pricked when she heard “sweat box”. “So that’s what was under our floor! I couldn’t work out why Jack called it a sweat box. Well now I know what prevented us falling down a hole in our lounge room the day we arrived.”

Jack joined in the conversation. “When we first started processing the grapes back in 1920 we used to dip them in a hot caustic soda but that made them very leathery and dark. The London market wanted the golden sultanas from Greece. A Greek man named Nicolas Kolios taught us how to emulate the Greek method of cold dipping.”

Walking home that evening Annie felt happier than she had ever been before.

“I hope we get to stay here for a very, very long time,” she said to Hayden. “I just love everything about this place. I love the town, the people, the grapes with their funny dip tins and sweat boxes, the orange groves, the river and even the weather.”

“Not sure about the weather,” said Hayden, wrapping his coat tightly around him in the chill breeze, “but I agree, you couldn’t find a more perfect place to live your life.”

Annie’s Secret-8

Chapter 8

Hayden was busy every day, delivering equipment to farms or driving out to give quotes and advice.  Annie stayed at the Customs House, answering phone calls and keeping track of sales and expenditure.  It wasn’t long before they had sold most of their stock.  Hayden needed to return to Sydney to attend another Disposals Sale.  As Jack was the local agent for TAA he suggested Hayden fly to Sydney and so save himself a long and tiring drive.

Before he left he came home one night carrying a notebook.

“This is fascinating reading.  When Jack was in the war he kept a diary of what it was like. Do you realise how precious this is?  He writes about Gallipoli and France and all the things he saw and did.  I promised I would treat it with the utmost care and he said I could borrow it for a couple of weeks as long as I didn’t burn the house down.”

For the next two nights he was so deeply wrapped up in the book that Annie felt he may as well be in Sydney already.  But when he left she felt bereft for it would be a week before he returned.  Each day she guarded the shop but the nights were long and lonely.  Flipping through a much read Women’s Weekly she looked for something else to distract her.  Jack’s diary sat on the table beside their bed so cautiously she opened the worn and faded cover and began to read.

Gallipoli 1915

When it hit, the bullet felt like a kick from a horse.  I staggered in the sand and then examined my hand, which appeared bloody and mangled in the intermittent light of the bullets.  I must find my ring, my shocked brain insisted.  My fingers moved when I tried them and I slowly realised the blood was coming from elsewhere.  My hand was intact.  It was somewhere in my upper arm where I had been hit.  The dressing station was higher up, above the beach so I climbed towards it, taking care to avoid further bullets. Waiting my turn, a cup of Bovril in my good hand, I listened to the cheerful chat around me as soldiers made light of their injuries.  There was a sense of unreality as they were all wounded, most in considerable pain.

A doctor examined my upper right arm, plugged the hole and wrapped a bandage around it.  I was able to walk to the barge, carrying my ticket proclaiming my injury, treatment and future destination.  A pinnace towed our barge to a trawler on which the patients were hauled or carried.  This in turn motored out to the hospital ship, SS Reiwa.

I lay in my improvised bunk on the ship wondering when it was going to leave Anzac Cove.  Now I was wounded I wanted out.   I wasn’t invincible but I was alive.  I thought back over the last ten weeks. 

We’d all been so keen to get here.  The first lot of Australians and New Zealanders had returned to Egypt, bloody and wounded.  There was an air of bravado and pride that they had been there, fought the Turk and lived to tell the tale. My Brigade was champing at the bit.  Eventually it was decided we would follow the 1st and 2nd Light Horse to Gallipoli, even though it meant leaving the horses behind to an uncertain fate.

The arrival at Anzac Cove on 20th May was a waiting game. We crowded the decks looking shorewards, hearing the rumbling of heavy artillery and watching the flashes of the guns. It was almost as if we were viewing a fireworks display.  What we were witnessing was the battle of Quinn’s Post which resulted in the deaths of one hundred and sixty Allied troops and many thousands of Turks.

Machine gun fire was still strafing the beach as my mate Derby and I made a dash to shelter, using a broken boat to make an emergency dugout. However, some time later an eerie quiet took place as both sides ceased fire to bury their dead.

I started my army career as a Driver in the 3rd Light Horse Train but my duties were now far removed from driving a horse wagon loaded with ammunition.  With a new dugout on the hill below the Ambulance tent I spent six weeks unloading and distributing goods from the barges.  The 3rd’s role was largely defensive but still extremely dangerous. Up until I left, 1600 men had been killed in the area of the Ordnance Store alone.

I went to war thinking that you stood in a trench firing at the enemy until you were shot or the enemy was defeated. Instead it looked like chaos, albeit organised.  There were people running in various directions, all with roles to play, amid bursting shells, bullets, bombs and flares.  The fact that men swam in the waves of Anzac Cove under fire, ran up and down the dirt tracks for water and exercise, with a complete disregard for the rain of bullets, was amazing to a newcomer like me.

My mates and I often sat on the path above our dugouts admiring the view. If a shot was fired we would jump straight down the cliff and roll, in most cases miraculously missing the bullet. It was exhilarating to see the warships bombarding the Olive Groves and Achi Baba but on 25th May something happened. Our ship “The Triumph” became the target.

A huge column of water burst up from her side.  “She’s been hit!” called one of my mates. We watched horrified as the ship began to list. Men jumped into the sea, rescued by numerous small boats racing to the scene.  Strangely the world became silent as the Turkish artillery stopped to let the rescuers do their work.  After twelve minutes the ship capsized, her green underside showing briefly before she slid to the bottom of the sea.

As summer approached the conditions became unbearable, but there was no choice but to adapt.  The stench of fallen bodies continually filled the air and the flies!  Never had I seen so many flies.  They bred in the dead bodies and in the open, stinking latrines.  They stuck to the food and added unwanted  protein and crunch to the unsavoury fare.  They crawled in every orifice in their search for water. And the lice! I sat outside my dugout in the altogether, trying to outdo my mates in finding the most “grey backs”.  Washing was out of the question.  The small amount of water allocated was reserved for drinking. Swimming in the sea could be a date with a bullet.  I would have welcomed active duty rather than trudging up hills carrying water and supplies. It was considered by us all to be “stopping work to carry bricks”.

Clothing had become minimal.  Trousers were cut down to become shorts and mostly shirts were removed.  Only a pair of boots and a slouch hat protected us from the elements.

It was common practice for our men on Ordnance to occasionally drop a case on its corner so that it would break open and the contents would fall into the sea.  Under cover of darkness we would dive down to collect the few tins to supplement the daily rations.

I was returning along the beach one night when I saw a senior officer approaching.  I hastily shoved the tin of treacle inside my shirt.

“Wonderful evening, lad.  Makes you think of home, what with the beach and the surf.  Even Johnnie Turk is quiet for once.”

“Er, yes, Sir, reminds me of the coast at home in Victoria.” I suddenly became aware of a strange sensation around my stomach area.

“I come from Sydney, myself.  Cronulla Beach was my favourite haunt.”

By this time the treacle had reached my shorts and was advancing slowly, like lava from a volcano.  Soon it would be trickling down each leg.

“Excuse me Sir, I have to report to the Ordnance Store.”

“Of course, don’t let me hold you up.”

With that I ran into the cover of darkness and began to remove the offending sticky mess.  Sand and salt water seemed ineffectual and it took many days of fighting ants and flies to feel normal again.

Annie shut the diary and closed her eyes.  She imagined the young Jack suffering from his wounds and lying in the hospital ship.  She had never thought about the logistics of war.  She visualised men shooting at the enemy but hadn’t thought about how their ammunition arrived or where their food came from. 

Hayden was due back soon and she must have a talk to him about the unpaid accounts.  Lots of people owed them money and more was going out than was coming in.  Finally she fell asleep, only to dream of running down a hillside desperately avoiding bullets which ricocheted around her.

Annie’s Secret-7

Chapter 7

Ruby appeared to be fully recovered from her ordeal and spent much of her spare time dressing carefully and disappearing down the street.

“Are you looking for work”, asked Annie hopefully.  Tension between Hayden and Ruby was increasing.

Ruby thought for a moment and then admitted that she was looking at a business proposition.

“I’m thinking of opening a Frock Shop.  It hasn’t been built yet but it will have a large sewing area out the back for customised dresses and alterations plus I will sell some ready made clothes at the front.”

Annie was amazed.  “How will you manage that with no capital?”

Ruby continued dreamily, “It will be in Pitt Street in Mortdale.  Above the shop will be a flat.  Kitchen at the back with views over the hills.  The latest bathroom with flushing toilet, shower and bath, all in green tiles.  My bedroom at the front looking out over the street.  A giant built in wardrobe for all my clothes…..”

“And pigs will fly,” scoffed Annie. “Who’s the sugar daddy?”

“His name’s Harry Mason.”

“Not your Harry?”

“Well, he is my Harry now.  I’m afraid I’ve had a better offer.  By marrying Harry I can have the shop I’ve always wanted.  The other Harry had nothing.  We would have lived a life of poverty.  I just couldn’t stand it.”

Annie was stunned.  How did her mother do it?

“What’s he like, this Harry Mason?”

“Well, he’s no oil painting.  Shorter than me, bald, but nice enough. He’s got a lot of get up and go.”

“What does he do?”

“You sound like my mother,” laughed Ruby.  “He owns a lot of properties in Mortdale.  Rents them out and rakes in the money.  He thinks the shop will be a nice little investment even if I decide to retire one day.  He does a little SP on the side.”

“You can’t keep away from those gamblin’ men,” Annie sighed.  “Please be careful, Mother.  Are you sure you have thought it through?”

“Oh yes I have,” said Ruby. “For the first time in my life, I’m going to have money.  Lots of it!”


Annie and Hayden worked continually, six days a week, every week of the year.  The occasional relief was welcome.  They celebrated Ruby’s wedding.  They watched the building in Mortdale rise from the ground.  Ruby was in a constant state of excitement.  The piano wouldn’t fit up the stairs, so it would have to be lowered from above by a crane before the roof went on.  The new name appeared on the shop front.  Kay Mason Frocks.

“I’m no longer Ruby.  My name is now Kay.  Much more businesslike,” she laughed.  Kay was always laughing.  Her mouth developed a gum disease and her teeth had to be extracted, every single one.  The dentures were white and even.  Her smile was infectious.  She was the life of the party.

Hayden had been out all day.  Annie was resentful that she had been left with all the work.  There had been a steady stream of people, some very demanding and it was not fair that she had to cook and serve.  He arrived after six and she was sure he had been drinking.

“We’re moving,” he said cheerfully.  “You’ll never need to work in the Milk Bar ever again.”

Annie sat down on the nearest chair and waved her hands in front of her. ”Stop it please.  What harebrained scheme have you thought up now?”

“I have met the most remarkable man.  His name is Jack Hamilton and he comes from Mildura.”

“Isn’t that near Tocumwal where we lost our sheep?  You’re not thinking of another farm, surely.”

“No, I’m going to supply material to the farmers.  After World War 1 the government opened up lots of land for Soldier Settlers.  Jack was one of them.  Now they are doing the same for World War 2 veterans.  They have unlimited water from the Murray River but the problem is getting it to the farms.  I’m going to supply the farmers with portable motors, flexible hoses – all the stuff they need to irrigate their crops.”

“Where will you get it from?”  Annie was having trouble comprehending this sudden change of direction.

“War surplus!  You wouldn’t believe what is left over from the war!  There are sales every week.  I just buy the goods, ship them to Mildura and sell them for a huge profit.”

“Why doesn’t this Jack Hamilton do it himself?”

“He’s already got more on his plate than he can handle.  He’s a Real Estate Agent – he’ll fix us up with a house.  He is also a Stock and Station Agent, Auctioneer.  You name it, he’s got his finger in the pie.  A very good man to have at your back.”

As they cleaned up the Milk Bar for the very last time Hayden talked endlessly about his new mentor, Jack.

“He was a hero in World War 1. Fought in Gallipoli and was wounded. He was in France and Belgium until the end.  After the war he settled on a block near Mildura, grew grapes.  But he saw he wasn’t going to get rich that way.  He set up a Packing Shed to distribute the grapes to the various markets.  You see, no-one had thought that far ahead.  Just plant the grapes, pick them and then what?  He’s got brains and business sense.  He’s just gone ahead in leaps and bounds.  Lives in a big house in Mildura now.  And… you wouldn’t believe it, he was also in the Second World War.  Recruitment for the Air Force.  Said he hated signing up boys who could be killed but someone had to do it to stop the Japs from taking over the country.”

There was little sleep to be had that night.  One or other would come up with a question or an idea, a problem or a consideration.  Annie felt Hayden’s excitement but most of all she was glad she would never have to spend another day in the Milk Bar.


The truck pulled into the main street of Mildura, creeping slowly until the occupants saw the sign of Hamilton and Brown.  Hayden and Annie climbed slowly out of the vehicle, stretching their cramped limbs and gazing around at the small country town.  A few minutes later a middle aged man of average height appeared from the shop and shook hands with them both.  He had a pleasant, genial face and welcoming manner.

Ushering them inside, he offered tea and biscuits with great bonhomie.

Annie was keen to see the house so he gave them directions.

“It’s very easy to find.  The names of the cross streets are actually numbers and you are in 11th Street, just around the corner from here.  Come, I’ll walk there and you can follow in your truck.”

The house was set back behind a recently trimmed hedge. With a gable over the front bedroom and another larger one over the entrance porch it looked quite inviting.  Once inside Jack decided to leave the couple to settle in and left with strict instructions to contact him should they have any problems.

Annie walked around every room, mentally placing their meagre furniture.  It was important to set up sleeping arrangements for the sun had already set.  They dragged the mattress off the truck and pulled it into the front bedroom.  Sheets, blankets and pillows were found and soon a bed was made.

“What is that bump under the rug?” asked Annie.

“One way to find out,” said Hayden. 

They pulled the rug away and saw a hole in the floor.  In the hole was a rectangular box.  Once that was removed all they could see was the bare earth.  A strong, unpleasant odour  wafted from below.

“Oh, how disgusting,” Annie felt sick.  They returned the box and the rug but Annie was furious.  What sort of person would put them in a house like this?

Hayden was expecting the semi-trailer to arrive the next day, loaded with the irrigation equipment he had bought in Sydney.  Jack took them both to the Old Customs House where the goods were to be stored.  Annie waited until the tour of inspection was over and just as Jack was about to leave called out in an accusing voice.

“Why is there a hole in our floor, Mr Hamilton?” She glowered at him and continued. “Who put a box in the hole and what made the disgusting smell?”.

Jack looked stricken.”I am so sorry Mrs Walsh.  I personally inspected the house the day before you were due to arrive.  To my consternation there was a horrid smell, obviously a dead animal.  I couldn’t get under the house so the only option was to saw away the floor until the creature was found and removed.  Then, so you would not fall down the hole, I placed a sweat box there until I could send a tradesman around to replace the flooring.”

Annie was still glaring.

“I’ll send someone right away.  Just let me get back to my office”.

“Well that worked,” she said to Hayden.

“You scared him half to death.  I’m sure he was going to get it fixed.”

“Never trust a Real Estate Agent,” she nodded sagely, pleased with herself.

Annie’s Secret-6

Chapter 6

Berrigagama was transformed.  Confiscated by the government, it became a killing yards to supply meat to the nearby Air Force Base stationed at Tocumwal.  Alfred and Ma fled to Norfolk Island “for the duration”.

“How about we move to Sydney?”  Hayden looked hopefully at Annie.

Immediately memories of Glebe and the small house by Sydney Harbour came rushing back to Annie.  “Oh yes,” she said with enthusiasm. “That’s the best idea you’ve had for quite some time.  What do you suggest we do?”

“I thought we could buy a big old house and let out the rooms to guests.  We could cook breakfasts and maybe other meals if necessary.  What do you think?”

“Can we afford it?”  Annie was amazed how someone with no money could buy at will. 

“We’ll have to borrow some money but the paying guests will more than make up for the interest.”  Hayden was confident his new plan would work.

For twelve months they worked hard in their Summer Hill Guest House. Annie enjoyed catching the train into the city and exploring David Jones and Grace Brothers.  They even went to the pictures together in the early days.  Hayden organised a maid to clean the rooms and a young assistant to help with breakfast. After six months Annie pointed to the ledger she had been working on and shook her head.  “We are going backwards.  By the time we make the repayments to the bank, pay for food and the staff, there is nothing left.  We are doing all this work for nothing.”

“We’ll have to let the staff go.”  Hayden sheepishly agreed.  He wasn’t one for bookwork.  Annie seemed to have taken to it extraordinarily well and he was impressed by her ability with figures.  He may have topped his class in mathematics at Newington but when it came to putting figures in columns, that was her forte.  He was an ideas man.

True to form he came up with another idea.  Obviously, the guest house wasn’t the money spinner he thought it would be.  Some guests even left without paying.  Strolling through Paddy’s Markets to buy supplies for breakfast he decided it would be easier to sell fruit and vegetables than run a guest house. All they needed was a shop.

He found it in Smith Street, Summer Hill. On the ground floor was a shopfront with full length windows each side of a double door.  Above was a residence with a large bow window overlooking the street.  Behind the shop was a living room and kitchen with four bedrooms upstairs.  There was even a small back yard with an outdoor toilet.

Hayden put the guest house on the market but because he was in a hurry for the money he sold at a loss.  The shop was leased so they had enough to live on once the sale of the house went through.  Hayden would disappear early in the morning to buy fruit and vegetables at the market.  They had a small and steady trade but Hayden was forever thinking up new ideas.

“We need to add value,” he said.  “Maybe we could do some prepared food like tea, coffee, milkshakes, hamburgers, fish and chips, steak and eggs…”

“You mean a Milk Bar,” said Annie wearily.  “Sounds like a lot of work.”

Her mind flashed back to George and his hard working family in Roma.  She wondered if he ever got to be a doctor.  He had tried so hard to get away from the endless grind of the Milk Bar and now Hayden was suggesting they do the same thing.

It was hard work but the Milk Bar was popular and Annie was pleased to see the books balancing at last.

A number of times people asked Hayden why he wasn’t fighting in the war.  Eventually he had had enough so left for the recruitment centre assuring Annie he would only accept the job of cook.  She worried all day over how she would manage the business without him but he came home a little crestfallen. 

Overweight, irregular heartbeat and flat feet was the verdict.  He was not fit to serve.

“You need to watch your diet”, Annie said. “Stop eating the fat on the t-bone steak!”

“That’s the best part,” replied Hayden.  “Life’s too short to starve yourself.”

Annie received letters spasmodically from her mother and dutifully replied.  It seemed Fred was unable to hold a job for more than a year so they were always moving on.   It was shortly after the end of the war that she received a letter that made her call out frantically to Hayden.

It had been a long, hard day.  The shop was clean, ready for an early start tomorrow and she slowly dragged herself up the stairs to the bedroom.  The letter from her mother was in her hand as she flung herself on the bed, kicking off her shoes and tearing open the envelope.

Dear Annie,

I have a favour to ask of you.  Fred has left me for another woman.  I have little money and nowhere to live.  Just until I get myself sorted out would I be able to stay with you?

All my love,

Mother

Annie and Hayden had a serious discussion.  They had three spare bedrooms. Of course they could provide a haven for Mother.  Hopefully it wouldn’t be for too long.  She was a resourceful woman and should be able to gain employment with her skills.

Ruby’s appearance shocked her daughter.  Her clothes hung off her tall emaciated frame.  Her face was thin and lined.  As soon as she was tucked up in bed Annie shared her worries with her husband.

“I think she is very sick.  We must get her to a doctor straight away.”

The doctor’s verdict was that severe stress had caused Ruby to lose interest in food and consequently lose weight.  Her heartbeat was irregular, blood pressure was sky high and her resistance to infection was low.  She needed months of care to restore her to full health.

It was not long before Ruby’s usual optimism returned.

“I am never, I repeat never, going to the bush again.  I am staying in the city, near the coast and you won’t drag me away until I’m in my coffin.”

Nor did she stay upstairs in her room for long. As soon as she was well enough she was out and about, “window shopping” as she put it.  Annie didn’t know what exactly she was looking for until she came home with an almost girlish look on her face.

“I’ve met someone.  His name is Harry and he is the kindest man alive.  He is so different from all the men I have ever known.  When my divorce comes through we may be getting married.”

Annie couldn’t believe how rapidly things were moving for her mother.

“His wife has recently died.  He is so kind,” she repeated. “There are a few problems, however.”

Annie waited.

“He’s a Roman Catholic.”

“Why is that a problem?  It’s not as if you will be having children!”  Annie could see a light at the end of the tunnel. Somewhere for her mother to live away from them.

There had been difficulties.  Ruby and Hayden were never the best of friends and little things that she did irritated him hugely.  He liked to have a glass of water beside his bed but Ruby took it away each day to wash it so that when he went to refill it the glass had gone.  Then he had to walk all the way downstairs to get a fresh glass.  He had asked her not to touch it but she ignored him.  To prove his point he charged upstairs with a hammer, nail and some string plus his favourite glass.  Hammering the nail in the wall beside the bed he tied the string to the nail and around the glass.  Triumphantly he marched downstairs, confident he had won.  Ruby didn’t touch his glass again.

The divorce case was settled without Fred’s presence.  He signed the divorce papers in Mungindi, writing as he did so;

“I hereby confess that since living apart from my wife I have, at various places, including Moree, committed adultery with a woman who for various reasons I would rather not mention the name. I intend to go on living with this woman as man and wife.”

“Good riddance,” Ruby said cheerfully. “That is a part of my life I would rather forget.  Annie, would you come with me to have our fortunes told?”

Annie knew of her mother’s penchant for fortune tellers.  As someone who was always hoping for a brighter future she had vouched for their accuracy on more than one occasion.

When Hayden heard he was skeptical.

“If you believe in fortune tellers you must believe in predestination.  That means that all our lives are mapped out and nothing we can do will change anything.  That makes no sense at all.  I would like to think that the decisions I make are not already made by some greater being who pulls the strings.”

“It’s just a bit of fun,” said Ruby.

When he heard that the fortune teller lived in Surry Hills and that Ruby planned to catch a train to Central and walk there, he was concerned.

“It’s not safe, Ruby.  At least assure me you will get a taxi from Central Station and back.  I’ll give you the money for one.”

Several days later the two women, wearing coats, warm woollen suits, hats and gloves, pulled up outside a dingy, run down terrace house in a row of similarly neglected dwellings.  Ruby knocked at the front door and they were ushered into a small sitting room where a coal fire burned in the grate.  Annie waited, reading a Women’s Weekly she found on the side table.  When Ruby reappeared she waved to Annie. 

“Your turn,” she said.

Annie walked into a small room which would normally be a bedroom. Behind a table sat a woman wearing a red scarf, staring into a crystal ball. She looked up and motioned for Annie to sit down.

She returned her attention to the crystal ball. It was several minutes before she spoke.

“You work very hard, I see.”

Annie thought her mother had probably told the women far more about her daughter’s life than was necessary.

The woman told her she had lived on the land but was now in the city.  It was only her last statement which caused Annie to start with disbelief.

“Your life will be hard but I see happiness at the end.  I also see a baby.  You will be blessed with a child.”

“She was a fraud.” Annie spoke harshly as she stared out the window of the taxi at the city lights. Night had fallen and a light rain had begun to fall.

“I thought she was quite good,” Ruby replied.  “I got such a shock when she said I was going to marry a man whose name started with H.  I thought she got that right.  Then she said it would be an unhappy marriage and he would be very cruel to me.  I thought Harry would never be like that.  He is such a gentle person.”

“She said I was going to have a baby.  As if that will happen.  She just assumed that because I am married and female I will become a mother.  Total fraud.”

“Well, have you tried?” Ruby spoke tentatively.

“Mother, I’ve been married twelve years.  We haven’t tried to prevent a baby so I just don’t think I’m able to have one.”

“Have you considered it could be Hayden who can’t father a child?  It’s not always the mother’s fault you know.”

“Whoever is at fault doesn’t matter.  Can you imagine running the Milk Bar with a baby?  I don’t have enough time to spit as it is.  By the way, don’t mention anything about the baby to Hayden.  It’s something we’d rather not talk about.”

“Well, if you ask me, he’s too fat to be able to make children.”

“Nobody asked you,” Annie said shortly.

Annie’s Secret-5

Chapter 5

“Why are you getting married in Toowoomba?  What’s wrong with Gundy?”

Annie looked at her friend Nellie with something like despair.

“We went for a drive and found a beautiful church in Toowoomba.  Hayden got talking to the Minister about his beliefs, or lack of them and thinks he has converted him to atheism.  Anyway we are getting married there.  Just a small ceremony.  I’m wondering if you would be a witness?”

“Of course I will, but on one condition.  That you invite your mother. You know you’ll need her permission to let you marry at your age.”

Annie looked thoughtful. “Hayden wants me to invite her as well.  He says our family is so small we can’t afford to lose any of it.  However, I would like my mother to apologise first.”

She hadn’t told her friend that Hayden refused to be married in Goondiwindi.  It was as if he didn’t want people to know. He almost seemed embarrassed to talk about the coming nuptials with anyone but her.

On the 27th June, 1936, two months before her 19th birthday, Annie May Lane (dressmaker) married Hayden John Walsh (grazier) at the Neil Street Methodist Church.  Witnesses were Ruby May Burton and Nellie Wendell.  Also in attendance were Fred Burton, Ella Maud (Ma) Walsh and Alfred McDonald.  The service was short, without too much “God” in it to please Hayden.  Annie wore a pale blue suit with matching hat sitting jauntily on the side of her head.  There were no photos taken.  The group repaired to the White Horse Hotel for a celebratory meal after which Fred drove the truck back to Goondiwindi with Ruby and Nellie squeezed in beside him.  Alfred and Ma disappeared in a farm vehicle towards Booni Creek.

Hayden had parked the new Chevrolet Master Deluxe at the back of the hotel.  He brought the two suitcases to reception and signed the register, Mr and Mrs Walsh.  The man behind the counter looked at them with interest.

“Here for something special?” he asked.

“We just got married,” exclaimed Annie happily.  “Tonight is our wedding night.”

“Well, I wish you all the best for a wonderful future,” he said sincerely. “I’m going to upgrade you to our best room, no extra charge.”

It was only when they closed the bedroom door behind them that Annie realised something was wrong.  Hayden’s face was flushed and angry.

“Why did you say it was our wedding night?” he said accusingly. “Don’t you know that it will be all over the hotel, people giggling and laughing at us.”

“It got us the best room.”  Annie was puzzled.  “I don’t see what the problem is.”

Hayden disappeared to the bathroom, returning in his pyjamas.  He climbed into bed, pulled the blankets up and feigned sleep.

Annie sat disconsolately on the chair.  After all the excitement of the day she was now close to tears.  Hayden wasn’t speaking to her and she didn’t know what to do.  Wearily she took her nightgown and beauty case to the women’s bathroom and ran a bath. Lying in the warm water she let the tears roll down her cheeks.  This was a side of Hayden she had never seen before. 

Nellie’s last words of advice were, “Never go to bed angry.”  Well, she had been married less than a day and that rule was already broken.


“The thing is, unless we move our sheep to better land, they will all die!”  Hayden paced the living room at Booni Creek Homestead and threw up his hands in despair.

“As I see it, the only thing to do is go and look for some good land and buy it.” Alfred replied.

The others looked at him in surprise.

“You’d have to go a long way south before you found some feed.  This drought is widespread over much of NSW and Queensland.”  Ma decided to add her piece to the doom and gloom.

“Then how would you transport the sheep?  They’re too weak to walk.”  Annie spoke nervously.

“Down on the Murray there’s water.”  Hayden looked at Annie.  “How about we drive across NSW until we find feed and then transport the sheep by truck to the new property?”

Alfred nodded his head. “Anything you need, just let me know.”

Less than a day later Hayden and Annie were heading off on a “road trip”.  Driving through Walgett, Dubbo, Cootamundra and Griffith they finally pulled up in Tocumwal, 600 dusty miles later.  Annie quite enjoyed herself, comparing this trip favourably to the tense honeymoon of the year before.  Stopping at hotels, they ate hearty country meals and slept in strange beds.  In Tocumwal, Hayden spoke with the local Real Estate Agent.  He was impressed by the evidence of recent rain and the state of the paddocks.  He would have to be careful the sheep didn’t eat themselves to death here.

The agent drove them to a property called Berrigagama, five miles out of Tocumwal.  Annie was excited to think she might have a house to herself, away from Ma Walsh.  They peered into the cobwebby rooms of the old farmhouse, checked the sheds and fences, the dams full of water and pronounced it perfect.

The deal signed, they drove home as fast as the car could take them.  Hayden organised a truck from Moree which was sure to make the journey shorter for the sheep than a long train trip via Sydney.

The truck was a sight to behold.  Three decks at the rear and two at the front could hold all 300 of their poor scraggy sheep.  Travelling at 15 miles per hour it would take several days to reach Tocumwal as it would stop each night and lower the sheep to the ground, keeping them in an improvised canvas yard, guarded by sheep dogs.

Hayden exchanged his Chevrolet for a Ford truck and loaded it with their household possessions.  Farewells were made to Alfred and Ma, Ruby and Fred and they were on their way.  The year was 1937 and Annie felt as if life was definitely improving.


August 25, 1938 Annie woke up to a cold, chilly morning but it didn’t dampen her spirits.  At last she was an adult.

“Happy Birthday, Honey!” Hayden carried a tray into the bedroom with tea, (black with lemon), hot toast (no butter) and a boiled egg (not too runny).

Annie leapt out of bed.  “I’ll eat this in the kitchen.  Can’t stand crumbs in the bed.”

The fire was radiating heat from the stove as Annie, wrapped in her dressing gown, devoured her breakfast.

“I’m just nipping into town for a bit.  Got to get some sheep dip,” said Hayden.  Normally she would go with him and she wondered why he was in such a hurry. Maybe something to do with my birthday, she thought.

It was lunchtime before Hayden returned.  He was carrying what looked like a small suitcase.  Placing it on the kitchen table he unclipped the clasp and opened it to reveal a gramophone.  He handed a record to Annie.

“The gramophone I got second hand but the record is brand new.”

Annie looked at the title and placed the record over the spindle.  Hayden wound the handle at the front and lowered the needle.  The tinny sound emanating from the portable gramophone seemed like magic to Annie.

I’m 21 today, 21 today

I’ve got the key of the door

Never been 21 before

And Pa says I can do as I like

So shout, Hip Hip Hooray

He’s a jolly good fellow

21 today.

Annie laughed and hugged Hayden.  “That is the best present I have ever had.”

Hayden had also brought mail from the Post Office in town.  There was a birthday card from mother with the surprising news she had married Fred Burton.  Although she had been known as Mrs Burton for almost seven years it was only last year that Fred’s divorce from the nurse came through.  The case had been reported in the newspapers and Fred didn’t come out of it looking too saintly.  Annie worried for her mother and felt relieved that she had a kind and thoughtful man as her husband.

Hayden cooked his incredible salmon pie which used tinned salmon with a mashed potato topping.  With a bottle of Resch’s Pilsner to wash it down they sat at the dining table and felt like royalty. Was this as good as it gets?

Looking after sheep is fraught with problems.  Even if they have enough to eat the list of possible infections and disease is endless.  Hayden’s sheep were looking fat and healthy but he made one big mistake.  While out driving one day he saw a sign outside a small property which said “Sheep for Sale”.  He left with four healthy looking merinos in the back of his truck, but instead of isolating them from the rest of the sheep he dropped them off in the same paddock as his large flock.

A week later he noticed one of the new sheep limping badly.  Examining its hoof he saw the dreaded signs of foot rot.  The weather had been unseasonably wet and the ground was boggy.  It didn’t take long before other sheep in the flock had inflamed feet.  The vet was called but despite all their efforts the infection spread like wildfire.  Finally, Hayden was left with no choice but to euthanise every single sheep.

All of his money had been sunk into the property and Hayden was facing financial ruin.  As he spoke anxiously on the telephone to Alfred he was reassured that all debts would be covered on Berrigagama and to keep any more sheep off the property until the infection had well and truly gone. Alfred was keen to buy the property off him and move down south with Ma.

To take his mind off his worries Hayden twiddled with the short wave on his radio.  It was 10 o’clock at night and Annie was already in bed.

“Honey, come quickly, listen to this!”

The quiet, clipped voice of England’s Prime Minister Chamberlain continued for many minutes but these were the words had them both riveted to the spot.

I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.

Annie looked at Hayden with wide eyes. “What will it mean?”

“It means Australia will be at war as well,” Hayden answered heavily, “and nothing will ever be the same again”.

Annie’s Secret-4

Chapter 4

Annie had been expecting something far grander than the house that stood before them.  It was a simple timber construction sitting on stumps with wooden steps leading to a narrow veranda. A corrugated iron roof extended over the verandas on three sides giving the house a low, squat appearance.  Around the house a sapling fence served to keep livestock and feral animals out the garden.  The gate was open as if they were expected.  Annie climbed out of the Roadster, pulling her dress into shape as it stuck to her legs and body with sweat.

A tall, thin woman appeared at the door.  Dressed completely in black she was a forbidding figure. Her sharp featured face was framed by a severe grey bob.  As she hugged her son she cast a fleeting look at Annie.

“Cat’s eyes,” thought Annie.  Ma’s unusual eyes were not welcoming.

“Annie, this is my mother, Ma Walsh.  Ma, meet my girlfriend Annie Lane.”  Hayden smiled confidently but even he wavered in Ma’s glare.

“Won’t you come in,” she indicated the door.  “I’ll put the kettle back on.”

Inside Annie could see a man hunched in the corner reading a newspaper.  He stood up as soon as she entered and grasped both her hands.  “Pleased to meet you Lassie.  You are very welcome.”

So overwhelmed was she by his gentle and warm reception tears came to her eyes.  Ma jerked the large whistling kettle off the stove and filled the equally large teapot.

“Milk?”

“Yes please”. And then she wished she hadn’t as it had a strange taste.

“Prickly pear,” said Ma.  “The cows eat it and it affects the milk. You get used to it…. So, where does your family come from?”

Well she’s straight to the point, thought Annie.

“My mother’s grandparents came from Scotland and my father’s parents were from somewhere in England.  I don’t know where,” she ended lamely.

“One of my family was Lady in Waiting to Queen Victoria,” announced Ma.  “The Dersby-Willoughby branch it was. You have to have a good pedigree to be that close to the Queen.”

Annie searched her memories of family history.  She had never been very interested.  Suddenly she remembered William Robbie.

“My great grandfather was an artist in Scotland.  He tutored the daughter of a wealthy family.  They eloped and moved to South Australia where he painted the ceiling of the Mount Gambier Hotel.”

Ma looked at her sharply. “Hardly something to boast about,” she said.  “It must have been quite a come down for your great grandmother.”

You don’t know half of it, thought Annie.

Hayden tried to lighten the mood by interjecting. “Australians aren’t worried about where you come from.  It’s what you make of your life that matters.”

“And how you treat other people,” Annie couldn’t help adding.

Ma indicated she was going to the kitchen to prepare dinner.  Annie offered to help so was presented with huge piece of corrugated pumpkin to peel.  As she worked she heard the rumble of thunder.

“It will come to nothing,” said Ma.  “Even so I think we should put the kerosene tins out just in case.”

Wondering what she meant Annie followed the others outside. The buckets were placed under parts of the guttering with known leaks. 

The dinner was forgotten as they looked at the ominous dark clouds gathering above.

“Probably we’ll get one drop to the acre,” said Alfred.

The drops began.  Heavy and loud, the rain surprised them all.  Soon the guttering overflowed and water went everywhere but into the tanks. Ma was first, clambering onto the verandah railing to claw at the guttering, pulling out handfuls of leaves.  Soon she was joined by the others, including Annie in her new dress and stockings, shoes long discarded.

“I hear it!” cried Hayden.  At last the water was running into the tank. Almost drowned and shivering with cold they retreated to the warmth of the house to dry themselves, put on new clothes and find something to eat.

Alfred disappeared into the storeroom announcing he was off to get something special to celebrate the occasion. He returned bearing a large tin of Letona Peaches. “I thought it was time to get out the delicacies,” he said.

Annie ate hers without cream. She wasn’t risking the taint of prickly pear and decided to give up dairy altogether from now on.

All night the rain drummed on the roof.  No one had a good night’s sleep for the noise was incessant.

Next morning Alfred rapped the 2000 gallon tank at the end of the verandah.  He smiled as he held up three fingers.  Three rungs from the top was a good result.

There was some doubt as to whether Annie and Hayden would make it back to Goondiwindi in the car.  Hayden promised his mother he would not do anything foolish, especially as he had a very precious cargo.

The creek was rising so they left early, hoping to cross before it broke its banks.  Annie could already see a green sheen in the paddocks but she was keen to get back to Goondiwindi, away from the inquiring gaze of Ma.

“She likes you,” Hayden exclaimed happily.

“It wasn’t obvious to me,” said Annie.  “I got the feeling my family wasn’t good enough.”

“I don’t think our family is anything special.  Mostly railway workers.  That’s hardly high society.”

The creek had nearly reached the bridge but they crossed without mishap.  Hayden dropped her off at the hotel where she collapsed on her bed to catch up on sleep.

Soon after Hayden checked out of the hotel but he was a frequent visitor to Goondiwindi.  One day when he picked Annie up she noticed a large white bag tied to the dicky seat. 

“What’s that,” she asked.  She saw that it had lettering on one side. H.WALSH in black on a white background.

“Oh that,” said Hayden dismissively.  “That’s my bookies bag.”

“You’re a bookmaker!”  Annie was astonished.

“What if I am?” Hayden was amused by her reaction.  “Nothing wrong with it.”

“I remember my mother telling me her father Reuben was a bookmaker.  They were so ashamed of it they said he was a book binder instead.”

“I think there would be a lot more money in being a bookmaker,” mused Hayden.

“Now that I’ve met your mother I want you to meet my mother.  You can call her Ruby.    She’s not like me.  She’s talkative and laughs a lot.  She’s the life of the party but has her quiet times too.  As for Fred, her husband, he is hard to work out.  I don’t really like him although he has done nothing to make me think badly of him.  I was thinking we could drive out to their station whenever you are not racing horses or bookmaking or playing poker!”

“I do work as well, you know,” he said, laughing.  “All right, how about next weekend?  I can take a break from the horses for a while.  I am wondering what your mother will think of me?  In fact I am quite nervous.”

“She will love you,” Annie answered with confidence.  “What’s not to love?”

The following weekend the Roadster headed in a new direction to Westcourt Station.  The recent rain had greened the landscape and it was exciting to see the change in the once dry plains.  Westcourt Station was much grander than Booni Creek but Mother didn’t live in the big house.  She and Fred had the Manager’s quarters while the Manager lived in the house.  The owners were in no hurry to return from Brisbane.

Annie was excited to show off her mother.  She admired her outgoing personality, wishing she could be like her, but on this occasion she was disappointed.

Ruby was guarded, almost hostile.

“Just like Ma Walsh,” thought Annie.

She was not interested in family history.  She asked questions about Hayden’s work on the station.  She listened in silence as Annie told her of “Little Court” and the bookie’s bag with Hayden’s name on it.  Annie thought it wise not to mention the two-up and poker games.

“Well, what do you think?” Annie was alone with her mother in the kitchen preparing lunch.

“He’s a gambler.  I can spot them a mile off.  He’s also got no trade. He hasn’t stuck with one job for any length of time and spends everything he earns.  Look at that car!  I’m warning you Annie.  You have the looks and the charm to marry anyone.  Don’t throw yourself away on the first man you meet.”

“But I love him!” said Annie tearfully.  “He’s the most exciting person I have ever met.”

Lunch was a stilted affair with Hayden finding Fred far more conversational than Ruby.  They discussed cattle prices and whether the much needed follow up rains would eventuate.  Annie and Ruby washed the dishes in silence.  Although they had thoughts of staying overnight Annie and Hayden agreed it might be better to head back to Gundy after lunch.

Ruby looked as if she wanted to say something.  They looked at her expectantly.

“Hayden, I have to tell you something about my daughter.  She is not as pure and innocent as she might appear.  I had to take her out of school because of her behaviour.  She is the leavings of a Greek boy!”

Hayden looked perplexed.  Annie was white with shock.  Even Fred said, “Aw, come on Ruby.  That’s below the belt.”

“Let’s go.” Annie leapt into the roadster, tears prickling her eyes.  How could her mother say that?  It wasn’t even true.

Hayden was in the driver’s seat, his face grim.  The car sped out onto the muddy road, skidding slightly before Hayden regained control.

“It’s not true!  Mother made that up so you wouldn’t see me anymore.  She thinks you’re a gambler.  Oh, I’ll never ever speak to her again.”

“Calm down,” insisted Hayden.  “I know what mothers are like.  No-one is good enough for their child.  Look at Ma! She gave you a pretty rough time.  Although she didn’t drag up my past misdeeds… if there were any,” he hastened to add.

“I was at Roma High School and had no friends.  George was a loner too because he was Greek and smarter than anyone else.  We used to walk home together and talk about what we would do when we left school.  We didn’t even kiss!  Rumours went around the town, my landlady blew it up out if all proportion and my mother asked if I wanted to leave school.  I thought I could go and live with Mother.  That’s all I wanted.  And now I will never speak to her again.”  Annie could no longer hold back tears and sobbed violently. 

Hayden pulled off the road and held her in his arms.  “Annie, I don’t care what your mother or my mother thinks. I can’t live without you.  Let’s get married and the sooner the better!”

Annie’s Secret-3

Chapter 3

What was it that caused Hayden, a confirmed bachelor of 27, to fall in love with a tall, willowy girl who worked in reception at the Victoria Hotel? Was it her air of innocence, her self-possession or her arresting blue eyes?

It all began after he was supervising the delivery of some cattle to the sale yard. He had checked into the fanciest hotel in Goondiwindi.  Its style was hard to pin down.  A bit of Victorian and Twenties with some early Colonial for good measure.  Dark panelling and white lattice on its exterior, stained glass windows and an ornamental tower on top.  This was the definitely the place to stay in Gundy.

The young woman was sitting at her desk in reception, checking people in, allocating rooms and directing some to other hotels as the Victoria was nearly always full.  As Hayden approached he could see she was going to send him away but he had a booking for a week, made over the telephone, so she relented and offered him the hotel guest book.  As she handed him the keys to his room he saw those eyes regarding him with cool detachment.  She looked very young, maybe 18, and had a quiet reserve which made him think of his mother.  She would approve of this girl, he thought.

The next day he walked in with six boxed shirts.

“Shopping?” she remarked.

“Well,” he replied rather shamefacedly.  “There’s nowhere to wash and iron my shirts so I just buy new ones.”

“Oh, I’m sure you could get them done…” She paused. “Of course, it’s none of my business.”

A few days later she caught his eye. “I see you’ve made the local paper. ‘Man buys every shirt in local store’.  What a claim to fame!”

Hayden decided it was now or never. “Would you like a ride in a motor car?” he asked. “Just around town to test her out.  I would like your opinion.”

“Are you buying a motor?” She appeared impressed.  “I’m off work at 5 o’clock and would have time for just a short spin.”

The car was a Chevrolet Master Roadster.  Hayden had seen it at the car yard and negotiated a lease for six months.  Dark green duco, light yellow wheels, rich brown leather upholstery and a removable beige cloth top to take care of the hot sun. It certainly stood out in the dusty streets of Goondiwindi!

Annie gasped with delight when she saw it. She slid onto the seat and sniffed appreciatively.  “Oh, smell the new leather!”

Hayden started the car and put it into first. “It’s got coil spring independent front suspension.  Good on our bumpy roads.”  He drove carefully down the main street, dodging horse drawn wagons and wandering pedestrians.  Out on the open road he put his foot down and the car responded smoothly. 

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Not far.  Just to the stables.  I have something to show you.”

They pulled up near the race track.  Hayden opened the car door and led Annie into the cool dark interior of the stables where horses stamped and whinnied and snuffled in their nose bags.

“See this horse?  She’s called ‘Little Court’ and has already won two races as well as three places.”

“She’s lovely,”said Annie, patting the horse’s nose.  “Who owns her?”

“I do,” said Hayden proudly.  Bought her from the McDonalds when she was just a filly.  I could see the potential”.

“I’ll take you home now.” 

Hayden didn’t want to push his luck.

Annie lay awake in her small room at the back of the Victoria.  What did she know about this man who had suddenly swept her off her feet? So far they had been out for dinner together three times, attended the races to watch Little Court come second and participated in a rowdy game of two up where he had won sixty pounds.

She accepted the fact that he was older than her.  He told her he was 27, almost 28. Apart from owning a racehorse she wasn’t sure what he did.  He seemed to be on the land as he was in Gundy to sell cattle.  He must be rich to own a fancy car like that.  He also spoke differently from the locals, who rarely opened their mouths lest the flies get in.  She wanted him to meet her mother.  Ruby would like him and be impressed by his outstanding qualities.

He had asked her to go with him to Booni Creek.  It was a cattle station where his mother worked for Alfred McDonald.

“She’s his housekeeper.  My father died when I was young and so she has been working on stations ever since.  Alfred never married and is a little… eccentric, but he likes Ma and they’ve been together for years.  He’s got just under 4,000 acres at Booni Creek, just south of Boggabilla.”

Annie was a little disappointed to find that Hayden wasn’t the son of a wealthy landowner and that his mother was a housekeeper, just like hers.  Still it might be easier to be accepted by his mother if they could find similarities in their backgrounds.

Somehow Hayden managed to extend his stay at the Victoria.  He took Annie to a smoky room where men played poker and drank beer.  She didn’t like it there very much but they left with his winnings which amounted to twenty pounds and he bought her a box of chocolates.

The day they were to drive to Booni Creek dawned clear and sunny, just like every other day.  In fact it hadn’t rained  for months and the countryside was brown and the waterholes only muddy puddles.  Annie had negotiated two days off as they were to stay overnight at Booni Creek before their return journey.

“Tell me about your mother,” Annie said.  “It might help us get along better.”

“She’s a very strong, very brave woman,” said Hayden with a catch in his voice. “We were in Sydney visiting my aunt for a few days when my father was stationmaster at Bogan Gate.  I was only six.  We received a telegram with the news.  He had had a massive heart attack at the railway station.  Asked the young porter to get him a glass of water.  When he got back Father was dead on the floor.  Ma and I lived with her brother for a while.  He was also a stationmaster – at Hayden, where I was born.  That’s how my parents met, at Hayden, when my mother was staying with my uncle the first time.   Eventually she got a job as a housekeeper on a cattle station. Word got around that Alfred needed someone to run the house and she has been there ever since.  She sent me to Newington but I left after three years.  Hated it there….” Hayden paused and concentrated on the road ahead, avoiding potholes and rocks.

“So what trade did you learn?  I went to Lucy Secor’s and learnt to be a dressmaker,” she said proudly.

“And now you work as a receptionist in a hotel!”  He laughed.  “I trained to be a wool classer but threw that in.  There was big money in rabbiting.  Texas has a factory where they process 6,000 rabbits a day.  You wouldn’t believe how many there used to be.  Masses of white tails bobbing up and down all over the paddocks. Now I do station work.  We have to move the cattle around from paddock to paddock, take them to the sales.  We’ve got sheep too.  There’s lots of work to do with sheep.”

“So you’re the son Alfred never had?”

“I suppose so.  He’s a strange character.  Not like his brothers.  They are all for producing the best strain of cattle, showing them at the Ekka and the Sydney Royal Easter Show.  They win ribbons and trophies and people want to breed from their prize winning beasts, but Alfred is content to just graze his cattle and sheep.  He’s never been interested in marrying.  Never had a girlfriend I don’t think.  He just watches his pennies.  He’s your image of a Scotsman.  Keeps a record of every penny and doesn’t spend anything he doesn’t have to.  Saying that, he can be very generous.  He offered to send me to university in Scotland if I would go back to Newington and complete my secondary education.”

“Why didn’t you?” gasped Annie.  “Imagine going to Scotland!  That’s where my great grandparents came from.  Our family hasn’t been back since.”

“School was not a happy place”, he said grimly.  “When your father is dead and your mother is a housekeeper,  it doesn’t quite cut the mustard at boarding school.”

His bitterness surprised her so she decided to change the subject.

“My mother is a housekeeper at Westcourt Station.  Her husband is an overseer there.  You wouldn’t believe it but they met when I was a toddler but my father was still alive then. He died last year but I never really knew him.  We have a lot in common, don’t we?”

Hayden pointed to a low building in the distance.  “There it is.  Booni Creek.  I just can’t wait to show you to Ma!”

Annie’s Secret-2

Chapter 2

The arrival of Annie had been good for Harriet. She enjoyed hearing about life at Lucy Secor as Annie moved from single word answers to whole sentences! She missed having a daughter as Eddie was not very communicative.

She also enjoyed mothering Annie as she felt the girl had missed a normal childhood full of brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.  Even her parents were absent most of the time.  She hoped that Annie would continue at Lucy Secor to a management position so that she could be independent of a man.  Not that there was anything wrong with having a man but to be able to get up and leave without plunging into poverty would be a decided advantage.  Women put up with an awful lot from men, as well she knew.  If she had been able to support herself, would she have left Edgar?  She thought that maybe she would.

Ruby did it, but from what she had heard it had been, and still was, a struggle.

Annie asked if she wanted to go to the pictures with her.  “The King of the Jungle” was showing at the local Hoyts Shore Picture Theatre. Annie had never been to the pictures and Harriet hadn’t been since the era of silent movies. They walked together on a chilly Saturday night, wearing their winter coats and with hats pulled low over their ears.  The lights and glamour of the picture theatre took even Harriet’s breath away.  She looked at Annie and saw her eyes large with amazement. The auditorium was lined with panels depicting scenes of sailing ships, steamers, a lighthouse and seagulls. The lights dimmed and the curtains across the stage moved back as if by magic.  A mountain overarched with stars and the words Paramount Pictures appeared before their eyes.  Soon they were zooming in to Africa and watching a small boy growing up with lions.  Suddenly he became a man wearing very little except a revealing loincloth.  Harriet glanced nervously at Annie, hoping this detail would not get back to Ruby.  They continued to watch with fascination until the lights reappeared and the magic was over.

As they walked arm in arm through the streets of Williamstown, Harriet saw a future where life would be more exciting than in the past.  She even wondered what Ed would say to her taking up dancing again.

Christmas was approaching.  Annie had completed a year at Lucy Secor and received very good reports on her progress.  Harriet asked her if she would like to stay for the festive season but Annie was intent on going home.  Home was where her mother was but she was disappointed to find that she was no longer living near Charleville.

The letter arrived a month before the end of her year at Lucy Secor.

Dear Annie,

I am looking forward to seeing you this Christmas but must tell you that my circumstances have changed.  I am to be married to Fred Burton and we are already working at a station 50 miles west of  Goondiwindi in southern Queensland. At least it will not be so far for you to travel as Brisbane to Goondiwindi is about thirteen hours on the train.

Fred last saw you when you were only two and a half so he will see some changes!  He is waiting to get a divorce from his estranged wife and we will marry as soon as possible after that.

Please telegraph your arrival time and I will meet you at Goondiwindi station with the buggy.

With all my love,

Mother

Annie let a small sigh of irritation escape her lips.  Her treasured time with Mother was to be shared with a stranger.  She decided already she didn’t like Fred Burton and wondered if her mother was sharing a bed with this man.

As she packed she pondered if she would return to this small dark room which had been her refuge for the past year.  Whether she returned would depend on what she found in Goondiwindi.  All that she left behind was the thick winter coat she had purchased for the Melbourne winter.

Travelling in the heat was exhausting.  As the day progressed from early morning to evening the train became hotter and hotter.  In Sydney she stayed in a hotel near Central, running a cool bath and then lying on the bed with a wet towel draped over her body. She chose to take the night train to Goondiwindi from Brisbane as it would be more comfortable.  Arriving in the early morning she appreciated the cool air before the heat of the day began in earnest.

The buggy was waiting, a strange man at the reins and Mother seated beside him.  Annie’s luggage was stowed in the back and she squeezed in beside her mother.

“It’s a whole day to Westcourt so we thought you might like some breakfast at the hotel before we start,” said Mother.

Annie dutifully ate bacon and eggs although her appetite seemed to have left her.  Fred tried to make small talk but must have sensed her hostility because he quietened down quickly enough.  Mother was busy describing the station, her role running the house and Fred’s job as overseer.

“He would have got the job as manager except the last boss gave him a bad report.  It was all fabricated to cover up for the poor state of the property when Fred took over.  What could he do with a drought and little money?”

Annie nodded to show she understood but she wondered if Fred was really as capable as Mother had led her to believe.  He did seem to genuinely care for her mother with his actions and words but Annie still felt uneasy.

“So, what are you plans for next year?” Ruby asked searchingly.  “Will you go back to Lucy Secor or find a job up here?”

Annie was surprised that her mother gave her a choice..

“I’m undecided.  I’m happy enough in Melbourne although I can’t see a long term future in a glamourised “sweat shop”.  It’s very boring and repetitious. Maybe if I could sew whole garments for people like you used to do it would be more satisfying.  And I do really miss you Mother.”

Ruby thought for a moment.

“Of course there’s no suitable work for a young woman like you on the station.  You would hate it.  However if you could work for a dressmaker in Goondiwindi I’m sure your experience at Lucy Secor would go a long way.”

Christmas at Westcourt Station was as hot as the roast chicken and the plum pudding they valiantly ate at the large dining table.  The owners were away in Brisbane so Ruby had cooked dinner for the manager, several overseers, herself and Annie. A wishbone was on Annie’s plate and the two threepences she found in her slice of pudding.

“You want to be careful not to swallow one of those,” warned Fred.  “It could block your windpipe and you might never talk again.”

They toasted Christmas with a glass of cold beer courtesy of the Hallstrom kerosene refrigerator.  Ruby commented how it had changed their lives in the Outback.

“I just want to stand in front of it with the door open,” she said. “But of course the food would get hot.”  She laughed, “One day I want a house by the sea, with the cool breeze blowing all the time, and no dust storms or drought in sight.”

New Year saw the beginning of 1934.  Annie obtained a job with a dressmaker in Goondiwindi but found that everything she did was wrong.  Much of her time was spent unpicking mistakes which surprised her as she thought her sewing was of a high standard.  Obviously Miss Cruikshank had other ideas or maybe she thought she was a better teacher than those at the Lucy Secor School of Dressmaking.

Annie was staying with a widow in Goondiwindi, paying a small amount of board for two meals a day and a bath once a week.

“The rest of the week we just wash up as far as possible, then down as far as possible and then we wash possible,” the widow said with a wicked grin.  She had the most astounding vocabulary of vulgar sayings.  Pointing to a young woman pushing her pram past the house on the way to the shops, she called out, “Last year’s fun on wheels.”

Annie was rather shocked but also amused by the woman who was known as Ma Brown.  She was a sharp contrast to the fastidious Miss Cruikshank.

One morning, as she was eating her boiled egg, Annie ran her eyes down the job vacancies in the Goondiwindi Advertiser. There was a vacancy for a young woman to act as receptionist at the Victoria Hotel.

Quickly finishing her breakfast, she took the newspaper to her room to study the details and write an application.  She would have a room at the hotel with board included and the pay was better than she was getting from Miss Cruikshank.  Things were looking up.