Providence in the Form of Bush Brotherhood
The weekend was a whirl of activity. Fred set off for Widgee Station on Saturday, riding a borrowed horse and carrying enough mutton, flour, tea and sugar to last until he found work. Al combed the local businesses looking for a job. Ruby checked the girls’ clothes, making sure they were presentable for school on Monday and set about putting the house in order.
With the help of the girls she took down the curtains, removed the rugs and cleared the rooms, one at a time. They mopped the floors, washed the walls and stacked the detritus of the last few months in the back yard. The kitchen was the worst. Ruby and the girls carried everything outside so they could scrub the floor and the walls and clean the ominous looking black fuel stove.
Al returned at lunchtime with a smile on his usually serious face. He had been successful with his first attempt at finding a job. Mr Jones at the Produce Store needed a strong young man to lift sacks of oats, wheat and barley and he could start on Monday. He planned to donate all his pay to the grocery bill at the General Store. Ruby could see the sudden transformation from sulky boy to family breadwinner as Al proudly related his experience to them all.
Al was willing to set the fire under the copper so that the afternoon was spent washing the sheets and blankets, curtains and clothes that had been piled outside next to the laundry. They still hadn’t finished by nightfall so Ruby called it a day and began work on the evening meal. The girls peeled potatoes while Al lit the fire in the stove. Ruby chopped up leftover roast mutton and turned it into Shepherd’s Pie.
“I know we shouldn’t work on the Sabbath,” confided Ruby the next day, “but this is an emergency!” All day they toiled until the washing was dry, the beds made and the curtains once again blowing in the breeze.
On Sunday Muriel happened to mention that before Mother died they used to go to church. Ruby thought that maybe they could go next week as that would give her time to make sure they had something decent to wear. She was pleased to find Margaret’s sewing machine in good working order and after obtaining permission to use it from the girls she promised them each a new dress as soon as she could find some material.
Monday morning came with a rush, lunches wrapped in brown paper, steaming porridge devoured with haste, hair brushed and braided, beds made, farewells.
Ruby sat in the kitchen, amazed by the silence. Annie looked around for her new playmates and cried. Ruby picked her up and kissed her on the nose.
“We are going for a walk, just you and me!”
She grabbed Florence’s old pram, plonked Annie in and wheeled it out onto the dusty road. Soon she was in the tree lined main street, peering into each of the shops. At the General Store she bought some fresh fruit and vegetables, planning the evening meal for her brood of six children. She paused at the Haberdashery counter, fingering material and checking the prices, wondering if she could obtain credit here as well.
She wheeled Annie around a corner and came face to face with All Saints Church.This was where Margaret had taken her family each Sunday.It wasn’t quite what she had imagined.
More like a shed, she thought, with its high pitched roof, verandahs and white weatherboard walls. Curiously she pushed the front door and found it unlocked. The cool air was a welcome respite from the heat outside so she put her arms around Annie and sat her on a pew. They both looked up at the black beams and then peered through the small glass windows where glimpses of blazing sunshine contrasted to the dark interior.
“May I help you?” The unfamiliar English accent belonged to a youngish man in a black shirt and white clerical collar. He stood in the aisle holding a pile of hymn books.
“The family I work for, the Burtons … they lost their mother a few months ago. They used to come to this church and I was just sitting here, thinking it might be helpful for them to come back again.”
“Of course they must. It will do them the world of good!” The man placed the books on the opposite pew and sat down beside them, looking across at Ruby and Annie. “I’m afraid I don’t know the family as I have only been here a couple of months. I’m Peter Hale from the Bush Brotherhood. I’m based at this church although I’m away more often than not. Dreadful tragedy about the mother. Was it the Spanish Flu?”
“Yes, she was the only one in the family who died.”
“Let’s hope she didn’t suffer too much. And how are the children taking it?
”Of course they are devastated. I’m trying to get their life back to normal.”
A silence fell between them. Ruby looked at a sign on the wall which said “Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals”
“I wonder if I could have my child Baptised,” she heard herself saying. “My husband wouldn’t allow it, especially with the influenza.”
The man kneeled down and took Annie’s hand. “Her eyes are so blue! Like the sea! I can arrange a Baptism if you wish. I just need to gather a few details.”
Ruby told him everything that had happened in the last few weeks. That she was widowed and had made the near impossible journey by train from Melbourne. That Fred was off looking for work at a sheep station. That they were living on credit and that the eldest, Al, was working at the Produce Store.
The Reverend made a note in his large diary. Annie May Lane, Baptism scheduled for Monday, 3rd May, 1920.
“Make sure you put Annie May, not Mary,” insisted Ruby. This time the names would be right.