Vexation – Just When Life was Looking Good
Glebe, Sydney, 1929
Annie guided the scooter out the front gate and across the road into Jubilee Park. Ahead was the long uninterrupted path down which she loved to ride, the wind in her hair, the sun on her face, until she braked and stopped at the bottom. A long walk back up and she was off again, imagining herself a bird flying through the air. Ruth, who was her best friend, told her that she was too old for scooters. She had just turned 12 and should be thinking about becoming more ladylike. Besides she was going to high school next year and everyone would laugh at her. In that case she only had two months of scooter riding left so she was going to make the most of it.
Her news for Mother filled her with excitement. She had raced home from school and burst in the front door, only to be told sternly to be quiet as Mother was having an important meeting with a client. Annie caught a glimpse of her in the front room. She was a very wealthy lady who had bought several dresses from Mother so she guessed this was another job in the pipeline as Mother would say. At least Mother would be in a better mood as business hadn’t been so good lately. The number of orders had declined and Mother had said it was something to do with the fall of the Stock Exchange in far away New York.
Finally the elegantly dressed woman left the tiny semi in Glebe where Annie and her mother lived with Mr Adams. Annie loved everything about the house, the overgrown back yard, the sunroom where Ruby sewed and the cosy kitchen with its Early Kooka stove.
She wasn’t so keen on Mr Adams but Mother had told her he was needed to share the rent. He worked at labouring jobs but they were few and far between lately.
“Mother, I’ve got the best news! I’ve been made Jumping Centre in the Netball team. We are going to play against other schools on Saturday morning. Oh, and Ruth is Goal Attack.”
Mother looked like she was trying to be happy for her but not succeeding very well.
“That’s good news, Annie. I suppose your height would help. Won’t be long and you’ll be as tall as me…. Annie, I’m afraid my news is not so good. That was Mrs Macarthur-Brown who as you know is one of my best clients. Well, her husband’s investments have gone down the drain and they have lost everything, even their house. There’ll be no more orders from her…and she’s not the only one. Another week like this and I won’t be able to pay the rent. Arthur has hardly had any work at the docks. It looks like we are going to have to make a living in some way, shape or form somewhere else.”
“You mean we have to leave Glebe?”
“We’re leaving Sydney, leaving the state of NSW. I know where I can get work in Queensland.”
Annie tried not to be downcast, to look on the bright side.
“Remember when we moved to Warracknabeal? The furniture didn’t arrive until the next day and we had to sleep on the floor?”
“We’re not taking the furniture this time. I’m selling everything, including the sewing machine. We won’t be needing it where we’re going.”
“But what will you do if you don’t sew?” Annie couldn’t imagine her mother doing anything else. She was always pinning and cutting, handstitching and machining, the thump of the treadle as much a part of her as her voice or her smile.
“I’ve got a job as housekeeper on a sheep station out of Charleville. The owners are getting on in years and they need someone to relieve the wife from running the house. It’s a big job, you know, feeding the shearers, ordering the food, training the kitchen staff.”
“So will I go to school in Charleville? Do they have a high school?”
“They only go to 7th Grade and besides the station is too far for you to travel each day so I have a special surprise for you. You are going to Roma High School and staying at a hostel for country children!”
Annie’s lip quivered. Despite the constant moving from place to place, Annie had always felt anchored by Mother. She was always there, dependable and hardworking, listening to Annie recount her day as she calmly sewed. The thought of being separated from her only relative to live in a hostel filled with strangers terrified her.
I’m not going to like this and I’ll run away from there as soon as I can!