Annie arrived in Charleville for the May school holidays, delighted with the news that she would never, ever have to return to that horrid hostel. She chattered excitedly as they approached Noah Park Station and sat happily in the big kitchen eating fruit cake and talking to Tommy. He couldn’t wait to tell her the story of the rotten egg but assured her that the cake she was now eating was fine. The Boss, Mr Winter, saddled up a steady horse for Annie and gave her some riding lessons. He told her she was a natural born rider and she could help with the mustering next holiday. She helped Tommy gather the eggs in the henhouse and fed the orphaned lamb with a bottle.
All too soon it was time for the school term to begin.
Ruby said they may as well go in search of a suitable family as soon as possible but first she would give Annie a night to remember. They checked into the marvellous Corones Hotel in Charleville.
Mother and daughter could not remember experiencing such luxury, especially as they sat in the elegant dining room studying the menu for dinner. Annie couldn’t take her eyes off the the painted hanging lamps and the gently moving overhead fans. The white tablecloths, shining silver cutlery and crystal vases full of fresh flowers were a world away from the hostel and even the station. She was about to pick up a bowl and drink when Ruby stopped her, saying that it was for washing your fingers.
The talk of the town was the highly anticipated arrival of Amy Johnson. The first woman to fly on her own from England to Australia, she arrived in Darwin on 24th May, 1930 in Jason, a two year old Gipsy Moth aeroplane. She had landed in Longreach, taken a rest in Quilpie and was due to arrive the day Ruby and Annie were leaving for Roma.
“It would be good if she could give us a lift to Roma,” said Annie, laughing. “Flying beats sitting in a train for six hours.”
Ruby read later in the newspaper how Amy was mobbed at the aerodrome by wellwishers. By the time she was bundled into a car and driven to the Corones Hotel she was overwhelmed by the crowds and weeping from exhaustion. It was a case of too much love.
After the excitement of Charleville Annie’s mood darkened as they approached Roma. Ruby had a list of possible homes to visit. After four unsuccessful interviews where Annie took an instant dislike to the “witch ladies” in question, she finally agreed to living with Mrs Moss, a widow whose house was close to the school. Ruby was impressed with the large bedroom which would be Annie’s. From the window she could see a shallow sandy river with willow trees hugging the bank. There was a bookcase and a large desk for Annie to do her homework. On it was an electric reading light, which Ruby thought would have been excellent for sewing in her early days. The mother followed her daughter around the town, stopping to meander through Hunter’s Emporium with its enticing selection of drapery and furniture. They admired the avenue of bottle trees planted after the Great War in memory of the fallen. Annie also led her to the Milk Bar which she often visited. They both sipped their fruit salad milkshakes, scooping out the ice cream and chopped up apple from the bottom of the glass with great delight. They walked past the hostel and around the perimeter of the high school, Annie pointing out her classrooms and the sporting fields.
Mrs Moss said Mother could stay until Monday after which time she would return to Charleville. They decided to attend church on the Sunday with Mrs Moss, who was a very devout C of E. Ruby let her eyes wander over the white framed stained glass windows, contrasting handsomely with the grey brick walls. They were impressive in number and depicted characters from well known Bible stories. Various families in the area had dedicated the windows to their departed loved ones. Ruby wondered what it would be like to belong to a respectable family where money was not a problem and children were not separated from parents through necessity. Where you could enjoy the social life of the town, the balls and dinner dances held by the local graziers and even fly to the coast on one of the QANTAS aeroplanes to escape the summer heat.
That was not going to be her lot and she might as well get used to it.