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.
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,
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.