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,


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”.