Annie’s Secret-13

Chapter 13

The service was held at St Margaret’s Church of England in 11th Street, Mildura.  It occurred to Annie  that it was the same street in which Haydie was conceived.  They arrived late and sat discretely in the last row.  The organ played and they stood up mouthing a hymn they didn’t know as there were no hymn books left.  William Brown, Jack’s business partner, walked to the front of the church to speak about his lifelong friend.

It is with a heavy heart that I farewell our friend Jack Hamilton.  I don’t want to dwell on sadness but would rather recall the great joy he gave to all around him.  

 I refer to Wordsworth’s poem, ‘The Character of a Happy Warrior’, as I feel it captures, far better than I am able to do, the essence of the man who was our mentor and friend.  

This is the happy Warrior; this is he 

Whom every Man in arms should wish to be

My first memories of Jack date back to France in World War One.  I can still see him now, playing his violin in a little smoky café, leading the singing of ‘Mademoiselle from Armentieres’.  Sometime later it was maybe with that same violin that he led the singing of ‘The Tattooed Lady’ in the blockie’s camps after a day of clearing the mallee in 100 degree heat.  Then Jack married and he and his charming wife moved into their home on the block.  Jack would welcome each guest with a tune on his violin as they arrived.  Every Wednesday night became a singing night with local musicians.  I’m sure a number of you remember those evenings with ‘Lily Marlene’ and ‘Danny Boy’.

William continued. All of you who knew him would agree that he had a most outstanding personality, with a great sense of humour. He had that characteristic we call charisma.  He radiated vitality and charm.

He was a man who helped fellow human beings whatever their rank in the community.  He was always ready to lend a hand to those in need.

Hayden was thinking hard.  He was worried.  Jack had been his mentor.  It was Jack’s idea to start up the irrigation business and his advice and contacts had been invaluable.  He felt as if he had been set adrift.  Now that supplies were drying up he would have to move on, back to Sydney, and somehow start again.

Jack was a generous spirit.  Many people, from all walks of life, loved him for his sense of fairness and dedication to what was right.   As well as a being a dedicated family man he was an astute businessman but in saying that he was always aware of his own moral being.  

Annie was confused.  She didn’t know what to feel. He had given her the greatest gift anyone could ask for but for a while she had hoped that they could talk again, alone, and recreate the magic of that evening together. Now he had gone, and she would never see his face or hear his voice again.  She alone carried the burden of guilt and deceit but knew she must try to make her marriage with Hayden work. At least she was safe in the knowledge that no-one could possibly ever find out.

William Brown was finishing his eulogy.  Jack was a man who hated violence.  He hated war with a passion and yet he felt it his duty to become involved in two world wars as the alternative was unthinkable.  He was a man torn between his moral duty and his own sense of morality.

We bid a sad farewell to a man whose life ended prematurely, a man who was unable to enjoy the pleasure of old age and a man who will be greatly missed by his loving family and many friends. I ask you all to bow your heads and remember Jack Hamilton …. the Happy Warrior.

Hayden and Annie left as soon as the service was over.  Neither could face the weeping, bowed figure of Enid or the solemn faces of her children.  Annie bought a sympathy card, deliberating for hours on the words she needed.  In the end she wrote, 

“Our deepest sympathy to Enid and your children.  Jack will be sorely missed.  We will be eternally grateful for the helping hand he extended to us before and after our arrival in Mildura.”

They had one last picnic by the river.  Hayden pointed the Brownie Box towards Annie as she held Haydee on her hip.  The child, in her short skirt and striped jumper, sucked her thumb as the camera clicked.  Now Annie was sitting in the grass, her green and white leaf print skirt spread over her legs, while behind, the mallee poked out of the brown, flooded river. Hayden’s black shadow filled the foreground.  

Annie packed the picnic things, the thermos, the anodised cups, the empty brown paper bags and the blanket. Hayden put them in the boot while Annie climbed into the front seat with Haydie.

”We’ll be off tomorrow before dawn!” he said to Haydie as he climbed into the driver’s seat. “I think we’ll just put you on the parcel shelf and let you sleep until breakfast time.”

“You sound cheerful.” said Annie. She sighed. Another fresh start. Would it be any better than all those other fresh starts? She wondered what the future held, especially as they had a child to think about. Still Hayden seemed convinced he was doing the right thing so maybe she should have more faith in him.

Yes, Hayden was optimistic.  He felt he had learned a lot in Mildura.  Irrigation was a good field to be in.  People needed water everywhere, not just in the Mallee.  He would move to Sydney and supply the farmers of NSW with not only pumps and hoses but also with tank stands, fence posts and gates made from steel and piping. They just needed to collect all the money owing to them and they would be able to start afresh.  Maybe they could buy some land on the outskirts of Sydney, build a little house for the three of them and never move again. Annie would be happy and he could watch Haydie grow and teach her all he knew.

He started the truck, put it into gear and headed for home.


Annie’s Secret-12

John Thorne looked at his patient with amazement. “Your suspicions are correct, Mrs Walsh.  You are twelve weeks pregnant and the baby is due late March to early April.  Congratulations.  You and your husband must be very happy.”

“I haven’t told him yet but I will tonight.” Annie smiled happily. “I’m sure he will be overjoyed.”

“If I believed in miracles I would say this is one.  How are you feeling?”

“I have been sick every morning.  I’ve done my best to hide it from Hayden just in case it was a false alarm.”

“Well, I’ll give you something for the sickness.  And I can assure you this is no false alarm.” He placed a cone shaped instrument on Annie’s still flat stomach.  A booming, whooshing sound could be heard. “That is not your heartbeat.  That is the baby.  Is that confirmation enough for you?”

Annie did up the belt on her dress noticing the hole had advanced by one space. I’ll be buying maternity clothes soon, she thought. Now to tell Hayden.

It took a while for it to sink in but when she repeated to him several times he was going to be a father, Hayden was ecstatic. He wanted to tell Ma straight away and of course they should tell Ruby as well.  They discussed what it would be like to have a boy.  Then they talked about having a little girl.  Whatever it was, Hayden was delighted at the prospect.

Annie had never felt so happy or so well.  Once the morning sickness subsided she glowed with good health.  The scorching summer weather did not seem to affect her but she did develop some peculiarities.  She craved grapes, which was fortunate in an area like Mildura.  However, she wanted particular grapes, usually behind barbed wire fences, so that Hayden was often found crawling along the ground to get the most luscious bunch for his beloved.

In early April, 1951, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.  Doctor Thorne delivered her, holding her up and proclaiming her the “miracle baby” with a twinkle in his eye.

As Annie lay in her bed in the Mildura Base Hospital, bound tightly in bandages as was the custom, Hayden came in to see his wife and daughter.

“I’ve been thinking of names,” he said. “Ruby wants May, Ma wants Ridgway because that was her maiden name.  I thought maybe we could make a combination of your name and mine.  How about Haydie?”

“I don’t think that’s a name,” said Annie. 

“It is now.  How does Haydie May Ridgway Walsh sound?”

“As long as it keeps you and Ma and Mother happy then I’m happy too.”

Annie was more concerned about her baby, who cried continually until feeding time which was held at strict four hourly intervals.  The nurses told her they were giving baby a supplement as her milk wasn’t strong enough.  To top it off Hayden came in on the third day with plans.  This was something she dreaded but she lay patiently on the bed as he told her he was leaving the Customs House. “We are moving into the Sunraysia Motors site. I’m thinking of expanding into different sorts of motors, not just for irrigation. Also we are moving house. It’s bigger and nicer than our last place.”

It was all too much.  Her breasts became sore and she developed “milk fever”.  She always blamed Hayden for that.

One week after the arrival of Haydie, Hayden arrived at the hospital with the truck and loaded Annie and the baby into the front seat.  The new residence was a little further out of town and it was with great pride he drove into the yard and turned off the ignition.

“It’s lovely!” said Annie.  All around her were chrysanthemums, dahlias and roses in bloom. Camellia, rhododendron and azalea bushes showed promise of flowers to come and tall palm trees gave the garden a tropical feel.  The house was larger and newer than their previous home.  Behind a bird bath she could see the verandah and a front door flanked by two glass panels.  Standing at the  door was Mother, welcoming her daughter and grandchild with open arms.

The relief that Annie felt on seeing her mother was immense.  She was so worried she would not remember what to do and that she would be unable to care for the baby. Feeding and changing nappies and getting Haydie to sleep all seemed insurmountable problems.  Ruby, or Kay as she was now known, wasted no time organising the household.

“The first thing I am going to do is buy you an electric copper.  Lighting the fire underneath the copper each day to boil the nappies is like living in the Stone Age.”

And so Annie was introduced to modern conveniences.  She turned the switch and the water in the copper miraculously heated to boiling point.  Mother helped with the bottles of top up formula, feeding the baby and giving Annie time for much needed rest.

One day, as Annie awakened from an afternoon nap, Mother came into the room with Haydie in her arms.  “I’ve just been talking to that nice man, Jack Hamilton.  He wanted to know how you and the baby were getting along.  What a lovely man.  Where was he when I was young and single?”

“He was off fighting in the First World War,” replied Annie. “Maybe you should have waited until it was over before choosing a husband.”

“Well if I had you wouldn’t have been born.”

“Besides,” said Annie, “You are a happily married woman who has had all your dreams come true.”

Mother looked sad. “You know Harry and I have a business relationship.  There is not much … affection.  In fact sometimes he frightens me.”

“He doesn’t hurt you does he, Mother?”

“No, but his words can be cruel and he does threaten me, although I don’t think he would ever do anything to harm me.”

Suddenly Kay doubled up in pain.  She quickly handed Haydie to Annie and rushed to her room where she lay on the bed holding her stomach.

Annie rang Doctor Thorne immediately and described her mother’s symptoms. Half an hour later an ambulance arrived to take Kay to hospital.

Kay had gallstones.  Dr Thorne could perform the operation immediately but Kay was stubborn.

“I want to go to a Sydney hospital. I want a specialist to do this operation.  Someone who has done it thousands of times!”

The next day Kay flew back to Sydney and Annie was alone with her new baby.  Although she was worried about Mother she relished the freedom of having the house all to herself. Hayden came home from work earlier than usual now that Kay was out of the way.

One night he brought the news that Jack’s son was arriving home from England.  “Jack wanted to know if you would like to bring Haydie into the office to show her off.”

Hayden’s new office was near Hamilton and Brown.  Annie arrived the next day, pushing a pram and carrying Jack’s precious diary.  As he came into the office he gave her a familiar smile but she was shocked by his appearance.  Not only had he lost weight but also he lacked much of the vitality that was so much a part of him.  She wondered if anyone else had noticed. Jack introduced her to his son Hugh who stood quietly while his father told of his experiences.

“He visited the estaminet where I used to play the violin!  And… he found Denise, the proprietor’s daughter who used to put a shot of rum in our coffee!”

Hugh joined in enthusiastically.  “She was looking very smart for her age and living very comfortably in Doullens.  She said Dad used to lead the singing and was always the life of the party.”

“So you were in France as well as England?” Hayden asked.

“Yes, I followed in Dad’s footsteps all over the Somme.  Visited Corbie where Dad got his Military Medal. I tried to imagine what it was like but of course there has been another World War since those days.”

Annie handed him the diary. “Would you please give this to your father. We have kept it far too long but we both wanted to finish reading it.”

Hugh took the diary eagerly. “I have been looking for that,” he said. “My plan is to type it up into a book so all the family can read about Dad. I’m going to put the photos he took at Gallipoli in the front.”

Haydie was passed around for all to admire. Hugh sat in a chair bouncing her on his knee.

“Good practice for when you have your own,” Jack observed with a smile.

“Goodness, I’m not even married yet,” said Hugh. “Plenty of time for that.”

Annie rarely saw Jack but she asked Hayden for regular reports and the news was not good.  His health was deteriorating but still he worked as hard as ever.

The time came when Hayden opened the front door and looked at his wife with a sombre face. “Jack’s dying!  He was admitted to hospital and they don’t think he’ll come out.”  He wrapped his arms around Annie and openly wept.

Annie remained dry eyed.  Her days of crying were over.  For months she had listened for the crunch of footsteps on the gravel, knowing they would never come again but hoping nonetheless. Thoughts of Jack were relegated to a secret place, buried in the dark recesses of her heart. She poured all her love into her baby. Didn’t Jack say that was why she was put on earth! She was here to nurture and grow this child and no matter what happened she would devote her life to that end. 

Annie’s Secret-11

Chapter 11

In a moment Jack’s world changed forever.  He sat opposite his old friend John Thorne and received the grim news. The cancer that dogged him since the end of the World War 2 had recurred. If he was lucky he would live for eighteen months, maybe two years.

Jack left the surgery with a sense of unreality.  It had been a good life but he wasn’t ready for it to end.  He didn’t want to go home and face his anxious wife.  He needed to talk to people who didn’t know him well, about anything but his health.  Maybe he could call round on Hayden and Annie with a couple of bottles of beer.

After calling Enid to say he would be late he took the short walk from his office to the house on 11th Street.  As he knocked on the door he remembered Hayden had flown to Sydney again to source more equipment.  Oh well, too late to back out now.  Maybe he could pick up the diary he had loaned to Hayden.

Annie looked surprised but asked him in and fetched two glasses.  She brought out Sao biscuits, cheese and pickled onions and lit the fire which was set ready in the grate.

“I was just reading your diary.  I’m up to the time you and a friend discussed the Soldier Settlers Scheme. How did you manage to end up here?”

Glad to tell the familiar story Jack swallowed his beer and lay back in the armchair.  “After the war I went home to Castlemaine.  It was claustrophobic there after the freedom I had experienced travelling the world.  I left for Melbourne to find out more about the Soldier Settlers Scheme.  Just outside Flinders Street Station I saw a display of produce from Mildura so went over to have a look.  There was a very nice lady called Helen helping at the stand. I told her I was interested in settling up here so she said to look up her father, Ted Elliott, an engineer.

Soon after that I caught the train to Mildura.  It was a long tiring journey and when at last the train pulled into the station at 8 o’clock in the morning I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone. You wouldn’t believe it but the person standing just outside the station was someone I knew from the army. He was a bit of a pain so did my best to avoid him.  Too late he saw me and wanted to know what I was doing in Mildura, so I quickly said I was there to meet Ted Elliott.  Blow me down, he pointed and said, ‘Nothing easier, there he is.  Right there.’

Can you imagine how I felt? I had never met this man before so had to do some quick talking to get away from the army buddy. I got invited to Ted’s home.  His daughter Enid, who of course was Helen’s sister, had a birthday party with some of her girlfriends planned for later that day.  They didn’t seem too keen to have me burst in on their party like that but I got on really well with Enid and decided she was the one for me.  I went home, gathered my belongings and in two weeks I was back.  The rest is history.”

“I met some nice girls in France, England and even in America where I went after the war but Enid was different. She was very accomplished, played the piano, sang beautifully and I just knew I would become a better person with her by my side,” he said, pouring another glass of beer. “Tell me how you ended up marrying a chap like Hayden.”

“I had never known anyone like Hayden. Up until I met him it was all about survival but suddenly there were new cars and restaurants, race meetings and good times. For the first time in my life I was having fun and had something to look forward to. Of course it has not been a picnic since we were married. We’ve had drought, diseased sheep and hard work with not much to show for it but Hayden has such enthusiasm for every new project it’s hard not to get caught up in it. However, I’m sick of always moving on. That’s why I want to stay here in Mildura.“

“Maybe now you are settled you can start a family. Raising four wonderful children has been the greatest achievement of my life.” Jack looked at Annie with a smile.

She had promised herself never to tell a soul but the beer loosened her tongue and Jack was such a reassuring presence. She recounted the details of her visit to Dr Thorne. Suddenly she looked defeated and covered her face with her hands. “He must never know,” she said. “Men are different to women.  They think not being able to father a child makes them less of a man.”

“Do you feel less of a woman because you are not a mother?” asked Jack.

“No, of course not.”  She smiled. “Women are made of sterner stuff.” A look of doubt crossed her face. “You won’t say anything?”

“Of course not,” Jack replied.  He paused and thought for a moment. “I’ve got a secret too. The doc told me my time here on earth is coming to an end.  I won’t make old bones.”

Annie was speechless for a while. “I’m so sorry,” she finally said. “How long…?”

“If I’m careful I may have another two years.  Good God, I’m not ready to go yet.  There is still so much to do!  I have a family and they still need me.”

He looked at Annie thoughtfully. “You know, I don’t believe in an after-life but I do think we are here for a reason.  And that reason is to continue the human race.  When you think of our ancestors who came here on sailing ships to start a new life in an unknown country, what was it for?  They did it for their children and their children’s children.  Otherwise, what is the point of life?”

“There is no point,” said Annie. “It’s all about survival and then you die.”

“But a little part of you continues in your descendants,” replied Jack.

“What about those of us who will never have children? I suppose all we can do is live for the moment and try to be good people because in another fifty years we will be just dust and ashes and nothing will remain,” said Annie.

Their eyes met and it was as if the stars had suddenly aligned.  A sense of mutual understanding coupled with a sudden unexpected feeling of longing and sadness overwhelmed them both. All thoughts of wives and husbands, responsibilities and obligations, retreated into the darkness and all that remained was the light of the flickering fire and their need for each other.

As Jack made ready to leave later that evening he looked into Annie’s questioning blue eyes.

“As I said, things happen for a reason. Maybe we are just pawns in the game of life.  I think what happened tonight was meant to be … but it must never happen again.  As the poet Longfellow wrote, ‘we are but ships that pass in the night’. Farewell, my sweet, and may the gods grant you your heart’s desire!”

Annie’s Secret-10

Palace Heliopolis, Cairo

Annie’s throat had been sore for weeks and it was getting worse.  There were several doctors in town so when she dropped off the rent she asked Jack which one he recommended.

“My old friend John Thorne is as good as they get,” he replied.  “We’re on the hospital board together.  He’s a busy man but I’ll put in a good word for you. His treatments are at the cutting edge of medicine.”

Two days later Annie met the tall, somewhat fearsome doctor who examined her throat and made her say “Aaah!”

He shook his head and looked at her directly.  “That is a very bad Strep Throat.  A few years ago you may have had this condition for months.  In fact you may not have fully recovered or had complications.  There is now a drug called penicillin which will clear up your throat infection within twenty four hours.  We can thank the great Australian Howard Florey for that.”

Annie stared at the long needle with fear but lay on her stomach, eyes closed, while the injection took place.

Once more seated opposite the doctor she waited pensively while he wrote something on a paper form.

“Now you are here I will gather some more information.  I see you are married but no children.  Any miscarriages?”

Annie was somewhat taken aback by the doctor’s bluntness but answered quietly.  “No, I’ve never been pregnant.”

“Let’s see.  You are thirty-two years of age and have been married for fourteen years.  I take it you have chosen not to have children?”

Annie couldn’t believe what she was hearing but decided she had no choice but to answer. “I’ve … I mean we’ve never thought about it.  It just hasn’t happened.”

“Well now, I would like you to come for an examination in about two week’s time, when you are better.  Just to make sure there are no underlying conditions.”

“I can’t afford another doctor’s visit,” Annie said with regret.  She thought of the discussion with Hayden over the advisability of this visit.  It was only because she had been so sick and all the old remedies had not helped that they both agreed it was the only solution.

Doctor Thorne leapt out of his seat with a sudden movement.  “Good God, woman, this is not about money.  I’m genuinely interested in your case.  I want to make you part of my research.  Now go and make an appointment at the desk and I’ll see you in a fortnight.”

The penicillin did its work and Annie was feeling her old self within days.  She decided not to mention her next doctor’s visit to Hayden as pregnancy was a subject they avoided discussing.  In fact they never talked about their sex life.  It was something that happened quickly beneath the blankets, in the dark.

Dr Thorne warned of what was to come and asked her to try and relax.  Lying under a sheet she gritted her teeth and closed her eyes.  Eventually the procedure was over and she was left to dress herself before seeing the doctor again.

“You are a very healthy, very fit young woman.  There is absolutely no reason I can see that you have not become pregnant.  Of course, there could be something my examination didn’t find but I think the next step is to test your husband’s sperm.”

“Hayden would never come in to see you about that!”  Annie was wide eyed at the idea.

“He doesn’t need to.  Here is a sterile glass jar.  All you need to do is bring in a fresh sample for testing.  Try to bring it in on the same day and keep it wrapped up so it doesn’t get cold.”

Annie was left with the daunting task of obtaining the sample.  She decided she would have to tell Hayden everything but surprisingly he didn’t object.  He even said it might be nice to have a baby which left her in a state of confusion.

“So there it is,” Dr Thorne looked at Annie sadly.  “The reason you have not become pregnant in fourteen years is your husband has a very low sperm count.”

“Can you do anything about it?” Annie asked.  “Maybe a tonic to improve his…”  She still couldn’t say it.

“One possibility is sperm donation.  It has been happening for hundreds of years.  The old turkey baster…”

Annie looked puzzled.

“Of course,  nowadays a syringe is used.  The donor provides fresh sperm which is injected at the precise time of the month for conception to take place.  Sometimes it works but it often takes many attempts which you can see is difficult for the donor who has to be in the general area at the time.”

“The whole thing is kept very secret.  The child never knows that its father is not the one who raises it.  The only people who know are the parents.  Often not even the donor is told who the mother is.”

Annie shook her head. “My husband would never agree to it.  It looks as though it was not meant to be.  Thank you doctor,  for your help. Could I ask that you not tell Hayden about his results.  I think he would be devastated.”

When Hayden asked what the doctor said she simply replied, “You are fine.  There’s no reason we can’t have children.  I just need to get my anxiety levels down.  That’s all.”

It was several weeks before Annie had time to return to the diary.  Hayden was in Sydney again with strict instruction not to visit Thommo’s and squander their precious money. She left the Customs House early to begin her afternoon of reading. The faded script was hard to see by the dim light of an electric bulb so she planned to use the winter sunshine and a pot of tea to help her decipher it.  Stretching out in a comfortable chair, the sun streaming in through the kitchen window, she turned to the page where she had left off.


I reached my favourite spot in the shade of the Greek Church verandah and gingerly stretched out on the patchy grass.  It was my habit to come here every day to escape the sweltering heat.  My arm still hurt but I had hopes of exploring the island when I felt a bit better.  In the meantime I watched the local children playing in the dust, saw the women in their local costumes coming to draw water from the well and chatted to the passing soldiers from numerous allied countries.

The hospital was not a place you would want to spent time if you could help it.  Forty men, jammed into a marquee like herrings in a tin, lay on lousy mattresses and ate food swarming with flies from the nearby latrines.

Fed up with days of inactivity I decided to explore the nearby hills.  Climbing with a couple of mates I found neglected orchards, admired views of the sea and feasted on grapes in an overrun vineyard.  That night I didn’t feel too good and for the next week hovered near the dreaded latrines until my stomach settled down to normal.  Another week of feeling weak and with my arm still painful, I couldn’t have been more delighted than when I received the call to report to the ship ‘Marathon’.  We steamed to Alexandria where we were given first class train tickets to Cairo.

The Palace Heliopolis in Cairo, all glittering marble and brass, could make a man think he had died and gone to heaven.  After registration I was shown to the bathroom where the steaming hot water was waiting to wash months of accumulated dirt from my body.

Back in my room I met Jim who was to share with me.

“Will you look at this!”  Jim pointed to a box, already opened on the bed, its contents spilling out onto the sheet.

“Chocolate and biscuits.  Lots of ciggies. Toothpaste and a toothbrush.  It’s like bloody Christmas!”

“What else is there?” I asked.

“Writing paper, envelopes, pencils.  No excuse not to write to my girl now. Oh. and smell that soap.  Even a handkerchief to blow me nose on.”  Jim unwrapped the soap and disappeared into the bathroom for his bath.

I slowly unwrapped my box.  The notepaper reminded me of Sheila.  I wrote to her as often as I could but her replies were short and infrequent.  Maybe she had met someone else?  I wandered over to the doors which opened onto a small balcony.  Two cane chairs were placed invitingly facing out towards the garden.  As I sat and pondered I wondered what lay ahead.  This paradise could not last forever but while I was here I would live for the moment and enjoy it while I could.

Tea was waiting downstairs.  Boiled eggs with bread and butter followed by jam and apples.  A mug of ale appeared at 7 o’clock and a cup of cocoa at 8.

A friendly nurse came to check on my wound and dressed it carefully.

“We’ll have you fixed up in no time,” she smiled brightly.

Maybe it was the surroundings, maybe because they were Australian, but the nurses here were lively and full of fun.  I enjoyed their company and the feeling was mutual, I think.

I soon moved to Luna Park Hospital where my only complaint was the bed bugs.  Finally I was discharged and returned to my unit.  Declared unfit for duty I scored an office job in Cairo as a clerk for the army.   With France still on the horizon I began  French lessons but rumour had it that we would soon be in the desert “Scrapping Arabs”.

My first camp in the desert was at Serapeum on the edge of the Suez Canal.  An infantry camp with thousands of Australians was nearby but I was sent with nine others to the railhead in Arabia to sort out a depot which was in chaos. I was officer in Charge of ‘Bread and Biscuits’, complete with an Arab servant and we got things sorted out pretty soon. Overseeing the loading of 2000 camels in the mornings, swimming the horses in the Suez Canal, wearing goggles in the sandstorms and chasing my runaway tent in the wind was all part of the job and kept me from worrying too much about the future.

A young chap by the name of Tyrel Palmer called by to have a chat. We both smoked in the shade of the store pile and let our thoughts wander back home to Australia.

“Have you heard about the Soldier Settlers Scheme?” Tyrel said.  “We both qualify because we’ve served overseas.  All we’ve got to do is make it safely back home.”

“I’ve heard of it,” I considered my cigarette, decided it was done and searched for some tobacco and paper. “Don’t know where you might end up.  They might give you some scrub that’s good for nothing.”

“Well I read that they’re developing land near Mildura.  They already grow grapes there using water from the Murray but this section will have a new pumping station and irrigation to every block.”

“The thing is, what do you do with grapes?  I suppose you can eat them or make wine.”

“You dry them.  Then you can put them in plum puddings.  Apparently there’s a big demand because they used to come from Turkey and Greece.”

I sat there with Tyrel, imagining myself sitting on the verandah of my own house, overlooking the verdant grapevines fed by the mighty Murray River, far from bombs and destruction.  I liked what I saw and decided that if I survived this war I would go to this place and live there for the rest of my days.

Jack Hamilton

Annie looked up.  She could hear the crunch of footsteps on the gravel path.  Then the sound of knocking had her wondering  who would be visiting her at this time of day.  She regretfully put down the diary and went to see who it was. There on the front verandah was Jack Hamilton.