Coming right slowly….many thanks for all the good wishes….
I am down with some awful lengthy stomach bug. This has temporarily stopped me from writing and editing coherently, and I have only been able to view some posts. I hope to be back up and running soon.
On Sunday afternoon Dad
stretched out on the living
room sofa to recover from
baby brother’s long night of
travail with an emerging tooth.
Beside him on the coffee table
was Dad’s state of the art smart
phone – locked: that mobile
computer of his skilled trades
man’s business, which also
took customers’ calls.
As he slept two little girls
saw that gem of the twenty
first century. Up to the minute
playground education had taught
the seven year old of its high
status and uses. The five year
old was her willing accomplice.
The seven year old drew the
five year old close, held up
the phone as they smiled
for the latest in selfies.
Now concerned at possible
repercussions they tried to
delete their selfies, in vain.
Dad woke up, very alert.
A word of advice to beginners
in using the latest technology:
to delete a smart phone’s photos
first unlock it, with its password.
After the seven year old’s
all important birthday she
flew with Dad to the vast
mega city for their cousin’s
all important eighth birthday.
Now the five year old was the
eldest at home helping look
after baby brother, having long
satisfying chats with Mum.
At afternoon tea time she said
“I’ll get it !” She brought
the little stool to the bench
spread avocado on rice cakes,
cut apples in pieces, filled
glasses with water, took it
all to the table for a feast.
Later in the bath Mum held
baby brother upright while the
five year old sang to him
“Five little ducks…” while
moving the plastic ducks around.
Baby brother splashed his hands
up and down, crowed happily.
Eldest for a day. A happy
time for the five year old.
As our low wartime birthrate soared
after World War II the hasty building
of school and hospitals ensued.
The government wanted this birth
rate well educated, granted
bursaries for university fees and
books in an economy full of
part time and summer time jobs
for sons and daughters.
Not all parents wanted their
daughters educated past school.
A working class daughter with
excellent grades through to
seventeen was sent to full time
work. University evening
lectures gave way to pregnancy
and early motherhood at home.
The farmer’s daughter achieving
so well at a state city boarding
school was sent to work in a
local town bank, then married
within that community.
The brilliant daughter of British
immigrants was allowed to accept
a higher teacher student bursary
after school staff rigorously
persuaded her puzzled parents.
The Chinese greengrocer’s daughter
impressed teachers and classmates
with her brilliant achievements, yet
by nineteen she was married with
child housekeeping at home, staying
within family and culture confines.
Though university students were all
self supporting while studying, they
brought in no income, mingled in city life.
Some parents kept them within home bounds.
From the vast oriental land they sailed
from coastal regions packed with villages
starving from the ravages of warring
greedy warlords and their armies.
Thin hungry men fanned out to
distant gold rushes around the Pacific
desperate for gold for their families.
They came to this island country in its
gold rush 150 yeatrs ago, panning gold,
sending it home. After the gold ended
they stayed on, for they still earned a
living, sent money home, though the
white foreigners persecuted them often.
Some orientals died in this distant land
far from their families who should tend
their graves, bring offerings each year on
the day of the ancestors, the hungry ghosts.
Coffins of embalmed dead were stored
over many years for the day living
kinsmen could ship them back home
for their families to bury and tend.
At last the day came, the coffins set
sail. A few days later a violent storm
buried ship, crew. and coffins at sea.
Breaking up on the seabed the ship’s
timbers released many coffins to float
to a shore sparsely peopled by its
original settlers’ descendants who
buried these seaborne strangers.
A hundred years later oriental descendants
remembering childhood rumours
searched and enquired up to the far
north, found the descendants of those
who had buried their ancestors,
found their ancestors’ graves. In full
Polynesian ceremony two worlds met.
At last the ancestors, the hungry ghosts
are tended each year by descendants
in the home far from home
at the end of the world.
As the 1950’s emerged from
the stark post war world
market gardeners sold produce
at city auction houses lining
a side street opposite the wharves.
White settlers avoided Chinese
gardeners who held tenuous
citizenship from old gold rush days,
spoke Chinese at home, heavily
accented English elsewhere.
But forms were required for
the supply and sale of their
produce though they read and
wrote less English than they spoke.
After morning auctions, afternoons
saw auctioneers visit packing
sheds, fill in forms, with broken
English and Chinese conversations.
They would then be presented
with other official letters and
forms to be answered, filled in,
and tax forms to be computed.
Much appreciation was shown
for this assistance with gifts
of Christmas hams, tinned lychees
in syrup, crystalised ginger in
fat little jars, an embroidered
hanging of rooster and hen, and
bags of vegetables at each visit.
A wet windy afternoon in
1950’s school holidays with
little extra entertainment
provided for children in winter.
At Mum’s request Dad took
each of us on his auctioneer’s
afternoon visits to his market
gardeners. We drove past suburbs
down muddy tracks along
macrocarpa shelter belts
edging huge paddocks
down to dingy packing sheds.
They were dark, poorly lit,
doors wide open to fields
round about, inside a layer
of filmy dry dirt covered bare
planked floors and benches.
though dark and dusty they
were alive with Chinese
families – adults, elderly,
children on holiday, all packing
vegetables into boxes and sacks.
All greeted Dad happily, greeted
me too, thrust at us paper bags,
cartons of potatoes, carrots,
cauliflower. He talked with
one man, filled in forms, viewed
the surrounding paddocks.
Then we drove away to
the next market garden.
In the days before supermarkets
in the 1950’s produce auction houses
along the street from the wharves,
auctioneers opened up at 4 am for
the big Monday sale to take in
produce to sell to greengrocers and
fruiterers from suburban shops.
On Sunday nights Chinese market
gardeners parked laden trucks
outside on the street, slept there.
At 4 am they surged in through
unlocked doors, over bare planked
floors covered in fine earthy dust,
jostling each other with Chinese
shouts at the tops of their voices.
Aiming for the best auction places
they wheeled in sacks and boxes of
potatoes, cauliflower, other vegetables,
each kind to its own long bank.
Over the road fruit was wheeled
on to the floors from boats in the
lighter basin behind, boats laden
with fruit from the south, from
tropical islands neat the equator.
More fruit rolled off trucks
from the orchards out west.
With each bank lined up while
store men patrolled, gardeners
and auctioneers rushed off for
breakfast. From 8 am the
auctioneers’ staccato calls filled
the air, greengrocers, fruiterers,
wheeled purchases to their trucks,
to sell in little suburban shops.
By 11 am the frenzy was over.
As my brother, sister and I
played on our driveway one
Saturday morning Mum house
worked inside while Dad
drank with his mates in the
1950’s smoke laden packed
crush at the local pub.
As we played, a Chinese man
approached saying “Stoo ? Stoo ?”
Our Dad worked with Chinese
market gardeners and their wares.
Yet we could not make out
the sounds or words in his
heavily accented speech except
“Stoo ? Stoo ?” Our Dad
was called Stuart, he wanted
to see him. All we could do
was shake our heads,
say no, he had gone out.
Later Dad said he mostly
understood the strong Chinese
accents, though a few were
very hard to comprehend.
Years later as I connected
calls at the emergency services
centre I still could not discern
the sounds, the words, spoken
in that unfamiliar tongue.
I connected their calls to the
police for their assistance.