Who am I? I am ninety and three quarter years old, whose present location is at Palmview Retirement Village in Mackay Queensland, where I am another relic from a former age like many other residents here.
Weekends usually involve chatting to all my daughters, trips and visits from close living relatives, trying to restore order on my desk when the spirit moves me, speaking to friends, reading the Sunday papers, and afternoon nanny naps. Most of which occur at my home, being less mobile now than in former years.
Keeping busy requires invention at times, such as keeping up with exercise schedules, writing verse, messing around with paints and brushes on artistic subjects, or adding comments on internet pages of Youtube, but time does fly by quickly in shorter winter days, when suddenly it seems that time is less available, and achievement has not been met.
Queensland is my much loved home state, being born on June 4 1932 in the small township of Sarina, about 35 kilometres south of Mackay on North Queensland coast.
My parents, two brothers and myself spent our earliest years there, until transferring to Townsville for dads work, as depression had hit his small business hard. Early growing time taught me that some people were in worse places than our family, and that corrugated iron huts, outside cooking fireplace and laundries, bare dirt floors, hessian curtains, and flattened metal drums, were homes for many.
Recalling times when mum and I took food to those on hard times, that supposedly we were not able to eat, but shared with others as did many others, while men sought work wherever available.
War was declared in the first week of September 1939, and dad offered for Army service, but was denied then being a married man with young children. But to young children, even myself, it seemed like a fantastic game until rationing hit everybody. The coupons touching on essentials of meat, butter, tea, sugar, petrol and clothing, with regional and isolated people suffering most, being furthest from capital Brisbane.
Lollies were a luxury item for children, and ordinary canned fruit like peaches a dessert triumph. Photographic film was difficult to obtain, so were many routine items of living, like torches, bathtubs, and excuses offered was for the duration of the War.
Vegetable gardens were providing fresh vegetables and fruit where possible, while sewing thread, and even mail and news papers would have to be transported by the one track steam train, Queensland Railway, there being no roads along Coast or Outback places.
Most goods trains would be sidetracked to allow for troop movements, so supplies were mostly late, or had to be dumped as spoil. School children were taught to shelter protectively in trenches dug in school grounds, raw ground covered with sweet potato vines in case of raids after the Townsville and Darwin bombing.
War was intensifying and dad was finally called up, like many tradesmen, into the Civil Construction Corp, building Army installations wherever and whenever needed in Queensland. American General Macarthur chose Queens Hotel on Townsville Strand for his headquarters, and for civilians to move out before deferring to Brisbane at Lennons Hotel.
Mum took my brothers and I down to Mackay to her widowed mother’s home, but we were unable to stay there, then having been temporarily let to a soldier’s wife who could not be evicted, so we moved to Mirani, a small township west of Mackay until a house became available.
Life continued uneasily under close threat of war with Japanese in New Guinea, near Port Moresby, while our town was filled with American soldiers on recreation leave, travelling to and from Pacific Islands campaigns, and all local amusement places were chock full. Then ware drums ceased to beat, peace broke out and dad came home to live in Mackay.
My older brother on leaving school, gained an apprenticeship at the local sugar mill, but on myself reaching grade 7, dad decreed that was enough education for any female, as per the regular custom then, and so I had to leave school untrained for anything except a domestic existence, but started as an apprentice tailoress, which I failed as I had eye troubles, so I transferred to junior sales assistance in a local department store. I stayed there for about a year until becoming a manual telephonist in Mackay’s Post Master General’s department, serving 7 years there, and reaching Monitor status. Realising that any aims or targets would have to come from my own efforts, and so it was becoming with other women as laws did not encourage women to work outside the home.
For instance, on news of my engagement to be married, I was given papers to sign from my supervisor for my expected resignation, as the Government did not employ married women. Many older girls never left home, being the second mother or maid to assist mothers with younger children and housework. And while men could divorce women, adversely women could not, one reason being that most were one income families, so men withheld the moneybag.
Living further from the capital city denies closer links with new ideas, educations and openings for women in the work place, that was starting to re-develop post war, but again distance told against women, and meant leaving the countryside to live or train in an urban life, and that still holds similar today, despite technology, and easier travel methods. Most other states would be of similar style for females and their employment chances, where she may gain work as in a bank, an office or accountancy as an official typist, or tea maker for bosses and notable visitors, but to try for a degree for those was an ambitious aim for regional and isolated ones.
Words have fascinated me from childhood, being able to grasp words and meanings before any school teaching, but this was never encouraged as pencils and paper were scarce and expensive, and there was no target to gain with writing words.
Later, after marrying a sugar farmer, raising four different, and wonderful daughters, writing became a relaxing time, and observation was given to sunsets and dawns, natural objects of animals, people, action and plants, life bringing another aspect into life, which brought bush poetry into line. I had a poem published in the Bronze Swagman Book of Verse 2018, also for Anniversary of QRRRWN’s Story With Poems, and other items in CQUni magazine, and with local U3a writing group, plus writing to editor in local newspapers, the Daily Mercury, earning a couple of free novels.
Joining the CWA also taught me different ways to look at life, and did some secretarial stints with that organisation, particularly with outback and isolated women learning some crafts, which I taught for a while. Later on becoming a JP and marriage celebrant, for 27 years I wrote my own ceremonies for weddings, funerals, and name-giving services, making it possible to interact with others, meeting remarkable, famous, intelligent, likeable, and funny people. Also, some whom I hope never to see again, but that too was an experience.
Still writing odd things, reading my bush poetry at village functions, and with Anzac Day poems. Looking back over the years has been a wide range of experiences; depression – pre, during, and post war, the timely rise of Australia as a world national with knowledge of the mining industry, the first Holden car, heart surgery, replaceable body joints, saw a man walk on the moon, noted the rise of technology with disquiet, being suspicious of its outcomes, and there’s more to tell, and to write about if the spirit moves me.
90 years may seem very long, but time passes quickly when years have wings, and relatives and friends have left this existence, but being alone is not being lonely if you are still able to think, see, and hear others, good and bad, with whom you share this world, and write your own story to share with them.
For isolated women, there’s a vast outreaching link.
Lonely her, amid chorus of all male plans and lore.
Home base relying always on her ready guiding hand,
Uncombed hair, ‘comfy’ joggers, jaded jeans, checked shirt.
New technology connects as quickly as an eye blink,
Women’s natter shuttles cross the wide brown land.
Like yummy coffee and cake is sound of female chatter.
It’s about kid’s education, markets, sales, a bank loan,
It’s fighting with cold officialdom’s stern hearts of stone,
For better roads, health, smaller things that really matter.
Cheeky banter zipping cross the wide brown spaces,
Bringing sly grins to listening faces no longer alone…
Woman watching dark clouded sky in hopeful wonder,
This drought’s been just too long, with no decent rain.
Wistful sighs and yearning for girl talk with other women,
Praying the clouds hold more than lightening and thunder.
Someone else to chat with and share everyone’s pain,
Unless good rain falls, promising dreams will go asunder.
Women’s united voice is proving that they don’t cower
They clearly demand to be heard, not belittled or ignored
That network aids women seeking help while in isolation
Harsh tyranny of long distances is lessening by the hour
Isolated women rising above their disadvantaged situation
Network sisters go, your voice extols impressive power.
Patricia Russell 18/06/2021