10. Booralla Road September 1941.
Marjorie heard the truck grinding up the hill and pushed the kettle onto the hot spot.
She had placed two cups on the table and was on the side verandah when Violet called from the back door. ‘Yoo-hoo! Anybody home?’
Marjorie entered from the side door with cake and milk fetched from the safe. ‘Of course I’m home. How are you?’
Violet slumped into a chair and rubbed her face then cradled her chin in her hands. ‘The time has come, Sister Marjorie, for the workers to come to the aid of the party.’ She looked up, face grim. ‘The old boy gave me my marching orders, so I’ve come to get the shed ready.’
Marjorie placed her burden on the table then proceeded to make tea. ‘What did you do to upset the old goat?’
Violet laughed and Marjorie sensed laughter had been a rare pleasure for Violet of late. ‘What did he say?’
Violet sat back in her chair as Marjorie placed the tea pot on the table between them and sat. She took the pot handle and held it. ‘He said I was a Jezebel and that he would not have me bringing Satan’s ways into his house!’ she slammed her fist onto the table.
‘Oh dear! and what did you say to that?’
‘He had already had a talk with Bill, who made himself scarce, but he had warned me that his father was upset with me.’
‘What did you do, for goodness sake?’
Violet replaced the tea pot on the table and stood. ‘What do you see?’
Marjorie took the teapot and poured for both of them, then looked her over. Violet sat.
‘I know what it was. It was those overalls.’ She left the room for a few seconds and returned with a photo album. She riffled through a few pages then turned one toward Violet. ‘See that?’
‘You, my girl, are wearing overalls!’ she looked up at Marjorie, smiling broadly. ‘And that’s the old curmudgeon’s back yard.’ She laughed. ‘I bet you copped it for that!’
‘He said nothing to me, but really gave Staff a dressing down about allowing me to offend the Lord.’
‘What did Staff say?’
‘He said he told the old boy that he had no idea what I was wearing and that it was Clissie who took the snap.’
‘What happened then?’
‘Staff suggested to me that it might be a good idea not to wear overalls at his father’s place again, so I haven’t.’
Violet moved the album to face her and began to turn over pages, commenting on family members at weddings and at the beach. She indicated a photo of Marjorie in a bathing suit. ‘Just look at those legs!’ She leaned closer. ‘I’m just checking to see if the legs are in one piece like a mermaid.’ They both laughed together and drank more tea.
11. Booralla Road January 1941.
‘I reckon we’ll lose these chooks. Just look at them.’
Stafford and Hovee had at last completed the fowl run in time to release two hundred pullets from their cramped space in the brooder house only to see them, beaks open, wings spread out, sitting on the ground under what mottled shade there was under a desiccated wattle tree.
Hovee’s venture had started with a truck load of second hand wire mesh, posts cut from trees on the property and a lot of hard work. Unable to afford a flock on the point-of-lay, they had borrowed an old kerosene-heated brooder from “Coromandel” and bought two hundred and fifty day-old chickens. This was Hovee’s project, but Stafford had suspended work on the house to help build two fowl houses, with roosts and laying boxes with a thick layer of shell grit as a soft bed for eggs and a source of calcium for the hens.
They had collected the grit from Thirroul beach.
The long trip south was worth the drive. Marjorie’s children were joined by Beryl and Frank Ray’s Robert, running towards the towering breakers then being chased up the sand by foamy wavelets, while Marjorie and Beryl watched and the men gathered grit with a wide shovel, carefully skimming off shell that was revealed as each breaker retreated down the sand.
In the afternoon, Frank Ray came to join them on the beach to watch the children. ‘You’d better be careful with Eleanor, her skin.’
Marjorie stood and walked to the water, calling the children to her. Inspection of Eleanor revealed red skin and a promise of severe burning. She wrapped her in a towel and herded them all back to the group.
‘We’d better get a move on,’ she said, collecting towels as the men stood.
Frank helped his brothers lift bags of grit as Beryl took her picnic basket and headed off towards their house a block away. ‘I’ll get some dinner on!’ she called, pushing Robert ahead of her while the men carried the grit to the truck.
Stafford was driving on the way home along the Princes Highway, with Violet and Marjorie in the front, Violet nursing little Billy and Marjorie against the door holding Eleanor who was asleep, her face flushed with sunburn and exhaustion. Hovee was relegated to the table top, sitting on the grit bags with the just Fordie to hold on to. He too was soon asleep, and Bill let him slip down to be curled up on the folded tarp. He pulled a corner over the little boy to keep the wind off.
Inside the cab, noise from the motor rendered normal speech almost impossible, so conversation such as it was, became a series of shouts punctuated by long silences.
They had negotiated Bulli Pass with the radiator still below boiling point, not possible in the heat of the day, and with noise now seeming almost gone after the fifteen minute climb, the old Dodge growling its way up the mountain, mostly in first gear, Stafford shifted to top gear and turned to the women. ‘I wonder how the chooks are.’
Marjorie, by the window, almost asleep herself, looked away to watch black vegetation whipping by and left the conversation to Violet.
‘I don’t know. This has been the hottest summer I can remember.’ She looked to Marjorie then to Stafford. ‘I don’t want Bill to know I told you, but he wanted the chook farm so he could be in a protected industry.’
Stafford’s face seemed shocked as he darted her a glance. His full attention was required on the road and he seemed to go back to it. But his frown stayed put as he shifted down to second for a hill. ‘I didn’t think Bill was frightened of anything,’ he said as he kept his eyes on the road. ‘In fact I thought he would join up when Walter did. I was surprised when he didn’t.’
‘He doesn’t want to leave you.’ Marjory threw that into the conversation then turned back to her window.
Violet stared at the back of her head for a moment then turned back to Stafford. ‘Staff, do you really think he didn’t join up so he could stay home with me?’
‘If you’re asking me, I reckon he’s not keen to go for the same reasons I’m not and that’s because we’d be fighting for the Poms and that bloodthirsty blighter, Churchill. If we were fighting for Australia we’d both be in it already.’
Marjory had turned back to face them at that. She was staring at him, her face showing her concern. ‘I hope you have other reasons to stay out of it, like three children and me.’
Stafford let out a long sigh. ‘I reckon I’d go in if I was called up, but I can’t imagine that will happen unless we are invaded here in Australia.’
Marjorie looked outside as if she might see enemy soldiers on the side of the road, then looked back. ‘Who’d want to invade us? There’s nothing here!’
Violet moved to be more comfortable moving her plump three year old niece to the other knee. She brushed a whisk of hair from the little girl’s red and swollen face and kissed her ginger hair. ‘You are going to be a very sore little girl tomorrow.’
The truck was now back in top gear and humming along, nearing the Heathcote Road turn-off.
Both women were tired but their eyes joined his, staring ahead into the inadequately lit gloom.
‘I think you’re right, Madge. I think he is afraid of being away from me, God knows why!’
Stafford shot her a glance of concern. Although he would not reprimand another man’s wife, he was dismayed that she should blaspheme in their presence. His lips pressed together, he let the truck run faster down the hill to the Woronora than he otherwise would. Marjorie was aware he was angry and leant across Violet to touch his arm. He immediately braked and shifted down a gear to hold the truck back as it negotiated curves and the narrow bridge before starting the long climb to the plateau and the Heathcote mad mile.
Violet looked from one to the other but they were both staring ahead, apparently not interested in conversation with her.