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It hunkers in dusked shadows, slowly
flexing and contracting with each laboured
breath, growing ever larger - curved
tusks glistening under glower of eye
Kaieltheban woman drifts in lee of current
feet sculpt digging tool, scrunching coarse
river-sand through arch and heel, scoops up
hard-shelled mussel, clammed fearful and closed
her story ripples over gill and scale, dips
through billabong, climbs clay bank on
lizard toe and lifts into hot cicada’d air,
is picked up by the river birds clacking
gossip passed on from beak to bone
to clawed perch view in eucalypt canopy
where expectant … they watch
she senses a shift, feels the warp and weft
of her songline being tugged and snapped,
raw and savage the air bridles and writhes
rends open with teratoid roar, and
she is suddenly gone – removed from
Language from this moment forward …
but now, the river birds sweep up the
wail, screech it from outpost to outpost
squall raucous narrative along Kaiela, snaking
through time, away and away
they refine the refrain, perfect
the chorus, lay down the coda of loss …
they know this song, they have heard it before.
Death of a Backyard Chook
It’s easy to remember the fear,
When dad went to kill a chook,
It was sad and scary as well,
But us kids had to have a look.
The blade of the axe was sharpened,
An important job to be done,
The chook was held and it cackled,
We watched, but wanted to run.
Down came the axe, the head now gone,
But a strange thing did take place,
The body twitched and flapped around,
Us kids tried to hide our face.
The chook was hung for blood to drip,
For a kid not a pleasant sight,
We watched the death of many chooks,
Gave ourselves a good fright.
Water was boiled and carried outside,
Smelly feathers had to go,
A struggle to pull them from the skin,
It was laborious and slow.
Job completed, the chook now ready,
To roast for our family meal,
Belated thanks to the backyard chook,
He certainly got a raw deal.
Covid had me wandering
Around the streets of Shepp
Sometimes it was hot and dry
Sometimes cold and wet.
I liked it most round Reedy Swamp
Where I could spend some time
Admiring birds and kangaroos
And checking all was fine.
As I made my way through chest high reeds
And tramping through the bush
I photographed all that I saw
Without the need to rush.
Spiders, webs and dainty flowers
Massive big tree trunks
All caught my eye, kept me entranced
And had me there for hours.
So, without this dreaded new disease
I doubt I would have been
The enthusiastic wanderer...
And I’d have missed all I have seen
We all have, via the media, become obsessed with numbers.
First it was the number of Covid cases happening around the world. The borders shut and it was the number of returned travellers bringing the virus into our country. The number in hotel quarantine in each state. The number of people in each state with Covid. Was it a competition?
Then the number of vaccines available to prevent the virus from spreading. The daily numbers game continued with how many people were being tested. How many people being admitted to hospital? The number in ICU. The number on ventilators. How many days did a state go without a single case of the virus being detected? How many donut days? Which state had the best figures? These numbers quoted and reported each day via all media avenues. Often preceded by “Breaking News “or “Exclusive”.
Next was the number in each state being vaccinated? First dose. Then second dose figures became important. These numbers then converted to percentage figures which became even more important. The number of days before “freedom” day.
Whatever will we do when daily numbers no longer become the focus of media and rule our lives? Any suggestions?
It was Hilarious
In 2004, after a delicious meal of chicken and vegetable dumplings we found a taxi and negotiated a daily rate for a trip to the terracotta warriors the next morning. Created over 2200 years ago, and unearthed in 1974 by workers digging a well, the site of the warriors was situated 43 kilometres from Xian. What a significant find it turned out to be!
At 8.45am we left our hotel and walked to the nearby square. As agreed we waited near the free telescopes where at night you could look at the moon, being impossible to see any stars through the Xian smog. At the arranged time our taxi arrived and we set off to visit this famous site. Our taxi driver didn’t speak any English and we spoke very few words of Chinese. We were belting along the dual highway in the frenetic way Chinese taxi drivers manipulate their vehicle in and out of the lanes seeking the fastest route. But up ahead was a traffic jam. Obviously an exit lane was causing the traffic to slow down, or there had been an accident. Our taxi driver cursed in Chinese.
Suddenly he veered off the highway and we were driving cross-country through a field. Then just as suddenly he drove into the opening of a pedestrian subway that went underneath the highway. We realised we were actually driving down a concrete stairwell! My companion turned to me from the front seat with a huge grin on his face, shaking his head in disbelief. He obviously thought it was hilarious. I was more worried about our safety and the integrity of the vehicle. All I could hear was ‘kaplonk, kaplonk, kaplonk’ as our taxi descended the concrete stairs. I unsuccessfully tried to find my camera to record this unique experience while looking out and taking it all in. I knew my friends would not believe me.
A woman started to wheel her bicycle up the subway stairs but when she saw our taxi coming down she stopped with a horrified look on her face. The taxi somehow manoeuvred a corner and we drove along the concrete path to the other side. More pedestrians jumped out of the way. Some had a surprised look on their face. Others were unsurprised as though this was a regular occurrence. Perhaps it was common practice to use this detour to avoid traffic jams, especially if the taxi was carrying tourists.
I waited with bated breath to see how our taxi was going to ascend the stairs at the other side. But our driver knew this alternative route very well. We exited the underground subway via an opening onto an access track, just before the stairs on the other side. We climbed uphill on this narrow track then continued alongside the highway on a dirt road for a short while. We rejoined the highway by illegally traversing a gap in the oncoming traffic to reach the correct side. We soon arrived at our destination, relieved and extremely amused by our experience but wondering what might unfold on our return journey.
ALONG THE GOULBURN
Sailing on the Goulburn, a river deep and wide,
In a metal dinghy with my husband by my side,
A perfect summer’s day beneath an azure sky,
Tall, majestic sweeping gums lend shade as we pass by.
Sunlit dappled water, ever changing hue,
Blue mountains in the distance to lend a pleasant view,
A Kingfisher swoops as we go by, successful in its prize,
A silver fish caught in its beak so close to our startled eyes.
The river widens, rocks abound; we zigzag through the foam,
Cascading, sparkling water lit by the sun’s gold tone,
Water slows then deepens to a pool where people swim,
Boisterously they frolic, occasionally jumping in.
Birds abound in colour and size as we sail along,
Flocks of feisty Lorikeets jostle with raucous song,
Nestling Galahs scream for food when parents are in sight,
It’s a never-ending battle, which ceases only at night.
A single rose robin alights on a leafy hanging tree,
Possums curled up in their drays in sleeping harmony,
A Wombat sits upon a log as daylight slowly fades,
But we haven’t seen a Platypus yet in this Aussie everglades.
“It’s time to moor our little boat”, my husband murmurs to me,
“Just one more bend”, I plead with him, “There is so much to see”.
“We’ll come again another day and a Platypus we might spot”,
But we never did another trip, though the experience I never forgot.
I have a picture on my wall, a scene of the Goulburn river,
It reminds me of the days gone by and sets my heart a quiver,
A happy time, a joyous time, when we were two not one,
But now it’s just a memory passed and my single life has begun.
CATCH A FALLING STAR
PERRY AND ME
`Catch a falling star and put in in your pocket, never let it fade away’ so crooned Perry Como towards the end of 1957. Perry had replaced Richard Widmark (The Last Wagon), who in turn had replaced Mel Ferrer (War and Peace) as my matinee idol. Certainly, I had not seen Perry in a film but his sophisticated good looks as displayed on the cover of his recent LP record were enough to have some of us girls sighing, impossibly, for boyfriends even half as good looking as Perry.
At the time I was sitting for my matriculation exam along with six other students at Echuca High School. Along with my best friend Pat most Saturday nights were spent at the Paramount Theatre being terrified, (Phantom of the Rue Morgue) falling in love (see above) and generally enjoying the limited freedom allowed a pair of 16-year-olds. But my absolute favourite time came when we were allowed to go to the Saturday night dance at St Mary’s Hall. Local group The Rhythm Kings provided a swinging background as we waltzed, rocked and rolled and jived until midnight. I was addicted but Pat was a very reluctant participant – hated boys, hated making a spectacle of herself on the floor and hated dressing up.
`Do we HAVE to go to the dance?’ she would ask most weeks’
`Yes, just relax and enjoy yourself.’
Neither of us really understood the other’s sentiments so we alternated between cinema and dance hall. However, when it came to Hilda Blizzard, we were united in our amazement at how popular she was with the boys. Not for her the anxiety of being left sitting out a dance. Picture if you can a broomstick with buck teeth and a halo of white fairy floss for hair and that was Hilda; her conversation was scatty, she had the brains of a demented rabbit and her dress sense was non-existent. But, much to our puzzlement, Hilda was always leaving the dance for a milkshake with some boy or other. Now, we were allowed out on the condition that we did not leave the dance and that we ALWAYS walked home together. Disobedience would see us confined to a nunnery for the rest of our days. So, what on earth could Hilda’s parents be thinking? Or rather was there more to her than we realised?
It was at Pat’s 50th birthday, which she was reluctantly celebrating, that we were reminiscing about school, friends we had left behind and life in general. Hilda’s name was mentioned.
`Do you know’ Pat said `I’ve just realised what Hilda Blizzard was up to all those years ago!’
THE ROOM OUT THE BACK
Growing up with a jail in the back yard was something of a novelty. My father was in the police force. Being very much a people person, he chose to go to small towns that just had a one-man police station. That way, he could get to know everyone in the town and local district.
When I was born, he was at Talbot. The jail there was a lovely old blue stone building from the gold rush days. Later we moved to Korong Vale in north-western Victoria. This is the place I remember most. I was five when we moved there, and it was there I started school and made friends.
The jail there was a funny little timber structure. It was rarely used as the town was quiet. The main occupant was the town drunk, who could be heard yelling and kicking the walls.
Mum was a great cook and I remember seeing her give lovely meals to dad to take out to anyone in the jail. Dad used to joke that his allowance for feeding prisoners wouldn't cover the cost of the meal. Mum's response was, "It doesn't matter what they've done, they've still got to eat."
THE WOMBAT – A MEDITATION
I looked into the picture, my theme for meditation,
A wombat gazes in the stream, my source of revelation.
In pensive stance on roughed, brown log it comfortably lies,
I wonder what it’s seeing through those deep and dreamy eyes?
Its body is reflected in water dark and still,
Is it stooped to have a drink or has it had its fill?
Dense forest all around it encloses like a womb,
I wonder where its burrow is and if it will go back soon?
My wombat might be female with a joey really small,
Tucked up in mother’s pouch where it cannot see at all.
Adult wombats might be large, but agile when they run,
Especially during mating time, they like to have their fun.
It’s sad to see a wombat when it becomes road kill,
But if it has a joey alive it gives me such a thrill.
To foster it until its grown and then to set it free,
And make its own way in the world where wild it will be.
I ponder on its habitat growing smaller every day,
Its place as part of our precious wildlife, dwindling all away.
I gaze again on this peaceful scene as I come back to life,
Wistfully hoping that I can help in a world so torn with strife.
Through life people show many sides of themselves to the world. This is about one who wears many masks, from kind and helpful to some who needed it, to a rougher mask for ones who spoke in crude language with their own sense of humor still with a belief in helping their friends. The mask of patience and interest for ones to tell their troubles to, someone not connected to them or their troubles. A mask of someone to have a stir up without being annoyed, giving it back and having a laugh with them. A mask of a clown to make children smile. One to show my respect for the person I see in them and how they look after their friends and families. As a taxi driver for 26 years, I have worn them all and some maybe not so good - lol!
GRANDMOTHER AND CHILD
You have the face of peace.
You have the hair of time.
Perhaps brought about by
sorrows of the past.
Sinewy hands that have toiled
loved and caressed.
Perhaps you care for a love
you wish you had.
Perhaps the smell of a baby is
scented memories of children past.
A heart beat that is fading,
caressing one getting stronger.
With every fibre of your being
you love the child you caress.
Coming into this world, as you
prepare to leave for another…
Rob. E. Burns.
Sean lay on his back in the beautiful turquoise water. He couldn’t understand why there was no one else swimmingr this morning and only a sprinkling of people strolling on the huge expanse of sand which comprised the beach. He could see Dermot, waist deep in the water but Dermot didn’t swim so that was as far as he’d go. Sean closed his eyes and imagined how cold it would be on this day in Victoria. July was a good time to escape and head north to enjoy the warmer weather in Queensland. He was loving the lift of the water under him and imagining himself many miles away in Ireland; just drifting. Then he opened his eyes and realised that he could see only a strip of the beach and Dermot was only a small shape in the distance. No more was the water turquoise but a deep blue; deep water!
Dermot was getting out, now; he couldn’t go in any further and could see Sean’s head bobbing in the distance. Idly he wondered if he realised how far out he was. Sometimes he wondered if Sean took too many risks. There are some very big sharks in these waters! Ah, now he could see his hand go up. Dermot waved back and sat out on the warm sand.
The swell was increasing and he could feel himself being drawn further into the ocean. Trying to reason with himself he tried to quell the fingers of panic that were rising. Again he held his arm up, hoping Derm would see it, but was he too far out? Not much chance of anyone else, though, and he saw, very faintly that Dermot raised his arm and waved back!
Dermot stood up and peered out; this time he could barely see anything against the gleam of water but wait, yes, there was the arm up again and he returned the wave again, uneasily.
Sean was starting to feel the chill of the open water or was it just a shiver of panic he felt as he tried to swim against the swell? Surely Derm would realise he was in trouble. How long was he going to wait to get help?
When Sean raised his arm for the fourth time, Dermot was annoyed; surely he doesn’t expect me to go way out there, he knows I can’t swim! It was at least half an hour since he became a speck in the ocean. But then he saw some movement just up the beach from where he was sitting.
The panic was setting in but Sean tried to stay calm; surely someone would see him. He held this thought as the thought of sharks invaded his mind. He lay on his back in total subjugation to the might of the ocean. Then, almost from nowhere, he saw a movement on the beach.
Derm realised his mistake immediately. The lifeguard was paddling, with the surf board, furiously to the tiny spot on the horizon, and he couldn’t believe that he hadn’t understood Sean’s signals for help!
As the rescue was completed, Sean was silently praying, in thanks, that he was swimming between the flags. Dermot was in shock and was also thanking god that the lifeguard vigilantly used his binoculars!!
A lesson that neither of them would ever forget!
(Furphy Short Story Winner)
Why is there a tag tied to Mummy’s toe?
“Say goodbye to your Mum” said Dad, as he lifted me up to see her for the last time.
I do not why our father has left us here. My brothers, Harold aged four, Joe only eighteen months and myself, Betty just turned six, deserted with no explanation. Enrico has now quickly driven away. Leaving us in the care of Catholic Nuns.
Dad had become very disillusioned. After immigrating from his home country of Italy to Australia, his young wife became ill with Tuberculosis. She struggled with this disease for nearly two years before passing away. Enrico is left as the sole carer for his children.
His livelihood, the orchard, relies heavily on him being available for work during the seasons. Three children are impossible for him to cope with. Francesca, his wife’s youngest sister, who had arrived from Italy to look after his progeny when she was just turning fourteen, quickly packed her belongings. Her parents have dictated she return home due to her young age, despite her much older brother-in-law’s proposal of marriage.
This is a huge, scary building, high ceilings and bare floorboards. The room we are waiting in looks like a lion’s den. My brothers and I are still grieving for Mamma, even after her years in hospital.
We have not been told why we are at this Orphanage, nor that we will be staying for many years. Together geographically, but with girls separated from boys.
It is lonely after such a close family life at the orchard.
A day after our arrival, I am escorted by the Nun’s to the boys’ bathroom. Tiny Joe, my sweet, shy little baby brother, is standing forlornly hiding in the corner and the Nuns cannot entice him out. When I say his name, Joe mutely turns around; arms raised, and toddles sadly to me for what is to be a brief cuddle and comfort. He is then pulled from my embrace and taken, sobbing, to the boys’ building.
I overhear the Nuns commenting in disgust; “He is younger than his father said; he cannot be over two years old”
Harold is luckily, a more resilient and self possessed child, and refuses to outwardly show any emotions. I also attempt to hide my true feelings. What use will it be to cry openly, it will not change anything, and the Nuns dislike shows of emotion.
Our custodians are aware of Mums’ cause of death. My siblings and I, promptly put out on open air verandas to sleep. This is presumably to prevent the contagious disease, TB, from spreading.
A few of weeks after arriving, I feel very unwell, but do not mention this. One Nun notices and asks how I am; “I’m OK” I reply, not caring that I am sick. “I think you are very ill” was the Nuns’ retort. The Doctor is called, and, after he has examined me, I am admitted to hospital with Pneumonia. Sadly, with the Hospital situated inside the orphanage, there is no real change of scenery.
Dad visits us for the first time some months later (without warning as is to be his way). I ask him when we would be returning home, he replies;
“When I find you new Mummy.” After this, first thing, at every visit I ask; “Have you found us a new Mummy yet?” the answer is always “No…” Poor Dad, he must dread the inevitable question, to which the reply never alters.
During our time at the orphanage, whilst I previously used to assist in caring for my little brothers, I attempt to continue. At meal times, I feel the need to secrete, from my own plate, some mashed potato or bread. Hidden in my hand, I time my exit to ensure that I have to walk alongside my brothers on the way out of the dinner hall. It is important that I not get caught passing this contribution to one or both of my siblings. It is, to me, worth the risk. I don’t want them to go hungry.
Meal times are strictly silent. Occasional exceptions to this rule commence with the words, “God be blessed” a signal that quiet chatter is allowed. This treat is usually for one of the Saints Days, Easter and also Christmas.
All the children are expected to sleep with the lights on. We are told to pull the blankets over our heads so the light will not prevent us from falling asleep. Being claustrophobic, I am compelled to hold the blankets up with my hand, away from my face; terrified that I will not be able to breathe. These heavy, scratchy, grey woollen blankets smothering me. A frightening situation. The use of lit dormitories, I believe, is to make it easier for the Nun’s to keep an eye on their charges.
Christmas at the Orphanage is exciting but also harsh. Well-meaning Church ladies arrive bearing gifts. We are all given a gender and age appropriate toy. I clearly remember one such memorable day. A kindly lady handed me a beautiful, brown haired doll with sky blue eyes; reflecting my own colouring. I adored this pretty creature. But by now an experienced orphan, I knew the fate of this gift. With dread, I attempted to hide this already much treasured doll that evening. The only place I had available was under my pillow. I vowed to stay awake all night. Of course, an impossible task. Being a child, I could not stay alert for the whole evening. In the morning, my wonderful doll had disappeared. I am eternally saddened by this cruel disappointment.
All the toys that were distributed to the hundreds of orphans, were, after the first day, I saw, placed in a locked front room. It is believed that the nuns take them and distribute the gifts to their siblings and family, or perhaps other needy children in the Catholic community.
Christmas and other visiting times, our father would always bring some ‘hand-me-down’ clothes for us to wear. These possessions will also be taken from us during the night, after Dad has left to return home. His visits last for up to three days each time. Including Easter and when possible, (during quiet work times at the orchard) on our birthdays. He stays in Bendigo, at a friend’s home. It is suspected that another reason for Enrico’s Easter visits are the big Festivals held in Bendigo, with street parades and celebrations. He is, it seems, a bit of a womaniser.
Prior to living in Australia, Enrico had suddenly departed from his home village in Italy, accompanied by his new wife, Maria. Rumours followed of his three fiancées; engaged to him simultaneously. Understandably, the slighted girls’ families were vowing vengeance and retribution. It was safer for the philandering man to leave the country. Amazingly, his new wife was not one of his original conquests.
This new land was looked forward to with the promise of a better, and surely a safer life. He departed in 1929 on the ship SS Orontes, with his young bride, to share his new life in Australia. It was difficult to adjust to this upheaval, with new language, customs, land and climate. Isolation from family and friends, another challenge.
The duration of Dad’s orphanage visits are timed to allow for rest and visiting time. After this, the long journey home. It will not be possible for him to return to Orrvale, our home region, on the same day, as it is at least a three hour motor vehicle journey.
Elsa and Dante, our beloved older cousins sometimes make the long, arduous journey with our father. We happily spend their visiting time playing and chatting. Harold & Joe also join in. A fondly anticipated and enjoyed interaction for us. Sometimes some of Enrico’s friends accompany him, Mrs Brown is remembered, and a man that I only remember as Barocc. It is understood that Mrs Brown & Barocc were close friends. This lady has a young son, perhaps around seven years old; there are some photos of these visitors amongst my fathers’ photo albums.
Dad enjoys photography, with a Brownie Box camera. He uses the bathroom at Orrvale as a dark room to develop his negatives and prints. This also makes his hobby more affordable. There are black & white images of several orphanage visits. With visitors and inmates, images
preserved for the future. All of these photos show us, his children, dressed in our cousin’s out-grown clothes, and in most cases, looking unemotionally at the camera. There is one particularly moving image.
Myself aged around eight, with a birthday cake on my knee. Harold sitting patiently on my left side. A very tiny, four year old Joe, on my other side; rubbing his eyes and crying. Joe, wanting to eat the cake, not just sit next to it waiting for Dad to take the photo. Impatient for the sweet luxury, which is a rare pleasure. Interestingly, Joe, as an adult, always had a bought fruit cake in his cupboard. When visitors came, he would slice off a large chunk and proudly share it, accompanied by a cup of coffee.
A happier photo is of Dante, our older cousin, holding my hands & swinging me around, feet lifting off the ground. A game of fun and warmth in my mundane life.
All of the orphans wore a uniform of sorts, drab but ‘serviceable’ brown. Baggy dresses for the girls. The same colour trousers and shirts for the boys. These uniforms were handmade. We also wore a hat, with a medium brim, during the summer months. Unusual for that time; an attempt at sun-safe play for the children.
When I am able, I closely watch the Nuns whilst they knit. Inspired, I search the orphanage grounds, when we were let out to play, and select two small, even-sized twigs. Then, sometimes I am lucky. A long piece of string, seized with delight. With these rudimentary items I teach myself to knit a rough, tiny blanket. Miniature sized, to fit a gum nut. Sometimes I make a small rag doll, fashioned from abandoned material scraps; my improvised baby. Once, I am excited to find a matchbox and this is used as the baby’s bed. Sadly, the Nuns find these prized items and remove them, despite my attempts at concealment. It can only be assumed that the Nuns believe any article a child has would cause fights and trouble, therefore to be avoided at all costs. This confiscation of my treasured knitting does not dull my desire to create, and I spend many hours of my later married life, knitting. Although this is fuelled by necessity, it is also still an enjoyable, productive pastime. I become an accomplished knitter, despite being mostly self taught.
One day, amazingly, I manage to catch up with Harold and Joe beside the high wire separating fence. Lovingly I enquire as to how they are and if they are being treated kindly. The Nuns have spies everywhere and I am hauled in to answer to Mother Superior. I am in trouble.
“Why were you talking to those boys? Who were they? What did they say?” to which I replied, confused and defiant; “They are my brothers I just wanted to make sure they are OK.” A black mark against me, just for caring.
All the females in the orphanage, without age discrimination, are put to work. One chore is wiping dust from the deep, elaborate skirting boards. These huge boards seemed so overwhelming to me, as a petite six year old, but there was no argument or escaping these tasks. We also are expected to help in the laundry. I am used to hard work on the orchard at home, but at least we were surrounded by family there. Here we are alone.
On Saturdays, whilst the boys are not in their dormitory rooms, there is spring cleaning. The orphanage girls are brought in, with the cleaners and maids, and we are instructed to strip the sheets off the beds, and then send them the laundry. We also have turn over the heavy kapok mattresses. The heavy legs of the cast iron beds are clumsily lifted up and put into a tin of a phenyl solution bath. This is to deter bed bugs and lice.
It is now understood that part of St Aidans Orphanage was used to house girls of ‘loose morals’. Young ladies who, had (shamefully) become pregnant, without the protection of marriage. These unfortunate girls are hidden away until their child is born and then the baby is taken from them. The ‘fallen girls’ are also put to work in the laundry, as well as contributing to the general cleaning and sewing. It is these young females who sew the orphans’ clothes.
Weekly we are, whilst having our hair combed, checked for head lice. All the orphanage children are given the basic needs of the young, but without emotional support or love.
School classes are combined with the boys, the Nuns as teachers. But always kept as far apart as necessary, for all the girl’s ‘safety’. Reading, writing and arithmetic the mainstays of our education.
Of course, despite being in the same large room, no interaction is allowed between the girls and boys, so I am unable to converse with my brothers.
Play time between midday and one o’clock, after lunch, is also segregated. The ever present Nuns suspiciously supervising.
Hand basins are provided for children to clean ourselves daily with a wet soapy flannel. We are expected to wash our face, armpits, neck, and ‘down there.’
A luxury is the weekly bath, but always with shared bathwater.
A dentist has arrived to check our teeth. He tells me that I have very good, beautifully even teeth and I am to look after them. The kindly dentist presented me with a shiny new toothbrush. This I proudly stored at my hand basin, in a hole provided, but it does not last long. Being right near the door, it is soon stolen. Although the other children have toothbrushes, they are mostly old and a new one is obviously too much of a temptation.
Harold, who is taller than most of the boys his age, and quite muscular, has been given the job of walking to the impressive, large main double wrought iron gates of the orphanage to collect the mail. He does this, accompanied by my friend, Noelene, a much older girl. It is a long walk, but considered a privilege. An older girl reports to me that my oldest brother is a huge challenge for the Nuns to control. This rebellious middle child has built a cubby in one of the trees at the back of the orphanage grounds. One Priest had been ordered to demolish it. Harold realised what was about to happen, and kicked him fiercely in the shins. He later relayed to me that the man was in tears after this assault. I know that Harold’s cubby had remained in place until after we had left the orphanage. No-one was brave enough to once again attempt to demolish Harold’s pride and joy, and thus face the wrath of this aggressive boy. A small triumph for this mostly deprived child.
Near the end of our stay, one particular Mother Superior enforced strict rules. If a child did not eat any food dished out, it was put away and returned for consumption until it waseaten. Even if it was eventually mouldy.
After returning to Orrvale, whilst in a corner shop in Knight Street, near St Brendan’s Church Shepparton, I was discussing the uneaten food issue with another returned orphan. Unbeknownst to the girl and I, an influential lady in the Catholic Church is within hearing. This lady passed the unpalatable truth on to the authorities and that particular Mother Superior was replaced. From then on, we heard, the food improved for the orphans.
Enrico took us back to the orphanage for a visit after our return home. Presumably, there was another Festival in Bendigo, or he wanted to visit friends. I had learnt that you did not argue or question my father. I was confronted by the Nuns. “Why didn’t you keep your mouth shut?” “You got us into trouble!” and “Are you pregnant?” This last question was barely understood; I was aged around 12, confused, embarrassed and demeaned by this confrontation. I couldn’t wait to leave. Not that I had wanted to return anyway.
My brothers didn’t speak about their time at St Aidan’s Orphanage.
They never talked about things they did not like. Although, I don’t think anyone asked, as was the way in those days.
The subject was not discussed, and I certainly didn’t want to be reminded of that gloomy time in my life either.