Tapestry series no. 105

Date contributed: 30/01/2008

Contributed by: Joan Godsall


“It is all written in the stars, all one’s life is directed by a Divine Hand”.

Lying back in a deck-chair she stared up at the tropical night with its star-laden sky and the wondrous dark, dark blue background. She watched one lone star burst across the horizon, another gleam and disappear into the blackness.

The sky is like life, Joan mused, life with its tremendous joys and heart-breaking sorrows, life with humdrum work and sparkling interesting people and unexpected exciting events one could not even dream would happen.

How HAD she come to be sitting here on this verandah on a tropical island, working a cocoa plantation and staring at the great panorama above her? The stars looked down and gave no answer.

Photo of Joan in a garden

She was born far, far away from here in Melbourne. An only child of conservative parents, in a time of horse-drawn vehicles with no cars or planes. She had attended the local school and played each afternoon with the neighbouring children. They played on the road quite safely with skipping ropes, hoops and chalk-drawn hopscotch, as the horses sent slowly around them. One miracle after another had appeared in her life and the first was the crystal set when wireless was born. A miracle indeed as she sat with ear-phones on her head and a voice and music were heard. So fascinated her parents could not drag her away for her dinner and lovingly brought her some bread and butter and laughed at her enthusiasm.

Her known world turned over when her father was sent to work in Canberra, the new capital of Australia. It was 1927 and now she had to ride her bike across paddocks to school, make new friends and watch the building of shops, churches and many houses. The bitter cold struck her face and hands and she learnt about frosts and chilblains.

There was great excitement about a building called Parliament House being opened by some very important people from a country called England, way across the sea. From that she learnt about the British Empire and by showing her a map her father explained that the sun never set on it. This was vey difficult to understand, as she thought he said ‘sat’.

She started complaining about being an only child and people always saying ‘Oh, you must be spoilt ‘. “Everyone has brothers and sisters except me,’ she bawled but the situation did not change.

Her school years were interrupted by the fact that her mother and father had to go overseas to England, where she thought the British Empire was. Now ten years old, she was being sent to boarding school but did not mind, as she thought there would be more children. She had been reading comics about boarding school and the girls seemed friendly; and didn’t she have lovely blonde curls and bright blue eyes and was pretty. Well her parents said so anyway but nobody else seemed to notice.

Her parents went by ship and it took months and months to get there and months and months to get back. One night when she was at boarding school, she was awakened by an irritable teacher who said her mother was on the phone – another miracle. How could this possibly be? But it was her mother’s voice and she got such a shock that she wet herself. Next day she was asked to stand up in class and tell about it. How could she say that she had wet herself?

There were now more cars and planes. Wonderful people like Amy Johnson and Bert Hinkler made astonishing flights right across the world.

She found out that she did not need to be very well educated, as girls were only going to be wives and mothers but the boys had to get safe jobs, so they could look after them.

Her father was very modern and insisted that she should go to commercial class and learn to type. In the unlikely event that she should have to look after herself, she would be able to get a job. He made her sit for the Public Service exam but she wanted to be a hairdresser. He won, and after three sullen attempts she passed and was appointed to the Customs Department.

By this time she could not care a fig about work, as she had seen a a gorgeous fair-headed young man who was at Duntroon Royal Military College near Canberra. She used to go swimming every afternoon after work, hoping he would be there. It was all written in the stars for sure.., just like the movies said. Didn’t everybody end up in love and live happily ever after?

But the stars had got it all wrong, as he head just graduated when a terrible war broke out and the whole world was embroiled.

Now she grew up fast and was quite adamant that she wanted to marry this young man who had been appointed to a battalion in Perth. Meeting him in Sydney with her parents, she told him she was going to follow him to Perth and marry him. When he arrived in Perth, he wrote to ask formally for her hand, so she typed a letter for her father to sign – agreeing, of course!

Her mother and his mother travelled with her right across the nation and for the first time in her life she saw aborigines but the stars did not tell her about the tragedy which was unfolding for her.

They were married and it was the worst wedding anyone could imagine, although it does not seem to matter now. It was all so long ago. Her mother was unhappy because she was being married in a ‘different’ church. Her father could not attend and give her away as all the young men were at the war and he was needed. She had no bridesmaid and someone lost the keys of the organ, so no music. They forgot to order a wedding cake and the new husband lost all his food, as he had started injections to go overseas – very green around the gills he was. They had three days ‘honeymoon’ and were ecstatically happy.

She stayed at a hotel near the camp with other wives – all trying to get pregnant. Believe me, ir must have been a case of survival. What a ridiculous situation! They had no money, no house, no furniture and no sense. And at the same time, London was being bombed off the face of the earth.

It was two months to ‘final leave’ and when the terrible day dawned, she drove a rented car alongside a train full of soldiers as they went to Fremantle to board a ship for overseas. She stayed two days watching the ship but next morning there was only the vast emptiness of the open sea ……

She was not pregnant and was ASTOUNDED!

Nothing for it but back to mother and her father was right because she got a job at Parliament House. Her boss was on the Advisory War Council and she knew more and more about this devastating war. Death and tragedy were her everyday way of life and the stars had gone out. There was only blackness and despair.

Darwin bombed, enemy submarines in Sydney Harbour, Singapore falling and all our brave men behind barbed wire, Pearl Harbour …. The American giant awakened.

The Australian troops were coming home from the Middle East and she hoped and hoped. Then one day he walked in – the whole 6’2” of him and a tine 11 stone. The stars peeped out a little but there was still a long way to go. The Kokoda Trail, the invasion of the Philippines and this time she was pregnant and it was home to mother again.

One baby girl on his return from the Middle East and one baby girl when he returned from the Islands and the years wore on. Camp-following untold difficulties, so very tired battling with rationing and desperately waiting for the end of the war.

VE Day and then finally VJ Day and the carnage stopped. He was in Greenslopes Hospital for three months and his father offered him a property near Gatton – a home, work to be done and to be together with the two little girls. Yes, he would leave the army, his chosen profession but there were no golden handshakes. He was now a Colonel and twenty nine years of age. The strain had been too much and he was never quite to recover. To live on the land would be a good way to regain his strength.

So the Divine Hand had a sense of humour after all. There they were taking on a rundown property with a very large house and furniture. Every fence was down and everybody’s bulls had been very friendly with everybody’s cows. The couple were happy – so happy they had another daughter. Then the baby girl’s mother really became enthusiastic with the wonderful flow of life and started to breed Shetland ponies and ducks and chickens until her husband eventually said that they had better move out and let the ponies and the ducks and chickens (not to mention the calves) move in. It would be easier ….

Ten years they stayed there and again the stars had other ideas for them. His father died and family affairs were so that he had to take over the running of a hotel. This was not to her liking at all. She leased a paddock nearby and took the ponies with her and had an even brighter idea. She would buy pigs and feed them on the scraps from the hotel and the swill from the bar and they were very happy pigs. But neither he nor she was happy. The stars were crossed.

A big decision had to be made and now they were very grown up. Back to Canberra where he was in every way more suited for a position. Again their lives twisted and they were offered an opportunity in Singapore.

Two wonderful years with three servants – twenty-five years married. This was her long service leave for sure.

As the years rolled on the toll of the war was showing and they decided to retire to Queensland. Gleefully they built a house with a swimming pool and imagined their grandchildren shouting and splashing in it.

Their still adventurous spirits were tempted once more. Said a friend, “How would you like to manage a cocoa plantation in Bougainville Island for three months? The owner is looking for someone to take over the house and servants and run the plantation. Two hundred kena a week and all fares paid.”

“WE’D LOVE TO” said she.

“We’ll think it over,” said he.

They had never even SEEN a cocoa plantation in their lives!

And THAT is how she found herself lying back in a deck-chair an a verandah, working a cocoa plantation and contemplating life and the stars above her.