As you know from an earlier post, it was reading about the long-term effects on your brain as a child in the Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) report which sparked off this current run of posts. I felt that the kidney infection I suddenly experienced was a physical way of shifting the shit I’d felt since childhood. I also felt – and still feel – that emotions are not as easy to release as some think.
It’s my view that adverse emotional responses get buried in the body’s emotional memories which the body then draws upon as a defence mechanism and is very reluctant to ditch. Of course, I can’t prove this but if you look at the number of people who have weight problems and who also have dysfunctional childhoods in one way or another, there’s something that goes on in the body which is so far unrecognised.
After all, if weight loss were simply a matter of less calories, more exercise, being overweight would be easy to achieve. But weight has many positive features for people – protection, comfort, solace, and so on. Food has many properties beyond simply filling your belly. It has emotional overtones, comfort qualities, helps squash down grief, anger, feelings of powerlessness and so on. And in a society where spirit and soul are drowned out by consumption, fast lives, constant social media addiction, stress and so on, it’s not surprising so many people are weighty
It’s why I’ve spent time researching my family background to understand where my own weight and alcohol problems come from. Apart from my father’s own alcoholism, I can remember him mentioning that his father had been a drunk, until the time he staggered home along the tram lines and realised, when he was sober, that he was lucky not to have been mown down by a tram. He took “the Pledge” which was a formal promise to stop drinking. Indeed he never took another drop of alcohol.
As for me, apart from the ancestral inheritance of alcoholism, the first time I saw an astrologer, she coughed gently, went a bit pink, and then said: “I hope you’re not offended by my asking this, but do you have drug problems?” I was quite startled, how did she know I had alcohol problems? I know now that the position of Neptune, in the first house and – in my case – is a classic sign for addiction problems of any kind.
Australia was a problem drinker’s delight when I first arrived here. Alcohol was freely available and cheap. Grog was pretty much evident at all social events. And my drinking took off like a rocket. It ricocheted around for quite a few decades until I broke my leg and ankle in Queensland in 1996 and gave it up. I remember talking to an alcohol and drug counsellor when Dad was in hospital who said that she knew I’d give up, but she could see Dad wouldn’t. And sure as eggs, he’d been out of hospital for about five weeks when he went back on the grog.
One of the puzzles in my life was solved when I saw a psychologist about my alcohol problems. He listened and then said something which really surprised me: “I think you lack self-confidence and have very low self-esteem”. Well, I had hidden all that under a veneer of confidence but his words hit home. It was another piece in my life puzzle, realising that my father had continually chipped away at my self-confidence which had led to bouts of depression, alcohol abuse and weight problems.
I decided when I began writing about my life that I would be absolutely honest and not present an airbrushed version of myself. So I haven’t stayed off the grog, but it comes and goes, so to speak, and I’m very careful and judicious if I feel like a drink .It simply doesn’t fill my life the way it used to. I have a highly productive, creative life and I won’t allow alcohol to spoil that in any way. I’ve come to understand my demons, I’ve been through the dark night of the soul when we were living in Queensland, I’ve overcome depression, lack of self-confidence and lost my abiding need for approval, something I never got from my father.
Writing out all my demons this week has helped me dig into depths I hadn’t realised existed and which I can now release since they’re out in the light of day.
I’m a digital artist – holding my art exhibition recently, Heart’n’Art, which was a retrospective of all my art from 1996-2014 (acrylic, mandala, vision board, digital art, shamanic art) gave me a huge lift as I saw all my creativity on the walls in front of me. I’m an abundant writer. I’ve learned to stop criticising myself. I have a wonderful, loving, kind husband. I have marvellous friends. And I have a daughter as my husband’s eldest daughter, Dee, has adopted me as her mum. So I’m also a grandmother and great-grandmother.
I think I’ve done okay!
Back again at long last. I’ve got myself up to date, had a fairly good rest and given some thought to how I want to approach my book as blog. Frankly, I don’t just want to write about my life because I don’t think it’s that important, I’d like to talk about the lessons I’ve learned along the way in the hope it’ll help others.
For example, the interesting thing I noticed when I was dealing with my father’s alcoholism in Boonah was how many people approached me for readings with similar problems. The reality is that, if someone has an addiction problem, there’s nothing you can do until they decide to take action themselves. However, saying that and doing it are two different things when you love people. That’s what happened with my relationship with my father.
In case you’re wondering, I decided to start on this subject with fibromyalgia, because I’ve lived with it for nigh-on fifteen years now and, while I’ve had my little break from writing, I have had heaps of material about fibro drop in my life or come across many people going through the challenges of fibro like myself. It turned up in my life at a time when I was being hyper-active and also trying to cope with my father’s alcoholism. So I thought I’d look at that period in my life and how fibromyalgia had made its presence felt.
The fly in the ointment of our improved life in Boonah, if I can put it like that, was my father’s descent into rampant alcoholism and a chaotic life. He had finally bought a home in a village close to Boonah and we used to visit once or twice a week while Dad dropped in. His personal situation deteriorated as his drinking increased. He would start the day with a shot of brandy/whisky/rum and things would go downhill from there. We would go over to see him in the mornings as he would be reasonably sober, but never in the afternoons as he would be aggressive and very unpleasant.
Dad was manipulating, conniving, sly, aggressive and getting to be as mad as a March hare. So things got even more stressful as Dad’s alcoholism got worse and worse, something I hadn’t believed was possible but, yes, it was. His house was filthy and shambolic, and his life was beginning to generate into chaos. I simply didn’t know how to handle it but felt the need to stay in touch.
Many people asked me why I hung around for my father, and still do, for that matter. Firstly, our family had a history of being cut off from each other. I’d lost touch with my mother’s side of my family after her death. But when we lived in Canterbury my grandfather suddenly decided to disown Dad, and his whole family – mother, sister and other relatives – followed suit. We never quite knew why but I felt like I didn’t want to continue this sort of action. The cutting off pattern need to, well, be cut off!
I also know that Dad had not been treated kindly as a kid. He had been the middle child and the overlooked one. His elder brother, John, was the favourite, and his younger sister, Patricia, was also a favoured child. I remember Dad remarking to me once: “My parents used to say: ‘Here’s John, our eldest son, and here’s Tricia, our daughter. Oh, and this is Richard”. There was a pause, and then he remarked sadly: “No-one should treat their child like that.” Dad was very intelligent, was offered the opportunity to go on to higher education but my grandparents decided they couldn’t afford it. The unspoken knowledge was always that that, had it been the eldest son, there’s no doubt they would have found the ways and means because he was St John, even after his death in World War 11.
I’ll take the time here too to remind people that, when you have kids, they are all gifts into your life. Treating them equally and loving them equally, if you have more than one kid, is the best gift you can give them. Making a child feel that they are considered less by you is no way to treat a child and it’s no wonder that, when kids find themselves in that sort of situation in their family, they can end up quite damaged.
I could feel Dad’s pain and knew he’d been deeply hurt as a child. From the stories of his childhood, when his parents were dirt poor in the Depression, I knew that he had tried desperately to ingratiate himself with his family and it hadn’t worked. He was always the outsider. Mind you, I have to be honest, he was a cantankerous, bitter man and difficult to get on with, so it wasn’t always on the part of his parents. You can learn from childhood challenges and live from the higher aspect of your being, or you can choose to live with the negative. I also stayed in touch and felt the need to be there for my father as he had nursed my mother at home as she was dying of lung cancer. He did a brilliant job to ensure she could die in her own home and not in hospital surroundings. So I figured he had some good karma from that and I owed him some for his care of Mum in her last days.
There was additional stress too as Bryan didn’t really go a bundle on my sudden leap into the metaphysical realms. He’s very logical and down-to-earth, plus he was pining to return to the UK to be closer to his family. I had one very serious bout of bronchitis again, and I know exactly the emotional circumstances which triggered it off although I don’t want to go into details here. But I began to feel desperately tired and lethargic. I never really recovered full health after my accident when I broke my leg and ankle, and having a raging infection when I went into hospital probably didn’t help either.
I know exactly when I realised something was seriously amiss. I walked out of a shopping centre we used to visit close to Ipswich on a very hot day and as I emerged through the doors, I felt enormous pain in my hips and a wave of exhaustion swept over me. I don’t know how I got to the car, I found the only way I could move forward was to swing my hips from side to side to get my legs to move forward too.
I started getting great itchy lumps on my arms in the middle of the night. I began to spend many a long night sitting up with ice on my arms as it was the only thing which seemed to reduce the itching and swelling. At first I tried tea-tree oil and then lavender essential oil but all that happened was that the welt on one arm exploded and started spreading like wildfire up to my shoulder.
I was terrified as I had no idea what was happening. The itchy welts started spreading, on my upper thighs, belly and back. They’d flare up, die down then re-appear elsewhere. The trouble was that the local doctor in a rural community is always busy so that, by the time I could get an appointment, the welts had died down and couldn’t be identified. As well the fatigue got worse and worse. I remember once that I was on the way to a workshop in a rural area on a very hot day and stopped to get petrol. I felt as if someone had opened a valve in my solar plexus so that all the energy had drained out. To get to the office to pay for the petrol was an extreme effort on my part. I managed to drive to the venue, run the workshop but pretty much collapsed of heat exhaustion on the way home. I had to call out ambulance officers who managed to calm me down, rehydrated me and reassure me that my pounding heart was due to palpitations and the heat, not a heart attack.
Eventually I had to stop work. I could hardly get out of bed and was forced to lie on the sofa most of
the day, feeling I had fog in my head so that I couldn’t think straight. I did see one doctor who was an absolute joke and a disgrace to the medical profession as he virtually told me I was lying and that, just by looking at me, that he could tell I could go and get a job if I wanted as a supermarket assistant or in a petrol forecourt. This, mind you, was after my telling him I couldn’t even walk the short distance to the hospital and had had to drive. I finally got a referral to a rheumatologist in Ipswich who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia.
I had never heard of this, and I suppose I was rather laid-back, thinking it was going to pass over quite quickly. I’m a glass half-full type of person and in the same way I thought Bryan’s Ross River virus episode would waft over him and gently fade away. Only it didn’t. And neither did the fibromyalgia for me. As I said earlier, I still have it nearly fifteen years down the track.
At first, I tried to bluff my way through it. I kept going in the belief that, if there’s a brick wall, you smash your way through it. I tried this many times and found that the only thing that happened was that the wall didn’t break and I bounced off it to end flat on my back. Each time I’d be back to square one with absolute exhaustion, fog in my head and feeling seriously depressed as if the end of the world was going to turn up the next day. Eventually I learned that the best thing was not to try to beat my body into submission because it had a mind of its own. I had to slow right down and do only half of what I thought I could do. And if I had good days I had to learn not to go bonkers and run all over the place, but to take things easy and conserve my energy.
I had to give up trying to work as the fibromyalgia was very painful and the big, blotchy, itchy spots used to erupt whenever I got a bit tired. The exhaustion used to leave me back at square one: lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and enveloped in brain fog (one of fibro’s symptoms). I’d get bouts of depression I know call “The Glums” but I learned to accept the old saying: “This too will pass” and know that I’d need to be patient until I’d wake up one day and wonder why I’d felt so down in the dumps.
Coping with Dad in the house next door was hard too. In hospital he’d been Mr Charming, conning people into believing he would take up gardening and go fishing. But from long experience I knew this was “Gunnadoo” and was never done. It was all in Dad’s head as he’d lost whatever get up and go he’d ever had.
While he was in hospital, Bryan had cleaned his house, tidied up the garden area, and packed and moved all his gear into our downstairs area to keep it safe. The house was absolutely filthy: the lamps we thought were amber were in fact clear but they’d been coated in dust and cigarette smoke; the carpet was so dusty and filled with cigarette ash as Dad just flicked his ash on the carpet when he smoked that it too changed from dark brown to a quite pleasant colour underneath; he kitchen floor was coated in thick grease and dirt which Bryan had to clean on his hands and knees for two days.
The same filthy habits continued in the rented house next door. Dad would simply flick his cigarette ash on the floor, the fridge was filled with food going off, and the plants kindly provided by a hospital worker withered and died. The drinking had resumed, the black moods were back, and I was a nervous wreck with high blood pressure and attacks of heart palpitations.
One night we could see that something was going on in Dad’s house as the curtains kept moving, lights going on and off, and bangs and crashes sounding. In the end I went up, got entry through the side door and found Dad in his underpants rolling around on the floor blind drunk. I can tell you, to see the father you used to love and respect in such a degraded state was really, really hard. I was terribly upset and scared he’d hurt himself.
He shouted for us to lift him but we refused as he was too heavy. We called the ambulance service but Dad was crafty, he knew that if he was on the floor they could take him to hospital but if he was upright, they couldn’t touch him. So he pulled himself into a chair by the time they turned up, sat there smoking a cigarette smugly, and refusing to go to bed to put my mind at rest. The ambulance officers were great as I apologised for calling them out but they reassured me that it was fine, it would go on the records and anyway they were already acquainted with him so he had a history of drunken behaviour.
Their prior knowledge of Dad came when they helped remove his from his home when the hospital had taken him there to assess his ability to live independently. I told them they were making a huge mistake but it seemed to me that no-one believes relatives. Dad got to the house, staggered inside, lurched around the empty place and refused to come out. He was there for most of the day, Bryan stayed to keep an eye on him and told me to go home for my health’s sake.
It got to the stage where we were looking at the police arresting him and taking him to a psychiatric institution. We decided to call the ambulance service to see if they could help and they were brilliant. They spent ages with Dad, talking to him and calming him down, and finally convincing him to return to the hospital. I thought, and still do think, that they are miracle workers and angels!
After the rolling around on the floor episode, though, Bryan sat me down and told me I had to look after myself and let Dad live the consequences of his own behaviour. He could con people with his charm, and sound quite normal when he was sober, so that I felt people were looking at me as the Wicked Daughter as I tried to explain what his alcoholic existence was like. Bryan knew how Dad treated me and what the real situation was like with this aggressive, bullying drunk, and it helped me retain my sanity when people seemed to believe Dad’s bullshit.
But I realised Bryan was right, something had snapped the previous night as I’d begged and pleaded with him to go to bed and he’d sat there smoking looking smug and so very pleased with himself. I acknowledged I was getting sick as I tried to maintain a relationship with this dysfunctional man. And so I decided to cut off contact altogether. It was quite weird living next door to my father and not having any contact. On the other hand, it was a huge relief as I started taking care of myself and, as I did so, my blood pressure dropped and my scary palpitation episodes died down too.
In my next post, I’ll be looking at our decision to return to the UK but also dishing up some ideas about fibromyalgia, how I’ve coped and what I’ve learned from this unlovely visitor to my body.
Ross River virus – an end to work for my husband
Ross River virus is spread by mosquitoes, it’s quite prevalent in the warmer parts of Australia and is gradually spreading further south. It’s characterised by polyarthritis which causes your joints to swell, you get pretty bad pain and fatigue, and your muscles ache. Depression is part of the cocktail of this disease too.
When Bryan first described how he felt, I told him I thought he’d got Ross River fever and at first I didn’t take it too seriously as I thought it was something that would clear up quite quickly. But I was quite wrong. My previously super-active partner sat in an armchair each day, wracked with pain, suffering chronic fatigue, and hardly able to move. He had always been a thin man but he got ever thinner and eventually ended up at six stone.
Bryan was deeply depressed and he told me years later that he came close to committing suicide because of the constant, agonising pain and the feeling that he’d gone from being a productive worker to someone who had become utterly useless. Funnily enough, in 2004 in Perth, after we’d spent two years back in the UK, he had a reading with a medium who told him he’d come very close to death, something to do with his immune system being rock-bottom and Bryan being close to getting a devastating illness which would have killed him. Then he said: “But you were spared. You’ve been given a second chance.”
Bryan saw a couple of locums who diagnosed Ross River fever. But when the local doctor returned, he told my husband that he couldn’t have Ross River because he was nowhere near Ross River. In blind prejudice, and without knowing anything of Bryan’s work history – a hard worker all his life – he decided that Bryan was faking his illness. This was despite the fact the two locums had diagnosed my husband with Ross River fever.
In desperation, we eventually decided to go to a doctor in Ipswich in the hope of getting more decent, respectful treatment. I remember sitting there with my very sick, grey-faced husband and the doctor – a complete stranger who’d never met him before – looked at him, after we’d explained the situation, and said: “Well, I’ve never met you before, Bryan, but looking at you I see a very, very sick man.” What a relief to be taken seriously!
Bryan was sent to a rheumatologist who carried out various tests, including the PSA test for prostate cancer, and I remember sitting there worried sick that he might have cancer. I needn’t have worried about that. Something else pretty devastating had happened. When Bryan came out of the doctor’s surgery he looked shell-shocked. Ross River fever sparks polyarthritis and this had affected vertebrae in his back which had been damaged by heavy work on building sites, an accident when he had a bad fall on a building site, and getting blown up and badly injured while serving in the British Army in Cyprus. The rheumatologist told Bryan that if he attempted any heavy lifting, he could damage his back further and end up paralysed. He advised my partner to stop work immediately.
So my husband’s working life had come to an end overnight, so to speak. We drove back to Boonah, very silent and, I think, very depressed about our financial future. One thing we knew we’d have to do and that was sell our home as the block was too big for Bryan to maintain due to his ill-health. And as I still had a gammy leg from my fall, there was no way I could keep the block under control.
A turning point in all this downhill race was that Bryan became eligible to move to the disability pension. We had no idea that this was a better payment, we simply knew that my partner was now officially disabled and so it made sense to apply for the pension. The switch from unemployment benefit to disability pension happened without a hitch, and we found to our surprise that we were slightly better off financially. We could get pensioner discounts on rates and electricity. And the rate of payment was higher than the unemployment benefit.
Selling our home on Mt French
Very reluctantly we put the house up for sale. It was still a rock-bottom market and nothing happened for a while. Bryan would recover somewhat from Ross River but then have to mow the block to keep the grass under control, and he’d go backwards again health-wise. We really wanted to leave Boonah but, however much we were itching to move, no offers appeared. Eventually we got one offer, which would mean a loss of $25,000, a really devastating hit on our finances as by then we had exhausted our savings. However, we decided we were selling in a depressed market but we were also buying in the same market. So we went looking for a house in the Boonah district.
What did occur to me later was that, as long as we wanted to quit Boonah and move elsewhere, nothing happened. But as soon as we decided we would stay in the town, particularly as we were both still in fairly poor health and couldn’t handle a major move elsewhere, the situation changed. It was as if we were meant to remain in Boonah for the time being.
I later realised that this is what happens to people who get drawn, quite unconsciously, to this area. I lost track of the number of people who I queried about their reasons for ending up in the town. They all looked puzzled and said it was by accident (like us), or they had a vision of Boonah for a long time (Yvonne), or liked the look of the town when they visited. Looking back, it was as if the area attracted people, turned them inside out and then, once they’d had their shake-up, sent them on their way. Those who really changed in some fundamental way left the town to carry on their new lives elsewhere.
Tarot: The Wheel of Fortune
At the time we were selling our home, however, I had no idea this sort of energy vortex existed. We were desperate to move as we were getting close to bankruptcy. I do remember looking at a picture of a house in Boonah and being attracted to the good energy which surrounded it. I insisted on looking at it, although our real estate agent tried to head us in the direction of another, grotty house he obviously wanted to get off his books. The house we went to look at was a cottage, run-down, a bit seedy but with a really lovely, large garden and lots of bounteous trees providing shade and a richness to the whole block. It was about two minutes from the town centre and in a quiet cul-de-sac. We put in an offer which was accepted. And we accepted the offer on our home, with a heavy heart but with no choice given the state of our health and finances.
Just to wind up our bleak time at Mt French, our dear old Mr Smudge came running in howling in the early afternoon, the day we signed the contract of sale. He was obviously very ill and I drove with him at breakneck speed to the vet’s. He’d been hit by a car and had to be put to sleep due to the injuries he had sustained. I held him in my arms and he purred as he slipped into the beyond. It was such a sad end to such a loving, kind and affectionate cat, and we were devastated. At the same time, our last cat, Jessie, had a hard lump on her cheek. The vet operated and we found she had a cancer in her saliva gland. We hoped the surgery might clear it up, but within two weeks, it was clear that Jessie was dying and we had to repeat the trip to the vet’s to have her put to sleep. Thank god our little Jack Russell, Rosie, remained in good health.
I remember arriving back at our home and looking at Jessie’s little body in the back seat and feeling grief overwhelm me. We had been through so much heartbreak, sadness and despair in this house, and the loss of our two cats seemed to set the seal on a period of our lives which had been far from our excited expectations when we had set off from Perth with such high hopes. I cried so much that day in a way I’ve never cried before or since. It was as if I’d got through everything trying to be positive and cheerful, burying the hurt and setbacks deep within, but Jessie’s death opened the floodgates. I sobbed my heart out all day, utterly unable to stop. It was absolutely gut-wrenching, those deep cries of pain from deep within which erupt and there’s nothing you can do to stop them.
When we walked out of the house, we did so with enormous relief. Whereas we’d been sad to leave our home in Fremantle where we’d lived for ten years, we never looked back at the house on Mt French as we drove away. But, as it happened, the end of our Mt French misadventure heralded a complete turning point in our lives and from then on, we never looked back.
In the Tarot the Wheel of Fortune can very often mean a turning of the wheel to more fortunate circumstances in life and that’s what happened once we’d left our home on Mt. French. It was, by the way, a No. 1 house in numerology which means completely new beginnings, a clear-out of the old and a fresh start in life. It was if our old life had been completely ripped away from us, we had been turned inside out and in our new home we were embarking on a completely fresh life. A true Dark Night of the Soul which I can see, looking back, brought us great blessings but, god help me, I never want to go through anything like that again!
The Dark Night of the Soul comes from a poem written by Saint John of the Cross, a 16th-centure Spanish poet. It refers to the journey into Hades where you enter a realm of darkness, where you learn humility and where you re-emerge blinking into the light, a different person, wondering why the hell your life suddenly descended into chaos, hard times and inner darkness.
Both I and my husband experienced this hell on wheels when we lived up Mt French and it is not something I ever, ever want to through again. I remember just after we’d staggered into a lighter part of our lives – when we sold our Mt French home and moved down into the centre of Boonah – reading an article by a woman talking blithely about dark nights of the soul, how wonderful they were and hey, bring on the next one. And I remember thinking clearly at the time that she had no idea what a real dark night of the soul is because, once you’ve gone through one, you don’t ever want to return to that dark time of your life where tempestuous swirls tear your life apart and you feel you’re in a whirlpool of sadness, pain and despair from which there is no escape.
The purpose for me, however, is that spiritual demands are at work on you. It’s a bit like being in a spin dryer where all the dross gets tossed out and you are cleansed and on a different path as well as transformed into a different person – one more aligned with your soul purpose once you’ve lost the layers grafted on you by parents and society as you move through life.
What could go wrong in our home in Boonah went wrong. Prior to moving into our new home and while we were still staying in a motel, I ended up with a really painful toothache. I needed a root canal filling which took a bit of a chunk out of our savings. But after we moved in, things really started going downhill.
No power – no water
I first found out that there are drawbacks to living on a somewhat remote property with tanks and no town water on the morning I was due to pop down into Boonah to sign the final contract of sale. I turned on the tap. No water. Our furniture and boxes from Perth had arrived on the Wednesday and we’d done some solid unpacking so we were dirty, dusty and unkempt. And I couldn’t have a wash or shower. I ended up dipping a piece of tissue into half a glass of water on the bedside table and using that to try to restore some semblance of normality and not look like the Wild Woman of Borneo when I went into the solicitor’s office.
So that was our first experience living outside a city. When the power goes off, the pump that gets the water into your home doesn’t work and you don’t have water coming out of the taps which, as city slickers, we were used to. Bryan had to climb on the top of the really big tank, take the top off and fish out a bucket of water. What we also found out was that when the local power supply company was going to do maintenance work and shut off power supply, it didn’t let you know the power was going to go off. You had to buy the local paper to find out. And, of course, we hadn’t even had time to find out that a local newspaper existed, let alone read it.
Bryan got the property fenced within the week (more money out of our savings) and finished off that work while I was driving to pick up our mutts from kennels north of Brisbane, as I mentioned in a previous post. Rosie, our Jack Russell, made herself at home straight away, but if you take cats to a new home, you need to keep them indoors. Our three cats were curious and sniffed around, but then I noticed that Mr Smudge, who was around nine years old and neutered, was trying to urinate but couldn’t. More drama.
I phoned the vet – this was a Saturday afternoon so out of hours and, of course, more expensive – and he told me to get Mr Smudge to the surgery urgently as he likely had a blocked urinary duct which, of course, was an emergency. The rest of the afternoon was spent with me helping the very kind vet sedate the cat, pull his penis out and unblock it. Ever tried it? Difficult, I can assure you! More money out of the coffers but at least our dear, kind old cat survived.
Bryan couldn’t find work so we ended up on unemployment benefits. When he did finally get casual work, the drought broke, the main road out was flooded, he couldn’t get to work so his pay as a casual worker plummeted. We decided to fill the smaller water tank and it broke at the bottom just as all the water had been delivered by the tanker and poured in. We lost all the water and I think we felt real despair as we watching the water promptly pour out again – more money wasted plus we lost our back-up tank and had no money to replace it.
Getting Daisy, our oldest cat, treated for paralysis ticks took another bite out of our savings and, as we were then on unemployment benefits and on the breadline, our savings went down relentlessly. Sadly, although Daisy survived, she was a bit more frail and a few months later, late one evening, we found her dead under one of our bushes. Whether it was the result of the ticks or she got bitten by a snake, we don’t know. She looked very peaceful and we buried her in our garden the next day.
The Father from Hell
Finally my father arrived from Perth. When we were thinking of moving to Queensland, I asked him if he’d like to move too as I didn’t want to leave him alone after my mother died in 1987. He agreed eagerly and his household effects travelled with ours from Western Australia to Queensland. But he took ages to decide to move to the Eastern States and dithered and dithered. He eventually got around to taking the plunge, flew over and we met him at Brisbane Airport. But I was to find out that Dad had become a “gunnadoo” – always going to do this or do that and nothing ever got done in the end.
Our arrangement had been that we would buy a block big enough for him to build a home and he would pay a proportionate amount towards the cost of the block. When Dad did arrive, he hadn’t sold his house which wasn’t surprising, it was in a good state inside but when people saw the swimming pool – filled with water plants, huge goldfish and filthy dirty – the buyers took off like long dogs. And, of course, he had no money to pay for a new home or towards the cost of our block.
The decision we made to choose to live together until Dad’s property in WA sold was one of the most stupid I have ever taken. Both Bryan and my father were used to being top dog, and my father not only didn’t take kindly to not being in charge in our home, he was also hitting the booze hard most of the day.
I knew that my father had had an alcohol problem prior to my mother’s death in 1987 and it got worse once he was on his own. I never went down to Rockingham to see him in the afternoon as he would be drunk. I had thought things might have improved by the time he came to Queensland but that was wishful thinking. I learned to dread his words: “Sun’s over the yard arm, time for a whiskey” which would be about 11 in the morning. And when my father drank, he was an aggressive, bullying drunk. Evenings were a nightmare and the arguments got worse and worse.
We had agreed with Dad that he’d contribute a share to the cost of the block and then build his own, smaller house on the block. But when, eventually, he sold his house he made it clear that he intended to dole out his money in small amounts, as and when he chose, to control us. Dad had always tried, and sometimes succeeded, to control people with money. He wanted us – his daughter and son-in-law – to dance to his tune and he took pleasure in trying to pull the strings. I can say now that I should have realised this, but I never thought he would do the dirty on us so cynically and deliberately.
One evening we ended up having a monster row when my father started threatening Bryan. Luckily, my husband was able to keep his cool and walk away from the difficult situation. A couple of days’ later my father moved out and left us pretty much destitute. I told him this and I can still see the malicious look of glee on his face which confirmed that he knew this full well and didn’t give a tinker’s cuss.
And do you know what? I was silly enough to keep trying to make my relationship with him work. What a bloody idiot! So here are a couple of life lessons: 1) don’t mix your money with that of relatives, it can create enormous headaches. Since then I’ve heard horror stories of relatives falling out over money so you never know, you may need to read this blog just for the one lesson of keeping your money and your relatives’ money completely separate.
My second piece of advice is that, if you recognise the sort of situation in which we found ourselves in your own circumstances, take care of yourself first. Alcoholics don’t change their spots, you can’t get them to clean up their act unless they choose to, and you need to look after yourself and let alcoholics make or break their lives all on their own.
When we moved to Queensland, we sent our Rover car over by transporter which was a lot cheaper than buying a new car after moving interstate (but in another sign of the bad luck hovering over us, the transporter broke down on the middle of the Nullarbor Plain!). However, repairs for Rover cars, as they’re British, were expensive to maintain (we’d been able to use a Rover-trained mechanic in Perth), so we decided to buy a second car and ended up with a Ford station wagon, in bright lemon yellow. And yes, the car turned to be a lemon. It started off well but, with our luck in Queensland, it went downhill fast. It needed major repairs which further depleted what were becoming very meagre savings.
On 2nd July 1996 I fell and broke my leg and ankle, as I mentioned in an earlier post. I was hardly mobile, couldn’t cook, relied on Meals on Wheels at lunchtime, and Bryan – as well as driving 45 minutes to and from work in Ipswich – also had to cook in the evening. I was also not recovering well. When I’d been admitted to hospital I’d had a raging temperature and was on intravenous antibiotics as I’d splintered the bone in my leg. Back at home, I had no energy, and I lost a lot of weight, very fast. I had packed in the booze (a story for another day!) and also had a good old dose of ‘flu within a few days of getting out of hospitals.
I’d take ages to shuffle from the sofa to the kitchen, get there soaked in sweat, take ten or so minutes to recover, make breakfast, then repeat the process back to the sofa. I’d fall into a deep sleep in the afternoons, and just felt exhausted all the time. I got a nursing friend to check out my sugar levels and they were fine. But in the month after I came home I lost a stone in weight (14 lbs, 6.3kgs). I did have the pleasure of stepping on the scales prior to the removal of my cast and then hop on after returning from hospital with a skinny, emaciated right leg to find I’d lost 6lbs instantaneously which I thought was pretty nifty!
My husband was very impatient with me as he had always been healthy and really had a hard time handling illness of any kind. He was exhausted from driving to and fro from work and then having to cook, I was just generally exhausted, we were having arguments, and tensions between us were quite bad. I didn’t want to return to the hospital for any further antibiotic treatment as information was beginning to circulate about the dangers of antibiotic overuse and subsequent resistance. So in the end I was so tired and exhausted I went to Yvonne, my herbalist friend, and got treatment from her and her herbalist co-worker.
Interestingly, the night after I started treatment, I had a dream where I was walking up a hill, reached the peak, then started on the downhill walk. Along the way I saw a cottage with the lights on in the window. I looked through and saw two women there who beckoned me in and fed me as I sat at the table. I mentioned this to Yvonne and she was dead pleased, saying it was a sign I was on the mend. She was right too. It was a slow process but I gradually began to regain my strength although I wasn’t fully mobile again until about a year later. However, I’ve never really returned to being the full quid since I had that fall, and I’ve read that quite often something traumatic like that as you get older can affect your subsequent health.
I had returned to fairly good health by December 1996 when one day I walked out of our home one day to drive into Boonah and saw Bryan sitting in the carport looking grey, exhausted and absolutely dreadful. Yes, folks, our bad luck continued. He had received several large mosquito bites when working at a nearby town. We didn’t take too much notice at the time, but they heralded the onset of Ross River fever for Bryan.My active husband could hardly move and is thin and wiry at the best of times, but within months of copping this illness he’d gone down to six stone and looked like a skeleton.
We had a rather run-down chook-pen at the far north corner of our block so when our friend, Yvonne, moved out of her house in a rural area and into Boonah town, she asked us if we’d adopt her hens and a couple of roosters. Never having had chooks before, we nevertheless decided to take them on to join our existing menagerie of 3 cats and 1 dog, plus the odd wallaby which bounded around our paddock, hotly chased by our Jack Russell. We thought it would be a doddle when we went out to Yvonne’s rural property to pick up the hens and roosters.
WRONG! The guys and gals objected strongly to being caught and we were hot and sweaty by the time we’d finishing chasing after them, catching them and stuffing the six hens and two roosters into the cage Bryan had constructed. We drove back to our block on Mt French, chucked the chooks in their shed, and left them there overnight to settle in.
Luckily, the cats and dog were profoundly indifferent to the sudden presence of feathered creatures. But mayhem ensued because the boss cocky rooster, Oscar, hated the younger rooster, Clarence, and kept bashing him up all the time. We’d hear screeches, yells, see feathers flying, the girls would head for cover and poor old Clarence would stagger into view, looking utterly depressed, while Oscar screeched his winning notes. One morning I walked into the pen and thought Clarence had died because all I could see was a bundle of feathers in one corner with the young rooster’s head stuck down a hole. But this had been Clarence’s bolt-hole from being duffed up again by Oscar and he eventually emerged looking even more bedraggled than usual.
In our ignorance, we decided we’d buy another six hens to try and divvy up the girls between the two boys. We saw an ad for chooks being sold by a barn operation so hopped over to the chook farm one morning to pick up some more girls. If you think you’re doing the right thing by buying barn eggs instead of battery eggs, forget it. Stick to free-range eggs where you know the hens have had a good life out in the open poking around in a natural environment. The hens were packed into the barn so tightly they could hardly move and yes, they were on the floor but they were an utterly miserable sight. They had had their wings clipped and when we got our six girls out into the sunlight, they blinked nervously because they’d never seen the outside before.
When we got them back to Mt French, the fun well and truly started. I read in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love” that the way to introduce new hens is to put them in at night when the original girls had already roosted so that when they all woke up the next morning, they’d forget they hadn’t been together the night before and get on well together. It was daylight when we put our six, very twitchy “new” hens in with the “old” girls who absolutely hated the newcomers and attacked them at every opportunity.
Added to that, the new girls didn’t want to leave the shed because they’d never been out in fresh air, had never fossicked in the earth and grass, and were scared silly of the wide open spaces. Every morning Bryan had to gently pick each one up and put them outside until they realised it was okay to be out in the open and learned to hop over the entrance bar. Eventually the girls settled down together but alas and alack! it didn’t solve the Oscar/Clarence situation since Oscar decided to enlist the new girls into his harem and continued bashing up poor old Clarence at every opportunity.
The new girls, all eventually a lovely glossy black, fell in love with Bryan. Along with the original chooks, they would follow him around the block, peering closely as he dug into the earth, catching worms, and generally having a good time. The other chooks would follow too, including the two roosters, and you’d see Bryan wandering around the grounds of our block followed by about 14 chooks, 3 cats and 1 dog. He looked like the Pied Piper. In the evening he’d go out to lock up the chooks for the night and the black ones would fly towards him, because their flight feathers had grown back, cluster around him and follow at his feet as he led them to the chook shed.
Unfortunately, we lost one hen to what is called “the scours”, and another hen, Whitey, also disappeared but strolled out of the high grass a month later. We figured she’d gone broody but probably lost any chicks to foxes or dingoes. We got up one morning to find a big hole dug under the wire and into the chook shed and Goldie crouched looking completely traumatised. We reckoned a monitor lizard (which can grow well past six feet in length) had dug in under the wire, probably to nick any eggs but also to try to catch a chicken. Poor old Goldie was in very poor shape, so we kept her in a cage, and I gave her Reiki regularly until, eventually, she came good and joined the rest of the flock again.
The time came when we sold the property up Mt French and, sadly, we had to say goodbye to our girls and boys. Luckily, for his own safety and well-being, Clarence went back to Yvonne who had bought a house with space for chooks, and Oscar and the rest of the girls went to my father’s home which was also on one acre so they had heaps of space. One by one they eventually died,as is the way of chook life, but poor old Oscar met his come-uppance by a close encounter with Mr Fox. My father came out one day to find feathers all over the place, signs of a struggle and no rooster, so it was good-bye Oscar.
On the monitor lizard front, we went up to the top of Mt French early one morning and could see these huge lizards pounding around in the undergrowth, a quite amazing sight. I was down in Boonah one day and when I got back, Bryan said a six-foot monitor lizard has stomped along the pathway beside our house, climbed up the railway sleepers which formed the wall and disappeared up the hill. He said the dog and cats just stared at the lizard, too terrified to even bark or hiss. The video below is of a monitor lizard in Thailand but it’s pretty much the same as you got up Mt French, although we’ve seen bigger when we were on the summit:
I decided early one morning that I would go for a walk at the top of Mt French as there’s a parking area and walking trail. As I was walking along the dirt path, I wondered why people would bring bikes up Mt French to ride around as I could see all sorts of paths wound in the dirt. Then I realised – DUH! – that I was looking at snake trails so, trust me, I walked much more careful after that. But I didn’t get far. I was looking at a magpie on the ground digging around when, all of a sudden, a damned great brush-turkey rushed out from the bush and headed towards me, head down with a vicious look in its beady eye. It obviously didn’t have kindly intent towards me and luckily there was a fallen bough near me which I grabbed to ward off the homicidal turkey. I had to back slowly all the way to the car, fending off the turkey all the way, until I was able to jump in the car and hare off home.
Bryan looked surprised when I got back in such a short time, until I told him what had happened. And then he started laughing his head off, rotten sod, and repeating over and over with great glee: “Which one’s the turkey, then? She’s standing right in front of me, gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble”! Brush turkeys, by the way, are a protected species and the male builds great mounds of material where the female lays her eggs. They can be a real pest if they decide they like your garden as their happy hunting ground because they’ll wreck anything that grows in it. We watched a documentary once of a collective of Buddhist women, devoted to peaceful intent, trying to cope withe the presence of two brush-turkeys in their carefully tended garden. It was really very funny to see the peaceful women descend into aggro and violence towards the brush-turkeys and trying to reconcile their desire to wring the birds’ necks with their Buddhist views. The birds won, by the way!
One of the great thrills of living up Mt French was to see the big wedge-tailed eagles circling and soaring on the thermals high above us. They were so majestic and we spent many a long time just watching them lazily waft around in the skies. One day there was a kerfuffle outside and the cats and dog ran into the house with their hair standing on end, Bryan heard the beating of wings and went outside, to find all our chooks hiding under bushes. They had nearly become eagle tucker as an eagle had swooped down to try to grab one of the chooks or small cats or dog. The farm next to us lost their puppy and the family finally resigned themselves to it being snatched by an eagle.
And if you think that’s a bit far-fetched, I once visited the north-west of Western Australia, and my friend was driving me around showing me the various sights. We were barrelling along a long, straight road in his sturdy 4-wheel drive truck, with no other cars in sight, when he suddenly slowed down and started crawling along. I asked him what was going on and he told me a wedge-tailed eagle was on the verge ahead having a feed on road kill. If you went towards them at too fast a speed, they assumed you were attacking them and after their prey, so they in turn would attack the car. Not only did it kill the bird, it caused considerable damage to any vehicle unlucky enough to be attacked by a kamikaze eagle. And I do have to say, when we drove slowly past – and we were in a high, big SUV – the eagle’s head was on a par with my eyes and it just stared coldly at us as we crept past. An awe-inspiring sight!
We also loved the butcher birds and magpies which were in big numbers around our block. Butcher birds have a beautiful, liquid, single note which is quite enchanting. The song varies along the east coast of Australia from flock to flock, but it’s their way of communicating within each community, and the song changes slightly over time. Here’s a link to a video of a butcher bird and its song, interestingly, it is quite different to the song of the butcher birds up Mt French:
Magpies have a beautiful carolling song which also is quite fascinating. When I broke my leg and ankle and had to spend time on my own up Mt French, the songs of these two birds on a lovely winter’s day, with bright sunshine and temperatures around 23C, were really quite magical, soothing and healing. Here’s a link to a video of magpies carolling:
One particularly enchanting sight was the echidna we spotted slowly making its way up the sloping block, muttering away to itself, until Rosie made a sudden move towards it when it rolled into a tight ball with all its spikes sticking out. Here’s a lovely little video about echidnas:
Not so enchanting were the paralysis ticks and mosquitos which inhabited our environment. Paralysis ticks are nasty little buggers which will attach to humans and make you feel pretty sick, but they will kill cats and dogs within a few days if their presence goes undetected. You wouldn’t believe such small creatures could be so deadly. I had noticed a couple of lumps on the face of Daisy, one of our cats, and assumed she’d been fighting, because you didn’t come across paralysis ticks in inner-suburban Fremantle where we’d lived prior to moving to Queensland. She began to look a bit woozy and started staggering so I called the vet who told me to bring her in immediately. She actually had three ticks on her and as the vet started injecting various drugs he told me her chances were 50/50. I was shocked as I had no idea how dangerous the ticks were and the vet apologised as he said he should have warned us as he knew we weren’t local to the area. At one stage, I could feel Daisy’s energy fading until the vet injected another antidote and then I felt life returning to her. The vet told me she wouldn’t be able to walk for a couple of days but would likely survive. But good old, feisty Daisy – I went down to see her the next day and she was yowling her head off in the cage and stomping around looking most put out at her confinement. So I took her home and very happy she was to back in her home environment.
We also used to get dingoes hanging around, mostly at night, because they used to drink from the dam at the bottom of the hill on which our house was perched. They never bothered us and I never heard of any stock getting killed by dingos in our area. One night the Rottweiler dogs at the farm at the bottom of the hill started barking which was really noisy and kept us awake. All of a sudden we heard what was most likely an alpha male dingo let out a huge roar and howl, which made us jump, but after that we never heard a peep from the Rottweilers, just dead silence!
Most of the mosquitoes up Mt French and in Boonah where we later moved were annoying and pesky critters but there was a particular breed of mozzies which really was quite daunting: Scotch Greys. They were very large mozzies, they would dive-bomb you with a really loud buzz and give you a really nasty, itchy bite if you didn’t manage to spray them with mozzie-killer first. If you batted them away, they would go right off their rocker and start attacking you quite venomously. We went for a walk one night and then Bryan suddenly noticed that a heap of these huge Scotch Greys had landed on my back. He batted them off but we both had to literally run home as it was like a hoard of kamikaze Stuiker fighters strafing us as the mozzies went utterly ballistic.
We left Boonah in 2002 to return to the UK where we lived for two years and one night we decided to watch a TV programme about an English couple considering the purchase of a property on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. They were there in winter which has a quite delightful climate – warm, dry, sunny days and cool nights, hardly any rain. And we were sitting there shouting: “No, don’t buy now. Go back in summer when it’s 36C, 95% humidity, the snakes, mosquitoes, paralysis ticks, spiders and every other creepy-crawly is out and about. THEN make up your mind!”
I decided I couldn’t handle a trip down memory lane into the Dark Night of the Soul quite yet, and one of the joys of writing a book as a blog is you can duck into side alleys if you wish.
So I’ve veered off route to look at the good side of life on Mt French which was our motley collection of various animals and chooks, as well as unexpected close encounters of the snake kind, big spiders, large lizards, fruit bats, paralysis ticks, straying cows, dingoes, frogs, eagles, various birds, echidnas and kamikaze mosquitoes.
When we arrived in Queensland, we had our three cats and one dog picked up by kennels north of Brisbane so, once we’d moved into our new home, I drove up to pick them up while Bryan continued sorting the house out and fencing our 1-acre property to keep Rosie, our Jack Russell in.
It was a hot day and the air was thick with smoke from the various bushfires burning around Ipswich (a city to the west of Brisbane) and Brisbane itself. As I drove along the freeway leading to Brisbane, the smoke was so thick you could hardly make out the signposts overhead. And as it was quite difficult to head in the direction of the kennels (no freeways that far north in those days), I duly got lost and ended up very hot and sweaty by the time I reached my destination.
It was brilliant being reunited with our pets: Rosie settled into her crate in the front seat and fell asleep. On the other hand, in the back seat, two of the cats – Smudge and Daisy – were fine but Jessie got car-sick and I’d forgotten how bad she used to be. The car stank of poo, pee and vomit as I headed home in the heat and it was an enormous relief to stagger out of the car and breath in the fresh, cool air of the mountain when I got home.
Rosie loved her new home and all it’s space to race around in. We kept the cats in for a week to get them acclimatised and, once released, they stayed close by and settled in. We also kept the cats indoors at night to protect the native wildlife as cats are big killers of local animals, particularly at night.
As we’d lived in suburban Perth we had no idea of the wildlife awaiting us in sub-tropical Queensland. Our first hint that life would be different was when Bryan strolled in and said he’d found a brown snake with its head down a hole, tweaked its tail and ran like hell as it shot out of the hole. Browns, king browns, red-bellied blacks, taipans and various other slithery creatures inhabiting our environment are extremely poisonous – Australia has a myriad of deadly snakes which leave the rest of the world in its wake.
I saw Daisy chasing a brown snake once and was amazed at its speed. Luckily for Daisy I yelled for her to stop just as the snake turned around to attack her and, as she turned towards my voice, it took the opportunity to literally leap away in huge loops of its body. It helped me respect people’s advice to leave snakes along and they’ll leave you alone. I forgot this when I was at home on my own one day while Bryan was down in Boonah doing the shopping. The cats and dog suddenly began making really weird growls and hisses, so I looked outside and there was a python stretching out from our side fencing and heading onto our roof. Well, I had no wish to have a biggish snake wandering around on our roof and perhaps dropping on my head so I grabbed a broom, locked the animals inside, and rushed out to poke the snake and send it back where it came from.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work like that. The snake moved really quickly, swung around towards me, I screamed, dropped the broomstick and ran inside. I think my hair may have been standing on end! I kept an eye on the snake and it finally returned to the thick jasmine creeper on the corner of our patio where it blended so well you would have no idea a python was coiled up inside. Bryan came back shortly afterwards and strolled past the jasmine, quite oblivious to the python lurking inside.
“How big was it?” he asked. “Oh, about six feet, I think,” I replied. Until I had to change my mind about the size a short while afterwards. Bryan had grabbed a roll of vinyl from where we’d stored it on the front verandah as we were going to re-vinyl the kitchen floor. He walked through the house with the vinyl over his shoulder to the flat part at the back to cut the roll to size. I suddenly heard a yell out back so ran out, to see a rather groggy looking carpet python staggering away from the vinyl. My husband had slipped his hands inside, started unrolling the vinyl but at the final roll came in contact with the snake’s body. Luckily, it had been asleep and was a bit dopey at being rolled over and over, but carpet pythons aren’t venomous although they can give you a bit of a bite. I asked Bryan how long he thought it was. “Oh, about six feet, I suppose” he replied. And I instantly had to up the size of the carpet python I’d poked with the broom. It was twice as long as the snake in the vinyl and much wider, so I guess I’d mixed it with a 12 ft python. I was just glad I hadn’t realised how big it was at the time!
I came home from shopping one day to find Bryan looking a bit shaken. He told me the curtains on the verandah doors had been moving so he’d swept them back, thinking a gekko had got in, only to find himself eyeballing a snake. He grabbed Rosie and locked her in a bedroom but, luckily, when he got back he saw the snake disappearing down the verandah – it had been chased away by feisty old Daisy!
A few weeks later we were in a shopping centre close to Ipswich and saw a wildlife display with a ranger in attendance. Bryan leaned forward, pointed and said: “Hey, that’s the snake I saw in the house.” We were quite casual about it until the ranger said: “Oh, that’s a taipan”. Now, you may not know taipans but they’re one of the world’s deadliest snakes, large, highly poisonous (the third most deadly while the inland taipan is the most deadly) and extremely aggressive. They won’t steer clear of you, they’ll actively attack you. So we looked at each other, both going a bit pale.
We went even paler when we talked to the ranger and she told us Mt French was rife with taipans and – also – funnel web spiders. These are just as unfunny as taipans. They tend to like dark places so you often find them in your shoes or boots and they love wet places so often fall into swimming pools. The male is the most aggressive and they generally wake in a mean mood and stay in a mean mood all day so if they feel in any way
threatened they’ll attack and bite. Luckily no-one has died since an anti-venene was developed but I remember, back in England before I’d moved to Australia, reading about a woman in Sydney who’d been bitten and who had died very quickly. So, as you can imagine, we returned to what we’d thought was a home in paradise, looking cautiously around for anything looking remotely like a taipan or funnel web spider.
Luckily we mainly saw the odd carpet python and quite a few tree snakes which, while venomous, can’t open their mouths wide enough to bite a human. But we did hear screaming one night and quite a big green snake had caught a frog and was swallowing it. We had to accept it’s nature but it was really rather horrible, hearing the screaming getting muffled until finally there was silence. I think we looked as green as the tree snake!
While we thankfully never saw any funnel web spiders, we did see many large huntsman and wolf spiders. They look pretty terrifying because they are so big, but they are real wusses, nervous of humans, quite happy to stay out of the way, and very timid if you get too close to them. We used to have one that lived behind a painting: you’d see the legs sticking out and we’d say: “Aha, Spike’s home”. Mainly we left them to themselves
as they were great at catching flies and mozzies, but if they were on the wall beside the pillow we’d pop them in a glass then release them outside.
One night I got up to use the bathroom, switched on the light then let out a screech as a big huntsman was sitting right beside the switch. A centimetre further and I would have poked the spider. The spider jumped an inch off the wall and, unfortunately, went absolutely troppo, running around the walls of the toilet while I tried to get finished as quickly as possible while keeping an eye on the manic spider.
We also used to get green frogs climbing up inside the toilet. It was a hell of a shock the first time I went in and saw a couple of dirty great green frogs calmly staring back at me from the rim. I got Bryan to catch them and put them outside but one night I had to handle one myself. I heard a screeching, the dog barking and the cats yowling so got up, only to find the mutts sitting in a circle around a frog which was keeping them at bay with its screeching. I knew if I didn’t fix it, the noise would continue all night. It was mid-summer with really hot nights so both of us slept starkers which was lucky, I guess, because when I picked up the damned frog to put it outside, it peed all over me. Luckily with no clothes I was able to wash myself down. And my dear husband slept right through the racket and was quite surprised to hear about the kerfuffle the next morning!
So here’s a hint – if you want to chuck a frog outside, fling a towel over it first to catch it, as it’s a damned sight easier to chuck a towel into the washing machine than it is to wash yourself down!
When I first moved to Perth in 1972, the climate was wet and somewhat cold in winter (quite warm, actually, in comparison to the UK!), while the summers were very dry and hot. If you got a day of 40C, you’d likely get the sea breeze, known as the Fremantle Doctor, coming in around early to mid-afternoon when temperatures would drop very fast to the mid- to high 20Cs. In prolonged hot periods, you’d get hot, gusty gully winds in the hills and blowing through the city, while some nights the temperatures wouldn’t drop too much, which led to hot, sweaty, sleepless nights.
By the time we moved East, Perth had morphed from a bit of an overgrown town to a full-size city. It had stretched its tentacles along the coast and development had covered much of the green areas that had existed when I first lived in the city. By the same token, the climate was changing. Whereas previously the Fremantle Doctor was a given, by 1994 it had weakened and the weather had grown less predictable. Nevertheless, it was still a pretty dry climate.
We’d checked out the climate in Brisbane and it didn’t go much above 36C in summer which thought was pretty terrific. Unfortunately we didn’t know about the humidity which makes life in Queensland pretty challenging in the summer.
Anyway, eager for Mo and Bryan’s Next Big Adventure, we climbed on the plane to Brisbane in September 1994, along with our 3 cats – Mr Smudge, Daisy and Jessie – and Rosie, our Jack Russell who had landed serependitiously in our family after Chloe died.
The first thing that struck me about Brisbane was the warmth, humidity, the dampness, the softness lying in the air, so very different from Perth. This city felt quite different, as if somehow we’d entered another country even though we’d only travelled across the continent to another part of Australia.
We stayed in a truly crappy hotel where the room was miserable and the staff were surly and unpleasant. And on our first night we watched the news to see, in the weather section, that a line of severe storms was moving from Boonah to the Bunyips. We had no idea what sub-tropical storms were like but this little bit of news was a portent as we ended up living in Boonah eventually.
As our car was being trucked across the Nullarbor from Perth to Brisbane, we decided to hire a car. And came across something new again.
“Don’t park under mango trees”, the hire bloke said to us.
Never having come across mango trees in Perth, we were puzzled.
“Their sap ruins the ducco”, he advised. Another hint that things were different in this State.
Now while we sold our home for what was then a good price in Perth, house prices were much higher in Queensland at that time than back in Western Australia. So we panicked a bit. To be absolutely truthful, we panicked a hell of a lot. We couldn’t afford to stay for long in motels, so the first priority was to find a home in new pastures which were completely strange to us.
Welcome to stress city. And also welcome to what I eventually would come to realise were greater forces at work than we realised. Synchronicity started to grease the engine of Mo and Bryan’s descent into the Underworld.
On his holiday in Queensland, Bryan had stayed on the Gold Coast, south-east of the city centre, and had waxed lyrical to me about the beautiful Tamborine Mountain in the hinterland. So while we were house-hunting, we also decided to have a look around this fascinating area. We heard our first whip bird there. The male makes a sound remarkably like a whip and the female bird chimes a “whup-whup” at the end. We climbed among the lush greenery, and stood in awe at the amazing views from the peak of Tamborine.
We started driving down the mountain away from the coast and stopped for a coffee and break at Canungra, halfway down. I suddenly saw a small real estate agency and wandered over to look at the photos of homes for sale. There was a property which suited us down to the ground, so we went to have a look at it, liked it, put in an offer which was accepted and went off to get the deposit cheque. When we got back to the real estate agency the next day, the seller had changed his mind. Whether he thought he’d get us to up our offer, I don’t know as he said he’d had a better offer overnight. As it was, he went begging and I have to admit that, when I saw the property still for sale a year later, I felt a little bit of glee that he’d fallen flat on his face.
After this upset, we really moved into Panic City. The real estate agent was very apologetic, and rustled up another place for us to view – a farm close to a town called Boonah. We had no idea where Boonah was and it was rather like driving off into the wild, blue yonder. We seemed to be driving for ever when we crested a hill and there was a quite beautiful little town below us, nestled in a valley surrounded by absolutely awe-inspiring mountains, in an area known as The Scenic Rim.
The real estate agent we met there took us off to look at the farm. “Dilapidated” would have been too kind a word for it, it was a god-awful wreck. So that was a no go. Then he took us off to look at a smallholding on Mt French, a mountain just behind Boonah. What we didn’t realise was that we were having a close encounter of the White Shoe Brigade kind. This Brigade was a shonky band of real estate operators in Queensland who were renowned for their hustles and scams. And what our personal version of the WSB dished up was that old, old trick – show the punters a clapped-out old house then wheel them into to one that looks heaps better, sit back and whip out your contract for them to sign.
And that’s precisely what happened to us. We were shown a low-set home (not set up on stumps which in Queensland is known as a high-set) which was modern, on one acre and set half-way up the mountain with magnificent views of the Border Ranges to the south and pure silence. We were hooked. Couldn’t wait to sign the contract. Only a few weeks later we realised that we’d been ripped off – a far too high price in a market at rock bottom, plus the real estate agent and seller were friends. We were on a block with tank water but no water of its own. And in the middle of a drought which was still going strong, this was not an ideal situation. But at the time we knew no better.
The first sign that things were not going well was the huge attack of bronchitis and ‘flu to which I succumbed – yet again – while we were living in a motel and waiting for the property settlement. I was as sick as a dog. Closely following on this was a toothache which led to a root canal filling which led to the first dent in our savings. The saving grace for our sanity was that the people renting moved out early and we were able to move in prior to settlement of the house sale.
I can remember standing on the wide verandah of this quite spacious home, staring at the wonderful view, listening to the profound silence except for the wind, and saying to my husband: “What have we done to deserve this?” And, although he didn’t tell me at the time, Bryan looked around and thought: “What the hell have we done?” He has a nose for trouble, my husband, and he was quite right.