Added to the heritage of domestic violence was the fact that, most of my life, Dad was a dry drunk who never dealt with his anger and resentment. There was a photo of my dad when I was a kid and he was stuffing around on the beach laughing. I often wondered what turned this laughing young man into the taciturn, grumpy, miserable man he became as he got older.
I never realised when I was young that Dad had an alcohol problem because we only had alcohol in the house at Christmas and everyone drank in moderation. Mum told me, when she was out on holiday in early 1975, that after getting sacked from his own company, Dad started drinking a bottle of whiskey a day, to the point where she was close to leaving him. I suppose things cleared up as they were still together when they came on holiday and remained together until Mum died in 1987.
But when we were living in Queensland Dad told me once that, when he was in the Navy, he heard some Wrens talking about a Petty Office who was a real drunk and realised they were talking about him. He told me it shook him so much he he’d never been drunk since, which was quite ironic as he’d already knocked back a few glasses of whiskey/brandy/rum or whatever he was drinking at the time, and his voice was already slurred in the late morning.
Once my mum died, Dad’s slide into rampant alcoholism accelerated. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I never went to see him in the afternoon as he’d be drunk as a skunk. If I phoned, his voice would be slurred and I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. In Queensland, his life became chaotic. His house was filthy, he’d sit in his chair and smoke, but flicked the ash to the ground so a thick layer of ash lay around on the carpet. How he never set fire to his place is beyond me. His kitchen floor was covered in ingrained grease and dirt. And he became more and more erratic.
Finally he blacked out early one morning, phoned us to tell us he’d called an ambulance and my husband, Bryan, drove to his house to give a helping hand.It turned out Dad had broken a couple of ribs and fractured a couple of vertebrae in his fall. When Dad entered the local hospital I told them Dad was an alcoholic, so they gave him small doses of alcohol each day to minimise withdrawal effects. Unfortunately, he got a chest infection, had to take antibiotics and so couldn’t have alcohol. He got the D.T.’s, kept falling out of bed, told me seriously about the possums that were climbing over a fellow patient’s bed, got violent and eventually was heavily medicated.
I won’t go into any more gory details, but one thing I do want to say. Alcoholics are charmers, don’t believe a word they say, concentrate on your own survival, don’t get dragged down into their dysfunctional lives. My father charmed everyone he met. He was full of promises about what he was going to do when he got out of hospital – fishing, gardening, etc., – and suckered everyone, including his social worker. If Bryan hadn’t been with me, knew the truth of how my father treated me and how he behaved, and supported me through all the chaos, I would have thought I was either going mad or already insane.
No-one believed me when I told him what life was like with my father and at one stage, when I was trying to sort out power of attorney, I was virtually accused of being after his money. He would sober up in hospital, a psychiatrist would see him and pronounce him fit, and out he’d come into mainstream life again to continue his boozing and aggro. Eventually he had several strokes which left him with virtually unintelligible speech and confined to a wheelchair. Luckily for him he was offered a place in a first-class nursing home with his own en-suite. He was able to have a small amount of alcohol each day but eventually got to weak to handle the grog.
We moved to the UK in 2002 for my sanity and my health and because Bryan wanted to be closer to his kids, stayed on the west coast when we returned to Australia in 2004 in order not to become embroiled in Dad’s affairs again, and finally moved to northern New South Wales when he entered a nursing home. When we got to the nursing home for the first time, the nurses told me he was eager to see me. And true to form, Dad was only eager because he wanted me to take him out of the nursing home and take care of him. By that stage, I had got the determination to say no, and to care for myself, something that had, in earlier years, been sadly lacking in me.
I got a phone call at 5am one morning to say that my father was likely dying as he’d had a turn for the worse. We lived about three hours from his nursing home and got there in time to say good-bye. I sat and gave Reiki to dad, finally kissing him on the cheek as I left. In my grief, I left my walking stick behind and Bryan went to get it. He said Dad opened his eyes as he walked in, Bryan said: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her”. And with that Dad closed his eyes and passed away a couple of hours later.
On the way north to Brisbane, we drove through great clouds of butterflies which an Aboriginal friend told me later was a sign of an easy passing. Dad had been terrified of dying but his eventual death was calm, peaceful and full of ease. I was glad for him that he was finally at peace and out of this mortal coil where he’d been so unhappy.
I remember the daughter of a friend shaking off her father when he went to hug her, and it was so hard to stand back and not say to her: “You are so lucky. Your dad loves you, he’s affectionate, he hugs you. Don’t whistle it down the wind”. I have met many, many people with wise, wonderful, kind, loving fathers and I simply want to let them know too how lucky they are. Treasure your father. Sort out any differences, if that’s possible, and remember that life is a lottery – you don’t know when someone is going to die, so make the best of ever loving moment you have with them. Count your blessings.
To those who are in dysfunctional family relationships, I simply say that you are worth more. Love and care for yourself because you have something unique to offer the world. Don’t let the miserable, the selfish, the violent, the jealous, the drug- or alcohol-addicted drag you down. Let them go. These days there is more openness and awareness of family problems. As I mentioned earlier, the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study has raised awareness of how challenges in childhood can have long-term effects. Surround yourself with loving, supportive people, whether friends or advisors or health/mental professionals, and build yourself a new family if you need to with friends of your own choosing.
Remember – shine your light. You are not the Pied Piper of the Universe. Let others work out how to shine their light and don’t let them dim yours.
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!”
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.