When I was 10 years old, my father came to visit, to ask my mother if he could take me to spend a couple of weeks of the Xmas School Holidays with him. He was working on a farm, & the prospect of spending time with him was very appealing to me, as I didnt get to see him very often.
He was a tall man- & seemed a lot taller, to a 10 year old! His hair was fair, & he wore it cut very short. He had large blue eyes, which always looked a trifle sad, & his skin was very fair, so had a ruddy glow on the cheeks as he spent a great deal of time on horseback out on the farm.
I was so excited to be going, & couldnt wait to get on our way. I had never spent very much time with my father since our parents marriage had ended, when I was about 4 1/2 years old. He came to visit from time to time, but of course that does not leave room for bonding, or really 'knowing ' someone.
And though I was eager to go, truth be told, I was somewhat in awe of him. I can remember standing at his bedside & just watching him sleep, when he came to stay. I was so curious about this man I loved, but hardly knew.
My mother seemed a little reluctant to see me go, but she packed my bag for me, & off we went.
I was not very pleased when my father stopped the truck in town, & said he had to collect 'a lady, you will like her.' I had expected to have my wonderful mysterious father all to myself, & I felt a burn of disappointment.
However, B seemed nice enough, & we set off to travel what seemed to me, to be a long journey to the dark & cold farm house, where I was to spend the first week of the holiday.
The old house had bare wooden floors, with no mats or linoleum. I was told I would be sleeping in B's brother's bedroom, & was assured I would 'love B's brother, R, everybody loves him'.
I was terrified, & the room had thin, tatty old curtains, & the moon shone in the gaps & I lay in terror watching the huge old wardrobe which stood in the corner of the room. I dont know why, but I felt the that B's brother was hiding in it, & he would emerge, wanting his bed. My feet seemed to be frozen, & they would not warm up- even though it was summer time, & cant have been cold. The bed seemed uncomfortable & very strange compared to my cosy bed at home.
There were huge old pine trees surrounding the house- which my brother tells me would probably have been macrocarpa trees- & they creeked & groaned in the wind. It all seemed terrifying to me that first bleak night. I dont think I cried- I was too terrified. And in the morning when I crept out very early, I didnt let on that I had been petrified. I was told there was cereal & milk for breakfast & I could help myself- which was something I never had to do at home! Our Grandmother always got our breakfast for us.
My father had a lot of working dogs, which he kept tied up at night, & in the morning he would untie them all ready to ride off to work. I had never had anything to do with dogs really, apart from the farm dogs belonging to my Uncle. And they were never 'domestic' and we were never encouraged to touch or talk to them. They were purely functional dogs, & were for work purposes only. I do remember my Uncle was very fond of his dogs, though, & often entered dog trials. As did my father, but I cant remember going to any dog trials with my father.
The dogs were so excited & boisterous when they were first let off the chain in the mornings, & I was terrified of them! So, my father told me I was not to be afraid of them, I was to be brave, & he made me let them off their chains, (which was not easy, when they were so excited, & kept trying to leap on me!) & he showed me not to fear them, & also taught me I was to be the boss of the dogs- not the other way around. It was a lesson that has stood me in good stead all my life.
There was another family with young children living on the farm, & I became friends with the other children, & we passed our days playing under the Macrocarpa trees, & in an old house, that was derelict, & falling apart. There were huge old Blue Gum trees- not sure what type, but that is what everyone called them, & they had wonderful odd shaped nut pods that looked like little pots with lids on them. And they flowered & smelt of eucalyptus in the heat.
My father's friend B was to become my Stepmother later, but of course I did not know that then. We got along quite well- she was not too much older than me really! I loved to draw, & she seemed to be quite talented too, & she showed me a few techniques for drawing trees that really impressed me.
I eventually met the brother R, who was so popular...but, I was always very wary of him. Not for any real reason, but it seemed my first fear filled night was always associated with him, in my young mind. I think he was a nice man- he was certianly a very large man, & one of my half brothers resembles him.
I remember that holiday as filled with sun, & visits to the hayfield to take food for the haymakers, bumping along in an old truck. And the wonderful smell of the hay, & the dust & heat of it all. In those days the hay was baled in the old oblong bales, & taken by trucks to the hayshed. Which was another rich & wonderful smelling place, which always seemed so mysterious & so hot in the summer, & so warm in winter. Haymaking season was labour intensive in those days, & there would be many hands to load the hay bales, & to stack them in the haysheds. The women were expected to make scones & sandwiches & take plenty of cold drinks & flasks of tea for all the workers.
I remember the mother of the other children vividly, & I suppose B must have joined in with the food preparation, & serving, but I dont really remember.
After I had been there for about 2 weeks, we had to move to another house on the farm, for some reason. I can remember the moving, but not the reasons why. There were no Macrocarpas around that house- which seemed even older than the first one, but the huge old Blue Gums were close. And there was no toilet inside in that house, so we had to use an old outside dunny- which was scary to me! I tried to never have to go out at night!
Sometimes my father would take me on his horse, & ride off around to check on the sheep. I always love that, because I felt I had him all to myself.
As the holidays were nearing the end, apparently my mother was becoming frantic, as I had not been returned home. She told me in later years that she didnt think my father was 'taking' me, but just felt he was reluctant to return me. She sent my Uncle to collect me, & I must have blocked the leaving from my mind for I seem to have no memory of saying goodbye at all. Nor of the trip home with my Uncle.
I think it was to be many years before I saw my father again. I remember being totally distraught when I learnt of my parents divorce, when I was about 12. A cousin told me, & I dont think I ever really forgave my mother for not telling me first.
And in my childish heart, they were always going to reconcile one day.
It has made me very conscious of not lying to my children, & I have always told them, not to lie to me- finding out the truth made me feel so betrayed & desolate. I have tried never to make my family feel like that, even if the truth hurts, it is better than that awful betrayal a lie can be.