Saturday, February 21, 2009

Getting there

When going to my grandparents’ farm for the school holidays, the adventure started the minute we left home. There was no car in the family until after I was married. If we were poor we didn’t know it, we were well fed and always had decent clothes to wear. OK, the clothes may have been hand-me-downs but we always had something new that Mum had sewed for us. The miles she must have clocked up treadling that old Singer sewing machine. She must have thought she was made when she had a small motor attached to it! And when she wasn’t sewing, she was knitting. My friends families had more than we did but I can’t remember ever being jealous of them. Anyway, there was no car, and for the most part there was no need for one. We lived about a mile from our school and the church. When we needed to go further afield we took the train.

Oh, how well I remember those dreaded trips into the city to visit the dental clinic where our dental hygiene was taken care of by supervised dental students. It must have been our low family income that made us eligible for free treatment at this clinic. And I think they were meant to be final year students but, even at a young and innocent age, I wondered what sort of real dentists some of them would make. I remember a Mr Booth who drilled out the wrong tooth, the supervisor pointed out the mistake, he filled it and then, can you believe it, he drilled out the same tooth again! There I was pinned in this chair, trying to wave my arms around, being told to ‘sit still’, trying to make myself understood by emitting guttural sounds, being told to ‘be quiet”, trying to transmit messages through the top of his head as he bent to his task. Finally the supervisor decided to do some supervising, once again pointed out to the young man his mistake, then announced there was no more time for more treatment today, I would have to come back next week. I was glad today’s nightmare was over, and I had another week to prepare myself for the next session.

There must have been 20 dental chairs in one big room and every time I entered that room after that I’d know it was going to be a pretty good day if the dreaded young Mr Booth didn’t come in my direction. I was terrified of him! My sister, Esme, had some real dental problems and got to see a ‘proper’ dentist, I’m sure I did a fair bit of complaining about that.

But, as is my way, I digress. Come school holiday time we would set out for Laidley on the train. First up was the ride into the city, but to get to Laidley we went past the familiar Central Station to Roma Street Station and this station seemed much bigger and more confusing. Poor Mum, with all those suitcases and all those kids in tow, had to get us all from one platform to another. There would have been 5 of us when she started making those journeys. And things only got worse over time as the family grew. I think I was about 12 when I was deemed responsible enough to make the journey with a few of the younger ones the day after the holidays started.

From Roma Street we would board the train to Ipswich. This train always seemed crowded which, of course, meant we had to be well behaved. At Ipswich we would change trains once again and board the Toowoomba train - fewer passengers and fewer restrictions. And, of course, our excitement would be building. Now we were really on our way, count the tunnels, wait for Grandchester Station, one more long tunnel (the longest), just a bit further, round a big sweeping bend and we would be there. The grass that grew beside the railway line around that sweeping corner was always greener and better than any we had seen along the way. And we could judge by its green-ness or lack of it whether there had been recent rain, whether there was likely to be water (and swimming holes) in the creek.

Next we would be pulling into Laidley station, heads out the windows to see who would be first to see who was there to meet us. Sometimes Grandma and Grandad in Grandad’s utility truck (yay, a trip up the creek in the back of the truck sitting on suitcases, hair flying, yelling to each other to be heard), sometimes an uncle or aunt. How times have changed.

When I reached that age of responsibility when I was trusted to venture forth without an adult, we would occasionally be told before leaving home that no one would be meeting us at the station we were to take the mail car ‘up the creek’ to Mrs Day’s place which was the end of the line for mail delivery, the post office and telephone exchange. So we would lug our bags around to the Post Office, where we were always expected, and be told how long we would have to wait before the mail car left. All the mail men over the years knew who we were and were always friendly. The mail and parcels would be loaded and we would clamber in and, until the van emptied as we made our way along the road, it was a bit of a tight squeeze sometimes.



The road heading 'up the creek'


We might have lived in the city but we were country kids at heart and knew the best way to open a conversation and to get any local talking was to enquire about the weather. And if we could throw in, “Oh look, Mr .. is irrigating his pumpkins!” we thought we’d get double points. We’d find and hand to the driver the mail and parcels for all his customers. I remember once he said, “Fetch those eggs there for Mrs ... Careful! That’s the second time this week she’s wanted eggs and last time one was broken. Don’t want you kids to get the blame.”




Checking out farms along the way


As we went further along the road, the farms would become more and more familiar and into the area where most of the farms belonged to relatives, some distant, some close. We'd pass by my paternal grandparents old family home and inspect it for changes.



The Ward old family home

The driver would tell us any recent gossip about any other them and we wouldn’t be able to wait to get to the farm to tell Grandad – he did so love a bit of gossip.

Finally we’d be where we’d been longing to be since leaving home in Nudgee - Townson. Nearly there! If there was no-one there to meet us (the mail-man would joke that he’d made good time with helpers on board) Mrs Day would ring Gran and sooner or later we’d hear a car coming to collect us. Then just a quick whizz up the road and there would be the creek crossing, from where we could see across the cultivated paddocks to the farm house nestled in under the hills.

Over the creek crossing we would go, sharp eyes peering left and right for any sign of water, giving our driver an ear bashing, constantly asking about swimming holes. Up the farm track alongside the creek, we’d have necks craning for a better look, turn left, a little rise and there it would be – the farmhouse and the warmest of welcomes!

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