Friday, December 17, 2010
My wicked start to life in Brisbane [Part 1]
This seems to be about the right time to tell you about a strange little incident that took place when I first went to Brisbane to go to Teachers College in 1964. I was 16 years old.
I had won a Teacher’s Scholarship and was mentally ready. No more milking cows! With Dad not as well as he should have been, he decided to employ a local youth, Bruce Gunston, to handle some of the yard work to take some of the strain off both Mum and himself. That was a relief to me as well. I was old enough by then to appreciate the gap that my leaving would cause.
As soon as I was offered the Scholarship at the end of 1963, we went to the haberdashery department at Friends store in Gladstone. Three pairs of high quality woollen trousers were bought for me, best country style with wide cuffs, and enough white cotton shirts for a fresh one daily. Ties were mandatory as part of the ‘uniform’ for trainee teachers. I was also fitted out with new shoes. Haberdashery at Friends must have been very pleased with the sale of all these items on that day.
I was to board with Mum’s sister and her family at Enoggera. My allowance from the Department of Education was 7 pounds per week, with 4 pounds 10 shillings to go to Aunty Mavis. She did all the washing and ironing for me as well as full meals, so this was very generous of her, as she had three children of her own, and washing, ironing and starching five cotton shirts a week extra, apart from my other laundry, was no picnic.
She was also an excellent cook, so the favour she did for Mum was enormous. Four pound ten would probably not even cover expenses for looking after me. It was a great relief to Mum to know I would be going there.
A second-class sleeper booking on the Rockhampton Mail train was made for me to travel to Brisbane. The Rocky Mail, as it was known locally, was a passenger/mail train that got to Gladstone at about 6 pm for boarding, and arrived in Brisbane at about 8 or 9 am the next day. It was a slow trip for the 500 kms, but no-one expected better. If you booked a single ticket, you never knew whom your companions in the compartment might be till you got on board.
My mother drove me to the station, heart aflutter with a mother’s anxiety that all would go well with the trip down and the early weeks of settling in to a new life. I had farewelled my father at the cowyard. A handshake was all the intimacy we would share at the parting, though it was a watershed moment for us. There had never been any demonstrable sentimentality between us, but it wasn’t expected or required. It wasn’t the way we did things, and any closer expression of the family bond would only have embarrassed us both. He may have said, ‘Look after yourself’, but that would have been it.
The Gladstone station was starting to fill up by the time we got there, people coming out on to the platform in dribs and drabs. This was the busiest time for train travel in the whole year, as the private schools boarding students would be returning to their colleges scattered all over Brisbane. Anyone not travelling was supposed to buy a platform ticket, but people rarely bothered. They just got into the station by walking through a loading zone at the end of the platform.
Air travel in 1963 was, of course, an option only for the super rich. No-one would have dreamed of sending a student of any sort back to school on a plane.
Waiting on the platform, I waved to Peter Moloney, dressed up to the nines in his Nudgee College uniform with its smart jacket. He had gone to Gladstone High till Junior, then sent to Nudgee to finish his final two years of high school. He was in a grade below me though the same age, or maybe a little older than I, as I had gone through school at least a year younger than I should.
He was looking at his ticket and came over to me, our respective mothers behind each of us. ‘Seems we’re in the same carriage,’ he said, looking at my ticket. ‘Hey…. same compartment, in fact, what about that?’
My mother was pleased. Peter Moloney had done the trip to Brisbane each term for the previous year, and she felt comfortable that one of my travelling companions at least was not only someone I knew, but smart looking, urbane and confident in his bearing. He played Seconds in the GPS Rugby for Nudgee though had been reserve for the Firsts. The GPS (Greater Public Schools) competition in South Queensland was where State and often National Rugby players began their serious football careers.
The train arrived after its trip from its terminus at Rockhampton and we jumped aboard to stow our luggage in the overhead racks in our compartment. I had more than he did but then again he had left things at Nudgee and didn’t need to cart them up and down the coast. We got back off the train to wait out the last few minutes and say goodbye to our parents.
Our parting was brief and once again, not demonstrative. A hug and a kiss, and then me standing at the window of the compartment, waving goodbye - that was it. I didn’t think a great deal about how Mum might be feeling. For me, it was just the beginning of a new life adventure.
I had no idea how soon that adventure was going to manifest itself.