“Come to Sunny Australia” they said, “Sunny Australia the place to be. Leave your grey skies, and your cold northern days and windy heaths and come to Sunny Australia,” they said, “Sunny Australia the place to be.”
So I did. And it rained, and it howled , and the skies were as grey. ”But you are used to the cold” they said, “so you won’t feel it” they said, “bit like home” they said, “won’t be homesick here” they said. They came to meet and greet me, and to speak of their children and to learn of my work, and “where do you come from” I said. And “Manchester” they said, and Doncaster, Birmingham and York. Did I really need to ask whence came those short vowels, jolly laughs, and that deep and caring concern for the unfortunate children.
They showed me their country, Cootamundra and Young, and it rained and they were glad it broke their drought, and they were young women with children who cared for others; they took me to Bathurst. “First city of the plains”, they said and they lit a fire to grill steak in a cold and freezing rain, and it caught, and it cooked, and it tasted just beaut, as they say – a word I shall cherish forever. With ”wowser”, ”no hoper” and ”cockies joy” on my bread.
They took me to the Blue Mountains, which are not blue as we know blue, but the blue-green-grey of gum and eucalypt, and they told me that Blaxland and Lawson and Wentworth crossed the mountains in 1817, but on the tops, they said, not the bottoms as we would in our magic island.
It rained in Medlow Bath and in Katoomba, and it was cold and I spoke, and I showed slides and they were nice and interested and kind. They said they were quality carers, and they would tell others and they felt inspired by my talks, and they would work for the Fund and “STOP POLIO” everywhere, and I liked them. But it was cold and it rained.
I spoke on the telephone live to huge radio audiences in Tamworth, and Kempsey, Newcastle and Parkes, the gateway to the golden west. And it rained and it blew and it stormed, “But it’s like home”, they said. ”You don’t mind the rain”. But they didn’t say, “Bring your mac, and your gum boots and your brolly”, When they knew it was rainy Australia? The ralnbows were lovely
but you need rain to make rainbows.
I appeared on their television, and I spoke to their press. And it rained. It rained in Kempsey, fair town of fat, green water meadows, and the Macleay River rolling east to the sea. I saw the black children. I Saw the warm loving black women, who cared for the children, and who cared for the teacher, who is Jean of the sad heart and high courage, and I knew what they were made of then, these people of sunny Australia. Which isn’t. Her black women cared for her, surrounding her with love and tolerance and watchful care, and she will recover from her sadness one day, and laugh again, but always remember dear Bruce, for “Bruce”, said the black women, “Bruce was one of us, Mrs. Hardaker dear”.
I stood on the tarmac at Kempsey airport while my comrades had stop work meetings and strikes, and it did feel like home. And it rained. And we were late to arrive in Canberra,the city that is the national capital of sunny Australia. We met at the American Embassy, magnificently, superbly and expensively early American with a cherished and large Ronald Reagan in cowboy gear in pride of place. And it rained, and it howled with wind, and it rained again and again. “But you are used to this”, they said. “Quite like home, isn’t it”, they said. And the plane was late in the morning again, due to stop work meetings and I knew it was my comrades and compatriots involved, because they all had those lovely North Country and Glasgow/Irish Australian accents.
We drove to Sutherland, to Gunnamatta Bay at Cronulla and it was Sunny Australia at last, and they grilled the steak till it was quite, quite dead, just as I ordered it, and I watched them eat their meat live and jumping, and I wondered about Australia again.
They were nice and warm and friendly, Kath and Mary, Barbara, Leonie and Joan and the husbands, and they were caring and concerned and they listened – and gave me $2,000 for 400 children to be saved from polio and promised more. They said it would be like home to drive through the Royal National Park. So we did, and it was, and they said I couldn’t miss it, and I didn’t. But it rained and it blew and it was cold once again. And the rosellas flashed their bright wings and the kookaburra laughed and the honeybirds drank water, and water boatmen paddled around. Down the coast road to Bulli, on that narrow coastal strip between the mountains and the sea and it was pretty and it rained.
They were young in Bulli, young men, young women and young children and my heart rejoiced that it is not only the middle aged, middle class church going woman who supports the work I do with children, but radical young people with children. And they gave me a cheque and hoped to do more. And it rained. And it blew. And we went to Kiama.
The southerly buster came up from the Pole, and did you guess that it rained, it blew, it was cold and the wind moaned, and the harbour bar did too. And in the morning it rained, and it stopped, and it rained again. They said it was better rain than I had at home, it was warn rain, but it was rain.
So we looked at the Blowhole for, if famous for nothing else, Kiama has this natural attraction, and the water blew up through the hole and the spray was as wet as the rain, and they said it was good to see. The seagulls stood around and shivered, and warmed first one foot and then the other. So did I. We went to buy prawns from the Fishermen’s Co-operative, and I thought it would be like home, and it was, because the notice said 7.00 a.m., it was 8.45 a.m. and they said they didn’t sell till 9 a.m. She said it was the unions, but I said it was capitalist spite. We bought hot bread in the town and she collected my change and put it in her purse, and now I know why Australian men never have change for a parking meter. And it rained. And we went back to the Fisherman and he sold us the king prawns, and we bought a lillypilly, and I found out how to “chuck a uie”, when she thought we had travelled the wrong road and later we hadn’t. And it rained, and it rained, and we went to her rain forest at Toolijooa, and she said rain forest and rain went together. That magnificent place of the emus, Toolijooa, with its forest, and palm trees, red and white cedar, flame tree and blueberry ash. Illawarra figs, and she said fig birds ate the figs, and the flitter-flutter bird was the mud fan.
And it rained. And I dug a hole in the mud, and I planted my lillypilly, and it had a tag to say so, and I watered it in, in the rain, and I watered the flourishing Mackay jacaranda. But it rained and it was cold. And even the liquid amber looked red with the cold.
We went up the track, and the birds flew around, and the whip bird cracked his whip, and the fans fluttered, and there were honeyeaters, ravens and crows and kookaburras, and it was the Australian bush, but it rained in sunny Australia. And it was cold. And I went to the top of the hill and down the other side, and then I retraced my steps as I thought. And I didn’t. She was sure we were bushed and I thought she meant tired and she really meant lost, and we were. A full 180° circle I had travelled and I was bushed and now I know why they fear the bush. And it rained, and we found the way, and went back to the house. A cold drink, a cold salad, cold prawns with polyunsaturated margarine, fresh bread, blackberry jelly, and hot tea at last. And it rained.
To Dunmore House, 1863, inspection and a talk to some young women, men and older women too. S.C.F. future is assured with such enthusiasm.
But it rained, and it was cold and they came from Durham and Hull and Stockton, and they said I wouldn’t mind the weather, and they needed rain.
And back to Sydney in the rain, and we “chucked a couple of uies”, but we made it. And they took me to the Primary Cricket Club and it rained and it rained, and it rained again, but they said it was alright. And “Come to Sunny Australia”, said all the posters, “Sunny Australia is a fine place to be”.
They spoke of strange places and strange sounding names, Meekatharra and Thargomindah, Collarenebri and Coober Pedy and the Alice and Ayers Rock, and they said it was dry mostly there, and I believed them, and they said if it rained on the Rock, to stand quite still for an hour till it stopped – in sunny Australia.
They told me about blowholes that had festivals, and kangaroos that were wallaroos and wallabies, and fat tailed pouch mice and possums and platypus, snakes, sharks and dingoes; they told me about sheep with long legs on the western where it is far to go for water. And it rained where I was all the time. They said the name for the young kangaroo, wallaroo or wallaby was “joey”; they said you didn’t eat blackberries after the end of March because just like home, you didn’t eat them after 29th September, when the devil overlooked them on Michaelmas Day, and I didn’t know that either. I saw their birds, rosellas which are parrots, clinking currawongs, and a finch that only belonged in Western Australia happily eating canary seed in south eastern Australia, and wrens out of courting gear, and an albino kookaburra. And I said, “I will come back in the next drought”, and they said ”the earth dries out and cracks, and the bare bones of the stock litter the dead moonscape, and this is rich and lush and lovely when you have gone back to cold, grey England and its problems, we will have sun again in our sunny Australia”. We are glad you came to see us”, they said, “we needed to hear of the children who are not lucky Australians”, and we are glad we can give you money to help, and that you will use it for children, and we are so glad that you like our Sunny Australia”.
And it rained. And then I left in sunshine, of course.
But I had the Sunshine of their friendship and help for “STOP POLIO” to warm me in old grey England.
I wish I knew a little more about this piece. It is almost as if it is written in the voice of a visitor to Australia for SCF, rather than in my mother’s voice, however so much of it sounds like her.