A Knight’s Tale (18: In The Bush)

Auntie Evelyn’s letter continues:

‘Towards the middle of February [1941] I had several posts offered to me in the Western and South Western parts of Queensland. I accepted one at a sheep station – 17 miles beyond Goondiwindi. This town is on the Macintyre river which forms the frontier of New South Wales. “Oona Vale” is quite the back of beyond and the “bush” there is very flat and uninteresting with stunted trees and coarse grass – a very brown tract of country. How I missed the lovely green of Ireland and the charming little green parks of Estonia. No good walks in any direction – sandy tracks everywhere and no wild flowers to speak of. The small garden at “Oona Vale” had some pretty flowering shrubs and many roses.

The people were very kind and I got fond of the children. I had two little boys to teach – Peter 9 years and Colin 5. The elder boy was not very clever and often rather lazy, so my work was not very easy, prodding him constantly. Colin was an affectionate little fellow and very anxious to please. I missed all my friends and acquaintances in Brisbane and found the new life rather dull. If I could have got in some good walks it would have been better for me.

After a few weeks I found myself running down fast and before Easter I felt a quite different being with very little interest in life. I think the change of food had a great deal to do with it – so much meat, which I had not been accustomed to, and often very tough it was. In Estonia I had been used to having plenty of milk and eggs and in catering at the flat in Brisbane I bought a lot of these. But here all the milk was separated. Then my eyesight was [so] seriously affected by m[y] nerves and the glare of the sun that when I had my fortnight’s holiday in August I decided to consult an oculist in Brisbane. It was not at all cheerful news that the doctor gave me. He said I had a cataract in the right eye and the beginning of it in the left one. He ordered new glasses for me and tablets for my general health. Then I returned to the bush for another 4 months. Towards the end f November the heat was very trying. I could not rest in my bedroom – it was intensely hot in the house so Mrs Savill kindly fixed up a mattress for me under the house where it was certainly several degrees cooler though the air was not very pure and little Margot the three year old was a very disturbing element always flitting around when I wanted to be quiet. Margot was a very spoilt little girl. Her father spoilt her most. He took far too much notice of her. She was the apple of his eye.

As my sight did not improve I decided to leave “Oona Vale” and return to Brisbane on December 10th when the Christmas holidays would begin and so prepare for my cataract operation in the autumn. The oculist who had formerly been a doctor wished to build me up before removing the cataract. So I had a quiet and restful time taking a furnished room in Red Hill, a suburb of Brisbane. At the end of April the operation was done and very successfully by my most careful oculist. Unfortunately a few days later my oculist was called up as the Japanese war had already started. So I was put under the care of another kind doctor, who would not undertake the “meddling” – a slight operation which is often necessary a few months later. As my oculist was still away in the north of Queensland I decided to get another oculist to do the “meddling”. He was a noted and skilful man and did it all right. As Brisbane was now so full of American soldiers it was difficult to get a decent room so I was eventually obliged to go into the Lady Musgrave Lodge – a hostel for borders and also Australians. A very mixed society here! However it was a home and I was always thankful to be out of Soviet Russia.

Then about six months later I made another attempt to teach in the “bush”. This time it was at another sheep station in Central Queensland. A rich grazier wanted a governess for his two children – a boy 9 years and a girl of 6. Barcaldine was six miles away and situated on the Downs [on] the Tropic of Cancer.’

The girl remained in touch with Evie long after she returned to England in 1945.

My blogging friend, Gwen has written a series of posts inspired by Dad’s aunt. Here is a link to the one that really fleshes out this episode: https://garrulousgwendoline.wordpress.com/2021/09/04/riga-exodus-7/

The youngest of the three sisters, my great aunt Evelyn lived longest, dying aged 92 in Bromley in 1975. In the late 1960s Jackie and I were visiting her in her sheltered housing rooms in a home for Distressed Gentlefolk in Chislehurst.

On one occasion she gave us a negative and print of herself taken at a recent party. I wondered whether they had been served tea there, and whether my great aunt had provided it. Evelyn’s sight, you see, was poor enough for her to be registered blind, and when she made tea she made it so she could see it. This very dark beverage was best left to grow cold so you could down it in one. That way you didn’t have to prolong its taste.

A Knight’s Tale (17: “The Young Girl Actually Accepted It!”)

Another of Evelyn’s letters reads:

‘I arrived in Brisbane on December 7th 1940 with a party of about 175 evacuees from the Baltic States Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. I came with 50 people from Estonia.

After a long and wearisome journey over Russia to Vladivostok we came by boat through Japanese waters down to Hong Kong. Here we were very glad to spend 2 days to visit the beautiful city with its fine scenery. From there we continued our journey past the Philippines down to Thursday Island. After spending some hours there we passed down the coast of Queensland to Cairns. We were very glad to have another break in our journey visiting the picturesque bright and clean-looking town. Everything looked very thriving and the shops most attractive. Many of us came back with delicious fruit – pineapples, pawpaws and in the town one could get very refreshingly cool drinks, which were much appreciated after the tepid water we had been having at table on board.

We all enjoyed seeing Cairns very much. The people were all so friendly. Just before leaving this town two Australians, a Mr Price of Queensland Tourist Board and another came on board to make enquiries about us all. This was a long business and took much time. Mr Price had arranged for accommodation for us at the various hotels in Brisbane, but it was no easy matter as he could not tell whether all the rooms would still be free on our arrival. We found him and his colleague Mr Buchanan of the Tourist Bureau most helpful and kind. We were granted an allowance of £2.10s a week and from that was subtracted the hotel bills. After spending two weeks at the hotel Astor I, with another of our evacuees, Miss Simpson, took a small furnished flat at 22/6 a week, which we shared. This was just a few days before Christmas and we ere fairly happy there for the next four weeks. After that Miss Simpson and I offered another of the evacuees, a Miss Halliday, a shakedown until she could find a job. Miss Simpson gave up her own bed – like the good-natured fool that she is – the young girl actually accepted it! After this, what with the heat and mosquitoes life in this rather shut in flat did not run so smoothly. The young girl seemed glad to economise by sharing our flat and putting us to inconvenience but did not exert herself much to get work.

Miss Simpson is a very nervous person and has the great disadvantage of being both deaf and lame. With these drawbacks it was very difficult for her to get work – she was worrying a great deal about not getting a reply from her brother whom she hoped to be able to join in Canada and make her home with him at least for the duration of the war.

During these two months we all received very much kindness from the Australians which I shall never forget. Invitations came in from many different quarters; we were invited to the St John’s Cathedral Christmas Party as well as the Y.W.C.A. The New Settlers League also invited us to a tea party. In fact, one of the secretaries of this league came to meet us at the Customs when we arrived in Brisbane and gave us her cards of invitation. At St John’s Christmas Evening Party we took part in a very large gathering at which the Dean and Bishop were present. The former addressed a few words of welcome to us saying that he hoped we should find employment but added that it might not be very easy. I called on the Dean later to ask him if he thought it possible for me to get teaching in one of the Church Schools. He kindly offered to say a word for me to the Mother Superior, which he did, but there was no vacancy just then. After this I called on Mr Fletcher of the Board of Education. He was very kind but said that all vacancies in schools would be filled up. ……….’

As we will see, in the second half of this letter, Evie’s efforts did not stop there.