27 December 1983

Letter: Who can do the jab?

Letter 27 / 12 / 83

We've had three different doctors ring us from TI, trying to work out what to do.

My being "Rhesus negative" is the big problem. I should be having blood tests and 'anti-D' injections.

There should be some anti-D on today's plane (it should have been here by last Friday at the latest) but there is no one here who can administer it. Peter's going to give it a try, provided we can get a syringe from the clinic. Well, he's practised injections into grapefruit before when we were at "Jungle Camp"...

Alison is not well either - she's had a fever for the last couple of days and nights. She is having trouble with her top teeth, four seem to want to come through at the same time, 2 are already cut, so we hope that's the reason for the fever.

Its still very wet here, and so nice and cool most of the time. Nights go down to 25 degrees sometimes, and days are never over 30 degrees.

Happy Ducks

No eggs from our duckies yet, but they are very big!

And hungry - boy can they eat!

Some of them still have fluffy down between their wings and tail, but otherwise they have all their adult feathers. Some have a black patch on the top of their heads.

They love the rain - you should see them, bills up facing the onslaught, chests thrust out and (it looks like) hands behind their backs. When it is finished they all busily preen themselves, and then they look beautiful.

Energetic kids and tired mother

James is a restless body these days, he's 'a mess'. Roll on kindy! But he does go eagerly in the boat with Peter (I don't go any more, I get so sea sick) - and promptly falls asleep in the bows for the duration of the trip!

Must hurry on while Peter has Alison for a few minutes. She is such a vigorous child and I find it very hard to look after her while I feel so weak and sick and tired.

Island Dances

Lots of feasts these days with island dances late into the night. Its fascinating, but somehow we never make it past the first couple of dances. Our kids won't sleep at feasts like everyone else's. James loves the dances and, being a really good mimic, really pleases everyone by his attempts to join in.

Must dash now.

16 December 1983

Letter: Losing the Baby

Letter 16 / 12 / 83

It’s only Friday yet, but I get so little done these days I need to get started early.

On Tuesday I saw the Doctor for a check up and he gave me finger prickers and test strips to test my blood sugar - its not as bad to do as I thought.

Then on Wednesday it looked as if I would lose the baby. After cramps and a few hours of loss things settled down again - I think I'm still pregnant.

Now we just have to wait and hope, while I try to take it easy.

That is a bit difficult, but Peter's been great - doing the washing, and carrying Alison around a fair bit. James is worried and frightened because he knows "Mummy sick" - he keeps trying to kiss me better! He's going through an insecure patch anyway with school holidays, island feasts, the new boat ... all too much newness and excitement for him.

Its the King

"The King" stayed with us last night! It was so funny.

When James saw the Bishop (of Carpentaria) in all his regalia leading the procession to "bless" the translation house ... in the middle of a quiet moment in a prayer he called out, "Look, Mummy! Big King!"

The Bishop's wife is not an islander as I said previously - I was getting her confused with the wife of Fr Michael Martin on TI. She's very nice, and James was very impressed when she used our shower facilities - "lady bath in there" he still keeps saying!

We haven't had much to do with this bishop, he hasn't been much help. But we are quite hopeful about the new bishop. Amongst other things, he has his own plane.


Last minute rush again. Peter's gone fishing with a very reluctant James. Peter's had such a hard time lately that he tends to get impatient with James, who responds by getting all of a dither when he's supposed to be hurrying and then dirties his pants because he retreats into his own little dream world and forgets about these things. Poor little chap, he's not "slow", but he's got the sort of mentality that doesn't cope well with a school set-up. So like his father - which I guess is why Peter gets so exasperated with him.

I caught up with the doctor yesterday - just as he was about to return to TI after his campling holiday out here on the smaller islands. He wanted to call a "Med-evac" plane/helicopter for me, but I managed to convince him that I'm okay. He checked me out and we've promised to call him if anything else happens. TI is a hole, not a place to spend Christmas - or any other time if we can help it! The Med-Evac is free, I think, but, as we understand it, I/we would have to pay for the return trip.

The Big Rain

The kipau gobgob came the other day - the annual "big rain". Mud and rocks came pouring down the hill, filled and overflowed our drain that winds around the back of the translation house and our house, and flowed right through the translation house and back shed. So glad our house is up on stumps! No permanent damage done, just lots of cleaning up to do.


Thanks for the KLB6. I tried one dose - the night before I had the threatened mis. I know there isn't a connection, but I haven't taken any since. Anyway, I have no appetite. I'm living on four slices of bread a day - and I don't always keep that down. I can't stand anything sweet or fatty. But I'm not losing weight at all - it must be the sea air sustaining me.

We got the two parcels. The information about ducks was much appreciated - we learned a bit more. But it says "Muscovies are more like geese than ducks and will be dealt with in the next chapter ..." Ours are Muscovies of course.

11 December 1983

Letter: Rain Rain Rain

Letter 11 / 12 / 83

What a wettie for James' birthday! Its been raining so long and hard this morning that they have cancelled the normal communion service - those that turn up will just mumble through "Matins" - then swim home.

We've had to leave the bung out of our boat to stop it filling up - actually the bung got pinched on the way here, so we are leaving the piece of cloth out.

The translation centre is far from waterproof - the chaps did a terrible job of putting the roof on, it doesn't slope enough (the water runs back underneath), there's not enough overhang, and the nail holes are so rugged it drips everywhere. The mattresses are soaked and the bishop and his wife are coming on Thursday. Its been raining every night all week, and yesterday it continued with light rain into the morning - just when we wanted to try out our new boat. (There's no wind, no swell, the ocean is dead calm.)

Anyway, the news is that we have our boat! When the rain eased yesterday we went for a little ride ... it was very exciting for all of us except Alison, who went to sleep. We anchored for about 15 minutes and caught five small (by local standards) fish - some kind of cod, not unlike coral trout, brilliant red with vivid blue spots. We gobbled them up for tea.


Well its still sloshing down. The reason church is "off" is because the church is flooded.

James is having fun. He loves his new red handled cutlery - handles it really well. (Alison is jealous - she's on finger-foods these days, hates being fed. I have to rack my brains for what she can handle with those clumsy little chubby hands and only two teeth.)

We gave James a plastic spade - a big one, he lost his little old one on the beach. To go with it he has a little wheelbarrow and bucket (just like daddy). He's been itching to go out and try it all morning, but he can't in this rain.

So it's just as well that we also gave him a little blackboard (on an easel) and chalks - hours of peaceful fun. The problem is to keep Alison out of the chalk. So we have installed him and his blackboard out in the translation centre.

He loves his new Leggo's bricks - that sure made his eyes light up. We have to wait until Alison's asleep, or else put one of the kids in the playpen to stop her getting hold of those tiny pieces. But he sits there for ages, so quiet, pursed lips and furrowed brows, creating!

He'd love some extra packs and then he can make something "leally big" (as he says).

Christmas Tree

On the last day of school George Sallee (who is on the school board) organised a Christmas tree for the kids. Parents were to provide presents and Father Christmas would appear and dole them out.

But it looked like the show would be a flop, so he felt shamed and went home and got drunk. It was supposed to start at 6pm, at which time there were only about two dozen assorted kids and one or two parents.

We waited two hours, and more and more parents gathered - there were already stacks of presents under the poinciana tree.

Finally someone found George and got the costume from him. Wilfred dressed up - even his own kids didn't realise it was him. A lot of kids, even big ones, were too scared to go up to him.

James's present was near the end of the line, so I had time to talk to him gently and explain that it was just Uncle Wilfred dressed up, and all he had to do was accept his present and a kiss. When his turn came he twinkled up there, tall and straight - we were very proud of him.

Ducks and Garden growing

The ducks are still growing. They are developing their big feathers now. We gave them a box in case any of them felt like laying but they tore it up!

Since the rain started a few days ago we've been popping seeds in all over the place. Our dust patch between the house and the toilet/shower took only a few hours after the first drops of rain before the grass started sprouting. Our little plants are all shooting up - and hardly any grasshoppers around.

The mango trees are in blossom ready for the second season - but its been raining before the blossoms set again so maybe we won't get too many this time either ... well, Peter can't eat them, James won't (he's experienced the burn you get on your skin if the juice sits there for more than a few minutes), Alison can't hold much, and they make me feel sick (as do most things except tomatoes - which we don't have any of.)

04 December 1983

Letter: Bun in the Oven

Letter 4 / 12 / 83

Church is on - evening service. James has wandered over there on his own - he just loves being with people. Peter is going over soon. I have bread in the oven, and a pizza for tea. Alison is wandering around near my feet. Two services a day are a bit hard on her - and me looking after her.

Morning sickness has set in with a vengeance, and the tiredness. But I am using my skipping rope every day for exercise, and there are a few hours every day when I feel really good. My mind boggles at the thought of a 16 month old and a new baby - and of course a three-and-a-half year old - but we'll face that when it comes!

Kids growing

Thanks for sending us back the photos from the film we sent. I've promised myself to shoot off most of our next colour film on the kids - James is so tall and slim these days, and Alison is a funny little person.

Its funny seeing her face "frozen" in a photo because she's such a lively character and rarely holds the same expression for long enough to get used to it. She's not a real 'girlie' looking baby (I would have to let her hair grow and keep her in ribbons and frilly dresses ...) but she's well-proportioned, not fat (despite the food she stacks away!) and strong.

Strong-willed too. We had a play-pen sent up from down south - as we have shelves rather than cupboards in the kitchen she gets into all sorts of trouble in there. She likes the play pen - stands up and goes round and round - as long as there is someone nearby.


Big storm brewing tonight - first rain, we hope. Lightning and gusty wind - James is a bit un-nerved by it.

Its been pretty warm lately. Last night Peter was up at 12.30am (killing rats in the translation house) and checked the thermometer: 28 degrees. It was rather humid and sticky too. But other nights we've commented "Isn't it cool this evening" only to discover its 27 degrees.

The kids both sleep in just nappies. They are like peas in a pod when you see them like that. I put a bottle in Ali's cot and she helps herself 2 or 3 times - I replenish it when I get up to go to the toilet (3 or 4 times most nights).

Holiday and Conference

We like to spend some of our free time camping over on Dawar, one of the two uninhabited islands. We've announced an official holiday for this month (when the boat arrives) to make up for not going to Cairns - it will help keep the administration off our backs about spending too long here at one go.

I guess we'll have to go south about May, under the circumstances to give ourselves time for a holiday in Cairns or somewhere before we travel to Darwin and come under the microscope. I won't be allowed to fly after mid-June.

Branch Conference is the last week of July and first week of August - so everyone will be there (we'll have voting rights this time too) and there'll be friends for James, and Alison, and helpers for us.

All is well

We are all remarkably well. Its "cold-sick" time now as the weather changes, so we are getting stuck into the vitamin C.

The ducks are healthy too - and big! They are now covered in white down, no adult feathers yet. We are expecting the first eggs about Christmas time. We ordered another 12 ducks for friends, and they bought them eagerly. Now there are another 80 fowls (ducks and chooks) on order from Cairns.

At least people will stop coming to stare at ours. Fr Tabo said, "I think I saw a duck once ... when I was a boy."

28 November 1983

Letter: Friends leaving soon

Letter 28 / 11 / 83

There have been so many interruptions today. We had to help write out documents for a land ownership business - that was very time-consuming. And just as we finished the S family turned up. (He is the white school principal).

They have just one week to go, and they are really ready to leave! We see a fair bit of them lately, I think they need to let go of a few of their tensions. Funny, we hardly ever saw them at the start of their year here.

James and their two girls play really well together, which keeps all the adults happy too ... but makes Alison get very animated in her desire to join in.

Peter S is in a spot of "trouble" at the moment. Saibo (you might remember he was the chap who took us for a ride in his boat around the back of the island, and left us there) has come to school drunk umpteen times. (He's a teacher). Peter S has given him several warnings, and the other day he sacked him ... and so now of course Saibo has been making all sorts of violent threats against him. Fortunately Saibo is not a popular fellow at the moment and no one is on his side.

New window

Peter made me another window in the kitchen today (the third window). I remember when we first moved in, it was dark, hot, dusty, with boxes of old louvre blades and roofing nails, and then there were wasps nests, rats nests.... bleh!

Now its so bright and airy, with rows of kitchen tools hanging, and neat lines of spice bottles, a sink, a Formica bench top, and a fridge. Not your conventional kitchen, but very "us"!

We've pulled out of a recent low patch - we are all well and happy and thoroughly enjoying ourselves at present. The ducks are growing fast, the tank is full of water, our dinghy should be here next week ... what more could we want? Not a lot of 'formal' language work going on, but plenty of valuable informal contacts.

More ducks

We ordered some more ducks, and they arrived safely and have been sold to island friends, who are delighted with them. James Rice bought three. Peter delivered them to him late in the evening, and James R said he was enjoying them so much he wanted to sit up all night watching them.

22 November 1983

Letter: Boisterous Baby

Letter 22 / 11 / 83

Its early Tuesday - the kids are up but Peter lingers in bed under the effects of an antihistamine (his old mango allergy - not that he has eaten any!) A certain boisterous baby has just crawled to me and is standing, swiping at my paper (which I am holding in the vicinity of my left shoulder as I write). She's so much livelier than James was at this age, and full of little clevernesses. Some of these we appreciate - like we can leave a bottle in her cot and she'll find it and use it without calling for me. She has her first tooth at last, and now she is thoroughly good at sitting, crawling, standing - and even makes a fair go at pulling herself along things.

As for her big brother - he speaks Torres Strait Creole quite well for his age. We'll have to spend the summer holidays teaching him English too. Alison thinks he's wonderful, even though he frequently hits her or knocks her over. They are so funny together - they look so alike and they have so many private giggles.


I've just taken James to kindy - he was very reluctant today. I haven't made him go the last couple of weeks because it seemed something there was frightening him. We're not sure if it was stories he was being told, or whether something was happening when all the kids are sent to the toilet. Anyway, with only 1 1/2 weeks left this year I thought we'd give it another try - see whether he sleeps well tonight or starts screaming again. Next year there will be 16 grade one kids - most classes are only 6-10 - so I guess there's presently rather a lot of 'big' kids in kindy, it will be a lot nicer for him next year when they move on.

We didn't get our boat on the last ship after all. We had been told it was on TI, but when Peter rang around no one had seen it. Finally they admitted we had been "short-shipped" - it was off-loaded and left on the wharf in Cairns! They tried to console us by saying there wouldn't have been room on the Melbidir from TI anyway. There's supposed to be another Melbidir about Dec 5, so we wait eagerly.

The ducks continue to grow rapidly. Whereas 4 could swim around in their crisper of water, now there's only room for one to "duck" in, but no room to actually swim as such. We've searched the island dump, but can't find anything bigger, and don't feel they're big enough for the ocean yet. We have to admit to not knowing a great deal about ducks. We are wondering how soon they will lay. And how can we tell male from female? And how much should they eat?

We now have water on tap! Its really hard to get used to, I still reach for a jug to dip into the barrel. Peter has put a pipe from our tank to the laundry sink, the kitchen sink, and a tap by the back steps - isn't he clever?

12 November 1983

Letter: Black Magic at Work

Letter 12 / 11 / 83

Its supposed to be our "day off", but we are all too tired and sick to walk anywhere ... James, Ali and I have colds, Peter has swollen, infected feet. Peter S. made Peter an offer he couldn't refuse (ie a fishing trip in his boat) ... so here I am in the "Mir Meta" with a glass of Diet Coke and a handful of peanuts and a mozzie coil smoking by my ankles. Alison is asleep, and James has gone off to the S's place to play with their two little girls (and harass Sue, I guess). Its a perfectly beautiful day - rather hot, but lovely sitting in this little house.

I am sitting staring at the incredibly beautiful blue ocean, I can see the dark patches of sardines, and some weed, and the sandy patches on the reef. Its very hard to imagine scenery like misty mountains! The church women are all jabbering away, doing 'mission work' - ie sitting in the shade or raking leaves from around the church.

This crazy place. Sam Passi is an elderly deacon in the church, yet announced at a public meeting yesterday that he is scared to go to his garden alone since George B died and he wants to hold a ceremony to find who worked 'pourri pourri' on George. Wilfred (of all people) stood up and pointed out that this is now a Christian island and we don't do that stuff any more ... then a fight broke out and we don't know whether in the end they decided to go ahead or not.

After George died Sam was burning little bonfires around his house at night - he lives right next to George's (now empty) house. These days any mishap gets blamed on George's ghost. Amongst other things talked about at yesterday's meeting, it was pointed out (by one non-churchgoer) that it is against the law on this island to go fishing on a Sunday. These people are so mixed up!

Yes, we have a boat! So far its got as far as TI - so we are told. Its only a 13' aluminium dinghy with a 25hp outboard. We hope it will arrive on the Melbidir this week. The S's will only be here for another 3 weeks, so it would be nice to have it before they leave. We've bought a drum of petrol in anticipation!

Sunday pm

Things are really beginning to move again after some months of considerable apathy in the church. There were all kinds of people in church this morning ... maybe it will return to the days (like when we first came here) of having to sit outside because of no seats left. I didn't entirely understand the sermon, but I have an idea it was fairly fiery. Actually it was a repeat (in a longer form) of one Fr Tabo gave about two weeks ago when there was hardly anyone to hear it. George's death is beginning to have all sorts of effects. People are scared - some of the ghost, and some of the possibility of going back to the old ways of looking for the 'killer' by divination.

James seems to have musical ability - he can hold a tune really well for a 3 year old, even when he's not sure of the words! I don't think there is a piano anywhere on the island, even in the school. I guess these people wouldn't know what one is - can you imagine bringing one in in a dinghy and dragging it up the beach? Guitars and drums are all they know about, and cassette players.

The ducks are growing fast - they are so funny, even more than chooks! We have finally persuaded them that the mash we dish up to them is actually for eating, not just walking on. Soon we will have to make different arrangements for their daily swims as they are getting too big for their crisper. I gather swimming isn't actually essential to them, but they certainly enjoy it and I gather they do it to keep cool. We keep talking about taking them to the ocean when they are "bigger", but haven't fully worked out the practical side of it yet. They love fish - I can just imagine them getting into a school of sardines.

11 November 1983

Letter: Ghost at Large

Letter 11 / 11 / 83

Just a quick note to accompany your Christmas presies.

People are still scared after the death of George B. When Saibo's boat was caught in the tide the other day they blame it on his ghost, and various other things have happened. There was a big meeting today because Sam Passi wants to look into a glass (not sure what that means) to find out who killed George.

15 October 1983

Letter: Mir Meta Ready to Use

Letter 15 / 10 / 83

On Tuesday Peter D left. That was a relief - a month was a long time for him and us. Although he worked very hard and got a lot done, and we really appreciate him and his labours more than I can express ... he had the worst case of clumsiness I've even seen. And he was so careless with Peter's tools - not only did we spend over $500 on them (ie they were very expensive) but in this place they are irreplaceable inside several months at any price. P.D. did things like using Peter's best big screwdriver from his Stanley set for stirring paint. And the special (old but reconditioned) DC power drill that was sent to us from Darwin ... in an impatient moment he was hitting a nail with it instead of the hammer. Our precious not-very-strong-but-very-useful metal shelving units ... twice he stood on a shelf (with Peter standing there saying "No! No!") and crunked them right out of shape. Many times we just wanted to cry over the way he treated the precious little things that are meaningless down south but take so much money and effort to get up here. Ah well, enough complaining, its lovely being just us again!

On Tuesday and Wednesday the people at last came and made palm thatch for our little translation house. Its a lovely little house with three big lift-up windows. The front window is covered with corrugated pale green fibreglass, and the side two are like thatch shutters. The bishop is likely to be our first guest - in Nov or Dec making his last visit up here before he takes up his new post at Bunbury (WA). His wife is an islander, so I wonder how she'll like the change?

Our language helpers are also looking forward to doing language work in there instead of the house. We're going to call it "Mir Meta" (language house) and it may be worth getting Father Tabo to "bless" it or whatever - mainly to draw attention to it and make sure everyone understands about what it is and who we are and why we are here. I guess that will be our first attempt at throwing some kind of a feast - I hope we can get some help.

A death on the island

Yesterday was a sad day here. George and Peter were busy doing the windows on our 'mir meta', and Norm the plumber, Roger the mechanic, Sammy Semmy the islander plumber and George Blanco the tractor driver were at the top of the hill working on the pump. George B was standing in the shade cutting out gaskets, when he suddenly just dropped dead. He's a BIG guy, very tall and very well built too, but a gentle giant and well-loved, only 34 years old. Roger resuscitated him, and when he was breathing again came down on the tractor for help. Etta (the very fat nursing sister) wouldn't call the doctor until she'd seen George, and Peter grabbed our '"Where there is no doctor" medical book and went up on the tractor to help. Then he sprinted down the hillside to the phone and spoke to the doctor on TI. That was 4.30pm, more than an hour after George's attack, and the helicopter finally got here at 6.30pm. By then poor George was well and truly dead. In the meantime, Peter and Peter Stoneham (the principal) took the oxygen cylinder (from the clinic) up on a motorbike but not even Etta knew how to use it. Then Peter ran down the hill and back up again, and finally walked down the hill with the doctor (who 'wanted some exercise') - what a day!

Election promises

On Thursday we were surprised to hear a plane come, then the tractor came down the hill loaded with goodies - frozen chickens, sausages, pizzas, ice cream, lettuce, health bars ..! The Melbidir was supposed to be here next week (to bring cargo and take children and parents to the school sports day on Yorke Island) but its still in Cairns. They reckon these plane-loads of goodies will be coming out every week now "between boats" - I'd say it obviously has something to do with next Saturday's election and the government is trying to make a last-minute statement that they are the good guys in spite of the lack of water, electricity, education, health facilities.

We're all quite - well, very - very tired. Alison is still not crawling, but she does get around by rolling, humping, pushing etc. James still goes happily to kindy. His talk is going ahead so fast now, he chatters away! When no one has time for him he talks to himself - questions and answers" "See heligaga?" "Yess!" "Wind?" "No." "Gaga gone now". He's so cute!

We're getting a boat, as soon as possible. Peter's beside me here writing to the credit society to pull the rest of our money out. Peter Houghton, in Cairns, is buying it for us.

Sunday pm

All my babies are asleep, lucky lot! Peter's feeling ill (looks ghastly too.) The village is quiet with most people mourning. There are rumours going around about knife-marks on George's neck, I guess some people are bound to suspect "black magic" or something with such a sudden death, even the findings of the autopsy won't prove anything to them once they have decided it was magic. Just hope there's no "trouble" as a result.

Pre-wet is here already, and I'm covered in itchy heat-rash again. James is spotty too.

08 October 1983

Letter: Bananas and Bell Fruit

Letter 8 / 10 / 83

What a day! I'm red-raw (sun-burnt) - a problem I've rarely had since we've been here because I'm usually so careful. I'm dying to just fall into bed. But Peter's showering, so I may as well use up this time by chain-eating some bananas while I'm waiting for a turn. (Someone gave us two ripe bunches today.) There's a bowl of those brilliant red bell-fruit in front of me, but I'm not tempted by them at all. Barnie Day brought them to us. He has been so kind to us.

I think he would make an excellent language helper for Peter - poor George has been on a rather extended drunken bout lately, getting over the recent death of his wife who had cancer. Balaga has been helping me, but Meriam really is a second language to her, she's not much good at it, and very nervous too. But she's excellent with kids and I may be able to work out some babysitting for Alison. Big (really big) Gracie is going to try out as a language helper this week.

People are taking quite some interest in our half-built "translation centre / guest room". They really don't like coming into our house but would be willing to work with us in there where they can see out and be seen.

Dawar and Waier Islands

Today we went over to Dawar Island with Peter and Sue Stoneham, (the school teacher and his wife) in their boat. It was a perfect day for it, which worked out well for Peter Dunstan to see Dawar and Waier before he leaves on Tuesday. Then the kids and I (and Sue and their two girls) stayed home while the three Peters went fishing. They brought back (among other things) an 8-foot shark. Peter S wanted to keep the jaws. So it was fish for tea again - not shark. The Stonehams only have another 8 weeks here this year - Sue is counting down, she's fed up with the place - and they've a freezer full of fish because Peter (S) loves going fishing in his boat more than he loves eating fish (or at least more than he can manage to eat.) So they have been giving us frozen fish all week. Its a bit of a trap, though, having a big freezer ... If we catch more than we need (and the idea is that you stop when you have enough to eat!) we give it away and build relationships. Then when we are in need, others will give to us.

Water tank

Our water situation is desperate again. Went to the well for some muddy water for my first shower in 6 days (bleh! saltwater makes you sticky!) and found some charming youngster had thrown our bucket down, rope and all. Fortunately it fell open side down, trapped a pocket of air and floated. Peter was able to get it back up with his fishing line.

But we have a (1000gallon) water tank at last! It came on the boat this week. We saw the boat in the distance with our tank on the deck. Everyone knew it was ours (we've waited six months since we ordered it) even though it didn't have our name on it. They threw it into the water and towed it in to land behind a dinghy. Then P and P (and James) walked it in the shallows along to our part of the beach. They (P and P) have made a concrete stand for it and Monday should see it on its stand. Now all we need is some water in it! We don't have any guttering to link it up if it rains ...


We caught our 21st rat this evening (that's since we came back in June). The grasshoppers (indoors) are less tonight with the kitchen screened, but we haven't worked out what we will do about a screen door (its going to need to be an odd size). Rod Kennedy (translator on Saibai Island) sent us an old water heater from Saibai recently. When P and P catch a grasshopper they twist its head off and throw it out the door ... and to tie all those facts together (!) : The other day we caught a rat inside the water heater with a heap of grasshoppers, each with its head twisted around.

The "Parasol"

Did we tell you the funny story about the parasol? There's a big shade-house hear us, belongs to the church, and Father Tabo told Peter it was called the "Para Sol". Peter was impressed, thinking the white priest, Rechnitz - a few years back now - had given it that name. He took the trouble to explain to Tabo the origins of "para" (against) and "sol" (sun) - but only got blank stares in return. Peter S also had heard that it was called parasol, and recently asked someone to go there to collect something for him. It was when he wrote down the word PARASOL for them that he started to have problems - no one even raises an eyebrow when we say "parasol". So my Peter came home and said, "If you had no 'h' in your language, how would you say this word?" and he wrote down: PARISH HALL. We laughed and laughed. We had forgotten that every Anglican Church always has a parish hall next to it.


Almost time for the first lot of bells. It rained a bit last night so we have a few more litres of water in our 44 gallon drum. But I'll have to phone someone on TI and get them to send us some disposable nappies because none came on this last boat and I just can't manage cloth nappies without water! Ooh, its raining again now ...

Yesterday we ate our first home-grown tomato. They cost about $1 each up here so we feel its worthwhile to have grown at least one. There would be about a couple of dozen coming on, but no sign of any further crop. The plants are pretty scabby-looking! We had a crop of snake beans. Cabbages are a waste of time. Our three precious citrus seedlings are doing well. My sweet potatoes have beautiful foliage!


Peter D goes tomorrow, and today we have fly-screens on all the windows, and the tank stand is ready for its load. Tomorrow the village people are "definitely" coming to do (weave out of coconut palms) the walls of the translation house - Peter D never did get to sleep in it!

Alison still can't get her crawling act together in spite of demonstrations by James. And her first tooth still isn't through, despite chewing on endless rusks. But she sits up really well. And if you kiss her repeatedly on the cheek she closes her eyes and often falls asleep, even when she's been really wriggly a minute before.

Time for a shower. It rained heavily this morning so there's some water in our drum!

03 October 1983

Letter: More Bananas

Letter 3 / 10 / 83

Peter's offering me a banana - or two - you know how it is when you have a bunch of bananas (a whole bunch, not a hand) and they all go ripe at once.

James started back at kindy today - at last. Its been a long 2 weeks. I've asked Balaga to come help me with language. She can hold Alison (she's good with kids) while we talk and I write. George has started coming to help Peter again now his kids are back at school - he has six kids, a small family in these parts.

James loves his shirt. He says "Ganma" quite well now. You should hear him say the days of the week, its so cute. And singing "row, row, row your boat"! He's coming ahead so fast now. And the hat is just great for Alison. We climbed (the hill) Gelam again last Saturday for Peter (D)'s sake and she fared quite well in her new hat.

No ducks yet. Did I say we got some citrus trees at last? They cost $10 each, but then they were quite expensive to transport up here, our three trees are worth about $60. They are well settled in and growing well already.

Alison still isn't quite crawling. We ought to get a move on and build some door-gates for when she does. She can do all the right things, but doesn't quite balance or coordinate them right. She gets up on hands and knees, one knee moves, the other starts to ... then whoops! over she rolls (followed by waa! waaa!)

We had an exciting time listening to the America's Cup. Dave Everest (the previous headmaster was here) had his little radio on all night for the last race, and we were all up about 6am to listen to the end of it. I guess you saw it all on TV. Would have been nice in colour!

It's late Monday night. The plane is due early tomorrow because the doctors are coming for their monthly visit. Alison's due for her third injection. Pat Killoran (politician) is supposed to also be coming to deliver his policy speech or whatever. And its village work day, a group is supposed to be going to plait palm leaves for the walls of our study/guest room. Its also the day scheduled for the burning off of the island (grass) but I hear they've cancelled that until after school sports for some reason ...

I've had conjunctivitis for a couple of weeks now, and this is all very blurry. I guess I'll get a chance to see the doc tomorrow. I'm also very tired ...

New Ceiling

The ceiling wasn't in last week, was it? Its really lovely. Took 3 days to do, beautiful to look at. I find it hard to believe when I lie in bed staring at it. No more tin roof with "Jerry" painted in big letters. The roof is painted (on the outside) too, should protect it for a few years. I have a new window in the kitchen, and two of our windows have fly-screens (the rest are waiting for materials to arrive "when the boat comes" maybe this Friday.) In the evenings our biggest hassle these days is (big) grasshoppers. Can you imagine trying to cook and eat with these things flying around and hopping into your food and in your face? Later in the year I guess it will be little brown beetle season again too ... be nice to have the screens up before they start, and then the flies get extra thick during the doldrums and pre-wet season.

25 September 1983

Letter: Full House

Letter 25 / 9 / 83

We have a full house these days. Not only is Peter D here, but last year's school principal, Dave E, is spending a week with us. Our outside study/guest room has a cement floor now (2-3 days very hard manual labour by Peter and Peter) but no walls, so we are chock-a-block inside here. Peter and Dave are occupying the study/living room, and our little fold-away camping table in the dining room end of the kitchen is rather over-taxed. At least the guys all help with the washing-up. Evenings get a bit hectic trying to care for James and Alison and cook a proper meal (with dessert "because we have visitors") while the men are usually battling it out trying to use up every last skerick of daylight.

The painting's done, the roof is trimmed and ready for the ceiling to be fitted this week, and my kitchen sink is installed - on bamboo legs and complete with a drain facility, but no taps. Peter D even made James a little bed out of packing crate wood (the crate the sink came in) and I painted it green (that being the only colour in the store) to match his fluffy green mat on the lovely yellow floor! The bed is only 4'10" long and 2'6" wide, and quite low, which makes a lot more space in his room.

Kids antics

Alison is a tin of worms these days. Changing her nappy is a real nightmare. She's almost crawling ... any day now, we keep saying. She keeps getting up on her hands and knees and swaying like a praying mantis.

James has his ups and downs these days. I try to make time for him, with school holidays and all, and he manages to take up most of my day other than cooking, cleaning, and changing Alison's nappies. But he craves Peter, Peter D or Dave's attention - and invariably gets into trouble when he tries to 'help' them. Poor little chap, we've had endless dirty pants and puddles on the floor since Peter D came. Dave has more time for him than Peter and Peter, so he often shadows him, but he can't work out what is going on when Dave smokes!

New phone

Murray Island got a new phone the other day. From Dec 4 we'll be able to dial (at present we just pick up and listen for the operator) - but only "local" TI numbers. In "a couple of years" they've promised STD! Anyway, the helicopters brought the technicians in, and the pilot let James sit in the cockpit - but he was frightened that it might take him away or something. Meanwhile, Peter D went and scrounged the old phone! We use the crate the fridge came is as a change table, and underneath/inside is James' cubby. So Peter D installed the old phone in there.

James enjoys the tape - don't know if I mentioned it before. He won't prance around, he sits up tall and still, for half an hour at a time. We can even put the head-phones on him and he'll sit or lie still for at least an hour!

Ali has changed a lot - neat little cheeks (hardly chubby at all, though she eats almost as much as James) and blond hair. Her eyes are grey, but lighter than James'. They're a funny pair - J and A - seem to march to the same drumbeat ... dirty pants seem to always come in two's in this household, for instance! Yesterday James went to sleep about 2pm and didn't wake until 4am today. Of course Ali had to be up at 4am too.

This week they plan to burn off the hill - we need to clear well around our place. Its been raining hard yesterday and today, so it might be a bit green by Tuesday when they try to burn.

Well, there goes the bell for Evensong, time for the evening onslaught ... bath Ali, and start cooking tea for these men.

20 September 1983

Letter: Men at Work

Letter 20 / 9 / 83

We are so busy these days with Peter D here to help with the house. The walls are all done now - beautiful! And all the floors except our bedroom, but we've run out of paint. The guys are working on the outside guest room / study now. Next the ceiling - we're looking forward to that. My kitchen sink has arrived, but I need someone to make me a stand for it.

Thanks for the parcel. James loves his paint, and Nathan's shirts. He's recently put on a growth spurt though and they only just fit him. Alison's sun bonnet is great. She's very cute and wriggly these days. (Changing her nappies is a nightmare!) Her hair is quite blonde now. and she sits for a few seconds at a time. She's almost completely weaned too.

Must rush and get breakfast for the men, and me too I guess. James is home from kindy on mid-term "yellow-day" (as he says). He's been going to kindy a full half-semester now, hasn't lost interest, and he's learning so much. You should hear him sing "Twinkle Twinkle" - with actions. His words are "bumboo bumboo didi gar ... "

15 August 1983

Letter: The Boat Cometh

Letter 15 / 8 / 83

There's a boat due this week but its the smallest one, the "TSI" (Torres Strait Islander) - so I guess our rainwater tank won't be coming this time.

Duck hut

Our ducks are due to arrive on Kuch's next flight from Cairns. There's a rusty old rainwater tank out the back of our place, and we managed to turn it into something like a nissan hut - not as easily as we expected. When we cut it in half - against the direction of the corrugations - the silly thing unraveled and whipped around like a snake. Anyway, its 'dug in' now and reasonably under control. There are a lot of dogs around these days (although periodically the health department thinks of a reason to come and kill a few) so we'll have to completely enclose the ducks with wire. We are using birdcage mesh to try to limit the rats a bit too.

We've more or less decided not to go south in December or January, we'll stay here until next June or July. We are feeling comfortable and settled, its not worth $800 for a few hassling weeks in Cairns.

Lnguage helpers

Now we have a paid language helper - just an hour a week for starters ($5 an hour, but the government subsidy pays $4 of that) - lets hope he turns up for his first session tomorrow. His name is George Sallee, and he's not a church-goer, bit of a wayward sort in fact, but we see him as having heaps of potential.

I wasn't intending to get a language helper too until Alison is quite a bit older. I had my eye on Bal Gee - young friendly girl with a big smile. She's done some courses at the School of Australian Linguistics so has a basic understanding of grammar and phonemics. She's offered to come and show me some of the verb charts she's worked out.

Water supply

The water situation is still desperate, but we have had the most surprising help. Barnie Day has been living at TI hospital caring for his sick wife, but he came out here for a week's holiday. He knocked on our door and said he couldn't sleep at night for thinking about our baby having to drink well-water. (Although she's a sturdy 4 month old, her exceptionally white skin does make her look very delicate). He has a full, hardly used, rainwater tank, so would we please fill our 44 gal drum from his tank. Peter has made himself a little 'dolly' trolley from some old pram wheels off the dump, so he trundled back and forth carrying water to fill our drum.

Yesterday we spent most of the day at a feast. We really enjoy feasts these days, find we can really just sit and relax with the people. James can hold his own with the other kids so we are not 'on edge' watching him all the time either. And we love the food - never thought I'd enjoy some of that stuff!

. . .

Well, Peter's fishing, the kids are both on a sleeping bag at my feet. They've both got wet nappies on from last night, and I haven't finished preparing James' kindy lunch. Its village work day and the men are supposed to be coming up to work on our outside guest room / study, so I need to put some jugs of water in the fridge for them ...

...oh and Peter's just got home with a good-sized trevally for today's meals!

08 August 1983

Letter: Dirty Washing Train

Letter 8 / 8 / 83

Our water situation is desperate. Somehow we just keep managing. Its really discouraging to climb the hill and see the pump sitting there all in pieces and no one working on it. Those in positions of leadership have their own full rainwater tanks and a good well down the other end of the village. Our well is dry. If we get there at dawn we can just jiggle the milk tin between the rocks at the bottom for a bit of muddy water. We use that for washing dishes and nappies, and every second or third day ourselves. About every ten days we spare a bit of water to rinse out a few clothes. Sheets and towels just have to go and go for now. In our bedroom is a "dirty washing train" - seven cardboard boxes full of clothes, sheets, tablecloths etc etc. I guess some will be hopelessly stained by the time they get washed. Every now and then we get a light sprinkle of rain which just keeps us in drinking water.

Floor paint

We've been painting the floors of the two long rooms. Jet Dry is okay, you can walk on it in two hours. But after using 1/2 a tin on the first little section we realised it needed undercoat (the chap in the shop told us it wouldn't) and that takes four hours to be touch dry, and 16 hours before we can paint over it. But after we tried the next bit and it still wasn't very good we decided to try primer under the undercoat. That takes 24 hours to dry. We've been trying to do the kitchen in patches - but what a nightmare with 24 hours + 16 hours + 2 hours of no walking - and keeping James off too. Still, it is lovely and bright and clean when its done. Its going to be so nice with all the walls and floors painted and the ceiling in. With no more government travel subsidy - they were paying 70% of our travel - we wonder if we will ever go back to Cairns once the house is nice. We could do a lot of other things with that $800! Maybe we'll stay here till July 84 when we are required back in Darwin for the conference.

James at dindy

James continues to enjoy kindy. We find we get to missing him (always in the way when he's around!) by the end of the morning. All the other kids have their lunch and a sleep session at kindy, but we feel he may as well come home for that - he's only such a little kid to be off at "school" 9am to 2pm, so we bring him home at 12.

I've started Alison on solids - a bit of "mixed cereal". She's certainly keen on the idea - James never was. I guess I'll soon start using the "Mouli-baby" and doing her a few of our non-existent veges. Our beans look hopeful, so do the cabbages. The corn is dying. The lettuces and strawberries and citrus cuttings have all dies. Tomatoes are doing well. Don't know what's happened to our ducks on order from Cairns.

New flights

Things are 'hotting up' with the two new rival companies now flying small planes out from Cairns direct to here.We hope one of them will be able to get us some citrus seedlings and bring the ducks too. One chap, Ron Kuch (Kuch Aviation) is willing to do shopping for people in Cairns and charges $200 fare, or $2 a kilo for freight. "Outback Air" have now lowered their price to equal his. Avdev, the regular mob who fly from TI are working out how to get these guys thrown out - reckon they don't have licence to land on these islands. Hope they don't succeed.

31 July 1983

Letter: Pump Problems

Letter 31 / 7 / 83

The day has a gloomy, clammy feel to it - if only it would rain. The water situation is little short of desperate. We have 25 litres of slightly murky drinking water left, and about 40 litres of murkier washing water. The well is dry, at least for the next few hours. The pump has been broken for weeks ... now they've fixed it but apparently the rods that go down the well are broken. The Melbidir came the other day with replacement parts - the wrong size! They can't be carried by plane, we have to wait for the next ship. Its going to be "soon" - only another 10 days or so.

We've heard that there are plans afoot to update all of the islands' water systems. Last year they installed a solar-powered desalination plant on Coconut Island - maybe all the islands will get one. Or maybe just a newer, bigger pump.

Church is on, but James is sick so I'm home and Peter has gone along to the AOG this week. James has his usual chest complaint by the sound of it - we all had a rough night.

The last of our mailed boxes arrived on the Melbidir the other day, and our floor paint and ceiling parts. We've painted a little bit of the floor - it looks lovely, but we realise we don't have enough paint, we'll have to try to get some more.

James has been going to kindy every day and loves it - Saturdays and Sundays are disappointing for him!

Communal living

We've had lots of 'people contact' lately. A lady died in Cairns a week ago Thursday and it took until Thursday for the body to arrive here. So its been quiet communal eating (not really feasts) every day, and its still continuing in less quiet fashion since the burial on Friday until the big feast tomorrow. We've been going along for the evening meal (about 7.30pm). James loves it, Alison is not so sure. We find we are liking island food more and more. There was turtle meat there yesterday - turtles are mating three months early this year (?) . And mackerel are running already. Mango trees are in flower too. Does this mean that we'll have an early wet season, or just that the seasons are all mixed up these days - ?


The kids are asleep. I've just been down for a swim/wash. I haven't had a freshwater shower in 2 or 3 days. It still hasn't rained, its still threatening to. The water is "freezing" (relatively!) but its so muggy out of the water. The temperature is actually 27deg C - its been up to 29 - 30 deg the last few days. Before that it was 26 deg by day and 23 - 4 deg by night. We put winter pajamas on the kids.

Alison is a lovely little button these days. Still smiles a whole lot. She blows raspberries and spits a lot because her gums are sore. When she wants "up" she lies there going "brrr" and splatting her arms hard against her sides - I'm sure one day she'll fly! We let her try some cereal, thought she might enjoy a new texture on her gums, and she loves it - grabs the spoon and pulls it into her mouth. She's also very ready if a cup is proffered.

James is doing well with his reading. He knows quite a few letters. 'J' he reads as "j - mine", then there's: "M - mummy", "d - daddy", "a - babby", "b - babby", "n - nanna", "p - papa", "t - teddy" and "o"! It all happened quite by accident, but he even picks them out of small print when we read him his Bible Story. Its fast getting to the stage where he can read but not talk. But his talking is increasing every day. He loves to say "Eeyore!" (his version of the hello/goodbye greeting "yawo") to people passing by the house. And he is at last toilet trained. All of a sudden he was willing to go outside and pull his own pants down - no more puddles in the house. He is so funny when he comes and announces "anana di ga, di bleh" (I didn't wee on the grass, I went on the dirt). Of course no one except us understands him. Funny thing is, he manages to hold it in for the whole three hours at kindy.

I need to go and wring the saltwater out of the nappies and rinse them in some well-water. James keeps waking up and whimpering - looks a bit feverish again. He has what the people call "bad cold-sick".

Hey, its raining - ever so tentatively. If only it would slosh down and fill our barrel and the well and water the plants. There, its stopped already. Wasn't even enough to run into the gutter. Maybe if I go and hang the nappies out it will rain ...

23 July 1983

Letter: Hoy! and Darts

Letter 23 / 7 / 83

The kitchen is painted at last, and what a difference that makes. We are just waiting to get the floor painted and the ceiling up now. So we are just continuing slowly with our house-fixing - waiting for Peter Dunstan to come and help in September - and concentrate on language for a bit.

Peter had a discussion with a (drunk) Anglican fellow yesterday, and was being criticized because we haven't been joining in with "Hoy!" and darts sessions - we see it as encouraging gambling, they see it as supporting the church in their fund-raising. Drunk or not he had a point and we feel we must start being a part of these activities.

I took James to Kindy the other day. Its been closed lately for renovations, but just opened again. The (new) principal's eldest daughter, 3 year old Marissa, had been going, but with a new teacher there who "makes you do things" no longer likes it. They are supposed to only take 3-5 year olds, but they are fairly flexible. So, anyway, I took him down there and came back after an hour - and he loved it. They let him paint! The next day was a holiday, so we have to wait until next week to give it another go. We are all looking forward to him being down there a few hours each day for some companionship and mental stimulation.

He loves the daily "Kindy of the Air" - sits riveted to his seat and stares hard at the radio! I try hard to remember the rhymes and songs to do with him later, and we've been trying to tape the programme too.

Alison is growing fast. She rolls over at will now - in her cot, I never put her down on this floor - and she spends a lot of time in her bouncinette. And she grabs everything. And she's teething, so everything goes straight into her mouth and gets thoroughly dribbled on. Fortunately we have some 'Bonjela' for her gums as she's been pretty miserable with the pain. A spot of Bonjela soon brings back her sunny, smiley disposition!

Father Tabo's sister died in Cairns on Thursday, so half the village, all the relatives, are in mourning in the "Parasol" (shade house) next to our place, eating together, "sitting quietly" (except for the drunk ones) until the body arrives and is buried.

James is finally toilet trained. He comes running in and says:

"ananya" (ie negative, shaking his head) "di" (wee) "ga" (grass), "di" (wee) "bleh" (dirt).

17 July 1983

Letter: Time for Church

Letter 17 / 7 / 83

Another Sunday, another crucifix-stamped wafer (slightly mouldy tasting) and a sip of wine for us, and a pat on the head for James (it does amuse him) and Alison, and a long, rambly, mixed-up sermon to sit through. Last week we did our duty at the AOG church - the fellowship was closer but the teaching just as mixed up.

Growing kids

James has grown up a lot since the last photos we sent, but he's changed more in abilities than looks. He slimmed down so much when he got sick in Cairns, but he's eating well again now (after about 6 months). "Eat" is one of his favourite words. You hear a little voice after he's been put to bed, "Mummy ... eat?" He's so independent these days - sets the table and clears it etc, when I make bread he does a little one too ... but at certain times he swings right back and wants to be dressed on Alison's "change table" (converted fridge crate) - lying diagonally because he's so big. Or we find him "lying" in the bouncinette. He also likes to have his turn with his mum in the rocking chair.

Talking of growing up - that Alison! We call her "button" these days, because she's as bright as a button. Full of gurgles and smiles and a funny little laugh. James was amazed when she picked a teaspoon up off the table the other day ... later we heard him screaming when she got a fistful of his hair. She's gained control of her hands and is so grabby and strong. And she's teething and so dribbly and wet! She enjoys those "water-cooled" teethers you can get. And last night I heard her grunting in her cot, and there she was lying on her back, having turned herself over, giggling at me. So we've reached the roly-poly stage too.

Climbing the hill

Last week for our day off we set off on a walk and ended up going right around the island. That was rugged! Its very beautiful around the back. It would be lovely to have a hut there to escape to occasionally.

The good news is that our solar generator is working. Every day for more than a week we tested it and watched the charge creep up despite the cloudy weather. Then Peter mounted it on the roof and fixed up some lights inside. What a difference from hurricane lamps!


Well today we climbed the hill behind our place, then went on up the ridge to the highest point on the island.

Peter walked on to Gelam's Pit. "Pit" means "nose", "Gelam" is the Dugong in the MI creation legend. It was way too hazardous for the rest of us. Then we climbed down and walked the long way home via the airstrip and road.

Once again we were impressed with how incredibly beautiful this place is. And, as usual, we went barefoot. The hill is covered with knee/waist high grass, but underneath its rough and rocky. You just can't see the ground and need to feel the way with your feet. Can't you just imagine us leaping barefoot across rocky crags ... carrying two kids?! Although we do it for enjoyment, if things ever turned nasty here (and we have no reason at this stage to believe they will) its good to be both fit and to know our way around the rest of the island.

11 July 1983

Letter: Around the Back of the Island

Letter 11 / 7 / 83

Today we walked right around the island. My legs are aching - I'd love a deep hot bath ... but the water is off, pump is broken again, and I haven't even had a shower for four days (just swims).

The back of the island is very beautiful, rugged, and we had quite a few breath-holding moments leaping across rocky holes where the water way down below gurgles and spouts, me carrying Alison in the sling and Peter was carrying James. We didn't start off intending to go right around, so we didn't have much food or water. Fortunately the tide was way out or we would have been caught when we were almost all the way around, but that did make it slippery in places. It was about 4 1/2 hours hard slog.

Solar kit

A week ago the ship came. We got our solar lighting kit (now outside soaking up rays, but we've had solid cloud all week and the battery hasn't built up enough charge to start using it), rocking chair, bed, ceiling (though the important bits have gone missing), wardrobe (or rather linen closet), paint - the floor-paint went missing. We received it all by mail, we sent it to ourselves. We guessed we had sent about 50 boxes but didn't expect them all to arrive at once. But they had been saving them up on TI for us. There were 44 very large canvas Australia Post mail sacks, with one or two (10-20kg) boxes in each. There was absolutely no room to move in our tiny house. It took hours to bring them all indoors, and most of the day to get them out of the bags, let alone open the actual boxes. Peter had to make three trips carrying the empty mail bags back to the store. And - our boxes aren't all here yet.

What a week its been. Each night we flop onto our new bed, aching all over from the physical exertion. But we have 3 shelf units and the cupboard (all arrived flat-pack) erected and fully loaded, and almost all of the boxes have disappeared. And two rooms are nearly painted - it takes so long with un-lined walls, raw wooden frames (very uneven and rough as well as absorbent) to coat as well as the back side of the fibro to paint which is very absorbent.

14 April 1983

A new sister for James

We had worked hard to prepare James for the arrival of a new baby, so he was a full bottle on everything a baby needs to know and pleased to have the opportunity to expain the meaning of life, the universe and everything to his new sister.

06 April 1983

A Baby Record for Darwin Hospital

After giving birth to James under the weariness of a bout of malaria, I was eager to have this baby naturally, normally, easily ...

I hadn't had any ultrasounds, or any of the 'normal' check ups in the Torres Strait, so I expected the doctor in Darwin to be a little fussed. But as I lay like a beached whale on an examination bed between the doctor and the nurse, listening to them talk about me as if I couldn't hear, I became a little more concerned.

As we got to know our Alison, as she got older, we could understand perfectly what had happened. At the time it was a little perplexing. She wasn't positioned correctly to be born. She was an "oblique, flexed breach" with her head up against my liver, her bottom on one of my hips and her feet on the other.

The other thing was that this was obviously going to be a very big baby. I had several ultrasounds - so we were sure it wasn't twins - and even an x-ray to make sure there was room for her head to pass through my pelvis.

The doctor decreed a Cesarean Section birth, and I wept with disappointment. Kindly, the doctor offered to turn the baby - but if it didn't succeed, I had to expect a C-Section.

I was incredibly uncomfortable, getting around the Darwin SIL centre on a bicycle because it gave me the support I needed, and swimming a lot. Finally, a week late, I went into labour.

The only car available in the car pool was a beaten up old Holden, which stalled on most corners. Every time it did so Peter would ask, "So, do you think you could walk it from here?" I was cheerful and hopeful, intending to walk around at the hospital to hurry the birth along.

After a few minutes in the waiting area of the labour ward a scared-looking nurse came in readin my file. She was horrified to see me standing up, and pointed out that if my waters broke and the cord dropped between the baby's knees we would have a deadly situation for one or both of us.

So I gave in and submitted to the unsuccessful attempt to turn the baby, and so to a C-Section birth.

Our Alison weighed in at 5160gm, or 11lb 6oz. I had the Nursing Mothers association traipsing through wanting to look at the baby, because she was the biggest in I don't know how long.

And the reason she was in that terrible position and unable to be turned? She had the cord tightly around her neck three times. Yep, that's our Ali. You should see her using a telephone - the old-fashioned ones with a cord!

But so beautiful! Looking like she was already three months old.

The matron said I would never be able to feed her, and I should start her on Farex right away, but I figured that wouldn't be good for her at all, so I struggled on.

31 March 1983

Letter: Waiting in Darwin

Letter 31 / 3 / 83

On Monday I had an ultrasound and a pelvic x-ray - the doctor couldn't turn the baby. Yesterday I had my last clinic visit. They said according to the 'rules' this baby should be born by Caesarian section ... all rather depressing. The baby is very big, its breech, its sitting well above the pelvis, and its "flexed" (got its knees bent and feet down) - all very bad signs. He said there is no such thing as "trial labour" with a breech baby, you have to decide ahead of time whether the baby can make it rather than risk hanging the baby and having to decide to have a CS at that late stage. Then he had a look at my pelvic x-ray ... he said its a long time since he's seen one that big!

James is like a cat on hot bricks - he tends to be over-sensitive at the best of times. His poor little face is covered in blotchy red prickly heat. He won't let me out of his sight, and he wakes up umpteen times a night to make sure I'm here. I guess we haven't been careful enough about what's been overheard. He's sleep-walking again too, so we have to leave a light on and make sure the outside doors are well fastened.

12 March 1983

Letter: Darwin

Letter 12 / 3 / 83

Its so WET here. The wet season has truly arrived at last. It has rained continuously for about four days and nights now. Anywhere else in the world we would be under about four feet of water by now. Fortunately the "soil" around her is so gravelly it all just keeps draining away. The other night we are told we had a mere 7 1/2 inches - I think last night would have beaten that. It would get boring except it manages to vary between heavy, very heavy, and camels and buffalos falling out of the sky ... with or without thunder and lightning. Most of the thunder comes at night - not only does it terrify James so we have to bring him in with us, but its just not possible to sleep with an express train roaring through your bedroom (not like these quiet steamrollers that creep across your mattress...in the adverts).

The boys (James, and Nathan from next door) love the water, of course. As long as its not actually cameling and buffaloing (which would hammer the little tikes into the ground) they run around out there and 'swim' in the drain. Actually you can practically swim on the 'lawn' too, and they love the 'splat! splat!' sound and feel as their little feet sink ankle-deep in watery grass. The 'drain' is just a wide, shallow, long indent by the road - not like the Sydney storm drains. The bit across the front of our place has grass growing in it, which makes it nice and soft when you spin around and around until you are dizzy and fall over in the water. Everyone who is passing stops to watch and laugh at James and Nathan.

09 February 1983

Letter: Darwin at last

Letter from Darwin 9 / 2 / 83

Here we are in Darwin at last. I must admit, its quite a relief for me. We had forgotten just how awful Darwin is - we won't return here again before we really have to. If you have just come in from a desert allocation it would be lovely being back here ... but after Cairns its a real hole. Peter's so annoyed to find that the one-day cricket finals aren't even on television here - something to do with problems with the satellite. And the prices are way up on Cairns, getting toward TI prices. We did a quick shop yesterday, "just a few essentials" (you know what its like when you move into an empty house) for a mere $119, and there's nothing in the cupboards to show for it.

A friend for James

Here on the centre we have a nice little duplex to live in. And in the other half of it are the Elverys with their 2 year old, Nathan, and 8 week old baby Barnabas. Nathan has fiery red hair. He's 8 days younger than James, and about 3 inches taller. I guess, like James, he has spent all his energy growing instead of learning to talk. I've only heard him saying a few non-words, like James does, only of course they are different 'words'. They haven't spent a lot of time together yet, but as far as I can tell they don't communicate at all, just ride around on their trikes ... Nathan, of course, is as desperately lonely as James. We were hoping that the Eckerts with gorgeous Christy-Ann would come here for the birth of their second, but they are going to Alice Springs, I think. The Sandefurs, with little Tarsha, may yet come in for the birth of their second, but they are presently in NZ. If they do, it might be just enough for them to open the crèche again ... hope so. In the meantime we have raided the crèche building for all sorts of wonderful toys!

I think when we rang you James was still in the grips of his mysterious fever. As soon as the long weekend was over we took him to a doctor, who immediately (like us) suspected malaria or something - the fever had settled into a definite cycle after the first few days of erratic fever all day and night. So he had X-rays and blood tests - James was very brave especially seeing he was still feeling so ill, weak from not eating and hardly drinking for days, and obviously in some pain in his glands and joints - we were quite proud of him. Anyway, we returned to the doctor the same day - James didn't have a fever all that day. The test results were not at all conclusive, but it looked like viral pneumonia. The donctor prescribed antibiotics and it seems to have worked, he's gradually getting stronger again. He's suddenly quite a lanky kid. He still won't eat much, but he drinks plenty of milk.

Fokker Friendship

The plane trip here was very pleasant - it was nice to be on a big smooth jet after the fokkers to TI and the rattly old islander to MI. James loved it, he had a seat to himself, they even served him a meal, and they gave him a colouring book and a little packet of coloured pencils. He had his little toy plane with him, hand-sized, and he made it take off and do all the right things. He's still afraid of planes from the outside, which is difficult seeing the centre here is right in the flight path of an international airport. He come screaming inside every time a plane takes off and goes over.

We found out that the Marous never left Townsville after all. As far as we can tell they did in fact intend to ... remembering what dreamers they are. Actually, Uncle Melpal, Magina's brother, died quite suddenly - of cancer as far as we can tell.


Yesterday was Peter's birthday. He spent most of it trying to construct a fence to keep James and Nathan off the road - says he really enjoys a bit if intense physical exertion for a change, but it made him feel really old.


Here I am, sitting on the floor in the 'lotus' position ... having read all these books about 'natural' childbirth - we discovered the local library. I know its rather too late to start this kind of thing, but I'm reasonably fit (although a little overweight) and determined to have a better time than last time. I'm not quite game to have a 'home' birth (though the book almost convinced me) but we've decided (at the risk of being 'too late') to get to the hospital as late as possible rather than risk being put on a drip all night so the doctor can deliver at a convenient time when he arrives in the morning (like they did with James). As far as my weight goes, I'm not losing (they reckon that's a 'no-no') but I have maintained my weight since we've arrived here just by cutting out sugar, full-cream milk (all we could get on MI) and starchy foods. Peter is rather overweight and can't seem to lose it ... he is discovering at last what dieting is like - he who could always just eat and eat without changing weight (he reckons it must go with turning thirty). James is eating again at last - he is so tall and thin (at least until you compare him to Nathan.) James has discovered "mee" (meat) and will devour liver, chicken, and red meat. The embarrassing thing is when he sees a picture of a turtle and says insistently "mee! mee!" ... and we look around furtively hoping there are no conservationists around.

Boys at play

James and Nathan have developed a real love-hate relationship. James is more advanced in talking (such as that is) but Nathan is quicker, stronger, sometimes rather cunning. With the choice of about twenty 'bikes' - trikes, plastic push-a-longs, trolleys, pedal cars - they will always both want the same one. But Nathan will quietly accept one he doesn't 'want', and set off with James in hot pursuit. Then he'll stop and get off to play in the sand-pit or something, James will follow suit ... and quick as a flash Nathan is on James' bike! James usually screams until someone has had enough and says "Alright, Nathan, James had it first ... " whereupon Nathan meekly gives in - only to have the whole pantomime repeated. They are like a couple of bookends in everything they do, can't bear to be apart but can't stand to have each other around. We haven't managed to persuade anyone to get the crèche going again ... so rather than have Peter, Dallas, and I all worn to a frazzle in the course of a morning (Jenny works mornings) I have agreed to run the crèche and at least give the men a bit of peace (and the baby a chance to sleep) with only one of us ;frazzled' by lunch time. I gather the Sandefurs (with little Tarcha) arrived yesterday, so I guess we can run some sort of roster if we can't get any more joy out of the administration. We'd really like James to get used to being with some other adults...

We are really enjoying the swimming pool here - especially James. He is so confident we really have to watch him. He loves jumping in, and we are working hard to train him never to do it without one of us (preferably Peter because he tends to jump on my tum...) ready to catch him. He just needs to see Peter removing his shirt and he'll lift his own and ask "swim?" (actually there's no 'w' when he says it and its all cute and nasally). We still have the little blow-up pool we got him in Townsville with the birthday money J&W sent ... he and Nathan have lots of fun in that too.

The clinic

I had my first visit to the hospital obstetric clinic. Its not as bad as at 'Nepean', I am listed to see a particular doctor rather than whoever happens to be there, and my Doc is very nice - Dr Rajan Richards ... but he has now gone on holiday! Just my luck, eh. Next week I am to see a Dr Lee, after that, who knows? I'm booked for antenatal classes - wonder if I'll finish the course this time (I didn't at Nepean). I'd at least like to make it to the third week when you get a conducted tour of the labour and maternity wards.

Well, now tea is over and Peter is outside putting the finishing touches to the fence that now goes right around the back and front yards of both sides of the duplex. Now the boys can destroy each other in peace without getting run over.

16 January 1983

Letter: Church Council Meeting

Letter 16 / 1 / 83

What a day we've had. I would lie down and sleep now, but when I tried the mossies kept getting me. Besides, I need to unwind a little, and also I would like to get a letter on tomorrow's plane ... if there is one. We heard on the radio yesterday that they are changing the flight from Monday to Tuesday, but we didn't hear when the change is effective from.

For the protection of all concerned we made up a semi-legal document, I typed up umpteen copies, and the church council met after church this morning to sign it - it had already been agreed on. Then the strangest thing happened. One fellow who is a church deacon - but not of this church, he is only visiting here and not a member of the council either - suddenly went quite mad. He started ranting and raving and beating his chest ... it didn't seem to be particularly against us. And the priest started arguing and yelling back at him. It was all very strange, and embarrassing for all who were present. With the shouting, people began to come from all over and stood at a distance, but no one seemed to really know what it was all about. So all sorts of rumours started about us being thrown off the island. It really had nothing to do with us, it was a personal disagreement between this deacon-guy and the priest. He is apparently a real trouble-maker from way back. The paper didn't get signed, they decided to meet again on Wednesday.

The guest house

We were just trying to relax after that trauma, when there was a knock at the door, it was Wilfred and his father. They are in the middle of a dispute over the ownership of the 'guesthouse' on their land - one reason we were so glad to move out of there. Wilfred's father leaves on tomorrow's plane, and wanted to get things tidied up before he left - he had hoped it would all be sorted out in the three months he's been here, but in real island style they have been put off and put off ... so they wanted us to word a document for them, and type out umpteen copies. And that was my afternoon - typing. And here I am at the typer again!

Getting ready to leave

So, as if it isn't enough to have to pack up and get things stored away this week, we have to wait on this church council meeting and hope there isn't any more unpleasantness. We also hope that Wilfred keeps his word and doesn't go saying that we helped him - we would be willing to do the same for anyone. Living in this place we feel like we are constantly playing with fire no matter what we do. Did I tell you why the last school teacher had to run for his life? The then chairman was having his life threatened by a bunch of tough guys armed with knives etc, and he went to the school teacher for help, who rang the police on TI, so they came for him too.

Let me try and think of all the mundane things that have been happening to us this week. Its been so quiet. James and Peter have been down with colds and so we've kept pretty much to ourselves and not been to any feasts or anything. Peter finally made a hole in the wall, making it into a window in the kitchen, with a shutter. Its been one of those weeks that you say at the end of the day - "Well, I made some bread today" or some such insignificant achievement.

Checkout trouble

The store is empty again, after being open for four days. I told you the boat came on Thursday, but the store didn't open on Friday because of a big feast. Rumour went around it would open Saturday (only because people thought it should) but it didn't because the manager was too drunk to care what people thought. On Sunday he opened for two hours - we didn't even know. On Monday we were down there bright and early with the rest at 9am, but as if to make up for Sunday he didn't open until 10. We grabbed mild and sugar, a few canned drinks, some apples and oranges (eggs were already off, mostly broken by the rats or sold the day before) and made our way to the checkout ... only to stand there for another hour - I'll never complain about checkouts down south again. It was so hot, and the queue just didn't seem to move - they don't really queue the way we do, people just keep slipping in from the side. Anyway, the shelves are bare again now ... we managed to run out of toilet paper, but we picked up a couple of boxes of tissues before they were all gone too.

So, as you can guess, we are feeling very tired, and with the light at the end of the tunnel in sight we are really looking forward to getting down to Cairns. I dream about things like lettuce and cheese ... air conditioned shops to browse through, newspapers to read. We rang our friends in Cairns to say we're coming and we'd like to be booked into a caravan park or somewhere rather than live in their pockets for a couple of weeks, and they said they had heard only the day before of a family who have a little house right next to their own which they have set aside for poor missio's like us ... so if the wet season is 'in' in Cairns as it is here we'll be more comfortable ( and James less frustrated and frustrating) than living in a caravan.


Another lovely windy day on Murray. I've got my washing all done (in the Bamix "presawash") and I'm daring those clouds to rain on it before the wind blows it all dry. I've learnt that most Mondays seem to be water 'on' days, and sometimes Thursday too. What is annoying is when it comes on on a Sunday and I can't do the washing then. Sometimes I'm ready to wash on Monday, and it doesn't come on till Tuesday ... maybe those guys just don't know what day of the week it is.

Porridge for dinner

We've been feeling a bit poor the last few days. With Peter being sick, and me tired, and the store empty ... well the night before last we had porridge for tea, and last night we shared a fillet of schnapper and I boiled our last spoonful of rice. Its the lack of potatoes I feel most. I get very tired of eating bread and Sao biscuits. This morning I felt very proud of myself when I found some instant potato hidden away in the store. And peanut butter - there hasn't been any in the store for ages and this morning I found some among the pickled onions! (past its use-by date, though).

Uncle Ses

There is a funny little old man here, we call him Uncle Ses. He's a bachelor and reputedly went as senile as he is now when his mother refused to let him marry when he was 20 - he is now 70 or 80 I suppose. He is a bit stooped, but still quite sprightly, and he's the sort that when you see him coming you try to get out of sight because he'll talk your ear off and you won't understand much of what he says. But he's really quite clever in his own way, and we try to make time for him as well as being quite strict about him leaving us alone if we are busy, and generally he respects that.

This morning he turned up to ask us help him read and understand something he had received in the mail. It was something about a $5 raffle in which you can win a home unit in Coolangatta. Ses didn't really understand about home units, he thought maybe if he won it he could get the carpenters (everyone knows they can work magic) to somehow remove his home unit from its sixth-floor position and bring it up here for him. He also had a hopeful idea that the pretty girl in the picture might be part of the prize.

Ses really dotes on James, and James is beginning to get less frightened of him. He always calls James "Peter", even though he knows his name is James.