03 December 1984

Letter: End of Cheap Phone Calls

Letter 3 / 12 / 84

The wet is here, or almost. Today it thundered and rained - and I couldn't do the washing. I would do it now but the last lot is still on the line and of course its soaked. Now its so steamy.

Our 20c phone calls have at last come to an end. Not that the phone can't do it, but there is a sign saying that we mustn't. Actually, the phone is a private phone, you see, belonging to the council, and they receive a bill regardless of how much money is actually in the box. So the council has the right to ban people from using the phone (on Yorke Island the council insists that you ask permission every time you use the phone!) and Telecom promises to remove the phone if the bills are not paid. It was suggested that people might make a donation to help the council pay for the $1000 that was due over what was in the box, so we went down to make a contribution, as people are aware that we have been using the phone ... but they said it has all been taken care of. We could still phone you on the 20c system (so as not to have the operator butting in) and time ourselves and put in the extra money I guess. But for the time being I had better try to catch tomorrow's plane with a few letters.

Getting on with translation

We feel we have finally 'hit our straps' and started work. Only two of our four men have been coming to do translation, but they have been working well and seem to be learning what its all about now. I guess translating "Nowa" (Noah) was good practice for them - we've nearly finished getting it checked now. They are pretty keen on the new "Sower" (parable) booklet, so hopefully it will go a bit faster.

Even I am getting into the action at last. The priest's wife, Adiana, has made herself available to help me. She seems to have a fairly keen mind and is willing to do her best. Also a lady freshly up from Mackay, after being away from the island for 20 years, is keen to help. She has all the marks of a mainlander - they stick out like a sore thumb with their fancy clothes. She belongs to the "Body-Felt Salvation" group, though she has some quarrel with them over whether the local culture should be preserved and/or taught. She still uses the language, and has taught classes (down south) on island cooking. She is very concerned about the local women, their health problems and those who spend all day "doing nothing". So she will be a good place to start with this cookery book I want to do (to aid literacy in their language among the women especially). I'm also being a bit ambitious and wanting to do a Christmas drama - simple as possible, and in the local language, to be performed maybe at the Christmas service or outside afterwards. These people love to watch any kind of drama, but they don't seem to do much.

Baby Jo likes to eat

Thanks for the Farex, it only took six days to get here. Jo gets quite upset if she doesn't get to eat with the rest of us at tea time. She doesn't eat much of course, but likes to taste different things. She remains such a pleasant little tike. Peter often accuses me when he catches me just cuddling her - "Sometimes I think you enjoy that baby!" - I sure do! She seems to take a special interest in Alison (despite some of the treatment she gets from her!) and often chuckles when Alison dances about. She has a smile for everyone, but has already learnt who Mum is and is not keen to be taken away.

James is unwell

Poor James! His big boil in the corner of his mouth came up and burst and then healed incredibly quickly. But then he developed little ones on his nose, eyebrow, chin, and a row on his top lip. They are all still there, like very large pimples, and he has a huge boil on his shoulder which seems to be taking for ever to either come up or go down. He is on antibiotics, but they don't seem to be doing much good. He still has at least one bad asthma attack each night, but is learning to cope by himself and we've kept him off the wretched medication because it makes him so restless and naughty. He has taught himself when he wakes up choking and coughing to get up on his knees and stick his elbows out. Even if it doesn't really make it better, having something specific to do helps him to cope with the panic of feeling like he can't breathe.

Tues am 11.00

I've got the kids perched in front of the radio ready for Kindy of the Air. Jo is in her "Fraser Chair" - got it in Darwin for $2 and its been good value! I've done the washing and pegged it all out on our little rotary clothes hoist. Peter is working with Fr Tabo - began "The Sower" today, though we still need to check "Nowa” with some 'independent readers'.

Aquarium window

Did we tell you be brought a fish tank up this time? Or, at least, we got our friends Rod and Hazel to carry it up here. It was in pieces, and we have finally got it siliconed together without any leaks (took about three goes). And we have been experimenting with fish and reef creatures - so far everything has died, but we are working on it. Peter knocked a hole in the wall and made another window in the living room especially for it to sit next to, and even just with big shells in it now it looks very pretty.

Well, radio kindy will finish soon, and I guess it will be time for the plane soon so I'd better close.

19 November 1984

Letter: Making Bread

Letter 19 / 11 / 84

We are all getting over a virus, even Jo, and the freezer, generator, and washing machine are doing their various jobs saving us so much time and energy while we are so tired. I even put together a few of my 'rest' moments to do some sewing. If I try to sleep I usually get disturbed as soon as I drop off, which makes me feel lousy for hours, so I try to do something relaxing for an hour or so after lunch rather than let myself sleep. I put together some material scraps in rather hurried, rough-and-ready form and came up with a nice bright patchwork bedspread for our bed. I do enjoy using that treadle machine, I find it most relaxing.

The kibble wheat is lovely, but most of it just seems to melt away in the bread, only occasionally do we get a crunchy bit. Even though we now have a freezer I can't seem to keep my bread fresh - its only really nice for the first few hours. In the freezer (which is the absorption type and therefore very slow to actually freeze anything) it just goes dry very quickly. Is there something one can put into bread to stop it going stale so quickly? Would wheat germ keep it moist? - not that we have any.

Our garden plot

'Uncle' Kakam in the hilltop garden

The doldrums are trying to come, we keep getting really calm patches, the turtle season is well under way, and we can often see whales splashing about and spouting water out in front of our place out in the deeper water. We are longing for rain to grow a bit of greenery, fill our tank with non-scummy water, and try out Peter's new rock-wall on the drain!

We've taken possession of our piece of family garden land up on the hill. Its about half an hour's walk away, only the first bit is very steep. Its a fairly barren looking patch, with just scrubby lantana-type bushes - hard to tell what they are as its all been recently burnt. And there is one tree which will have some leaves later. The soil is red, but our section which has not been previously cleaned islander-style is covered with lovely brown humus - dry now, but will be beautiful when its wet. Peter got up there early the other morning and poked a few seeds in ... and now we wait for the rain and hope we don't get a big rain followed by a big dry so that the seeds don't germinate then just die. We live in hope.


We've got James going to kindy again after some weeks away sick. He even takes himself there on his bike. Its still a constant struggle to keep him on an even keel, he's so emotional and over-sensitive. Next year's school principal (as far as we know) has a six year old boy and a baby about six months old. That information may not be correct, but it would be nice for James to have a real boy to play with!

Alison, today, had half a dozen successes in her potty. I've been sitting her on there every hour - it seems to be taking a lot of my time, but I'm trying to think of it as an investment. Her chatter goes on and on, she's game to try repeating anything she hears.

She misses James when he's at kindy, but when he is away and Jo is asleep she rather enjoys being the only one for a while. Her hair is looking fairly respectable at last and I've been clipping it back or tying a little bunch rather than cutting a fringe - makes her look very cute! Her hair is quite blond, but not white like James.

Jo's hair is still brown (such that there is) and looks like staying that way. James's eyes have remained the same dark grey, but Alison's are a much lighter grey/blue. Jo's eyes are very dark, grey but tending towards brown. Her skin is slightly more sallow than the other two too. James and Alison both look very fair, but neither of them seems to burn easily.


We are celebrating James's birthday sometime next week, just so his little friends will still be here. Nerissa had her birthday this week and Danielle's birthday is a few weeks away so I think they are bringing hers forward after James's so she can also have all her little friends (James and Alison) for a little party.


A big mob (about 6) of white chaps turned up on a plane today. Heard on the bamboo line that they are from England and have come to up-date the Haddon report - done by the Cambridge expedition around the turn of the century, a six volume work and about the only real study ever done about these parts. Don't know how long they plan to stay - or where they'll stay - but I guess we'll catch up with them in due course. Just now another plane arrived with two more white people (a man and a woman), don't know who they are.


We still haven't managed to get the whole translation team together at one time. We had two meetings and only two out of four came ... reckon they'll all make it on Sunday maybe. Peter wants them to work in pairs for the initial part of a translation. We think we'll do the Parable of the Seed in story book form, and also dramatised for video. To get the women thinking in terms of literacy and realising that books do have something for them too, I'm working on a cookery / health book - haven't got very far yet, the women are so scared, or shy, or just busy.

Chooks and Ducks

Our two chickens are still laying, one each most days, but the two big ducks have gone broody - they don't do anything, hardly even eat, but sit on their nests and hiss at anyone who comes near ... and if we are not quick enough to collect the chickens' eggs they roll them out of the drum where the chickens lay and into their duck's nest and sit on them too.

The ten little ducks are doing well. One has a black spot on her forehead, one has two spots, and one has three. There seems to be only one drake, which we may keep this time. The three black ones are supposed to be magpie muscovies, but we are suspicious that they may not be muscovies at all - maybe that's why the big duck kept rejecting them. The black feathers they have grown now have a greeny sheen.

Uncle Kakam over the road has one black duck - strange looking bird, though - and he keeps it outside the run presumably because the others pick on it all the time.


We went up to the garden early this morning, managed to leave about 6:30am - not bad with that many kids to get ready! - and we planted a few more rows of corn. James managed to walk all the way up and back by himself - though a lot of the way down was on his bottom. Alison walked most of the flat bits by herself, and for the rest of the way Peter had to struggle with her on one arm, back-pack on his back, and mattock and cane knife in the other hand.

04 November 1984

Letter: All Mod Cons

Letter 4 / 11 / 84

The time has come, the time is now! I think I might get a letter written ... allowing for an interruption about every two words. Things are improving, I'm gradually catching up on what has to be done.

We now have a little freezer, which frees me from making bread so often. It doesn't freeze brilliantly (takes at least twelve hours to freeze most things, even small) because its an 'absorption' one and runs on gas. But its still a great help, with storing fish too. Also, we have our little generator AND WASHING MACHINE! What a difference that makes! What used to take hours is done in half an hour, and I can even do it with a baby on my hip!

Doing the washing with the new machine

Visitors left

Our visitors have finally all gone - it was nice to have them here, but it is a relief to be just us again. We enjoyed having Rod and Hazel staying with us, but our house (even with the translation house in full use as well) couldn't really cope with four adults and six kids. Meal-times were a special kind of nightmare, with our picnic table that only seats four - seats are attached to the table and can't be moved - and an extra chair at each end of it - that makes six. Our attempts to put James, Linda and Alison at a separate table failed, and we ended up having two sittings (in which case the kids all hung around for the second sitting anyway ... ) or we all had kids on our knees while we ate.

Nevertheless it was a nice break - a change from our usual routine. We managed to all climb the hill, and I minded the littlies while the others all went right around the island, and we had a trip over to Dawar Island. Poor little Philip had a rough time with fevers, and Linda was under stress because she is very much an 'indoorsy' city girl - so Rod and Hazel got to discover some of the joys of 'mission life'. But they sent Kay to school here, and she loved it.

More visitors

The day they left we were supposed to have two more people coming, so we were most relieved when they delayed their visit for four days. Peter H came from Cairns (he's the 'extension officer' for TAFE college) bringing a lady who is to run a gardening course up here. They only stayed for four days, and it was a relaxing time because they didn't bring any kids and ours really took to them. Kathy rather shocked the locals (and us, for a moment there, as we may have been up here too long ...) with her extremely short shorts - I trust she will adjust her clothing before she returns for the main part of the course.


Jo continues to develop in her own sweet way. She's so placid and content. She doesn't generally cry when she wakes up, I often go in and find her playing happily. Sometimes at four or five in the morning I'll hear a little voice and find her on her back, wedged across the cot, all tangled up in her mosquito net, playing in the dark. She's full of smiles and little chuckles, especially for things like mobiles, and her 'crib exerciser'. She turns over with ease, and is getting fairly accurate with her hands.


Alison is as Alison as she ever was. Chatters all day - puts quite a few words together into little sentences now. And copies everything James says. She's getting gentler with Jo, though every now and then she'll suddenly claw at her face, or come running from a distance and jump on her! She has one or two dolls of her own now who get frequent baths and cuddles etc. She's quite the little girl, though she still acts as a magnet to dirt. Her hair is getting thicker, and I'm trying to get her used to having clips and things in it without pulling them straight out again. I have her in pants all day, but we are having no success at all with her training. If I could have just a few successes in the pot to reward we might get somewhere. She knows what she's doing, and rather enjoys the sensation of a puddle around her feet.


As for our James James ... he's a long skinny creature these days. He's been very sick - again. His asthma attacks get worse. Last night he had a really bad attack - rather distressing for all of us. Ventolin is a fairly standard treatment - he has it in liquid form. But he coughs and coughs and vomits, and its very difficult to get anything into him while his stomach is in spasms. I think you can get a Ventolin inhaler, which he may be old enough to learn to handle.

Anyway, his new bike arrived 2-3 weeks ago, and he hasn't been willing to ride it. Even with the trainer wheels he was sure he would fall off. We realised after a while that the real reason is because he's feeling so weak and tired he just doesn't have the strength to push it. But he's been getting better as he always does when we give him a course of Incremin tonic, and today he was suddenly willing to try. Once he got going he gained confidence and didn't want to stop. He got faster and faster and went further and further each time. Peter says he remembers his dad said his (dad's) chest troubles started to get better once he got a bike, and Peter had the same experience. I guess exercising with your hands out (and therefore chest expanded) would be good for these problems, and hopefully we'll see James improving fast. I think he'll be up early tomorrow morning wanting to ride. His speech is good these days, still a smattering of Creole language mixed in, but mostly English. He chatters non-stop, louder and louder ...

Ducks and Chooks

Of our three large ducks, two recovered from their broodiness and started laying, but the third took over all the yellow ducklings as her brood and turned nasty towards the three black and yellow ones, and us, and everything else. She was quite a nuisance, so in the end we just gave her away. Now one of the other two who were laying has stopped laying and is looking after the (not-so-little) ducklings ... it seems we can't win. At least the chickens are still laying, about 5 eggs every 3 days between them.


The citrus trees are still growing well. And we have corn and tomato and bean seedlings on their way. In the kitchen I have parsley and coriander and dill and tarragon growing in teacups on my windowsill! Its the parsley I'm most keen on. They are still very small, but I was very tempted to pick a little leaf to put on a dish today.

08 August 1984

Letter: Baby number 3

Letter from Darwin 8 / 8 / 84

Just a quick letter - time is pretty short these days. I tried to write from hospital ... but all the little things become so big and important when you're lying in a hospital bed. Its the strangest thing: this time in hospital, and when I had Alison, and when I was recently in the antenatal ward, I found myself to be the only married woman in the ward. Babies are 'in', families, apparently, are 'out'.

Anyway, Jo Anna is a beautiful little girl. She has dark hair, and that typical 'Wickham' look - just like James and Alison really. But she is so placid - a real "sleepy Jo". When she does wake up, she grunts and rummages - takes ages before she cries. In hospital she had trouble with low blood sugar, then she went yellow (the other two never did) and she still has "sticky eyes", but otherwise she fared pretty well despite a difficult birth.

I guess Peter didn't have time to tell much on the phone. I suddenly felt very unwell on the Thursday (26th) with fever, headache, and pains all over, and I had a sneaking suspicion I could be in labour. I'd been warned not to go into labour. So we rang the hospital and they rustled up an anaesthetist who could do epidurals. We went in about 2pm Friday expecting just a check-up, only to find ourselves ushered hurriedly into labour ward. We passed a miserable 2 hours or so while they put the epidural in ... then waited (in the operating theatre) as my back went numb but my tummy stayed very sensitive! It was quite a relief when they finally insisted on a general anaesthetic. They let Peter be in the room to see Jo born - not that he had really wanted to, he simply wanted to sit with me (with his back to proceedings) during the planned birth by epidural. As it turned out, they had great difficulty getting Jo out - had to do a lot of pounding, pushing, and using forceps - but she was born face first and gave a good yell right from the start. And then after they turfed Peter out they had a hard time stopping me bleeding. Apparently the doctor very nearly had to do a hysterectomy ... I'm so glad I slept through it all!!

Despite all the drama, I got over it all much quicker than I did with Ali. I didn't even need a blood transfusion, and by lunch time Saturday I was walking around with surprisingly little pain. And this Saturday I came home, after 8 days.

Jo's been asleep a long time, I'll have to wake her up soon or she won't sleep tonight ... yes, I know it never works that way for babies. But if I don't feed her soon I'll burst.

The other two really love little Jo - but my time away caused some upset. James has developed a stutter. "I can't talk very well ..." he explains after struggling with a word for several minutes. And he blinks a lot. "My eyes won't work ..." he complains. Alison has been quite sick - fevers, diarrhea etc - poor Peter had to carry her around all day while I was away. But we are all improving now we are back together. Peter's parents are due here on Sunday to help for a while.

10 July 1984

Letter: Meeting old friends

Letter from Darwin 10 / 7 /84

What a rushed morning I've had, and only a few minutes of peace left now before the kids come home from crèche - its such a precious three hours! I never know quite where to start with the things I want to get done.

Thanks so much for the lovely birthday presents - and the kids are delighted with the cloth picture too which arrived safely with Mary's present. The liquid soap and the lotion are really lovely, and James spent many hours of fun using the two boxes they came in as boats ... and then Alison got them for a bit of brrrm brrrm on the floor ... until they finally fell apart under her careful little fingers.

We nearly sent you a computer portrait of us - have you seen those? They print a computer portrait of a photo onto a tea-towel or t-shirt or whatever. Looks very nice, and they do it on the spot. So we had one done with all four of us on it ... but when we got home we realised that the reason it didn't really look like us was not because of the slightly blobby effect from the computer picture, but because it was all back-to-front - a mirror image. Unfortunately, people are not symmetrical, and it really looked like someone nice (especially the kids) but not US. So we went and got our money back.

I've just had a couple of days on the inside, courtesy of the government. Hospital, I mean ...

.......... [interruptions] ..........

Thursday afternoon

This morning I was so fed up of being pregnant that I thoroughly cleaned the house - gave Peter a bit of a shock, but all it did for me was give me a back ache.

Anyway, the doctors were talking about putting me in hospital for four weeks - and we had made it quite clear that we were not keen! In the end they came down to just two days for tests. So I went in and they pricked my finger four times a day - I pointed out that I'm quite good at pricking my own finger, I don't need to lie in a hospital bed for that.

And then friends here whose son is a diabetic lent me their 'glucometer' ($200 machine that gives you a digital readout of your blood sugar instead of just looking at colours and guessing) so they let me come home. The doctor insisted I see the eye specialist - but eye damage from diabetes only occurs in bad cases after about ten years, a waste of time (and government money), and a nuisance because I had to walk around for a day with my pupils all dilated. And I went in and had an ultrasound - for no particular reason. Its all been a bit of a nuisance and a lot of fuss about nothing. Apart from my present backache from washing floors, I feel fine.

Did I tell you about Alison getting really sick? We went through a really bad patch for a while. I waited for two weeks for my turn to start at the hospital clinic - then got the days all mixed up and missed the day ... Alison got sick ... and I lost my purse (or it was stolen, I really don't know) with about $120 in it.

Alison got sick so quickly, all of a sudden she was just a limp doll lying there with her eyes half closed. The doctor found she had a middle ear infection so treated her for that. But she kept vomiting at first, and then just constant diarrhea ... she got so thin. After about a week she finally 'turned the corner' and started improving - and now she has put on a kilo more than when she first got sick. The first couple of days when she was feeling better she was constantly banging on the fridge saying "door! door!" and she was eating cheese, meat, celery ...

All the field teams are coming in with a rush now. James is so excited with meeting old friends and making new ones he can hardly contain himself. There's quite a little gang of 3-4year olds, and they all get on very well together. The 'TQs' (temporary quarters) where we are living this time are four units joined together, with a shared back verandah ... bit of a madhouse! We are in one end one (with 2 1/2 kids), then there's two single ladies (one with two dogs), then the Eckerts with their two (Christy is 3, and Katy is a month older than Ali), and at the other end the Swartzes with their three (aged 7 years, 4 years and 6 months) and their dog Tigger - who has just as much 'bounce' as his namesake in Winnie-the-Pooh.

Yesterday the three dads got their heads together and brought an old cubby-house from the other side of the campus - the kids who originally owned it are teenagers now. They put it under the trees in front of all four units where it is in sight but almost out of sound. The kids love it - James and Ali had their lunch out there today. James gets on well with Christy, she's a rather over-sensitive sort like him, so they do a lot of talking and play-acting together (something the island kids don't seem to do) and they like to compare babies (Alison and Katy) - "this is my baby and that's your one" etc.

But James isn't really well. I guess the problem is just emotional. Waiting for our new baby, having all these new friends, and a head full of memories of Murray Island that he doesn't really know what to do with. He goes from moments of great glee to sudden gloom and tears for no apparent reason. He won't eat properly, he tires easily but often doesn't sleep well ... looks rather pale and thin too. At crèche the other day he had his first bad asthma attack - up till now its just been night time coughs, but he came home at lunch time really gasping and choking, and flushed and hot. After a while we worked out that one of the ladies had been cleaning out one of the cupboards and the dust would have got to him. We'll have to get him a little "puffer" if he's going to start having attacks like that.

Gotta go, visitors for tea.

19 June 1984

Letter: Darwin Door

Letter from Darwin 19 / 6 / 84

Its the most amazing thing - Alison has been banging on the back door (inside) since about 7:30 this morning saying "Door! Door!" ... but when I opened the door she just ran in and out crying. Until finally I opened the door and said, "OK, time to go to crèche!" and she ran out happily saying "play!" After being so unsettled in Cairns, both kids are really happy here, and Alison lets people pick her up too.

James's "little" friend, Nathan, has continued to grow like a weed - at least they can talk to each other now - and is a good six inches taller than James (although he is 8 days younger) so James has inherited Nathan's tiny 2-wheeler (with trainer wheels) bike - Nathan now has a bigger one. Alison has been lent a little plastic horse on wheels, a nice stable one - some of those things can be rather deadly! - so she's very pleased too.

We've actually been getting a few things done with the kids off at crèche all morning, and also being able to amuse themselves for short periods of time when they are back at home.


Peter is getting stuck into our "phonology statement", and I'm trying to catch up with some of the letters we didn't get done in Cairns.


I am still enjoying my new frizzy hair cut. The hairdresser gave Peter a demo of how to cut my hair - later when the perm grows out. She even gave us a little lesson in how to do the kids' hair. With mine she started off by doing a 'one snip cut' - brushed it all straight up above my head and then cut it off, that way is comes out in graded lengths.

The kids are quite agreeable to my new hair ... for the first few days I kept finding James having a good long stare, then he'd say, "I like your fuzzy hair, Mummy." Alison just kept looking with a funny little Mona Lisa smile ... at least she doesn't grab hold and say "Dong!" like she used to. (Funny how she related my plaits to the church bell-rope!)

Baby no. 3

The baby is officially due August 6th ... if I don't burst before then. It is such a lively baby - they say that means it must be healthy, don't they? Awfully uncomfortable though. My first visit to the hospital clinic is tomorrow - I have a head full of questions I want to ask if I get a chance, but usually these clinics are so busy they just sort of rush you through - that's why it was so late in the day before they realised I was going to have problems with Alison. At least they have my records here.

James and Ali

Talking of Alison, we really have no idea of how she is going to react to the new baby. She and James are very close, though, they really look out for each other. If they have been separated for an hour or two they make up for it with a big cuddle and lots of kisses - they just like kissing and cuddling! And when they play together we still hear the screams and cries that are normal with kids playing, but we also hear an awful lot of apparently meaningless giggles.

Our car

We have been lent a car for a few days - a Toyota lite-ace van, bright yellow thing. Peter is not keen on spending tomorrow afternoon hanging around the hospital with two kids to mind while I queue at the clinic, so I had better learn to drive the thing. I much prefer the little Coronas etc that we can hire out of the car pool here, though its nice not to have to return it by a stated time. At least it should be easier to fit behind the wheel of the van.

Teething troubles

Well, the morning has gone. They rang me from crèche to say that Alison was crying, so I went over there and put her down for a sleep in one of the cots there. She's a bit 'sooky' right now with teething, so I'm surprised she goes to crèche at all. Her teeth have come through in all the wrong order. She had 'fangs' first before the middle ones, now she looks like she has eight teeth but actually there's a gap between the front ones and quite a few back ones have come through already. Teething has really given her a rough time with fever, runny nose etc ... and soon its time for her to have her measles injection.

Washing kids' clothes

So I must (again) get the washing into the machine - aren't automatic machines wonderful! With this cool weather (down to 17 degrees last night, and cool, dry and windy all day) the kids go through so many clothes - I fill the washing line every day. We've made good use of the local Pope shop and Savvy Army too. Alison has quite a pile of nice little dresses now, and I can afford to keep changing her when she gets dirty.

05 June 1984

Letter: Carpentaria House, Cairns

Letter from Cairns 5 / 6 / 84

A couple more days in Cairns - and the pace continues as hectic as ever.

After two weeks in the caravan we were really worn to a frazzle, the kids were sick, and it looked like the rain was here to stay. It was pretty grim!

We went to the Anglican Church - St John's - and there we were found by a couple we had met in the little Anglican church we went to in Darwin - we would never have recognised them, but they remembered us. So we were invited out to lunch, introduced to others, and invited out by them too! Well, somebody suddenly remembered "Carpentaria House", which belongs to the diocese of Carpentaria (which includes Murray Island) and is available to people passing through, missionaries etc.

Its actually two houses - it used to be a doctor's house and surgery. So we've had the surgery part to ourselves these last two weeks. There's a slightly eccentric caretaker lady who lives in the big house and likes to burst in at all odd times, but her heart's in the right place and we've just about got used to her.

The wonder of doors

It took Alison a whole week to stop getting lost inside the house. She trailed around hanging onto my skirt, and screamed if I went out of sight or if anyone closed a door. Doors are a totally new experience to her - we have none inside the house on Murray Island where she has spent her whole short life thus far. So ... I don't know how she'll take our next move ...

New 'do'

Pity I don't have a photo of me to include - I went and had my hair "frizzed". Never having been permed before, and after years of being pulled into plaits and buns, it didn't come out in a tight frizz like I wanted - like the Island women! - but I do have a nice curly mop. Its a great improvement, makes me feel a lot better. And its one of those "wash-and-wear" easy-care perms.

Big bub - or 2?

The baby continues to grow at quite an alarming rate. With 9 weeks to go I look like I'm a week or two overdue! At least I haven't put on weight all over this time, its all out in front. I feel quite well - and look healthy - most of the time, just patches when I feel thoroughly rotten. The baby is very alive and lively. I'm looking forward to an ultra-sound as soon as I get to Darwin to be reassured that its not twins.

New fangled gear

We have our new video camera, it all arrived yesterday, and we sat up late last night trying to work out how it all works. It's incredibly complicated. We did a little practice film, but couldn't seem to play it back through our monitor (a 5" screen TV). We went back to the shop today and discovered there was a secret panel (more knobs!) we hadn't found on the TV.

This has all been written under great duress - with Alison "helping". James is watching Play School on our tiny TV. Must think about cooking tea before Peter gets home.

15 May 1984

Letter: from Cairns

Letter 15 / 5 / 84

What a luxury. I'd almost forgotten that such things as peace and quiet existed. Young Alison H is home from Uni in Brisbane, and delighted to look after our two for a few hours. James thinks she's wonderful, and our Alison seems to accept it as long as James is there ... so I have been having a (much needed) little rest while Peter tries to get a "rust job" done on the car.

But let me tell you about our trip ...

Best-laid plans ...

We rang Ron Kuch about the Wednesday before we were due to come, and he told us to be at the airstrip about 1.30pm, and we could bring 50kg luggage. The trip would take only 3 1/2 hours by Aztec. On the Friday there were two funerals on the island, the bodies were flown in from Cairns by (we were told by people around us) "Outback Air". We saved ourselves a few jobs to do on Saturday morning - I got up early and put sheets etc in the laundry sink, they would be dry by lunch time, and we turned the fridge off and waited for the ice to melt a bit. We just sat down to a leisurely breakfast when there was a knock at the door - it was the Kuch pilot!

"Coming?" he asked. He had brought the bodies the day before, slept overnight in the village, but didn't bother to walk down or send someone to tell us about it.

"OK, 10 minutes ..." he said, - otherwise we would end up having to wait a couple of hours or more when we got to Lockhart River because the chap who does the re-fuelling of the planes was planning a fishing trip ...

Rushed exit

Well, we rushed. There are a lot of things you have to do before you go away for several months! You can't really just walk away ... I dragged the washing out of the sink and hung it (still soapy) on the line in bunches, rather than let it just rot in the sink. We put towels around the fridge on the floor, and slammed all the house windows closed, threw our freshly-made toast into my carry basket, locked the door ... and went. No time for any "good-bye"s.

At the airstrip they backed the tractor under the wing of the Cessna and he refuelled using a couple of jerry cans - standing on the tractor trailer to reach. One of the six seats in the plane was missing - they had to make space to carry coffins - so we had a little floor-space for Alison to play on. (And I was glad of it, she was restless and needed room to move.)

Slow flight

They had brought the Cessna instead of the Aztec because coffins fit better - but it meant the trip was now 5 hours long because it's a slower plane. Alison had a tummy-full of something that was making her uncomfortable (or maybe her ears were hurting too), and wriggled the whole time - after two dirty nappies she seemed quite a bit relieved. We were glad to have traveled early - but just wished we had known in advance! It would have been worse waiting on the airstrip for a late plane ...

Cold in Cairns

Our friends in Cairns were rather over-loaded with guests and family at this time, so they moved their caravan out to a caravan park to relieve the congestion - so here we are. It was pretty nightmarish the first couple of days (and nights), but a little better now that the kids are less excited and know the way around its a lot better. Its "so cold" (down to 21 degrees) at night, we all put on winter pajamas and we have made the kids a little nest in the bottom bunk - one at each end - with sleeping bags tucked all around to keep them away from the cold walls. They both developed colds after just one night here.

Our friends wondered what we would "do" for 5 weeks in Cairns ... this is the first time I have even paused. I've been feeling a bit crook - just achy and sort of sick - for a couple of days, so I'm very glad of this little rest. There's heaps of shopping to catch up on after our year away on the island - we only brought two overnight bags with us to get us through the long weekend when we first arrived.

Yesterday we went for our Queensland drivers licenses - we still had our South Australia (Bible College address) ones. We went down to Townsville for a day to visit friends there and to see the Marous - our islander "parents". She has been very ill, and is so thin now.

We found St Vincent de Paul's yesterday and picked up a stack of kids' clothes, especially little dresses for Alison, at 20c - 80c each!

Losing James

Last week we were shopping in a Big W complex, and were just paying for our groceries at the supermarket checkouts, when we realised James had "gone"!

Whenever we get out of the car, as his feet touch the ground, they just seem to gain a will of their own.

This particular shopping centre is marked by a huge concrete marlin (fish!) with its nose pointed skyward, so fearing the worst (he's hopeless in car parks) thought he may have gone back out to look at it. No sign of him.

We put an announcement over the supermarket p.a. but he wasn't there either. Every now and then we heard a kid crying and descended on it from opposite directions - wrong kid.

After about 20 minutes (a long time under these conditions!) Peter made his way to the Big W department store, and there was James, up on the service desk, looking VERY solemn! He'd found his way to the wrong checkouts!

Our Ali and our James

We had some photos done the other day - we'll have to get some copies made. There are some gorgeous pictures of the kids ... I find it difficult to describe Alison - she's a real little grub, loves playing in the dirt (likes to put her tummy in it) - but she has a beautiful smile! Big tummy, sway back, wobbly tumbling kind of walk - typical one-year-old, I guess. She looks sweet in a dress - otherwise people think she's a boy with her little round face and straggly hair. She still has tantrums, but I have a feeling we are winning these days. She puts on a "coy" act with "new" people, but it doesn't last long - she's too inquisitive for that. She goes more readily to a man, and is getting used to white faces.

James needs and enjoys contact with people other than us. He was thrilled to have "big Alison" babysitting. We went to an Anglican church on Sunday and he trotted off happily to Sunday School to the delight of the girls who had charge of him there. "He's so cute! He has such a cute little accent!" they kept saying.

Alison discovered the stairs to the gallery at church, so for me the whole service was a battle of wills. And once again, her constant wriggling finally resulted in a dirty nappy and some relief.

We were invited out to lunch after the church service - that was a nice change being in someone's sumptuous home rather than our tiny caravan. Alison was delighted with the carpet, totally new experience for her ... and fell asleep happily on their water bed!

23 April 1984

Letter: Island Style Easter

Letter 23 / 4 / 84

Easter Monday, and everyone is at a bit of a loose end. At least its better than Good Friday when no one did anything, not even food preparation, just sat quietly and ate dry damper and had a 3-hour church service - until 3pm when Jesus was buried. They treated it with all the superstition of a normal funeral. I hope no one smelt our bread cooking! It was a beautiful day after weeks of foul weather and Peter was itching to get the boat into the water!

Rough Seas and scary moment

On Saturday we finally did go out in the boat. Our screen tent was still pitched over on Waier Island so we thought we had better go and get it. We left it there after our little overnight - we left in a big hurry because there was a storm approaching. We had been over there several times since we put it there and no harm had come to it, but these recent storms were too much and the screen part had rotted and was all torn.

It was really calm just out in front of the village here, but we found as soon as we got out of the lee of the island that the SE monsoon is definitely here - it was ROUGH! Its one thing to sit in a dinghy holding on with both hands while it hits the waves with a "bang! bang! bang!" ... Its quite another to perch on a metal seat clutching a wriggling child and trying to "grip with your legs"!

Coming back was much worse. With the direction the waves were moving we had to point into them (they were much bigger than us!) which would take us around the back of the island. Then at precisely the right psychological (or geological) moment Peter swung the boat and we whizzed along with the waves - "Unorthodox, but effective! ..." Peter was saying with a grim smile, and then ... "OH, NO!" Suddenly we were over the reef and the tide was lower than it should have been. With split second timing he spun the boat again - we were glad that we bought a reasonably powerful motor!

I think if this baby is to be born at the right time and place I'll leave boating until we return in the "doldrums" season!

"Nowa" and "God"

The "Nowa" (Noah) book is about ready to print. There was supposed to be a meeting Friday afternoon to make a decision about which name for "God" would be used, but not many people knew about the meeting. The Anglican church has been using the word "Ad" - an old language word meaning anchor or rock, also some reference to "outside" or "other". But when it came down to it, only the priest himself was in favour of it - much to his surprise. There is an older word, "Agud" meaning "the true god" - and not refering to their old gods Bomai or Malo or Waiat. It seems they always knew there was a true God but were unsure how to find him. The professing Christians here believe that is the Christian God. The Western Islanders (Saibai Island etc) use a similar word, "Awgad".

Going to Darwin

Less than two weeks to go - its time I started cleaning and packing. Not a great deal to actually pack, but an awful lot of sorting and planning to do. The S family will look after our fowls - we've been keeping them (the fowls) in their run a bit longer each day to get used to it ... still no eggs. The S family are not looking forward to 5 months without us, especially without James to play with their girls.

Alison has finally drifted off to sleep so I have a precious hour or so to rush wildly from room to room ...

22 April 1984

Letter: Nowa Book

Letter 22 / 4 / 84

I'm sitting up in bed writing - Peter is out working again tonight and I always try to wait up for him but no matter what I do I can't seem to last longer than about 9pm.

The "Nowa" book in Meriam Mir is finished, it seems, and he is trying to get it done in Torres Strait Creole too. So he's been working most mornings and nights - in the afternoon he (and James) go and try to catch us some protein off the beach.

Dry dock

The boat is in dry dock - Peter's got the motor on a special stand he built for it (he's getting quite handy at carpentry) and he's just serviced it - book in one hand, grease gun in the other. It took a bit of moving - it weighs 45kg - so he's not keen on moving it again ... but he's not sure if he can last another week without going out in the boat.

The dry season - or SE monsoon - is definitely with us. Not good boating weather. After last week when we nearly came a cropper on the reef, I'm not keen on going out again for a while.

Alison's little limp

School holidays (including Easter) are finished - James was glad to get back to kindy today. He and Ali play so well these days that she does really miss him when he goes to kindy - but she does get a good nap when he is out.

She stepped on a bitie ant or something today. Didn't cry, just grizzled and acted like she had ants in her nappy. It took me quite a while to find the source of her annoyance ... then all of a sudden she came out in hives. Her little foot swelled up tight - it was rock hard! (These ants also make me swell up when they bite me, though it hardly hurts at the time, just itches.)

Anti-histimine and a bicarb paste dealt with the hives but then she was miserable because she wanted to run around and couldn't without her foot hurting. She eventually developed an effective little limp and was much happier.

Mail planes

I don't know whether last week's letter went. Four planes - or the same one four times - came and went, and they completely forgot to bring any mail.

The wretched "Islander" (10-seater) plane has broken down - again - so they were running around in a 5-seater.

As well as the usual passenger quota, it was a doctor's clinic day, and they always bring extras like the bug-catchers from the DPI or whatever, and the S family of 4 plus their 4 visitors were meant to go (at short notice) to TI for a seminar ... it was a busy chaotic day on the airstrip!

Sleepies ...

I can feel 9pm creeping up on me. Bed is not a good place for letter writing when you have an achy back either. Haven't got much packing or anything done yet - I can't seem to get ahead of today's needs, know what I mean?

Once small corner of the kitchen has been sorted through and cleaned. And I've oiled my dear old sewing machine and popped it down into its special hidey hole - I suppose it likes being upside-down. I really do enjoy using it, its somehow more fun than electric.

Going down your leg

Only seven more days to go now - James can hold up his fingers to show how many. He talks about when we go to Cairns, and when we go to Darwin, and when the baby comes out - and seems happy about all of it. He says, "I got two babies now, one inside your tummy and one here."

Sometimes he pokes me and says, "Lookout, the baby's going down your leg now!"

He's very proud of being able to take his own shirt (and pants) off - though buttons are still a problem - and he can put his own pants on!

"Look, this big bottom here!" he says, implying that he has the big bit at the back, though he is often wrong.

"I a big boy now!" he says in his funny Islander accent.

We have little patches of defiance, but he's much more settled these days.

Alison is open and friendly with islanders - especially the men (she's a bit of a "Daddy's girl" these days), but has been very obviously ill-at-ease with any whites we've had recent contact with. I guess its to do with voice tones, and general movements rather than actual skin colour. Peter tends to move and talk more like an islander these days - they have a slow, gentle way about them.

The first duck egg!

On Sunday morning I found an EGG - ducky egg, sort of greeny-brown in colour. We saved it till Monday, but there wasn't another so we ate it - shared 4 ways! Then we found another one after breakfast! Then today there was number three, so there were 2 eggs for breakie - really tasty too.

Creole Translation

The "Nowa" translation in Creole caused some excitement among school kids - they found they could read it straight off. So I guess we'll get some of those printed off too ...

Butterfly man

A naturalist guy, doing some vague study of flora and fauna here, is making a real nuisance of himself - availing himself of our hospitality. Hanging around at tea-time ... then after dark he says he has no torch and asks if he can sleep in our translation house. The fact that he is so unspecific about what he is doing (the fact that he carries a huge butterfly net proves nothing as far as I am concerned) and like talking endlessly about controversial issues makes us a bit nervous ... We hope he's just a social misfit and not up to something more sinister. He is supposed to be camping up on the airstrip or somewhere.

16 April 1984

Letter: Snake Tale

Letter 16 / 4 / 84

Friday morning I wandered out to the duck-run, bleary-eyed. They are generally pretty eager to come out once it gets light. My cheery "hello, Duckies ..." was met with stony silence instead of the usual clatter of them flapping and rushing to the door to be the first out to greet the day.

I scraped the piece of tin (the door) noisily out of its slot ...

and there were the chickens all huddled in the back corner with the ducks, all staring at me wide-eyed. (have you even seen a chicken look at you that way - ?!)

In the space near the door where the chickens usually rest was an enormous snake with an unblinking stare fixed on me.

I looked at the fowls again: 4 ducks, 3 chickens. Oh no!

I counted them again several times just to be sure and the answer kept coming back the same: 4 ducks, 3 chickens, 1 snake.

I ran inside and woke Peter, and he stumbled out bleary and confused, grabbing the pitchfork, mattock and chopper (the one we use for cutlet-ing fish) on his way past the shed.

It was hard for him to know just how to attack the snake as he had to duck into the duck-house to do so. He reckoned he had just one chance, the snake would not sit still for a second strike, so he chose the pitch-fork because it had a long handle.

He couldn't persuade the ducks to come out of the run, so he had to leave them there in the back corner.

He jabbed the pitch-fork into the curled-up snake ...

At first the snake didn't react, just looked up sleepily - obviously it had a meal to digest.

Then it tried to head for the back corner where the ducks were huddled ... so Peter set to with the chopper. He figured he might be able to shorten it a bit. (And he had heard that you should go for a python's tail.)

Then it turned and stuck it's head out of the doorway hissing at Peter ... which was when it discovered the mattock, and we all breathed again.

Not wanting to upset James too much - with possible comparisons to his mum's condition (!) - we waited till he went to kindy, then we opened the snake and found the chicken. There it was, feathers and all, swallowed feet first - quite amazing. The snake had viscious-looking poison fangs, so I guess it stuns its victims first.

Peter spent the day carefully patching every single hole in the duck-house so no more snakes can get in.

As it started to get dark the fowls started to get really edgy - food wasn't enough to entice them back into their little house! The chickens were the worst. They seemed to think that our toilet outhouse looked like an inviting place to roost for the night - but at least once they got in there I had a chance to catch them!

School Hols

Today is the first day of the school holidays - we discovered after taking James to kindy and finding it deserted!

Its bird season and a plague of small boys with handfuls of stones like to hang around outside our house (looking up into the huge, ancient almond tree out the front) and they try to hit birds with their stones. Unfortunately, besides the noise they make with their piping voices (while Ali is asleep), they give no thought to where the stone comes back down again.

Then there are the "big boys" or young men with air rifles, and handfuls of little dead birds - and they also give no consideration as to where their rifle pellets end up. But I'm not so game when it comes to sending them packing as I do with the little boys. They seem to have the idea that the (usually very strict) property boundaries don't apply if you are chasing a (real or imaginary) bird.

Translation Work and Weather

Last week Peter had language sessions with three important men - Henry Kabere (chairman), Jack Wailu (councillor) and Fr Nagai Tabo (Anglican priest). Ken Passi was to have come too, but he was drunk. Each gave a version (on tape, then transcribed) of the Noah story to be printed on to a "pre-run" book - a book with the pictures already printed and space to put the words.

On Sunday afternoon they were to have met to discuss the final text ... But it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and RAINED, all day and all night. Not Sydney drizzle but tropical crashing rain.Today it has gradually eased up at last.

It would have been a good setting for the Noah story, but no one goes out in the rain here. So we don't know what happens next. Will these characters turn up for sessions the same time as last week, or has everything just ground to a halt all over again?

Women's business

This is a very different society from ours. The men and women have very different roles. No way will the women be persuaded to take on language work the same as the men with our SIL methods using tape recorders, practising "drills" etc etc. So I have to work on some new strategies.

They are friendly and nice enough, but its hard to get really close to them. One doesn't just go visiting, apparently. I'm thinking about working on a book about food - bread recipes, recipes using local foods, nutrition advice (!) etc in Meriam to get them into the literacy habit. Books just aren't generally for women. It will give me an excuse to go visiting and call on them, researching the book.

Food and weather

The weather has been too rough for much boat fishing these days. Peter just went and bought us some pork sausages for tea - such things are not usually available, but these came in on a plane on Saturday. (7 sausages for $3 sounds reasonable to us, but maybe we have been here too long.)

We've had no potatoes for weeks - and we are getting sick of spaghetti and rice. I've even cooked damper or pancakes for a change a few times. My sweet potatoes grew nothing but leaves, but we found some cassava growing in our back yard so we tried a piece of that - took a lot of boiling, but I'm not too sure I was using the right method.

26 February 1984

Letter: New Ribbon

Letter 26 / 2 / 84

Kids permitting, I thought I'd type my letter this week, and try out our new ribbon. We had to type a report for our administration in Darwin, and they wanted to then be able to photo-copy it ... so they sent us a new ribbon! (no doubt we'll get the bill!) But, this is amazing, you can actually see it. The other one was faint right from the time we bought it. Now all I need to do is work out how to stop the 'a' from jumping ...

Talking of 'jumping', number 3 is busy jumping these days, all very encouraging. A young lady doctor came out this week for a holiday plus clinic (to make up for the missed clinic last week) and she insists that I'm 18 weeks or more. But I feel well. My weight is beginning to creep up, and she has promised to get me a spring-loaded finger-pricker so I can test my blood sugar without doing major surgery on my fingers.

Peter is well, though rather tired these days, its very hard for him to get going.

Alison is full of bounce. Still prefers to crawl (its faster and safer than walking) - but gets around a fair bit with the little wooden trolley.

James has his usual round of problems - a runny nose and cough again. He is going through a little rebellious patch too, feeling insecure again, I guess. Its 'in the wind' that we are going again sometime and he also hears talk of a new baby - we are pretty careful, but he's always quick to pick these things up, and its always hard to discuss things with him and get him all excited when its such a long time away yet. He's got his English talking and Creole all mixed up. We try to insist on good English at home to help him keep it straight. He's just so over-sensitive to everything. He still enjoys kindy, and after kindy likes to go and play with Marissa and Danielle. I don't mind him going, but it means unless I go with him for a chat with Sue, Alison really misses him, and we hardly see him either.

I have a feeling that last week's mail didn't go, so you may not have received our last letter. I may even ring you before you get this, but I'll write it anyway. Our May 5 flight is not definite, but we have to leave it partly up to Ron Kusch (who will be flying us down to Cairns). He usually flies on a Saturday, and he will be influenced by any possibility of other passengers and/or cargo.

We have just discovered (quite by accident) that we can now dial direct to Cairns and its a local call - 20c, talk as long as you like, instead of "3 minutes, are you extending?" every 30seconds - 20minutes (depending on how busy they are at the exchange)! The change was not announced, we are not even sure if it was supposed to happen, but it means we can talk to our friends in Cairns quite readily, as long as it lasts. Unfortunately we have not had any success with dialling direct any further south than Cairns, the phone chokes as soon as you mention an area code. So I will have to reverse charges for now - trying to get hold of enough 20c coins otherwise is nearly impossible, this island always has a cash flow problem.

Its been a good week for fishing, after all the bad weather. The other day Peter caught a 26lb travally! He said his hands and arms were a bit numb and shaky after pulling that one in by himself. That wasn't to mention the three 6lb coral trout he caught as well. And there have been a few sizeable ones since then.

We picnicked over at Dawar Island yesterday, came back all sunburnt. Peter saw some large trevally in a feeding frenzy, several of them being left high and dry flapping on the reef every time the wave went out ... but he couldn't get to his fish spear in time. He threw a line in and caught a nice one for our tea.

I was talking informally to the young lady doctor this morning and she says the head doctor wants to have me in hospital for the last few weeks on insulin - not keen on that! It won't be up to him in the end because we'll be in Darwin, and we hope they can be persuaded to let me come in for a daily test and/or injection rather than languish in hospital for weeks while the family goes up the wall.

Alison is in James's room, up to I don't know what. Soon it'll be time to get James from kindy. Its very sticky today, the ocean has that 'doldrums' look about it. We have reasoned that maybe the best way to catch some language is to spend most of the day sitting in or near the store ... but when Peter got there this morning everyone seemed to get up and gradually dribbled off home. We have some spare mangoes which he offered to someone and they said they would come and get them, but of course they didn't. We keep getting these bright ideas - "Right, today I'll try this..." and we head off all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and come home all disappointed again. And after a few days we don't feel like getting up in the mornings (but we always do, with a little help from the kids!)

Oh dear. Alison has found the box of tissues. They make such a lovely "phut! phut!" noise as you pull them out of the box ...

19 February 1984

Letter: Wet Season

Letter 19 / 2 / 84

Sunday afternoon on wet, windy Mer. It started raining on Tuesday, and didn't even pause for breath until Thursday afternoon. Then this NW wind came in. At night there is a full moon, so the extra high tides combined with this wind are chaotic.

Suddenly we are relieved to be on the side of the road away from the beach. Everyone on the beach front builds bamboo fences and buries all their rubbish behind them to protect against these tides - but it didn't do any good yesterday.

We decided to spend part of our 'day off' shell collecting ... until we found the water was right up in some peoples' shade houses and there was no beach to walk on. The ocean is pounding and roaring - its usually so quiet!

We are missing the fish in our diet too - its not exactly good fishing weather.

Our Ali

Alison has found her feet - but she still needs a little more confidence. She charges around with James' trolley. Sometimes when she thinks no one is looking she'll quietly walk half a dozen steps ... but as soon as we look she sits down.

She is so "talkative", we'll be wanting to put a cork in it when she learns the words.

And climb! She almost climbed out of her cot this morning, her foot was right up on the edge.

Our James

As for our little James ... Peter constantly checks his language, tries to make him speak English at home. He has so many quaint little sayings.

He's constantly asking when "our plane" is coming and when he'll see all his cousins - but he especially wants to see Uncle Mark. He's really taken a shine to Mark, just from photos. (I think its mostly the one of him holding a fish.)

Exocet chickens

I got tired of chasing our chickens with James' grasshopper net every time they flew away.

They love to fly about head height, straight at me like a missile, and then I would reach out with the net and phht!

So Peter clipped their wings, and we put them in with the ducks.

At first the ducks hissed at them, but in no time the chickens had taken over, running between the legs and under the bills of the ducks and stealing their food.

When things had settled down a bit, we opened the gate once more, and in no time the chickens were pecking around outside with the ducks following. (The ducks wouldn't even come out before.)

At night the chicks pop into their flour drum inside the duck hut, and the ducks huddle in their favourite corner.

Its all very pleasing ... except for the present lack of eggs.

Baby news

The doctor didn't come for his monthly visit this week due to the inclement weather.

Our baby is moving about already, and that along with size would indicate I'm about 18 weeks, but I think I'm about 15 weeks. It would be nice if I'm wrong about the date, but its probably just another jumbo, or two.

Anyway, I feel really well, sickness cleared up a couple of weeks ago. James commented this morning, "Big tummy, Mummy", so I guess he could start asking about it soon when it occurs to him.

No fish

No fish for tea tonight. Peter and Peter S braved the wind for a quick outing yesterday, but although they claimed a number of "good bites", they all got away.

Friends on TI sent us a packet of dried prawns, I guess I'll try and create some sort of a meal with those.

Never on Sunday

A plane came in a few minutes ago loaded with all kinds of fresh fruit - pity it's Sunday and they won't open the store!

I hope the rats will leave some for us to buy tomorrow.

04 February 1984

Letter: Hot Weather

Letter 4 / 2 / 84

Hot, sticky Sunday - today must be the first day in a couple of weeks that it hasn't rained.

They say the wet doesn't last very long - I hope it hasn't gone already. Oh, well, when it does, the SE season can actually be quite pleasant.

Language work

We are very busy these days - that's good.

We asked Fr Tabo for some advice about people not coming when they promise to. He thought about it and decided it was laziness, so he gave everyone a sound telling off.

Since that we've had some good informal sessions with Sam Passi, George Passi, and Jack Wailu.

Jack looks like developing into quite a good language helper. Unfortunately, as soon as the season changes he is moving around to Las, around the back of the island. It's not that far away, but compared to anywhere else on the island it seems so.

He has a sizable piece of land at Las, and he has said he would be happy for us to build a little holiday shack there for a break every few weeks ... lovely place Las, really rugged and "free"!


I still can't find anyone suitable to help care for Alison. She's a delight, and people enjoy her, but no one wants to be responsible for her.

Island babies aren't allowed to crawl etc, they sit quietly between mum's crossed legs ... this one is hopeless! I guess I may have to offer decent wages - we get a subsidy for language helper wages, but not for babysitters - even then I may get no offers.

Our "big Aunty Kathleen" would take her but she is employed in the clinic 9-12 each day, which is when I'd like to do language work rather than afternoons. Besides, I'd like to use Kathleen as a language helper somehow.

Climbing baby

Our Alison is very much a climbing baby.

We had an old foam rubber mattress and we cut it into four, and made bright covers for these scatter cushions which we arrange and rearrange around the room. Often we make a little sofa, two cushions high with another one for a back rest.

Ali loves climbing on and off that. But she took me by surprise yesterday when I found her sitting up on top of the upturned play cubes (you know, those plastic crates) which we were using as a baby gate. So much for that idea.

Later I found her up on top of the potty chair with her little pink feet firmly wedged in the potty.

Dumb ducks

Still no eggs from our ducks - all we need now is for someone to tell us that ducks won't lay when they live in the tropics.

But we are enjoying them. The drakes were so aggressive, but the ducks are so timid.

We've been leaving their gate propped open all week. It took about three days before they would even venture out after food. (And ducks are such greedy critters, worse than chooks).

Then they finally discovered that in the afternoon the long grass of our back "lawn" is cool and shady ... but then we went and cut the grass.

Damp chicks

Our four chicks are doing well - we found two of our six were roosters (you can tell by the wings!) and got rid of them.

But they have no sense in the rain. They will not shelter, would rather stand and "cheep" insults at the rain as it hits them.

The other day they got so wet and cold we wrapped them in tissues and put them in a little esky until they warmed up a bit.

Dinner time

Well, its time I started cooking some tea. The evenings go so much better for us if we can manage an early tea.

The Islanders don't generally eat until 7 or 8 pm, and some of their kids just don't make the distance.

Alison eats - or at least tries to - just about everything these days, un-mushed. She loves fish.


Did I tell you about Margaret getting beaten up? She's coming back on Tuesday ... she took 8 yr old daughter, Bai, and 9mth old baby, Helen, with her to the hospital, leaving Wilfred to cope with Kakam (3), Melpal (4) Dadaboy (5) and Lenwat (2). Its been a good experience for him, I guess. But he has palmed them off onto us a few times - what a nightmare! The "story" is that Margaret will return accompanied by two white police - but that's probably not true. They will tell something as if it's true if they really want it to be so.


The Melbidir is due Tuesday.

Everyone thinks it will be carrying 400 cartons of beer, and I guess some of the men will have their tongues hanging out ... but we have heard via the white grapevine (the Islanders don't know yet) that there won't be any beer on board at all.

It may be to do with the recent trouble with Margaret, though we don't know if drink was actually involved there.


There is a chap here to build a new clinic, complete with living quarters so doctor's visits needn't be a rushed 10am-4pm job but they could actually stay overnight. And its rumoured to be going to have a new super-duper bed with everything that goes up and down - even TI hospital isn't equipped thus. Crazy isn't it. (You should see the present bed - talk about ex war-time!)

Peter just picked our first 2 corn cobs. Very skinny cobs, but the kernels are full.

27 January 1984

Letter: Parcels

Letter 27 / 1 / 84

The PO is gradually getting sorted out after Christmas. The January parcel from Sydney posted January 15th got here on 24th.

Last week our parcels which we posted in Cairns in August finally arrived on the boat.

James loves his new shirts and they are a good fit.

Alison's spoon

Alison loves her new spoon (though right at this moment I can't find out where she's hidden it).

I opened the parcel when we were sitting on the school oval, and Alison immediately started crawling around happily with her spoon in her hand.

Then we came home and sat her in her seat and put her bowl and spoon in front of her ... after a few minutes the light suddenly dawned - its a spoon - and she started digging into her bowl with it.

I've given up trying to feed her - she spits out anything that she hasn't put into her mouth by herself. (She's like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead ... when she's good she's very very good, but when she's bad she's horrid.)

So its mostly "finger foods" - but she loves using a spoon, so every now and then I make some gluey custard (which sticks to the spoon easily and won't fall out of the bowl even if its tipped upside down!) and she has a go. I'm never sure how much actually gets eaten though.

Tombstone Opening

The Tombstone Opening ceremony is a strange religious mixture. They have an Anglican-type service that is mumbled through (all wearing proper Anglican robes).

Don't know where this particular service came from, who made it up specially, and how much the Anglican powers-that-be know about it.

The real purpose seems to be final appeasement of the ghost, the Anglican service is more along the lines of getting them out of Purgatory (which of course is a totally Roman Catholic concept and not generally accepted in the Anglican Church).

The non-religious excuse for the ceremony is "out of respect" for the deceased.

Fruits, and everything dies

Sorry to hear about your fruit flops.

Our corn looks like its doing well. The tomatoes look hopeful. And the three citrus trees are growing despite their holey leaves. I think there may be some pumpkins on the way.

Everything else ... well it all dies one way or another. James has had death explained from "Daddy's corn dead" to "sick man is dead" when George B died.

Sacks and clothes with holes

I'm still wearing my cotton "sacks" from my last pregnancy - I never really got out of them after Alison was born except for a few months in skirts to make feeding her easier. They are rather dull and faded-looking, I keep wondering if they will last the distance. What with the sweat, scrubbing, and sunlight, nothing lasts long here. Peter's shirts suddenly have big holes in them.

At first we thought James had got hold of some scissors, then we thought battery acid must have got onto them, ... and despite great care they just keep producing holes.

So we are guessing its body acid / scrubbing / deodorant etc. - they are pure cotton. His older shirts which are a synthetic mix have survived ... except that in recent years he has continued to develop around the shoulder area and of course the sleeves keep tearing off - I've given up trying to sew them back.

Neurotic Ducks

Our ducks are neurotic.

The day we got them, there were ten of them crammed into a tiny box. But as soon as we tried to separate some of them off, they made so much noise and fuss that we put them back.

Since then we have had many consignments of ducks arrive for other people, and we have had no trouble separating these ones.

Then after one duck got sick (and well again) they wouldn't go into their house at night. Now with the six drakes gone, they won't come out in the morning.

And ... still no eggs.

Cute chicks

Our tiny chicks are a lot of fun though.

We didn't mean to get them. We over-ordered ... and although we could get rid of them by merely whispering that there are some chicks available ... we decided they would be fun to keep to replace the drakes.

They are so independent right from the start. They scratch the ground and peck and everything - just like big ones, but they are so tiny, and light. When you pick them up you barely know they are on your hand. Then they flutter their tiny wings and leap off into mid-air.


After three days of kindy James came down with a nasty "cold-sick" so he's home today. He sounded like he had asthma this morning.

Alison has a runny nose too, but otherwise (apart from heat-rash) seems fine. She is certainly full of "bounce" as always.

Right now Peter has gone fishing and taken James with him - he hasn't had to go fishing for nearly a week because other people have given us fish to eat.


We are looking forward to Peter S (white principal) and his family returning any day now - I wonder how they feel about returning.

James likes having Narissa around because she plays his kind of games (like teddies and tea-sets) and she has white hair like him. He does feel very conspicuous among the island kids sometimes.

Little Danielle is another "girl with a curl", so cute and sweet but with a terrible temper - she should be getting on well with Alison before the year is out.

Then the family will leave and we will have to break in another teacher family .... although, change is in the air. The Education Department is scheduled to take over the school about mid-year, and that should mean bringing in some more white teachers - somehow.


Having stopped formal language sessions for the Christmas break, Peter's been trying to build up a supply of tapes of different ones talking or telling stories fairly informally.

But we are up against the old brick wall again.

Even James Rice and Barnie Day say : "Yes, I'll come at 9am. No, don't come to my place, I'll come to yours." And then, two days later, with a smile, "Oh, I didn't come because I went to my garden."

Sometimes we have seen them buy a drum of flour in the store and then walk past our house with it on their shoulder hiding their head, hoping (apparently) that we can't see them or recognise them.

We are missing something here. Our heads are full of bright new creative ideas, but creativity is not the "in" thing up here, and we don't know where to start next.

George S is on a drinking binge, can't even walk straight. Balaga is teaching in the school now to replace the habitually drunk Saibo whom Peter S sacked last year. (These school teachers - Balaga and Saibo -are straight off the street, no training whatsoever.)

Sewing Machine

My little old treadle sewing machine - given to me by an old lady who is moving into a home - is in Cairns and all crated up ready to come. There are so many odd jobs I've been putting off for when it arrives. I'll be able to make a lava-lava for Peter in an hour instead of two days.

24 January 1984

Letter: The Walking Wounded

Letter 24 / 1 / 84

Just a quick note to let you know that we are still okay.

The little one seems to be doing okay at about 12 weeks.

Alison has a slight cold, she is teething, I think.

James started kindy today - rather tearfully and apprehensively. He is recovering from a nasty boil on his shoulder.

Peter did his back in last week - he just happened to be closing the fridge door at the time. So in between giving him painkillers and rubbing liniment on his back, I suddenly find myself doing some of the heavier jobs around the place.

We are surviving.

Flying ducks

Yesterday one of our ducks suddenly flew. She did look surprised!

They always have a good flap when we let them out of their house into their run in the mornings, and this one just took off, honking and squawking with alarm ... and then found herself on the wrong side of the fence and tried to sieve herself back through.

So, yesterday, Peter trimmed their wings.

A lot of people here have been buying ducks and chicks through us - we now have six chicklings too, to James' delight.

Some of the ducks have got sick. One family put Aspro Clear in their water and they got well. Another family used a Vitamin C tablet with the same results.

We have now sold all of our drakes, only four ducks left - but still no eggs yet.

The all-important bung

On Saturday Peter took James fishing, and came back when the tide was really low.

Because of his bad back, he decided to anchor the boat and wait for the tide to bring it in a bit.

He woke up at 4am, suddenly remembering that not only would the tide have been in and out again by then, but he'd left the bung out of the boat.

Someone at church the next day told us they had found our boat with only the head of the motor above the water, and they had pulled it up for us.

The manual said if your motor gets submerged it must be serviced within three hours or else its had it. But we weren't sure how much it had been under water, and being Sunday we couldn't even try starting it. So we had to wait until Monday before we could find out that it still starts ok.

Hills Hoist

We have a new rotary clothes hoist!

Very commonplace to some people, but quite exciting to us!

The lines we had tied between the house and shed and shower/toilet were such a nuisance. They pulled the wall off the shed once, and several times broke resulting in all my carefully (hand-) scrubbed clothes landing in the dirt. And you always had to duck through rows of wet nappies and other washing to get to the toilet, shower, or duck pen.

We still can't help ducking when we go outside! But its great to have a rotary hoist now.

Police presence

Last week we had a visit from a couple of white policemen. There had been some 'trouble', breaking and entering to steal metho, and so the police had come to sort things out.

The detective from Cairns is a Presbyterian chap who goes to the same church as our friends the Hs in Cairns. He also went to Queensland Bible Institute, so it was fun to sit around and exchange Bible College Stories. With a 9 month old boy at home, he was rather taken with Alison. Peter was glad of a bit of white company on his fishing trips too. James was thrilled to have some 'uncles' around the place.

Late delivery

Last August (5 months ago) when we decided we might be up here for more than six months at a go we asked our friends in Cairns to buy a whole lot of things, including some cartons of skim milk powder. Since then boats have come and gone - some with mail and some without - and finally last week our last three parcels from that lot arrived.

Washing Day

With me having been sick, and Peter struggling with a bad back, we have quite a build-up of dirty washing ... and we have promised ourselves that today is THE DAY.

So, better get on with it.

12 January 1984

Letter: Taking a Little Holiday

Letter 12 / 1 / 84

I'm sitting up in bed in our living room - we're in a shambles again. We ran out of floor paint before and didn't do our bedroom, and now at last the paint is here, and the turp's too, and we have the time and energy to get on with it.

We've been taking a bit of a break from actual work, though of course we are still well and truly in touch with the people - unlike people in some locations the people here do leave us alone if it seems that we want to keep to ourselves for a while. In fact, that has been largely our problem working here, persuading them to 'bother' us even a little bit.

Camping on Waier

We decided it was about time we took a camping holiday. The wet season has disappeared for the time being, the 'doldrums' are back, and I felt that with the mirror-smooth water maybe I could venture out in the boat at last.

So we went for a day-trip, half prepared to stay the night if we found somewhere we liked ...

As we approached Waier Island we saw turtle tracks on the beach and, feeling very intrepid, went ashore to poke for eggs.

Well, that turtle went for a long walk looking for somewhere to lay, but eventually we were sure we had the right spot. I poked with Peter's crayfish spear - until I broke the spear.

Peter dug a bit, but we weren't aware of how deep these turtles dig their nests.

Late that afternoon James Rice and some of his family came looking for eggs, having dug up three other lots elsewhere, and they poked really deep where we had been looking and found the eggs.

Unlike these people, we couldn't eat a couple of dozen each, so we just took a few and he had the rest.

Anyway, we had our screen tent with us, and we set that up right under a shady wongai tree on a lovely little beach on Waier, and decided to spend the night. Peter did some fishing and we had lovely barbecued snapper for lunch.

Inside the crater

Then we went exploring inside the crater of Waier.

You may remember from "Drums of Mer" the evil cult associated with "Waiat" on Waier - its no wonder superstition grew up around that place, its really creepy.

The whole island is just three steep sides of a rocky crater, in places it's worn away so it looks like statues glaring down at you.

There are all sorts of holes and caves, but they mostly take a bit of scrambling up to. We were camped on a little beach outside the crater, and the water (as it is around all of these islands) is crystal clear, the sand is fine and white.

But when you get inside the crater the water is murky and yellow.

On the beach the sand looks white, but just beneath the surface its black. The heat is intense from all the surrounding rocks.

Stepping into the rays

As Peter stepped out of the boat - he leapt right back - he had just missed stepping onto a stingray in the murky water.

He splashed with an oar and found there were three stingrays around the boat.

We ventured a few metres up the beach towards an interesting looking cave, but we found ourselves getting cooked so fast in the intense heat that we hurried back to the boat, deciding we would find a cooler time to explore in there, maybe when the wind is blowing into the crater.

We headed back to our little camp, and spent the afternoon feeling hot and sunburnt.

Sleeping with the Sand Man

When the sun finally gave in and went down, and we headed for our beds ... we discovered the problems associated with sleeping on/in exceptionally fine sand. There was just no getting rid of it, and when you are as sunburnt as we were, sand is not a welcome bed companion!

Alison had been restless all day - hated being carried around, wanted to explore on her own - and hadn't eaten her tea. So she woke up about every hour.

Peter would put a bottle in her mouth and then go out to check for turtles (as he had promised James he would turn one over for him if he saw one) and I would go out to the 'toilet', refill Alison's other bottle for the next shift, and try to get some of the sand out of the bed.

By the early hours both James and Alison had saturated themselves and the sleeping bag they were on, and of course both of them were (sunburnt and) covered in sand - and miserable!

By 5am we couldn't stand it any more, so we 'got up'.

Quick storm

We decided to go across in the boat and look at the other side of Dauar Island (which we'd never seen) and then head for home.

But we just got around Dauar and back to our camp in time to batten down before an approaching storm ... we suddenly wished we had our tent instead of the screen tent.

As it turned out there wasn't much rain, just a lot of wind directly into our faces, it was hard keeping the boat safely anchored.

After about an hour cooped up in our little screen tent we were released at last and came scurrying home. What a holiday!

We've left the screen tent there and intend to return to continue our holiday when we can iron out a few of the problems.

Fish at home

We have a couple of small fish for tea tonight. This is one kind that you have to fry, really hard, until the skin goes black. Then you pick the outside off and it's beautiful inside.

Funny how we have actually got used to some of these things.

Ducks and Drakes

We finally admitted to ourselves that we had six drakes and four ducks - pretty poor show when the guy who sold them to us said he was pretty sure they were all females.

We wanted to swap with anyone who had more ducks than drakes, but in the end we decided to sell off all six of the drakes ... and of course they were snapped up within a few minutes of that fact being known.

Really, you could sell anything in this place, just name the price.

Ron Day's Wedding

Last month there was a wedding - pretty rare in these parts.

The couple had both attended 'School of Australian Linguistics' (SAL) in Darwin, rather a doubtful organisation with government funding, and she became pregnant.

He is fairly religious (Anglican) and so decided that although they had made a mistake they would at least try to get things right now.

So last year we were among those invited to their engagement here, and now the baby is Alison's age and it was time for their marriage.

He is actually Ron Day, Barnie Day's son. In the meantime she has been 'restored' into the Anglican church, and confirmed by the bishop when he visited here.

With feasts here, its generally true that if you know it's on, then you are 'invited' to attend, but with this one we actually had an official invitation from Barnie. At the wedding feast we found (to our slight embarrassment because it gave us real problems with looking after the kids) that we were actually seated at the bridal table with the select rather than on the mats with the masses - we are not used to any sort of recognition here.

The Wedding Cake Debacle

The wedding was to have been on Friday, but when Barnie came to invite us on Thursday he told us it had been postponed until Saturday.

Then one of the ladies came to see me asking if I'd do the cake!

In the time between supply boats, and without warning, its very hard to come up with eggs and icing sugar. What a time of it we had! I didn't know what kind of cake was expected, but decided a (boiled) fruit cake would mean it would keep a day or two if there was another delay in proceedings. So I made a big (thin) rectangle and a little square to mount on top ... using egg powder, and most of my secret supply of dried fruit - I had to put in 'fruit medley' which has dried apples etc.

Then a plane came loaded with fresh 'goodies' (plums, apricots, cherries, lettuce ...) including eggs. This happens from time to time, but not on any regular basis. So I hurried over and bought some eggs. But when I got them home and tried to separate them and make royal icing, they were all slightly off and wouldn't separate. I dredged up three that I had before and had to make do with thin icing with no almond paste under it.

Well we managed to make a fairly presentable cake (all things considered) with four foil-covered cotton reels to rest the top tier on - and left it to set, to put it together at the last minute.

Overnight it did set a bit, while I had nightmares about rats and mice eating it, or ants getting into it, or finding the icing had all run off onto the floor ...

Saturday was hot, and the icing started to melt.

We emptied our tiny caravan (gas-powered) fridge and put it in there during the wedding service. Then we carried it carefully down to the Day's place and set up the tiers on the table. We sat at the wedding feast watching it gradually droop and drip - the top layer slowly sank down to join the bottom layer as the cotton reels sunk into the bottom cake.

Not even a taste

We didn't see them take it away and cut it up. We saw a plate of cake being passed around, but it was empty before it got to us, we never even got to taste it!

Time to dance

Of course, the festivities ended in dancing. James just had to be dressed up in his gear, so were Wilfred and his boys.

Wilfred was planning to do a dance with his boys, but they all fell asleep before the dancing started, so he went on with James instead. It took a bit of gumption on James' part, once or twice he hesitated and his lip quivered, but he saw it through to the end and went to bed a very proud boy.

Ali baby

Alison looks like she could walk in the next few weeks - but then she did take quite a few weeks to get her crawling act together. She often forgets what she is doing and lets go with both hands for a few seconds.

She is so tiring to look after. I wish I could get someone to take her from time to time.


And James is in full voice these days - wish we had someone to spend more time talking to him and listening to him, and reading his books to him.

He will spend as long as we will let him with his headphones on or in front of the radio/cassette player listening to his kindy tapes over and over. At least there he hears English, though his speech is still mostly Creole. "Yumi go now? Yu laiki dis pla?" - and all with that special Islander lilt to it.

Kids together

Together they are such a funny pair. They often just put their heads together and giggle for no obvious reason. Alison get very animated if she hears him coming, especially if we say "Here comes James!"

He still tends to try to copy her rather than just being himself, wants a bottle if she has one (and when they slept close together on Waier he kept pinching her bottles, which didn't help!) but we don't fuss about it and she's growing up so fast she'll soon be up with him anyway.

He has lots of special times too, with books or blocks, when she can't join in, and of course 'his' music on the tapes.

As for number three, things seem to be developing well despite early set-backs. The doctor's monthly visit is next week, so I guess I'll have another check-up then. According to my calculations I'm only 10 weeks yet, but according to finger measurements I'm at least 12 weeks, so it could be another baby elephant despite all our best efforts.

Clam guts

Last week Peter went out diving a few times with the chaps. I think we told you about the shark incident? The last time they went they came back without crayfish but loaded with clams and trocchus. We've really come to enjoy these delicacies, though Peter still won't try the (nice) soft part of the clam, only the tough muscle bit.