I was eleven
when my mother died. At the
time of her death, my family lived in an army camp on the Queensland-New South
Looking back, I realize those
carefree years before my mother’s death were some of the happiest days of my
life. It was postwar and times were tough – so Dad kept reminding us – but, as I
ran wild with my brothers and sisters in the unspoiled ranges bordering the
town, rationing and coupons meant little to me. I had food in my belly, warm
clothes in winter, and best of all, a loving mother who bathed shinned knees,
kissed away the pain and tucked me into bed every night.
Then my world came crashing down. “A
stroke. So sudden. Poor man, to lose his wife like that,” neighbours whispered.
“How will he cope?”
My father didn’t cope. He went back
to soldiering, leaving us five younger kids in the care of our five older,
married siblings. For the next three years, I moved from one family to another,
country to city and state school to convent, till finally, when I turned
fourteen, my oldest brother, Bill, offered me a permanent home with his family
and the opportunity to complete my high school education. I jumped at the
chance, knowing that at the end of that time, Bill expected me to stay on and
work as his secretary in his business in Brisbane.
At the end of my third year with
Bill, I knew I’d made a dreadful mistake. I could never be a secretary. I failed
bookkeeping. I hated typing and my shorthand was so bad I couldn’t decipher more
than a few words. The very thought of being stuck behind an office desk all day
filled me with dread. How to tell Bill?
“Just tell him you’d rather work in
the country,” my friend Debbie told me when I confided in her.
Easy for Deb. With the support of
her parents, she had just secured a position as a jillaroo on a property out
I shook my head. “He’d have a fit,
Deb. Besides, I don’t know how to go about getting a job.”
“Easy,” she replied. “Any of the
pastoral companies will help you. All you have to do is pick out something you’d
like.” She shoved a piece of paper in my hand. “Here. Have a look at this
Wow! I was amazed. The jobs were
endless; cooks, gardeners, cowboys, shearers, jackaroos, jillaroos, housemaids –
yuck! Definitely not that one. Governesses … I stopped there. Governess,
now that looked okay. I’d been around my nieces and nephews long enough to
realize it didn’t take a genius to look after kids. ‘Should be a breeze,’ I told
myself, ‘and it beats riding a horse or doing housework. Yep! Governess! That’s
for me.’ I reached for Deb’s phone and dialled the number at the bottom of the
page to make an appointment for an interview when a position became available.
Three days later a call came from a
Mrs Lyons. She told me that Mr Cowley, a grazier from Trumby, a property near
the small town of Morven in south west Queensland, needed a governess. He was
conducting interviews that afternoon. If I was interested I had to be at the
office at two o’clock for my appointment.
‘Was I interested?’
I grabbed a map of Queensland. I
couldn’t find the property on the map but, there was Morven, a small dot between
the towns of Charleville and Mitchell and, as far as I could work out, about
five hundred miles west of Brisbane. ‘Five hundred miles! Wow! So far away. What
if I got the job and didn’t like it? What if I didn’t like the people? Worse
still, what if they didn’t like me? Oh well, only one way to find out.’
I arrived much too early for the
interview and waited nervously while two women were, in turn, ushered in and out
of the office. I presumed they were being interviewed for the same position. I
judged them to be in their late twenties or early thirties. Well groomed and
smartly dressed in tailored suits, they both looked very professional and so
‘Oh boy, if that’s what a governess
is supposed to look like then Mr Cowley is in for a shock when he sees me.’
I chuckled to myself.
Having come straight from school for
the interview, I was still in my uniform. In my rush, I’d lost my comb so
couldn’t do anything with my unruly, shoulder-length hair. Compared to the other
applicants, I was anything but well groomed, or smartly dressed.
‘I don’t think much of my chances,’
I thought. ‘I may as well make a run for it.’
But I waited, and after what seemed an eternity, it was my turn.
Nervously, I entered the room.
A large, rural landscape painting
covered one wall. A polished, wooden desk and two matching chairs took up most
of the space in the small office, leaving just enough room for a leather lounge
and a small coffee table. A middle-aged, well-dressed woman sat behind the desk.
Her long greying hair, pulled severely back from her thin face, only accentuated
her hawk-like features. As I approached the desk she stood up and introduced
herself. “I’m Mrs Lyons, dear. I spoke to you over the phone.”
She took my arm, and guided me
towards the lounge. “Mr Cowley,” she addressed the man lounging against the
cushions. “This is Carol Vaughan.”
For me, the word ‘grazier’ had
conjured up an image of a tall, lean man, elegantly dressed in white riding
pants, crisp denim shirt and the ‘old school’ tie. Boy! Was I ever mistaken!
Mr Cowley was short and round.
Dressed in a cotton shirt, and faded khaki pants held up with black braces, his
only resemblance to my image of a grazier was his well-worn, high-heeled riding
boots. I stared in amazement as he struggled to his feet, his every movement
hampered by his enormous gut, which spilled out over his trousers. I gulped back
a nervous giggle, as I had a mental picture of this stubby, fat-bellied man
trying to touch his toes or tie his shoelaces.
‘And to think I was worried because
I didn’t fit the image of a governess.’
“Pleased to meet you Carol,” he
said, holding out a small, puffy hand.
I hadn’t realised I was so nervous.
My legs shook. Perspiration moistened my palms and formed in beads along my
upper lip. I wiped my sweaty hand on my uniform before shaking his hand.
The interview took the form of a
friendly discussion and, before long I found myself telling Mr Cowley my life
story leading up to my application for the job. Seated back in the lounge, eyes
closed, his arms folded across his huge gut, a cigarette hanging loosely from
the corner of his mouth, Mr Cowley listened without interrupting. When I
finished, he opened his eyes, smiled at me, and to my utter amazement said, “I
reckon you’ll be able to manage my three brats. The job is yours, if you want
it. And if it’s okay with your brother, of course. Maybe I should meet him so he
can see for himself who you are going to work for.”
“Oh! There’s no need for that,” I
answered quickly. “It’ll be okay with him.”
I wasn’t really lying. Somehow I’d
make it okay.
The rest of the interview passed in
a blur. Mr Cowley touched on wages and working hours, but I was too stunned to
take it all in. I couldn’t believe it. I had a job.
I explained that as I needed a
couple of weeks to tidy up a few loose ends, I wouldn’t be able to leave for
Morven with him the next day.
“Don’t worry,” Mr Cowley said,
laying a friendly hand on my shoulder. “You can come out on the train. Just let
Mrs Lyons know when you’re ready. She’ll book a sleeper for you and let us know
when you’re arriving. Okay?”
I nodded. Everything was happening
“Good. It’s all fixed. Mrs Cowley
and I will look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks.”
With his cheery voice ringing in my
ears, I went home to face Bill. I figured that as I was living under his roof
and he was providing for me, he could somehow prevent me from taking this job.
I’d have to do some fast talking to get him on side. As expected, Bill was
very angry. I couldn’t blame him. Not only had I let him down, I had gone behind
his back in doing so. What a disappointment I turned out to be.
“I can’t believe you could be so
irresponsible as to give up a perfectly good home and a steady job without even
discussing it with me,” he roared.
“But, I’d make a dreadful secretary.
You’ll be better off employing some one with experience.” I defended myself.
“It’s not a secretary I’m concerned
about at the moment,” Bill replied. “I’m more worried about you going so far
away to live with people you know nothing about. I’d feel much happier if I
could meet this Mr Cowley.”
“Oh! You can’t do that. He’s already
left Brisbane.” For the second time that day I found myself lying, though for
the life of me I don’t know why I didn’t want Bill and Mr Cowley to meet. Maybe
it was the fact that I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of making my
own decisions concerning my future.
Bill eyed me suspiciously, but
offered no further argument.
“Well, if you’re determined to go, I
guess nothing I say will make you change your mind. Just remember we’ll be here
if you need us should anything go wrong.”
‘What could possible go wrong?’
The next two weeks passed quickly.
Taking heed of Bill’s suggestion that I travel light – maybe he thought I’d be
back sooner than I expected – I packed only one suitcase and a small overnight
bag. Last minute things I crammed into my cane basket which I’d purchased on a
last minute shopping spree with Deb.
I was already having second thoughts
about the basket. I hadn’t set out to fritter away my precious pocket money on
unnecessary items but, then I saw it, suspended by a rope in the window of the
craft shop. Oval shaped and lined with bright, pink satin material, the basket
had red and white artificial roses woven into the handle. For me, it was love at
first sight. I just had to have it even though the salesperson advised me that a
larger one would be more practical. Now I wished that I had taken her advice. My
good hat and precious mohair cardigan were going to be a mess by the time I
reached my destination.
‘Oh well, too late now.’
I jammed the sandwiches and fruit to
be eaten on the train into the basket then, humming a little tune, I gathered it
up and went to join my family waiting to take me to the station.