PAPERBACK BOOKS

A BIRD IN THE BUSH


 

Queensland born, Carol Pritchard has always been eager to write a book based on her time spent working as a governess in Western Queensland in the mid to late 1950s.  

Rearing three children and working beside her husband left little time for writing. It was not until she retired to the Sunshine Coast that she finally found time to write her story.  

With the aid of her diaries kept from that time and by jogging the memory of her husband who travelled most of the journey with her, Carol has now completed her story. 

Written as a fictional memoir she has endeavoured to present an engaging read, with a touch of humour, drama and pathos, interwoven with a tender love story.

In Store Price: $25.00 
Online Price:   $24.00

ISBN: 978-1-921731-37-2     Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 206
Genre:  Fiction


Author: Carol Prichard
Imprint: Poseidon
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2010
Language: English


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Read some samples:

One 

“I’m going out to Trumby today.” My words hang in the air like a heavy fog as I wait for Merv’s reply.

At last, he looks up from his breakfast and gives me a gentle smile. “Good for you,” he responds, “I was beginning to think we had come all this way for nothing.”

I glare at him.

“I mean, it’s been good looking round the town and catching up with old friends, and I wouldn’t have missed the trip to the museum and miniature building exhibition, but even you have to agree that two weeks is enough time for that.”

I could argue, but that would be a waste of time. I know Merv has many fond memories of Morven and the surrounding district, after all, it was here that he had met and courted me and where we had spent the early years of our married life but, I also know that he just doesn’t feel the same way as I do 17-year-old fresh out of school, I had come as a governess forty-five years ago.

Now, of course, Trumby is no longer a working property. Once, scientific experiments identified the Ooline tree and weathered mudstones and siltstones found on the property as part of the Wallumbilla formation dating back to the Cretaceous period. The Queensland government had purchased the property in order to preserve these rarities. It is now a national park with access for the public being via a day-visitor’s car park on the eastern side of the property. Not that I’ll be entering Trumby on foot. Even though we’ve been warned that we could be charged with trespassing if caught, Merv and I are determined to arrive at the main gate and travel by car down the track to the homestead just as I had all those years ago.

Rising from the breakfast table I bundle the dirty dishes into the sink. I gather items for the day’s outing; camera, water, shady hat. Should I make sandwiches? No. Fruit and biscuits, I think.

Anxious to get going, Merv is already on his way out the door. He will be happy to get this day over and done with. He has a far more interesting trip on his mind. The yellowbelly are on the bite in the weir at Cunnamulla, and every day we delay our departure from Morven, means one less day he has to fish.

At last, I’m ready. I have one last look round the confined space of the small camper trailer – our home for the last six weeks – pull the door shut behind me and make my way to the car where Merv waits, impatiently tapping his fingers against the steering wheel.

Then we are on our way. Past the Anglican church and police station, heading south towards Trumby.

Soon, I’m recognising familiar landmarks. The remains of Lee Wong’s old shack, the jump-up a few kilometres out of town. A little further on, the clearing where Merv and I spent a night stranded in the freezing cold.

A few kilometres from the Trumby turn-off we come to a large building that definitely wasn’t there in earlier years. A huge sign identifies it as the Bonsella Tannery to treat kangaroo, goat and calf skins.

“Now there’s a turn up for the books,” Merv remarks. “That would have been real handy in our day. We could have made a nice little profit selling them our ’roo skins, instead of leaving them in the paddock to rot.”

We’re at the turn-off; only a few kilometres to go. My heart is thumping as we arrive at the main entrance leading to the homestead. Now my heart sinks. Our way is barred by a solid iron gate which is securely fastened with chains and a large lock. With apprehension I note the threatening message.

 

GOVERNMENT PROPERTY

TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED

Bugger, what now?

Beside the gate is an iron grid which looks as if it has seen better days and will surely collapse under the weight of our car if we attempt to cross over it. But Merv is a man on a mission. He hasn’t come all this way to be put off by a sagging hunk of metal. After close inspection, then some careful manoeuvring, we are across.

We alight from the car and hand in hand, stare down the track to where a cluster of roofs is barely visible through a heavy growth of mulga trees.

As I try to make out each of the buildings, I am suddenly overcome with a tremendous feeling of déjà vu. I remember standing on this very spot more than forty years ago looking down the same track, trying to make out the same buildings, just as I am this very moment.

Suddenly my mind is backtracking through the years, and I am once again seventeen years old, and about to begin the journey of a lifetime. 

 

Two

Looking for a job

 

The past.

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 Wales border.

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 west.

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 list.”

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 confident.

‘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 so fast.

“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.
 

 

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