I am plundering my previous blog, the original World from my Window (accept no substitute) for a long post for Australia Day today.
Eleven years ago, Mr Grigg and I went to the other side of the world for a wedding in New Zealand. He had just retired and I was between jobs, so we took the opportunity to take a month off to do a bit of travelling.
We spent two weeks in Australia, the land of my forebears. It wasn’t long enough but it was something, and I am forever grateful to have got there to see my uncle before he died.
In the migration museum of Adelaide, there is a verse by Mary Thomas, an emigrant in the 1800s:
Yes, England, I have fled from thee
Fast fades thy beauteous shore
then flow my tears, for I shall see
my native land no more
In 1964, my father’s brother took advantage of the assisted passage scheme and left Somerset for the heat of Adelaide, South Australia, as a Ten Pound Pom.
He has returned several times since – for holidays – and the last time I saw him was twelve years ago. It is a hugely emotional experience for me to meet him and his family on the other side of the world.
He walks out on to the pavement from his front door and playfully asks: ‘Who’s this then?’
I hug him. I can feel the tears running down my cheeks. After 45 years or more, he hasn’t lost that lovely and soft Westcountry burr.
He tells me about my grandfather, who was an ANZAC and fought at Gallipoli in the First World War. He tells me about my great uncle, who left Somerset in the 1920s and never came back. He tells me about my great uncle’s farm I hope to find in New South Wales. He recalls how the house wasn’t finished when Uncle Jim moved in. On the first floor, the walls hadn’t been put in and you could look from room to room. Jim never finished it either, but he built up a fine farm of 4,000 acres with cattle, horses and dogs.
Lots of dogs.
‘They used to sit underneath the house to keep cool,’ my cousin recalls. ‘There were loads of them.’
When Jim left for Australia, he begged his Somerset sweetheart to join him.
‘He offered to pay for her to come out but her mother said he’d have to go back and get her,’ my uncle tells me.
Both of them grew old and single on opposite sides of the world.
I think of Jim and his lost love as I stay with my extended family (and Jim’s) here in Australia. It is a story of loss and regret and what-might-have-been. I hope I can find some remnants of his life here.
Belly boarding on Bondi, Mr Grigg says he does not need the board because his belly is big enough. The waves greet me like the famous scene from The Perfect Storm. I have a fear of being underwater that goes back to a time when I was saved from drowning at Instow, North Devon, as a child. So I slink back to the beach to watch the beautiful people go by.
We are staying with The Fit Family in a cool Art Deco apartment building. Bondi suprises me because the residential areas are so green and shady. The city is like that all over, I realise, when I take in the view from the Sydney Tower. I look out across to Centennial Park, where at Sydney Showground my grandfather enlisted in the ANZACs nearly 100 years earlier.
This is a holiday about the past as well as the present.
Lord and Lady G near Noosa, My Beautiful Cousin and the Twins in Adelaide, The Fit Family in Bondi, Mr Grigg’s cousin – officially Australia’s Laziest Man – in the sleepy coastal community of Harrington up the coast in New South Wales, The Sugar Cane Farmer and then the ghosts of relatives past.
Through the wonders of Google, I can visualise my great-uncle’s home at Rappville, inland from Evans Head and the surf-dude coolness of Byron Bay. When my grandfather was coming back to England after World War One, his little brother was heading for a new life farming in the New South Wales bush.
Mr Grigg, meanwhile, is currently heading up river with his cousin on a flat-bottomed motor boat.
Before they set out, his cousin looks at the map.
‘There are all these creeks but I haven’t yet found sh*t creek,’ he says.
I think he might be there now, and possibly without a paddle.
As we head north, this colourful shack and the prevalence of Dukes of Hazzard-style ve-hick-els indicates to me that we are getting closer to the land of my great-uncle.
His last resting place is in a cemetery on the outskirts of Casino, the beef capital of Australia.
Mr Grigg and I walk through the rows and rows of headstones in the baking New South Wales heat.
A shout goes up from the left.
‘Here it is,’ Mr Grigg says
We have finally found it.
‘In loving memory of James Walter Hull, died 13.12.73 aged 76. Always remembered.’
I ponder for a while. I picture the adventures Uncle Jim must have had since landing in Australia in 1925. Driving the post coach and horses, seeing and buying the 4,000-plus acre farm at Rappville and then setting up home there with his young cousin, Percy, who was to die a few years later in a flu epidemic.
Mr Grigg and I sit and drink beer in the Commercial Inn at Rappville, built in 1911 and still stuck in place between the pioneering days and the 1960s. We are told the town was used as the set for ‘that Pommy show Heartbeat‘, which is being broadcast on Australian TV in the autumn. The whole place feels just as it might have done when Uncle Jim was alive.
We do not find his house although I like to think one of the timber-clad buildings we see beyond the roadside could have been his. As we drive slowly along Myrtle Creek Road, which would have probably bounded my great-uncle’s farm, a kangeroo bounces past and then hides in the forest. Around the corner, a herd of cattle amble across the road, see our car and then quietly disappear into the bush.
I now intend to find out more about the life of Jim the man, so he is not forgotten. Always remembered.
That’s about it.
Love, Maddie x