Our house was perched on the ridge with beautiful views both ways, especially up the Tweed Valley to Mount Warning. The main window in the lounge was plate glass, and the view was like an oil painting of the Valley by a master landscape artist. Sometimes birds skimmed across the valley and tried to fly straight into our lounge room, often knocking themselves out on the plate glass. But the chief disadvantage in building on such commanding ground was brought home to us one night when a cyclonic wind started to blow. We had not realised the enormous energy created and dissipated in the form of cyclones on the Queensland coast. Now we found out. The house shuddered and shook throughout the entire night, and the wind only abated the next morning. During all this time, Irene and I lay silently in bed, waiting for the next sledgehammer blow to hit the house and make it shudder. Irene was wake and I was awake, but neither let the other know for fear of creating unnecessary alarm. The only people who slept peacefully through that night were Patricia and Peter in their bedrooms on the opposite side of the house. They slept the peaceful sleep of the innocent and the young.
The next morning, when Irene and I got out of bed and realised that we had both been awake simultaneously, we went downstairs to see what had happened to several large tea-chests containing heavy tools, books and household goods which we had stored under the house. They had been blown right across the road, and scattered into the scrub. Now we realised why our builder had actually anchored the house with huge bolts into the concrete foundations, and strongly strutted the wooden “stumps” on which the house stood.
It was very hot in Murwillumbah, and all the neighbours used to leave their front and back doors wide open all day long. Everybody knew everybody else, and in those days you could leave your house open without fear. We had a small bitzer dog at the time. He was only a puppy, but he was full of fun. He would run up and down the street and steal slippers and shoes from other people’s houses. At times I would have up to a dozen odd pieces of footwear hidden underneath the house. He was an incorrigible thief, and people started to complain. In the long run, I had to have him put down. He was a lovable animal, just the same, and the last dog I ever owned.
At the Council, I began to chafe at the large number of people senior to me. I thought I should never get promotion here. So when a job was advertised in Kempsey for an “A” Grade Clerk at Macleay Shire, I took it. I would be that much nearer Newcastle and Sydney, and in any event, I felt that middle age was starting to catch up with me. It was nearly time for me to think in terms of a permanent billet. The Council bought a very nice house for Irene and me at Kempsey, on the understanding that I refinance it from my own resources and pay them back at an early date. The sale of our house at Murwillumbah, and the raising of a further bank loan, fulfilled this task.
Our house in Sullivan Street, East Kempsey was a large fibro residence on sloping ground with a huge garage at the back. It was possibly the best house we had ever lived in during our Australian experience. Every day I walked over the big old-fashioned timber bridge that crossed the Macleay River to the Macleay Shire Council Chambers above Reg Harrington Motors in Belgrave Street, the main thoroughfare.
I had joined a Masonic Lodge in Sydney, and gone through the 3rd degree in Murwillumbah, on a rainy night just before the entire town was flooded. In Kempsey I was fortunate enough to meet a number of men who embodied all that was good in Freemasonry.
I never quite repeated the experience elsewhere. I reached the 18th Degree at Kempsey, and later, in Wingham, became the Master of the Royal Arch Chapter before abandoning “The Craft” for one reason and another.
We had had no car at Murwillumbah, but at Kempsey I bought an old but durable 1939 Chevrolet. It enabled us to make trips to Port Macquarie, Crescent Head, and the beaches. We also had a couple of very hazardous trips to Sydney. For in the old Chev the petrol had the habit of vaporising in the middle of a very hot day so that it never got as far as the engine, and the whole contraption stopped until the engine, and the weather had cooled down. I remember that one day we started off for Sydney at eight o’clock in the morning, but didn’t get there until well after midnight, being stranded for hours on what was then a dusty gravel road between Gloucester and Krambach.
After I had been at Kempsey a couple of months, Lloyd, the Shire Clerk, called me in. He said, “My wife has just rung me about you.”
I made a non-committal noise. I hardly knew his wife.
He went on, “She’s seen your name in the Sydney Morning Herald.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your name was published in the list of successful Technical College examination candidates. You’re a qualified Town and Shire Clerk.”
I don’t remember what I said. I know that an enormous wave of relief swept over me. I didn’t feel that I had suddenly been clothed in a garment of omniscience. I knew my limitations too well for that. But I was vastly pleased that through perseverance I, a stranger in a foreign land, had acquired a qualification that a very large number of the native born who aspired to it failed to obtain. That might mean I was lucky. But it certainly had to mean that I had perseverance and that if I wasn’t a genius, I surely wasn’t stupid either.
I will recall what Irene said when I rang her about it. She was silent for a moment. Then she said: “Oh, my dear, I am so glad.”
The terms of my appointment to Macleay Shire were that if I got my ticket, they were immediately to promote me to Deputy Shire Clerk and, more importantly, pay me the going rate. To the credit of the Shire Clerk and the Council, this was done at once and without any argument.
It was during this time that Patricia learnt to swim at the local pool under the tuition of Neville Duke, the lessee, who was an excellent teacher. Peter, too, liked to paddle at the beach and occasionally dip his toes in the shallow end of Kempsey McElhone Memorial Pool, although he was rather small yet to take much of an interest in swimming. It was in Kempsey, too, that Chris, our Number Two son was born. It was rather fortunate that just before Christopher put in an appearance I had traded in the old 1939 Chev for a brand new Morris Minor. I was not quite 37 years old, and this was the first new car I had ever owned. I was, of course, vastly proud of the little wagon.
Irene had been experiencing discomfort for quite a while, and thought that labour pains had started. The doctor, an expatriate Pommy, put her into the Macleay District Hospital. However, nothing happened, and they sent her home to ”do some washing.” Being who she was, she was up at six o’clock next morning, doing just that in the laundry under the house.
Half way through, she suddenly dashed upstairs, pulled me out of bed, and screamed at me to get the car going. At this stage, I was very glad that I had invested in a new Morris Minor, for the car started like a charm. Patricia and Peter, wondering what it was all about, piled into the back, Irene grabbed her suitcase, and we were away. No sooner were we in the street than she urged me to go faster. I crammed on speed, but then she cried out that I was going too fast and would risk an accident. So I slowed down. However, when I slowed down, I was told to step on it, otherwise I would have to deliver the baby personally in the car. This really shook me, for I hadn’t the faintest idea what would be required of me. Thus, alternately speeding up and slowing down, we shot across the timber bridge over the river, along the deserted main street, and finally arrived at the hospital on the other side of town.
Irene told me to drive right up to the door, practically fell out of the car under the sympathetic eyes of several globular pregnant ladies on the verandah, and into the understanding arms of a nurse who sized up the situation immediately. I was abruptly dismissed. This was women’s work. So I got back in the car and drove home with the kids.
Reaching home five minutes later, I heard the phone ringing and dashed inside to answer it. They told me that we had another son, and that I could come back to see him. So once more I raced across town and entered the Macleay District Hospital.
There, on a table, Christopher lay stark naked. He was very obviously a manchild, and I will swear that he swivelled his head around on the table and grinned at me as I came through the door. His umbilical cord hung carelessly across his stomach and over the edge of the table. He seemed to be saying, “How are you mate, all right? Are you pleased to see me?”
Our next door neighbour in Kempsey was Ralph, an exceptionally fine man, who had built the house in which we now lived. One of his sons was called Christopher, and Irene told me that Patricia and Peter, between them, had decided that “Christopher” should be the name of their new brother. (“James” was inserted by Irene, after myself). Thus was Christopher named, and I only found out about it afterwards, when the registration had been made. I must confess that I thought it was a good choice. But I always told Irene that I was convinced that she had actually named Chris after the doctor who had attended her during pregnancy. She never failed to deny this with some vehemence. Incidentally, that doctor came charging down the road in his little car about half an hour after everything had happened. Apparently he had been abruptly pulled away from his breakfast, so young Chris really stirred the possum in Kempsey on that memorable morning in 1959.