When Mother decides to act she doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet. She calls it following her hunches, in which she has great faith.
This latest hunch is for a farm advertised as rich agricultural land with the paddocks running down to the sea. She sent a message to Father who is logging at Flowerdale. He didn’t receive it. – She agonized all night, and then decided that she must go herself.
In 1948 the South Gippsland Highway is a narrow ribbon of bitumen stretching into the distance. Land’s end is the small, sleepy fishing village of San Remo, at the entrance to Westernport Bay. A few drab houses, a hotel and a couple of shops and half a dozen trawlers moored to the jetty. We drive over the long, part suspension bridge onto Phillip Island. Sunlight sparkles on a pale blue sea. The tide is out, green seaweed adorns the rocks. On the Island tall sand dunes reach up towards the blue sky. We drive past green paddocks with grazing cattle and sheep to Cowes to pick up the Estate Agent, J. Harold Smith. A small, thin old woman emerges from the office. She is wearing an old fashioned black coat that reaches down to her ankles. Smelling of camphor moth balls, it has small buttons all the way down to the hem, above the thick stockings and small button up boots. This is J. Harold Smith!
Approaching a property, J. Harold Smith instructs the driver to turn in at the gate. A long drive way leads to the house which nestles beneath a steep hill that protects it from the elements. The sea views out across Westernport Bay are superb.
The owners are waiting out on the driveway to greet us. They must think we’re loaded, arriving from Melbourne in a taxi! No wonder they’re smiling. Mother inspects the house. They look dubiously at her high heeled shoes and suggest a change of footwear for walking across the paddocks. She declines, “No, my husband will be here on Sunday, he can do that.”
On our return home she says, “Beverley, I don’t know how I am going to convince your father to go down there on Sunday. I am relying on your help.”
Father says he will not add to the madness by driving to Phillip Island on Sunday! All the dreams of a twelve year old are being dashed. “If you don’t go you will miss out on the best fishing grounds in Victoria.” He spins around, “What’s that Beverley?”
On Sunday, the weather on the Island isn’t kind to us. Skies are grey and a cold wind blows off the sea as we walk across the undulating paddocks towards the coast.
On the edge of the cliff top a cypress tree stands sentinel beside a grave, its branches twisted in one direction by the prevailing wind. What a lonely place!
Mother and J. Harold Smith are toiling somewhere in the rear, hampered by wire fences, high heels, old age and a five year old.
We learn that J. Harold is in her eighties and considered unstoppable. She opened her estate agency in her late seventies using her deceased husband’s name, because, “In this day and age no one is going to buy land from a woman.”
On our return to the farm house, the vendors, J. Harold and Dad retreat to another room. After a while J. Harold comes out and says, “Well, your husband has bought the property.” It’s Mother’s turn to look startled. After seeing the grave and a dead sheep, which she took as bad omens, she had changed her mind!
It’s autumn before we put Mickey the cat in a box in the back of the car and head for the Island, for the future that will change all our lives forever.