I was loaded on the train at Spencer Street Station in Melbourne. One of those old trains with the passage down the side. I was placed nicely in a compartment with a reasonable looking person with a smile from my Mum who said nicely “Keep an eye on her please. She is travelling on her own but will be met at the Camperdown Railway Station.” All went well. I arrived and was picked up in a black vehicle by the cousin who is here named Clare. She seemed nice enough.
We arrived at the home on the hill. I will never forget that long, long drive. My first job was to check the mail box and then open and close the farm gate. I became interested about then as I really liked having jobs to do. I’m actually quite good at jobs. Jobs at school; jobs for Mum; jobs for Dad; jobs for my Aunties and now I had new jobs; opening and closing farm gates.
The farm house sat at the top of the Hill. And I was to learn to like it quite a lot. It was fun having five kids around me to muck around with. But the real action was at night. They had a Generatror which made electricity, but sometimes it malfunctioned and everyone had to use candles. A most fascinating situation for a city type like myself. A person who used to read until all hours by electric light; listen to the radio and use all manners of appliances using electricity. But here at cousin Clare’s place we had a generator.
A couple of days were spent learning the ropes around the place with the cousins testing me to see if I would pass muster as a reasonable person to have around. Little things like teaching me to acqua plane down the fir trees on my back. Or having to collect the eggs which I knew all about but they had things like snakes there that had to be watched out for. I had to show my courage by going in with the chooks without freaking out because of the snake that lived in there too. I never saw it; just cousins terrorising me.
At night we had tea quite early, in daylight. I soon learnt why. It was a race to get the meal over and the dishes done before the generator was primed up and we had electric light to live by. The generator was not reliable and went out at the most inopportune times. The first time I encountered its vile personality I was in the bathroom getting ready for bath and bed. Enjoying the light and the warmth of the bath. The chip heater had been fired up for this event and it did not happen every day. No way! But this night; electric light, warm bath and me ready to be clean Kid again. So you can guess what happened; Bam! Out went the lights. Me stark naked and soaking wet. I just stood there in the pitch blackness of the country night. No light from anywhere. Strange house. And then the wonderful Clare arrived with a candle. Now I could see again. An adventure! Absolutely! Clean, and into bed. There to allow my imagination to entertain me until sleep came to me.
The next night the generator kept pumping away and I actually read a book for a while. But everyone had to go to bed early because it was early rising on the farm. It was a dairy farm; a soldier settler farm. The cows could be milked by machine only if the generator allowed it. Otherwise it was all done by hand. So it was all hands to the teets every morning and I was taught to extract milk from the cows; put it into big silver containers and skim the cream off the top. I learnt to make butter by churning it by hand. The silver containers were picked up by a truck at the gate twice a day. So the generator was useful if it worked, but these dairy farmers relied on their own hands mostly as the generator was not reliable.
Then there was the night of the fight. The generator was working. We sat around the dinner table talking about our day and then the Mother and Father began to argue about stuff. I was mentioned and I began to feel terribly uneasy. My parents fought, but never in front of me. The words became louder and louder. One of my cousins touched my shoulder and I left the room; he whispered, “best if you go to bed, it could get nasty”. And it did. Then the generator went out and the fight subsided.
I was in the top bunk and I remember my cousin creeping into the bunk below me. I suspected one of the kids had knocked the generator out. I was homesick anyway and this really upset me. Dark, fights going on between two people and kids creeping around the house in the dark. I just lay there. Then the door opened and the candle came inside with Clare’s face appearing beside my bed. I looked very ghostly and my imagination was well and truly running wild. I had imagined blood and gore all over the house. Truly terrified, but there she was, good as gold and tucking me in with a kiss and a “Sorry, Darling. Just a bad night.”
Then when she went outside I hear the voice raised, “Who is the smart arse who turned off the bloody generator”. Well, that was never admitted to but my roommate was laughing into her blankets. She quietly told me: “We do it all the time when they start to fight, it’s hard to fight in the dark”.
So the generator was also a peace giver. Only if it was turned off at the right time. But mostly the thing turned off at the most inopportune time. I think perhaps they needed a roster to put the fuel into it more regularly. I remember one day when someone went out with fuel and it restarted. But mostly it was a matter of ‘Bloody Generator’ and the candles were lit.
I travelled home remembering that bloody generator and the moments its dispensing with efficiency marked. But when I got home, my reading light went on; my radio went on and I made toast for breakfast. I was very thankful I didn’t need that bloody generator to live with.