Sharon Wilson! That won’t be her name now. Michael had been part of a Writers’ Festival in Mildura recently and Sharon had come along, so that was how she knew my phone number.
Sharon was 1 ½ years old when we left Merbein. She’s now 54. I know that because she was born two days before our son, Stephen.
Don had made the trip up from Horsham in December to check out the school and accommodation. The real estate firm had nothing and the trip up was effectively sandy desert and Mallee scrub. What were we thinking of when we put it at the top of our list?
The footie coach was putting the finishing touches to a house near the school and was willing to rent it. We moved in with 3 year-old Bronwyn, on January 17th 1966. Then we found the house next door had just come up for sale. We had no money. The price was £1800. We borrowed £800 from the bank and a long-term loan of £1000 from Don’s dad and moved in on 26th. February. Kevin obligingly found someone else to rent his house and we packed up everything we’d unpacked a month previously and passed it over the fence or along the back lane.
This house was a ‘miner’s cottage’. Two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen on the back, a bath with a wood heater and a toilet with a can, way down the back. Every afternoon after school, often in 104° heat, saw Don valiantly digging a large hole to house a septic tank and, unbelievably, in less than 3 weeks we had a new septic tank and the back porch covered in with a new toilet coming off it. How about that for tradesmen!
Six weeks after we moved in, our first son, Michael, was born. Incidentally, our second and third sons were also born in our four years at Merbein with Tim just three weeks old when we moved.
The school went up to year 11 with Year 12 students going into Mildura. The parents were basically ‘blockies’ or growers of citrus. Seconds oranges were sold at the packing sheds for $1/bucket. (Yes, decimal currency had come in in the midst of our house negotiations.)
Our best friends were the Wilsons. They were ‘blockies’ and we learned much about dried fruit growing from them. You picked the grapes into a ‘dip tin’, like a large rectangular colander. The sultana and currant grapes were tipped out onto the drying racks- four or five long layers of wire netting with a roof over the top. The raisins had to be dipped into a syrup before they went on the rack. After the required drying time – maybe two or three weeks – the racks had a mat spread out below the bottom layer and the rack was shaken by a machine. The dried fruit dropped through onto the mat and was ready to send off to be packaged.
Wilsons had three daughters and a son who were wonderful friends to our children. Then Dot and I found out we were both pregnant with babies due at the same time. Sharon was born on the 17th. March 1968 and Stephen on the 19th. They were baptised on the same day and shared their first birthday celebrations.
So many more memories – Don’s dad putting on an extra little room on the side of the house, almost daily swims in the river during the summer, going over the road to the principal’s house to watch the moon landing because we didn’t have a TV.
Don looked back on his years at Merbein as the happiest in his teaching career.
And yes, we did catch up briefly with the Wilsons a few times in the years just after we left if they were coming east for holidays but, basically, it was 52 years since I’d had the pleasure of again sharing lunch with Sharon neeʹ Wilson.