As a child, almost all I knew of uncle Will was that he went to Australia in 1912 and had had a small farm at Mundiwindi where he rode camels. Funny name, we laughed over it, but little did I know that one day in the future this was to be the starting point for an adventure that even my wildest dreams could not conjure up.
My mother rarely spoke of Will and when she did it was with sadness for, although he had written “home” for several years, after she married they lost touch. Of 9 children he was the eldest and my mother, Ivy, the youngest. There were 20 years between them and when she was born she already had a nephew a few months older than herself, while a niece, Doris, was born 2 years later. As they grew older Doris and my mother became great friends, and when the family emigrated to Oz the closeness continued in their letters.
I was going through “mother’s box” of photos and letters after she died and came across 3 or 4 of Will’s letters, the latest written in 1926, plus 7 from Doris. Wonderful letters, all of them, Will’s gave such interesting descriptions of the wildlife in Western Australia and those from Doris were full of charming young girl’s chatter – learning to crochet, leaving school, if only Ivy would come out to Australia, that’s all she wanted, had Ivy put her hair up yet, girls in Australia did not put theirs up until they were about 20. (In those days putting one’s hair up signified that the child had crossed the threshold and was now a young woman.)
Another of Doris’ letters contained the news that a baby sister, Elsie, had been born. She described her as fat as a little porker – they weighed the baby every Sunday after she had had her bath! Later letters gave news of little porker’s progress, first words, learning a little dance, drawing faces better than children who were at school. Not having known that these letters existed I sat there by the window completely absorbed, unable to put them down until every word had been digested. Coming to the end of the final page, I just sat there with a great longing – if only I had known this uncle and his family.
Then I found the log. Carefully unfolding the thin brown paper protecting it, I stared amazed at the contents - page after page of Will’s fascinating account of the family’s journey in the SS Australind which had left Tilbury, England on Saturday 30 March 1912 en route for Fremantle, Western Australia. Details of life on board, watching porpoises, ships they passed, how he had helped organise games and entertainments for fellow passengers, most of whom were emigrants like himself, and even the daily menus! His account of the “crossing the line” high jinks had me grinning, especially when he described how he had turned the tables on Father Neptune and his attendants and had them all in the pool as well. Quite a chap, my uncle Will seemed. Oh, if only I had known him.