In a country full of strangers

Elisabeth Peters

It's Australia Day 1984 – our Big Day. We are all dressed up, driving to Bankstown
to attend the citizenship ceremony at the Town Hall. The route is familiar by now;
left turn into the Hume Highway, past the car yards and the shopping centre. At
Bankstown, we pass the TAFE where Heinz is studying Electrical Engineering at
night, and eventually find a parking spot near the Town Hall.

Before we left home that day, we had to ask our landlord to move his car. When he
answered our knock, he took one disbelieving look at Heinz and called out to his wife
inside "Hey Edie, come an' have a look … he's wearin' A TIE!"

To think that this bloke was a stranger once …

Some eight years earlier, as brand-new migrants, we were about to move out of the
Migrants' Hostel at Villawood. Leaving this relatively sheltered cocoon, we were
now on our own, in a country full of strangers, looking for a place to live. At that
time, Heinz still found it difficult to drive on the left hand side of the road while
negotiating his way around the suburbs,

The house with the advertised 'garden flat' in Roberts Road, Greenacre, faced the
Enfield Marshalling Yards. The air was rancid with the emissions from Carmichael's
Foundry and the N.B. Love Flour Mill, which loomed large over the Hume Highway
junction.

Charles Edwin and Edie Inshaw, the owners, were an imposing couple in their
sixties – both well over six foot tall and towering above us; she well-groomed and of
stern appearance; he open and jovial, walking with a slight stoop. If we wanted to
get along with this formidable pair, we would have to respect the house rules.

The back half of their fibro house – which was what they were renting out – had a
sun room with louvred windows, lino floors, vinyl sofas and an old-fashioned
wringer-type washing machine in the laundry. The small kitchen was dominated by
the cast-iron 'Early Kooka' gas stove – what a marvel! So this was what a typical
suburban house looked like?

Once we had moved in, 'Mr and Mrs Inshaw' were quickly dispensed with – "She's
called Edie and I'm Ed; but my grandkids call me Charlie" (obviously the preferred
name).

Before long they encouraged us to use the garden and pick lemons and herbs for the
cooking. Quite often, when I prepared our dinner on the 'Early Kooka', Charlie or
Edie would walk past the kitchen window, commenting on the nice smell. It was not
unusual to find that Edie had thoughtfully taken our washing off the Hills Hoist
when we were at work and it looked like rain.

The two men soon found something to talk about, especially after both had acquired
four-wheel drive cars. I always liked to watch them from inside, as they were
standing near the incinerator or in front of the garage – Heinz craning his neck,
talking skyward; Charlie stooping even more to understand what he was saying.
Like most people who are a bit hard of hearing, he had a loud, booming voice and
was regularly heard shouting "Righto mate, righto".

Through the contact with Edie and Charlie we learnt how Greenacre had changed
from a rural outer suburb, and what life was like during World War II, when he had
been in the Army, serving in the Northern Territory at the time of the Japanese air
raids. He still drove a taxi, but had worked in a variety of jobs, during the
Depression as a shearer's cook even. As most of his jobs involved food, both he and
Edie knew a great deal about nutrition and were able to whip up a batch of scones  'in
a jiffy'.

In short, they became friends who taught us a lot and made it easy for us to get used
to life in a new country. We reflect on this while we drive home, and consider
ourselves very lucky.

Soon after, when we pull into the driveway, proudly waving our Certificates of
Citizenship, Charlie is pottering around in the garden. With a broad grin he yells
"Jeez mate, now you're Aussies; and unlike me, ýou have a piece of paper to prove
it!"

 

Comments are closed.