LETTERS FROM AN INNOCENT ABROAD preview

book preview of LETTERS FROM AN INNOCENT ABROAD


 


PAPERBACK
BOOKS

LETTERS FROM AN
INNOCENT ABROAD


Author/Historian, Norma King,
was born in Kalgoorlie
in 1922. For most of her life she lived in various places in the Eastern
Goldfields of W.A. including forty years in various places in Kalgoorlie
. She married a miner, had ten children and reared nine. She began writing in
1969 after seven of her children had left home.

 

Her first book, Nickel
Country-Gold Country,
was published in 1972 and was followed be seven more.
These were Colourful Tales of the Western
Australian Goldfields,
The Waldeck
Story, Daughters of Midas, Wings Over the Goldfields, The Voice of the
Goldfields,
The Hannans Club and
her biography, Then They Called Me Norma.

 

She has also written historical
information booklets, magazine and newspaper articles and provided historical
information for radio and television.

 

Norma King is a life member of
the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society, the W.A. section of the Fellowship of
Australian Writers and the Golden Mile Art and Exhibition Group.

 

Her hobbies are painting,
reading, listening to music and researching on the Internet. She left
Kalgoorlie

in November 1997 and now lives in South Fremantle .

 

In Store Price: $28.00 

Online Price:   $27.00

ISBN:1-9212-4000-8

Format: A5 Paperback

Number of pages:
324


Genre: Non Fiction

 

Author:
Norma King

Imprint: Poseidon

Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2006

Language: English

HOME PAGE

INTRODUCTION

 

This
book mainly contains excerpts from letters that my daughter, Zena, wrote to our
family during the period from 1961 to 1966. She wrote most of the letters from
Pakistan

,
Thailand

,
Malaysia

and
South Vietnam

(where she worked), and others from places she visited such as the Seychelle Islands ,
Afghanistan

and Nepal
.

Where
some words or historic events need clarification I (the author) have written
these in a smaller and different font and bracketed them. The information for
most of these items comes from various sources on the Internet.

 
 
        
The letters tell the story of what happened to a naïve West Australian
country girl after she left home and went first to the capital city of Canberra
, where she was employed by the Australian External Affairs Department, (later
known as Foreign Affairs) and afterwards as one of their secretaries they sent
overseas to work at various diplomatic posts.

 
 
        
A girl with her working-class background and qualifications would have no
hope of being employed in such a position today. The reason why she was employed
then was most likely because of her determination, enthusiasm, hard work and,
perhaps, because the Department was having difficulty in recruiting suitable
girls. Luck also played a part.

           
In common with Zena, I am an avid reader and always wanted to travel
overseas, but my early marriage to a miner and our subsequent large family,
meant I was not able to do so. However, I did travel vicariously. This was when
reading the descriptive, interesting, and sometimes, humorous letters that Zena
wrote to us after she left home at the beginning of 1961.

 
 
        
Zena is the eldest of ten children (one died when two days old) and
during her childhood we lived in the small and remote gold-mining town of
Wiluna

(950 kilometres from the capital city,
Perth

, and 180 kilometres from the nearest town of Meekatharra
).

 
 
        
We then lived for a short time in another small mining town called Big
Bell, and from there went to the much larger town of Kalgoorlie
with its then population of about 20,000.

 
 
        
My husband received only the basic wage, as while we were living in
Wiluna he had been badly injured by a rock fall while working underground as a
machine miner. His right arm had been completely severed in the accident and
when he recovered from this and his many other injuries, could only find work in
poorly paid positions.

 
 
        
Zena always wanted to be a teacher but because we found the cost of
living more expensive in Kalgoorlie
(such as higher house rent, having to buy school uniforms, which we hadn’t
had to do before, and other unexpected costs) we made the reluctant decision
that Zena had to leave school and go out to work. She was not quite fifteen
years old.

 
 
        
I was very upset that Zena had to leave school, as I knew she was very
bright and wanted her, and our other children, to be better educated and work at
better positions than my husband and I. Fortuitously, she was offered a job as
an office girl in a mining supplies store. The firm said they would train her
themselves and pay for her to go to night school and learn shorthand and typing.

 
 
        
This arrangement worked out very well and she became good at her job.
Five years later, when Zena was twenty years old, she told us she had had enough
of
Kalgoorlie
and that it was time for her to move on. She always had a burning desire to go
overseas and knew the only way she could do this was by getting a job in some
other country and having her fare paid to go there.

 
 
        
There was no hope of her saving money to travel as she paid us for her
board and lodging, was still receiving junior wages, and would not be paid at
the adult rate until she was twenty-one. Even then women were paid at a lower
rate than men (75% of the male wage) and it was not until 1972 that women in
Australia
were given equal pay for doing the same work as men. Zena thought this, and the
law that a woman had to retire from the Public Service the moment she became
married, extremely unfair.

 
 
        
We subscribed to the local newspaper, the Kalgoorlie
Miner
, and Zena started looking in that for interesting jobs but did not
find what she wanted. She then bought the Perth-based West Australian newspaper every Saturday and looked in the
Situations Vacant section for jobs overseas.

 
 
        
One Saturday she came home at lunchtime with a copy of the West Australian in her hand and said, ‘My new job is in here’. I
asked her what sort of a job it was and she said she did not know, only that she
had a feeling it was in the paper. Later, when I asked her if she had found what
she was looking for she said a disappointed, ‘No’.

 
 
        
Some time later still she rushed into the kitchen waving the paper and
saying excitedly, ‘It’s here! Look – in the Professional Appointments
section.’ The External Affairs Department of the Commonwealth Government in Canberra
had advertised two vacant positions for girls to work for them overseas. Those
who applied had to be over twenty-one years of age, speak French and have a
shorthand speed of 120 words a minute. I said, ‘You are not twenty one, you
can’t speak French, and you can’t take shorthand at 120 words a minute’.

 
 
        
These facts did not deter optimistic Zena and she applied for a position.
She said she was a shorthand typist, that she would soon be twenty-one, would
take a Linguaphone (voice recorded) course in French and go to night school and
get her shorthand speed up to 120 words a minute. She immediately put the last
two promises into action. The External Affairs Department formally acknowledged
her letter.

 
 
        
In 1960 a Liberal Party candidate, Peter G. Browne, won the Kalgoorlie
Federal Seat over Labour. This was the second time in history that a Labour
candidate had been beaten in that electorate. Zena’s employer belonged to the
Liberal Party and not long after she had applied for the position in
Canberra
, he asked her to attend a meeting for the purpose of forming a Young Liberal
movement on the Goldfields. She was very half-hearted about attending the
meeting and being involved in politics. However, she did go and when she got
there and met the other young people she agreed to become the inaugural
secretary of the Goldfield’s branch of the Young Liberal Party.

 
 
        
The Liberal Member, Peter Browne, in an effort to encourage membership of
the newly formed group, announced that the young man and woman who brought in
the most members by a certain date would have a free return air trip to Canberra
and attend sittings at Parliament House. Zena and a male schoolteacher called
Keith won the trip. She then wrote to External Affairs Department saying she
would be in
Canberra
for two days during the following month and be available for an interview
during that time.

 
 
        
She waited day after day for a reply and when none came by the morning of
the day she was leaving
Kalgoorlie

for Canberra
, she gave up hope of an interview. The plane was due to leave
Kalgoorlie
at three-thirty p.m. and an hour or two before that time she received a
telegram giving the date and time of an appointment with someone at the External
Affairs Department.

 
 
        
Keith and Zena duly arrived in
Canberra

, where Peter Browne MP met them at the airport and after giving them a quick
tour around Canberra
, took them to Parliament House where he managed to get them seats in the
Speaker’s Gallery for Question Time. The couple had lunch at Parliament House
and in the evening went to the House of Representative where there was a Budget
Debate.

 
 
        
Zena’s interview at External Affairs went well and she breathed a sigh
of relief when she discovered that although it was desirable, it was not
necessary for her to speak French for some of the countries she could be sent
to. The interviewer promised her a job in their typing pool in
Canberra
, with the possibility of an overseas posting at a later date, and said he would
let her know when she could start.

           
As Zena said afterwards, if she had not won the trip to Canberra and been
interviewed then, she would never have got the job, as her qualifications at the
time were not good enough for the Department to pay her return fare for an
interview. Nothing happened for some time, until one day my husband came home
from work and said that someone had told him a man had been making enquiries
about our family. We later discovered it was to find out, among other things, if
any of us had criminal records or belonged to the Communist Party. To cut a long
story short, the External Affairs Department sent for Zena and, at their
expense, she set off for
Canberra
by train in January 1961. She could have flown there but, because she had gone
by plane after she won the competition, she chose to travel by train.

 

 

CHAPTER
1

 

CANBERRA

 

           
These excerpts from Zena’s first long letter,
dated 31 January 1961, were written from a hostel called Mulwala
House in Canberra
. She always started her letters in the same way: ‘Dear Mum, Dad and kids,’
and ended, ‘with Lots of Love, Zena’.

 
 
        
‘I am starting to write this now to stave off my pangs of starvation.
For the third day in a row I’ve slept in and missed breakfast. Work went very
well. I was allowed to have a go at taking down the news.

 
 
        
‘I have made friends with a girl called Janet who is also boarding at
Mulwala House. We had intended going to the pictures but couldn’t get in and
were mooching around the place when a call came over the inter-com that I was
wanted in the office. It turned out that Mr and Mrs Raddle (manager of the
hostel and his wife) were going out to Cotter Dam and wanted to know if we would
like to go with them. So we spent an unexpected pleasant evening. It was a very
warm, moonlit night, but out in the mountains it was gloriously cool and we had
a swim in a creek. The air is scented from the pine forests and is lovely.

 
 
        
‘On the way out we passed the Governor-General’s property. It
consists of a mansion set well back, with imposing entrance gates guarding it,
its own golf course, wheat fields, sheep, and cattle and pine forests. His
property makes one think of
England
, with the country mansion surrounded by woods, with rabbits and birds scurrying
around in them. On the way back we drove up to Red Hill to admire the view of
the city by night.

 
 
        
‘The following day, Sunday, I was up early to join a few others on a
bus trip to Lake Eucumbene . At Cooma we saw a short film on the Snowy River project, and it was very interesting. They surely are undertaking something. We
arrived at Eucumbene in time for lunch and someone there who was making a film
asked a lady, her son, Mary and me to walk down a slope and admire the view. So
your daughter is now a film star. We were also filmed sitting inside the tearoom
having lunch. It is going to be a travel film about Cooma in colour and will be
shown in all picture theatres, so look out for it.

 
 
        
‘After lunch we all boarded a launch and had a three and a half hour
tour of the large lake. We went over where the town was submerged, and could see
parts of it up on the banks. It looked quite peculiar seeing a road go straight
down into the water, and the tops of huge trees showing just above. The dam is a
fantastic big thing. Cooma seems to be filled to overflowing with men, mostly
New Australians (migrants), all working on the Snowy River Scheme.’

[The
Snowy River Hydro-Electric Scheme is by far the biggest engineering project ever
undertaken in Australia
. It is also one of the largest and most complex schemes in the world. It
consists of sixteen major dams, seven power stations, a pumping station and 225
kilometres of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts. Only two per cent of the entire
construction is visible above the ground. Starting in 1949 it was finished in
1974, taking twenty-five years to complete. The entire scheme covers a
mountainous area of approximately 5,124 square kilometres. The purpose of the
scheme is to collect water from melting snow and rain in the Snowy Mountains . Where once this water used to flow into the Snowy River it is now diverted through tunnels in the mountains and stored in dams. The
water is then used by the power stations to create electricity. The water then
flows mainly into two rivers that are important for irrigation of farms and
household water in
New South Wales

,
Victoria

and South Australia
. More than 100,000 people from over thirty countries came to work on the
project and up to 7,300 worked there at any one time. Seventy per cent of the
workers were migrants and after the project was finished the majority stayed on,

making a valuable
contribution to Australia
’s multi-cultural society.]

           
‘On Wednesday I joined the YMCA Ski Club and I think it is going to be
terrific. I went along to the meeting with Anne and Tanya (the trainee
diplomat), an Austrian boy, a German boy called Heinz, and two Dutch girls, one
from the Dutch Embassy. A man who belongs to the Club and who has just come back
from Antarctica showed us slides of the base, icebergs, sunsets etc. I would dearly love to go
there. The other day I was sent upstairs to take shorthand for Mr G… It was
very interesting. I take shorthand from him every day. After lunch we girls take
turns in going up to the Information Section and typing articles from the
mid-day news (from a Dictaphone) in connection with External Affairs. We do it
in stencil, and copies are passed around the department.

 
 
        
‘Tuesday. We were given an
hour off to go and see Dunrosill’s funeral procession.
[Viscount Dunrosill from Scotland
was Governor-General of Australia from 1960 to 1961.]

We strolled over to Parliament House and lined the road near there. There were
thousands of people and it was really quite moving. The coffin was placed on a
gun carriage and covered with a flag. The truck pulling the gun carriage was
covered with flowers (wreaths) and the three jeeps and trailers following were
also covered with flowers.

 
 
        
‘All the famous people of Australia
went past, so close that we could have touched them. We saw Prime Minister
Menzies, bishops and generals in full uniform, some other people wearing top
hats, etc., etc. It was interesting seeing all the diplomats go past in their
various gorgeous cars (you should have seen the American’s!) with their flags
flying. Their national flag is always on the car when an ambassador is in it.
Jets flew over in the formation of a cross and the guns fired a twenty-one-gun
salute. Lord Dunrosill was buried in a beautiful spot, overlooking Parliament
House.

 
 
        
‘18 February 1961. I’m still loving my job and getting on fairly well
there. Mr M…, the new Secretary of our Division, called a meeting of his staff
(which is huge) and gave a talk. It was quite heartening, after working here for
three weeks, to know who my boss is. Afterwards, he came around to our rooms and
met us all individually. I’m the most far-flung member of the typing pool and
we had quite a chat about
Kalgoorlie
. He asked me if I liked it here and I told him I love it. Jane, the head of the
typing pool, informed him I have ideas of going overseas.

 
 
        
‘Every afternoon I’ve been going upstairs and taking the mid-day news
on the Dictaphone. Gee, that soon teaches you how to spell, and what goes on in
the world. We have to take turns at staying behind on duty for an extra half
hour until five-twenty p.m. Usually, you sit around doing nothing but when my
turn came on Thursday I was so swamped with work I didn’t knock off till
six-fifteen p.m. Firstly, there was a very urgent confidential submission to be
typed for the Secretary, who is leaving for overseas tomorrow. I wish I could
tell you the contents. It was very interesting.
[Zena
had signed the Official Secrets Act and was very careful not to betray any
Government secrets.]
I was
trying to decipher the Chinese they call writing, when I had to do an urgent
Press release to get into the seven p.m. news. Most, or a lot of, overseas news
comes through us.

 
 
        
‘25 February 1961. On Thursday I saw Earl Mountbatten and was only a
couple of feet away from him. He was in the Defence Department next door to us
and as Sue and I were walking past on our way to the canteen for lunch he came
out with great ceremony; surrounded by generals, majors, cadets etc., all
saluting frantically as he drove off in a Rolls Royce.

 
 
        
‘8 March 1961. The leaves are starting to fall from the trees and the
weather is becoming colder. On Friday, it was bitterly cold and wet, and it
snowed on the hills. This gave me my first taste of winter and I am starting to
get prepared for it. We can see the snow in the distance. It was the coldest
March day in
Canberra
on record. We had a lot of rain last week and it flooded the Molonglo River , putting all but one bridge out of action. Therefore, we had great fun getting
to and from work, crawling at about one m.p.h. in thick traffic jams; all
vehicles in
Canberra
trying to get across the one little bridge.

 
 
        
‘There is one big thing wrong with Canberra
. It is absolutely ruinous to the shoes. My new white ones have just had it. The
roads are rough and so are the few footpaths, and where there are no footpaths,
your shoes sink in the mud.’

[Zena
later described Canberra
as it was when she was there as, ‘spread out, rural and peaceful with no tall
buildings. There was an accommodation shortage and to ease this, single-storey,
pre-fabricated buildings had been moved there temporarily and converted into
hostels, like Mulwala House the one I boarded at. It was still in the
developmental stage’.]

 
 
        
‘13 March 1961. At the moment I am seated in the E Block lounge while
there is a rehearsal of the Can-Can going on. Seven of our girls are putting it
on at our dance on Friday, and it’s going to be good. Their audience consisted
of a mob of pop-eyed boys with their tongues hanging out, and me. I started in
the upstairs typing pool on Friday. The work is very interesting. I’m up among
all the diplomats therefore most of the typing is diplomatic stuff. I think
I’ll die of boredom if and when I get back to the other ground floor typing
pool. You have no idea how boring it is just to sit and type all day. I’m
going to wait for about another six to eight weeks, and then go and ask Mr M…
if he thinks I have any chance of being posted overseas. I am not going to
suffer in a typing pool forever.

 
 
        
‘I have joined a ski club, and very early last Saturday morning twelve
of us members caught the ski club bus and left for our lodge at Guthega. It
wasn’t so cold when we left here, but the closer we got to Guthega, the colder
it became. We stopped at a little place that hires out skis and boots at the
foot of the range, and thawed out there with hot coffee. The trip takes a little
over four hours and is about 160 miles south of here. From the hut we could see
Mt Kosciusko.

 
 
        
‘The scenery was absolutely superb, and the road rather terrifying in
parts. There was no bitumen, and drops of hundreds of feet down one side. It
seemed funny to see six-foot orange poles along the side of the road, but they
are there for when it snows, and so people will know where the road is. About
ten o’clock we arrived at Kyilla Lodge. This, with our other hut, Tiabunga,
the Snowy Mountains Authority Hut and the Sydney University Hut, are perched
half way up the Blue Cow Mountain . Down, way down, in the foot of the valley is the huge Guthega Dam, which is
damming the Snowy River, and opposite are huge mountains, all with snow on them.
The lodge is absolutely gorgeous. The other is very nice but Kyilla takes the
cake (we stayed there). It’s not quite finished but should be before the snow
season.

 
 
        
‘We had gone there, not to ski, but as a working party – to paint,
clean, wash mattress covers, dig pits for the rubbish, mix cement and start work
on making a sun-porch in readiness for the snow season. We left the lodge on
Sunday afternoon and drove back to
Canberra

by a different route, on an even worse road and via Perisher Valley . It is hard to imagine that everything there is smothered with snow in winter.
It is very rugged country. In case you haven’t guessed I am ski-mad, and am
pining for winter to come. It is terribly expensive, but as far as I am
concerned, is worth it.

 
 
        
‘Tonight, before I started writing this, I spent about an hour flat out
typing a TV play for a bloke at work on his portable typewriter, but it got so
that I couldn’t concentrate and had to leave it. He is a diplomat or something
and gets around with long hair, a beery look in his eye, a cigarette hanging out
of his mouth and I think he tries to look very arty. I will have to finish the
damn thing tomorrow night. It is for some competition in
England
.

 
 
        
‘3 April 1961. After lunch last Friday I was moved down to the Consular
and Protocol Section where I look after about eight men, doing all their
shorthand typing. After tea on Saturday I went to Heinz’s room for German
lessons. We did a couple of hours solid. Gee, he’s got patience, I can tell
you.’
[Zena had been
learning German when she was in her first year at a High School].

 
 
        
‘10 April 1961. Last weekend a group of us from the ski club went to
Guthega on another working party. It is really beautiful scenery all the way
down to Guthega. All the valleys were misty; the weeping willows reflected in
the still creeks and rivers, cows looking like Carnation Milk “contented
cows” and the tall poplars a vivid yellow. The tops of some of the distant
mountains were hidden with mist.’

[Zena
had previously lived in towns in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia
where it is very flat, and there are no rivers or mountains, therefore she
obtained a great deal of pleasure from the landscape in New South Wales
.]

 
 
        
‘I sat for my 120 words per minute exam a week or two ago and because I
was so nervous I failed. I tried again the other day and couldn’t believe that
I had failed again. I really thought I had passed. However, the Public Service
Board rang up Mr M… today and informed him that they’d made a mistake and
that I had passed my 120 wpm!!! Mr M… said they shouldn’t make mistakes like
that. I think I’m now set to go overseas – eventually.

 
 
        
‘13 May 1961. Thanks for the lovely presents and yummy 21st
birthday fruit cake. Thanks also for the big key and thank the others at home
for their presents. It was good hearing all of you on the telephone. I felt a
bit homesick afterwards. On Tuesday night Sue, Barbara and Denise took me to the
Ambassadors, the restaurant in
Canberra
. It was a delicious meal. Every table had a candle in a long bottle thing (no
lights) and a fellow was playing some exceptionally romantic music on the piano.
They asked him to play Happy Birthday
and presented me with a little gift of soap and hand lotion. Some more of my
friends took me out again on the night of my birthday.

 
 
        
‘20 May 1961. On Monday morning I finally plucked up enough courage to
go and see Mr M…. I got sick of waiting for him to ring me. He was very nice
and told me I will be going overseas. When, I don’t know, but at least I know
I am going. He seemed to think I am a little too young, seeing I had only turned
twenty-one the week before, and gave me a talk, telling me it’s not like a
Cook’s Tour. I assured him I knew that, especially after working in the
Department for four months. Jane was very interested and I had to repeat
everything he said to her. She said that when a good posting comes up she would
push my name forward. She said that I am a young twenty-one-year-old, and when I
became very indignant at this, she added hastily, “But not in the mind”.

 
 
        
‘You know, once you are in this Department for a while, you start to
realise that this business of going overseas isn’t quite as glamorous as you
think of it at first. But it’s still not too bad. Every now and then I have
doubts and think that I don’t want to go. Barbara is going to Djakarta at the end of this month. Poor thing. That is the only post that I haven’t
been at all keen about. They have had five attempts to get someone there since I
have been here. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that she was going
there, as I had a suspicion they might become desperate and send me to Djakarta . It is a very big post, with at least six girls working there, something I
definitely would not like. She has started her training today.’

[It
was another month, in early June, before Zena learned she would be going
overseas, but not the name of the place she was going to.]

 
 
        
‘On Wednesday I heard Mr M… ring Mr H… who I was working for at the
time, and Mr H… say, “Mm” a couple of times. He then said, “I will come
around”. So out he went for a while. I didn’t think anything of it. About a
quarter of an hour later before I knocked off, Mr M… came in and informed me
I’ll be starting my training tomorrow and can expect to be gone by the end of
July. I just sat there, struck dumb with shock, and could do nothing much but
give him a weak grin and gasp, “That’s beaut”.

 
 
        
‘After that I did the one letter six times, and then gave up. Much to
my astonishment, it was on Mr H…’s recommendation that I got the posting. He
used to have Mr M…’s job before he went to
Washington
so I suppose they’d take a lot of notice of him. He said he was sorry to lose
me, and that they wanted girls, not only with potential, but also with the will
to work. Jane had also spent a couple of hours with Mr M… and persuaded him to
consider me. The darlings. They all seem to think I’m a bit young (I’m
afraid I am, socially, compared to the others here) but that I have enough
common sense.

 
 
        
‘I pumped both Jane and Mr H… a bit (they both know where I am going)
and all I know is that I am going to a “machine post” (big one), and I can
visit a lot of interesting places from there. Also, the amenities are nothing
marvellous, but it is a place where you can make friends easily. Oh well, if I
am childish now, after a couple of years away, I might age a bit. The reason
they won’t let me know (as I discovered today) is that they then write to the
ambassador at the post and if he approves of you, you are off, and if he
doesn’t want you and if you know where you are going, you might be bitterly
disappointed.

 
 
        
‘10 June 1961. I have just come back from Civic with Sue and Billie and
know I’ve been boring the poor creatures stiff, especially Billie, who is
training with me. She’s about thirty, quite attractive, has spent six years at
Port Moresby
, and is quite blasé about things. We started out training yesterday in
External Communications Section and it’s a bit exhausting. So far, we have
learned the code. Yesterday we coded and today took out of code and had a bit of
a glance at the cipher, which looks absolutely horrible. We are sitting in a
room full of boys who don’t seem to be doing much. Today, we did decoding on
actual cables that had just arrived and it was a lot more interesting than the
practice ones.

 
 
        
‘Apparently, we spend another day or two trying to pick up a bit of
knowledge on the cipher then we are to be put on the machines (teleprinter
machines, sending out cables). As we are both going to “machine” posts, they
have been advised to give us as much practice as possible on the teleprinter.
I’ll be there for four weeks. Then I spend a week in Registry Section,
learning all about the filing system and then in Finance, learning about that.
Then it’s, “Goodbye”.

 
 
        
‘18 June 1961. I have just spent a weekend up in the snow and what
snow, and what a weekend. First of all I had better dispense with
Karachi
, otherwise you won’t read all my ravings about snow. On Friday I had reached
bursting point. It hadn’t been worrying me greatly up until Thursday, when I
suddenly decided I couldn’t stand this waiting any longer. I was cranky and
near to tears, especially after Billie had to go along and have her first
injection. Later in the morning she was asked to see the Training Officer who
informed her she was off to
Kuala Lumpur
, and asked her to send Nora down. Down Nora went and she was informed she was
off to
Rangoon
. About a frustrated half hour later he rang for me to go down and told me my
posting was
Karachi
. It was such a relief to find out, you have no idea.
Elizabeth
, aged about twenty-six, is going there in a fortnight.

 
 
        
‘The post report (like all post reports) makes the place sound
absolutely dreadful, but it sounds very much like the country around Wiluna in
most ways. That’s another reason, I suppose, that I’m being posted there,
because I have lived most of my life in the desert. A brochure tells me that,
“
Karachi
is a drab city, carved out of the desert and swamp with no outstanding public
buildings. The nearest town of importance is a few hundred miles away. It is
faced on one side by the Arabian Sea , and on the other three, by desert”. Apparently there is no public transport,
except by horse-drawn gharry or, for those who like excitement, motor trishaws.
We are driven to and from work every day in an embassy car.

 
 
        
‘The summer is nine months long and extremely unpleasant but at least
it has a winter where the temperature gets down as low as the fifties. We have a
hut on the beach, but it is mainly used in summer for cooling off because in
that season the ocean is too rough and sometimes is full of bluebottles. There
are quite a few American, British and German concerns there. I can have seven to
ten days home before I go, and I will be leaving
Canberra
by the end of the first week in July. I’ll have three paid days and a dress
allowance of sixty pounds. I spend a short time in
Singapore

, then off to
Karachi
.

           
‘One day last week Heinz showed me how to put on my skis and, with the
assistance of half of E Block, I progressed down the corridor. At the wider
part, leading into the lounge, Heinz showed me how to do the turn (you have to
be a combination of a contortionist and ballet dancer) and damned Pat took a
flashlight photo of me when I was in dire difficulties. I was falling backwards,
with Arthur catching me, and while Heinz was manoeuvring one of my feet, plus
ski, around my neck somewhere. We were all in stitches and I was laughing so
much I just couldn’t move.

 
 
        
‘We had an earthquake here last Monday. It came just before breakfast,
when I was standing before my wardrobe. The coat hangers were swinging wildly
and the whole building shook and creaked, accompanied by a rumbling noise. I was
really scared. I thought the hot water pipes were bursting. Virgie thought it
was me, doing my ski exercises and was quite peeved with me for doing them so
early in the morning. That’s the second earthquake since I have been here.

 
 
        
‘Yesterday morning when we left here for the snowfields, the sky was
clear but as soon as we got in the mountains we ran into a blizzard, and the
further up we got the worse it became. It was terribly wild and extremely cold.
The road was solid ice, and half way up we had to stop while David put chains on
the tyres. I blithely hopped out to take a photo of the blizzard and the wind
just blew me (still standing) along the ice at great speed. (Now I’ve been
ice-skating.) I half crawled and slithered back and into the car as quickly as I
could.

 
 
        
‘We came across a lot of cars in difficulties, most of them just
abandoned, covered with snow and with long icicles hanging underneath. We got as
far as two miles from Guthega, where the ski-club bus was parked. Apparently,
those in it had walked the rest of the way the night before, so we decided to do
likewise. We donned rucksacks grabbed our skis and only got about 100 yards. It
was terrifying. The wind was so strong from behind that I kept being blown flat
on my face. Also, the snow whipped along in the wind just about cut my face to
shreds. The wind blew the scarf off my head within seconds. So we decided to
turn back. I thought I’d never make it. I had to practically crawl and it was
like walking into a brick wall. By the time I got back to the car I was frozen
stiff and my hands were so cold I was in tears. I have never suffered such agony
from cold before and thought I’d lost my fingers from frostbite for sure.

 
 
        
‘After some consideration, we decided not to go the 150 odd miles back
to Canberra but to stay at a motel twenty miles down the road and see if the
wind had eased off by morning. It hadn’t eased off and we were told it was
worse further up. So we joined a group from the motel and their ski instructor,
and drove through the blizzard to Sniggen (or is it Smiggin?) Holes where there
is a hotel, restaurant, ski shop etc. I have never seen so much snow in my life
as I did this weekend
. [She
had not seen any snow in Western Australia
.]
In front of the buildings
were rows of white mounds, underneath which were cars. We trudged half a mile to
a fairly sheltered spot (it was still very wild) and given our instructions on
skiing. We were the only idiots out in that weather, but it was fabulously
exhilarating. You just glow and don’t feel the cold until afterwards. I found
I could move fairly well but was sitting down most of the time.

 
 
        
‘I haven’t learned to stop or steer yet. At one stage, at the end of
the morning when we were skiing down the road back to the buildings, I made a
lot of people scatter, when I screamed out to them that I could neither stop nor
steer. I had a collision with one chap who was also unable to steer. My only
injury was to my nose, which I hit with a stick. But what was very degrading for
me was that every time I was flat on my back, I saw this little kid, aged about
nine or ten, zipping around madly and expertly, between all the feebly
struggling bodies scattered down the hillside.

 
 
        
‘20 June 1961. I went down to the Property Section today, to find out
where I’ll be living in Karachi and it sounds as if I will be staying at the
Metropole Hotel until a flat is found for me. If I am going to go to a flat, I
will have to take my own linen, cutlery, china, glassware and pots and pans. We
import our own food from the UK
and have to take over large supplies of medicines, cosmetics and five-penny
stamps.’

[Zena
said that at some overseas postings, the Australian staff sent their mail home
via the diplomatic bag to Canberra
and it was posted on from there. The price of a letter posted and received
inside Australia
at that time was five pence [or five cents.]

 
 
        
‘It is also considered essential to have a record player, so that is
something I’ll try and get in Singapore
, plus a sewing machine. We have to have lots of cotton frocks, cocktail frocks
and a long frock. I’ll make them when I get there. I also have to take a large
supply of shoes. I will try and make two or three frocks before I go, as June
said I can use her sewing machine, and I will try to get some done when I am
home.

 
 
        
‘I am typing this after suffering my third day of brainwashing, this
time in the Accounts Section. On Tuesday, I moved into Registry Section, where I
was given the “In” and “Out” files on Karachi
. They were quite interesting and I saw a letter about me being chosen as the
much-requested new girl. Yesterday I had to read Departmental Rules and
Regulations, a long, thick screed on Protocol and all the Security Regulations
etc.

 
 
        
‘Someone gave me a book on Urdu, and I have starting learning so I will
be able to speak a few words of the local language when I arrive in Pakistan
. I have also seen some slides of Karachi
and the surrounding district. Karachi
seems rather hot and drab, but very interesting, with an interesting looking
market. Also, there are some fascinating ruined cities, mosques and villages in
the surrounding district. I really learned a lot and think I’m going to like
it, despite its drawbacks.’

[
Karachi

was then the capital city of West Pakistan
and its population less than two million. In 2006 its population had grown to
over ten million. The city had also expanded and there were many more high-rise
buildings there. Zena went to
Karachi

over forty years ago and during that time a new capital city was being
developed at Islamabad
. This is fourteen miles north-east of
Rawalpindi

, on the north-eastern fringe of the Potohar plateau of the province of Punjab .

 
 
Two or three weeks before Zena left Canberra she had her eyes
tested and ordered new glasses, her passport photo taken, her medical
examination, and injections against cholera, malaria, smallpox and so on. She
felt a bit sick after some of the injections and her cholera injections made her
so ill that, instead of attending farewell parties on her last weekend in Canberra
, she had to spend most of her time in bed. She left
Canberra

for
Perth

on Saturday, 15 July 1961, and arrived home in Kalgoorlie
the following day.

 
 
The eight days Zena spent at home went quickly, and at the end of
that time we all farewelled her at the railway station as she set off for Perth
on the the first stage of her adventurous journey
.
It was over two years before
we saw her again.

 
 
Zena spent the next day in
Perth

visiting various relatives and at about midnight boarded her flight for Singapore
on a Super Constellation aircraft. She travelled first-class, which meant she
could stretch out and sleep. The plane landed at Djakarta where Barbara, one of
Zena’s friends from
Canberra

and who had recently been posted there, met her at the airport and waited there
until the aircraft took off again for Singapore
. Another girl from Canberra called Billie, met her in Singapore and accompanied
her to the Cathay Pacific Hotel where Zena was scheduled to stay for two or
three days. Writing on paper with the
Cathay Pacific
letterhead, she told us about her time in Perth
and to the time she reached Djarkata.]

 
 
        
‘The plane was a bit late and we arrived at Djakarta at eight a.m., where I was met by one of our overseas girls called Barbara.
From the air Djakarta looked fascinating – palm trees waving in the breeze, paddy fields
higgledy-piggledy everywhere and looking a little like a contemporary design,
and the streets don’t seem to be set out in any order at all. I noticed that a
few machine-guns were mounted around the airport and the steward pointed out a
couple of huge Russian bombers parked there. I also noticed that the police wore
guns on their hips.

 
 
        
‘I smuggled the goodies I had brought from
Australia

into Barbara’s bag, and she quickly smuggled a parcel into mine, which I
couldn’t open until after I had left Djakarta . In the parcel was a set of six lovely Indonesian, hand-made, silver teaspoons
in a really intricate design. The spoon part is designed as a flower, and there
is a figure, something like a ballet dancer, on the end of each handle. I am
really thrilled with them.

 
 
        
‘Between Djakarta and Singapore
we flew over hundreds of islands. About eighteen passengers got on at Djakarta , two more in first-class. I had a drunken Englishman next to me. However, the
stewards moved him to another seat, which they reclined back and tucked him
into. He was just about passing out when he apologised to me, very regally, for
not being a compatible companion and explained that he was a bit under the
weather. That was an understatement.

 
 
        
‘I nearly collapsed when I stepped out on the tarmac at Singapore
. It was not that hot, just terribly humid. The air seems to be mostly water.
Billie met me after I eventually got through Customs, and we drove here to the
hotel in the office station wagon. Singapore
is absolutely fascinating, and the variety of smells! I don’t think they have
any traffic rules here. Driving along in a vehicle is quite an experience.
Everything on wheels goes tooting along the straight at breakneck speed, and
giving right hand turns and turning left and things like that. There are
hundreds of trishaws, but I’m not brave enough to have a ride in one; I want
to live a few years longer.

 
 
        
‘I went shopping, and under Billie’s guidance, bought two pairs of
sandals, a lovely Italian handbag and a gold Japanese bracelet for very cheap
prices. I am going back there today to buy my linen. Mr Zee, Billie’s tailor,
called in the afternoon at Billie’s gorgeous flat and measured me. He took my
three dress lengths, and is going to get them made up for me by tomorrow. He’s
coming here at four this afternoon for fittings.

 
 
        
‘This evening Billie’s neighbour, Lilly, a lovely Chinese music
teacher, called and the three of us set off for B…’s place (he’s the Press
Attaché here.) They have a really beautiful home, set on top of a hill, with
huge grounds surrounding it. The party was held on the terrace, which was lit by
Chinese lanterns. It was lovely with the warmish, cool breeze, a full tropical
moon and the sound of the insects. I met a lot of interesting people; mostly
Press people, of all different nationalities. I was by far the youngest one
there, most of them being married. I collapsed into bed about midnight.

 
 
        
‘I’m having great fun when shopping, trying to turn Malayan dollars
into Australian pounds. All this mental arithmetic is quite a strain. I’m
flying to Karachi
from here in a Boeing 707. I’ll be stopping in
Calcutta

and Bangkok
for forty minutes. It is a damned shame that it will be night-time as I won’t
see anything.

 

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