It is said that home is where the heart is, and for much of my early life, home was my grandmother's cattle stud at Beachmere, about 50 miles north of Brisbane, Queensland. My sister, two years younger than I, was a sickly baby requiring a lot of attention from my mother. My grandmother stepped into the breach, and I spent much of my early life at the farm, by her side. I had a special place in her heart, because I was the first grand daughter born into the large, predominantly male Wallace clan.
When I was 3 1/2 years old, I became a monthly border at the Star of the Sea convent at Southport, about 50 miles south of Brisbane. This was an enormous shock to me as I was too young to attend the day school attached to the convent. I spent my days being given small tasks by the nuns, and two nuns taught me to read, which ignited my passion for books. Although my days passed, ruled as they were by the routines of the convent, I was desperately homesick and missed my family terribly, sobbing myself to sleep most nights.
Fortunately, my grandmother also missed me, and often applied to the headmistress have me to stay with her over the weekend. This involved a long and circuitous journey from Southport to Beachmere, a distance of over 100 miles. A nun drove me to the flying plane depot in the Nerang River, Southport where, with a large luggage label pinned to my back stating my name and destination, I boarded the Catalina aircraft to fly to Brisbane.
The twin-engine Catalina flew northerly, out over the coast, past Moreton Island, before swooping in to land on the broad Brisbane River. Often, because I was the only child on board, the pilot invited me to sit on his knee to 'fly' the plane! Soon, the staff and I became good friends and I earned my 'wings'.
Once we had landed, I clambered over the floats and on to the dock, where I was usually met by a relative or perhaps my godmother, Beth, who drove me to the Brisbane Railway Station to board the long passenger train travelling north to such towns as Maroochydore, Nambour, Maryborough, Bundaberg and other northern coastal sugar towns.
Once on board the train, I would aim for a window seat as there was an hour or so of clickity clack travel before the train stopped at my destination, Caboolture. Here, on the fern-festooned platform, either Gran or my uncle Stuart waited for me with wide open arms. We usually stopped in the main street of the town, for a milkshake and a macaroon at the bakery, before driving home to the farm in the cab of the truck.
A day or two of Nan's love and attention, along with some typical farm chores like feeding the 'poddy' calves with a beer bottle of milk and a teat, helping with the milking, or playing with the latest batch of chicks when collecting the eggs in the chook house and my spirits and happy disposition were restored. Best of all was helping grandma with cooking - shelling fresh peas from the garden for dinner (and eating half of them), peeling apples for a cake or pie, or carefully dropping a spoonful of batter into the hot pan to make golden pikelets for breakfast.
Sometimes the stockmen brought Gran a much prized Emu's egg, a huge oval shape, dark green in colour with a rough textured shell. She always baked a boiled fruit cake daily for smoko, which used 12 hens eggs (or 1 Emu egg) and she really appreciated these gifts brought in from the distant boundaries of our large cattle property.
Smoko was a special time of the daily life of a busy Hereford cattle stud, when the heavy bell on the back veranda was rung and Nan waved her apron to the men nearby, branding or dipping the calves and steers. Everyone on the property came and stood on the back veranda or lounged on the lawn, sipping strong tea from an enamel pannikin and munching a hefty slice of boiled fruit cake, as they discussed the daily happenings. Dogs fought over large cake crumbs, women passed over fresh eggs or a jar of jam carefully carried to the house in the skirts of their aprons and children peeked from behind the safety of their mother's skirts.
It was always a wrench to leave her and the carefree Australian rural lifestyle - both of us hated reversing the long journey between Caboolture and Southport. Somehow, travelling south always seemed a much longer journey to my small child's mind.