The Last Long Goodbye

Mum's friends and some relatives in Lerin, before boarding the steam train to Solun.

The day of our departure from Mala and the journey to Australia had been coming for a long time. It wasn't as if I didn't know that the day would come when we had to leave Mala; but when it came it came with a thump. It surprised me and it jolted me into reality. It was as if someone snuck behind me, whacked me on the back of my head and said: "Get up, it's time to go, this time it's for real."

It was early February 1960; the 2nd of February rings a bell. We set out from Baba Mara's house. The wagon with two horses harnessed to it was waiting at the main road leading to Lerin, loaded with people, luggage bags and the obligatory Kooferh (chest for clothes) that nearly all migrants used to carry their useful possessions when they were leaving for Australia. Migrants stuffed the kooferh with everything they could fit in it. Mum had stuffed several heavy duty blankets made out of goat's hair and she even managed to fit some cooking pots into it as well. We had no idea what to take with us. Who needs heavy duty blankets in a country where rocks crack from the summer heat and the winters were no colder than our springs as described by one of my aunties in a letter she wrote back to us in Mala. We set out for Lerin at about lunch time in order to get there before 3 pm, in time to board the steam train to Solun. It was the same train that blew its whistle at 3 o'clock every day and told us the time of the day as it set off for Solun. I so much wanted to see that train at a close range and today was my lucky day to have a close examination of it. I was thinking about the steam train as the wagon made its way to Lerin, but I was still observing the beautiful scenery from the back of the horse drawn wagon. It was yet another clear day and the ground was covered with a fresh blanket of snow. Because I sat on the back of the wagon facing towards the back I could see the tracks that were left on the road by the wagon's wheels. As I watched the pair of wheel tracks unfolding like a ribbon as the wagon moved further away from our village I knew that this was the last vision of our beautiful valley and to make me feel worse it was during my favourite season of the year. I was emotionally numb, and sad that we were leaving our beautiful land and happy that we were going towards a better future; a sort of feeling that stops short of producing tears in your eyes. Was this perhaps the last goodbye? I thought to myself. I was kind of immune and partly prepared for these types of sad moments by having witnessed other people struggling with their emotions during a separation from someone they love or from the land they loved. Prior to Teta (aunty) Fania Kiantov, her daughter Ristana and son Tanas' departure for Australia they held a farewell gathering in their modest and dilapidated house. I remember this farewell party clearly because the gathered relatives literally brought the house down. It was a small two storey house made of mud bricks, the party was held on the top floor where the adults were engaged in a sort of awkward behaviour of not knowing what to say or what to do. There were hugs, tears and at times there was laughter and good wishes and some nervous singing. But when the dancing started on that floor (which was constructed with logs and rendered with mud) causing the mud floor to crack and rays of light started to appear from the gaps between the floor logs I knew then it was time to move away from there. The crumbling of the mud floor and the appearance of the gaps in the floor put a premature stop to the party; that is all I remember of that day. I don't even remember whether I farewelled Ristana or Tanas that day even though they were close to my age, such was our chaotic behaviour at that time. We didn't have a precedent for these events, we didn't know what to do. Another awkward scene that I witnessed was that of a couple apparently migrating to Australia, a man leading a horse and a young lady riding the horse. They appeared to be from Lagen judging by their clothes, and the fact that they took a short cut and were travelling east of our village was additional proof that they were from Lagen (Lagentsi generally take this route). I saw them stationary under a large walnut tree. I don't think they saw me. There, the man was making token motions of going back to Lagen and moments later he was making token motions of going forwards towards Lerin. He was tormenting himself with a regrettable and irreversible decision that was made by them months or even years earlier. I suspected that the young lady was his daughter and that he decided she had a better future in Australia. This was not an isolated case. Several families sent their children to Australia so they could have a better future there. By this time the man had finished the bottle of rakia (probably the rakia we sold in Lagen) and then smashed the empty bottle against a rock on the ground. The way he threw the bottle against the rock showed the anger and frustration he felt with being faced with such a sad and difficult decision. I suspected that they repeated this act several times between Lagen and Mala and that they would probably do it again before they would reach Lerin. This was their form of the long goodbye. Even though I was young I could read the body language of those people and I felt their pain by just looking at them. Fortunately for us we were not faced with such a dilemma as that couple was because we were on our way to Australia to be united with our father and the possibility of a brighter future there. The man with the horse was separating himself from his daughter and he was destined to live in Lagen as a heart-broken man.

Watching the wagon wheels leave tracks on the snow-covered road and thinking about past events while my feet were dangling from the back of the wagon was a good way to distract myself from the thought of having to say goodbye to our land and our people for the last time. No one was talking on the way to Lerin and it was too early to start hugging and sobbing, we had more than an hour to go before we reached Lerin. Everyone was in a state of disbelief; it was like the calm before a storm.

At last we reached the train station, a wide flat space covered with snow. There was snow everywhere except on the train engine. The big black train engine looked like a wild beast ready to lock horns with another beast. It was ready for the long journey to Solun, it was hot and hissing with a boiler full of steam. I had the opportunity to walk up to the engine and look at the parts that made it go. I could see three large metal wheels on one side, all connected by a strong looking machined steel rod that was attached to a cylinder; that is where some steam was hissing from and warm water was dripping on the snow below, drilling fine holes into the snow. I wanted to see more, but I was pulled by my hand into the train's carriage. This is where the goodbyes started in earnest, the awkward hugging and the obvious statements that "we will miss you" and so on. Amongst the chaos and confusion I felt a deep sense of sadness in my body, but the chaos inside the train went on, bags were arranged and rearranged, people were checking and rechecking their tickets and passports in order to calm their nerves.

Finally the well-wishers left the train carriages, then a puff of steam blew the train's whistle at precisely 3 o clock, the train started to move slowly along the curved track giving us the final view of the good-bye-waving hands. From the carriage window I could see all of our people on the platform waving their hands, their arms were held vertically and their hands held at right angles and were flapping like loose leaves in the wind. It was a solemn action reminiscent of a funeral. The slow motion of the train continued my agony as it moved along the curved track affording me the last vision of our people still on the platform and still waving their hands. Now they had turned around like sun flowers following the sun, except they were following the side of the train for that unforgettable last look. At last the train gathered speed and finally we were visibly, physically and emotionally separated from family and friends. By now the passengers had calmed down and there was a sense of relief as the train sped towards Solun, the capital of Macedonia, still our land. There was still enough daylight for me to observe the surrounding area from the carriage's window. From my Geography lessons I knew we were approaching the river Axios and I was hoping I could see it before the daylight faded. The train slowed down as it approached the bridge over the river giving me ample time to see the huge river, full with freshly melted snow water. Looking down at one of the bridge pylons I could see the muddy water forming waves around the pylon as it rushed past it. At another moment it looked like the water was stationary and that the pylon was moving against the water. I enjoyed making such observations. I kept on looking at the river and the surrounding land until it was too dark to see any more, now I leaned back from the darkened window and caught a glimpse of my image in the window. For a moment I didn't recognise myself, my face was gawky, sad and looked lifeless; I was mentally exhausted. It wasn't long before I fell asleep as the train continued its journey to Solun. Could this have been my last goodbye?

Next morning I woke up in Solun; not impressed. This was just another city, a bigger version of Lerin; much bigger than Lerin in fact. Unlike Lerin though, Solun is built on the edge of the Aegean Sea. As we walked to the railway station, this time to take the train to Athens I saw for the first time the Aegean Sea, literally at my feet. Surrounded by grey concrete on three sides the Aegean Sea looked grey, intimidating and sort of unnatural, but the size of it and the fact that I couldn't see its depth brought a cold fear into my body. Just then I thought to myself "If I were to fall in that huge sea there would be no way I could swim my way out of it." That realisation of drowning scared me as well as it made me feel even colder inside. At this point of time my joy of looking at and discovering new things was dulled by the fear of the unknown, I didn't even know where we were going; sure we were going to Australia, but this is just a name. Nobody bothered to find out and tell us anything about the social life in Australia and the general conditions in Australia. The only thing I knew about Australia was how to count to ten in English (I learned that from my Dedo Petre). I also had a cryptic picture in my mind of the physical land of Australia from a plain map of Australia that I saw pasted on the Travel Agent's door, I say cryptic because the map had no detailed information on it. The map was painted red and in the middle of it there was a silhouette of a human figure standing on one leg and holding a long stick in one hand.

The two-carriage small train to Athens lacked the grandeur, strength and the feel of security of the large steam train that we travelled on to Solun, but it more than made up by its speed and manoeuvrability. The landscape south of Solun was rugged with lots of chasms and rocky outcrops. The railway line was narrow and had lots of twists and turns as it followed a path dictated by the landscape, there were cuttings into the side of the hills and there were bridges over deep gorges. The light train jolted from side to side, sped at times and at other times it slowed down as it negotiated the twisted rail line. Compared to the steam train, the light train felt unsteady on its feet. This reminded me of our cat trying to run with walnut shells stuck on its feet along the dry-rock wall surrounding our yard back in Mala (One day, just for fun we glued half walnut shells on our cat's feet with tar and released it on the dry-rock wall and watched it scramble its way along the wall).

By now we were in Greece good and proper, Macedonia was left behind.

Was this perhaps the last good bye?

There was nothing familiar around me anymore, but no, wait, at a distance I caught a glimpse of a farmer tending to his freshly ploughed field. This was a familiar sight to me and it brought a warm feeling to my body.

"There are people just like us here," I thought to myself.

The train scrambled along the twisted rail line like our cat with walnut shoes on and eventually brought us to Athens in one piece.

In Athens we had a full day and an evening to spend without money; we were not on a tour of Athens, we were on a mission to go to Australia. However we saw a small part of Athens. What we saw near the hotel was nothing but concrete jungle, a mismatch of buildings and busy roads with cars and motorbikes all of which were tooting their horns. We didn't even see the sea even though Athens is located on the Aegean Sea dotted with rocky islands. We stayed in a fancy hotel that had a doorman at its entrance. It was here in this hotel that Mum had her "15 minutes of fame". There was a monthly women's magazine on the counter of the hotel's foyer and on the front page of that monthly woman's magazine was a striking photo of Mum. It didn't have her name on it but the headline read something like: "A traditional village outfit worn in Thessaloniki" (Solun If you don't mind). The photo must have been taken in Solun without Mum's permission; the magazine (Romanzo) was printed and distributed by the time we got to Athens. Mum showed no reaction to the photo, she missed the plot. It was at that time that I realized how stressed and anxious Mum was with the task of taking us and herself half way around the world to reunite us with Dad after 8 years of absence.

I flicked through the magazine and found an article on deep water diving with those pressure suits and brass helmets and so on. I read the whole article; it went on to describe how air was pumped into the diving suit from a pump situated in a small boat on the surface of the sea, how the brass helmet prevented the diver's head from being crushed by the water pressure; a fascinating article, it was my kind of article, about technical stuff. This was the first printed work I read apart from our first grade reader at the age of 12 years and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mum couldn't keep us in that motel room all day so we went outside and started to explore the nearby area. Steve, Silvi, I and this other very quiet boy whose mum was on the same mission as our Mum, (that is to take her only son to her husband in Australia) came with us. Steve and I managed to shoo Silvi back away from us, but that kid stayed with us and followed us at a constant distance as If he was attached to us by a 5 metre rope.

We walked two or three blocks and crossed a few streets whilst making mental marks at every turn and crossing so that we wouldn't get lost on the way back to the hotel. We ended up in a museum where we saw lots of ancient artefacts and marble busts and statues with broken or missing limbs. The museum was modern and it was clean in stark contrast to the other buildings around it, but I didn't find it very interesting. On the way back we retraced our path by noting the mental marks that we made previously. So we and the almost invisible kid still 5 metres behind us made it back to the entrance of the hotel where Silvi was waiting for us (so we thought).

Silvi later told us that she was too afraid to enter the hotel with the doorman there, so she waited for us to return and enter the hotel with us; so much for having a doorman at the entrance to a hotel I thought to myself. On our arrival in the hotel room the mother of that quiet boy hugged him as she was so happy to see him back. She had thought she had lost him. Later on Mum told us that the quiet boy's mother was petrified that she lost her only son and didn't know how she would face her husband without his son when she eventually reached Australia. She was sobbing all the time that we were at the museum until Mum asked her:

"When did you last see your boy?"

"He was in the foyer with two boys and a girl," she said.

Mum smiled and told her "Don't worry they are my children, they will be back."

That is the sort of confidence that Mum and in fact Dedo had in us which made us outgoing, confident and self-reliant.

Maybe we were too confident and not at all out-going and possibly a little arrogant because we didn't make friends with that boy who followed us all the way to the museum and back, we didn't even ask him his name. I wonder what he thought of us.

Piraeus was the next point of call. We went there by taxi to board the ship and start the next leg of the trip, the big and final leg that would take us away from Greece, away from Macedonia and on to the new and unknown land called Australia.

Whilst loading our baggage on to the ship named "Patris" I thought what an amazing job Mum had done till now. For a relatively young lady who had never been further than 20 kilometres from Mala to start from her parents' place in Mala with three young children in tow and end up hundreds of kilometres away in Piraeus was just amazing. The whole trip so far played-out again, like a movie in my mind: the horse drawn wagon ride to Lerin, the steam train journey to Solun, the day in Solun, the dicey train ride to Athens, the taxi drive to Piraeus, and here we are about to board a diesel powered ship headed for Australia.

Everything was organised by Mum and the travel agent in Lerin and prepaid including hotels and meals by Dad from Australia. We did not buy anything on the way because we had no money on us. It cost Dad a small fortune to put us in a below the water-line cabin of the ship where 7 year old Silvi slept in a baby's cot. The overall fare was £525 which doesn't sound much today until you compare that to the price of the workman's cottage in Richmond for which Dad paid £300. If this achievement is not impressive enough consider that Dad did this on a low disability wage. Dad had survived the deadly tuberculosis disease (T.B.) and could only do light duties as he had only half a lung left after several lung operations.

Because we were devoid of any money, this is an appropriate time and place for me to relate to you one of my favourite parables that Dedo told me and I am sure a lot of our people have heard before, and some people would have found themselves in a similar situation. This relates to a pechalets (someone striving to earn money away from home) who couldn't pay for his breakfast of toast and eggs. The parable involves the wisest man in the Middle-East, his name was "Nastratin Hojar". He was a mythical character who could solve any problem posed to him. This particular situation is based during 1920s when our people would go to Australia (on pechaljka) to work hard, save and return with enough money so that they could live well enough for the rest of their lives at home. Well, one such pechalnjik on his way to Australia stopped in a café in Piraeus and ordered two boiled eggs, toast and a cup of coffee. Not having any money to pay for the meal he asked the café owner if he could pay two years later on his way back to Macedonia.

"Sure," said the cafe owner! "I will keep a record of the bill."

"Thank you very much and you have my word that I will be back in two years time," said the pechalnik.

True to his word the pechalnjik returned two years later with lots of money and was eager to settle the bill until the café owner presented him with an enormous bill. The cost of two eggs, toast and coffee was so much that the pechalnjik didn't have enough money to pay it.

"Why are you charging me so much?" asked the puzzled man.

"Well, two eggs would have hatched two chickens, the chickens would have laid eggs which in turn they would have grown into chickens and so on and in two years that amounts to a lot of eggs," explained the café owner.

"I can't pay you," said the pechalnik

"You gave me your word," said the café owner.

"I will take you to court if you don't pay me," said the café owner.

The pechalnik had no choice but to engage Nastratin Hojar as his lawyer. Nastratin Hojar agreed to represent him at the court case and told the pechalnik to book a date and time for the court hearing and to let him know the time and date of the hearing. Well the date and time of the court case arrived but not Nastratin Hojar, the judge waited for an extra half hour and when he was about to dismiss the case Nastratin Hojar barged into the court room huffing and puffing and apologising for being late.

"I am sorry for being late Your Honour, at the last moment I realised that it's wheat sowing time and I had to boil the seeds before I sowed them and that is way I am late."

The judge, with an authoritative voice, said to Nastratin Hojar "I am surprised that a man of your wisdom doesn't know that boiled wheat seeds do not grow into wheat" to which Nastratin Hojar replied "It is true Your Honour as it is also true that boiled eggs do not grow into chickens."

Case dismissed! The pechalnik won the case, the judge swallowed his pride and Nastartin Hojar restored his status as the wisest man in the Middle East.

As we boarded the huge ship my fear of drowning on route to Australia was alleviated when I saw the sheer bulk of the ship, the solid construction of it and the array of life boats perched on specially constructed frames to hold them ready for deployment in case of an emergency.

The ship left Piraeus in the evening and cruised all night through the Mediterranean Sea. We missed out on seeing any islands south of Piraeus and arrived at Port Said in the morning. Nothing of great importance happened at Port Said. There was a crowd of people of different shapes, sizes and colours and robed in strange clothes selling or buying souvenirs, but what I saw on the deck of the ship was both interesting and disturbing. The ship's crew had set up a system of ropes and baskets for the passengers to purchase things from the vendors below on the dock. The passengers would put money in the baskets and they would lower the baskets down to the vendors who exchanged the money for goods. This was the interesting thing. The disturbing thing for me was when I overheard two passengers standing on the deck of the ship watching the whole process and one of the passengers, a well-dressed obese man, told the other one: "Watch me make one of those monkeys dive in the water." The arrogant passenger threw a silver coin in the crystal clear water below and he watched as I watched the coin plop in the water. I could see the coin reflecting light back at us as it flipped from side to side and as it sank slowly in the ocean. When all of a sudden a scantly- dressed man dived into the water like a frog, caught the coin, placed it between his teeth and swam out exposing his ivory white teeth with pride and with the coin clenched between his teeth. I was impressed by the diver's athleticism, diving and swimming ability. And as I looked across at the arrogant and obese person I thought to myself who is the monkey now? The comment by the obese white passenger about the black diver was a clear example of discrimination due to colour alone.

The ship moved on and now was in the Suez Canal and travelling slowly very close to the bank. Standing on the deck on the right side of the ship I looked out at the new continent that we were entering. All I could see was a vast and featureless land as far as the eye could see. The soil was light brown with patches and shades of brown again, there were no trees or grass; nothing worthwhile seeing except for this solitary blacker-than-black man (abreh kutrun - abreh kutrun is a term that means extremely black in Macedonian) walking along the ship at the same pace as the ship. The man was going nowhere as far as I could tell and apparently he came from nowhere for I could not see any buildings in that area; this was indeed a different place with different people living here.

The featureless land was diminishing with time and was being replaced by a vast volume of water; soon enough I could see nothing but water all around the ship. The Patris with its little more than 1,000 passengers had entered the great ocean and was determined to take us to Australia without any more stops. The next port of call would be Fremantle near Perth in Australia. We had about three weeks of looking at nothing but water as the ship's Captain navigated the vast ocean.

The ocean was not as featureless as it seemed at first sight. Throughout the three weeks the ocean displayed all of its colours, from light blue with brush-strokes of inky-blue to light green, but most of the time it was grey with every shade of grey there is. If the colour display was not enough to keep us entertained the great ocean changed its mood every now and then.

For most of the days though the ocean water was glassy-smooth and was reflecting a silver grey colour which matched the grey overcast sky. The sky and the ocean met at the distant horizon like an asymptote along the "x" axis on a Cartesian plane where one couldn't tell where the ocean ended and the sky began. One particular day the sky cleared and allowed the overhead sun to burn holes in our heads with its piercing rays; around about this time the Captain of the ship announced that we were about to cross the Equator and I was looking forward to this. I thought something unusual would occur at the Equator, but I didn't know what to expect. I didn't expect to see Poseidon the mythological god of the oceans to appear, but I thought there would be some physical change to the waters of the ocean.

Nothing happened again. It was yet another day of looking at the still ocean water, except this time, at a distance, I saw what other kids in our group thought were flying fish. The so called flying fish were very interesting to observe; they would shoot out of the water like spears with their horizontal fins stretched out on either side of their body and glide through the air until they dived into the ocean again. They repeated this action several times and as they did they easily out-paced the ship. It became obvious to me that gliding through the air was easier for the fish to travel than for them to swim through the water. I wanted to know how fast the gliding/flying fish were moving. It was difficult to judge their speed by looking at the water without there being any reference points to judge their speed with, so I walked to the side of the ship, leaned over the rail and looked vertically down the side of the ship where the ship was passing through the still water. I estimated that the ship was travelling at the pace of an empty horse-drawn wagon, so the gliding fish would have been moving at a much faster pace than an empty horse-drawn wagon. I was pleased that I was able to estimate the speed of the gliding fish. My estimate of their speed through the air was about 40-50 km per hour. Pleased with my estimation of the gliding fish's speed I stood there leaning over the ship's rail and looking at the ruffled water when all of a sudden an overwhelming fear ran through my body. Whilst looking vertically down along the side of the tall ship I realised that I had a fear of heights or possibly I developed the fear of heights then. I still have vertigo now, but it is not your standard vertigo; my fear is a fear of falling off from heights and injuring myself or a worse fate than that. From that day on I did not look vertically down along the side of the ship.

After we crossed the Equator according to the announcement by the ship's Captain (for there was no obvious signs of us doing so), the ocean changed its mood and became angry as if to say "You have no right to enter into the southern hemisphere without my permission." Then the ocean in front of the ship morphed into a mountain made out of sea water, huge mounds of water rolled and rocked the ship; sometimes the crest of the wave would break over the ship's bow and the wind would wash the spray all the way down the ship's deck.

Steve and I were out on the deck watching the ship as it stood up to the ocean's fury, the ship pitched up and down, it rolled from side to side, but it never veered from its forward direction. From our position on the deck the pointy end of the ship resembled an axe chopping its way through the ocean. When coincidently the front end of the ship dipped downwards and a huge wave was crashing against the ship a huge volume of water would run along the deck all the way down to the ship's stern. We were not scared as we had faith in the ship's ability to take the punishment that the ocean was dishing out. Looking at the back full-width deck of the ship we saw two deck chairs sliding across the full width of the ship. Without any hesitation we quickly walked to the back of the ship, sat on the chairs and rode those chairs across the wet and slippery boards of the rear deck. During one long slide the chair with me on it slid all the way to the opposite side of the ship and thumped to a stop at the side rail. At that time the fear of falling overboard, of being dragged to the back of the ship and being chopped to pieces by the propellers flashed through me and made me get off the chair and walk gingerly like a zombie back inside the ship.

Mum meanwhile who must have been looking for us met us in the main corridor, took us to the communal bath room and told us to have a bath (one person at a time). This was my first full body bath in a full-sized bath tub in 12 years. The bath and my dressing in fresh dry clothes were well timed because straight after that it was time for the evening meal; not our normal every day meal of pasta, this was special. Two waiters dressed in black and white outfits walked into the dining room, parading a large roast pig on a large platter held over their heads. The roast pig had a cooked apple in its mouth. The whole setting was impressive; the dining tables where covered with white table cloths and each table had a vase with flowers in it. After the main course of roast pork, dessert was served and then followed by fresh fruit. During the serving of the dessert and fresh fruit the crew provided same light entertainment to celebrate the crossing of the Equator.

Nothing of great interest happened after crossing the Equator. The ocean decided to have a rest; our group of boys including the almost invisible boy that we saw in Athens walked around the ship on a daily basis until the mighty Patris reached Fremantle, Perth, Australia ( Avstraleer, as pronounced by us).

The ship docked late in the afternoon in early March at Fremantle port where Vuiko Stoyan was waiting at the end of the gangway and who didn't give us a chance to metaphorically step on Australian soil as he dragged us towards his car. I found myself seated in the middle of the front bench seat of his car between Vuiko and Mum. There was a lot of talking and physical manipulation of the car via some pedals on the floor of the car, the steering wheel and a lever poking at right angles near the steering column. Eventually Vuiko Stoyan set the car in motion along a wide road with amber coloured overhead lights and headed towards Manjimup where he had settled and was on his way to establishing a life for himself. I watched the road as it appeared to be swallowed by the car. I watched the overhead lights reflecting from the shiny bonnet of the car. I also examined the interior of the car especially the steering wheel which had a shiny ring within the steering wheel and the steering wheel boss. The steering wheel boss was capped with an elaborate red coloured emblem which depicted a lion and a ball; the lion had its paw on the ball. During a rare lull in discussions between Mum and Vuiko I managed to ask my uncle about the lever that was jutting out at right angles from under the steering wheel. He said "It's for changing gears." I gave myself yet another piece of home work; now I had to find out about gears. The overnight stay at Manjimup and the drive back to Fremantle were a blur for me, too many things to take in. But I managed to establish that Vuiko Stoyan's car was the same model as the taxi that brought Baba back from Solun and the same one that was instrumental in me cracking my skull. The car by the way was a late model Holden F.C.

Vuiko Stoyan: Posing with his dirt-racing motor bike in Manjimup. Later on he gave up motor bike racing after one of his friends was killed during a race.

The last leg of the long journey was from Fremantle Western Australia to Port Melbourne, Victoria. It took us three days to reach Port Melbourne, coincidentally late in the afternoon again. The Fremantle disembarking was re-enacted again at Port Melbourne with minor changes. This time it was my Dad and Uncle Vasil who were waiting at the gangway. Dad and Uncle Vasil didn't rush us to the waiting car; we stood there on the ground looking at one another. It had taken a lot of nervous tension and time to establish who was who because it was only Mum who recognised Dad. I was four years old when Dad left for Australia, Steve was two years old and Silvi was not yet born. We had to reconnect with Dad again (it's not like in the movies).

There were a lot of people disembarking from the ship and they all had to walk through the gates which slowed us down and gave us plenty of time to take things in. Then, once past the gates, Uncle Vasil hurried us to his car which wasn't a car; it was an old van with barn style doors at the back. Vasil opened the barn doors of the van and threw us (the kids) in like three bags of concrete. The doors wouldn't meet and close fully so Vasil wound a piece of rope around the door handles which left a gap for us to look through. Dad and Mum sat in the front bench seat with Vasil driving the van.

Dad at an annual village picnic somewhere in outer Melbourne.

It was still light outside as the van started its drive towards 41 Kent Street Richmond, our new home. We were fortunate that the barn doors couldn't close fully and left a slight gap for us to peek through and get a glimpse of Melbourne's suburbs. But the van's suspension did not help; the van just jumped around at even the smallest bumps on the road. We were bouncing on the van's hard wooden floor like loose potatoes whilst trying to see our new country through the slit between the barn doors that was changing with every bounce of the van. Any vision we saw was like what you would see through stripped 8 millimetre movie strip.

41 Kent Street Richmond was our new home now; a two bedroom working man's cottage set on a plot of land measuring 5 metres by 20 metres, no bigger than our hay shed back in Macedonia. We came from the other side of the world where we had several acres of land to farm on and huge expanses of crown land including snow capped mountains to graze our animals on, to a small house surrounded by equally small houses with a tiny back yard which at least had a proper outdoor toilet. The toilet could be flushed at least and it didn't smell and the house had running water, electricity and a fridge. Above all the house was in Australia, a free country for us and a country with lots of opportunities for hard working people. There were some advantages to living here, but I still prefered to be in Mala at that moment, living on our land.

After a meal of lots of meat and Lloyds lemonade to make up for all the times that we were starving in Macedonia (specially the year when a swarm of locust came along and wiped clean one of our wheat fields), Dad led us to one of the tiny bedrooms of that tiny house which just accommodated two single beds, one for me and Steve and the other one for Silvi. Dad must have seen the fear on my face and said "If you are scared to sleep here I will leave the light on all night." I and probably Steve and Silvi weren't scared of the dark; I was scared that we might run out of oxygen in that tiny room. We slept well actually and now we were eager to explore our immediate surroundings.

After breakfast I flung the front door open and within the first step I was up against the front picket fence which itself was on the footpath. Directly opposite our house, sitting in a cane chair on the footpath in front of her house with her arms crossed in a defiant manner was Mrs Burns (as I found out later). Visions of the coiled snake started to appear, but Dad did his homework and warned us about Mrs Burns. He said "She might ask you your religion; just say "Christian" to her." Mrs Burns motioned us to go to her, she said something we didn't understand, I said "Christian", the tension faded and we were released from her grip. She could have asked my name or she could have asked my religion, the word "Christian" answered both questions. Dad also prepared us for other eventualities. He pinned a note on our lapels with the address on it in case we got lost. The other eventuality required a bit of thought on his behalf and for me to memorize a phrase. Dad told me if someone knocks on the front door, tell him you don't speak English. For me to remember the phrase "I don't speak English", Dad said remember the Greek phrase "Then ehomeeh spiti stin Unglia" (in Greek this means we don't have a house in England) and utter the three words "no spiti English". Luckily nobody knocked on the front door that day to find out that we didn't have a house in England.

Now we were ready and prepared to start a new adventure and a new life in a new country. But it was more than a new country to me; it appeared that I was in a parallel universe.

This is another story perhaps to be told in the future.

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