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
"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
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).
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.
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.