On our way north, with our lives packed into a caravan...
In 1971 my parents decided to make a “sea change”, selling our house, all of our furniture, discarding or giving away personal belongings which they believed we no longer needed, packed a few “must keep” items into boxes which were sent away to be stored, bought a caravan, and off we went.
Even writing that first line here gives me a feeling of panic; I personally would never dream of doing such a thing! Yet my parents found the whole idea so easy, almost as if it were a natural thing to do.
Sell your home; sure. Pack in your high paid job; no problem. Take your youngest child out of high school when she has only just started at her new school; she’ll cope!
Well, I did cope. I had no other choice, did I? What else could I do, other than tag along with these reckless parents of mine?
But here’s the thing; they had done it all twenty years before. When they had three young daughters, aged nine, six and four years of age, they packed a few beloved items into two large trunks, hopped on board the ship, “SS New Australia” and floated away into the sunset, in search of a new life on the opposite side of the world.
I must admit, buying the caravan was pretty great. And the idea of hooking the van up to the back of Dad’s station wagon in the middle of the night and beginning the drive north was very romantic.
And I knew I would be safe with my parents. Dad would fight off any monsters that threatened to harm me, whilst Mum held me safe within her protective arms, so really, I had nothing to worry about….did I?
How did a home-body like me happen to be born into a family where the father is absolutely fearless and the mother constantly has “itchy feet” and wants to spend her life in search of adventure?
Well, if it was adventure and change they were after, they succeeded, but that didn’t come as any surprise. My parents were both very feline like; they were a pair of cats with nine lives and always landed on their feet!
Dad out the front of the shop, with that dreaded bread window at the right side of the photo!
After four months of living in caravan parks (and using public facilities for our bathroom!) they finally decided to buy a shop in the very pretty town of Murwillumbah, New South Wales, slightly inland from the coast and just south of the Queensland and New South Wales state border.
To say “they” decided is not completely accurate; Dad had his heart set on buying the shop and Mum, true to her sense of adventure simply went along for the ride. Mum thought the buildings were shabby and old; well, looking at the old photos, she was right! But oh, that old shabby building was full of character and there was never a dull moment in the shop.
Poor Mum, she didn’t want to be tied to working in a shop, seven days a week, from 6am to 9pm! And when they went to view the business with a view to purchase, she remembered we had stopped at the shop on one of our previous trips north to buy a drink, but she had refused to buy anything. When she had looked in the fresh bread window there was a fly buzzing around the loaves of bread!
“Well, we’ll just make sure we don’t keep any flies with the bread then!”, Dad had argued, and he won the battle, although Mum was not satisfied until Dad renovated the shop, removing the dreaded bread window!
Our home was directly above the shop and apart from the white-ants in the wall in the hallway, the clanking blinds on the veranda that kept you awake at night (there was no glass in the windows on the veranda) and the toilet room was as big as a ballroom, it was a pretty comfortable home to live in! The old building had charm.
Dad inside the shop with staff, and friends, May & Betty.
Dad had convinced Mum that the business would be a little gold mine and he was right. It was situated right across the road from the ralway station, right where the railway line terminated, so when every train arrived, the shop became flooded with customers, plus there was a bus stop right at our front door. We were also right on the Pacific Highway and the last main town before reaching Tweed Heads and Coolangatta on the state border, so our shop was a huge draw-card to holiday makers. (Remember the fly in the bread window? We were on holidays at the time and stopped at the shop ourselves!)
We sold take-away food, groceries, bread (ha, ha!), dairy products, chemist items, we were a sub-newsagency and green grocers…you name it – we sold it!
Back view of the shop, showing the old shed and the bakery.
Apart from first thing in the morning and later at night we had two to three ladies working for us and I made friends with them all. I loved to help the ladies when I could; restacking the shelves or buttering bread for the sandwiches during the lunchtime rush, if I wasn’t at school, that is!
Out the back of the shop were some old sheds, which I couldn’t wait to explore. One building turned out to be a disused bakery (there’s that bread reference again!) that looked as if someone had just walked out one day, leaving everything in its place, never to return. The other
Looking towards the river, across the flood waters, from upstairs.
building, a shed actually, contained a neatly made bed (complete with folded up pyjamas under the pillow) and various other household items, including a bottle of metholated spirits. Urgh! After asking around, we found out that an old tramp had once lived there, and unfortunately the metho had been his “cheap alcohol”.
Around the back of the shop and across the road we had the Tweed River, so when it rained heavily for days, and flood warnings were issued, it was a matter of “all hands on deck” as we rushed around the shop, lifting everything in sight, before the river broke its banks. The flood waters ran straight through the shop, while we were safely tucked away upstairs, with Mum taking photos of the flood waters!
My parents had wanted a new adventure in their lives and for the three years we lived and worked in Murwillumbah it was a fun time, with so many memories, even more than I have recorded here.
It was a time when I thought my parents had totally lost their marbles and were in need of a “sanity check”, but being the felines that they were, they landed, unharmed, right on their feet.
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