How a migrant became a man of property

In the fifties white migrants were well received in Australia, offered assisted passage, jobs and easy credit. Chunks of bushland went into the hands of real estate development corporations. Houses were bought by newcomers with mortgage: no deposit.

How a migrant became a man of property

Fernando García Izquierdo

I belong to that lucky category of migrants who found things, generally, rather easy upon arrival in the new country, settling down without any of the upheavals and disappointments that usually accompany today all those poor people who abandon (or are forced to leave) their homes to try and find a better or more convenient place elsewhere.
One thing is that I started my pilgrimage when the part of the world to which I belonged, old Europe, was experiencing a marvellous rebirth, an extraordinary period of expansion after the disaster of World War Two, which set Europeans against Europeans (1939-1945) and caused more than fifty million deaths and left totally devastated and exhausted a great portion of the continent.
It was American generosity that put a remedy to this desolation, a way for the rich and powerful to stop (they thought) communism, which caused the great imperialist power to send excess food and other (for them) unneeded things to Europe, beginning with newly constituted West Germany.
My reader will remember that President Truman’s secretary of state, a famous general, was placed in charge of the operation, known officially as ‘Marshall Plan’.
*
Eight years had passed, after the end of the war, when I left Spain (in May 1953), a country where fascism reigned supreme, a system of society which brought to the Nation only poverty, chains and moral misery.
In the rest of western Europe there was capitalism. Several European countries possessed colonies abroad. At home there was prosperity, also, Capital set the people to work, and there was Growth. After the Bretton Woods conferences, important representatives of British capitalism, such as Lord Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes foresaw that giving the workers some rights, industry would set on, bringing big profits for the capitalists.

The result was full employment, relatively good wages and salaries, freedom of choice, a liberal economy, finance to the highest degree, expansion in almost all ways of life; manufacturing and trade were in full swing. Production of commodities was the result, exchange, trade, and inflation. Banking, credit.
The saying, those years, everywhere in our world was that ‘we have never had it so good’.
I shall mention, however, that the capitalists never slept. To stop any ‘excessive’ claim from the workers they imported cheap labour from abroad, mainly from north and central Africa. Years later the migrants would be transported en masse (only men.) But I notice that I am deviating from my subject, as my intention herein is not to write about ‘imported’ cheap workers, another class of migrants.

*
As for myself, I became a migrant the moment I began to earn my living as a farm-hand in England shortly after my arrival in London a few days after Coronation Day (Elizabeth II Regina), in June 1953. I worked for a few months, employed by rich farmers in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Isle of Ely, etc. and could even save some money. I also worked in factories (‘Smedley’s and ‘MetalBox’ are names that now come to mind.)
I married an adorable English girl, who shared my opinions in many things and, among other things, the idea of migrating overseas became prominent in our minds.
*
I then emigrated to Australia with my young wife (February, 1959) where a new cycle of our life together began. Two young European immigrants arriving in a young prosperous country which received us with open arms. For some reason which need not be mentioned, we chose to travel by air, which was certainly a means only a small percentage of travellers could take, being then prohibitively expensive. It meant that we spent much of our money on the passage, a sort of madness, for in those days there existed the so-called ‘assisted passsage scheme’ which gave white emigrants the possibility of having the passage (by boat) paid by the Australian government. The policy of the ‘White Australia Policy’ had been adopted by the country. After the near invasion by the Japanese, during the war, it was decided to combat ‘the yellow peril’ by bringing migrants from Continental Europe. Previously only people from the British Isles came to Australia.
*
It still took us four days to get to our destination, with stopovers in Rome, Karachi and Singapore. In other words, flying was not then such a quick means for travelling as it is today, the jet engine having yet not been adapted to civil aviation flights. It is understood, of course, that when I speak of the time employed (in the air) I don’t mean that we were all the length of the said four days flying, in number of hours, for as we were moving east all the time, we were gaining time as we went.
An important consequence of this long time spent on the plane was that during the journey we made the acquaintance of fellow-travellers. I particularly remember a middle-aged Irishman who was actually a nationalised Australian, coming back from a visit to the old country which he had not seen (he said) for fifteen years. He told us about Sydney and about the living conditions there and gave us some valuable hints.
‘The first thing you have to do,’ he said, ‘is to buy a property, a house to live in.’
I told him that we had no capital, how could we buy a house if we had no money even for an initial deposit.
‘In Australia,’ he answered, ‘that doesn’t matter: there is credit aplenty. You two will sure get good positions. The banks, financial institutions, the sellers, they all will rush to offer you credit. This is a booming economy. They call Australia the Awakening Giant. I’m positive, you won’t find any difficulty in commencing your new life.’
In effect, in a few months, with a mortgage from the bank, we were able to buy a small cottage.
*
We had lived until then, and almost from our arrival in the country, in a boarding house in a place called Neutral Bay, facing the bay of Port Jackson. It warms my heart to think now of those days, of the big boarding house in Kurraba Road, with a view to the sea from our window; and no worries about having a property of our own.
We had plenty of time for enjoying a quiet life, free and playful. To begin with it meant journeying every morning on working days to our work in town by ferryboat, traversing the beautiful blue bay twice a day. And spending the weekends on Balmoral Beach, two or three stops by bus from our residence. Swimming, sunbaking, playing… who cared about owning a house or not.
For weeks and then months, however, we had been making plans to move to a new place of our own, either renting a flat or buying a house. One cannot live eternally in a boarding-house.
The thing I would have liked most was not buying any real estate but renting a flat in an apartment building down by one of the beaches of the south-eastern suburbs (Bondi, Brontë, Coogee.) We were in the prime of our lives, and just living in a well-supplied flat would have allowed us to have a comfortable existence: some entertainment, like going to the cinema or the theatre, an evening in a cabaret; and then spend our weekends on the sands and even coming down to the beach on the week-days during the warm season, for in Australia nobody or nearly nobody worked after five, which was the most reasonable thing normal people should do.
*
However, whatever you thought or did, you soon were caught in the whirlwind of life in the capitalist system. Perhaps that was the way to understand life, I said to myself. You work hard, save money, reach a certain state of prosperity and then you feel secure, invest, after a certain time you double your capital and eventually you will be able to exploit others for profit, accumulation.
Be that as it may, we found in the end that we had to buy something to start life in Australian: in our own house.
The easiest, it turned out, was to purchase a place in one of the south or south-western suburbs (far away from the City), where building was going on at a terrific speed and where to purchase a house was ultra-easy. There houses were being built everywhere. Real estate developments, they called great chunks of land, recently snatched from the nearby bush.
There was already a long railway line there, built at the end of the preceding century with abundant cheap labour, imported from China, legions of unqualified workers who live in barracks in a state of semi-servitude. Moreover, there were railway stations all over in these south or south-western suburbs, and the train took you to Sydney as well as to North Sydney and beyond, crossing the bay over the Harbour Bridge.
Besides, parallel to the construction by real estate development corporations, there were in these districts new factories, recently built, so that there was plenty of work for the newcomers, generally well paid.
*

Usually the building of a set of houses on new lands, recently snatched from the bush, was commenced by a real estate development corporation after the authorities had already settled the initial ‘urbanisation’ of the land.

I had seen before, in my life, reconstruction efforts in cities devastated by some war or other; but in Sydney, with the sudden arrival those days of so many displaced people from Europe, this construction effort was infinitely multiplied. ‘The Changing Face of Australia’ was the official slogan employed by everyone.
The natural landscape was first transformed into something new. The soil was converted in a few months into building sites. Projects for a new suburb would see the light of day: town planners, engineers, architects and all sorts of other intelligent people, working on the spot. Machinery was brought in. The local authorities and the state first organised the construction of the streets; and for every street there would be a back lane.
The developing Corporation, in consequence, found everything was ready: the paving of roadways and pavements, public lighting, electricity and even some traffic lights. All was done by the state and paid with public money: the installation of such services as electricity for the future houses, water supply, etc. Only the question of sewerage was left in abeyance, and to supply this deficiency, the real estate corporation would have to build its own service of discharge of dirty water and sewerage in each new place. A hundred little houses would possess a hundred little septic tanks outside each dwelling. That is to say in the grounds of the property there would be an outside toilet, with a septic tank, dug in the earth under the toilet-basin. There was underneath an immense cubic container full of antibiotic chemicals.
*
When you first arrived in the district by car as a prospective buyer, you only saw ‘potential’ properties, or houses-to-be, all perfectly designed on paper. If you chose one of them, you were offered a loan on very advantageous terms. But other times building had already commenced, or was nearly completed. In all cases, the purchase was made under very easy terms for the buyer, who always bought with a mortgage offered very generously by the corporation itself.
As we arrived, in our newly-acquired car, I never failed to notice the stumps of great trees by the road, and from time to time a dwarf white gum tree, in the distance, a former ‘inhabitant’ of the bush which seemed to have been left there alive purely by mistake.
‘How many generations of humans will have to pass,’ I said to myself, ‘for all this land to see the bush again, regenerated (just as it was only yesterday), when a new system of society comes to be that makes us, human beings, really rational and to opt for the conservation of Nature, instead of wasting the wealth received from our ancestors, burning or otherwise destroying what took the earth to build perhaps a million years?’
*
Where the project was nearly completed we could see people already occupying individual properties, usually displaced persons from central and eastern Europe, Latvians, Poles, Yugoslavs and others. Mediterranean Europeans were usually concentrated in other parts, not so far from the City. For example Surry Hills and Paddington.
I saw that many of these new owners were working enthusiatically, and it was a pleasure to perceive the changing hue of the grounds, from the original grey-brown of the earth to the green of the lawns of great variety, according as the New Australian planted couch, buffalo or kikuyu grass. In these new developments, recently completed, the roofs were made with red tiles: galvanised iron had been used before, but no longer.
*
In years to come, we would be revisiting at least one of these suburbs, for some Polish friends of ours lived there. Wonderful joyous people, who often had great barbecues at weekends, where we always met interesting people. We all ate sausages and burnt meat during those barbecues which lasted well into the evening. Delightful meals, specially as each morsel was always accompanied by a long draft of cold beer. Pyotr played the piano, and there was always in those parties a Russian who sang beautiful ditties
One Sunday, going to see our Polish friends, we lost our way (by then we owned an Austin-Somerset) and suddenly found ourselves in the country. We already had one child then, a toddler. She wanted us to pull up; and I went down with her to a small ditch on the side of the road. Beyond the ditch there was a flimsy wire fence and a big notice on a wooden pole, TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED.
‘An extensive green field surrounded by wire,’ I thought, ‘we had better not touch it.’
I was taking Linda back to the car, which Nicky was driving, to complete the trip to our friends’ house when suddenly a thin black horse was seen in the middle of the immense field, coming towards us. ‘Daddy!’ Linda cried, ‘Wot a booful horsy!’
We stopped short, watching. In effect the horse was coming up to us, trotting at a more than normal speed, head down, neck stretched out. It could have been an apparition from heaven, for all I knew, breaking the perfect harmony of the large green surface: a shiny black body, his mane and tail fluttering blue-black in the sunshine.
My little daughter wanted to say ‘hello horsy; but he had stopped short about one yard away from the long wire fence, which was held up by numerous stakes. It was a pleasure to look at the young animal, and nice no doubt to stroke him. But it couldn’t be, I told Linda. And we went back to the car.
As we were driving away I looked back at the immense green field. Nobody on it. Not even a log-cabin or a shed. ‘Is it possible,’ I asked myself, ‘all that property, just to keep one horse?’
*
It was said at the time that, in urban Australia, the density of human habitation was less than in any other country; that is to say, that in expanding cities, like Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, each dwelling or individual house, all around, had larger grounds than in the cities of other countries. The great metropolitan area in Sydney consisted of many hundreds of square miles, and the roads going to the city were already always congested those years, so long ago; for another of the records held those year by the country was that there were more cars in Australia per inhabitant than in any other country of the world, the United States of America excepted.
Of course most people travelling to work or in private business from these south and south-west areas used the railway line, specially if they went to the City, where there was the problem of public parking place.
Other suburbs were less favoured in this sense; for there was nothing, in the way of railway lines if you lived in the populous eastern suburbs, where most of the wealthy lived. Some of them lived in districts of worldy abundance, like Vaucluse, Dover Heights, Rose Bay and others. You could see the most important men of business driving along the roads to their work in the city, each on his own American car clogging the way everywhere, so much so that Centennial Park, a national reserve, was soon criss-crossed by big roads so that the citizens could reach the City without delay. We could not linger any more. We now had to choose. What we decided was to search in one of the inner suburbs, Pyrmont, Ultimo, Glebe, all within walking distance from the centre.
*
I had found in the telephone directory the name of a Real Estate Agency in Glebe Road. Nicky came one midday to my office to meet me. We took a taxi and met the agent at his office. He took us in his car, showing us properties which were for sale. We repeated the operation several times and both made up our minds to buy a cottage in Ferry Road, ready for occupation. Glebe had been a residential area of some importance in the times of the early settlers and was now mainly inhabited by working-class people. Very few of them were migrants.
Ferry Road was a hilly winding street which led down to a little cove in the harbour where in times gone by there had been a jetty from which the citizens could board a ferryboat and go directly to the City. The ferry service had long gone, and the jetty was now used by timber merchants who shipped recently felled trees from the bush.The little cove was called Blackwattle Bay, choked and obstructed by huge logs of felled trees making their way, floating from Nature to Civilisation, so to say, and waiting for a timber merchant to take them into one of the warehouses lining the shoreline, a district with a large green area, where young people played games and did sports, called Wentworth Park. There were workshops where the wood was elaborated. A timber merchant down there, called Joseph Sugar, sold me a dozen planks with which I built bookshelves later on. He transformed euchalyptus trees into planks of different sizes, the hardest and most valuable wood imaginable. As a matter of fact, all the docks and jetties at that time were made with this kind of timber.
*
To this long winding street, then, we travelled one Sunday after lunch from the boarding house in Neutral Bay where we resided, with the intention of taking possession of the cottage we had bought (with a mortgage from the New South Wales Bank), and if possible to stay down there and start on Monday organising things.
We first crossed the harbour on the ferry down to Circular Quay, in the City, where we boarded a bus to Glebe Road and which we left at a stop named ‘Toxteth Hotel’, a public house, in the thoroughfare just mentioned. The pub, of great renown, was very near the corner with Ferry Road. It was the landmark we always kept in mind, for our cottage was hardly a stone’s throw away from that corner.
We walked, then, to the corner, went down the street and stopped short at number fifteen. To our dismay we realised we had not got the keys to the cottage. It was our inexperience as people of property, maybe, that caused us to be in such a pickle that made us pass in a minute from a state of bliss to one of utter misery. We began to quarrel and in the end we agreed that we had forgotten nothing, for in reality no key had ever been in our minds. We had never owned a property. We had been lately visiting properties announced for sale, and it was the real estate agent who handled that part of the business: keys!
The day the contract was signed and we became the owners of the property with a mortgage, our solicitor should have received the keys from the solicitor of the other party and handed them to us; but he didn’t.
‘It’s the sollicitor’s fault,’ I said, ‘we were that day too excited and inexperienced to think about this minor detail.’
She did not answer or open her mouth.
‘Nicky, was not the agent to come and meet us here today… like… like the other times?’
Nicky had lifted the latch of the little gate in the area railing and, already on the cement path that led to the entrance to the property, as she replied. ‘Have you forgotten,’ she said, ‘what day of the week it is? Nobody works on Sunday.’ She reached the door of the place, hoping (I guessed) that they had left it unlocked. Painters and other traders had been working there to make it inhabitable. ‘No way,’ she said, turning back quite despondently.
*
Our house was one in a row of twenty terrace houses on the left side of the street, as we came from ‘Toxteth’ bus-stop. All the houses had a square-sized front garden, very small and in some cases quite unattended. The houses themselves were small, one-storeyed, with a corrugated iron roof, all painted over differently, red, green or blue, as were sometimes the façades.
My wife sat on the veranda, her feet on the cement path. I went forward, past her, and sat on her right, with my feet on the grass The houses were all closed and silent. Opposite us there was another row of terrace houses, two storeyed with no front garden. Two stone steps led to the front door, and the rest was a sort of balcony with a low rusty railing. On the balcony all sorts of lumber, and children’s toys. The upstairs balcony, in all the houses, was usually also full of surplus articles, an old chair, a sofa standing up on one side, and so on.
Nobody passed by and all was calm in the street. Only one of the doors was open, opposite the way, about twenty yards down the road. A young man was working in his motorcar: I say working in, because a lot of times he disappeared under the hood of the engine, which was lifted. I then heard the sound of a hammer (or some other hard tool), as if he were intent in destroying his car. This was the only noise which broke the great stillness of the place and of the Sunday, Day of the Lord. No noise, no wind, no bark of a dog or twittering of a bird.
‘We are so stupid, oh gosh!’ Nicky insisted… Why didn’t you…’
‘The keys, do you mean to say…’ I cut her off.
‘I don’t mean to say anything, except…’ she paused. ‘Except.’ and said no more.
I stood up and turned round to look at the two parallel windows. Perhaps I would find a solution to our great problem there.
There were no lace curtains, and the four window panes were awfully dusty and in fact grimy. I peeped in, nevertheless. Inside the walls, as I already knew (having visited the house several times), had been recently painted, a magnolia hue; for the vendor was in a hurry to find a purchaser. But the floorboards of the lounge where dirty with the flowing over from the paint-tins and other rubbish.

It was terribly hot now and I felt most uncomfortable. Worst of all, I’d lost all my enthusiasm and desire to commence our life together in this place. I thought that we would never be able to pay the mortgage and move (as we had planned) to a nicer home in one of the eastern suburbs. At my feet, near a gas counter, there were the two suitcases we had brought from the boarding house.

Before sitting down again, I glanced at the windows of the two neighbouring cottages in our terrace. They were all closed. On one side there was on the lower sash, inside, a slack cord holding a yellowish curtain. The same on the other neighbouring house, except that the curtains there were red.
Quiet people now passed by, from time to time, mostly going to Glebe Road, perhaps to the bus-stop, and always on the opposite pavement where the young mechanic was labouring.
The sky was blue, and I now saw two thin, tall smokeless chimneys looming in the background. I knew, of course, that the suburb was a workers’ district; but now I recoiled at the sight of that ugliness in the distance. ‘Well, it can’t be helped,’ I said to myself.
More people passing by opposite the road. A bus must have arrived at the Toxteth bus-stop. Even if two people happened to walk together, neither spoke or even looked at the other. Once a rather large lady came out at the door of her house and stood there, her arms crossed, looking at the passers-by.Not the slightest civility was exchanged between her and the citizens going down the road, who of course must have been her neighbours, either living on the same road or nearby. The young man’s banging (hidden in his car’s engine) was still the only noise heard.
In the end I half-closed my eyes, trying to forget the melancholy present circumstances. I must have fallen asleep, when I heard, like in a dream, a child calling.
‘This ain’t yer plice!’
I raised my eyes and saw a chubby-faced boy whose tousled hair was so very blond as to be almost albino.
‘Who told you, sir, that this is not our place?’ I asked.
He was holding on to the railing, perched on a wooden board, with four ball-bearing wheels, which he kept moving up and down the pavement, twisting his ankles this way and that, his eyes fixed challengingly on my person, his mouth aggressively shut.
I turned to my Nicky. She was obverving the child with great interest, and I was pleased to see her pretty face, smiling once again.
However, the boy’s attitude towards me, I thought, was rather insulting, a provocation. And I could not tolarate that. Probably he had noticed from my accent that I was a New Australian.
He smirked, and as his silence persisted, I ventured to add, in the best English I could muster.
‘You know, my boy, we’ve bought this house, as it happens. This lady and I. She is my wife, you see. We are the owners of the property, purchased following all the terms of the law. Do you know what that signifies?’ and I added, ‘with a mortgage’ (perhaps because that is the way I responded when anyone asked at the office: ‘Have you now bought your house?’ ‘Yes, purchased it with a mortgage.’
My poor wife must have thought I was exceeding myself, for she said: ‘Oh, stop it, Nano!’
‘Why? What have I done,’ I answered without looking.
‘You are making fun of the little boy, who has done you no harm.’
‘Wait a minute. He has been insulting me.’
‘No, he hasn’t, poor darling.’
‘Oh yes, he has. First he called me a burglar… trespasser of other people’s property. Then he has laughed at my accent, pretending he doesn’t understand me… you’ve seen him.’
‘No, he hasn’t. He’s only six or seven. Be kind.’
There was a queer twinkle in the child’s blue eyes, as he saw we were disagreeing: perhaps a matrimonial quarrel. But I thought he was adding insult upon injury. He smirked, and I shouted, losing my temper.
‘Oh, heavens! You mischievous element, listen to what I have to say!’ But I did not say anything, because the child was dancing on his board, without listening. ‘You, rascal, be careful!’ was all I said in the end.
For the boy was actually in danger, and I did not want to be found responsible of anything that might happen to him. He was still holding to the railing, skating on the board, all the time gathering speed, twisting his ankles most alarmingly, two feet this way, two feet that way, fixing his eyes on me.
‘Stop! Haven’t you heard?’
‘Why?’ he asked, staring aghast.
‘Because you’re going to break your neck; that’s why.’
‘Ye ain’t me Dad,’ the little fellow declared, straightening up.
‘I am not your progenitor, that is true, and praised be the Lord for it,’ I said. ‘Your father forgets, it appears, to teach you a bit of discipline with the rod, spoiled child!’ I paused. ‘And now, sir, may I make so bold as to ask you, who you are?’
If the rascal’s eyes had been expressive of wonder and surprise before, now, after my silly tirade, his amazement knew no limit.
‘Wot!?’ he asked, his eyes nearly popping out.
‘Yer nime?’ I shouted.
‘Why?’ he uttered.
At that Nicky, standing up, intervened. ‘Now, Nano! I told you to stop it.’ She was feigning annoyance, but her face was beautiful and not at all annoyed.
‘What!?’ I exclaimed.
Facing me, but still smiling, she said: ‘Why do you have to be nasty with the little boy?
‘Nasty? It is he who is nasty. Haven’t you seen? He’s laughing at my Spanish accent… my… my bad English.’
‘Nobody laughs at your accent, poor little thing. It is all in your brain. Your English is perfect.’
‘Eh! you, you... wait, Nicky,’ I began; for she had moved to the gate.
The boy retreated, at first, as if expecting to receive a box on his ear; but then, seeing the lady’s friendly expression and knowing he had nothing to fear, came forward once more. He held on one of the gilded railing spikes, his blue eyes fixed on hers; but still said nothing.
‘What’s your name, love?’ she asked with a nice smile.
‘Pete. Why?’
‘Just wanted to know. We’re friends, aren’t we?’
The boy scratched his head and then nodded.

‘Pete, dear, do you live around here?’
Pete now smiled at the young lady most sweetly, screwing his head to one side and pointing his snub nose to a cottage down the road.
‘Why don’t you go along and ask your Mum? There’s a dear. Tell her, and ask if she’s received the keys for this place from the agent?’
‘From the igent?’ Pete asked, dubitatively.
‘Yes,’ I shouted from the veranda, ‘and tell her we’ve bought this place. With a mortgage, of course.
The boy was off like a shot. I saw him pedalling with one foot, the other on his skating-board. He came to a halt before a house down the terrace, placed the board under his arm, rushed through the front garden and into the house.
‘Nano, you think he’ll do something?’ my wife asked.
‘I don’t,’ I answered. ‘Wistful thinking.’
‘But, you know, in these parts…’

She did not finish the sentence, for we saw Pete again, labouring up the road this time, one foot always on the board, and pushing with the other one on the ground.
‘Mum syse it’s orright bout the more gage,’ he gasped on arriving.
He was glancing at my wife as he passed onto the cement path, the board under his arm. He had a big kitchen knife in his other hand.
‘What, you aren’t going to knife me, eh?’ I said, ruffling the child’s hair.
‘And did she say anything about the key, love?’ Nicky asked, most anxiously.
‘No, M’m,’ the child said, still panting, and climbed triumphantly upon the veranda, brandishing the kitchen knife.
As he had done with me, he now by-passed the lady, moving directly to one of the windows. He slid the pointed knife between the two frames of the sash-window, pushed most ingeniously with it the latch which kept the window tightly closed, and the lower sash got its freedom of movement. He went with his thin supple fingers to the low side of the framed pane down on the sill, and a moment later between the two (for my wife had been helping him) the sash was pushed open.
I breathed, Nicky laughed, Pete climbed into the house and ran to the door. He lifted the latch, and we two could enter the property, the first of the two houses we successively owned in Australia.
*
Pete’s mother had in the meantime come to get acquainted with her new neighbours. A more handsome woman it would be difficult to encounter. Tall, long platinum hair, while her ams and legs were thoroughly suntanned. She was dressed in a sleeveless blouse and shorts, and light sandals with leather straps.
After we had gone on a quick visit of inspection all around, the house being very small, her curiosity satisfied, she left saying she would be back in a minute.
She returned with her husband, who was carrying a foam mattress on his shoulder, while the woman brought with her an ‘esky’ or ice-box.
Pete had disappeared; probably gone to the nearest park to meet his friends, rightly preferring their company to ours. It was now about 5 p.m.
As for the four grown-ups, after we shook hands with the man (we had already become acquainted with Mrs. Rode: this being the name our neighbours), the latter told Nicky she had brought some drinks and refreshments in the ‘esky’. Whereupon we all sat down, we two on our suitcases, and the Rodes on the mattress. He was a tall athletic person, probably a tradesman or an artisan, and as handsome as his wife was pretty.
Peter (that was his christian name) served the drinks, a small bottle of cold beer each. I was facing Lida, as Mrs. Rode had informed us already at the first encounter, and I actually ogled her as she quickly moved up and down to serve the food, mainly peanut and ‘vegemite’ sandwiches. Indeed she was very elegant in all her movements; as was her husband, a perfect Aussie athlete as those often surfing on Bondi and Maroubra beaches. I was pleased to be able to talk to such a pair of beautiful young people.
But perhaps talking is not the right word. In fact, there was practically no conversation at all, between us and the Rodes, during the hour or so we spent together in our new abode. We some times asked them a question, which they answered always in a most unsatisfactory way, relating the matter to something they had heard and often seen on television, transforming everything in small matter. Television was a new thing in Australia, and there were very few families who could yet afford a set.
When we said good-night at the door of our house, Peter Rode formally invited us to come over to their place down the road, to watch television, whereupon, Lida Rode said to my wife, caressing her. ‘Oh, you must come of an evening. Do! There’s a supergood serial, Perry Mason, three times a week. You can’t imagine.’
‘It’s a good serial, a detective story,’ my wife confirmed. For she had watched one episode or two in the communal lounge of the boarding house.
‘Yes, Nicky,’ Lida insisted enthusiastically. ‘Oh, everybody loves it.’
‘I guess,’ my wife added, ‘I mean, did he, Perry Mason, solve the case where Judge Thomas was dealing with the corporation’s crime? I had to leave before the end.’
‘Oh yes, yes!’ said Lida, caressing ny wife’s hands, ‘but do come tomorrow evening. They’ve announced another case. So interesting.’

*
When the Rodes left, Nicky and I got together upon the mattress to relax after the troubles of the afternoon. We still did not have the key of our property, and it was no joke, I said. After a while, it was decided that only one of us would leave the house for the time being. I would go in the morning, before opening time, to the thoroughfare round the corner, number 255, the real estate agency, and would wait until I got hold of the estate agent or somebody who gave me my key. They sure possessed at least one set of keys for our property.
Returning to Ferry Road, I would stop, and step into the telephone booth, which I had already noticed was on the corner, at the entrance of the corner store ‘JON VAN ES’, and would call our respective employers to say we could not come until later on, explaining what had happened.
After we both had agreed on this plan, changing the subject, I suggested she took a taxi from her school to GRACE BROS, a big departmental store in Broadway, to arrive in time to choose essential furniture. I would be joining her soon after 5 p.m. just before closing time. We must be sure the furniture (to be paid on hire-purchase) was delivered as soon as possible.
We exchanged tender kisses once again and, turning our backs to one another, both fell into a well-deserved sound sleep; though to tell the truth I don’t know if I was still awake or was already in the realm of dreams when I saw my small unimportant person in a big swivel chair, trying to work on the files in my office, and a little person nearby was laughing. It was my secretary, Maureen. I shouted to her, bad-temperedly: ‘Yes, yes, I’m not lying. I am a man of property.’
Oh gosh, oh gosh! Can it be true?

fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

How a migrant became a man of property

Fernando García Izquierdo

I belong to that lucky category of migrants who found things, generally, rather easy upon arrival in the new country, settling down without any of the upheavals and disappointments that usually accompany today all those poor people who abandon (or are forced to leave) their homes to try and find a better or more convenient place elsewhere.
One thing is that I started my pilgrimage when the part of the world to which I belonged, old Europe, was experiencing a marvellous rebirth, an extraordinary period of expansion after the disaster of World War Two, which set Europeans against Europeans (1939-1945) and caused more than fifty million deaths and left totally devastated and exhausted a great portion of the continent.
It was American generosity that put a remedy to this desolation, a way for the rich and powerful to stop (they thought) communism, which caused the great imperialist power to send excess food and other (for them) unneeded things to Europe, beginning with newly constituted West Germany.
My reader will remember that President Truman’s secretary of state, a famous general, was placed in charge of the operation, known officially as ‘Marshall Plan’.
*
Eight years had passed, after the end of the war, when I left Spain (in May 1953), a country where fascism reigned supreme, a system of society which brought to the Nation only poverty, chains and moral misery.
In the rest of western Europe there was capitalism. Several European countries possessed colonies abroad. At home there was prosperity, also, Capital set the people to work, and there was Growth. After the Bretton Woods conferences, important representatives of British capitalism, such as Lord Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes foresaw that giving the workers some rights, industry would set on, bringing big profits for the capitalists.

The result was full employment, relatively good wages and salaries, freedom of choice, a liberal economy, finance to the highest degree, expansion in almost all ways of life; manufacturing and trade were in full swing. Production of commodities was the result, exchange, trade, and inflation. Banking, credit.
The saying, those years, everywhere in our world was that ‘we have never had it so good’.
I shall mention, however, that the capitalists never slept. To stop any ‘excessive’ claim from the workers they imported cheap labour from abroad, mainly from north and central Africa. Years later the migrants would be transported en masse (only men.) But I notice that I am deviating from my subject, as my intention herein is not to write about ‘imported’ cheap workers, another class of migrants.

*
As for myself, I became a migrant the moment I began to earn my living as a farm-hand in England shortly after my arrival in London a few days after Coronation Day (Elizabeth II Regina), in June 1953. I worked for a few months, employed by rich farmers in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Isle of Ely, etc. and could even save some money. I also worked in factories (‘Smedley’s and ‘MetalBox’ are names that now come to mind.)
I married an adorable English girl, who shared my opinions in many things and, among other things, the idea of migrating overseas became prominent in our minds.
*
I then emigrated to Australia with my young wife (February, 1959) where a new cycle of our life together began. Two young European immigrants arriving in a young prosperous country which received us with open arms. For some reason which need not be mentioned, we chose to travel by air, which was certainly a means only a small percentage of travellers could take, being then prohibitively expensive. It meant that we spent much of our money on the passage, a sort of madness, for in those days there existed the so-called ‘assisted passsage scheme’ which gave white emigrants the possibility of having the passage (by boat) paid by the Australian government. The policy of the ‘White Australia Policy’ had been adopted by the country. After the near invasion by the Japanese, during the war, it was decided to combat ‘the yellow peril’ by bringing migrants from Continental Europe. Previously only people from the British Isles came to Australia.
*
It still took us four days to get to our destination, with stopovers in Rome, Karachi and Singapore. In other words, flying was not then such a quick means for travelling as it is today, the jet engine having yet not been adapted to civil aviation flights. It is understood, of course, that when I speak of the time employed (in the air) I don’t mean that we were all the length of the said four days flying, in number of hours, for as we were moving east all the time, we were gaining time as we went.
An important consequence of this long time spent on the plane was that during the journey we made the acquaintance of fellow-travellers. I particularly remember a middle-aged Irishman who was actually a nationalised Australian, coming back from a visit to the old country which he had not seen (he said) for fifteen years. He told us about Sydney and about the living conditions there and gave us some valuable hints.
‘The first thing you have to do,’ he said, ‘is to buy a property, a house to live in.’
I told him that we had no capital, how could we buy a house if we had no money even for an initial deposit.
‘In Australia,’ he answered, ‘that doesn’t matter: there is credit aplenty. You two will sure get good positions. The banks, financial institutions, the sellers, they all will rush to offer you credit. This is a booming economy. They call Australia the Awakening Giant. I’m positive, you won’t find any difficulty in commencing your new life.’
In effect, in a few months, with a mortgage from the bank, we were able to buy a small cottage.
*
We had lived until then, and almost from our arrival in the country, in a boarding house in a place called Neutral Bay, facing the bay of Port Jackson. It warms my heart to think now of those days, of the big boarding house in Kurraba Road, with a view to the sea from our window; and no worries about having a property of our own.
We had plenty of time for enjoying a quiet life, free and playful. To begin with it meant journeying every morning on working days to our work in town by ferryboat, traversing the beautiful blue bay twice a day. And spending the weekends on Balmoral Beach, two or three stops by bus from our residence. Swimming, sunbaking, playing… who cared about owning a house or not.
For weeks and then months, however, we had been making plans to move to a new place of our own, either renting a flat or buying a house. One cannot live eternally in a boarding-house.
The thing I would have liked most was not buying any real estate but renting a flat in an apartment building down by one of the beaches of the south-eastern suburbs (Bondi, Brontë, Coogee.) We were in the prime of our lives, and just living in a well-supplied flat would have allowed us to have a comfortable existence: some entertainment, like going to the cinema or the theatre, an evening in a cabaret; and then spend our weekends on the sands and even coming down to the beach on the week-days during the warm season, for in Australia nobody or nearly nobody worked after five, which was the most reasonable thing normal people should do.
*
However, whatever you thought or did, you soon were caught in the whirlwind of life in the capitalist system. Perhaps that was the way to understand life, I said to myself. You work hard, save money, reach a certain state of prosperity and then you feel secure, invest, after a certain time you double your capital and eventually you will be able to exploit others for profit, accumulation.
Be that as it may, we found in the end that we had to buy something to start life in Australian: in our own house.
The easiest, it turned out, was to purchase a place in one of the south or south-western suburbs (far away from the City), where building was going on at a terrific speed and where to purchase a house was ultra-easy. There houses were being built everywhere. Real estate developments, they called great chunks of land, recently snatched from the nearby bush.
There was already a long railway line there, built at the end of the preceding century with abundant cheap labour, imported from China, legions of unqualified workers who live in barracks in a state of semi-servitude. Moreover, there were railway stations all over in these south or south-western suburbs, and the train took you to Sydney as well as to North Sydney and beyond, crossing the bay over the Harbour Bridge.
Besides, parallel to the construction by real estate development corporations, there were in these districts new factories, recently built, so that there was plenty of work for the newcomers, generally well paid.
*

Usually the building of a set of houses on new lands, recently snatched from the bush, was commenced by a real estate development corporation after the authorities had already settled the initial ‘urbanisation’ of the land.

I had seen before, in my life, reconstruction efforts in cities devastated by some war or other; but in Sydney, with the sudden arrival those days of so many displaced people from Europe, this construction effort was infinitely multiplied. ‘The Changing Face of Australia’ was the official slogan employed by everyone.
The natural landscape was first transformed into something new. The soil was converted in a few months into building sites. Projects for a new suburb would see the light of day: town planners, engineers, architects and all sorts of other intelligent people, working on the spot. Machinery was brought in. The local authorities and the state first organised the construction of the streets; and for every street there would be a back lane.
The developing Corporation, in consequence, found everything was ready: the paving of roadways and pavements, public lighting, electricity and even some traffic lights. All was done by the state and paid with public money: the installation of such services as electricity for the future houses, water supply, etc. Only the question of sewerage was left in abeyance, and to supply this deficiency, the real estate corporation would have to build its own service of discharge of dirty water and sewerage in each new place. A hundred little houses would possess a hundred little septic tanks outside each dwelling. That is to say in the grounds of the property there would be an outside toilet, with a septic tank, dug in the earth under the toilet-basin. There was underneath an immense cubic container full of antibiotic chemicals.
*
When you first arrived in the district by car as a prospective buyer, you only saw ‘potential’ properties, or houses-to-be, all perfectly designed on paper. If you chose one of them, you were offered a loan on very advantageous terms. But other times building had already commenced, or was nearly completed. In all cases, the purchase was made under very easy terms for the buyer, who always bought with a mortgage offered very generously by the corporation itself.
As we arrived, in our newly-acquired car, I never failed to notice the stumps of great trees by the road, and from time to time a dwarf white gum tree, in the distance, a former ‘inhabitant’ of the bush which seemed to have been left there alive purely by mistake.
‘How many generations of humans will have to pass,’ I said to myself, ‘for all this land to see the bush again, regenerated (just as it was only yesterday), when a new system of society comes to be that makes us, human beings, really rational and to opt for the conservation of Nature, instead of wasting the wealth received from our ancestors, burning or otherwise destroying what took the earth to build perhaps a million years?’
*
Where the project was nearly completed we could see people already occupying individual properties, usually displaced persons from central and eastern Europe, Latvians, Poles, Yugoslavs and others. Mediterranean Europeans were usually concentrated in other parts, not so far from the City. For example Surry Hills and Paddington.
I saw that many of these new owners were working enthusiatically, and it was a pleasure to perceive the changing hue of the grounds, from the original grey-brown of the earth to the green of the lawns of great variety, according as the New Australian planted couch, buffalo or kikuyu grass. In these new developments, recently completed, the roofs were made with red tiles: galvanised iron had been used before, but no longer.
*
In years to come, we would be revisiting at least one of these suburbs, for some Polish friends of ours lived there. Wonderful joyous people, who often had great barbecues at weekends, where we always met interesting people. We all ate sausages and burnt meat during those barbecues which lasted well into the evening. Delightful meals, specially as each morsel was always accompanied by a long draft of cold beer. Pyotr played the piano, and there was always in those parties a Russian who sang beautiful ditties
One Sunday, going to see our Polish friends, we lost our way (by then we owned an Austin-Somerset) and suddenly found ourselves in the country. We already had one child then, a toddler. She wanted us to pull up; and I went down with her to a small ditch on the side of the road. Beyond the ditch there was a flimsy wire fence and a big notice on a wooden pole, TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED.
‘An extensive green field surrounded by wire,’ I thought, ‘we had better not touch it.’
I was taking Linda back to the car, which Nicky was driving, to complete the trip to our friends’ house when suddenly a thin black horse was seen in the middle of the immense field, coming towards us. ‘Daddy!’ Linda cried, ‘Wot a booful horsy!’
We stopped short, watching. In effect the horse was coming up to us, trotting at a more than normal speed, head down, neck stretched out. It could have been an apparition from heaven, for all I knew, breaking the perfect harmony of the large green surface: a shiny black body, his mane and tail fluttering blue-black in the sunshine.
My little daughter wanted to say ‘hello horsy; but he had stopped short about one yard away from the long wire fence, which was held up by numerous stakes. It was a pleasure to look at the young animal, and nice no doubt to stroke him. But it couldn’t be, I told Linda. And we went back to the car.
As we were driving away I looked back at the immense green field. Nobody on it. Not even a log-cabin or a shed. ‘Is it possible,’ I asked myself, ‘all that property, just to keep one horse?’
*
It was said at the time that, in urban Australia, the density of human habitation was less than in any other country; that is to say, that in expanding cities, like Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, each dwelling or individual house, all around, had larger grounds than in the cities of other countries. The great metropolitan area in Sydney consisted of many hundreds of square miles, and the roads going to the city were already always congested those years, so long ago; for another of the records held those year by the country was that there were more cars in Australia per inhabitant than in any other country of the world, the United States of America excepted.
Of course most people travelling to work or in private business from these south and south-west areas used the railway line, specially if they went to the City, where there was the problem of public parking place.
Other suburbs were less favoured in this sense; for there was nothing, in the way of railway lines if you lived in the populous eastern suburbs, where most of the wealthy lived. Some of them lived in districts of worldy abundance, like Vaucluse, Dover Heights, Rose Bay and others. You could see the most important men of business driving along the roads to their work in the city, each on his own American car clogging the way everywhere, so much so that Centennial Park, a national reserve, was soon criss-crossed by big roads so that the citizens could reach the City without delay. We could not linger any more. We now had to choose. What we decided was to search in one of the inner suburbs, Pyrmont, Ultimo, Glebe, all within walking distance from the centre.
*
I had found in the telephone directory the name of a Real Estate Agency in Glebe Road. Nicky came one midday to my office to meet me. We took a taxi and met the agent at his office. He took us in his car, showing us properties which were for sale. We repeated the operation several times and both made up our minds to buy a cottage in Ferry Road, ready for occupation. Glebe had been a residential area of some importance in the times of the early settlers and was now mainly inhabited by working-class people. Very few of them were migrants.
Ferry Road was a hilly winding street which led down to a little cove in the harbour where in times gone by there had been a jetty from which the citizens could board a ferryboat and go directly to the City. The ferry service had long gone, and the jetty was now used by timber merchants who shipped recently felled trees from the bush.The little cove was called Blackwattle Bay, choked and obstructed by huge logs of felled trees making their way, floating from Nature to Civilisation, so to say, and waiting for a timber merchant to take them into one of the warehouses lining the shoreline, a district with a large green area, where young people played games and did sports, called Wentworth Park. There were workshops where the wood was elaborated. A timber merchant down there, called Joseph Sugar, sold me a dozen planks with which I built bookshelves later on. He transformed euchalyptus trees into planks of different sizes, the hardest and most valuable wood imaginable. As a matter of fact, all the docks and jetties at that time were made with this kind of timber.
*
To this long winding street, then, we travelled one Sunday after lunch from the boarding house in Neutral Bay where we resided, with the intention of taking possession of the cottage we had bought (with a mortgage from the New South Wales Bank), and if possible to stay down there and start on Monday organising things.
We first crossed the harbour on the ferry down to Circular Quay, in the City, where we boarded a bus to Glebe Road and which we left at a stop named ‘Toxteth Hotel’, a public house, in the thoroughfare just mentioned. The pub, of great renown, was very near the corner with Ferry Road. It was the landmark we always kept in mind, for our cottage was hardly a stone’s throw away from that corner.
We walked, then, to the corner, went down the street and stopped short at number fifteen. To our dismay we realised we had not got the keys to the cottage. It was our inexperience as people of property, maybe, that caused us to be in such a pickle that made us pass in a minute from a state of bliss to one of utter misery. We began to quarrel and in the end we agreed that we had forgotten nothing, for in reality no key had ever been in our minds. We had never owned a property. We had been lately visiting properties announced for sale, and it was the real estate agent who handled that part of the business: keys!
The day the contract was signed and we became the owners of the property with a mortgage, our solicitor should have received the keys from the solicitor of the other party and handed them to us; but he didn’t.
‘It’s the sollicitor’s fault,’ I said, ‘we were that day too excited and inexperienced to think about this minor detail.’
She did not answer or open her mouth.
‘Nicky, was not the agent to come and meet us here today… like… like the other times?’
Nicky had lifted the latch of the little gate in the area railing and, already on the cement path that led to the entrance to the property, as she replied. ‘Have you forgotten,’ she said, ‘what day of the week it is? Nobody works on Sunday.’ She reached the door of the place, hoping (I guessed) that they had left it unlocked. Painters and other traders had been working there to make it inhabitable. ‘No way,’ she said, turning back quite despondently.
*
Our house was one in a row of twenty terrace houses on the left side of the street, as we came from ‘Toxteth’ bus-stop. All the houses had a square-sized front garden, very small and in some cases quite unattended. The houses themselves were small, one-storeyed, with a corrugated iron roof, all painted over differently, red, green or blue, as were sometimes the façades.
My wife sat on the veranda, her feet on the cement path. I went forward, past her, and sat on her right, with my feet on the grass The houses were all closed and silent. Opposite us there was another row of terrace houses, two storeyed with no front garden. Two stone steps led to the front door, and the rest was a sort of balcony with a low rusty railing. On the balcony all sorts of lumber, and children’s toys. The upstairs balcony, in all the houses, was usually also full of surplus articles, an old chair, a sofa standing up on one side, and so on.
Nobody passed by and all was calm in the street. Only one of the doors was open, opposite the way, about twenty yards down the road. A young man was working in his motorcar: I say working in, because a lot of times he disappeared under the hood of the engine, which was lifted. I then heard the sound of a hammer (or some other hard tool), as if he were intent in destroying his car. This was the only noise which broke the great stillness of the place and of the Sunday, Day of the Lord. No noise, no wind, no bark of a dog or twittering of a bird.
‘We are so stupid, oh gosh!’ Nicky insisted… Why didn’t you…’
‘The keys, do you mean to say…’ I cut her off.
‘I don’t mean to say anything, except…’ she paused. ‘Except.’ and said no more.
I stood up and turned round to look at the two parallel windows. Perhaps I would find a solution to our great problem there.
There were no lace curtains, and the four window panes were awfully dusty and in fact grimy. I peeped in, nevertheless. Inside the walls, as I already knew (having visited the house several times), had been recently painted, a magnolia hue; for the vendor was in a hurry to find a purchaser. But the floorboards of the lounge where dirty with the flowing over from the paint-tins and other rubbish.

It was terribly hot now and I felt most uncomfortable. Worst of all, I’d lost all my enthusiasm and desire to commence our life together in this place. I thought that we would never be able to pay the mortgage and move (as we had planned) to a nicer home in one of the eastern suburbs. At my feet, near a gas counter, there were the two suitcases we had brought from the boarding house.

Before sitting down again, I glanced at the windows of the two neighbouring cottages in our terrace. They were all closed. On one side there was on the lower sash, inside, a slack cord holding a yellowish curtain. The same on the other neighbouring house, except that the curtains there were red.
Quiet people now passed by, from time to time, mostly going to Glebe Road, perhaps to the bus-stop, and always on the opposite pavement where the young mechanic was labouring.
The sky was blue, and I now saw two thin, tall smokeless chimneys looming in the background. I knew, of course, that the suburb was a workers’ district; but now I recoiled at the sight of that ugliness in the distance. ‘Well, it can’t be helped,’ I said to myself.
More people passing by opposite the road. A bus must have arrived at the Toxteth bus-stop. Even if two people happened to walk together, neither spoke or even looked at the other. Once a rather large lady came out at the door of her house and stood there, her arms crossed, looking at the passers-by.Not the slightest civility was exchanged between her and the citizens going down the road, who of course must have been her neighbours, either living on the same road or nearby. The young man’s banging (hidden in his car’s engine) was still the only noise heard.
In the end I half-closed my eyes, trying to forget the melancholy present circumstances. I must have fallen asleep, when I heard, like in a dream, a child calling.
‘This ain’t yer plice!’
I raised my eyes and saw a chubby-faced boy whose tousled hair was so very blond as to be almost albino.
‘Who told you, sir, that this is not our place?’ I asked.
He was holding on to the railing, perched on a wooden board, with four ball-bearing wheels, which he kept moving up and down the pavement, twisting his ankles this way and that, his eyes fixed challengingly on my person, his mouth aggressively shut.
I turned to my Nicky. She was obverving the child with great interest, and I was pleased to see her pretty face, smiling once again.
However, the boy’s attitude towards me, I thought, was rather insulting, a provocation. And I could not tolarate that. Probably he had noticed from my accent that I was a New Australian.
He smirked, and as his silence persisted, I ventured to add, in the best English I could muster.
‘You know, my boy, we’ve bought this house, as it happens. This lady and I. She is my wife, you see. We are the owners of the property, purchased following all the terms of the law. Do you know what that signifies?’ and I added, ‘with a mortgage’ (perhaps because that is the way I responded when anyone asked at the office: ‘Have you now bought your house?’ ‘Yes, purchased it with a mortgage.’
My poor wife must have thought I was exceeding myself, for she said: ‘Oh, stop it, Nano!’
‘Why? What have I done,’ I answered without looking.
‘You are making fun of the little boy, who has done you no harm.’
‘Wait a minute. He has been insulting me.’
‘No, he hasn’t, poor darling.’
‘Oh yes, he has. First he called me a burglar… trespasser of other people’s property. Then he has laughed at my accent, pretending he doesn’t understand me… you’ve seen him.’
‘No, he hasn’t. He’s only six or seven. Be kind.’
There was a queer twinkle in the child’s blue eyes, as he saw we were disagreeing: perhaps a matrimonial quarrel. But I thought he was adding insult upon injury. He smirked, and I shouted, losing my temper.
‘Oh, heavens! You mischievous element, listen to what I have to say!’ But I did not say anything, because the child was dancing on his board, without listening. ‘You, rascal, be careful!’ was all I said in the end.
For the boy was actually in danger, and I did not want to be found responsible of anything that might happen to him. He was still holding to the railing, skating on the board, all the time gathering speed, twisting his ankles most alarmingly, two feet this way, two feet that way, fixing his eyes on me.
‘Stop! Haven’t you heard?’
‘Why?’ he asked, staring aghast.
‘Because you’re going to break your neck; that’s why.’
‘Ye ain’t me Dad,’ the little fellow declared, straightening up.
‘I am not your progenitor, that is true, and praised be the Lord for it,’ I said. ‘Your father forgets, it appears, to teach you a bit of discipline with the rod, spoiled child!’ I paused. ‘And now, sir, may I make so bold as to ask you, who you are?’
If the rascal’s eyes had been expressive of wonder and surprise before, now, after my silly tirade, his amazement knew no limit.
‘Wot!?’ he asked, his eyes nearly popping out.
‘Yer nime?’ I shouted.
‘Why?’ he uttered.
At that Nicky, standing up, intervened. ‘Now, Nano! I told you to stop it.’ She was feigning annoyance, but her face was beautiful and not at all annoyed.
‘What!?’ I exclaimed.
Facing me, but still smiling, she said: ‘Why do you have to be nasty with the little boy?
‘Nasty? It is he who is nasty. Haven’t you seen? He’s laughing at my Spanish accent… my… my bad English.’
‘Nobody laughs at your accent, poor little thing. It is all in your brain. Your English is perfect.’
‘Eh! you, you... wait, Nicky,’ I began; for she had moved to the gate.
The boy retreated, at first, as if expecting to receive a box on his ear; but then, seeing the lady’s friendly expression and knowing he had nothing to fear, came forward once more. He held on one of the gilded railing spikes, his blue eyes fixed on hers; but still said nothing.
‘What’s your name, love?’ she asked with a nice smile.
‘Pete. Why?’
‘Just wanted to know. We’re friends, aren’t we?’
The boy scratched his head and then nodded.

‘Pete, dear, do you live around here?’
Pete now smiled at the young lady most sweetly, screwing his head to one side and pointing his snub nose to a cottage down the road.
‘Why don’t you go along and ask your Mum? There’s a dear. Tell her, and ask if she’s received the keys for this place from the agent?’
‘From the igent?’ Pete asked, dubitatively.
‘Yes,’ I shouted from the veranda, ‘and tell her we’ve bought this place. With a mortgage, of course.
The boy was off like a shot. I saw him pedalling with one foot, the other on his skating-board. He came to a halt before a house down the terrace, placed the board under his arm, rushed through the front garden and into the house.
‘Nano, you think he’ll do something?’ my wife asked.
‘I don’t,’ I answered. ‘Wistful thinking.’
‘But, you know, in these parts…’

She did not finish the sentence, for we saw Pete again, labouring up the road this time, one foot always on the board, and pushing with the other one on the ground.
‘Mum syse it’s orright bout the more gage,’ he gasped on arriving.
He was glancing at my wife as he passed onto the cement path, the board under his arm. He had a big kitchen knife in his other hand.
‘What, you aren’t going to knife me, eh?’ I said, ruffling the child’s hair.
‘And did she say anything about the key, love?’ Nicky asked, most anxiously.
‘No, M’m,’ the child said, still panting, and climbed triumphantly upon the veranda, brandishing the kitchen knife.
As he had done with me, he now by-passed the lady, moving directly to one of the windows. He slid the pointed knife between the two frames of the sash-window, pushed most ingeniously with it the latch which kept the window tightly closed, and the lower sash got its freedom of movement. He went with his thin supple fingers to the low side of the framed pane down on the sill, and a moment later between the two (for my wife had been helping him) the sash was pushed open.
I breathed, Nicky laughed, Pete climbed into the house and ran to the door. He lifted the latch, and we two could enter the property, the first of the two houses we successively owned in Australia.
*
Pete’s mother had in the meantime come to get acquainted with her new neighbours. A more handsome woman it would be difficult to encounter. Tall, long platinum hair, while her ams and legs were thoroughly suntanned. She was dressed in a sleeveless blouse and shorts, and light sandals with leather straps.
After we had gone on a quick visit of inspection all around, the house being very small, her curiosity satisfied, she left saying she would be back in a minute.
She returned with her husband, who was carrying a foam mattress on his shoulder, while the woman brought with her an ‘esky’ or ice-box.
Pete had disappeared; probably gone to the nearest park to meet his friends, rightly preferring their company to ours. It was now about 5 p.m.
As for the four grown-ups, after we shook hands with the man (we had already become acquainted with Mrs. Rode: this being the name our neighbours), the latter told Nicky she had brought some drinks and refreshments in the ‘esky’. Whereupon we all sat down, we two on our suitcases, and the Rodes on the mattress. He was a tall athletic person, probably a tradesman or an artisan, and as handsome as his wife was pretty.
Peter (that was his christian name) served the drinks, a small bottle of cold beer each. I was facing Lida, as Mrs. Rode had informed us already at the first encounter, and I actually ogled her as she quickly moved up and down to serve the food, mainly peanut and ‘vegemite’ sandwiches. Indeed she was very elegant in all her movements; as was her husband, a perfect Aussie athlete as those often surfing on Bondi and Maroubra beaches. I was pleased to be able to talk to such a pair of beautiful young people.
But perhaps talking is not the right word. In fact, there was practically no conversation at all, between us and the Rodes, during the hour or so we spent together in our new abode. We some times asked them a question, which they answered always in a most unsatisfactory way, relating the matter to something they had heard and often seen on television, transforming everything in small matter. Television was a new thing in Australia, and there were very few families who could yet afford a set.
When we said good-night at the door of our house, Peter Rode formally invited us to come over to their place down the road, to watch television, whereupon, Lida Rode said to my wife, caressing her. ‘Oh, you must come of an evening. Do! There’s a supergood serial, Perry Mason, three times a week. You can’t imagine.’
‘It’s a good serial, a detective story,’ my wife confirmed. For she had watched one episode or two in the communal lounge of the boarding house.
‘Yes, Nicky,’ Lida insisted enthusiastically. ‘Oh, everybody loves it.’
‘I guess,’ my wife added, ‘I mean, did he, Perry Mason, solve the case where Judge Thomas was dealing with the corporation’s crime? I had to leave before the end.’
‘Oh yes, yes!’ said Lida, caressing ny wife’s hands, ‘but do come tomorrow evening. They’ve announced another case. So interesting.’

*
When the Rodes left, Nicky and I got together upon the mattress to relax after the troubles of the afternoon. We still did not have the key of our property, and it was no joke, I said. After a while, it was decided that only one of us would leave the house for the time being. I would go in the morning, before opening time, to the thoroughfare round the corner, number 255, the real estate agency, and would wait until I got hold of the estate agent or somebody who gave me my key. They sure possessed at least one set of keys for our property.
Returning to Ferry Road, I would stop, and step into the telephone booth, which I had already noticed was on the corner, at the entrance of the corner store ‘JON VAN ES’, and would call our respective employers to say we could not come until later on, explaining what had happened.
After we both had agreed on this plan, changing the subject, I suggested she took a taxi from her school to GRACE BROS, a big departmental store in Broadway, to arrive in time to choose essential furniture. I would be joining her soon after 5 p.m. just before closing time. We must be sure the furniture (to be paid on hire-purchase) was delivered as soon as possible.
We exchanged tender kisses once again and, turning our backs to one another, both fell into a well-deserved sound sleep; though to tell the truth I don’t know if I was still awake or was already in the realm of dreams when I saw my small unimportant person in a big swivel chair, trying to work on the files in my office, and a little person nearby was laughing. It was my secretary, Maureen. I shouted to her, bad-temperedly: ‘Yes, yes, I’m not lying. I am a man of property.’
Oh gosh, oh gosh! Can it be true?

fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

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