Thursday, January 26, 2017

Margaret Cynthia Retter 3/8/1925 to 29/11/2016 RIP

By Linda Saul

My beautiful mother was a young career woman probably through necessity for financial security back in the day.  Three months after my birth, she started work with Taylor Woodrow in January 1950 and retired from the same company when she turned 60 years old.
I recently found among other things, her letter of acceptance from Taylor Woodrow which mentioned remuneration of £4.0s.0d per week.
Mum kept every document, photo, postcard; letter ever sent to her not to mention locks of hair and pressed flowers saved from every occasion.
She was a collector of memories.

Because Mum was always at work, as a small child, I only spent time with her for an hour or two in the evenings before it was my bedtime and at weekends of course.
She made every minute quality time packed end to end with teaching me different things. We always had a splash fight at bath time after which she mopped up the mess with no annoyance or complaints whatsoever, followed by a bedtime story. 
Just as with my Grandparents living in the same house, I never heard a raised or angry tone from my mother’s mouth.
She was a woman of self-discipline.

My earliest memories were of Mum teaching me to knit, sew and craft of all kinds. She encouraged an ongoing collection of any bits and pieces useful to craft home-made presents for relatives appropriate for the occasion.  Her button tin and sewing basket were treasure troves of unusual oddments through which she let me rummage any time.
My mother was a very patient but exacting teacher who firmly insisted I got things just right or try again until it was!
I owe her for the strong tenacity and attention to detail I am blessed with today.
She was a woman of standards

Mum smiled and laughed a lot. She appreciated a good joke and loved all the comedy shows on Radio and TV just as she was interested and curious about the lifestyles of other people at a time when the floodgates of immigration opened up our part of London during the 60’s.
Mum once sent me to befriend a girl my age in the newly arrived Indian household a few doors up because she wanted to know what food was cooking! 
She commented that the smell of whatever it was caused her to inhale as much as possible when she passed by their house because it smelled so good!
Now and again, Mum and I would hop on the 232 bus to Southall Market. Mum would head straight for the Indian sari fabric stalls, stand and stare in wonder. I still remember the wistful look on her face; turning to me saying if only she knew what to sew with it, she would buy a yard or two!  She never did as far as I know
She was a woman of dreams.

My mother was an extremely observant woman who generally only voiced the good or quirky things she noticed.
A logical thinker, almost Boolean, she was difficult to argue with on topics surrounding ethical behavior as there were no shades of grey in her book. 
Growing up I quickly learned that I would be in more trouble for telling a lie than whatever it actually was I tried to cover up!
I’m sincerely thankful to my Mum for this insight and training in honesty which she inculcated in me.  

She was a woman of integrity

In summary, I am so happy that my eldest daughter Tina and I were able to spend October at home in UK this year to spend time with Mum before she passed away.  
I know she thoroughly enjoyed seeing us even though she understood it was a temporary thing as our lives are here in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
In the family this side of the globe she left four Grandchildren and two Great Grandchildren.
Mum recently confided that she really hated being bedridden but cheerfully accepted her lot, often expressing thanks for the care she received from the staff in Kingsland House. She often voiced the fact that there were folks worse off than she was.

Margaret Cynthia Retter fully enjoyed her retirement years filled with travel and shows; as it should be for someone who worked so hard throughout her lifetime and because she could!
Since my mother departed peacefully, I like to imagine that she was ready to go and chose her own time to leave us.

Huge acknowledgement goes to my cousin Rose Joseph for stepping into the gap for my mother’s care when I was unable due to distance and work commitments. Thank you so much.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Nauru 70”s – All about the Boy

A dutiful, well behaved, privileged elder son growing up in Tuvalu and Kiribati where his father was a prominent educationalist/author throughout the region, the boy recalled his study overseas: 
He had thoroughly enjoyed this Australian time out in Darwin, NT, made the most of it to perfect his English and make his father proud.  At a time when most pacific islanders went for tertiary studies to Fiji, if at all, the boy was acutely aware of his opportunity and studied diligently.
Now a fully qualified chef/nutritionist, the boy went on to score a job with further learning and practical experience in the Solomon Islands. 

It was in Honiara he met his first love, a light skinned, almost white mixed race beauty.  He was fascinated with white skin!  It was there also that he encountered racial disapproval – her parents totally disapproved of him as not being good enough for their daughter since he wasn’t Pa’alangi! 

Meanwhile, back in Tuvalu and unknown to the boy, his parents had negotiated for him a wife who was moved into the family home to coincide with his return leave date. 
The boy recalled the atmosphere of excitement in the air and on the faces of his relatives when he disembarked from Sea Bee Air on the short banana fringed air strip at Funafuti.  This is almost a hero’s welcome, what’s going on!

He recalled the sense of impending doom he had felt when he realized an unfamiliar girl with her relatives greeting him on arrival at his home was somehow the pivotal reason for the celebratory mood of his family and gathered relatives.
His father quickly filled him in on matters confirming that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
The boy objected strongly and an argument ensued with his parents as he did not agree to this customary marriage.  Ever the obedient son in the end, he allowed his parents to save face in front of the community and went along with the arranged ritualistic nuptials.
His thoughts were still back in the Solomon Islands and not with this new wife at all, so he used up the days meeting with friends, playing volleyball and swimming off the wharf in the small boat harbour and pretending he was still a single guy with his girlfriend waiting far away for the day he might talk her parents into accepting him.

After he had been home for only a very short while, the Nauru Phosphate Corporation ship called in on a recruitment drive.  The boy immediately saw a way out of his newly trapped existence, went aboard with his reference papers and signed up for work on Nauru as a  Procurement Officer. 
The boy packed his meager belongings into a metal trunk, without more ado, delivered this and himself onto the berthed ship along with other cousin brothers who had signed on. 
His parents were angry and there were heated arguments even as he left the house.  The boy told them to return his new wife back to her parents because he was not attracted, not in love and hadn’t wanted this sham of a marriage forced on him in the first place. 
Why push a young man to explore the outside world of tertiary education where he is learning to make his own decisions and then strip him of his right to make the biggest decision affecting the rest of his life?   Customary obligations are often at odds with the modern world he thought to himself.

So here he found himself in 1974, procuring food supplies to feed the hordes of contract labourers on Nauru.  There were Chinese, Filipino, Kiribati and Tuvaluan diverse dietary requirements to cater for. 
He was housed, fed and paid good wages most of which he sent home to his mother. He saved up for his radio cassette player and his motorbike easily as Nauru was totally duty free and luxuries were cheap.
After work hours were filled with different sports, fishing, night clubbing at weekends as well as community traditional events for weddings and birthdays as they occurred.
Life was good and he felt care free again.  He wouldn’t meet the girl until 1976 but of course he didn’t know that then!!

NAURU SEVENTIES DAYS – THE BOY’S STORY (Recollected by himself and told to the girl in 2013)

Republic of Nauru - Location Compound, September 1979

Dusk to darkness, blacker in more ways than one when he dropped the girl back at the outdoor cinema.  She wanted words, explanations he couldn’t give.  He had only wanted to hold her close and make love one more time.  He didn’t have energy to waste on words which held no hope of a future for them anyway.   He was acutely aware that she didn’t know any of his reasons and although he felt guilty about her confusion, tonight of all nights it had been urgently imperative that he grab something tangible of her to keep in his head. Just one more time…

Location, Nauru Photo credit C.A.Cooper  1973
In a black mood which matched the night, the boy roughly kicked the machine into life and roared off in the direction of his room, one of many within a featureless concrete construction which he shared with a work colleague in the Location Compound Single Quarters.

His roommate was sleeping already so the boy grabbed his towel and lavalava from the string line they had hung across the window and strode out of the room headed for the ablution block at the end of the building.  He stood longer than usual under the cold shower water rinsing away the remaining grains of sand and the sticky warm memory of this evening.  He stood long enough for his teeth to chatter with the cold which penetrated into his head and cleared his resolve at the same time.  Tomorrow I will put the past behind me.
Back in the room he quietly opened the lid of a metal chest which held all his belongings, everyone working on Nauru came from their places of Kiribati or Tuvalu with these rather than flimsy suitcases.  His chest had arrived from Tuvalu on MV Cenpac Rounder.
The boy rummaged underneath clothes and extracted a whiskey bottle which held a couple of mouthfuls at the most.  He unrolled his sleeping mat, sat down and contemplated this duty free cheap–as-chips bottle of liquor which had been one of many he had polished off recently.  With a sigh he stretched out onto his back, placed his hands behind his head and allowed his thoughts to wander;
Everything was too difficult to plan and everyone was against them being together.  Not that they had made any secret of their relationship whatsoever.

One Sunday, the Tuvaluan pastor pulled the boy aside after service and issued a warning
“She is Pa’alangi with a husband and two young sons already; do you think she will stay with you?”

Next, two of his uncles had arrived on Nauru for a visit thinly disguised as a business trip but actually dispatched from Tuvalu by family to find out exactly what was going on.
“Your parents still have your wife and now a new baby in the house waiting for your return!”

This news brought back that feeling of entrapment rather than the intended connection to the new arrival this bombshell was meant to create.
Angry now, the boy instructed his uncles that he was never going to return to Tuvalu and they best send the woman back to her people, baby or not. Is it even mine he briefly thought?

In private, one of his uncles advised the boy to bring his Pa’alangi to Majuro and he would find him work.  These two love each other much and are the same age.” He was heard to comment in company prior. 

The boy rolled over onto his elbow on the sleeping mat and stared at the whiskey bottle in the half light shining through the window. 
Alcohol had made things a whole lot worse since the girl had refused to run away to Majuro with him. 
He remembered the conflict in her eyes when she softly said, “I can’t run away with you and leave my children behind. Neither can I rip them away from their father just like that.”

He had responded to her rejection with a huge drinking spree which ended with him waking up one morning in the nurse’s quarters next to a Kiribati girl he barely knew.  
Three months now and a lot of alcohol later the pain seemed to have numbed somewhat and he had continued to visit the nurse’s quarters during that time.   

Yesterday he had been summoned to the office of the Nauruan in charge of Location Community Affairs.  The boy was informed that the Kiribati nurse was pregnant, her family had reported this and he would need to marry her if he wanted to keep his employment on the Island. 
He was further warned to cut off any relationship with the Pa’alagi woman or face deportation back to Tuvalu.

Tired now,the boy sat up, removed the lid from the whiskey bottle and swigged the remains in one gulp.  He rolled the bottle away from his sleeping mat, lay down and closed his eyes. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nauru Seventies Days

Republic of Nauru – Location Compound
September 1979

Dusk; the girl with her two friends rolled out their mat on the ground at the side perimeter of the open air cinema. On cue as darkness proper covered the place, chattering stopped and the movie began: yet another Chinese action film with English subtitles which most of the audience would not be unable to understand fully!

The girl sneaked a look around at the 100 or so people all seated on mats with their faces intently raised to the large screen.  It had taken her 3 years to become fluent in their language but worth the effort as she was now an accepted part of this mixed community of migrant workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Indeed she was crazy in love with a boy, one of their own but he didn't come to see her anymore since she refused to run away with him to his Uncle in Majuro.  She couldn't understand how he could stay away and there were no explanations forthcoming, just the hurt inside.  His cousin brother and her two friends of the evening (who were also close relatives of her Love) understood   this pain and urged her constantly to go to him if she wanted him back. 

Too proud to chase him, the girl just accepted the boy's decision to sever the relationship whatever his reasons.  He had avoided her for three months now and she wondered why she even stayed here in this place rather than return to NZ and move on with her life.

The girl really was not concentrating on the movie and constantly scanned people's comings and goings to the venue in case she could catch a glimpse of his face at least.  Not that he ever turned up here these days but you never knew and anyway she searched out his face and form where ever she moved around on the Island. It had become habit.
Satisfied that the boy was not around, the girl settled down to concentrate on the film finally.

The purr of a motorbike engine interrupted her concentration and the girl glanced at the dark road where it had stopped fairly close to where they sat on their mat.  It was the boy standing astride the machine and scanning his gaze across the audience obviously looking for someone.

Heart bumping, feeling a confused mixture of euphoria and apprehension she froze instinctively wanting to hide herself in the middle of her two friends but they spotted their brother and signalled him over. 

The boy parked the motorbike properly, approached where the three were sitting. He did not acknowledge his sisters, gave the girl a long, searching look and without a word pulled her to her feet, and away to the motorbike. Still without speaking he climbed on the machine and started it. The girl climbed onto the pillion.

Sitting close in behind him in that familiar place with her arms right around him to hold on she snuggled her face into his back and wished the ride could never end. 

The air was less humid on the other side of the Island as the boy cruised into Anebare Bay.  The beach was deserted; the night sky was clear; full up with stars. 

The boy had still not spoken a word since this encounter and the girl wanted answers so she asked him why he had sought her out like this after all these months.  The boy only pulled her close and covered her mouth with a deep kiss.  He led her silently by the hand along the beach to a patch of white sand under the Pandanus trees. This was their spot; they had been here many times before.

She tried to ask more questions but was once again silenced and gave up to the moment. They made love tenderly right there in the sand…….

 Sometime later with words still unspoken between them, the boy pulled her to her feet and started the motorbike again. They climbed on and rode slowly around the coast back to the Cinema.

The movie was just about coming to a close when the girl climbed off the pillion. She asked him again for explanations but he just gave her one last long lingering look before speeding off into the darkness….

This was the last time these two saw or spoke to each other ever again…  Heartbroken, the girl finally returned to NZ in mid-1980