Overseas

Judy and I had always planned to go overseas together when we finished our training. That’s what we called it in Australia, Overseas, but really it meant London. And all those years ago, it meant going by ship.

We had met when we were pupil midwives. I saw a small darting woman wearing a white raincoat and I was drawn to her for some reason. Her liveliness, her laugh perhaps, or the way she never stopped talking. In our lunch break I went up to her. Our conversation went something like this,

‘Can you drive?’

‘Yes. Why?’

‘Do you have your car with you?’

‘Yes. Where do you want to go?’

In our lunch-break she drove me down to a car sales showroom in St Kilda. I went up to the salesman.

‘Do you have a Honda Scamp?’ I knew they did because I’d seen them advertised

He took me to the car. It was blue, colour was always important to me. I turned to Judy,

‘Hop in,’ I said

She did and sat there for a moment.

‘What do you think?’

‘Seems all right to me.’

‘Ok,’ I said and turned to the man, ‘I’ll take it.’

His jaw dropped. Must have been the easiest sale he ever made. But then I realised I didn’t have any money with me. I turned to Judy,

‘Can you lend me $10?’

The car only cost $1749 (new) so that deposit was okay. I couldn’t drive so I had to make complicated arrangements with the salesman for him to drive it to my parent’s place to wait while I had driving lessons.

That’s how our friendship started.

When we had graduated, Judy had been saving and was ready to go. I of course, with paying off my car and having driving lessons, had no money. Luckily my aunt managed to wangle me a job as ship’s night nurse on the Fairstar, and Judy booked a passage on that.

While she was drinking cocktails with names like Bosom’s Caress, and Between the Sheets, I was on night shift covering for the British day nurses Bunty and Marjorie. They had all the knowledge, (according to them they’d worked in the Blitz, but that would have meant they were about eighty years old so that didn’t seem likely). The Italian doctor, Doctor Croce, was quite scared of them and the Italian nurse Umberto was only good for reading the tea leaves. I had to receive people who were ill or injured and feed the stowaway. Really, I just put them in a holding pattern until Bunty and Marjorie came on in the morning. Do no harm was my motto.

Sometimes it seemed to me I had spent my whole life on night duty. It was a quick way to earn double the amount of money as on day shift, but then I found I had to sleep which was a major inconvenience. I missed out on a lot. Judy had met up with a group of Australians and seemed to be having fun. I had higher aspirations, I wasn’t going away to live in Earls Court and hang out with a bunch of Primary School teachers and footballers I had no interest in.

One afternoon when I had got up after a short doze I had a vision. We had to change our image.  I went to the cabin Judy was sharing with five other girls. I said we needed to cast off the past when we got to England. We had to update our look. We didn’t want to look like daggy colonials. To that end we opened our (enormous) suitcases and I dragged out all our clothes.

‘That has to go, that and that.’ And I piled up our Dominex suits and hand knitted jumpers and tartan skirts. Then I opened the porthole and one by one threw my clothes out into the grey sea. The ship was churning along. In a minute the clothes had sunk from view. Judy was not altogether happy.

‘My camel hair coat. It cost a fortune.’

‘Do you want to look like Princess Margaret?’ and she threw it out

We took the train up to London. It was February, bitterly cold. And all around us were girls like us, but their clothes… Long plaid coats down to their feet, velvet hot pants up to their crotchs  and furry bonnets with woolly bobbles. We were desperate to get that look. All I could afford was a long plaid coat. I couldn’t manage the shiny knee length boots. I had my own yellow beret that I wore pulled down over my eyebrows. I managed to buy a pair of crushed velvet flares with a satin lightning flash appliqued on one leg. I also bought a red Olivetti typewriter for my future career as a writer. Then my money was almost gone. I could see a lot of night shift ahead of me …

22 thoughts on “Overseas

      1. A tease. I am trying to remember what years people in the US had caught up and were wearing those clothes. I think that it was the late 160s and early 1970s, and I was living in Oregon (much more rustic hippie, although I had my share of miniskirts) and Alaska (by then I had jobs that required more conservative clothes and never quite got around to the flares). Sorry I missed out –they sound delicious!

        1. We were on that boat in 1969 so you are spot on. We were coming into Carnaby Street and Biba. Although we couldn’t really afford it. My friend bought a leopard print dress that laced down the front and wore it with long patent leather boots.

  1. So you got double pay for night shift? That sounds awfully good. We only got a few more cents on the dollar per hour.
    You’d be in London when the Beatles were making it big. What fun. I was stuck in the middle of northern Ontario raising three of our four children at that time.
    Leslie

  2. I so remember the great adventure and the fear in our mother that some terrible foreigner would be a danger to you! You were our leader in so many ways, all different but maybe encouraged the challenge in all of us indifferent ways.

  3. Ah, flared trousers, velvet hot pants and shiny knee-length boots! I remember lusting after these clothes as a young girl and being desperate for my older cousin’s cast-offs, especially her cork-soled platform shoes…Such evocative memories you are rekindling here, Gert. A really lovely piece!

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