The Wayward Child is the true story of an Australian family, set in the WWII years and beyond. You will instantly warm to Rita, the wayward child, and her older sibling Joan. These two children share the common bond of a pitiful existence, played out with a rough diamond father who clearly wanted sons instead of daughters.
Their ladylike, demure mother was instrumental in the keeping of matrimonial harmony, with her sweet genteel nature, but lacked the fortitude to oppose any unfitting decisions that served to make their lives more difficult in times of tremendous hardship. With a strong-willed paternal Grandmother, whose love and loyalty to her only son knew no bounds, this story will keep the reader entranced from start to finish. The WWII era in Australia is a sadly neglected piece of history in the literary world. It is a story that needs to be told with passion, and deep respect for the love of a nation.
Somewhere, tucked in the earliest memories of my life, is a place called Red Hill. It is situated roughly twenty miles from the nearest township of Tumut, nestled in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. It is hardly worthy of a dot on the map as far as places of geographical importance go. Red Hill was my first home as a babe in arms. I was born on Christmas Eve of 1936 at Tumut. My sister Joan was also born there in 1931, making her my senior of nearly six years.
Red Hill was the name of a pine forest where my father was employed as a forester by the New South Wales Forestry Department. It consisted of three or maybe more houses, scattered willy-nilly with nothing in between, except a bush track, running through to a large pine forest farther along up a very steep hill. Our house was on a corner of what you might have called a main road. One way led to a place called Wee Jasper, in the direction of Canberra, and the other road, which was merely a narrow bush track, wound its way to Gundagai. We were quite isolated there, not only from other people, but from towns and places as well. Our house was a small weatherboard cottage, of modest design, with several outbuildings on a few acres of land. A sandy bottom creek edged with weeping willow trees ran through the middle of the well grassed paddocks. My father kept a milking cow, chickens, and a few sheep for meat. In short, we were mainly self-sufficient with this livestock, and a fairly large vegetable garden complemented our diet.
World War II had broken out in Europe, and a great number of men had enlisted in the armed forces, which left the workforce short of manpower all over the country. Ultimately, this led to the closure of major industries over widespread areas, bringing about short supply of many necessities required for a comfortable existence. Empty factories crippled the economy somewhat. Women were forced to take over jobs that were normally in a male orientated domain. Men, unable to join the army for whatever reasons, were left destitute and ventured farther away from their homes to eke out a living in the country areas. Some were lucky in their quest, and some were not. The unlucky ones were known as swagmen, who tramped the roads, hills, gullies, and bush. They lived under bridges or whatever shelter they came upon that might give relief from the elements. These were desperate men, and many were too old or sick for the war effort, or were simply artful dodgers of the “call up.” There was no handout of money for the unemployed back then. Anyone caught up in this awful circumstance was reduced to beggar status, forced to live off the generosity that was offered by people who were more fortunate in the bush.
At the age of three, I can remember my mother nervously doling out small newspaper parcels tied with string, which she called “hard rations.” These packages consisted of one cup quantities of things like tea, sugar, powdered milk, rice, and maybe a left over bone off the lamb leg roast or a few slices of bread. The old blue dog would always alert us of anybody tramping the road, especially if they dared to enter the house paddock. The barking would get steadily more savage as they warily approached. Mum would load the.22 rifle with one bullet and put it on the kitchen table. We would all watch and wait as the old dog snarled around the stranger’s worn-down boots and ragged pants legs.
“Got any tucker, missus?” a voice would call. “Could do with a feed and a bit a t’bacca.”