“Come on in, boys,” said Bill with a big smile as he opened the door. We, my friend from work and me, did not consider ourselves boys, but he was close to fifty years older than we were. From his point of view we were just some youngsters blown in by the trade winds from another continent.
“Did you have any trouble finding the place?” he asked. His face had a reddish, weather beaten complexion. Large furrows and wrinkles criss crossed his face like the legendary canals on Mars, bearing witness to a long outdoor life. He had seen much of Australia as a train driver during the war years. Supplies were taken up to Darwin by train and from there by ship to the troops fighting in the Pacific.
He had befriended us at work, where he was our ‘Billy Boy’ providing us with hot water for tea and for washing ourselves. He also helped us with our English. Bill told us to call in at his place when we were in Picton.
“Saturday would be fine,” said Bill .
“And you will get to meet the girls,” he added with a friendly smile.
We heard ‘girls’ and thought it was about time we got acquainted with some females in Australia. We had not been in Australia for long and all was pretty new to us. I had bought an old Austin A 40. My friend and I took the car for the half an hour’s drive to see Bill and the girls; probably his granddaughters as he was already past seventy.
We accepted his invitation and went inside his house, a large double story stone building at the edge of town. It was dark inside. He lead us into the dining room.
“The girls will be coming down soon to say ‘Hello’ “, Bill said.
The dining room was dark too. Thick, heavy curtains blocked out any daylight. We could just make out some furniture. As Bill started to draw back the curtains, revealing a beautiful table and eight chairs all made from red cedar, we saw a large cabinet with glass doors and behind them some Royal Dalton and Wedgwood tableware. On the wall was a painting of a stern looking couple. We felt transported into the nineteenth century.
“You know, we haven’t used the dining room since 1935,” Bill said.
“That’s over twenty five years ago, Bill,” I said to him.
“There you are, it shows you how time flies,” he answered.
He went to the door from time to time to look up the stairs where he expected the girls to come down from.
“Have a seat while I’ll put the kettle on. The girls should be down very shortly. You know how it is? They want to look their best,” Bill said with a wink. ‘They have never met Germans in their lives.”
Bill wasn’t gone long when he came back and announced, “Here they come!” and motioned us to the door.
“Aren’t they beautiful?’ Bill whispered, so the girls would not be embarrassed.
There was an electric light on now in the hallway and what we saw, were three women, of advanced years ― of very advanced years, I thought. They were dressed in dark frocks, which nearly touched the floor, white blouses and short black jackets. On their heads they wore small, round hats. They were holding on to the beautiful carved bannister as they carefully stepped from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. They gave me the impression they had been found in a tomb. Their faces looked old and wrinkly too, as the heat and the harsh wind in Australia had not been kind to them.
After we exchanged a few “Pleased to meet you” and “How are you?” we all took seats at the table. I noticed now that they wore long sleeved gloves. Bill, his face beaming, arrived with a pot of tea from the kitchen and took out the tea cups from the cabinet. He did all the work, if one could call it work, and served us and the ‘girls’. He explained that they were his sisters and much older than him. They reminded me of Daisy Bates, of whom I had seen some pictures.
“I was the baby of the family,” Bill said with a wink, “and now I have to look after them.”
Bill had such a great personality and he was full of life and always had a sparkle in his eyes. He seemed so proud that he was able to introduce his new friends and his sisters to each other. At the time we did not know that Australians called women of any age ‘girls’. We still had to learn a lot as newcomers to this great country.