War Letters – Brisbane, (12 July 1943), reflections

[c.12 July 1943, Brisbane – Whilst awaiting transfer to Darwin, Wep wrote 5 pages of recollections of how he ended up there from the time the editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly rang his home approximately a week earlier. It was not written as a letter to Jess and had no apparent ending.]

I was angrily unhappy. The phone rang and my wife said it was the office calling. I was suddenly sadly unhappy. From here where doing something I don’t like to something I positively hated. Editors are alright in their time and place, like doctors, and that is not on a cold and astrologically unfavourable morning when one is feeling unhappy, even angrily.

So I’m wanted in the office and I haven’t shaved or eaten or even got over getting out of the wrong side of the bed. And then of course I miss the boat because the two minutes time our clock is always short of. The forty minutes later would, as fate inexorably will it, be proudly ferrying the mother of one of those wretched infant prodigies of art. A rowing boat would be a sound investment – slow – but soulful.

I come out of the trance to hear the editor saying it seems – yes, and we’re sending you to Darwin for a couple of hours to do a complete compilation of life in the far north. Can you get away by yesterday?

“Oh, yes, yes,” I promise the world but secretly reckon that for the Northern Territory only I can hedge a bit on the vows.

For a week it’s all very vague and hurried, a few recollections come to light of a tailor saying H’m well make your suit inside out – of photographs which look like a balded Arnold Haskell – of an energetic sweat despite the cold – and some more photos for the office which will come in handy for the obituary if the plane falls to pieces in mid air.

About 12 midday after packing effects, personal and impersonal, I find I’m responsible for a huge weight and a most imposing bulk of gear which will probably never be used. At 2 am it’s down to only 40 lbs overweight; i.e. allowing for 40 lbs of clothing – razor, teeth, wig, etc. – The 40 lbs over represents false nose, paints, easel, canvas, paper, and all those oddly dirty things which artists use. The problem is whether sacrifice the paints or go quite naked. This one is, at 2am, quite easy, that is the pigeon of the office.

And in no time at all I’m in Brisbane. Diplomatic courtesy forbids me mention this noble duty except in so far as to mention that it is situate the south eastern corner of Queensland and has most salubrious and invigorating climate as well as women of presentable appearance and engaging manners.

I sleep in American quarters, I eat with Americans – I see pictures with Americans. I dream about Americans. I get blood taken out of me by Australians at the gentle suburb of Greenslopes and I’m told I have never had malaria. It would be something of a miracle if I had – but then it is just one of those things that science likes to prove you haven’t got. Caught a taxi back – holy heavens, what a price! Could scarcely have charged the newest boy from Oklahoma more. However the office paid up with good grace.

And so to the sleepless cot swaying amongst the sighings, the yowlings, the dropping of boots, the cleaning of teeth, the pulling of chairs, the washings of faces, the gurglings of throats, the coming ins and going offs of American airmen on service leave. No need for the night porter to call me at 3.30 a.m.. I’m looking at the City Hall clock and trying to work out what’s going on in the air raid shelter just opposite.

Doughnuts and coffee thanks to the American Red Cross.