That Niminski boy – he was a boy then, might be older than me now – looks it anyway – I saw him in the street. At least he was in the street and I was in the tram – which was a good thing because once I borrowed his bicycle and because his old man made those smelly cigars(1), he could, or his old man could, afford one.
Now that you have a bike of your own it has all come back to me.
I borrowed my first ride from Andrew but he didn’t know and when I returned the bike he didn’t know even then. I did hear he was looking for a bike beginner with abrasions. As I was going to school in knickerbockers at the time he never found him.
I still don’t know, that after all these thirty odd years I should not have been bold enough to whistle to him from my seat in a fast going Dulwich Hill tram.
[W.E. Pidgeon c.1956]
Albert Niminski, Cigarette Manufacturer, 15 McDonald Street; 1926 Sydney Sands Directory
I should have written you a private letter all to yourself a long time ago. But I have been rushing around so much, and getting too tired to repeat what I said in letters to Dorothy which I knew, anyway, that you would hear all about. However, I think before I leave Europe, you should have one, just for yourself to open and read out to Dorothy, as she has been reading hers to you. I understand you are growing to be very self reliant now that old pa wep is not around to do the odds and ends for you. That is very good-and I now address you alone, as a grown-up looker-after-of, both Dorothy and Trelawney of Norty North. Incidentally, I was looking at the map of London yesterday and I noticed there is a Northwood here too, although it is really north-west of the city. I shall show it to you when I come home.
I have just come home after buying some things in the city. As I came up Oxford Street I thought, well now, how can I describe this to Graham? It’s about as wide as Macquarie St and I would say stretches from as far as Circular Quay to the railway like Pitt St. But busy like Pitt is one between Market and King St, all the way. Hundreds of red double deckers going up and down thousands Greater London’s 9 million people doing their shopping. It is hard to imagine that in this city alone, there are as many people as there are in the whole of Australia. Makes you pull your big fat head in-doesn’t it? I have taken about 200 or more photographs and hope they will turn out well enough for me to show, and tell you, what different countries are like. I haven’t forgotten you, although I have not written you separately. I managed to get you some bad things, which I hope you will like. I really don’t know how I am going to pack everything into the 66 lbs luggage I am allowed free on the plane. I hope very much to see the three of you at Mascot next Sunday morning. So please be careful on your bike till I get home. You had better give old (and she must be looking pretty old and savage now) Trellie a couple of vulgar tickles, one for me, and one for you-the boss boy!
This cathedral is the most beautiful building I have seen. It is set in the small town of Chartres about 40 miles west of Paris. This church was built about 600 or 700 years ago.
I hope Trellie is getting big enough to go out for walks with you. There must be a lot of Lane Cove for you to show her. The more she knows the less likelihood there is of her getting lost. I hope you are looking after Dorothy all right too. How’s the bike going? I am looking forward to seeing you all soon.
This is the Eiffel Tower with the Seine River behind and in the background is part of the Paris city – an enormous place with over 3,000,000 people living in it. I have not been up the Eiffel Tower yet but hope to and from there see all of Paris. You read about it in Colliers Encyclopedia. As many hugs and kisses for you as there are people in Paris.
I stayed over night in the room marked with a cross. This is a big hotel in Orasul Stalin which means Town of Stalin. Yesterday we motored over the Carpathian mountains and there was a lot of snow on them, although it wasn’t very cold. I am going on to a town called CLUJ.
These towns are in a part of Rumania, a district named Transylvania. It is all very nice.
This is the river Danube which runs through Budapest. The city on the side of the river nearest you is Pest. The city on the other side is Buda. Hence Buda-Pest. I haven’t had time to look at the place, and I am now out at the airport spending Hungarian forints (that’s the name of their money) as fast as I can because they are of no further use to me. Lots of love to you & Trellie. I am off to Bucharest.
This is a photo of the little village I am staying at in Germany. It is about 6 miles out of Munich and it is very green and beautiful. I am staying in a guest house which can be seen in the photograph just where this circle points out (P.T.O.). I hope you and Trellie are very well and that you will soon be able to take her for a run with your bike. I am posting this card from Munich. I get on a plane for Vienna in 1 hours time.
Am now on the mainland of Borneo and am camped at a spot by the river about 1/2 mile out of what is left of the village of Brunei. I remember seeing an article on the leader page of ‘The Herald’ in which this joint was described as the ‘Venice of the east’. If Venice is anything like this God help it! On the opposite side of the river there must be a couple of hundred native houses built over the water & supported by timbers much the same as the Papuan houses around Moresby. There is an incessant coming & going of small boats – in & out from the houses, up and down the river – all over the bleeding place. These houses look drearily squalid but the touch of tropic romance (sic) is supplied by a group of young kids paddling & singing a queer Malayan song which carries well across the water. A slithering sound & a rasping of dry grass makes me jump & consider horrific images of pythons crushing Willie’s bones. I escape this pulpy fate & sigh to see a lizard of the brightest cutest green imaginable and he eyes me obliquely & unmovingly. After time I’ll take without a qualm the pinkest of elephants. Maybe it was the gin I had last night.
I am escorted by an intrepid bodyguard from the Public Relations. Apparently his job is to arrange transport for me and to fight off the Japs while I pursue the arts and further the successes of the “Women’s Weekly”.
It took us 4 1/2 hours to cross from Labuan. After a large trip like this and a modest suggestion of a hangover I would willingly have given Borneo back to the wild men.
Had a bit of a snooze just before tea which is at 5.30 pm. Incidentally the time the army is operating on is all haywire. I reckon it is about 1 1/2 hours ahead of what it should be. This close to the equator one must expect normally sunrise about 6 am and sunset about 6 pm. As it is sunup is nearer 7.30 am than anything and it gets dark at 8. All this guff merely to tell you we have tea really at about 4 pm.
Went over the village (the part that is sensibly built on land) after tea. Accompanied by an army cop who talked and explained all the doings like a cook’s tour spruiker. Had two cups of tea in a native home – this palace was underneath the house proper and in the room which I would say was approx. 15′ x 15′ lives 4 couples & an uncountable number of children. These natives sure know how to reproduce the young. The provost fellow knew a few words of Malay and all was giggles & tea swilling. The higher social level here is maintained by the Chinese of whom some are really good lookers. Many of them are pretty wealthy and live in large & airy homes bounded by gracious tress, bamboos, & banana plants. Basically it is an interesting enough place although now sadly in need of repair & paint since the Japanese occupation. The natives here are hard bargainers and see to it that the army boys pay plenty for what they want in the way of souvenirs. Saw some magnificent sarongs some of the lads had paid 50 dollars for. 50 dollars to you mug, is about £7.10.0. Quite a whack!
There’s a bug of some sort creeping round here making noises just like dear old Joe Palooka’s “Tch, Tch”.
Some of the little native kids are delightful. I’d like to buy one for little Graham. They carry on with the same antics.
Jimmy Smyth’s wife posted him the cover with our little man on it. I look at it lovingly & it is now travelling Brunei State with me. Is he looking after you all right?
I think I’ll push off to bed as I’m all wore out. My salubrious couch consists of a hip hole in the earth – a ground sheet, a blanket, and a mosquito net.
Yours for better sleeping – loving Will.
8.30 am Wed. The Brunei ground takes the fun for hardness. It all added up to the longest night I think I’ve ever spent. At last I have achieved a measure of benevolent dignity. Graciously I acknowledge the salutes of the astute and discerning natives. I walk along bowing & beaming like Queen Elizabeth. The natives are nuts on gold teeth. One soldier here told of a Malayan who had all his teeth covered & leaving a heart shaped window in the gold in the front – “Very pretty it was too”, says the boy. I’ll bet?
It is inconceivably wet and almost cold. Everyone in the camp is on their spines, out of the wet, & either reading, or gazing gloomingly at the fog of rain that surrounds the tents. It has been raining, & raining plenty for the last 2 1/2 hours. It is said that all roads will be closed for the time being as the trucks & God-knows-what vehicles are simply churning them into a sea of mud. Where, yesterday, I was choked & coated with the talc like dust is today a slippery & sloppy morass attended by the suckings and ploppings of boots stepping & out of the mess & the slithering hiss of tyres. Damn me if it hasn’t got worse. Our tent is flooded & the earthen floor lies beneath an inch of swirling water. I got a spade & Eager is trying to dig himself out a bypass channel. His stretcher is likely to float off any minute. A few tents up Dawes & Smythe sit with their feet on their stretchers & peer helplessly at the 3 inches of water & slush beneath them. Noel Adams in our tent takes it all rather philosophically – he can afford to – his bed is perched on the only dry piece of ground in the whole bloody camp.
It is too dull, and uncomfortable to write any more at the moment. The weather stinks and I am as wet as a WC from the hips down. Borneo for rain!
[23 Jul 1945]
Monday. Just prior to afternoon tea time. Today is dry and hot. The correspondents’ spines are still taking a terrible bashing. As far as they are concerned this campaign is over and they are merely waiting to be taken home.
That fellow Newman, Ivan gave me the note to, is on the island but I have not been able to get sufficient means of transport to contact him. I did meet one of the 2nd Seventh who told me, Newman, was here. The fellow that I met was Radcliffe and well remembers that dag “Joe” Gaskin. Also came across Capt. George La Monte – I think you introduced him to me in the early days – he inquired kindly after you and if I recollect alright, the young man. Lt. Arthur Horner, the tall fair artist johnny we had out to tea one night is attached to military history section just down the road.
There’s nothing much to tell you about this island Labuan. It is quite small and is more or less a base area with an air strip. The Japs have been cleared out and there is no excitement apart from the tracking down of mosquitoes and myriads of other winged beasties. I imagine that Victoria Town once the hub of social life, was a picturesque spot in pre war days. Only a couple of brick homes and an old clock tower remain after the invasion bombardment and the demolition by the air force gangs. The native population consists mostly of Chinese farmers. Malayans and Indians, all quite small in stature. The women are slim and on the whole not unattractive whilst occasionally a real beauty will appear for a passing moment. Their build is slim and graceful, their bones delicate and well turned. They dress mostly in a buttoned up to the neck tunic and three quarter length pants – their black hair is always well groomed in plaits and other what you – do – it like styles. Usually the colours are white, pinks, bright blues, and black. All beautifully laundered. Sometimes you see them wearing a vivid puce headgear with a bright green upper garment and getting away with it. The babies are either slung across their backs or carried in exactly the same ways as the cuddler seat manner.
Two bottles of beer and a bottle of gin ration is on today.
Am leaving in the morning for Brunei and down the coast to the oilfields where I should get more stuff than this place offers. We shall see. How’s my little fellow? Has he missed me at all yet? How are you? Not unduly put out about my absence I hope. Does he try to walk yet? Behaving your ‘self? How’s Mum? And a lot of other questions. Lots of love dear and tell Graham I often think of what he may be up to.
Have had some of my money changed into Straits Settlements money which is the legal currency up here. Am sending you 1 dollar, about 2/11.