From Friday, 20 August 1943 through to Monday, 23 August 1943, Wep was on assignment at a Mission Station on Bathurst Island. Whilst absent, Wep penned a letter to Jess, of which the first 13 pages have been lost or misplaced.
Continuation of letter written 23 August
…. but plain damn silly. I wish you hadn’t told me. Anyway I’ll be home within a week of you getting this letter. So expect a lot of things to look up.
Had a fair trip back. Couldn’t see much as we were flying blind in bush fire smoke for a hundred miles. Am glad to be back and have already made application for my return trip. Hurry up that new dress and look your damndest. Only the two of us together the night I come back.
Am getting tired as I have had to put off writing tonight until the typists gave up the ghost – which they unwillingly did about 10.30pm. Didn’t sleep to well over on the island. The nights turned out too cold for only two blanket over me and the sand fly itches gave me de woiks. Used to wake at 2 or 3am, or even earlier I imagine, & toss for the remainder of the night. No good.
And so to bed. – Goodnight my darling. I hope you managed the anniversary pleasantly & tolerably happily. I haven’t got to mine yet although I’m only about ¾ hour off the 24th August. Lots of love sweet, save yours all up for my return.
Good morning my bride. Tis the wedding morn. Ten years removed. Got your telegram – Thanks a lot dear. I hope you got mine on the right day. I had to get the man mountain here to send it for me on Monday as I was still away. They say that it would get there on the auspicious occasion. I hope so. Everyone has wished me happy anniversaries. To give the real domestic flavour to the day I have lit up the copper and am about to do the washing.
Am trying to get air transport to Sydney, but there seems to be some bother, a lot of the air services have been cut down. So, at the moment I’m still in the air (i.e metaphorically speaking) again. Give me the works when you dress up for the happy day.
Little flowers for anniversary day. They were a frangipani & a pretty red wild bloom.
Am just sneaking the use of one of the lad’s typewriter while he’s out on a job. Came to after a spot of spine-bashing to find the place empty. Have done nothing at all today except sit around on my acre [arse] and be bored – time I had a bit of a rest of sorts. The boys are on their way back so off with the machine and up with the pen.
Sitting around is soul destroying – I can’t settle down to working in this mess as there are absolutely blink-all in the way of facilities for such a comfort loving craftsman (?) such as myself. The moment of 5.20pm finds me sunning in the same spot as I occupied yesterday and pursuing the delightful occupation of considering your dear charms & graces. Sweet, what?
This is by far the most pleasant time of day – the sun seems stationary & shines with mellow warmth – the breeze, soft and sensuous, slides round every limb. I wish it were a little fiercer – this colour I’m after is anything but permanent – damn me if it doesn’t appear to wash off under the shower. Maybe it’s only red dust impregnated in the skin. In any case it is a highly impermanent pigment.
At dawn this week am off on the plane trip I spoke of. I’m supposed to be one of the crew – heh! heh! You won’t get any mail from me until I return from the island. I will be 2 or 4 days there – other than the planes there is no mail contact. So don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a while.
I’m getting a bit sick of the unsatisfying contact letters afford. I don’t feel like writing to any length. The novelty of things has gone – and I’m just anxious to get home – all very similar to the counting of days before vacation, only I’m in reverse.
I’m still mooning about the house – gawd help me there’s nothing to damned well read in blasted place. I’ve been through all the magazines more times than the covers can stand up to. I can’t be bothered with newspapers a week old. The books (what there are of them) are dull – I’d ever write one if I wasn’t so languid – It’s a wonderfully lazy joint. Haven’t seen anyone sitting down to a good solid think since I left the zero regions. If & when I go away again something long & heavy in the way of literature will accompany me.
Cheerful, breezy, letter, yes? Voted today – i.e. 3 days before election day. An enormous amount of work is involved in army polling. Every vote has to be sealed up in an envelope with the soldiers name, address & army no. on it – posted down, unsealed, counted, etc. Probably take longer in this election to get final figures than is usually the case. I hope you didn’t give Old Billy* your approval.
Later again – have been out for a walk round the town & called into the YMCA – quite a decent place 3 full sized billiard tables – piano – books & all the what have yous. Borrowed 2 books – may keep me quiet for a while. Still restless – have suggested some supper. Approval has been expressed. We shall sit down to a frugal snack of cold boiled eggs, tomatoes, sliced tongues and hock.
That operation was efficiently taken care of – we are all now in advanced stage of pre-spine bashing somnolence – the brains of many have already gone to sleep. Mine included. Will retire to my cot in which I sleep with only a sheet & the old man Fred.
Lots of love darling – hope to get a letter tomorrow – seems a bloody long time since one arrived.
And so to bed
Enclosed find some local blooms of Bougainvilleas – press them to your heart.
[Then all crossed out.]
Would you please write out a cheque for 28/- payable to Hugh Dash & put this accompanying letter with it & mail it to Hugh Dash, c/o “Courier Mail”, Queen St, Brisbane. I tried to send it direct from here but there are no postage notes available until Sunday on which date I will be away.
Love to my
[* Note: The 1943 election was won by the Australian Labor party lead by John Curtin with 49 seats, a gain of 17 seats. They defeated the coalition United Australia Party/Country Party who won 19 seats, losing 18. Interestingly, the coalition was lead by Arthur Fadden who was the leader of the Country Party, the minor partner to the United Australia Party, lead by Billy Hughes (a former Labor Prime Minister) who had taken over in 1941 after Robert Menzies resigned. Following the Coalitions crushing defeat, Fadden handed the leader of the Opposition back to Menzies who had resumed leadership of the UAP.
I may as well carry on with the news concluded by the letter I posted you by today’s mail. As I’m going down the road tomorrow I won’t be writing. This letter will serve that day’s purpose as it won’t get away from here until then. This week I am staying with a fighter squadron under the command of Caldwell – shall probably meet Flutter eye Gloria’s husband – I believe he is with the same bunch.
Thanks for thinking about my lack of amenities. I’m running somewhat short – only 24 large packets left.
I hope Tommy got as much out of his drawing as he hoped for. Selina is dopey alright. Are you still getting plenty of steak over there?
The thing has started off again – Gawd help us! Tap-tap-tap-BLOODY TAP! This will be damn short – I get into such a helluva bate (?). It’s worse than being in a machine gun nest with all guns firing and hailstones beating on my tin hat. I’m not deaf enough to take it – Tap – tap – taP – tAP – TAP TAPTAP! – and so on.
I’ll write you tomorrow some time – or else wait till the bastards go to bed. Up’em!
[3 Aug 1943]
Next morning – Much quieter – I am by far the earliest bird up here, all of which doesn’t help catch the non existent worms, but it’s plumb peaceful like. Inside, spines are slowly being zipped into action, razors being flapped, and kidneys drained in preparation for a general exodus down the road in the wake of the Governor-General who has begun his tour of inspection.
Yesterday he reviewed the N.W. navy such as it was. We got out onto the flagship & under panicky directions of some naval lieut. allowed ourselves to be hid behind pipes, vents, doors, etc so that the G.G.’s august vision would not be defiled by the sight of the lowly non-combatant press correspondents. It was wretched farce – the boys have wiped the navy or so they say. Seems more like to me the navy doesn’t care about the press. The review of passing ships was catastrophic. Some of the old tubs couldn’t make any speed against the out-running tide, with the unhappy consequent cancellation of part of the programme.
The tide, by the way, has a rise & fall of 20 ft and as the approaches to the land here are very shallow the water when it gets a move on races like one thing. In the harbour I believe it does about 5-6 knots and in the creeks about 10. I’ve seen it coming in on the creeks – it moves alright. The harbour is a big one with an average width & foreshores much like Botany Bay. Because of its lack of depth the water is quite green. Here and there the side of a sunken ship rises up. Somewhere else the masts & funnel of another stick forlornly & ridiculously out to provide parking stations for the few sea birds to be seen in these parts.
Will have to leave now – have had breakfast the all are ready for the trip.
Mail came in & I have just got another of your letters – you beaut. Haven’t read it yet – lots of love honey – look after yourself for Willie.
I was enormously pleased to get your letter, sweetheart – it did me a lot of good – picked the old soul up no end. Forgive me if my last letter sounded somewhat morbid. “Troppo” madness sets in early and I was too tired & weak to attempt good cheer. However you will overlook it – yes?
Letters do help – one has to be away to realize that. Poor Ivan – he must eat his heart out waiting for them.
I’m sitting down to work – have been fairly busy although my painting is not of any class as yet, it being overwhelmingly amateurish. Obviously I need much more practice. It’s mostly rough notes that I am compiling for a more or less free use when I come home to my cuddly snugglepot. Judging from the material I have gathered in less than two weeks it will take me at least 2 months back in Sydney working flat out to cover the space necessary for any sort of decent display. That’s good news, heh?
They’re still discussing this & that. It’s U.S. and Jap strategy now & I cannot help but listen. Destroys my thoughts.
A great call comes through for us to eat supper sandwiches. And at present that’s nothing to look forward to. We are on “tropical spread” a bloody margarine substitute – tastes like blasted coconut oil. Should be butter any time now. We have only had to bear the burden for a couple of days.
The poor old pate is sight to behold, huge shivers of burnt up skin float slowly off its tarnished dome. My face is a dried apricot with pimples on it. The bank roll is still well – I’ve only spent a tenner so far. You must apologise to the boys for me and explain that to date it is next door to impossible to buy anything up here. My only expenses are household – you can’t spend any on grog at other camps as each officer only gets so much ration & none is really left over for visitors to buy for them. I’ve just bought 18 large packets of Capstans. They seem to be all you can get. Also I let the office buy me a real kangaroo skin tobacco pouch for 10/-. Incidently (sic) I haven’t heard from them yet – touch wood.
You’d better go in and price that casserole doings as it’s a moral I won’t be home to consummate our tenth anniversary. Get it if you like & give a dinner to the Watso’s & O’Deas out of it. Do me in style and don’t forget to leave an empty setting at table for me – don’t neglect my drinks either. Telepath me lots of lurv.
It’s no secret about McNulty. I knew in Brisbane. No doubt King & Cyril resented his queer behaviour. Perhaps he didn’t like to let Cyril know that the estimable Brian was to be his superior. The set-up has violent possibilities. Cyril will object to Penton’s policies & the daily night work. Pretty ‘orrid what!
We don’t do our own washing. Every day we change and one of the poor unfortunates chores for us all. Ironing is done as well. We do nothing but eat. None of these blokes are what you could call drinking men. Although there is at least 5 bottles Corio – 3 gin & 5 port, 1 hock, 1 advocat & 2 beer no one wants a drink. I’ll be glad to get out again. Am going down the road tomorrow – shall be away about 4 days finishing up at the last camp I stayed at. They’re having a do on Thursday 29th. Ray Stehr & Tom Izzard, prominent Sydney footballers, also 4 other leading Sydney Rugby players are in the unit. To my great despair I won’t see any of your letters until I come back, my pet. I’ll forward you letters from where ever I am.
All the gang have been on the beach this afternoon. It seems incredible that the water should be so warm and the weather so glorious. Dozens of soldiers turn out for a dip it’s all very gay and nude – the probeing & squealing is reminiscent of a schoolboys water carnival. An amazing assortment of Freds strike the eye. I retire with modesty – grander and stouter are encountered with every flick of the eye.
Yesterday I spent some time painting the delightful freshwater pool I wrote you of some time back. To my great satisfaction I had the spot alone for close on 1½ hours when 20 or there about soldiers came roaring down like wolves on the fold. I fled soon after. On the way back saw dozens of wallabies. The poor creatures suffer the fate of rabbits down south – dazzled by car lights they are struck & killed.
The blarsted typing has started again. So farewell for the nonce my love. It’s going to be a great thrill when we meet.
A short note cos little Willie is a weeny bit tired – the boys & all their soldier helps had a picnic today out on one of the beaches about 12 miles from here. Altogether about 13 of us went & bathed in the Timor Sea (which was regularly calm) without any clothes on! This is neither here nor there as from the main streets here you can see soldiers having showers in unenclosed shower stands. They just put up a spray on the end of a water pipe, place a piece of Hessian on one side & go ahead. All the fellows in this town – or in the whole territory – for that matter are a marvellous colour. A rich brick red. Few are that yellow brown colour as most wear nothing but shorts & boots & socks during the day. As the sun is very hot they are continually being burnt. I am at present a nice shade of lolly pink. While I mention that, I may as well tell you that apart from a bottle of beer a week the troops can buy an un-carbonated cordial. They call it lolly-water & that’s just what it damned well is. The abos are still cycling around. They look like a cavalry spider corps.
On the way back from the beach we bathed in a fresh water pool constructed on the head reaches of a creek. It is a very lovely spot surrounded by pandana palms through which the sun filters & makes splendid patterns. The pool is deep & about 20 yds long – The water much colder than that of the sea which is almost tepid. The weather is really marvellous – you would love it darling it’s right up your alley. A couple of Jap planes arrived over today about 40 miles away. One was shot down – I didn’t see or hear anything of them.
Tomorrow I’m going down the road to stay at some of the camps for a while. Next letter you receive from me will be written in a different setting and may be just a little late.
Locally the train to Adelaide is facetiously known as the “Spirit of Protest”. Have been drawing some of the lads tonight – they were well received.
On our return from the picnic we sat down to dinner prepared by one of the drivers (2 cars & 1 truck are attached to the unit here). Cookie had gone with us for a day off. Taking advantage of his solitude in the kitchen driver set to & sent up a voluminous 4 course meal. Soup – macaroni & cheese & tomato – roast beef, etc peaches & cream & some sort of cocoa jelly. Topped off with welsh rarebit. I had thought him a bit simple. He must have been to sweat it like that. Maybe he has my occasional enthusiasm. It’s easy to get that way when does have to do it often.
I find it hard to settle down to a letter – too many typewriters banging – too much talk. Perhaps I shall do better down the road. I think I shall also ask the major who works in the house next door for the use of one of his empty rooms – Christ I need it in order to get away from this noise if & when I work.
All my love petty & please look after yourself. I miss you
How’s things with my little wifie? I hope things are still alright with the old man and that mum is keeping well. Went down the road again yesterday & met all the blokes that matter. At one camp where we were eating with the majors & colonels I was more than surprised to see Major Bill Stanner walk in. He had just a half hour before turned his car over & was still in a bit of a daze. His knowledge of the area is apparently being put to good use by the army. At another place we had the rare pleasure of drinking a very fine Scotch whiskey called “Mountain Cream” watered down with genuine French Vichy water such as I haven’t seen for years. Our major in this mess & I imbibed somewhat heartily I’m afraid. The colonel who treated us was a hell of a nice chap & most interested in art. He was a wealthy business man and spends quite a lot of cash collecting pictures. All the better known English artists’ work is represented in his collection. After leaving that camp we went on further & had tea with another unit. The Major there got us stuck into the port. Our Major & I were goodo by the time we left. It’s a rare blessing to have a driver. We went to sleep and left him to it. Took about 2 ½ hours to get back. I’m not too hot today my love.
On Monday I will be off to live in a camp for a few days. It is practically impossible to do any painting from here as a base. All the boys are diligently writing their wives. No work today. I’m finding it hard to think. Typewriters are clacking all over the bloody house. Haven’t seen any ‘orrid crocodiles yet although they say there are some about. Boy! Little Willie is sure going to see he comes home with the same gruff voice! No choir boy tones for me. Not that it would matter much up here – life is extremely celibate. Everything is still quiet on the front – thank God. The boys reckon this is the toughest front line in the world. We intrepid correspondents are pigging it with ice boxes and wireless sets, grog & plenty tobacco. Next door is a Presbyterian mission house. An adult aborigine & child are staying there at the moment. The man rides round on a kid’s tricycle all day long & at night lights a fire (of all things!). The two of them sit round it & give off. Raucous native chants shatter the air. I think the nig. is initiating the nipper into the tribal rites. Terrible primitive up on this front.
Am looking forward to hearing from you darling. Don’t suppose I’ll get anything for some time yet as even air mail takes a damned long time to come through.