Published Wednesday 22 June 2016
Jocelyn Abrahams has distinct memories of her grandparents, Fred and Evelyn Pordage. She remembers that her grandfather was a hard worker; a regimented man; a little distant when it came to the topic of the war. She remembers that her grandmother was always smiling, always keeping her mind active, always the lynchpin of a family that was always close.
Raising such a loving, close family was the crowning achievement for a couple who had experienced much hardship and challenge in their life together. Fred and Evelyn were full of dreams when they emigrated to Australia from England in 1921. The promise of a good life through the soldier settlement scheme with a parcel of farming land at Beerburrum – a place, with its sunshine and palm trees after the drab, dreariness of post-war England, that sounded like paradise – convinced them to make the four-month long sea voyage with one small child, and another on the way, to the opposite end of the world where they knew no one.
“If you look at history, you’ll see that it wasn’t exactly the paradise they were hoping for,” says Jocelyn. “The conditions for farming weren’t right and, as such, they weren’t able to make an income. But in those days, through the scheme, the government wouldn’t allow them to leave the settlement. So they had to take their children and walk off the land, taking only what they could carry. They made it back to Brisbane and were destitute. But no matter the situation, they had to make it work. And they did.”
Fred found work in construction and labouring, and thereafter never seemed to lack for it. He worked on many Queensland monuments such as the Redcliffe bridge and the Somerset dam. He had faced down despair and finally made a life for himself and his family. However, nearing retirement, Fred knew that he and Evelyn would need some help in their old age.
“Grandad and grandma were involved in the Methodist Church since they arrived in Australia,” says Jocelyn. “It was through the church that grandad learned about The Garden Settlement at Chermside, and he decided to put their names down for it. They moved into their own cottage in 1955, where they resided until granddad passed away in 1966. After that, grandma shared the cottage with another woman until she passed in 1972.”
Jocelyn and her siblings regularly caught the tram to visit their grandparents at The Garden Settlement. Jocelyn’s grandmother often loved to sit on the balcony and play cards or read the paper. As a treat, the family would bring her cheese – a definite favourite – which she would place in the ice chest for later.
Fred took to his new surroundings in his usual pragmatic way. He was an avid gardener and eventually became the greenkeeper of the bowling green when it was established.
“Granddad wasn’t one to sit idle, like a lot of men of that era,” remembers Jocelyn. “When they moved to the Settlement, he set about tending to the gardens around their cottage – I remember he grew carnations and roses. He also offered his help wherever it might be needed. Having had some medical experience in the war, he told the matron that he would happily be on call, any time of the day or night, if any resident required emergency medical assistance and needed to be loaded into an ambulance. Back in those days, the ambulance was just a regular car that came with one driver, so assistance was appreciated. He often thought of others in that way.”
Fred and Evelyn’s two-room cottage was lovingly decorated with chenille quilts on the single beds (both crowned with mosquito nets), cosy sitting chairs in the living room and, eventually, a television set – Fred and Evelyn were early adopters of the new form of entertainment. Jocelyn remembers that her grandparents always had a bird for company – though company was never far away.
“I remember that grandma would walk me down to visit Mrs Mounsey – she lived in one of the other cottages,” says Jocelyn. “I would stand in front of her, my hands clasped together, and I would recite poetry, to which Mrs Mounsey would reward me with a sixpence. We didn’t have pocket money back then so I thought that was pretty good!”
Today, in the Wheller Gardens bowling club house, photographs of the founding bowling members hang on the wall. The men stand tall in their uniforms, and Fred is standing proudly among them. This visual tribute to the members who have come before was a lovely sight for Jocelyn, who recently returned to Wheller Gardens and stopped by the bowling green. She left a message for the current members on their blackboard; ‘Hello from the granddaughter of Fred Pordage – greenkeeper 1955 – 1966’. It’s a little touch from the present that connects us to the past, just as Jocelyn’s memories connect her still to the place where her grandparents did not just live, but added to a community of care and fellowship.