Amy stepped out of the plane and was surprised by the cooler temperature in Stanthorpe. A light breeze brushed across her face and she caught in it a hint of fruitiness and earth. The air was definitely different here to Sydney.
She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath.
This is nice. But why is it cooler and drier here? This is Queensland, isn’t it? A geologist should understand what’s going on. I must investigate this oddity later on.
She followed the crowd to pick up her suitcase and then came out into the greetings area. She could spot Aunt Jayne from the crowd right away. Aunt Jayne was a tall woman standing a head above everyone else. She had large sun hat on and fashioned a floral dress. Amy figured that the tall gene must be from her mother’s side of the family.
“Hi Auntie Jayne,” Amy ran up to give her a big hug.
“Hi Amy, how was the flight?”
“It was amazing. It was the most extraordinary thing that I had ever, ever done in my life. I loved it very much. Thank you very much for organising it,” Amy beamed.
“I’m so glad you enjoyed the experience. It’s much easier to fly you up here directly than to pick you up from the train station. A round trip to Brisbane will take me 6 hours. With the harvest just around the corner, we just don’t have the time. Come, let’s get home. Your uncle Jerry is organising the pickers today. He will join us for tea afterwards,” aunt Jayne grabbed Amy’s suitcase and turned to walk outside the airport.
Aunt Jayne led Amy to the car park where her light green Land Rover was parked. She opened the front passenger door for her niece and proceeded to put the suitcase in the back. Amy stared at the front passenger seat above her chest and froze.
I’ll need a ladder to get up. How am I going to do this?
“Grab the handle on the side of the car and hurl yourself up the steps,” Jayne gave out instructions sensing Amy’s hesitation. Amy found the handle and scrambled up the vehicle. The view from the front seat high up was wonderful. She could see so much more. It was an adventure that she was deprived of in the back seat of her father’s Holden. Amy broke into another big smile.
“What are you smiling about?” Jayne gave Amy a funny look as she climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Auntie Jayne, this is so exciting. Your car is so much bigger than Dad’s. I can see everything here.”
“This is the country. We do things differently here. We’re farmers and we don’t muck around. We have to be independent and it starts with the car,” Jayne started the engine and every panel of the car shook violently. Amy listened to the car’s breathiness. It reminded her of a dog panting.
Jayne jammed the gear stick into first gear forcefully and the car roared into action. Its bark is bigger than its bite though. With all the noise, it moved just a little before aunt Jayne had to shift into second gear. The car whined for some time before it was jerked into third gear, then fourth. Amy was silent as she took in the new surroundings. There were mountains and trees and space. It’s pretty.
“Your mother told me you’re into rocks.”
“I’m into Geology. It’s the study of earth, it’s history, formation, materials and processes.”
“Right, you’ll be interested in this area then. We’re in what they call the granite belt. You know anything about granite?”
“Yes, I do. It is an igneous rock. It came from the molten rock called magma from deep inside the core of the earth. They come in all kinds of colours. Pink, black, white, grey and somewhere in between. The grainy bits inside are crystals. The slower the molten rock cool, the larger the crystals,” Amy was rather chuffed that she could answer her aunt’s question so thoroughly.
“Well, ever seen one?” Aunt Jayne smiled and raised her eyebrows at her niece.
“No, not really,” Amy lowered her head.
“Well, we have some very large and spectacular ones around here. You’ll get to see them,” Aunt Jayne nodded at Amy.
“Yes, I would like that very much,” Amy beamed back.
Amy leaned forward to soak in the beautiful sceneries. It’s a different world to the one that she had grown up in. The clanking of the car and the bumpy ride reminded her that she was now far away from home. Rather than feeling fearful, Amy felt strangely liberated. She leaned back into her seat and let out a contented sigh.
Wow, this is exciting.
Amy looked out the window and watched the miles and miles of open space dotted with trees pass by. Every now and then, she could see rows and rows of green trees all of the same height that reminded her of kindergarten children. They were greener and shorter than regular trees on the road. They must be the apple trees.
Then Aunt Jayne slowed down and pulled into a long drive way that led them to the house that she shared with her husband Jerry. It was a typical homestead. A charming single story house with a wrap around verandah. To the side of the house further down stood a large shed where the apples were cleaned and sorted during harvest.
“Make yourself at home. I have prepared your room. There’re towels and linens in the cupboard.”
Aunt Jayne walked Amy to her room. It was a small but clean bedroom. A single bed, a desk, a lamp, a window, a book shelf and a cupboard.
“Thanks Auntie Jayne, this is a really lovely room.”
“You’re most welcome. Now freshen up and tea should be ready in an hour or so. I’ll be in the kitchen. Just call out if you need anything.”
Amy unpacked her suitcase and put her clothes into the cupboard provided. She laid out her looks on the desk and went about the task of organising her things in the room. After awhile, she was struck by the silence in the room. She could hear her ears ring if she didn’t listen out for the rustling of trees and birds outside the window. There were no yelling, crying or screaming. There were no sounds of objects breaking or constant banging. The sounds and noise that she was used to at home were absent. Amy broke into a smile did a little celebratory dance.
Wow, it’s no nice to have some peace and quiet to myself. I’m so sick of Robert yelling ‘I want this, I need that’ at home. He hogs everything and everyone’s attention. Mum and Dad just let him get away with anything. Why? Because he’s a boy. When he grows up, he can become a car mechanic like Dad and take over the business for Dad.
Once Amy had put everything away, she went into the dining room. Uncle Jerry was pouring himself a beer at the table. He wore a checkered shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His tanned skin was leathery. Deep lines cut across his forehead and cheeks giving him a strong face. He smiled at Amy when she stepped into the dining room.
“Oh hello darling, it’s good to see you. How are you doing, and are your Mum and Dad well?”
“Hi uncle Jerry, I’m well and so are Mum and Dad. Dad is working rather long hours at the moment and Mum has to help him out with the paperwork.”
Amy gave her uncle a kiss on the cheek.
“That’s a good problem to have. A busy man is a good man. A man needs to be useful,” Uncle Jerry sat back down at the table.
“And how’s the little man Robert? Has he started school yet?”
“Yes he has. He’s in year one now. He’s very boisterous. He goes non-stop all day,”
“That’s good. Boys should be strong and energetic. Not lazy nor sissy. I bet ya old man would love for him to follow his footsteps into the car service business. Won’t he? But if doesn’t like fixing cars, he can come here and help me out. I can teach him everything about farming. We can always use a hand here,” uncle Jerry chuckled.
“I can help you, uncle Jerry. Let me help you with the coming harvest,” Amy offered enthusiastically.
“Nah, you stay home with your aunt. You can help her out around the home. The orchard’s no place for a girl,” Uncle Jerry shook his head and took a big gulp of beer from his glass.
Amy was silenced and hurt by her uncle’s quick rejection.
Robert is six and he’s got an invitation to work in the orchard. I am eleven, almost twice as old. I’m also way taller and bigger than Robert. I’m even physically here. Yet, I’m not wanted!
Amy wanted to protest.
“Tea’s ready. We’re having roast chicken tonight. Can you just smell that? Hmm hmmm!” Aunt Jayne broke the tension when she brought a big steaming tray into the dining room
“Now Jerry, will you do the honours?” Aunt Jayne laid the tray down in front of uncle Jerry.
“Sure, sweetheart,” Jerry stood up and started to cut up the chicken.
“It smells delicious, auntie Jayne,” said Amy.
“It is fresh as. There’s plenty of salads as well. Please help yourself,” Aunt Jayne gestured for Amy to start.
Amy watched his uncle Jerry work the carving knife and fork into the bird. His hands were tanned, thick and crusty. His finger nails were rimmed with dirt so ingrained that they could not be removed by washing them. Deep cracks lined the side of his hands and fingers. She wondered if they hurt. Amy was not a stranger to dirty hands as her father’s hands were often coated in grease and grime in the workshop. However, the roughness of these hands spoke of toil and hardship that was beyond her aspiration. Her sense of injustice felt so strongly a minute ago quickly dissipated.
It must be really tough out there. I don’t want hands like that. Maybe it’s not so bad doing a different job. But I still want to see what it’s like.
“Uncle Jerry, can I at least have a look at the orchard? I’ve never seen one before,” Amy pleaded with her uncle.
“Yeah sure, ask your aunt to bring you out when she’s free. But don’t hang around too long. I don’t want you getting in the way of the workers, okay?”
“Yes Uncle Jerry. I won’t be in the way,” Amy promised.
Why does he think so little of me though? Do I really look so stupid that I can’t do anything without causing troubles?
Amy ate her meal in silence while listening to her aunt and uncle talk about he timing of the harvest and what’s going on with the neighbouring farms. When Amy was alone with her aunt later during the washing up, she decided to ask her aunt about why girls weren’t welcome on the orchard.
“Amy, we have specific roles in society. As a general rule, the men do the jobs outside and the women do the jobs inside. So over here, your uncle Jerry and his men grow and pick the apples. Then in the shed, me and the women do the cleaning and sorting. Simples!”
“What if a girl wants to do the job that is outside?”
“Then the girl is being a trouble maker.”
“Why? I don’t understand.”
“Well, you don’t want to be different, do you? It’s better to fit in. We all have our roles to play and if we all play our given roles, there’s no troubles.”
“Do you like your role?”
“I don’t mind it. I guess I’m used to it as well. The truth is that there are no other choices. What else can I do? Women can teach or go into nursing. I don’t like either. So, helping your uncle Jerry is the next best thing. Your uncle Jerry’s a good man. You know, he has stood by me even when I couldn’t produce any children for him,” aunt Jayne sighed.
“How come you couldn’t have children?”
“You’re too young to understand. Time for bed. No more talking.”
Amy stopped and thought for a bit.
“Auntie Jayne, I’m glad you don’t have children. They are really very noisy and unpleasant. Come and visit us if you don’t believe me.”