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THE SWAN PRINCIPLE

This story centres around the life of Rena Nottke, who was born in Queensland, Australia, in 1919 to a strict German evangelistic family.

Growing up as a tomboy with her brothers, Rena suddenly experiences the reality of life when she is caught up in the first bombing raids of Darwin.

From the war in the Pacific to the harsh life of wartime Australia, Rena falls in love with a married man. The painful stigma of an unmarried mother in the 1940s sees her life turned upside down. Rena, in her later years, looks back on her life reflecting and knowing she had loved her husband to the end.

In Store Price: $AU25.95 
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ISBN: 978-1-921574-49-8
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:229
Genre: Fiction


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Cover: Joanne Farry

 

Author: D.R. Farry
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English

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About the Author

Daryl R. Farry was an infantry medic during the Vietnam War and on return to Australia recommenced his job as an Ambulance Officer with the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade. He worked at stations in Mt. Isa, Clermont, Peak Downs, Moranbah, Goonyella, and held positions as Control Officer and Senior Station Officer in Rockhampton. Later he transferred as Communication Centre Supervisor/Station Officer 2 to Bundaberg Communications Centre under the newly named Queensland Ambulance Service.

During his time working in Bundaberg, Daryl and his wife were also mango growers and established a farm near the town of Gin Gin.

Daryl is now retired and lives with his wife in Redland Bay, Queensland. The Swan Principle is his second published book. His previous book, Starlight Minor, is a work of non-fiction based on war stories and was published by Zeus in August 2009.

Chapter 1

Rena Nottke was born on 31st August 1919 in the small hamlet of Mabel Creek approximately thirty miles north of the town of Rockwell in the Australian state of Queensland. Her mother was milking the cows when her waters broke and by the time she had risen from her milking stool she realised that she would not make it back to the house for the birth of her third child. She lay on some dry straw and for the next hour panted and pushed into the world her first daughter – two sons preceding this special birth. She called to her husband but was not able to be heard, so she leaned over to where she had a knife stored and used it to cut and tie the lifeline to her daughter. When the afterbirth was expelled she lay back for sometime to regain her strength, and then rose to her feet after wrapping her newborn daughter in her petticoat.

The cow mooed and looked at her approvingly as she picked up her new daughter and the pail with what milk she had already collected, and then started to trudge slowly back up to the house. She was strong; of German farming stock. Her parents had emigrated from Prussia after a political backlash during the Franco Prussian War. Originally, they were wealthy folk and they had left behind their large estates in Germany to farm the barren Australian land, firstly at Bethany near Benlee in Queensland, and then at Mabel Creek.

Arriving at the house, Eleanor Nottke washed her new daughter and let her suckle from her swollen breast before putting her in the bassinet to sleep. Undressing, she sat in a large tub of warm water, and it was then that her husband returned to the house from the far paddock. He was delighted to have a new baby daughter, but admonished himself for not being on hand and for not having the neighbour – a midwife – attend the birth. The baby was not due for another ten days, so the birth had caught the Nottkes by surprise. With his wife settled in bed, Eleanor’s husband then drove the horse and sulky to inform the midwife, who duly arrived to inspect the new mother and baby, pronouncing them both fit and healthy.

Originally, this German family were Lutherans, but as time went by they became more and more disillusioned with the teachings of their church. They decided that Lutheranism was not for them after a missionary called to their home preaching the values of a new religious group who simply called themselves ‘The Evangelists’. The Nottkes were intrigued, so they invited the preacher to stay for the weekend, and it was during this time that their lives changed forever, casting out Lutheranism, and at the same time bringing scorn upon themselves from their devout Lutheran, German neighbours.

This new religion forbade their womenfolk cutting their hair and compelled them to wear dowdy-coloured fabric made into elbow and shin-length dresses. It also forbade their womenfolk to shave their armpits or legs, living as close as they could to how God made them. Worldly items were taboo and things like the daily newspaper and radios were banned. The faithful didn’t worship in churches but in normal homes, from where the elders sent out missionaries to teach the good word and to conscript new blood to the fold.

As Rena grew up she hated wearing black stockings to school and having the boys pull her long plaits, wishing that she could be more like her brothers. Male members had no such restriction imposed upon them regarding hair and dress, but other social taboos this new religion stipulated were banned to them as well. Rena’s mother and father kept to the strict regimen of their new religious beliefs, attending weekly gatherings for worship and twice yearly travelling to convention to cleanse the mind and soul. Always having the elders and missionary folk calling and staying over kept the family strong in their quest for fulfilment and spiritual guidance.

Rena was determined to be like her brothers, a tomboy who would climb the highest of trees. But one day she slipped and fell, and was lucky only to have broken a leg. She was twelve-years-old when her dad splinted her leg and put her in the sulky to take her to the railway siding. On the train her daddy cradled her in his arms, and on arrival in Rockwell had an ambulance take his daughter to Dr. Tobin, who put a plaster cast on her leg and admitted her to his private hospital. Daddy had to leave his precious daughter in the hospital and return to the farm whereupon Rena would cry and look out of the window awaiting his return.

“When is Daddy coming back?” she would ask every day.

The strict matron would reply, “Hush child! Your dad will call again when he is able. Now eat your dinner!”

Rena felt sad as she watched the raindrops splatter on the window, hoping her leg would soon heal so that she could return home with her loving father once more.

The Nottke brood enlarged with three more girls and life was good and prosperous on the farm. As the children grew, they objected to the compliance of the strict code in relation to religion and dress. A religion that still dictated weekly worship, the comings and goings of missionaries, conventions, and only mixing with their own.

Rena wanted to be like, and play with, the boys, and hated the way she had to dress and wear plaited tails wrapped around her head. She longed to have short hair and wear pretty dresses. One day, in frustration she cried out loud as she twirled around and around, “I will have short hair like the boys one day, and I will wear pretty dresses, and I will dance and dance!”

At fifteen, Rena became ill one day and was put to bed. When her health didn’t improve, her father, who now owned a car, drove her to Rockwell to see Dr. Tobin. This time Rena was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was prescribed drugs and was admitted to hospital for the second time in her life. She spent three weeks confined to bed, though she didn’t know much about the first week as she was being intensively nursed around the clock to break her fever. On the second week she became aware of her surroundings once again, and by the third week she slowly regained her strength. Like her last time in hospital, she hoped that the time would go quickly so she could return to her family. On one of Dr. Tobin’s hospital rounds she asked him when she could go home. His reply was, “Well, my girl, you have been very sick and it was fortunate that your father brought you to the hospital when he did, otherwise we may have had quite a different result!” The doctor went on, “I’ve telephoned your father and he will be here to take you home this afternoon. He must bring you back to see me in a week. In the meantime, keep warm and continue taking these tablets!”

“Yes, Doctor, anything you say.”

Rena was determined to regain her strength and do well, so she followed the doctor’s orders to the limit. Rena, who liked having a dirty face and keeping up with the boys, longed again to climb the highest of trees. She didn’t want to see a hospital ward again, the white sterility of it all being so alien and she could never understand why the nurses were always so cheerful going about their work when they had some rather awful patients, some crotchety old nursing sisters, and a very irksome matron to put up with.

Finally, when her daddy and her two brothers appeared, Rena shrieked with joy. Her oldest brother, Dieter, was now nineteen, and her second eldest brother, Gunter, was seventeen. Her sisters were twelve, ten and six years of age. Life was good for the Nottke family.

After being in bed resting for another week and enjoying her mother’s hot broth, Rena was back to her old self once again. She had returned to visit Dr. Tobin, who gave her a clean bill of health, which enabled her to resume her tomboy pursuits. Her greatest joy was keeping up with her brothers, jumping from a rope into the waterhole on her dad’s property and still climbing the highest of trees. And she always imagined at the bottom of the garden were fairies who flitted from plant to plant sprinkling fairy dust in their wake.

On a hot summer’s day Rena was at home by herself when her eldest brother, Dieter, arrived with a friend named Amy Goodwin. Amy was from a farm a couple of miles distant and was a champion horse rider. One day previously, Rena overheard her two brothers describing Amy’s exploits and was horrified to hear that Amy, apart from being a good horsewoman, was also fond of getting ridden herself. Then she overheard that Tom Herford had already testified to being one of several local boys who had tasted the fruits. Her eldest brother was chuckling, saying, “I wouldn’t mind trying out Amy myself.”

Rena was puzzled… ‘tasted the fruits’, ‘trying out Amy’. Whatever did they mean?

“We are going for a swim down at the waterhole, Rena. Do you want to come?” Dieter asked.

“No thanks, Dieter. I want to finish off my sewing,” Rena replied.

“See you then!” the pair yelled, running off towards the waterhole.

Rena continued pushing the pedal of her mother’s treadle sewing machine. She wanted to finish a dress to wear and had not much more to do. After another twenty minutes, she finished the garment and tried it on. She was satisfied with the result and hung it in the wardrobe. Rena saw her swimming costume hanging there, and as it was a hot day she decided to take up her brother’s offer of a dip, so quickly donned the costume and raced off towards the cool waterhole.

Her brother and Amy weren’t at the usual spot, so thinking that they may have decided to go further up the creek she set out to find them. She hadn’t gone far when she heard talking and giggling, and then a strange sound that she had never heard before. Looking through the scrub she saw her brother on top of Amy, and to her horror saw that they were quite naked. Shocked, she turned and raced quickly home.

When the rest of the family arrived home she asked her other brother, Gunter, to come to the old gum tree at the bottom of the garden.

“What’s wrong, sis?” Gunter enquired.

“Well, I saw the strangest thing. Dieter was lying of top of Amy Goodwin down at the waterhole and they were naked. They were in, what can only be described as, a state of bliss.”

“That cunning bastard. I knew it wouldn’t be long before Dieter got into her pants. He’s been talking about her often enough,” Gunter said.

“Whatever do you mean, ‘got into her pants’?” Rena replied

“Don’t you know anything, sis? It means that he finally had his way with her!” Gunter explained.

Rena was puzzled. “What are you talking about, ‘had his way with her’?”

“Sit down, sis. I can see that you need a lesson in the birds and the bees. Now, I have heard quite a lot and have had some practice on Hilda Birchoff, so here goes.”

Rena was shocked to think her brother had been with Hilda Birchoff. Hilda was seventeen going on eighteen and was one of twelve children. Rena had often heard the boys referring to her as the town bike. And she was always curious when she heard the boys say, “You’d need to tie a plank across your arse just in case you fall into Hilda Birchoff!”

Now everything was falling into place: why someone could fall into Hilda; love making; Dieter putting his thing into Amy’s thing; how one could get pregnant if it was the right time; the use of condoms to stop pregnancy; and why the kid that Coral Jones had wasn’t quite right, because the father of her child was her brother.

Poor Rena was aghast. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. But then, she thought, it all must be true as she had heard snippets as she was growing up. But Coral Jones, never!

“You look next time you see her kid. He’s not right I tell you. Everyone knows about it. Coral’s brother, Norman, told Percy Gilmour what happened, and you know how Percy always spills his guts when he gets a few in him!” Gunter said.

Rena’s head was swimming with all this newfound information, not knowing her brothers were so worldly when it came to women. And she was still wide-eyed and trying to take it all in when Dieter and Amy came running up the hill laughing hand in hand. Now she knew exactly why Dieter was pushing his thing into Amy.

“Will Amy have a little baby now? Will I be an aunt?” Rena questioned.

“Don’t be stupid, sis. Of course not. Well I hope not,” Gunter added.

The two happy and laughing people raced past and up to the house. Rena finished her lesson with Gunter who promised to tell her more about the birds and the bees anytime she wanted to know.

“Ask me anytime, sis. Forewarned is the best policy. And don’t tell anyone other than Dieter that I told you all this stuff. Not even Polly Pringle!”

Polly was full of freckles and she and Rena were the best of friends. They giggled in school and teased the boys and played hopscotch together. Polly had four brothers and her folks ran a mixed farm over the other side of the creek. The girls always told each other their secrets and talked about girlie things. They compared their sewing and dreamed of the day when they could partake in the local dance and partner Johnny Gilmour. All the local girls gushed over Johnny Gilmour. He was the only child of the local sawmiller, nineteen, a rodeo rider and ever so handsome.

By 1936 Rena had been working on the farm for four years doing all manner of work, plus all the family’s sewing. The Nottke family ran a large dairy and corn farm that generated a huge workload for the household. Whether it was milking cows and taking the milk and cream to the railway siding, cutting and bagging corn, growing lucerne, or pumping water from the creek, it all took a lot of effort and the family was always eager to roll into bed after a hard day’s work. The boys were self-taught musicians and could play the harmonica and piano. Many an evening was passed around the piano with a good old singsong. But it was early to bed and early to rise. The cows had to be milked, the chooks fed, and the cornfields chipped to keep the weeds at bay. There was never a dull moment for the Nottkes as farming life went on.

On Saturday nights the dance would be in full swing down at the local Mabel Creek country hall, and Rena was allowed to attend if her brothers were there to chaperone her. She was now seventeen and most Saturday nights she was able to participate, as her brothers were certainly not going to miss out on their weekly, sly, grog sessions at the back of the hall. She and Polly quickly learnt all the dance steps, but more importantly, they danced with most of the boys from the neighbourhood, especially the dreamy Johnny Gilmour.

Johnny now seemed to be drained somewhat and not as much fun since having to marry Hilda Birchoff. Yes, it was said that he got Hilda pregnant. Well that’s who her father came gunning for to arrange a quick marriage down at the little Catholic Church. Hilda, now eight months gone, would sit while Johnny finished dancing, and in between dances would lean heavily on him to show the girls that she belonged to him.

Dieter came up to Rena and said, “You know, Rena, when Hilda drops that kid I bet he or she will be a redhead. Everyone knows that Fred Cranston was dipping his wick the same time as Johnny Gilmour.” He went on, “Trust Hilda’s old man to go for the dollars though. He knows Cranston’s got no money, and seeing as though the sawmill will be left to Johnny down the track, that’s who he went gunning for to marry his slut of a daughter.”

Rena and Polly had seen how the marriage affected Johnny. It was as though the flame had gone out within him. Dieter, still fully wound up, said, “In a sort of way, Hilda isn’t bad looking; podgy, but pretty. Pity she is such a nymphomaniac!”

Rena retorted, “Dieter, don’t talk like that. She can’t help it, she is trying to make something of her life!”

“Yeah, on her back,” Dieter sneered.

It was January 1937, hot, dry and dusty, and bushfires were circling the valley of farms. A group of men with wet Hessian bags and knapsacks and with trucks laden with water were fighting the fires on all fronts. The ladies of the community were providing food for the famished men and pumping water from the creek to refill the truck tanks, at the same time praying for rain or a wind redirection. Where the women had gathered at the creek, a fast-moving truck roared up and skidded to a halt. All eyes were on the occupants who quickly alighted, carrying a man to the creek bank to splash him with water. Rena ran over to discover that it was her cousin, Wolfgang Schmidt. He had been badly burnt. Dieter was yelling to the women to keep splashing him with water and for someone to get a sheet and some bandages.

Rena yelled, “What happened, Dieter?”

“A burning tree fell on him while we were fighting the fire front. As well as his burns, he seems to have some broken bones. I know his right leg is broken and his right arm is crooked,” Dieter answered.

Rena kept talking to Wolfgang as he lapsed in and out of consciousness, reassuring him and splashing him with water. She noticed his burns were oozing and that he was black all over. Things weren’t looking good for his survival. When he was loaded into an ambulance Rena accompanied him, holding his hand and reassuring him, but she knew that Wolfgang was dead before they arrived at the hospital gates.

Rena cried for poor Wolfgang and comforted his mother who arrived at the hospital an hour later. Wolfgang was twenty-three and working at the sawmill. He was engaged to Bernadette O’Shea, but she was in Brisbane nursing an elderly aunt through an illness and was not due home until the following week. By then Wolfgang would be in the local cemetery and she would have to cry and pay her respects in solitude, thinking of how things might have been. How sad for her.

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