A Touch of Frost

About Me

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Author of "Pavlovas to Popcorn". I was born in Melbourne Victoria Australia and fell in love with an US soldier during WWII. I became a Australian War Bride in 1945 and sailed to America in 1946. The story of my adventures during this time is in my first book "Pavlovas to Popcorn". It can be purchased through my website www.ruthfrost.com.au My second book "The Boomerang Returns" will be progressively placed on this blog absolutely free.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chapter 1 Flying with the Movie Stars

Chapter 1

Flying with the Movie Stars

The Qantas jet plane was waiting on the tarmac at the International Airport in San Francisco for my flight to Australia, the land of my birth. Unaware of the clock ticking away, and agog at the mass of humanity surging through the huge terminal, my fascination became focused on a group of ‘hippies’.

My goodness, they were dirty and scruffy! Their colourful, tattered robes and dirty feet poking out of sandals belied their American accents. I assumed they were what were currently termed the ‘Flower People’. The scene resembled dress-up time with the neighbourhood children in my backyard in Iowa. Curiosity persuaded me to converse with them, to find out more.

They told me they had just arrived back from India and were looking for somewhere to stay. They were hoping I was from San Francisco and might accommodate them - could they crash at my pad for a couple of days till they moved on to an Ashram out west? They were speaking the new language of the fifties and sixties, which seemed to fit their dress code. I had no idea what they were talking about!

“Oh dear! That’s me! They’re calling me over the loudspeaker. Shh! Listen!”

The announcement threatened that it was the last and final call for my flight:

“Would Isobelle Frost please go to gate four, immediately. Your flight to Australia is leaving in five minutes.” The announcement was made twice before I realized that I was the Isobelle so eagerly sought. I am usually known by my second name, Ruth, Isobelle being my official birth name in case I’m lost at sea or wherever!

I stumbled up the gangway at the front of the plane into first class, to be reprimanded by an unsmiling stewardess who led me through the plane to where I belonged – in the third last row of second class. At least I got to see how comfortably the other half flies. Trust me to make a grand entrance!

Because mine was a middle seat, several passengers had to get up and move out into the aisle. I became acquainted with at least twenty people as the plane taxied down the runway. Seated behind me were eighteen Canadian Mounted Police (without their horses, of course) on their way to Hawaii to give a display of their skills in horsemanship. Everyone around me kidded me in a friendly manner about holding up the plane. I could see this was going to be a fun trip!

On reaching Hawaii, the passengers in second class in transit to Australia were escorted to a separate lounge for refreshments while the plane was being refuelled. The conversation revolved around the movie stars who were flying with us to Australia. We pushed our tables together so as not to miss the latest star report.

“It’s Maurice Chevalier. Just remember you didn’t hear this from me!” the stewardess whispered.

The level of excitement rose when the passengers learned that Maurice Chevalier and some of his co-stars from the film Gigi would be travelling in first class. (Such a fuss about movie stars! They’re just doing the job they love. I really don’t understand why people put them on a pedestal.)

As only about twenty second-class passengers boarded the plane again, the steward had made up a bed for me over three seats. I thanked him for being so thoughtful, but instead of sleeping, I joined a group of six others in the back of the plane. I didn’t want to miss one minute of this trip. The steward obligingly turned some of the seats around so we could face each other, and after introductions I asked them their reasons for travelling to Australia.

Two of the fellows, Tony and Carl from New Mexico, were with the Ford Motor Company and were on a mission to build a racing car in a secret location. They figured Australia was ‘way down under’ on the planet, where no one would think of looking. Their secret would be safe.

Pete and Joe from New York, two ex-servicemen who fought together in the European theatre during World War II, were hoping to migrate to Australia with their families. They had done their homework, reading up on the opportunities that were available to them, and were looking at the possibility of becoming restaurateurs in Sydney. At least they thought the pace may not be quite as demanding as New York. I could have used these two fellows on my lecture tour when I was hoping to get people in the Midwest interested in investing or migrating to Australia. Maybe I should have talked to the people of New York?

The fifth male in the group, Rodney was a tall Texan, already dubbed ‘Tex’. Cowboy boots, a five-gallon hat, and a western-style navy suit trimmed with white arrows looked elegant on his tall frame (and very expensive!). He spoke with a drawl that made me yawn waiting for him to finish a sentence. Tex was going to visit a friend who’d bought a property in northern Queensland. His friend was a Texas rancher, raising Brahman cattle in the ‘wild outback’ of Australia. His friend enjoyed the challenge of the untamed country.

Chantel, a very attractive French Canadian young woman from Montreal, acted coy, refusing to tell us her reasons for going to Australia. When we all feigned disinterest in her refusal, she decided she wanted to capture everyone’s attention: “All right! I weel tell you!” she trilled in her delightful French accent. “I’m looking for my boyfriend. He went to Australia nearly two years ago and wants to leeve there. Chantel said. He thinks it’s wonderful. I am going to surprise heem.” I picked up on the fact that she may not have his present address when she said ‘looking’. It’s possible that he doesn’t want to be found.

“I do have the address of a very good friend in Manly who will help me find him,” she added, before we could broach the next question.

Then it was my turn to tell my story - of how I tripped Bill, an American soldier, on the ice rink in Melbourne in 1942, married in 1945, sailed to the US in 1946 on an army transport with 300 other war brides and 106 children.

Chantel interrupted, “You are going back hoom to visit your fameely? How wonderful!”

“Yes, it’s my first trip back in fourteen years. I hope to arrange a charter plane for Australian war brides while I’m in Melbourne, so they can have a trip home, too.” I didn’t bother to explain that my family ties were loosely woven. The most important family member I wanted to see was my youngest brother, Peter.

Turning to Tex, I asked him what Texas was going to do now that Alaska had been admitted to the Union and was declared the largest State. Texas had always been known as the largest State. “Well! (A long pause) Texas will still be the largest State. What do you suppose will happen when all that ice and snow melts in Alaska? All they’ll have left will be a handful of dirt. We won’t ever be worryin’ in Texas. We’ll always be the largest State.” From then on, Tex was the brunt of most of the jokes. I never knew that there could be so many Texas jokes in the world. Some were blush-worthy.

The men suggested Chantel and I were the obvious ones to meet Maurice Chevalier, and they were egging us on and laying bets. Chantel bragged that she could converse with him in French. So what! I could converse with him in Australian! A Frenchman needed all the help he could get in Australia.

Chantel may have had the looks, but I had the edge, having already been given permission to go forward to the cockpit to have the pilot, Captain Gray, re-thread the movie film in my camera. I disappeared and headed for the cockpit while Chantel was still promoting her numerous abilities.

“Ha! Mrs. Frost! You will have to watch me very carefully when I turn your film over,” Captain Gray instructed. “Mr. Chevalier wants to come up to the cockpit as we approach the coastline of Australia, so we’re going to have to hurry. We’re getting close now.”

“Captain Gray, I have a confession to make. I already know how to turn the film over and reload it. This has been all a ploy so I could come up here and meet you and all the crew.” The crew in the cockpit laughed and congratulated me on my ingenuity. Captain Gray allowed me to pass the message to Maurice that he could come up front in ten minutes.

As I left the cockpit, the gentleman sitting next to Maurice got up and crossed the aisle, joining the other actors and crew. Maurice was humming a tune as I sat down in the seat that had been vacated. “Are you practising, or are you just happy to see me?” He turned, smiled at me as I spoke and took hold of my hand and patted it. Such concentrated attention was more than I expected! As blasé as I am about movie stars doing their job and my not being impressed with all the hype of Hollywood, I was enjoying all this attention!

I passed on the message from the Captain for him to go forward in ‘twenty minutes’ – granting myself an extra ten minutes, of course! We talked about his busy schedule in Australia. He and his entourage would be appearing in Sydney and Melbourne, and he wasn’t looking forward to any more plane trips after such a long flight from the States to Australia.

“That is enough about me, let’s talk about you!” He was looking right into my eyes as he spoke, still holding my hand. What a charmer! “Are you travelling with your hus-band, or with your family?”

“No! I’m travelling alone. Did you have something in mind?” I couldn’t resist that cheeky remark. “Someone had to stay home and take care of our four children.”

He laughed so hard that everyone around us was amused at his reaction. Frankly, I was being cute but I didn’t think it was all that funny. “I was born in Melbourne. I’m going back for the first time in 14 years.”

“Ooh! That must make you ver-ee hap-pee! Tell me, how did you meet your American hus-band?”

“I tripped him on the ice rink in Melbourne and have been keeping him on ice ever since.” There was another outburst of raucous laughter from Maurice. He was a good ‘straight man’ for me and, I imagined, a very bored man on that flight. It only took one laugh to set me going. I adored capturing the spotlight. I know, I am such a ham!

He beckoned to his manager and introduced me. “Give him your name,” he instructed. “There will be tickets waiting for you at the theatre when we appear in Melbourne. By the way, what do they call you?”

“They call me Frosty! Do you mind if I call you Maurice?”

“That, is my name!” he said with a wink.

I stood up when I saw Captain Gray approaching; I wasn’t too anxious to leave. Maurice was still holding my hand; he raised it to his lips and kissed it. I didn’t want to give my hand up right away. I’d played the part that he wanted me to play for his audience in first class, I understand only too well about the ‘star ego’. I’m sure that meeting me was the best part of his long trip. Who else would approach him as I did?

“You are a fascinating woo-man. You luv life and I am sure you make many people hap-pee.” Maurice kissed me on the cheek.

“I couldn’t wish for a nicer compliment - thank you, Maurice. I know a couple of fellas in second class are going to be very, very hap-pee I met you. I just won a $500 bet for them.”

Once again,

Maurice’s uproarious laugh put a smile on several faces. I walked backwards up the aisle as I waved my ‘kissed hand’ to everyone in first class.

On this occasion I was certainly the star, not Maurice! I returned to second class with my right hand extended - the one I vowed not to wash for a week, relating my story as the bets were finalized. Meanwhile, Chantel pouted two rows away.

After landing in Sydney, Tony and Carl invited all of us to join them at their hotel, The Australia for lunch to keep me company until my flight was due to take off for Melbourne six hours later. They said it was the least they could do for me. In the hotel lobby I wrote postcards to the family telling them I had met Maurice Chevalier. I was sure that Bill would get a lot of mileage with that postcard back in Iowa.

Chapter 2 A Small Family Reunion

Chapter 2

A Small Family Reunion

The noise of the prop-plane from Sydney to Melbourne was hard on my ears after flying across the Pacific in a quiet jet. My brother Peter, and my father, met me at the Melbourne airport. I could not believe that Peter, the tall, handsome, suntanned young man before me, was the same little pale-faced boy of eleven that I’d left behind on Flinders Street Station fourteen years ago.

My stepmother had passed away six years before my arrival. I did miss seeing her - it would have been interesting to see how we related to each other after 14 years. I know I would not have been an easy child to rear, but I had mellowed. Would she have mellowed, too?

Peter was now a yachtsman of some distinction in the small craft category, having reached the trials in the ’56 Olympics. I was extremely proud of him. Peter, the tiny baby, born prematurely and weighing only two pounds thirteen ounces lived his first two months in an incubator at the Women’s Hospital in Carlton, until he weighed five pounds and then allowed to go home. I remember how he looked: like a tiny skinned rabbit.

When I left for the States, six months after the war in the Pacific had ended, most of the Aussie troops had returned home and they, too, had to endure food and petrol rationing. All the young soldiers who joined up after they left school returned with few trade skills and found it hard to get a job. Materials were scarce for new projects and there were more labourers than skilled people for the building industry.

One of the greatest projects that Australia attempted was the Snowy Mountain Scheme. It recruited thousands to build a dam. (A dam that took 40 years to complete.)

Many of the European migrants proved their worth as workers on the dam. Although it took many men away from their families again, at least the reason wasn’t separation because of war. They still had the opportunity to plant the seeds of reproduction on weekend leave and raise healthy families.

Many stories came out of that project, some very humorous. I was told that the only English acquired by some migrants consisted of the phrase: ‘She’ll be right, mate!’ and the swear word, ‘bloody’. Australia, the only country in the world where ‘bloody’ was considered a swear word!

Women, who had taken over so many of the male positions to allow the men to go to war, were then being retrenched once the men returned. Having had a taste of equality, many women were refusing to return to their pre-war, stay-at-home-Mum status, and were seeking employment in the work force.

On the drive through the city I couldn’t believe the changed face of Melbourne – that first glimpse of the skyline and the vast increase in traffic. It was a thriving metropolis in 1960 - I was awestruck!

I had supposed that since I had become a housewife, mother and a practical nurse, living in a small farming community in a Mid-western town in Iowa, most of my relatives and friends in Melbourne would find remarkable changes in me. But no, they didn’t think I had changed at all. My dad thought I looked healthy. He was now retired from the PMG as a linesman with the telephone division. He seemed old to me when I was very young, and he was still old. I imagine the 1914-18 War aged him beyond his years. I’m sure it contributed to his alcoholism.

We arrived home at Auntie Lila’s house at number 34 Broomfield Road, Auburn where I would be staying - next door to where I grew up in Auntie Maud and Uncle Jim’s house at number 32. Peter lived at Auntie Lila’s house now - a very convenient arrangement.

Although the letters I received over the years, informing me of family members and neighbours who had died since I left Australia had been a little disconcerting. I still expected those people to suddenly appear as I asked after them. The impact of their deaths hadn’t fully registered in letters till I was in the environment where they had once lived.

When I first received word in 1954 that my stepmother, Bertha had died, I prayed that she had finally found peace. She was not a happy person and never had the ability to change her lot. I missed seeing her on my return. Dad became maudlin when we talked about Bertha’s death, and insisted that I never forget his words: that she was a bloody good mother to me.

At the age of 18, when I found out that she was my stepmother, that discovery answered a lot of questions for me. It didn’t, however, change my feelings towards Bertha; she was still the only mother I had ever known. I have to admit she would have had her hands full with me; I wouldn’t have been an easy child to bring up. Forgiveness needed to come from both sides.

Auntie Maud, a closet alcoholic, and her husband Jim, a weekend drunk, had also died. Their son, Jack, was divorced and now living in his parents’ house with his long-time partner - both alcoholics. The two-roomed bungalow where Bertha’s alcoholic nephew Roy had lived when I was still at home now housed my dad. I then learned that my brother, Syd, was following his father’s drinking pattern as well! Number 32 had a reputation for fostering lost weekends for many of my stepmother’s relatives. Bertha, Peter, Uncle Harold and I were the only four that escaped the temptations of alcohol in that household.

Maud and Jim had taken our family in during the Great Depression and we shared their house and a tent in the yard. My father, unemployed for four years, had ample opportunities to move out and get a Returned Soldier’s house, but he drank and gambled away any chance of a house, and lost any incentive to change the situation for his family. He, of course, blamed Bertha for not wanting to leave the close support of her sisters. I certainly couldn’t blame her for that!

As a young teenager I had investigated the possibility of acquiring, under the Soldier Settlement Scheme, a delightful house by the Yarra River in Hawthorn. I had the privilege of being shown the house by an official of this scheme. He repeatedly told me that he thought I was a lot older than my 15 years and that it was not the policy of the department to deal with such a young member of the family. He was nice enough to show me the house, anyway.

I had such dreams for that house: Dad would stop drinking, Mum would be happier, and we three kids could bring our friends home. Life would be peaceful, the way it should be - like other families. Those dreams were shattered when my parents turned down the chance to stand on their own two feet and live on our own, away from all the alcoholic influences.

My parents refused to even look at the house!

Sitting at Auntie Lila’s kitchen table was like old times, talking about her favourite movie star, Maurice Chevalier. She wanted me to go out and call on the neighbours right away - to tell everyone in the street that I was a personal friend of Maurice’s and we flew together to Australia. Auntie Lila had weeks (if not years) of pleasure spreading the word. By the time I left I would not be able to recognize my original story - it had expanded like the elastic on a shanghai.

I missed Lila’s husband, Albie, my favourite Uncle. He had died three years before my homecoming. He wrote the most wonderful letters to me in the States while sitting on the lawn bench under the lemon tree where he and I often sat together during World War II. He let me tell him everything that was happening in my life, and he was the only one prepared to listen without prejudice or recrimination, always offering encouragement.

When he wrote to me, I would be right there in the garden with him. In my mind’s eye I could see the vegetables and flowers that they grew. There were vivid images, too, of the fish and water lilies in the fishpond plus the woodwork projects he had going in his workshop in the back shed.

What a great talent he had for writing! I missed him very much, yet I knew him only as Lila’s husband and ‘my favourite Uncle Albie’. It wasn’t until my visit home that I realized how much I regretted not asking him for his life’s story, instead of having him always listening to me. That, I suppose, is the penalty for being so young, insensitive, and self-involved.

Albie was the only one to whom I would read all of Bill’s letters. We were good mates, who used to enjoy meeting frequently on the garden bench and engage in serious, in-depth discussions about the war and the devastation it had caused (having witnessed the results at the veterans’ hospitals where I wrote letters for the troops). When it got too depressing and we both had tears in our eyes, we would agree to switch topics.

He was my sounding board. We’d laugh about the material I was writing for my comedy skits for the concert party; I could always try out a new joke on Uncle Albie and get an honest reaction. He had a great sense of humour and would have made a wonderful dad! In retrospect, I believed I was the child he and Lila may have wished for.

I took my cup of coffee out to the bench by the lemon tree, closed my eyes and felt Uncle Albie’s presence. Tears fell as I had a long talk with his spirit. That’s where my cousin Len Young found me, still in my dressing gown when he arrived on the second day of my visit. I told him I had been reminiscing with my Uncle. Len looked around, saw no one, shook his head in disbelief, and then asked if I was ready for the grand tour of Melbourne.

As I settled in his bright orange Volkswagen I handed him my written itinerary for the week. He insisted we do it his way on the first day, and then he would become my chauffeur and take me wherever I wished to go. By 4 o’clock I was exhausted and Len had to take me home. Jetlag was catching up with me. I’d had very little sleep during the past six days between Iowa and Melbourne and it was beginning to take its toll. I went to bed and slept for fourteen hours straight.

“Oh, Ruthie! I thought you were dead! You had me so worried!” Auntie Lila gasped. I bet she gave me the mirror test to see if I was breathing! She’s a real drama queen, but I would never question her actions. She was my benefactor when I was young - paid for my tap and ballet dancing lessons and all the materials for my costumes. Although my mother could sew, Auntie Lila paid for a dressmaker to make all the costumes for the annual concerts. She held the reins as long as I behaved myself and made her proud at the dance school.

My stepmother only got to inflict punishment on me. She always played the part of the pitiful younger sister to Lila, Lily and Maud. “Poor Bertha, married to that hopeless drunk, Vic!” I heard the sisters say many times. She depended on her them to be supportive all the time. They were.

Auntie Lila brought out an old, faded, orange velvet costume that she had kept wrapped up in tissue paper since I was a young girl doing adagio dancing. She sat on the side of the bed, telling me how proud she was when she saw me performing and whenever I had my picture in the paper. She’d hoped I would some day be a well-known star in the entertainment field.

It’s tragic how people have to live their lives through others’ successes. I gathered that it must have been a big disappointment when I followed my own heart, going off to the United States, twelve thousand miles away and settling down with the man I loved to raise a family.

As Auntie Lila left the bedroom, I leaned back on my pillow and thought about the time when I wore that two-piece, skimpy, orange velvet costume. I remembered when one of the adult males at the dancing school was looking for a female partner to do adagio dancing. My teacher teamed Tom Hickey and me to try out our talents. Apparently we worked well together, and after weeks of intensive rehearsals we were hired to entertain at balls and special city functions. In the thirties that was big time!

My stepmother was against these travelling performances at night, but Auntie Lila said it would be good for me, good experience. ‘No one gets recognition from performing in the daytime’. Arrangements were made for Tom to pick me up in his car and take me to our venue. My mother insisted on going along with us, and I really appreciated her being there. Little did I know, at that tender age, about parents’ concern for their daughters’ wellbeing. I told her I was glad she was there; I needed help with my tight fitting costume and the hooks and eyes, and I felt more secure having her close by. I was only 13 years-old at the time.

I shall never forget one particular performance. The occasion was a very big affair at a Masonic Lodge Ball. The men wore dress suits, some with tails, and the women were all elegantly dressed in the finest shimmering, glittering ball gowns; quite a posh affair. The band gave a rousing drum roll after we were announced, and my partner, Tom Hickey - dressed as a pirate, bare-topped, red handkerchief tied around his head and a rubber dagger tucked in his waistband - approached memenacingly.

As the poor slave girl, I was wrapped in gossamer, wound around my body at least ten times and concealing my bright orange velvet, two-piece, skimpy costume. Acting as if terrified of the cutthroat pirate advancing towards me with the dagger between his teeth, I stumbled and fell. The women in the audience gasped, assuring Tom and me that our acting was beyond reproach.

During our practice at the dancing school, with only three feet of cheese cloth wrapped around me, it worked brilliantly; a couple of spins and it was done. When Tom started to pull the ten yards of gossamer and twirl me around the ballroom (it must have been quite spectacular judging by the audience’s reaction), I got so dizzy that I couldn’t find Tom. His checkered red headpiece kept flashing past me at such speed that I knew he would never catch me for that first over-the-head acrobatic lift. I collapsed on the still-spinning floor, dizzy and unable to comprehend.

It turned into a comedy act. Tom thought he could save the act by stabbing me with the rubber dagger then pulling me off the highly polished dance floor by one leg. The rubber dagger, however, had a squeaker in the handle, and when he stabbed me everyone thought it was part of the comedy routine and laughed and applauded accordingly.

Tom was possessed! He became a very angry pirate and was not amused. I had a few bruises from his tight grip by the time we were off-stage. Everyone clapped long and hard, demanding an encore. They really believed it was all part of the act. After I regained my equilibrium, Tom and I did our usual adagio routine. We achieved three more bookings that night for other appearances; they wanted the same act - comedy and the serious encore.

Tom was uncomfortable at being dubbed a comedian, as he considered himself to be a very serious performer. I loved it! That was my first taste of comedy - at the tender age of 13!

We were adagio partners for more than two years, until I jumped out of a tree and injured the lower part of my spine. I loved climbing trees; a good tree was hard for me to pass up. There was something ethereal about climbing and sitting high up on the branch of a tree, imagining travelling to exotic places, or joining a circus and becoming an aerialist. That was something closer to what I knew and felt.

When I jumped from the tree, I landed on a sapling that penetrated the central lower region of my body. My cousin, who had given me the ‘all clear’, laughed at my misery as I rolled on the ground in agony, sobbing. I forgave her for that, because she was rather slow-witted - short a few kangaroos in the back paddock.

Being warned by my parents against climbing trees, I kept silent to avoid a belting and no one noticed that I had trouble standing, walking and sitting. From then on, I could no longer perform acrobatics without excruciating pain.

A second back injury at the age of 17 was with a group of Melbourne Olympic Club swimmers giving a diving exhibition off the Frankston pier for the war effort. The crowds had to move back to open a path for the divers to run through to the edge of the pier, thereby gaining momentum for their dives. Unlike swimming pools, seaside piers did not have diving boards.

As I started my run across the pier through the opening in the crowd, a woman decided to cross over that space to be with her friends close to the edge of the water. It meant a snap decision for me; either I took her with me into the water, or I threw myself sideways and landed in the water on my back. I did the latter! They dragged me from the water in a semiconscious state, and I had no recourse other than to lie still and keep talking to a Lifesaver so that I wouldn’t drift off into unconsciousness.

After an hour they helped me to my feet, and my friends supported me as I tried to walk the length of the pier to their car. My legs buckled under me while I lost consciousness, and my friends had to carry me the last 200 yards. They deposited me at our front door, announcing that I had had a bad diving accident and should see a doctor. My stepmother led me to the bedroom, and that was the last I remembered till the next morning - I was no better, and there was no doctor!

I took a tram for a five-mile journey to see a doctor at Prince Henry’s hospital. After a three-hour wait in the outpatients’ department, and the ensuing seven x-rays, the doctor told me I had injured five vertebras. ‘Go home to bed with a hot water bottle,’ was his prescription. I had weeks of very little activity except going to work and coming home to bed with my trusty hot water bottle. I have carried that injury throughout my life. Not that it stopped me from doing some very adventurous things, but most times I heeded the physical warnings and knew when to pull back.

I often wonder what I might have been capable of doing physically if I had never sustained those injuries. I really don’t think I’ve missed too much.

Chapter 3 Meeting the Politicians

Chapter 3

Meeting the Politicians

Auntie Lila set a tray of poached eggs, a small jug of tomato sauce, tea and hot buttered toast in front of me while I was still in bed it brought back to number 34, where I momentarily dreamed I was performing as a teenager.

“Your cousin Len is already here waiting for you. He’s in the kitchen.” (Anyone connected to my biological side of the family was strange to the women on my stepmother’s side of the family, the Littles.) “Is he a jockey or something? He’s a strange little fellow! You know, Ruthie, there are a lot of our neighbours anxious to see you; they keep asking after you. What can I tell them? Where are you off to today?” She sat on the side of the bed till I finished my breakfast.

“I’m here for several weeks, Auntie Lila. Tell them, in about a week I’ll be able to talk to them - after I get this chartered plane business organised.” Talking of charter planes was way above Auntie Lila’s head. She threw up her hands, then wiped them on her apron and took the breakfast tray back to the kitchen.

Len and I spent the day sightseeing, revisiting some old haunts that still existed but looked the worse for wear, or had been replaced with apartment buildings or an office block. Melbourne had changed so much!

I had been invited to speak that evening to The Australian, Canadian and American Club (ACA) at 8.oo pm. The club’s membership consisted mostly of parents of children who were now living in North America. There were enough members, numbering in the hundreds, to be able to charter at least two planes to the States and Canada each year.

Being introduced as an American was a ‘first’ for me but a good opening for me to tell my audience that I would most likely always be known as an Australian in America, and an American in Australia, because of my natural ability to pick up accents. I continued to fill them in on some of my lighter moments on being accepted as a war bride in the States, and how I travelled and lectured about Australia. After my new country adopted me with open arms, and my in-laws welcomed me as one of their own in the States, I had top billing wherever I travelled throughout the Midwest. American people were keen to engage me as a speaker to tell them all about Australia.

My immediate audience, many of whom had daughters married to GI’s, could relate to my stories and were as eager as I was to help get a charter plane organized. I had been advised that representatives from the airline were in the audience and I knew I had to convince them, more than the ACA Club, that a four-way charter for the club and the war brides was an excellent way to double their revenue. That was my selling point.

I spoke of the work we had already done during the past three years, through the Cosmopolitan Club in the States to promote chartering a plane for Australian war brides. However, we had had to switch from a 707 jet to a DC4 as we could get only 60 passengers. Just one day away from meeting the plane in Chicago, we all received a telegram from the Aeronautics Board in Washington DC cancelling our flight. They would not allow a DC4 to fly the Pacific; that plane was almost obsolete.

European, French and English brides were able to have at least two charters a year. I appealed to the airline representatives to make it happen for Australian war brides. We were counting on them and the ACA Club! My plan was to convince them that, if they took a planeload of parents to North America, brought a load of war brides home for a visit, returned the brides to North America and then brought the parents home, it would double their revenue.

I received all the encouragement I needed from the members of the club during question time, but when it was the airline’s time to answer the call, we were all devastated to hear their refusal to even consider the proposition. Even the Club members were perplexed at their attitude. The airline’s answer was very simple: they did not find a four-way charter viable. The two gentlemen from the airline left without another word. We found out later that the airline had other commitments to fill after they delivered the club members to their destination. We did not understand why they couldn’t have explained that at the meeting.

After my presentation at the ACA Club, I realized we didn’t have such a good track record with the Cosmopolitan Club. After four postponements for a charter, then a transfer from a 707 jet, requiring 89 passengers, to a D C4 with only 60 passengers, we would have had to work doubly hard to go back to filling a 707.

My audience didn’t want to let me go. A voice from the back of the auditorium shouted, “Mrs. Frost! We haven’t had such an enjoyable speaker for a long time. Several of us with daughters in the States would like to hear more. Would you mind if we extended the question time over supper? Were there many Australian girls living close to you?”

“Oh, yes! I recall the day when my Brisbane girlfriend, Hazel Bachman came to visit us in Manson from their farm six miles away, two weeks before we were scheduled to take off on the charter flight to Australia. Her husband Elmer came storming through our front door, arms flailing while he paced back and forth.”

‘My wife is not going to fly to Australia in a DC4! You can’t even get parts for those planes any more!” He was most upset.

“Well, if Ruth is crazy enough to fly in a D C4, then I’ll go with her!” Hazel said.

“Hazel! You will be flying the Pacific - nothing but ocean! How on earth do you expect to be rescued if no one knows where you are? The search planes couldn’t find you in thousands of square miles of ocean if something happened to that plane!” Hazel’s husband was a crop duster who owned and flew his own plane, so he did know what he was talking about when it came to the issue at hand.

Hazel and I were undaunted. She had waited two years to be on that charter plane to go home and see her family in Queensland.

Since I had been writing my column, Up From Down Under, for the Cosmopolitan Club (the club for international war brides with mainly East Coast members), the Club had gained several more Australian members, and my mailbox was loaded with letters from Aussie girls. I was hoping that a familiar name would appear from one of the girls who came over on the SS David Shanks with me. I thought I had bonded with several of those girls and believed it would have been a lifetime commitment. My letters to them continued but few returned the compliment. Eventually I stopped writing, accepting that it meant they were all happy and contented, as I had become.

The girls’ letters of 1956-1959 had spoken of the homesickness they felt in the beginning; by the time they had their first child they were mostly over it. Now, after fourteen years, the girls were feeling the pangs of homesickness again. Their parents were getting older, some members of the family had died, and the distance between the two countries was causing considerable heartache. They had children to show off to their Australian grandparents. Some desperately wanted the trip and were willing to take off in anything with wings!

I wanted to make that trip for different reasons: seeing my younger brother Peter would be worth every penny I saved, and admittedly the adventure of the trip itself was a great draw card, also.

Always searching for a solution, I looked to the members of the ACA Club while we talked over cups of tea. One of them mentioned Donald Chipp, a very active politician with many far-reaching ideas. Something clicked in my brain! Why not try the political arena! I wrote down his city office address and was on his doorstep first thing the following morning. What could he do? I had no idea! I might be clutching at straws but I would at least try my luck.

Cousin Len, my chauffeur, sat in the waiting room of Donald Chipp’s office as I was ushered in.

Chapter 4 The Jargon of the Politicians


The Jargon of the Politicians

Donald Chipp, a handsome, dark-haired young man with a flair for putting his guests at ease, asked if there was something he could do to help me.

I stated my case and he let me go on for some time, attentively listening to every word I said about the war brides’ dilemma. I asked if he could persuade the airline to reconsider the four-way charter.

Unfortunately, he was unable to help in that particular area; but he did want to hear more about my lectures in the States. In the meantime, he had a tray of tea, coffee and biscuits brought in and invited three other gentlemen to join us. I was flattered at all the attention. They urged me to tell them the kind of questions the American public asked about Australia during my talks.

“Look, gentlemen, the Americans know practically nothing about Australia. I was asked what language I spoke, and some were even surprised that I was white. Others asked what it was like in Austria, and did the kangaroos really deliver the mail? You know, our Australian airmen were the ones who spread those ugly rumors, about kangaroos during the war when they were stationed in Canada and the United States learning to fly our aircraft. They were poor ambassadors.”

I continued to relate a few of the more hilarious occurrences.

Mr Chipp picked up the phone, held it aside and spoke to a staff member before he made a call. “I believe Mr. Constable should hear what Mrs Frost has to say, don’t you agree? Would you be willing to go see Mr Constable at the Australian Tourist Bureau today, Mrs. Frost? I think he might be of some help to you.” He turned to me while still holding the phone. I nodded in the affirmative. “Would 12 o’clock suit you, Mrs. Frost?” I agreed to meet the gentleman at the Tourist office at the appointed hour; at the same time I wondered what had happened to the help I was seeking for the war brides!

“Are there any suggestions you could make to get Americans more interested in Australia? May I call you Ruth?” Mr Chipp inquired.

“By all means, call me Ruth, that’s my name. And, Don, I believe you haven’t even tapped the best resource - our young people, both here in Australia and in the States.”

“What do you mean by that Ruth?”

“If Australian students could exchange places with American students and lived with families in each other’s countries while they studied, that would be the best way for two countries to get to know each other. I don’t think we give enough credit to our young people.”

“That’s a great idea!” he enthused. “Don’t forget to mention that to Mr. Constable when you see him.”

With plenty of time for a leisurely stroll up Collins Street, I was thinking about what had transpired in Mr. Chipp’s office, and the adulation heaped on me for the wonderful job I was doing to help promote Australia in the States. Yes! The penny dropped soon after I left Mr. Chipp’s office! I had been given a good old-fashioned run-around. I had been conned!

I wasn’t going to get any help from any of them for a charter plane, or my lectures. They were picking my brains for ideas to help their political cause, not mine. I was ready for my next meeting and I was going to look out for number one.

“Please sit down Mrs Frost.” Mr Constable replaced the phone in the cradle. “That was Don Chipp on the phone singing your praises. Now, tell me all about the way you are promoting Australia in the States!”

“Mr Constable, I have several other appointments so this meeting will need to be brief. First, let me ask you; can you be of any help to me so that I can expand my lecture tour to reach more people? Or can you help me get a charter plane for Australian girls?”

“I must say you are doing an excellent job, Mrs Frost, but we have already gone over budget for the year and here it is, only March! I want to hear more about your ideas on using our young people.” He turned to his secretary, suggesting ‘a cup of tea for Mrs. Frost’.

I got up to leave. “Another cup of tea will not pacify me, Mr Constable. Besides, my bottom teeth are under water.” I looked at my watch with some urgency.

“Mrs. Frost, there is so much I would like to discuss with you. How about some lunch? We could pop across the street to the Occidental.”

“Thank you for your offer, but I am already late for my luncheon engagement.” I thought it unwise to belittle myself by mentioning that I was having homemade sandwiches for lunch on the banks of the Yarra with my cousin Len.

As I had taken care of the important business during the first three days, I made up my mind that it was useless getting depressed about the disappointing turn of events. From now on I was going to enjoy this visit. When Don Chipp or Mr. Constable phoned, I was never available.

Auntie Lila became my private secretary and tried to talk real posh when she answered the phone. From exposing her micro-world to the thrill of my meeting the film stars from Gigi, and then chatting to politicians, she was in a continuous state of excitement. She was up and down the street broadcasting to one and all!