The news of the demolition occupied Susanne’s mind as she walked back to Travel World after lunch. Admittedly, Anzac Hall wasn’t the most stylish venue. It was a dilapidated, quirky place, nothing more than a large shed, really, but it had decades of local history associated with it, and lots of families had a soft spot for it.
“Why the long face?” her boss, Spike Ryder, asked when she sat down at her desk.
“Anzac Hall is going to be demolished.”
Spike was in the middle of unpacking a box of holiday brochures.
“Yeah civic madness, eh? If I had a dollar for every ludicrous town-planning decision that was ever made, I’d be retired and living on the Gold Coast!”
His laugh softened Susanne’s frown lines. She got on well with Spike and his wife, Avril. They’d given her a job in their business even though she didn’t have any experience. As it turned out, she loved having a career and Spike regularly entered her in the national Travel World employee of the month competition top prize a $4,000 travel voucher though she didn’t expect ever to win it.
Avril looked up from her desk.
“Mind you, Anzac Hall being demolished makes your mum’s ceilidh tonight seem all the more poignant, doesn’t it?”
“For sure,” Susanne replied. “You’re both coming, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Spike said. “Your nan did a lot of good for the community. Everyone who knew Nell knew she had a heart of gold.”
There was a thoughtful silence.
“She came to Australia as an orphan, didn’t she?” Avril said.
“Yes, in nineteen thirty-one,” Susanne answered quietly.
Spike straightened himself.
“Strange policy that, eh? Shipping youngsters across the world.”
“They called them the ‘Home Children’,” Avril put in.
Susanne leaned forward.
“Really? I didn’t know that.”
“I only know because I read it somewhere,” Avril said. “The youngsters came from children’s homes all over Britain. More than a hundred thousand kids were shipped to Canada, New Zealand and here. But some weren’t even orphans their families just couldn’t afford to look after them.
“Where in Scotland did Nell come from?”
“A place called Dundee,” Susanne replied. “Her parents worked in a jute mill. I don’t know much more because Nan didn’t talk about her childhood and Mum warned us not to ask her. She said it upset her.”
Later, Susanne gazed at the map on the wall above her desk.
Scotland looked so far away. She wondered how her nan, an only child like herself, had ended up an orphan, and what it must have been like to board a ship to Australia. Had she been frightened? Or had she been filled with excitement at the prospect of an adventure across the ocean?
As close as they’d been, Nell had never told that story.
December 14, 1929
“What’s this?” Euan McIntosh said in surprise when he turned a corner in the carding-room and found a crowd of workers huddled together.
“We’re no’ happy,” a woman’s voice said above the whirl and roar of machinery.
Euan gripped his tool-box. As a mechanic in the Low Mill at Ferrybridge Works in Dundee, it was his job to ensure the carding machines that combed the jute ran like clockwork from six in the morning to six at night. On strict orders from the management, the workers mostly women and children weren’t allowed to leave their posts without permission from the floor supervisor, whom Euan had just seen heading towards the canteen.
Instinct told him nothing but trouble would come of this carefully timed gathering, and he glanced nervously over his shoulder before returning his gaze to the crowd.
“No’ happy about what?”
“The changes they’re making,” someone shouted.