“Holy dooley!” Beryl said, tilting her sunhat backward a touch and casting a sideways look at Kate. “I don’t reckon anyone expected as many people as this to turn out.”
“Walker was hoping for a dozen or so,” Kate replied, her voice incredulous. “But this is great!”
“There must be a couple of hundred here.”
“At least.” Kate nodded. Then, turning to meet Beryl’s gaze, she let out a laugh. “Can you believe it?”
Beryl’s eyes danced.
“I’m as surprised as you are. It’s encouraging, though, isn’t it?”
“Too right. And it just goes to show what a bit of campaigning can do.”
With emotion rising inside her, she surveyed the vast crowd gathered outside Anzac Hall.
It was a groundswell of genuine support for the old building, and at the same time as singing along to “Waltzing Matilda”, people were waving Australian flags and colourful home-made placards bearing bold proclamations including Save Our Hall! and Hands Off Our Heritage! The atmosphere was good-natured and jovial, yet ardently determined, too.
What would Nell have said to all of this? She’d be well and truly stoked. On the other hand, Beryl thought ruefully, she’d be outraged that the council had granted permission for the hall to be pulled down, and knowing her mum, she’d have been right at the front of the crowd, sleeves rolled up, demanding the decision be reversed.
“Look!” Kate suddenly exclaimed, pointing straight ahead. “It’s the girls! Oh, look at their faces, Beryl! They can’t believe they’re at the centre of all of this!”
Raising herself on her tip-toes, Beryl watched as Jess and Denny walked up the steps of Anzac Hall and positioned themselves on the veranda, faces eager as they prepared to hand over their petition to Councillor Murrow. Her heart brimmed with pride as she and Kate both waved excitedly, though there was little chance of the girls spotting them in the sea of faces.
My granddaughter and her best friend leading the campaign to save Anzac Hall, she mused. It was incredible to Beryl for it seemed like only yesterday that they’d been ankle-biters.
“They look so grown up,” she murmured.
Her smile broadened.
The past three weeks, while all the other kids were mucking about at the creek, enjoying their summer holiday, Jess and Denny had cycled all over the town, day in, day out, distributing leaflets and posters, gathering signatures for their petition and raising awareness about the proposed demolition of the hall. In the evenings, they’d written letters to local, state and national officials, passionately stating the case for its preservation.
Of course, the girls had been given a lot of encouragement and support, Beryl reflected with a smile.
“It’s lucky that Walker’s been around to help them get all this media attention,” she said, casting an earnest expression at her friend. “He’s a very good writer, Kate. That article he wrote about the history of this place was really interesting. Lots of people have said to me that they’d forgotten how much went on here. But then they read Walker’s article and it brought back such happy memories, they decided to join the campaign.”
Kate met her gaze with a broad smile of her own.
“Since the newspaper ran that story, he’s been flooded with old photographs and letters from people who remember coming here long ago. It’s funny, Beryl. He’s been a journalist for twenty years and he’s covered lots of important stories, but I’ve never known Walker to get so personally involved with an issue.”
“Maybe that’s because it’s happening right here on Mooraburra’s doorstep.”
“Maybe . . .” Kate’s brow arched. “Or maybe he’s in love.”
The two friends stared at each other.
Kate looked vaguely amused.
“Surely you’ve noticed how much time my son has been spending with your daughter?”
“Susanne insists it’s just because of the campaign. She says there’s nothing more to it. In fact, she’s adamant that there’s no possibility of it turning into a romance seeing how Walker’s moving to London.”
“I’ve heard the same yarn from Walker. I don’t believe it, though. Do you?”
Beryl exhaled. It was difficult to gauge how Susanne really felt about Walker. There were definite signs of attraction she often blushed in his company and appeared more self-conscious than normal but realistically, even if there was chemistry between them, Susanne wasn’t one for casual liaisons.
“Walker is still leaving White Rock at the start of January, isn’t he?”
“So he says,” Kate replied with a light shrug. “Makes as much sense as wings on a koala, if you ask me, and goodness knows, I’ve tried to talk him out of it.”
“Any particular reason why he’s moving so far?” Beryl asked.
Kate’s expression darkened a touch, and when she next spoke her voice was much softer.
“It has something to do with a broken relationship. Some woman he went out with for a while. I never met her, but I reckon Walker must have felt something for her because it knocked him back quite a bit when they broke up. I’d say that’s why he quit his job and decided to look for a post overseas. It’s a fresh start he wants.”
“London’s a long way to go for that.”
“My oath, it is! And it seems especially silly because he’s been so happy at Mooraburra this past month or so. Whatever they say about it, Susanne and he have really clicked. Sam has even commented on how much more relaxed his brother is. There aren’t many job opportunities up here for him, I know that, but he’s never happier than when he’s home in White Rock.”
“Do you think he regrets not going into farming?”
“Possibly. But that’s a decision he made a long time ago. You remember how determined he was about going off to university and becoming a journalist . . .” Kate paused to register Beryl’s nod “. . . and because Sam was the one who showed an interest in working on the farm, I’ve always assumed that was the way it was meant to be.”
“You’re not so sure now, though, are you?”
Kate shook her head.
“No, I’m not.”
“We can’t stop them from making their own mistakes.” With sympathetic eyes, Beryl reached across and touched her friend’s arm. “All we can do is be here to help pick up the pieces afterwards.”