Saturday, December 13, 2014


     Lynne had booked a motel room in Perth.  We would spend the night there and then make the 5 hour trip to Kalgoorlie- a remote mining town somewhere near the centre of Australia.  My brother Noel, the one closest to me in age spent a couple of hours visiting before heading to his home in Perth.  The next day we made the trek across the desert- Lynne, Sean and myself.  I remember it being mostly desert with the occasional rash of bright purple blanketing an entire hillside.  Lynne called it "Patterson's Curse"- a weed that spreads like wildfire and is nearly impossible to abate.  I have never been fond of the desert.  Something about the endless horizons of undulating dusty beige with no sign of moisture except for the occasional mirage has always left me unsettled- if not slightly panicked.  I suppose I'd never liked to live anywhere where I felt "land-locked".  Thus,the repeated patterns of this vibrant hued flower was a comfort- even though I knew that I was heading further away from the ocean.  What I remember the most about the drive was Sean's "inquisition".  Having never met an "American" in person there was a continuous flow of questions about what it was like in America. How big were the cars?  What kind of car did I drive?  How much money did I make? Why was my hair so many different colors?  How did I get my hair to curl so quickly with that gas powered curling iron?  Why was I putting on make-up?  All valid questions.

     Approximately 5 hours later we arrived in Kalgoorlie- not to be confused with the adjacent (and even less bustling) Coolgardie.  Yep.  Isn't it interesting when two towns so close together have incredibly similar names?  What's that about?  Is it an inside joke?  I'm talking about places like Clairmont and Montclair in California.  These are things I think about.
    We were greeted by Lynne's husband, John, and my sister Anne-Maree who was holding the now 5 month old Danielle.  I had never spent much time around babies up until then and quickly realized that it was easy for me to win them  over. I think the sound of my voice- makes them think I'm some sort of real live cartoon character. To this day, when I enter a room and speak, all babies stop what they are doing and zero in on me, as if hypnotised.  Also, I am loud.
 I had been so excited about finally having a sister and I think Anne had felt the same way.  We spent an unreasonable amount of time in front of the mirror looking for similarities.  In the end, while we didn't share too much facial similarity, everyone agreed that we were the same height and had identical feet- other than the fact that mine were several shades darker having come from the California sun.  I spent about a week with Lynne and family.  While Kalgoorlie is (or was) not a sizable town, I remember there being one main drag with shops and several of those Victorian style pubs.  There was a K-Mart.  I think we went to an Emu farm.  I also got to take a tour of a local gold mine.  John arranged for me to be driven what seemed like several miles underground and inspect (?) the workings of an active dig.  I don't know if any of those words are correct.  All I know is I had to wear a hard-hat and had my picture taken while posing with a large drill.  Right as it was time to leave I'm pretty sure someone mentioned that the whole thing could collapse at any moment so we'd better get going.

    After about a week of visiting it was time to head to Melbourne.  I had originally planned to spend a little longer and then fly over- however there was an airline strike happening and nobody was flying anywhere domestically.  Instead, I boarded a Greyhound Bus (or some Aussie version of a Greyhound Bus) right in the middle of town and spent the next two days on said bus as we made our way across country.  Distance wise, imagine driving from Denver to Jacksonville.  I must have really been worn out because the only thing I remember about the entire journey was a brief stop in Coober Pedy, the Opal Mining capital of Australia.  Other than opals , Coober Pedy is known for the underground caves many of the residents live in as homes.  As I recall this saved a lot of money on air-conditioning, and I'm sure if you'd never had windows you wouldn't miss them.  The rest is a blur.  I managed to have an entire seat to myself the whole time as I was stretched out and snoring every time new passengers embarked.

    I was greeted in Melbourne by Linda- the bride to be.  We spent the next few days in anticipation of the wedding.  This included what is known is Australia as "The Hens Night"- known to most Americans as the "Bachelorette Party".  I know such a term smacks of misogyny - but I'd best not go off on a tangent about it.  Besides, if millions of Australian women have the clarity and presence of mind to not take themselves too seriously- what the Hell do I know?
What was I talking about?  Oh yeah…

     So, the wedding went off without a hitch ( get it?)  In the meantime, Lynne, Anne Maree and little Danielle made their way to Melbourne to introduce me to the extended Priest family.  There was one large reunion at my Auntie Kate's house in Riddles Creek (near Macedon).  I finally got to meet my grandfather, Noel, who immediately declared that I looked like a Kraemer (my deceased grandmothers side of the family).  I met all five of Lynne's siblings and most of their off-spring.  I was very popular with the little girl cousins who repeatedly requested me to "upside down french-braid" their hair.  I happily obliged them.  At the end of the day, I had met so many people that I couldn't remember a single name.  In the years since, Facebook was invented and I have been able to reconnect with many of them and they are always very patient in reminding me of when and where we met.
Lynne, Grandpa Noel and me

      Ralph Edwards, Linda's dad, had played on the VFL (Victorian Football League) team Footscray in the 1950's (now known as the Western Bulldogs).  At that time, in the late 80's, Ralph was involved in a campaign to save the ailing team- as was local talk show host Ernie Sigley.  I guess Uncle Ralph (as I have always called him) arranged for me to appear on a morning TV show that Ernie hosted with another TV personality, Denise Drysdale.  I was to go in and tape a couple of singing segments and then later come back for an interview.  Lynne accompanied me to the studio and it was surreal to have her with me.  It was especially touching to see her introduce herself as my mother to various producers and production assistants. "I'm the Mum" she would say if I had neglected to introduce her yet.  My adoptive mother had never been one to hang around at performances and was never one to make herself known to those around her.  I think she was quite shy and not comfortable being in a situation where she felt out of place.  I remember understanding that it just wasn't her "thing" and always took it in stride- though there were definitely  mothers back-stage who had no qualms about expressing their distress that I was to do my own hair and make-up.  To this day, I can zip myself into any dress.  Being the only motherless kid backstage, while sometimes sad, was the beginning of my fierce independence.  I always knew that if I wanted to do something I was going to have to do it on my own.  While my mom was not typical, we still bonded over things like food and Carol Burnett.  I would come home from school and find that she had completely remodeled the kitchen or built a mosaic coffee table.  When it comes to "Nature Versus Nurture" I'm not convinced in either direction.  While my mother knew nothing- nor cared to know anything about the performing arts- she always thought outside of the box.  She didn't do anything in a typical or predictable way.  I get that. That is me. I think I got that from Zella Dixon.

     Towards the end of my stay we went to my Auntie Val's house for a visit.  She lives in Rosebud- a beautiful seaside town on Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula.  I had been there camping numerous times throughout my childhood.  Auntie Val was the only other person who knew (or remembered) my father, Malcolm and his mother.  She had actually known my paternal grandmother quite well.  There had been some confusion about her last name.  For some reason, the last name that Lynne thought was my fathers last name was not the name that Val thought it was.  Before I left,  Auntie Val took me aside and handed me a black and white photograph.  She said that at least three of my grandparents were in this picture.  The image looked as if it had been taken in the late fifties.  From left to right were an attractive dark haired couple (my maternal grandparents), next to them was another couple; an impish looking gentleman in a white t-shirt with his arm draped casually around the shoulder of a blonde lady wearing cute horn-rimmed spectacles.  She wore a white floral sun-dress that had a full fifties skirt- the kind of silhouette I still love to wear.  This was my Grandmother Arline.  Behind her was what appeared to be an extraordinarily tall young man with no shirt on.  This was one of my maternal grandmothers brothers.  All five appeared to be having the time of their lives.  Val said that it had been taken in front of the iconic memorial cross at the top of Mt Macedon, and that it was probably taken on a day when they had all gone out dancing together.  At this point it didn't occur to me to ask any further questions.  I think I was still so overwhelmed by all of the newness that I had experienced in the past few weeks that there was simply no more space left in my brain to store any further information.  

     I tucked the picture into the manila envelope that still held my original birth records and forgot about it- for several years.