Where I came from

Where I came from there was no electricity. Before nightfall each evening you could hear the sound of Tilley lanterns being pumped up to full pressure. They ran on kerosene and their illumination came from fine cotton mantles in the form of very fragile little nets. Hurricane lamps also played a part in lighting our nights, they were called tabu cagi meaning they forbade the wind. Then there were candles but they were dangerous and many were the books I read under the sheet by the light of a torch when I was meant to be asleep.

Where I came from our drinking water came down from a big concrete tank further up the hill. Sometimes a bird or animal would die in there and we had to collect rainwater some other way until the tank was cleaned out. There was a story told about an irate Indian chap, who had been sacked from his job with the family, who was seen squatting on the top of the tank but everyone claimed that story and it probably wasn’t true.

Where I came from a modern appliance was a kerosene refrigerator. The tank of “kero” slid under the fridge with the wick alight and somehow that made the cabinet cold. The alternative was a huge ice box with a very heavy counter balanced lid that you didn’t want coming down on your young head. The ice was delivered in big blocks by a man who carried it in on a sack slung over his shoulder. We made ice cream in a churn for special occasions.

Where I came from the cooking was done on wood burning stoves. There was a wood shed outside and the firewood was delivered. It was usually just a lean-to beside the house out in the weather, so there always had to be a stack of dry wood kept beside the stove. The stove was fed and poked into life each morning and never went out.

Where I came from there were no washing machines and no steam irons. There were bricks of iron that sat on the stove until they were hot enough and then were picked up using special separate handles. A more modern appliance was, you guessed it, a kerosene iron. Clothes were sometimes taken to the river and beaten with sticks on flat river rocks, or boiled in big copper pots. Starch was a favourite; you could cut yourself on the creases in your shorts and your shirts would almost stand up on their own. There were no dryers but clothes lines strung between trees in the sun did the job, held up beyond reach by stout wooden clothes props.

Where I came from the roads were either mud or they were gravel. Driving onto narrow wooden bridges was particularly tricky, requiring a quick climb and turn to centre the car on the boards. Bus travel was an experience. People walked long distances. Time was less important then.

Where I came from was the Fiji Islands and most of these memories are of Labasa town. Suva was like the big city for a country kid. I still remember going up in a lift for the first time in the Burns Philp building and thinking how amazing that was … where I came from.

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