The Potato Underground

I can’t say for certain if it was the very late 1960s, or the very early 1970s, but Western Australian potato farmers were having a rough time of it. I’ve researched the government agricultural papers for the time and have found no mention of the underground.

However, I was maybe six by this stage, and have a memory of my father’s wife peeking out the front windows of the old house late at night. She was watching the activities of the potato farmers across the road.

‘The trucks are leaving,’ she’d said, ‘and they’re full of potatoes.’

Likely gossiping in the days after, with a local woman, and friend for a time, who lived across the other road, about what she’d witnessed. And suppose during her tizzy, threatened to, ‘Dob them in.’

Her friend must’ve asked what she thought would happen if the lady found out it was my father’s wife who called the cops?

‘If she comes after me, I’ll punch her in the nose,’ she’d proclaimed.

I use the words, likely, possibly, suppose etc., because a child repeats what they hear. Believe me when I say I know.

‘Karen!’ smiled my six-year-old’s teacher, ‘you’re the mum who reads romance novels all the time.”

She walked away laughing as my face became flushed, but that’s another story for another time.

We didn’t live in a large town, and on our side of the old railroad tracks, there were probably six to eight ladies who frequented the local store and post office.

It must’ve been school holidays, around July, I recall because I cried most of the way. I dragged my feet behind the dulcet tones of my father’s wife’s, ‘Hurry up!’

I guessed gossip time was on and I was making her late!

We finally reached the small post office. When we stepped inside, a couple of the ladies were all ready there getting their mail, as too was my father’s wife’s friend. They all stood around in their floral dresses and polished shoes. I have a memory of some still wearing hats with lace and ribbon woven around the brims. I thought they looked pretty. I’d wear a hat today, a black Trilby but they’re so uncommon now, people laugh.

There was laughter and talking that day, but then, the fly wire door suddenly creaked on its hinges, and it swung open.

I looked up to see the lady from across the road. She walked in and the cacophony of voices dropped to an occasional word or cough. Every woman in that town would’ve know what my father’s wife had said. They stopped to see what would happen. It was like watching a tennis match; they’d look to the lady from across the road, then back to my father’s wife, back and forth.

‘My mum’s going to punch you in the nose,’ I proclaimed in the echo chamber the room had become.

My father’s wife picked me up by one hand and almost threw me out the door. She then dragged me through long wet grasses and pea gravel. Sharp spears scratched and punctured my skin on the way back to the house. Had no clue what I’d done wrong, and no clue why I was being brutally punished. It was a good three-hundred-metres back to that house… over uneven ground.

It was only years later when that tale was told in mirth.

I’m certain those potatoes fed many during a time where food was scarce, and likely a few bottles of Vodka came of it. Apart from the few farmers who found a way to sell their product, not all did. It was still a hunter gatherer time and without the ability to hunt, many would’ve starved. It was during a time when most working men had to go to the mines.

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