Dad held up Hermannsburg as the Holy Grail; some marvellous place that, every time he mentioned it, his eyes misted over and he’d whisper the name with a sigh. Hermannsburg, the Lutheran Mission, founded in 1877 by those intrepid Lutheran Missionaries, Kempe and Schwartz, from the mission house of the same name in Germany. Hermannsburg saved by the stalwart missionary Carl Strehlow from 1894 to 1922. Hermannsburg, where my grandfather lived for 18 years with his wife and growing family. Hermannsburg where my Dad came to teach in the 1950’s and where he met and married my mum.
My father slowed and manoeuvred the Rover along a bumpy road lined with a cluster of buildings. The Rover’s headlights lit up stone walls of the historic church painted white, and then a house near by framed with a pair of date palm trees and a waist-high cyclone fence.
‘We’re here,’ Dad said. He stopped the Rover.
A man pushed through the gate, and stepping up to us, he waved, pointing at the house opposite. ‘Ah!’ Dad started up the engine and then parked the Rover in front of that house.
‘Is that where Mummy used to live?’ I asked.
‘Nah, I don’t think so,’ Dad replied.
‘Can I get to see Mummy’s house?’
‘In the morning, it’s a bit dark now.’
‘Is someone living in it?’
‘I don’t know. I’ll ask—Um, Gary Stoll.’ Dad opened the Rover door and jumped out. ‘Come on, don’t just sit there.’
The rest of the T-Team climbed out of the Rover, and gathered around Dad and Mr. Stoll, the resident missionary. After introductions, greeting and shaking hands with the missionary, he showed us to our accommodation, one of the original Hermannsburg homesteads which was directly opposite my Mum’s old home. This homestead was built many decades ago as the old hospital.
Gary’s wife appeared at the door of the cottage. She wiped her hands on her floral apron. ‘Come on, I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping.’
‘Good,’ said Mr. B, ‘I’m looking forward to sleeping in a proper bed. You wouldn’t believe what we’ve had to put up with over the past two weeks.’
Mrs. Stoll chuckled. ‘What? No motels?’ Under her apron, her tummy jiggled up and down. She reminded me of my grandma. Similar sense of humour. Necessary, I guess.
Mr. B pursed his lips. ‘No, just creeks.’
‘Creeks?’ Mrs. Stoll laughed. ‘Luxury!’
Dad joined in. ‘That’s what I told him. Hey, mate, I thought you liked the one at Palmer River.’
‘Hmm! It was passable…except for the snakes.’ Mr. B scooped up his sleeping bag and sauntered off to his allocated room.
Mrs. Stoll showed me my room. The cold of night seeped into the old stone house. After she left me, I gazed at the limestone walls all lumpy and painted white. I shivered and then dumped my bag on the bed, the mattress looking equally as lumpy under army-grey blankets. Oh, well, it’s a bed. I glanced at the floor, threadbare carpet raked over the stone floor. I took a deep breath of musty air and coughed. I decided to keep my shoes on. I stood still and stared out into the blackness. It’s so quiet; like a ghost town. Was mum’s house like this one?
I dared not look up at the high ceiling before walking to the door, pushing the knob of the old brown Bakelite switch down and checking that the naked globe dangling from the ceiling had gone off.
In the lounge room, I sank into an arm chair of an ancient lounge suite, chunky and tan velvet. I leaned forward and pestered Dad. ‘Can you ask if I can see mum’s old home?’
Dad sighed. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
The T-Team trooped over to the mission house where we’d been invited for tea. Now, the thing about missionaries was their hospitality. Mrs. Stoll put on a spread. I mean, a banquet; an immaculate display on an antique oval table covered with white linen—Roast beef, well, it was cattle country. Roast potatoes, just like my grandma’s all crisp and crunchy on the outside and juice and fluffy on the inside. Boiled peas, carrots and cauliflower. Then, dessert, ice-cream and apple crumble for which I always keep room. Satisfied I rubbed my stomach. Yep, our digs may be crumbling from the Dark Ages, but the food, the wonderful food, the amazing food. My stomach ached with pleasure from all the delicious food.
‘This is the best meal ever!’ Mr. B said, then he leaned forward to Mr. Stoll, ‘Better than the egg soup we had to endure with my mate here.’ He pointed at Dad.
Mrs. Stoll strode through the door, her arms cradling tray of potato kuchen, steam rising above the strudel, and the aroma of cake filling the dining room.
She moved around table offering the cake. I took a piece. But then, while the others devoured theirs and asked for more, I stared at mine, willing a cake-shaped hole to form in my stomach to fit this delicious morsel in.
‘What’s the matter?’ Dad asked.
Richard eyed my cake, his fat fingers in pincer-mode ready to snatch.
‘I want it, but I can’t fit it in.’
‘Eyes too big for your stomach,’ Mr. B said.
Richard pounced. In one fluid movement, the cake vanished, and my brother leaned back, wiped the crumbs from his mouth and patted his tummy.
‘Don’t worry,’ Mrs. Stoll said, ‘we have plenty more cake. I’ll put aside some for you for supper.’
We had the luxury of staying up until midnight, that night. Dad and Mr. B chatted with the missionary couple, while Richard, Matt and I played cards, and ate cake. I hoped Dad would ask the question: Can I visit my mum’s old house?
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Historic Church Hermannsburg © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013