by Carole Lander
‘Mum, can I take Grandad’s book to school? We’ve got to show the class something that’s special to us,’ I asked. I was new at the school and I wanted to look important so I could make some friends.
Grandad’s book has black pages and smells of old newspapers. The words ‘First Australian Motorcars’ are on the cover and it has pictures of cars going back years with stories about people who made them. He worked in the Holden factory in Adelaide and collected model cars that he kept in a cupboard with a glass door.
‘Funny thing to keep in a glass cabinet,’ Mum used to say. ‘Supposed to be for your best crystal.’
Grandad had wrinkled skin and black oil under his fingernails. Sometimes when I was at his house, he’d say, ‘Come and look at my old car museum, Jimmy.’ He’d carefully take out one or two of them to show me. They looked pretty tough with their strong bodies and rubber wheels but whenever I asked to play with them, he’d say, ‘They’re too special, boy. Come on, let’s have a look at my scrap book of memories.’
Grandad died when I was eight and my Uncle John took the cars to his place in Sydney. We got the scrap book. Mum kept it safe in a cupboard.
Right now I needed that book more than anything. In the last few months my life had turned upside down. This is what happened.
My Dad worked in the factory with Grandad but his hands were clean because his job was testing the new cars. It was on a track and not a real road so he got to drive really fast like a racing car driver. He loved his job and talked about it all the time.
One day when the factory siren wailed at the end of the day, he came home and said it was going to close. Mum burst into tears and sent me and my sisters outside. Dad was banging his fist on the table and yelling about how unfair it was and how many people were going to lose their jobs. When he went quiet, I snuck back to the kitchen door and looked in. He was slumped over the table, sobbing. I went to my room to think about what might happen to our family. I wanted to ask Mum: ‘Will we have enough money for food and toys and stuff?’
Later, Mum made toast and jam instead of dinner but I wasn’t hungry. Dad had gone to the pub.
At school, all the kids were talking about the factory. It sounded like the whole town was going to close down.
‘This is a big city and there are plenty of other jobs,’ my teacher told us.
That wasn’t true. Dad tried hard to find something but one day he and a mate left for Perth to get work in the mines. I looked on a map of Australia to see how far away Perth was.