The Love of Devotion: Simple Pleasures

Little Oakey

My grandfather, Michael John Pope, was a pioneer farmer in outback New South Wales, Australia. He built his small, four-room home, Little Oakey, from the creek-stones of the area. Behind the house was a wattle and daub (clay) kitchen and cellar. In that little home, with his wife Mary Jane, he raised five children in, what would be considered by today’s standards, primitive isolation.

Grandfather worked his sheep grazing property from dawn to dusk, as is the way with farmers. His son, also a farmer, was given two Italian prisoners-of-war, Giacomo and Lorenzo, to help with the workload during World War II. The Italians would have been not much more than boys, perhaps twenty or so. The family treated them with care and respect and became very fond of them, much to the disapproval of some local families. They slept in the stables but, remember, the main house was tiny and wouldn’t have had a whole lot more comfort than the stables. Anyway, a safe stables was far superior to a life-and-death war-field. When winter came, they were both knitted a jumper which they wore every year until the end of the war. 

Sometimes, the two “prisoners” were sent off with guns and children in tow to catch rabbits for the day. Hardly war-time behaviour with the prisoners in charge of the weapons and with care of the children! The family kept in contact with the Italian men and visited them, many years later, on a once-in-a-lifetime European trip. Our spiritual heritage is brothers with linked arms, not brothers in armament.

Such was life in the outback. It was and, essentially, still is harsh, relentless, and intensely beautiful. It becomes part of the soul and is embedded into one’s psyche as primal home.

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