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Girls with bouffant hairdos strutted in the foyer of Queen Mary Nurses Home. Big skirts or slim pants. Chatter and excitement swirled around Florence Nightingale, resting on her granite plinth. Dishy boyfriends arrived, one after another. MG and Austin Healy sports cars vibrated to Elvis Presley’s, ‘’Heartbreak Hotel, ’’ or “ Don’t Be Cruel.”

I checked my pigeon-hole. Perhaps a message had arrived in the last five? A date or party invitation? Nothing.

Upstairs, the city of Sydney hummed, glittering outside my window. The stygian blackness of the bush on New Year’s Eve, had been bad enough . Mum and Dad slept through it. But this?

Friend Fleur poked her head around my door, downcast. ’There’s bound to be a party somewhere.’

I laughed. ’What do you suggest? Find one and crash it?’

She shot me a determined look. ’I’ll wangle something.’

‘ I don’t give tuppence for your chances’

‘ We’ll see.’ She left to make some phone calls.

No sooner had I donned my shortie pyjamas, than Fleur burst in. ’We’re in luck. A couple of girls from my group have had their late passes cancelled.’ Radiant smile. ‘It’s a barbecue. The boys arrive in half an hour.’

I panicked. ‘But – what'll I wear?’

Fleur riffled through my wardrobe. Within minutes, I found myself in white jeans, top and warm jumper.

We arrived at the reception desk to collect late passes. Sister Norris wore an air of disapproval. ’Next time, Nurses, don't leave it until the last minute. You almost missed out.’

Innocence itself, we apologised.

Drizzle speckled the marble steps. Jenny, one of the unlucky duo to be grounded, introduced us to Philip. A tall boy with amused grey eyes behind thick glasses, he led us towards an old jalopy.

It rumbled off into the darkness. His repertoire of tall tales had everyone chuckling.

At Garie Beach, a group of teenagers shouted welcome. We sat on logs near the blazing fire, someone pressed beers into our hands. Fleur was drooling. ’Just smell the sizzle of those onions.’

Gum-leaf scented wood-smoke reminded me of picnics back home. My mouth watered at the succulent aroma of steak and sausages. Fresh salads and crisp rolls completed a delicious meal. I plucked green grapes. ’Food never tastes this good at Queen Mary.’

Philip appeared from nearby shadows. He bowed. ’Queue here, Girls. Kisses accepted in full payment.’

Everyone chuckled. He shot us a mock-serious glance. ‘It's no laughing matter. Debts must be settled before the end of the year.’ A chase ensued. Giggling, we dodged in and out among the parked cars.

Fleur allowed herself be caught. Philip extracted his fee. Whistles and cheers. They stepped apart, and he grinned. ’That wasn't so bad was it? Next… ’

At that moment the heavens opened. A flurry of running figures dashed for tents and cars. Our group squeezed into Philip's jalopy. Two extra girls sat on guys’ laps.

Philip quipped. ‘Nobody breathe and we’ll be okay.’

The way his gags kept coming had me amazed. ‘Are you a comedian?’

His eyes glinted. ’That has been said – not always kindly. Officially, I'm a med student.’

He confessed that the thousand or so nubile young women, residing in the Queen Mary Nurses Home, had captured masculine imagination. The boys nicknames for our building included, The Bulk Stores, the Castle, Virgin's Retreat. Philip grinned. ’And those are the respectable ones.’

I gaped. ‘Really?’

Fleur giggled. ’Tell us the others.’

But Philip shook his head. ’They’re too rude for tender ears.’ We pestered but he refused to be drawn.

By then, the rain had eased. We tumbled from the car, rubbing aching muscles. Philip suggested a sing-song until the witching hour. ’What songs do you know, girls?’

Fleur shrugged. ’I don’t know many words, but I can hum a tune.’

He gave a dismissive groan. ’The girl says she hums. Shame. Now if you'd like to hear a real singer.’ Philip leapt onto a boulder, stood with outspread arms. An operatic rendition of ‘Ding Dong Dell, Pussy's in the Well,’ brought applause. He jumped down. ’Sing-songs over, Girls. Back to the car.’

An outburst of laughter, morphed into a walk along the beach. Dim flashlight beams illuminated the winding track. Damp tussocks and low scrub brushed against my jeans.

We scrunched onto sand. Everyone abandoned shoes and socks. Several couples melted into the darkness.

‘ Off for a dip?’ Philip called. No answer. Convulsive laughter.

Crests of white marked the roaring surf, stars – the last of the old year – glittered through a veil of clouds.

Philip said, ’Let’s dance.’ Hoots, a coo-ee, giggles. Blood-curdling cries from the boys. We formed a circle, spinning faster and faster. Someone lost their balance. A tumble of youth collapsed onto the damp sand, helpless with mirth.

Philip shouted, ‘ Yikes! It’s almost New Year.’

We donned abandoned footwear and sweaters. Raced for the clearing. The lads stoked the dying embers and added kindling from a waterproof bag. Flames danced on young faces. Chanting the count-down. ’Nine, eight, seven . . . midnight.’

A cacophony of honking horns celebrated a fledgling 1959. Shouts reverberated from the surrounding hills. Next moment, a highland piper, in full kilt, marched from one of the tents, bagpipes skirling. Total strangers linked arms, and moved to the haunting strains of Robbie Burns,’ “Auld Lang Syne.”

Shyly, I exchanged kisses. Wet-street glitter sped us home. Revellers honking horns and shouting Happy New Year.

Philip fell silent, sombre even. Perhaps his moment for reflection.


Excerpt from my novel, '' BLACK STOKINGS, WHITE VEIL - A Tale of Adversity, Triumph and Romance at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Finalist in the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Historical Fiction. Now a word version is a teaching text for Student Nurses at RPAH and elsewhere.


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