At her Catholic primary school in Australia they learned about the kings and queens of England, the discovery of Australia, types of sheep, iron ore exports, and the disappearing Aboriginal race.
She spent her pocket money on stamps. She started buying them at the newsagent, then she joined a stamp club that sent her cellophane packs of 50 stamps of the world each month. Her dad gave her his old stamp collection of English and Australian stamps, and taught her to use tweezers to pick them up and float them in a saucer of warm water so they came off the torn corners of envelopes. She took corners torn from envelopes to school for collection.
She worked on her stamps when her little brothers and sister were somewhere else and mum would let her have the table to herself. She had a new album that someone had bought her and she was always sorting the stamps out. She organised them chronologically starting with her Dad’s old stamps from England and Australia at the front. Then alphabetically, with a page for each country. Who knew there were so many countries in the world, that no one ever taught her about at school.
Each month a packet came in the mail with her name on it. She had to keep moving the pages in her album as the sets from some countries grew bigger and bigger. Stamps from all over Africa like Chad and Togo and many places she heard of for the first time through her stamps. She loved the images on the stamps – big bright pictures of flowers, mushrooms, children, rockets, planets, sports, machinery, fairy tales, children, signs that she didn’t understand. She loved the names of countries she could not find in the encyclopaedia and those that were written in letters that weren’t English – Noyta CCCP, Magyar… every month there were always some of these. It was like the world came to her in the stamps that she sorted with her tweezers. Impossibly far but almost imaginable.