Chapter 1 – Tracing Family History
Anya Dennis retrieved travel documents from her purse and handed them to the immigration officer. She was tired after several hours air travel but had been looking forward to this visit and saving her salary for a few years so she could have this extended holiday. She glanced at the long line of immigration check in counters with equally tired people being processed. Vaguely she sensed in her tiredness the immigration officer had said something to her, so she returned her gaze to the man behind the booth.
He smiled and repeated his question. “How long do you intend visiting this country?”
“My visa says six months, but I may be finished before that expiry date. It all depends on what I’m able to find.”
“And what would you be looking for, employment?” The officer continued to smile but Anya sensed there was a purpose behind his question. She was on a tourist visa.
She laughed as she understood the reason for his question. No doubt there were many coming in on tourist visas who intended to find work and find some way to stay on in this country. That was not her purpose.
“Sir some of my family members were transported to this country against their will when this was a British penal colony back in the early eighteen hundreds and as I’m researching my family tree on behalf of the family and as none of us heard from these imprisoned family members again, we’d like to find out what happened to them. All they wanted was to regain their national identity and have the freedom to run their own country. For that they were treated as criminals and bought here.” The thought of that injustice bought a flash of anger to her voice and the immigration officer studied her carefully.
“I think you will find this country is no longer a penal settlement Ms. Dennis and many of us here are proud of our Irish ancestry too despite that reason for coming here. You see my ancestors happened to be bought to this country under the same circumstances, so I understand your passion. He reached into his pocket and produced a card from his wallet. This is my calling card. Contact me if you need any assistance in your research and welcome to Australia.”
Anya stared at him and then smiled. “Thank you so much sir!” She picked up her hand carry luggage and walked past the booth smiling at the man as she followed the crowd to pick up her luggage and then proceed through customs. She’d felt a spark of electricity in that brief contact and photographed him in her mind for future reference.
At the customs check point the officer took her documents and glanced at them asking if she had anything to declare. She shook her head and he waved her through to the exit.
She emerged through the door and was confronted by a huge crowd and her practiced eye searched the placards being held high over the milling crowd behind barriers waiting for their intended person to be met. This was a familiar scene to Anya as she worked for travel agents in Dublin and had in her work travelled most of the European and American routes, but Australia was not on their usual travel destination list, so this trip was at her own expense though her firm had arranged for her to receive reciprocal courtesies in this country. She saw her name being held high at the far end of the walkway barrier and moved in that direction.
Reaching the end of the barrier she waved to the woman holding the placard with her name on it and the woman sped to her side lowering the placard and motioning to a driver behind her to pick up Anya’s luggage. Soon they were slowly moving through the crowded roads leading out of the airport and heading for the city while Janet Farnsworth the representative of Zenith Travels meeting Anya explained what had been arranged for her accommodation and itinerary. Anya listened as she watched unfamiliar scenes unfold around her.
When Janet had settled Anya at the hotel, she departed for her office with the promise a rental car would be delivered to the hotel next day. Anya would have to fill in paperwork before taking possession of the vehicle. She’d be booking out of the hotel next day and proceeding with her rental car to a pre-booked motel in the suburbs considerably cheaper than this hotel and a more appropriate site for her to undertake her day journeys and possibly venture further around Australia as she researched her family history. As a travel agent she’d been assured of special rates for accommodation as she made her way around the country on this family research project. She’d be in contact with Janet whenever she needed a new booking.
One of the first things she’d need to do would be to get her researcher’s permit to access government records but for now all she wanted to do was sleep after that horrendous journey next to a mother with a crying baby. She showered then lay down to rest and was soon asleep. After several hours she awoke with a start and was momentarily terrified not knowing where she was. Then her brain kicked into gear, and she remembered where she was and smiled at her temporary loss of memory. This had never happened to her before.
She picked up the phone and punched in the meal delivery number. A half hour later there was a knock on the door, and she opened it to let the waiter in. He placed everything carefully on the table and departed. She lifted the lids after seating herself and nodded in appreciation. The food was tastefully presented and smelled wonderful. Anya attacked it with satisfaction and congratulated the cook in her mind. From now on she would be on her own fending for meals and just as well as her budget could not support this kind of luxury for six months.
She turned on the TV and surfed the cable network looking for programs she was familiar with eventually settling on the history channel. The phone rang and she turned the sound down on the TV then went to the bedside and picked up the phone.
“Anya Dennis, how can I help you?”
“Just checking to see how you’re settling into our country after your arrival?”
Anya was puzzled. “Are you from Zenith Travel Services? I’ve settled in well thank you. Are you phoning about the rental car to be delivered tomorrow?”
The man at the end of the line laughed. “Sorry, I should have identified myself. I’m Alan Bagnall the immigration officer who checked you in this morning. I wanted to know if I could be of assistance to you seeing we both originate from the Emerald Isle. The Irish diaspora sticks together around the world.”
Anya’s heart skipped with excitement she remembered the thrill of their quick meeting in the morning as he processed her documents but was on the alert, nevertheless.
“How did you get my contact details Alan?”
“Immigration has considerable information about anyone who enters the country Anya even your intended address when you leave the airport. However, I’m not being intrusive, just wanted to know if I can be helpful. There’s a club where we Irish hang out and wondered if you’d like to meet your fellow country pilgrims and I’d be happy to take you. I can assure you I’m not married and am quite safe to be around. Of course, my work at the airport keeps me busy but I do get weekends off and wondered if you’d like me to show you around this weekend when I’m off duty?”
“That would be nice Alan. I’d appreciate meeting fellow Irish sojourners so would welcome that opportunity. Who knows I might even have unknown relatives attending or people who may know of them and that would help with my research? What did you have in mind?”
“If you have Saturday free, I’m off that day. I could show you around Sydney’s many attractions and we could meet the rest of the folk from the Emerald Isle in the evening. I’ll pick you up at the hotel if you agree.”
“Alan I’m moving to the Ibis Thornleigh tomorrow as it would be less crowded to drive than downtown Sydney. I don’t know their motel phone number yet but tomorrow I’ll be visiting one of the telephone services providers to get a local sim card for my phone. Using my Irish sim card would be very expensive here. Give me you phone details and I’ll let you know my cell number as soon as I have a new card. I’ll look forward to Saturday then. Thank you for your kind offer.”
“I’ll wait for you to let me know when you get a new cell phone number then Anya. Enjoy the rest of your evening.” She decided to rest on the bed for a few minutes but was soon fast asleep.
Anya woke with a start and looked at the clock by her bed. It was 3 am. She groaned. Time differences and jet lag two of the things she hated about travel not to mention the screwed-up seasons in the Southern Hemisphere. It had been wintertime in Ireland when she left so her body was not yet attuned to the sudden changes in temperature between north and south. It was summertime in Australia. All her travels had been in the Northern Hemisphere before, and this was a new experience. She tried to coax herself back to sleep but eventually gave up and sat morosely in a chair surfing cable channels looking for something of interest. She showered again to try and remove this feeling of fatigue and dressed for her day of appointments settling in the chair afterward and switching to news channels then immediately dozed off. She woke with a start at 5 am and realized she must have slept soon after sitting down. The TV had been on all that time.
She moved to the phone and punched in meal deliveries again ordering breakfast and half an hour later there was a knock on the door. She waited impatiently for the waiter to arrange things at the table and inspected the food. It was excellent and she felt a sudden burst of hunger and energy as she devoured the meal. Then picked up the paper delivered with her meal and worked her way through news items and advertisements. She was totally unaware of the local politics so read wondering about all those activities being discussed so minutely. When she’d exhausted the paper, she repacked her suitcases and waited for Zenith Travels to contact her about her rental car and motel booking.
Janet Farnsworth arrived at 9 am with details of her booking at the Ibis accompanied by a man who produced papers for her to sign for the rental car agreement. Anya signed these contracts, and the man handed her car keys informing her she should look for her vehicle in basement parking. The staff at reception would guide her there when she was booking out at 10 am. Janet left with him to give him a ride back to his hire car agency office telling Anya to phone her if she needed any bookings done in the next few months. Anya saw them to the door then checked all the cupboards and drawers to see nothing of her personal effects was being left behind.
Chapter 2 – The Irish Diaspora
At 9.45 she phoned reception for someone to take her luggage from the room and followed them down to reception as they took her to ground level to book out then again followed as they removed her luggage to basement parking loading it into her rental car. Anya entered her destination at Ibis Motel into the GPS and a male voice with decided English accent guided her through Sydney traffic up into the hilly country away from the harbor bringing her eventually to her new accommodation at the Ibis. She settled in then asked reception for the nearest telephone service provider office so she could replace her sim card. They guided her to Castle Hill Towers shopping center, and she entered their address into her car GPS and was soon on her way. Within an hour she had a new phone number and plan and sought out a restaurant. This would be her first restaurant meal in Australia. She’d had much experience with good food as a travel agent around the world and was interested to compare Australian cuisine. The restaurants she was interested in seemed to open in the evenings and not during the day, so she decided on fast food and back to the Ibis as jet lag was beginning to set in. Perhaps she needed a good physical workout and tried to remember if there was an exercise room back at the motel. That and a shower afterward may revive her energy levels. In the evening she’d message Alan Bagnall with her new cell phone number so he could contact her on Saturday with plans for the day.
The following day was spent establishing her bona fides as a researcher and registering her credentials. She’d had some experience in researching family history in various sites in Europe and America and found this helped her as she began her research here. In the first day of activities, she located one of the two names she’d been assigned to trace Seaghan. Niamh was the other name that was not readily available. She wondered if this woman may have been recorded with a name more easily recognizable to the English tongue and tried to think of what name could have been substituted.
Saturday was rapidly approaching so Anya was not surprised to receive a phone call on Friday evening and this time Alan Bagnall was quick to introduce himself.
“I hope we’re still on for the grand tour tomorrow Anya as I’m looking forward to showing you around Sydney then introducing you to your Irish compatriots in the evening.”
“Yes, I’m looking forward to that Alan. What time did you want to get started for the day?”
“Well, I understand you will still be experiencing the joys of jet lag so how soon would it be convenient for you to start the day with me?”
“Oh, I should be out of my jet lag fog to start at 9 am if that sounds good for you too. I know you’re probably working long hours at immigration so presume you are not an early riser on your days off.” Anya laughed.
“I live at Castle Hill, so it won’t take me long to reach you at the Ibis. I’m an early riser as I like to work out before heading for work each day so must get up very early to do that. See you at 9 am tomorrow then.”
Anya set her alarm and phoned through to the front desk asking them to wake her up at 6 am just to be on the safe side. She remembered once in America when she set her alarm to make sure she was on time for an important meeting and slept through the alarm, so it was wise to take that extra precaution.
She then turned on her TV to watch BBC News for a while and catch up on the latest news around the world and turned in for an early night. She’d been waking up each night since arrival at approximately 3 am and dozed intermittently until breakfast time feeling dull headed during the day. Hopefully she’d be able to handle an evening meeting with the Irish diaspora without a jet lag headache so she could enjoy their company to the fullest on Saturday evening.
Sydney Harbour was all that the travel brochures claimed it to be, and Anya felt quite relaxed in Alan’s company. Alan had left his car at a parking station in the suburbs and opted for suburban rail and taxis to get them around in the crowded city precincts. She quickly discerned he was not one of those types she’d often encountered on her journeys around the world charming in their initial contacts but dangerous when that initial contact wore off. He was handsome and had the unmistakable Irish features, but his Australian accent didn’t seem to fit with those features, and she found that intriguing. He made no move to take liberties with her. She was always on her guard for that when she had to deal with her male business associates and knew how to shut them down diplomatically, and if that didn’t work physically. She’d trained in martial arts after a couple of unwanted incidents. She remembered that brief encounter at the airport when electricity had passed between them and suddenly had a yearning for Alan to show a romantic interest in her. This time she’d not shut this male down.
Anya remembered her childhood and the poverty of the village she was bought up in. The desperation of those village conditions had most villagers turn to drink to give them some release from situations they faced and with that heavy drinking came abuse in its many forms. She could not get those scenes out of her mind as she negotiated life even in her affluent current circumstances. Her uncles had taken advantage of her in her early teens, and she’d fled from the village hiding in one of the trucks that delivered farm produce to the capital and through a series of lucky coincidences ended being taken into a wealthy family first as a maid then treated as a daughter and educated well.
As the family she was grafted into were real estate brokers it was only natural she drifted into the line of work she did so well now. But early memories had prevented her from forming a normal relationship with men outside of business and she was constantly on her guard. In some strange way she’d warmed to Alan on that brief encounter as she entered the country through immigration. She thought it strange that he’d decided to contact her in spite of them not being acquainted and wondered if this was a message, she shouldn’t attribute her growing up experiences to all men. The guardian family who’d saved her from the streets of Dublin she looked on as angels from above sent to rescue her and not the likes of what she’d experienced in her village which she’d judged was the norm.
She was aware of fingers clicking in front of her eyes and looked around at Alan in the back seat of a taxi.
“Are you jet lagged or in a trance Anya? Perhaps its too much to expect you to be ready to meet your Irish compatriots while you are still jet lagging.”
“Sorry Alan! I was thinking about my childhood and how odd it is to be travelling the world in the job I do when there were absolutely no prospects of my doing that as I dreamed of the future in my teenage years.”
Alan laughed. “Well, you’ve been quizzing me all day about my background which is quite unconventional. I had a happy childhood in a loving family until my mother died when I was in my early teens. I wanted to leave school to share some of the financial pressure on the family with Mum gone but Dad would have none of it. He worked two jobs to put me through university, but his health is not good now and he is in a retirement home, and I contribute to his expenses there. How about you?”
Anya winced and Alan noted it and determined not to pursue the matter further.
Anya turned her face to look out the side window of the taxi as it paused at a traffic stop. She could feel tears beginning to form and didn’t want him to see that.
“Alan I’ve had such a great time today and want us to meet your friends at this Irish pub. Who knows I might even meet one of my relatives? Maybe I’m a bit tired but am looking forward to the encounter. You have been such a great host.”
Alan smiled appreciatively. There would be several women there this evening he’d dated but none of them had made an impact on him as he searched for his soul mate for life. He was sneaking up there in age and had watched as one after another of his friends had married and seen their happiness in being together. He felt a possible bond with this woman for some reason he couldn’t explain and while he hoped for a miracle it was likely she’d return to Dublin when she’d finished her research. He had no desire to follow her to Ireland though he was proud of his ancestry.
“We’re here,” he said as the taxi pulled into the loading area in front of the hotel. He reached over and placed his card on the reader to pay for the journey. No one carried cash anymore and drivers didn’t want to accept cash due to the occasional drug crazed person who attempted a robbery to get cash to support their habit.
The two of them made their way up a flight of stairs to the hotel event room rented by the Irish club weekly and happy sounds greeted them as they burst into the room. Heads turned as they entered, and the sounds died down as all inspected the newcomer, Anya. Alan did the rounds introducing her to the different groups explaining her business and quest for information on long lost relatives. Women who had their eye on Alan studied her carefully trying to judge whether she was a competitor for his attention. Being well experienced from her world travels Anya recognized these signals and smiled inwardly. If she decided she had a genuine interest in this man none of them would be a match for her.
To the women’s delight men present gravitated to Anya offering their services to help her with her research project and Anya probed for recognition of any from Ireland in their history who may identify these long-lost relatives Seaghan and Niamh. Now it was Alan’s turn to look at this potential threat to the exclusive enjoyment of his new friend. He realized he was jealous but dared not show it. The women watched his reaction with interest to judge his relationship with their competition.
One of the men Fergus offered to put Anya in touch with a cousin who worked in government records, and they exchanged telephone numbers. Alan who’d been watching from a distance materialized instantly beside them. Anya turned to Alan as he approached.
“Looks like this contact may be helpful Alan?”
Alan glanced at the note she’d written. Then turned to Fergus. “I don’t recall meeting him at any of our gatherings Ferg?”
“He’s elderly and near retirement married to a lass of Welsh ancestry. Welsh are Celtic but not Irish so maybe she didn’t feel comfortable in our company Alan? They are members but don’t show up for our meetings though did attend occasionally years ago. You would not have met them as you’ve only been transferred to Sydney for the past six years. He has access to all the arrivals both free and penal in those early years so may be able to help this lass.”
Alan relaxed. “Sounds like it could be very helpful Ferg. Thanks!”
Anya moved close to whisper. “Alan I’m really fading from jet lag. Would you be able to see me back to the motel before I pass out and create an embarrassment? I’m sorry to interrupt your fellowship with your club members but really must leave.”
Anya didn’t object as Alan supported her downstairs and into the stand while he hailed a taxi. She fell asleep on his shoulder as they sped up into the hills in the direction of the Ibis Motel and he enjoyed the warmth of her as they travelled. When they arrived at the Ibis, he whispered to the taxi driver to wait then woke her and helped her to her room. She mumbled her thanks and asked him to contact her when he could get time off work. As he ran back to the waiting taxi to be taken to his parked car at a suburban station he determined to try and find a way to make this woman his soul mate.
To be continued
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