Grandma Jessie Wallace kept turkeys on the farm as she claimed they were an excellent warning system. Whenever a visitor's car turned off the Beachmere Road, onto the rough, corrugated, sandy track to the house, the turkeys started making their distinctive gobbling sound. This was the signal for Nan to stoke up the wood stove, fill and put the kettle on to the hot plate and to whip up a batch of her famous scones.
As a wee girl, I was involved with this process of country hospitality and loved deciding whether to put the pink or blue cups and saucers on to the cloth covered tray, filling the milk jug with our own fresh milk and placing the sugar bowl and silver tea strainer at the ready. Nan tied a large apron under my armpits, stood me on a stool beside her at the large scrubbed kitchen table and taught me such culinary secrets as how to rub the butter (homemade, of course) into the flour and salt in the big brown bowl.
"Lift your hands up out of the bowl, hen; only use your wee finger tips; stop as soon as it looks like breadcrumbs", said Gran, who was renowned for having that elusive, but highly praised quality of a 'light touch' in the local Caboolture district. As I grew a little older, I progressed to cracking the freshly laid eggs into the jug of golden buttermilk, before the whole gooey mess was quickly combined with a blunt-ended knife.
"Don't overwork the dough; just tip it out and lightly pat it until the dough is an inch thick, darling, that's my girl," she instructed, her deft hands quickly cutting the mixture with a small sherry glass kept for this purpose. "Pop the tray into the oven when I open the door, we mustn't let the heat escape."
Impatiently we waited the eight or so minutes for the scones to rise in the old Aga oven, turning into fragrant golden puffs, which were quickly turned out into a tea-towel lined colander to cool a little until I could carefully arrange them on a rose-patterned plate. Clotted cream, several varieties of homemade jam, a plate of Anzac biscuits and some slices of Nan's Dundee cake nestled beside the still steaming scones on the tea tray. We were now ready to face our unknown visitors.
As the sound of the wrenched hand brake reached us in the kitchen, Gran whipped off our aprons, patted her hair in place, wiped a smudge of flour off my cheek and pushed me forward to greet our guests.
"Come in, come in," she beckoned. "The kettle is on the boil and the scones have just come out of the oven". Our visitors were often mystified as to how Nan had known they were arriving, but she'd just put her head on the side and say, somewhat coyly, that 'a little bird had told her!'
Sitting down together in the comfortable sitting room, enjoying the simple pleasure of a cup of tea and a freshly made scone, was a routine which could be repeated several times during the day at 'Kia Ora'. People in the district, friends or family called in, usually unannounced, to discuss the price of beef at the last sale, the weather (good or bad), someone's latest marriage or baby, or just to exchange general local news.
Nan often bought and sold her prized Hereford cattle, discussed her cattle breeding program, exchanged recipes or hired new station hands with a scone in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, and followed up with a brisk handshake. She had very little use for contacts or signed documents, maintaining that a firm handshake and an 'eye to eye gaze' was all she needed to seal a deal! But she always kept quiet about the turkeys' role in her country hospitality ritual, and I was sworn to secrecy!
With these simple gestures and routines of warm, friendly Australian country hospitality to unexpected visitors, learned at the knee of a woman whose entire life revolved around family love and open friendship to all comers, I learned that love is best expressed often, in simple words and deeds.