As the children are eating dinner, cockatoos fly over the hospital; the children know they’re signaling rain. Frank’s parents, Ida and Meyer Gold, also hear the birds from their house in North Perth. Meyer is watering his vegetable patch and Ida is smoking and thinking that the bird calls are “melancholy [and] harsh” and therefore a particularly “Australian sound.”
While the cockatoos are a good omen for Australians who know how to interpret their calls, they seem hostile to Ida, an immigrant. Her pessimistic reaction shows her discontent with Australia as well as her isolation from her new society and its customs.
After the war, the Golds had hoped to go to America, but they received a sponsorship from Western Australia instead. Ida can’t stop thinking of their immigration as ill-fated and views everything as evidence for this theory, from a missed bus to Frank’s polio. Ida remembers that even during the terror and treachery of the war, she was strong and resourceful. Now, finally settled in a safe country, she feels “gutted, feeble, shell-shocked.”
Though the war is over and her family is out of danger, Ida is still suffering its psychological effects—from personal feelings of weakness to an inability to adapt to her new surroundings. This shows that the process of surviving and overcoming a specific trauma continues long after that trauma has technically ended.
Meyer encourages Ida to play the piano; they in fact chose their current house because the previous owner left a piano in the living room. However, Ida hasn’t played since Frank got sick. Although the Golds are atheists, Meyer knows that Ida considers her talent for piano as supernaturally inspired and suspects she has made a superstitious promise to give it up in exchange for their son’s health. Her determination and respect for her craft are what he’s always admired most about her.
Like Frank, Ida has a strong sense of vocation; playing piano is central to her sense of self. However, while Frank believes that the challenges of his life, namely polio, have made him into a poet, the challenges that Ida faces have taken away or forced her to renounce her calling.
Since she won’t play, Meyer says she should go to bed, but Ida knows that when she’s tired her nightmares are worse, so she pours herself another glass of brandy.
While the Golds have survived the war and are safely established in Australia, it’s clear that they haven’t put the war behind them yet.