Here … this may warm the cockles of your heart! And considering the topic of the day at the moment, it is quite relevant. It happened a long time ago here in this town near where I live now. I know of the family, but best not name them as I believe the “situation” is still sensitive. They have a long memory, these small town residents!
A short announcement.
As well aware as we are these days of those “Great Moments in History” where an event is celebrated on canvas, like, say, George Washington crossing the Delaware or Captain James Cook bearing up proudly on the bow of the Endeavor’s whaler boat as he broaches the sandy shore of Botany Bay, or even our own Colonel Light on Montefiore Hill with his determined arm outstretched pointing to the possible location of the future precinct of Adelaide (and how right he was!) … I’d like to draw your attention to those little moments in history enacted in those little places way off the beaten track that one must acknowledge, do deliver their own great moments within their own little worlds. Less, perhaps, “momentous” than “of the moment”!
Such an event happened on the evening of the 2nd of June 1953 – on The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2nd – at the Sedan Hotel front bar, where was gathered a regular small group of loyal local blokes, many bearing the Germanic names of that peoples that had been enemies in two wars of recent memory … but wishing to scotch any rumours of disloyalty to The Crown, the publican of the hotel called for silence with the ringing of a spoon on the rim of a schooner glass and proposed a toast to “Her Majesty The Queen”. THAT is the orthodox version of events. I have it on good authority, though I will not vouch for its exactness of detail, that another short announcement accompanied that toast that created a certain amount of “discussion” within that small community.
It went like this:
I doubt it goes without some knowledge in these small country towns, that certain individuals practice habits that are, shall we say, of a different complexion than the mainstream. Most accomplish these little peccadilloes in the secrecy and privacy of their own homes – by themselves and good luck to them – but of course there is a price to pay for all that secrecy. There is the paranoia that if discovered, the general consensus of “the mob” will excoriate and damn the individual in question to exile or worse. Such “difference” is a heavy burden to carry, particularly if one is working every day, shoulder to shoulder with his fellows in the fields. It wears on a chap!
Such a burden had for several years weighed heavily upon one such chap among that gathering that evening in the front bar of The Sedan Hotel (we shall not name names!). He had come to the decision a week or so before that he would share this burden with his fellows and take the consequences … whatever … he would “own” his idiosyncrasy. He had chosen that particular evening and he had steeled himself for the occasion with rehearsed lines and solemn mood to deliver to best advantage that which he wished to say. The fact that the publican had chosen – with his unfortunate royal toast to the newly coroneted queen – the very apex of that moment, the very inhale of breath so to speak, was inconvenient, but not a deterrence. He decided to press ahead.
The silence was heeded, the glasses were charged, the toast was made: “To the Queen!”..”Hear, Hear!” The schooners were just touched to eager, wetted lips when he made his own small announcement:
“I like wearing women’s clothes. I always have.”
There was a short brevity of spluttering chaos in the group.
I would not like to claim that he said it “gaily”, but rather, in a quiet, solemn voice. Soft, but determined. You know, there are some hesitations in the general hubbub of public gatherings where silence can follow momentous announcements. (I’m thinking of Julius Caesar about to cross the Rubicon and he says quietly; “Jacta alia est” (the die is cast). The legions, I suspect, fell silent. Or Horatio Nelson with his famous telescope to the blind eye: “I really do not see the signal”. There are others … there are others). Such a silence followed this announcement in the front bar of The Sedan Hotel. A full ten seconds silence. An eyewitness noted the ticking of a clock (two rooms away) for a full ten tocks. That record, I hasten to add, still stands! I suspect the shock of this fellow navvy, this rough-handed roustabout, whom they were more used to see in moleskins and blucher-boots, informing them of his preference for women’s petticoats and finery threw some small confusion into their male minds. It wasn’t long, however, “till the boat rightened itself”, the wave of confusion subsided and he was confronted with wide-eyed “enthusiasm”. Needless to say, his first suspicions of the possibility of estrangement, alienation and blind anger were quite sufficiently full-filled!