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Retired carpenter..history buff, local and ancient..love stories of Italianate style, especially those village superstition stories..Very far left-wing.

Aunty

I worked for some years with several Greek families, so I got to know them quite well .. One doesn’t get regular work with some people unless they trust you … it’s funny that way. I got to know the teller of this story quite well over a few years. It happened so many years ago now. He told it to me and now I will pass it on to you …

It went like this:

Aunty

“Kyrie eleison!” Aunty gasped wearily,”So help me God, you’ll be the death of me, Yani!”

“YANI!” mama caught hold of my ear and twisted it cruelly, “What do you mean by giving cheek to Aunty, have you no respect?”

“Ahh! leave off the child, Elene, its not his fault, you can’t expect more from a healthy boy, its just these old bones are not up to catching him no more … or I’d deal with him myself!”

“It’s not the point, Aunty, when we are working in the fields he should be helping you here, not making a nuisance of himself.”

So I got the regulation clip-behind-the-ear and smack-on-the-arse as I scooted out of reach, though I knew I was Aunty’s favourite.

“Ah I tell you Ele’, its not just Yani, it’s just that I’m getting too old for looking after the children … I’m nearly seventy five now!”

“Why that’s a fib, Aunty … you’re only seventy three!”

Aunty sat in a chair, her fore-arms on her thighs and hands between her knees.

“Seventy five, seventy three … what’s the difference? At the end of the day I feel one hundred and eight!”

“Yani! you see how you make Aunty feel,” and mama shook her fist at me.

“Leave the boy alone, Ele’, he’s alright”.

“Just you wait till Papa comes home, he’ll straighten you out heh! … yes!” she nodded and hummed threateningly “Then you’ll know how to run! … hoom, yes!” and she nodded again and pointed her flickering finger at me.

“Where is Mihali?” Aunty asked.

“He is gone to the post-office to see if our visas have come through, today is the last day. I hope we hear one way or the other, its the waiting and not knowing ”

“Ahh! … the rest I will have if you go!“ said Aunty, “And then I can get into planting out my garden … ” Aunty lifted her hands up flat and shook them like that generation do .

“Ha ha! … won’t you be the queen of the castle if that happens,” mama laughed, ” No-one to look after but yourself! … how I will envy you.”

“Oh don’t you worry, Ele’, I’ve got plans that will keep me on my toes!”

“You don’t think you will miss chasing after the children?” (a laugh).

“The little blighters! … oh, I suppose there will be times but as I said before, my bones are getting too old for scurrying after the little rabbits! (a laugh also). And as for Yani! …” she caught me trying to sneak past and grabbed and tickled me, how I squealed and squirmed!” There, that’ll show you that cunning out-foxes youth any day!” And she released me so I scampered away out the door.

“Papa’s coming!” I called … ”With Tomas!”

“Ah! … let’s see now …” said mama wiping her hands with a cloth and peering over Aunty and out the door. ”How’s he walking? I can tell his mood from his stride.” and she wiped her hands while she concentrated. “Oh dear … it doesn’t look like good news … ”

“Slower, Tomas, walk slower she can tell what mood I’m in from our walk!”

“Ah, yer can’t fool women, Mihali, they’ve spent too much time studying men!”

“Just for the moment will do, I don’t want to fool them all the time … hang your head a little … pretend you owe Spiros money and he is after you for it!”

“What is that parcel they have, Elena?”, Aunty asked.

“Some cheese from Tasso … I said to pick some up while he was there.”

Papa and Tomas trudged through the door with downcast faces, mama plonked her hands on her hips.

“No good eh?” she sighed, then flicked the towel she was holding and spoke in a contrived, brave voice; “Well, we’ll just have to wait till the next quarter and bite the bullet!” … and she went to move past the table over to the sink. Just as she was abreast of papa, he nonchalantly pulled out a bundle of papers, yawned exaggeratedly and placed them on the table in front of mama … she stopped, frowned, picked up one of the pieces of paper and read.

“OHHH! Mihali, these are … ” her eyes all wide with excitement. “Oh … you tricked me .. you tricked us both … oh didn’t he Aunty (a little cry of delight) our visa’s! they’ve come through! oh how you fooled me, I was watching you as you came up the road … and you Tomas! oh!” … and we were all jumping around the table all excited and mama read the immigration papers piece by piece, some out loud, some to herself, her lips moving as she concentrated and lifting the towel to her lips every now and then till her eyes became watery and she slumped down in a chair and wept with the release of tension and papa fell onto her neck and consoled her with joking words and wet, sloppy kisses. Tomas opened the parcel and took out a bottle of wine and a cheer went up from the adults and Aunty clinked and chinked some glasses from the shelf and papa slopped wine into each glass, talking all the while and leaning over mama at the same time and with all the celebration we didn’t get to bed till after midnight! … I wished we got visa’s every day! … anyway, at least mama forgot to tell on me to papa! …

And so we all got permission to immigrate, all our family and Papa’s two brothers and their families, even yaya and papu (gran and granpa) all except Aunty, but she didn’t want to go anyway! … besides, she wasn’t really our aunty, oh, she was some distant relation, from over the other side of the island. She came to live with us before I was even born and spent all her time looking after us kids while the adults were working in the fields or the orchards. Sometimes she’d sit on the wicker chair outside in the fine summer days and do the olives or the cobs of corn, with us kids crawling around her feet or she’d have us helping her. She’d keep up a running stream of admonitions against us if we got too rowdy and she’d get us lunch or drink and be forever picking up a baby that was crying and would cradle it on her lap between her still working arms and start crooning some ancient lullaby just to break in the middle to chastise one of us for squabbling then have to “choo! choo! choo!” the baby all over again and get up and walk around in circles quietening the little brat …

“Ahh!” she’d say, “If fate was kinder to me I’d have my own kiddies and not be here refereeing you lot! … Ahh … fate!”

So we got the feeling over the years that she was only looking after us as a duty. Oh we were fond of her, no mistake, how could you spend so much time as a child with someone and not become attached? and she likewise, but she always finished off the day with a groan about her “weary old bones” so that papa and mama spoke quietly some nights about immigrating to Australia and how wonderful it would be for Aunty to be released from looking after all the children. Then sometimes papa would sigh and say it was such bad fortune that had fell upon her and Petro with the war, and if things had of been otherwise so that I suspect that Petro was someone in Aunty’s past who was not there now.

Well. our family was the first to leave, then the brothers would follow in a months’ time and lastly; yaya and papu, who wanted to stay till the wine was vintaged to make sure a good job was done as you couldn’t trust Tomas to be thorough in the preparation etc, etc. Papa just rolled his eyes and said “whatever”, anyhow there was plenty to do once they were in the new country to prepare the way for the others and maybe it was best that the old couple were not under their feet what with the strangeness of it all (the last bit was spoken quietly and out of earshot of granpapa!).

So within three months, from working out in the fields and Aunty bustling about with armfulls of kiddies, we were all gone to Australia and Aunty had no-one to worry about but herself. And that, I suppose, is one of the worst things that can happen to a body! I remember the day we left, down on the wharf with all our luggage and the sea-breeze lifting the ladies skirts so they were pushing them back down with an impatient gesture and the scarves floating gracefully from their hair.

All the odd-size bags and cases and boxes cramped together on the deck with sheets of blue plastic thrown over to protect them from the water and the endless kisses and embracing and pinching and backslapping and shaking “to be a good boy for your mama and papa” till it was a relief when the ferry pushed off and we broke free of the island, our home. It was then the wailing started in earnest and it seemed at least one or two people would fall overboard, but they didn’t!

“Andio, andio sus andio, yassu!” cried Aunty. “Look for me when you round the bluff, I will wave my scarf!”…  and she waved her bright red scarf to demonstrate, then scurried off to make it to the bluff as the ferry rounded the island to head to Rhodes where the airport was.

The ferry generally swings out wide there, but I saw papa give something to the captain and then grasp his shoulder with one hand and shake the other gratefully. So that we came in closer there at the bluff and we could see and hear Aunty as she jumped and waved her bright red scarf, it was funny seeing her jump, cause old people don’t jump properly … their top half seems to leap up but their feet stay on the ground! and she was calling out to us but the sea-breeze which was stronger out on the water blew snatches of it away so we only got bits of what she was calling, like:

“Yassu … yassu! … remember me! .. fortune … Australia! … Yani return to see me, Yani“ … till the rest was lost …

There; I knew I was her favourite! even when she chastised me, there was a look in her eye. I suddenly wondered then about who Petro was, and I thought that I’ll have to ask mama but the journey was all too exciting so I forgot all about it.

Six months later:

The white heat! The space! and the work! That first summer was a scorcher in more ways than one, what with all the organisation to be done. But we finally settled in our new home in Australia and Christmas came and went, then the new year, and papa came in the door one day with two letters. He waved them high.

“From Sophia!” he cried. Mama brushed a lick of hair from her eyes as she looked up from the baby.

“Ahh! Read them out Mihali, I’ll look at them later.”

“There’s two … let’s see … ah, this one first, it’s the earliest … the other must have caught up in the mail ”

He tore the letter carefully down the side and turned it around a couple of times till he got it right.

“Dear Tourists!” he quoted and they laughed. “Dear tourists” he began again and read slowly but with emphasis on the news-bits or funny-bits when he came to them, sometimes repeating a word or two that tickled him and laughing with it; “ … and Tomas is very busy “guiding“ (that’s her word!) the Swedish and German girls around the ruins of the island!(and doing his best ruining their virtues I might add!) ” and papa laughed but mama just tich’d him and told him to go on with the letter, so he read it through to the end.

He held the second letter up and frowned a little as he read the date on it .

“This one’s written just a week later than the first … she must’ve forgotten some little bit of news … I wonder?” … and he read it to himself and his brow knitted as he read.

When he finished, he didn’t say anything but just sat down at the table … mama was watching him but not saying anything.

“So … go on, Mihali, … read it.” but papa just shrugged his shoulder and dropped the letter on the table.

“It’s … it’s Aunty … she’s died.” There was silence in the room.

“Read the letter, Mihali … read it to me,” mama said quietly.

Papa shrugged again, gathered up the piece of paper, sort of flicked it a couple of times like he didn’t want to touch it, then cleared his throat and began:

“Dearest Mihali and Elene … I am the bearer of sad news … yesterday at six o’clock in the evening, Aunty passed away. It was so sudden it gave us all here a shock, as I suppose it will you. It seems strange that within six months a person as seeming ageless as her could suddenly lose the zest for life.

After you all had left, she had grand plans to renovate the garden and plant sections with vegetables here, flowers there, several fruit trees over near the tank, etc, etc. She had Tomas running off his feet moving earth and rocks and so on. She seemed so full of life, of plans, like she expected to live forever … then we had a cold snap a couple of weeks ago … you know those winds that come down from Siberia? well she came down with a bit of a flu that kept her in bed a couple of days, nothing much! … then she was back on her feet, though she had lost some of her zest, or so Tomas said, cause he asked her if she wanted him to move that rose bush by the gate now and she said; “No, it looks nice there when it flowers in the springtime,” when she was all keen to clear that spot the week before … it was her voice that made him take notice. Then she stopped doing work on the garden altogether all of a sudden!

Tomas went around every evening and he found her just sitting on the wicker chair out the front of the house, even on cold days, so he would take her inside. She went a bit “funny” in the last days. Tomas went there last Sunday evening and there she was, sitting outside with a bowl of corn cobs cradled in her lap and she just staring out and rocking back and forth like old people seem to do but Tomas said it looked for all the world like she was rocking a baby She went into a fever that night and never recovered. She woke just yesterday for a moment and whispered;

“Petro will come back soon … tell Yani … ” And that was it … On her soul: Kyrie eleison.”

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A Ukulele Opera: Act #3

Enrico and Rosaline

Joe, the narrator tells of Enrico’s story:

“You see, he had only just landed at Outer Harbour in the year of 1939 when he was immediately informed that being an “enemy alien”, of Italian extraction he would be interned … but the company he gained work with as a stone-mason/bricklayer gave him a choice: He could be interned with the rest of the Italians in the Riverland, or he could go to Darwin to do work that the company had contracts for there on the hospital and the wharfs … He chose the latter … but then when he was working there, Darwin got bombed by the Japanese and he had to make his way back down the centre to here with us other Italians … as fate would have it …

“Guiseppi! How would your luck be?” Enrico exclaimed to me when he got here, “I leave Italy to get away from Mussolini, and then I come here to get bombed out by Tojo! … where does one go for a bit of peace in this world?”

Anyway … here he was and here he would stay … at least for the duration … and … like the rest of us, he wasn’t very happy with the option.”

Joe, the narrator continues … He reads from a sheet of paper:

“Now at last I am free!

Off through the scrub I run

Where sheep tracks only are seen

Nothing but bush and sun

Till all of a sudden I come

Out where an axe swings free.

Cutting, for love and money

The axe bites deep in a tree … ”

“A passing moment does not a lifetime make, but a moment’s passion can be a lifetime’s mistake … or … good fortune. A life brought into being by the strangest union in the most unusual chances and circumstances one could imagine. He from the north of Italy, in the Dolomites, she from the ‘heartbreak country’ of the Murray Mallee in South Australia.

They met on the banks of the Murray River, Enrico and Rosaline. He there to collect a truck-load of water for the camp, she on an evening ambulation from Portee Station where she worked as a servant girl.

He being able to speak barely a word of English, she not being able to understand a single word of Italian … But they met and exchanged pleasantries as only such ethnically diverse strangers could.”

He asked (in Italian) if they ate well at the big house …

“Mangiano bene nella grande casa?”

She replied (in English):

“The evening light falling on the river spreads a certain calm over the waters … don’t you think?”

He was a stone-mason by trade.

She desired to be a poet.

They got on well, and in the intervening months, while Enrico’s English improved immensely, so did their congenial meetings … by now a regular, mutually agreeable thing. As the Spring weather became more and more pleasant and the days longer, Enrico would linger at his duties of pumping water into the tanker longer than was allocated by his roster and he was questioned by Joe on his arrival back at the camp ..

“What do you get up to there by the riverside to be away for so long?” Joe asked.

“I listen to the birds sing and observe the calming light on the waters,” Enrico answered.

“And this singing birdy you listen to … what is her name?” Joe cynically responded …

“Rosaline,” Enrico smiled.

Indeed, they did eventually wed … the youthful composer of the above doggerel; Rosaline Thomas and the refugee Italian; Enrico Corradini (whom she would call “Ricky”). And as she describes her running through the scrub to meet with her lover, I can now ask, knowing the ending of her story; Was she running to embrace life, or running from a desolate lifestyle? … And Enrico, the refugee, we know was running from hunger and war, but did he realise then as he surely did later, what and where was he running to?”

Enrico arrived at the Charcoal camp a week after Artini’s attempted escape and drowning in the Murray River. So the whole camp was in the doldrums over that affair. There was little appetite for getting to know any new arrivals at the moment … the whole camp ran on “automatic pilot” and Enrico was given the easy job of just going to the river twice a week to get a tanker full of water. It was on one of these trips that he met Rosaline.

The unofficial story surrounding their meeting and courtship is recorded in the family circle … It seems the erstwhile Enrico was out trapping rabbits one day and he got lost .. only to stumble onto the dusty bush camp where, coincidentally, the young Rosaline was in attendance to her mother, Grace Thomas, who was expecting her fifth child. Rosaline’s father, having difficulty understanding the gesticulating “eyetalian”, instructed Rose to show him the track leading to the presumed wood-cutters camp from whence he came.

In truth, the information on the whereabouts of that family’s camp-site away in the bush from another charcoal-burning camp a couple of kilometres from Fox’s camp, and the fact that Rosaline would be at that camp-site on such a time of the month was passed to Enrico on one of their “accidental meetings” at the river’s edge … the trapping of rabbits was Enrico’s own innovation.

A week or so later, Enrico turned up again, rabbit traps in hand and lost again … the same procedure as last time was followed and that was that, until again … another week later Enrico shows up again, lost while trapping rabbits … this time, as Rosaline is leading the gentleman away, Richard Thomas scratched the back of his head in thought … he turned to his wife:

“You know … that eyetie must be the worst trapper in the world … he’s never got one single bunny!”

Joe continues:

“The camp that Rosaline’s parents were at was a couple of kilometres from our camp and it was run by a Slavic man named Jack … It was a rough camp of desperates and opportunists, with many accidents at the charcoal pit heads … for if those burns were not attended to or done right, they could suddenly explode into a shower of flame and sparks and set the whole camp aflame … Here, I will let Rosaline explain it from this poem she wrote of everyday life there …

“Also down in the camp,

The man are up and about,

Somebody waves a flagon,’

And another raises a shout!

Then a glass of wine is downed,

To help one through the day …”

So you can see, there was not much disciplined routine over in that camp and that is why Richard Thomas moved his family away into the scrub and pitched tent away from the men, as Mrs.Thomas and the young girls were the only women and children in the camp … So when Rosaline told Enrico she was going to stay with her mother because of the mother’s pregnancy, that sadly developed into the occurrence of her mother having a miscarriage and Rosaline had to stay longer to both help with her mother’s recuperation and the schooling of the younger ones … so Enrico got to know Rosa and her family quite well over that time, with the family sometimes coming to play cards at the Italian camp … and then when Rosaline went back to work at Portee station, he resumed his job of going to the river to get water … and there he continued his courtship of Rosaline.”

Joe continues:

“Now, the war is coming to an end … it won’t be long before the camp will be broken up and all these men will be able to go back to their dreams … but I wonder if those dreams will now become something different?”

One afternoon, on the banks of the Murray River, Enrico and Rosaline sit talking of the future … The war is near an end and the Camp is due to be broken up … The Italians will be able to go back to their former plans and dreams … Enrico says to Rosaline:

“Rosa … what are we to do? … I will soon be sent back to the city … what will you do?”

Rosaline sat quietly looking over the river waters … then she spoke … not exactly to Enrico, but to the quiet atmosphere around them both:

“There’s an old German hand there at Portee who, whenever he has to cross the river on the punt to go to work on the other side, would pick up a small stone, a pebble, carry it across and place it on the other side … I once asked him why he did it … he was at first reluctant to tell me … but I persisted …

“Well, girlie” ( that’s what they all call young women out here) … ”it is my own little thing … I think of the small stone as my soul … you see, I cannot swim … and so I take the stone, carry it, and if or when I reach safely the solid ground on the other side, I leave it dzair … when I come back, I do the same.”

“What happens if the punt starts to sink?” I asked.

“Dzen I will try to throw it with all my might, to the other side … and I think if it reaches there, then I feel I too will reach there … ”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Dzen, I think I vill be lost in the waters of the river … ” Rosaline stopped abruptly and looked to Enrico with a sadness in her eyes … “Will I too be lost in the waters of the river, Enrico?” she asked. “Will my life’s hope be as desperate as that little pebble .. nothing but a hope of something better?”

Enrico took her hands and looked deep into her eyes … he then asked the question he had been wanting to ask for a long time …

“Will you come to the city to be with me, Rosa? … Come to the city and we can soon be married … if you will have me.”

“O’, Ricky … how can we marry? … you see where my family lives .. how my family lives … in a bag tent in the Mallee … I have nothing, you have little as you have said yourself … How can we start a life together?”

Enrico clasps her hands tight …

“But, my love … soon I will be back in the city … I have a job promised to me by Joe … he is a builder there … I will make my money … if you can find work there, we can both start a new life together … ”

Rosaline brightens up at the new prospect, this new hope …

“Dr.Hackendorf and his wife are good friends of the owners of Portee Station and the Doctor has said many times that I could work and board with them if I ever decide to come to the city to live … I’ll see if that offer still stands” …

Enrico moves to kneel in front of the sitting Rosaline takes hold of her hands and sings this song to her …

“El canto della sposa”:

“The house of my darling,

Is all made of bags,

But for me who wishes to go there,

It is a palace of silk … ”

 

Afterwards, they both go back to the camp, where they find the men there in an uproar at the news that Gemano’s fiancé has survived the war and has written a letter to Gemano … He rushes toward Enrico when he sees he and Rosaline arrive back from the river in the water truck … The opening music of Verdi’s “Requiem Dies Irae“ strikes up in the background:

 

Gemano is waving a letter and crying out to the sky ..

“She lives! … she lives!! … my love is alive! … ahh, ha ha! … she lives … ” he drops to his knees and sobs … “We have won, Enrico … we have both beaten death … for now … my love lives … she lives”

And he holds the letter up to Enrico who takes it gently and reads it:

“Oh Gemano … truly you are fortunate … yes … she lives … ” Enrico pauses, his brow furrows as he reads on … ” She says here she now has a child … born during the war … ”

“Yes, yes … I saw that … and she says she will only come to me if I accept the child as well … what say you, Enrico … what do you think … ”

“Do you still love her, Gemano?”

“Truly … more than I could say … so much more than I could say … ”

“Then you must accept them both, Gemano … for they are both needing you as well … and who can say what has happened to those we left behind in that war … both you and I remember the last great war … so much killing of the young and old and raping of the women … the armies went up and down those valleys taking and using everything in their path so that none were spared .. or none would survive … ” … and he hands the letter back to Gemano … who takes it tenderly, folds it away into the envelope and places it into a top pocket … he then stands and takes out the old photograph he has of her .. the stage darkens with a spotlight only on Gemano … he sings his song to the tune once again of “O’ mio babbino caro” … (I would also like to hear the soft strains of the ukulele mixed in tune with the symphonic music):

“Now I will see my Sophia, (he holds her picture in front)

I still hold her picture so dear …

We will kiss at the station once more,

And I’ll put a white rose in her hair.

Just like this one I see here, (touches photo)

Now she is back I will kiss her,

Now she is back I shan’t miss her,

Once I see my Sophia,

I can’t believe she will be here,

I so want her to call my name,

Now I will see my Sophia,

Now I will hold my Fidanza,

We will kiss once more at the station,

I will put a rose in her hair, (Gemano strokes the picture lovingly)

I can hardly believe she will be here,

I so want her near me,

I will soon see my Sophia,

My love, My darling, my dear.

I will soon see my Sophia,

My love, my darling, my dear.”

The music continues as the light slowly dims on Gemano, standing with his head bowed …

Joe the Narrator takes up the story:

“Ah … Gemano and Sophia … they did get married … by proxy … he here, she there in the old country and they finally joined together later when the ship brought her and her child to a new life here in Australia … and they had more children.

The camp was broken up not long after, and the men went back to their trades and work in the city and elsewhere … and look (Joe points to a heap of sacks left in a jumble at the back of the stage set ) there … in amongst the left over rubbish and sacks on their old life here … (He bends to pick up Gemano’s ukulele … it is battered and damaged and a couple of strings are broken) and see here … Gemano’s ukulele … what brought so much song and joy to so many nights in the camp … left to decay away with their memories … (he tosses it onto the heap of sacks) … oh well … perhaps best it be like that … so many dark days to walk away from … best it be so … ”

Joe walks briskly off stage, whistling as he does so to the background music of “O’ mio babbino caro” …

See also Act #1 and Act #2.

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A Ukulele Opera: Act #2

Artini the woodcutter and Tess, the Aboriginal girl

The tragedy that happened with Artini was in disobeying the request of the young Tess, distressed at the wanton cutting down of so many trees, to leave his mighty axe on the other side and cross the river by himself … but he decided he would need the axe to cut and build a humpy for himself after he crossed … so he secretly strapped it to his back under his coat so as not to offend her and he would reveal it once across when it would be too late for Tess to protest …

I first heard his name when my sister, who visited one summer, translated some letters between my father and his relatives back in the Dolomites village where both he and the young man came from. He told of the tragedy of how Artini drowned in the Murray River whilst crossing the ford on instruction of Tess, his accomplice in his escape attempt, who whilst on curfew and not permitted to be across that side of the river after dusk, was to help him cross via a secret ford there.

The plan was for Tess to “sing” a song of a cockatoo to direct Artini to a secret ford in the river, unfortunately, on that very night of his crossing, the sluice-gates of Lock 1 just up-river at Blanchetown were opened and a surge of water came down the river to catch him whilst in the middle of the ford … He was swept away as he cried that it was his axe, his mighty axe dragging him down and he could not swim … Tess cried for him to throw the axe away, but it was tied too tight and he could not get it off … and he consequently drowned that night in the river .. His body was later found and it was recorded as “death by drowning … an unfortunate accident“ … But my father’s letters tell a different story.

But here is the song line that has grown around the story … It goes like this:

Joe, the narrator tells the yarn …

“Artini was the biggest, best, strongest Italian woodcutter in the Swan Reach district during the war years … The ‘ring’ of his mighty axe could be heard miles away through the mallee! His axe was of the hardest steel special made from his own instructions by the blacksmith in the camp … the handle he cut and shaped himself from the hardest mallee wood … and it was so heavy, it could not be used by any of the other woodcutters in the camp. Artini was an “enemy alien” internee from the Italian Alps; The Dolomites, who used to cut wood for the charcoal burning camps in the mallee.

Artini could often be heard singing an alpine song “Ill tuo fazzolettino” (“Give me your bandana, my darling”) in his dialect as he swung his mighty axe at the mallee trees … His voice was so strong it would carry for a great distance through the tops of the mallee trees and it was heard by Tess one day as she fetched water from the river.

Tess was a young Aboriginal woman who lived at the mission over the other side of the river near Swan Reach. She would also get some work at Portee Station just up the Murray a bit from the mission. The trees were a part of her life and of important significance to her people.and every tree that Artini cut down was as a wound to her heart.

Artini was cutting wood a little way from the river, Gemano was his offsider, but Artini worked so fast and was so good that all Gemano had to do was to keep out of his way and play his ukulele as Artini swung his axe to the tunes … unfortunately, Gemano is still lamenting for his fiancé back home of whom he has yet to hear from because of the war.”

“Gemano!” Artini called, “haven’t you a cheerful song with a faster beat … something I can really get stuck into?”

Gemano thought for a minute … then;

“What about Funiculi Funicula?”

“Anything rather than your sad laments … I have work to do”

Gemano plays a lively version of the song on the ukulele and Artini makes words up as he works along with the rhythm …

 

“Working, working all the live-long day!

Working, working, for as long as they make me stay!

In the spring, in the Summer, every blasted day …

Cutting wood, burning wood so Foxxy gets his pay!“

And:

“Rabbit, rabbit … it’s all they got for chow!

Rabbit, rabbit and potatoes stewed so slow …

No garlic, no onions, or polenta, and no pasto …

Underground mutton is the only food they know.”

Tess creeps up from the river to hide behind a tree and watches and listens to the two Italians at their work. Gemano spots her from his laying against a log. He stops playing …

“Oh … hello … we have an audience.”

Artini stops cutting and looks up … He sees Tess and calls to her …

“Hey there … are you one of the river people?”

Tess hesitates to reply, then she gingerly speaks …

“Why do you sing as you cut the trees?”

“I like to sing and it helps me to keep a rhythm as I work,” Artini replies.

“But you are killing the tree,” Tess says, “It can’t be nice for the tree.”

Artini makes a pout and a surprised twist of his face as he considers this different perspective … then he says:

“Well … I’m afraid out here, I am a prisoner and I am also dying … but slowly, and there is no escaping my situation … so it is either the tree or me … and there is no-one to sing for me.” He thinks for a moment … ”Unless you want to sing a song for me?” and he smiles to Tess.

“I cannot sing your type of song … and anyway, you sing beautifully … can you sing another?”

Artini smiles again and his vanity is flattered … after all, he is a good singer with a strong voice .. He calls to Gemano ..

“Gemano … play us the tune of O’ Sole Mio and I will show this lass how we Italians sing.” Artini leans his axe against the tree and takes off his neckerchief … Gemano sits up and concentrates as he plays the tune of “O Sole Mio”.

 

“O’ solo mio,

I am here alone,

In another country,

So far from my home.

Working for the bastardi,

And the rotten food they feed me,

Without love, without hope and without fazooli!

O’ solo mio,

Will I ever be free,

Will there be a lover,

Come and rescue me?

But these bastardi Englandi,

Say I must cut the mallee,

Without love, without hope and I say; ma fungooli!”

Gemano finishes with a laugh and a flourish on his ukulele.

“Bravo! Artini … never have sweeter words been sung for that song!”

Artini bows to Gemano and then bows to Tess who curtsies in reply.

After this song, Artini says that he must go back to work, and Tess also has to cart water from the river … But before they part, Tess asks Artini:

“Why are you one of those prisoners?”

“Ah, signorina … because of the war between yours and my countries … and I am considered an enemy.”

“We are not at war with anybody,” Tess exclaims … Artini has to think on this for a moment then he laughs as he realises Tess was referring to her Aboriginal people.

“Not your people … but the government of your country.”

“This is our country,” Tess says as she sweeps her arm out; “But those white fellas are not our government,” … she finishes in anger.

“Then you and your people are their prisoners also,” Artini finishes, “And they demand I work for my supper … as bad as it is … C’mon, Gemano play another tune .. I have an hour’s work yet to do … Addio signorina!”

Joe the narrator continues:

“Tess sets about to lure Artini with friendship to help him to stop cutting the trees, throw away his mighty axe and escape the internment camp to cross the river and be free. Several times when she hears his songs through the trees, she goes to where he works and brings him small parcels of tasty food from the station kitchen … they become friends.

It is indeed a strange irony … that there, across the river near Swan Reach, the Aborigines are held in an internment camp also … of course, it is not called “internment”, it is called a mission, although their movements are strictly monitored and there is an after dark curfew in place … so those people, like us Italians are seen as some sort of enemy of the government … and this same government sends soldiers over to Europe to fight what they call “the fascist enemy” and so we Italians, having been branded by our nationality as potential enemies must be held as an example that the government will keep the citizens safe … yet what is the reason for imprisoning the Aborigine people but to prove that the government is as much a fascist regime as those they fight in Europe? … To the fascisti, all who are not fascist are the enemy … but also to the English colonists, it would seem that all who are not English are the enemy … an irony, surely? … because this province … this “South Australia” was started as a corporate state … and is that not the fascist ideal?”

The light fades from Joe to light up Tess and Artini sitting on a log …

“Would you like to escape the camp?” Tess asks.

“Is the Pope Catholic?” Artini replies. Tess looks at him questioningly … “Ah ha! … of course … not your faith … to your question … yes … if there was such a possibility” … and he continues to eat his food.

“I could help you,” Tess says.

“You? … what … you can overpower the guards? You can drive a car to take me out of this … ” Artini makes a sweeping gesture with his arm … “God knows where we are!”

“I could help you cross the river and then hide you till you can get away.”

“Why? … Why would you help me?”

Tess is silent for a minute … she looks intently at Artini … she then answers:

“Because as you say … I too am a prisoner here … myself, my family and people are held captive by these white people … I cannot leave … I cannot escape … but if I can help you escape, then just for that little bit, a little piece of me too can escape with you .. and wish you luck as you go … ”

“Then why don’t you come with me?” Artini asked.

“Can you not see what is so insultingly obvious to so many in this country? My skin colour … it is black! … You, with your fair skin and blue eyes can slip amongst the white fellah unnoticed … but how would you hide me? … No … I am a prisoner in more ways than just a locked gate.” … Tess then sings a soft lament to Artini:

“Would that my spirit take,

A long trod path from thy gate,

Would that my dreaming roam,

Far from the white man’s cruel domain.

Far from the gaze of his wanton eyes,

Into the heavens bright sunrise.

O’ could that my dreaming would let me roam,

Into the vast wilds of my traditional home …

No … we are held in ransom here, but to see you escape their domination would comfort me … ”

Tess tells him of a possible escape from the internment camp … he could be hidden in a secret cave known only to the Aborigines of the river, and from there he could make his way when safe to the city. Artini likes the idea, but he cannot swim to cross the river and the ferry is guarded, so Tess says she will “sing” him a song one night to guide him across a secret ford in the river known only to the Aboriginal people there, but on one condition; he must leave his mighty axe behind and cross without it … She told him of the spot on the river bank where he should await for her song to call him to cross safely.

His friends tried to dissuade Artini from following through with his reckless plan and pointed out the difficulty he would meet being in the companionship of a native woman … But the more they tried, the angrier he got and finally he said angrily to them:

“So what if Tess is of another people … am not I, are not we despised only for our blood, our nationality? … And if she is “native” of this land, am I not also “native”of my land? … And I am a son of the Dolomites … I am a man of the mountains of Italy and I … Artini, while I am yet a man, will decide who I will join in with, where I will live … not the guards of this camp nor anyone else.” And that was the last he would hear of it … he was decided … The young have passionate hearts.

Her “song “ she would disguise as a lyrical call of a cockatoo that live in the trees along the river … and he must wait until she makes that specific call, as there is sometimes a surge of water comes down the river from Lock-1 at Blanchetown and it is dangerous to cross when that is happening … But Artini, coming from another land is not that familiar with the song of the cockatoo and mistakes another real bird calling in the night … the call of the Bush Stone Curlew … a native bird of the area .. a call that the Indigenous peoples regard as a harbinger of death!

 

The conspiracy was going to plan … Artini had crept away from the makeshift woodcutters camp in the mallee … These camps were temporal things and so isolated that the guards saw no great need to be severe in their habits .. indeed, the Italians, using the grapes from the Loveday area near Loxton made their own wine which they smuggled along with them whenever they were sent to the wood-cutting camps … On the night of Artini’s escape, some other Italian men conspired to distract the guards with wine and song … they sang their songs to the accompaniment of home-made instruments … in this case the ukulele.

Artini had agreed to Tess’s demand, but at the last moment secretly straps his mighty axe to his back under his coat as he thought he would need it to cut wood for shelter once he crossed the river … but when he sets out to cross the river … the River Spirit, seeing his duplicity and intent sends a torrent of water down and he is threatened to be swept off the ford. Tess, on hearing his cry, realises he is weighed down by his mighty axe and tells him to throw it into the waters … but he cannot untie it from under his coat and so he is swept away.

[In reality, the plan was for Tess to sing a song of a river bird to direct Artini to a secret ford in the river, unfortunately, on that very night of his crossing, the sluice-gates of Lock 1 just up-river at Blanchetown were opened and a surge of water came down the river to catch him whilst in the middle of the ford … He was swept away as he cried that it was his axe, his mighty axe dragging him down and he could not swim … and he consequently drowned that night in the river … His body was later found and it was recorded as “death by drowning .. an unfortunate accident“ … But my father’s letters tell a different story].

Artini cries out in despair a last cry! …

”Tess … sweet Tess … sing a song in memory of me!”

Tess cries out his name in anguish …

“Artini!! … Artini!!” … much like the sad wail of the bush-stone curlew …

(The ukulele is heard to play a soft lament for Artini) Il fiore di Teresina:

Joe the Narrator continues:

“We never did know if Artini and Tess had intention to join together as a couple of whether they were just partners in Artini’s mad dash to freedom … for we never saw Tess again and she never went back to work on the station where Rosaline also worked … Whatever their design , one thing is certain … Artini did escape beyond the cares of this life’s burdens … ”

And to this day, his cry of despair and her intermingled lament can still sometimes be heard as the call of the Bush Stone-Curlew blown in the wind through the mallee trees … ”

(Song to be accompanied by a Ukulele )

Tess and the Woodsman.

I wake in the morning under spreading gum trees,

I wake to the murmur of the mighty Murray.

To the call of the cockeys in the leaves of the trees …

But the sweetest sound is my Tess of the Mallee.

Chorus:

Oh Tess .. sweet Tess .. sing a song for me,

Oh Tess of the mallee, now I hear thee.

At the dawn of the day, on the evening breeze.

Far ‘cross the river, yet so close to me.

xxx

I am a woodcutter, an axe man by trade.

My song that I sing is sung with the blade

And did draw sweet Tess to my accolade,

Sweet Tess of the mallee is my saving grace.

Across the river I hear her sweet voice,

She sings as the curlew to come and be close

But the river is wide and swim I cannot

With my mighty axe hidden under my coat.

Chorus; (Oh Tess, sweet Tess … etc)

To swim I am not able but I must try

To reach my dear Tess on the far side

(Pause to change “person” and “talk” these last two lines )

But the stones they slip away from his feet

And the river takes him from her close embrace.

“My axe it drags me down” he cries,

“Cast it away!” Tess did advise.

But tight under his coat it was tied,

So too late to undo and there he did die.

Chorus: (Oh Tess … etc)

The river it takes him and there he will lie,

So come to the river Tess to sing by its side

To sing him awake and sing him at night

Sing me dear Tess oh my mallee delight.

(only the next stanza; slowly, softly)

Now in the dusk you can hear her sweet lullaby

As she sings to her woodsman the bush-curlew’s cry.

But in the early dawn she’ll sing him this song

And the ring of his axe follow in harmony along ..

Chorus …

Oh Tess … sweet Tess … sing a song for me,

Oh Tess of the mallee, can I love thee.

At the dawn of the day, on the evening breeze.

Far ‘cross the river, yet so close to me.

Stage falls back into darkness …

To be continued into Act #3

See Act #1 here

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A Ukulele Opera: Act #1

Introduction to a “Reading opera” …

I have written this “opera” as a reading experience … I would have liked to do a “real” opera, with music and libretto etc, but was not able to find someone with both music composing capability or instrument playing skills to assist myself to that end … hence; Plan C  … a setting with some songs both localised Italian folk and a touch of known Neapolitan arias and symphonic music with re-written words.

I know that time is of the essence these days and skimming of text is the usual habit of reading, but if you could take the time to play the pieces linked for the words and those songs that accompany a moment, it would be a better read for it and much appreciated by the author.

Thanking you in advance …

An opera in three acts: One; Introduction and setting … Two: The friendship and tragedy of Artini and Tess … Three; The finale with Enrico and Rosaline …

You may desire, but you may not “want”.

If you Google these coordinates … it will take you to a place in the Murray Mallee where you will see several long rows of what look like little squares … these squares are in fact charcoal burning pits dug and lined with stone in the years of the second world war … The pits were to produce charcoal in lieu of the lack of petrol for trucks and cars in the war years … the charcoal was used in “gas-converter engines” in those trucks etc … Many Italians were held here and other camps in the Mallee for the duration of the war, some as “enemy aliens” others as lesser risk aliens … some as young as seventeen.

This is their story

It is 1942, the Japanese have bombed Darwin and petroleum products have been rationed so that charcoal is in demand for the gas-converters used on cars and trucks instead of petrol. Many Italians, Germans and other nationals considered as “enemy aliens” have been rounded up and sent to camps in the Riverland for the duration of the war.

Act #1

Introduction and setting

The stage is in darkness, only the faint but increasing depth of music of Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” wafts out … and then a spotlight illuminates a youngish man sitting on and amongst a heap of sacks bundled and tied and some loose around him … He is fiddling with the tuning of a musical instrument … a ukulele … as he does so, he absently-minded sings bits and pieces of the above words to the music played …

We watch him for some time as he sings and fiddles with the tuning of the instrument .. then another spotlight falls onto a man standing to the side of the stage … he is Giuseppe (Joe), the narrator of the story … He looks at the man with the ukulele and then turns to the audience …

“He’s a sight, isn’t he? … there fiddling with his project while the world around him burns” … He calls to the man … “Hey, Gemano! … when are you going to make a finish to that thing?”

“When it plays a tune for me” … the man calls back without looking up.

Joe laughs softly … then addresses the audience ..

“He’s been making that dammed ukulele for more than three months .. He used to play in a band back in the old country … up in the Dolamites … there, we would be house-bound by snow for the deep winter so that there was little anyone could do outside … every source of water was frozen over including the communal clothes-washing troughs, so that even the washing had to be piled in a corner as the clothes would freeze solid on the line if placed outside … the houses had three levels: The larger animals stabled under the house so their warmth rose to the middle level where the people lived and the top floor was the store for the food for the animals which acted as a insulator above and the feed would be tossed down from an open door to the animals below.

So all they did besides the house chores and feeding of the animals, was to create and sing songs and tell stories … rest and recreation .. and it was good … But now, in this new country, with the war, we are trapped and alone … and out here the Sun seems always to be shining! … so no rest for the wicked …

They’re all like that here … lost souls sent to this lonely place as enemy aliens in another country … They’re out here in the Murray Mallee cutting wood to “cook” in the charcoal pits to make fuel for the gas-converter units for the trucks and cars during this war … Petrol being unavailable to the average citizen, charcoal is used and we are here making the charcoal out of cut mallee wood and us Italian internees are held here to do the cutting and burning … I am in charge of keeping them in line … well … just keeping them in some sort of loose contentment … as much as I am able that is … while we get the job done … I work for Mr Fox … he is contracted by the government to produce so much charcoal per month for the war effort … Mr Fox lives in the city and comes here on occasion to inspect the operation. We all know when Mr Fox is coming, as those cutting near the main road can see his car coming from a distance and they then call out in a relay one to another to all in the camp: “Foxee! … Foxee!” … so we hurry and get things in order before he turns up.

We sing this little ditty as we hurry:

“The Fox, the fox, he’s out on the track!
The fox, the fox, he’ll soon be on our backs!
Hurry! Hurry! … the camp it must be clean.
All the chickens scurry, scurry,
For the Fox he can be mean!
Some men take the bagging,
Some men stack the racks,
Hurry, hurry, for the fox is on our backs!”

Not all the men are content to be here … some are just thankful to have escaped Mussolini’s wrath, but some came to this country for a better life and are not interested in the politics of the thing … I myself came here in 1927 on the invitation of an old friend who was here … Come over, he said … you’ll like it … Is there food there I asked … yes, he replied … plenty … so I came and I am fed rabbit! … they call it underground mutton … I just ate and ate … we were starving to death back home … Buono!”

[Just at this point, Gemano strums his ukulele for the first time … it sounds pleasant to him].

The Narrator jerks his head toward Gemano and continues:

“Take Gemano there … he left the mountains of the Dolomites to start a new life here in a new country … He left his fiancé back there while he intended to set himself up in this new land, then he intended to go back and marry her and bring her here to Australia .. but the war broke out … and now he hasn’t heard of his beloved Sofia for many a month and he is stuck here in this camp broken hearted … he has a picture of her and he accosts every new man that comes here from the Dolomites and begs them if they have heard anything of his love … it’s painfully sad to hear him lament …

Look! … see there, a couple of new chaps now … see how keen he is to ask them … ”

[ Gemano stops the two men and produces a photograph from his inside pocket and shows it to them … we do not hear their words, but we can see them shake their heads in regret … Gemano lets them go and stands alone on the stage … his head bowed .. the music of “O’ mio babbino caro” begins … he sings his lament to the audience as he holds out the photograph]:

“Has anyone seen my Sophia …

Here is her picture … I hold it so dear …

We kissed on the steps at the station,

And I put a white rose in her hair,

There behind her right ear …

look, you can see it there! (he points to the picture)

And now she is gone I miss her …

And at night’s end I can’t kiss her.

Has anyone at all seen my Sophia? (Gemano pleads)

I can’t believe she’s not here …

I so want her near me …

Has anyone seen Sophia …

Has anyone seen my fidanza …

We kissed at the station and

I put a rose in her hair …

Now I can’t believe she’s not here ..

I so want her near me …

Have you seen my Sophia?

My darling … my love … my dear.

Has anyone seen my Sophia?

My darling … my love … my dear …

Gemano then silently turns and returns to the heap of bags and once again attends to the ukulele … Guiseppe, the narrator nods his head in sympathy … he continues:

“Ah! … Still he makes the best of his situation … Everyone here has lost someone or something in this blasted war … You wonder why these men have to be tortured some more by being isolated out here in the Mallee … ”

Gemano Filosi turned the tuning peg to adjust the last string on his hand-made ukulele. Satisfied on the tension, he tapped the conical, wedge-shaped peg tight into its allotted hole and placed the small hammer on the ground next to himself … this was the moment … now was the testing time to see if all his skills as a joiner that he pulled together to make this musical instrument out of old tea-chest plywood, mallee-wood neck and fretboard with some old piano wire begged from the Blanchetown Hotel owner for strings would pay off …

Gemano settled himself gingerly amongst the bags with the ukulele cradled in his arm and strummed the first notes …

“Whallyo!” he cried in joy when the notes played out clear as a bell into the evening air … and he then strummed some more …

The spotlight on Joe fades and the stage lights up to reveal a group of men nearby sitting around a table playing cards … they stop their game and look to Gemano … some men there turned their heads to the sound of the music … and they smiled .. and some call out felicitations and congratulations to Gemano, whom many though a little more than silly in trying to make a musical instrument out of such inglorious materials …

“Can you play a tune, Gemano?” they cry … several men gathered around him …

“Of course I can!“ Gemano responded “Was I not in a band before I was sent here? … what shall I play?” he asked the now small gathering of internees and outcasts …

“Play us some Verdi” … a wit suggested with a laugh … ”Rossini!” another followed … Gemano thought for a moment then responded …

“I know … I will play a bit of Opera .. a song I picked up just before I came here … are you ready?” … and he smiled his big, bright, broad smile for which he was nicknamed “The Bay of Naples” … or just “Naples” for short …

The men all clamour; “Yes … play, play!”

So Gemano struck up the ukulele to the tune of George Formby’s; “When I’m cleaning windows” … He sings in a broken Italo/English manner …

“Now I go a cleanin’ windows to earn an honesta bob
Fora the nosy parker it’s an intrestin’ job

Now it’s a job that just suits me
A window cleaner you woulda be
If you can see what I canna see
When I’m cleanin’ windows” … Gemano stands and walks around the group of men singing some more of the silly song as he does so …

The men let out a raucous laugh at the cheek of Gemano and the ludicrous song … the first song they had shared to played music for such a long time … and just through that simple sound of music and singing a sense of joy and happiness spread over the camp for the first time in ages.

There follows several favourite folk songs … like ”La Paganella”:

One of the young men; Artini, was angry at his situation … he berates the men for their lack of anger at their situation.

“Why do we all just sit and accept our situation? … Why are we stuck in this lonely scrub working for nothing but food and thankfulness to our captors? … And all we do is sing silly songs … I didn’t come all this way to waste my young years as a mule to these Englandi delinquents! … Look at us … they call US enemy aliens and lock us away … and there also are those aborigine people, the first natives of the land … they call them “enemy aliens“ too and lock THEM away in reserves across the river! … so now both of us peoples are captives to those bloody Englandi colonists who think they own the bloody place even over the first peoples!! They lock everyone away who is not English … what are these people … bastardi? … and us, do you not remember the vow we made to our loved ones back home? .. that we will make a life for ourselves and send help back to them?”

Artini then goes to each man in turn as he encourages them to join in and sing a song about it … ”

To be continued into Act #2

 

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Days of wine and lost horizons …

Days of beer and weed …

Growing up in the 70’s … The following are a series of vignettes and cameos of where and with whom I grew up with in the 1970’s as a young man … some of them you may see as pure delinquency, others as that clumsy, clunky half-innocence of the fumbling youth trying to get a grip on the disorder of those times … Times that were revolutionary in both freedom of movement from state to state and job to job. Gone were the ties that bound one socially and economically to home and hearth … there was adventure “out there” and being young and free with more than a hint of delinquency about us, by Christ, we were going to taste a bit of it before we all grew too old to remember what the thrill of life was about …

To the Lighthouse

Ah! … Friday nights, didn’t we look forward to them. But we were young and carefree in those days. A group of us young bucks would meet after work at the Seacliff Hotel on Fridays and imbibe of the amber fluid and see what came of the evening. We were mostly working lads, so our thirsts were dry and encouraging.

I happened to be the first there that night, so I’d only taken my first draught of beer and settled back one-arm-on-the-bar surveying the scene, when in walks Mark. Mark was a big stocky fellow then, before the years and a beer-gut increased accordingly. I did the decent thing and shouted him his first beer on myself.

“Another schooner please, Noela.” I said to the barmaid before Mark reached me.

“G’day mark … How’s the land lie?” I greeted him.

‘Hrmph! … not much better than yesterday … ta, Noela.”

“Why the long face? … Say! … I heard you bought yourself a car!”

“HAD, you mean … past tense … an’ I only had it three days!”

“Righto then,” I turned and put both my forearms on the bartop … “out with it … what’s the dirt?”

“Bloody Mick!” Mark spat the words out.

“More!” I demanded.

“Last night we were in here having a drink,” he started … ( I motioned to Noela for a beer for myself and nudged the coins on the bar and gave her the wink and a sign to keep refilling them). “You know then that car I got from one of Mick’s mates who was going back to Sydney or somewhere and it had a “yellow canary” on it for bald back tyres? … Well, Mick suggested I buy the car ’cause I could get it for a song.” Mark paused for a drink and a sigh, then continued …

“But I haven’t even got a licence .. I said to him .. ‘You’ll get one one day,’ said Mick ‘and until then I can drive you around, since I don’t have a car.” … Mark rolled his eyes … “Say! … have you heard about Mick’s car?”

“I have not,” I replied.

“Ah! … it’s another story … I’ll tell you later .. he smashed it anyhow … again!” Mark waved his hand as if to erase the thought from his mind.

“Well,” he continued, “I’d had enough beer by then to be a little bit foolish, so between one thing and another, I bought the car … ‘ 64 Falcon … green … I think!”

Mark sighed and plonked his hand down on a packet of smokes which he flung the lid off in an angry gesture and lit one up ecstatically.

“A man’s a fool!” he philosophised.

“Well, we were in here last night, me, Mick and Jim … You know Jim … the bullshit-artist? … yeah, that’s him! … me and Jim and Mick, just where we’re sitting now … and the car’s there outside the window in the street and I was feeling a little proud, I admit it, I’d never owned a car before, you see? … ”

“Anyway … (yes thanks, Noela) … we’re sitting here an’ Mick leans over to Jim and me and whispers like it was a national secret: ‘I know where I can get a good “deal” tonight’ … ”

“Oh yeah!” I said “Where; The Brighton?”

“Yeah … good heads … good price too!” … Mick was keen. Suddenly, there was “Brain’s” face hanging over my shoulder … “How much?” Brain asks.

I tell you, if there’s even a sniff of dope within half a mile of Brain, he’s on to it. And God! … doesn’t it look like he’s full of it ! If it can be smoked, drank chewed or injected … but then I ‘spose that’s why he’s called “Brain” …. oh God! … his eyes!!”

“How much?” Brain repeats himself .. he’s standing there trembling like a distempered dog … anyway, between the long and short of it, we scrape our money together … I lent Brain his share … and we send Mick to buy a bag.”

“He gets back about an hour later lookin’ like he’s smoked half of it away. He gave us the nod from the door and we all finished our beers and went out to the car. He showed us the “deal”.

“And the rest, Mick!”, Jim said … He knew mick like he knows himself, eh? … After a good deal of threatening from us he handed over some more he’d kept ‘ for commission’ he said.”

“Well, we decided to got up to the lighthouse and have a couple of joints. Mick’s driving like he usually does, so he does a few ‘ring-a-rounds’ on the grass and we park and smoke away … When we decided to go, Mick does another bunch of 360s just to make an idiot of himself and then goes and slides the car into a ditch on the slope and gets stuck … of course, you know Mick; plants his foot till smoke’s pouring off the tyres!”

” ‘Hold on dickhead!’ … I shouted,’ we’re not going anywhere like this … we’ll have to get out and push’ … we were standing at the boot, all off our faces as it was … ‘ No, Mick … YOU .. stay in the car and steer …. OK? … yeah, right ‘ … Well, there we were, an the stars were shinin’ … shinin’ an’ the lighthouse light is goin’ … blink .. blink … FLASH!! … jeez, y’know … it was a beautiful night …. so it took us a little while to notice the grass had caught on fire under the car .. probably off the muffler .. up it went! … WHOOSH! … ‘ Mick, Mick’, we yelled (shoulda’ kept our mouths shut!) an he got out just in time. Man … we were panicking. Brain was freaking out, he just stood there moaning, ‘ Oh man, oh man’ … and staring.”

“I’ll go to a house’, I shouted, ‘and call the fire brigade’. I tell you I went to four houses over the other side of that gully before someone would listen to me. I don’t blame them on reflection, I dunno what I was sayin’ … and the people in the fourth house could see the problem without me babbling a word.. He just looked over my shoulder and the grass on the whole side of the hill was on fire. I heard the sirens then and it was all over bar the shouting … When I got back to the fenceline, Jim, Mick and Brain were standing there silhouetted against the flames. Jim went into bullshit mode and started to detail about how it reminded him of “when he used to burn the sugar-cane crops up in Bundaberg … ” … I told him to ‘shuddup, Jim … just shuddup!’.

“Well, that was last night. This morning, I wasn’t feeling too good, but around comes Mick to pick me up me an’ Jim an’ we drive up to the lighthouse to see the damage. The car’s a writeoff, gutted except the rear-end and the boot … you know those new tyres I put on to get the coppers to wipe off the “yellow canary”? … well, someone stole both wheels … must’av been the only thing on the whole car worth saving … and to add insult to injury, I’m standing there, really depressed an’ thinkin’; ‘well .. at least I owned a car for three days! ‘ … suddenly Mick makes this gasping sound, like a sharp intake of breath, leaps to the passenger-side door, throws it open and flips open what remained of the glovebox.”

“Oh SHIT!” … Mick cried painfully … “There was a whole “deal” in that glove-box!!”

“Man … I coulda’ wept.” … Mark shook his head disbelievingly. His hand plopped down again on his smokes.

“Two pints this time thanks, Noela”. He sighed.

“Sos.”

You had to feel for Sos … He was one of those people raised in an institution from a very young child … ” Minda Home” … that what it was called once, but the name was changed to ‘Minda Incorporated” … there was a personal slur in this state by using that original name … ie; to call someone a ”minda” was to imply that they were simple-minded … Minda Home being an institution for the intellectually disabled.

The first time I “met” Sos, was when he was coming out of the double doors at the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel one night … I was crossing the esplanade with a couple of friends, headed to the pub for a beer or two. Sos had just pushed the door open rather roughly … he was a bloody big bloke, so he filled the entire door-space up … and his shadow stretched in a jagged elongation out onto the expanse of Wheatland Street. He suddenly turned and yelled back into the bar:

“ I can dream! … ” he stabbed his finger into that space and repeated: “I can dream!” … he let the door slam shut and turned down the verandah when he spotted us and he repeated the fact that he yelled into the bar; “I can dream” … though this time not as forcefully … he then took a push-bike from where it leant against the wall and awkwardly mounting it, pushed off clumsily onto The Esplanade heading toward Brighton jetty … we could hear him repeat the “I can dream” mantra a couple more times as he rode away.

I remember I said the obvious to Mark (I think it was him); ”I wonder what that was about?” …

”Dunno” he shrugged. “But I’d hate to know of Sos’s dreams … be a nightmare more likely.” …

It turned out Sos was standing near some group of blokes and one had told another in the course of the conversation that; “You’re dreemin’ mate … you’re dreemin’ !” … but that was Sos … he could get the wrong end of the stick anytime … it was his mental state … you had to feel for him … but he never got into any trouble that I can remember, though he could have a “dark scowl” look after a few too many.

But boy! … Could he eat! … Talk about a trencherman! … I remember once seeing him sitting at the front bar, drinking pints of Coopers Ale … now, I’m talking about that old Coopers Ale … back in the days when it was real ale … with twigs ‘n stuff in it, as they would say … but cloudy … then the cook brought out this huge roast-platter … you know those big oval platters they’d serve up the Christmas turkey on … one of those big platters with three complete “T-bone” steak meals on it, replete w/ roast pratties, carrots, onions and sweet-potatoes … the salad was in a side dish, it wouldn’t fit on the main dish … and about half a loaf of bread to mop up the gravy! … AND all the while he was eating, he was tossing back those pints of Coopers Ale … THEN! … after he had finished that platter, he got stuck into his own packed lunch he had there with him! … Mark once told me that Sos had challenged him to an eating contest … Mark declined the offer.

There was a reckless side to Sos … Once, when I came down the road that led from Minda Home, toward Brighton Road (Brighton Road is a main road carrying most of the traffic from the southern sea-side suburbs), a very busy road. I was on my motor-bike and had stopped at the intersection waiting for a break in the traffic … when suddenly, this “crazy” on a push-bike swept right past me straight out into Brighton Road … his bike bell tinkling like Christmas chimes and he laughing his head off … cars were going every which way! … braking and sliding all over the place … Sos (yes … it was he) … just roared with laughter and crossed lanes and peddled away like mad! … bloody crazy!

Oh yeah … that push-bike he rode off on that night I first saw him? … it wasn’t his, he stole it as it was just there … the owner … a bit of a misery-guts who had won some money in a minor prize in the lottery came wandering wide-eyed into the bar later that same night calling out in surprise: “ Me bike … me bike! … someone’s stole me bike! … ” of course, no-one ever told him it was Sos … it looked like a heap of shit anyway!

The last time I saw Sos was about ten years ago, in Goodwood … he was still riding a pushbike … I called out to him, but he was heading in a different direction to me and he didn’t hear … gosh! … He was old then … I suppose he’d be “gone” by now.

I like the Australian cultural habit of telling yarns … and general bullshitting … There is a certain skill in attitude, demeanour and voice-timing to get a good story across … Of course, the oral tradition is the best way for such a personality to tell a yarn … but with the loss of the front-bar culture, where working people would gather and the bullshit would fly, those days of the casual yarn are over. But I would like to share a couple of those characters with you if I may … just for the fun of it.

Glen and Mrs Wright

Did I ever tell you about Mrs Wright and Glen? … No? … Well, they were two “locals” down at the Seacliff Hotel … back in the old days of the seventies, some of the last of that “war generation” that were retired or on the point of when we younger folk came along and taught them how to drink!

Mrs Wright was a widow, a retired teacher who drove what I reckon was one of the last registered Humber Super Snipes … A big black beast she parked in her “reserved ” spot just out the front of “the “Cliff” when she went for a quiet drink at night … almost every night … Looking back on it, and her being a local, I wonder if she bought that Humber off the deceased estate of Mrs Herreen … now THERE was a tartar … a wealthy widow who lived opposite the Primary school I went to … I know she was a widow because she always wore black and wealthy because she was chauffeured around in a big black Humber Snipe … She donated large sums to the convent school I attended and in return, she was sometimes given “control” of a class for an afternoon … she would stalk up and down the aisles of us fifty-odd kids (that’s “odd” in number, not personality!) swishing a cane into her cupped hand and looking threatening … she had the physique of Hatty Jaques and the eyes of Myra Hindley … but I’m getting off the subject …

Glenn was a council employee, whose job for the last years of his working life was seated on the council’s ride-on lawnmower … all day every day … out in the sun, which is why he got such a ruddy complexion .. and more melanomas cut off his face so he looked like a pottery paste-up sculpture … though there was a rumour that the colour was all to do with his affection for “poor-man’s port” … he was a very tall bloke who developed a kind of stoop which some tall people get from leaning down to people and perhaps a self-conscious compensation to not look too obvious …

Now, you wouldn’t think two such diverse characters would meet and become a “unit”, but they did … it happened like this:

There came to pass that Don Dunstan put a tax on beer which raised the price of a ‘pony’ glass beyond what Mrs Wright (we’ll call her Betty) could budget in her retirement … BUT! … there was salvation .. Ron, the barman, informed her that there was no extra tax on wine, therefore the price of a “hock, lime and lemon” was now cheaper than the “pony” of beer she was used to having …

“Righto”, she decided “I’ll give it a try” … the first drink was “on the house” said Ron … a kindly chap … and she liked it and would have another thank you very muchly!

Of course, wine is a very different alcoholic beast than beer, and so by the twitching hour of ten o’clock, Betty was seen sitting, glazed eyed on the bar-stool, a cheroot-cigar stub hanging loose in her fingers … eye-witness accounts state that the cheroot first slipped from her fingers, did several somersaults to the bar-step in a spray of sparks … a close acquaintance stooped to pick it up, but was immediately stopped in his action by a “teacher’s command” to “LEAVE-IT!” … which were the last words she spoke that evening as she then slid ever so gracefully off the stool, gathering her heavy skirts modestly around herself and sunk to the floor …

Ron (the barman witnessing this), to him so familiar; “float to oblivion”, leapt across the bar in what must be termed “the Barman’s Flop” for it was equal to an Olympian effort and calling for assistance carried her “wheelbarrow style” out to place her on the back seat of her Humber to sleep it off … it must be mentioned that Ron took her arms while the only other sober-able bodied man in the front bar; Glen took her legs … “In a kindly and gentlemanly way” as Betty later assured all who would doubt otherwise.

When Glenn retired, they sold up their respective houses and moved to Kangaroo Island … Betty drove with the Humber and a huge trailer of their possessions to take the ferry across … Glen, waving goodbye to all his mates, set sail in his restored clinker-built fishing boat to “chug-along” to the island … it was a long afternoon in the front-bar while he said his farewells … it was a long “goodbye” drinking toasts to all the good times … and it was noticed that one particular old mate … Little Johnny, the SP bookie, in a teary moment, slipped a ruddy flagon of Rovalley Rich (poor-man’s) Port into the prow of the boat before he set off … “in case it gets a tad chilly in ‘the passage’ (Backstair’s Passage)” he comforted … then Glenn set off for Kangaroo Island … a delightful island just off the coast of Flerieu Peninsula, approx 90 miles long facing the mainland.  You can’t miss it …

It DID get chilly out on the water … Glenn DID consume the entire flagon of port and fell asleep on the bottom of the boat in a drunken stupor and was swept through Backstairs Passage, where the tide goes out like a river … and missed Kangaroo Island, to end up on The Pages … a couple of rocks outcropped on the vast ocean, last stop between Sth Aust’ and Antarctica … I believe he was rescued by the Sea Patrol sent out by Betty’s distress at Glen not turning up … it appears he gained the patrol’s attention by using the now empty “Poor-man’s Port” flagon to flash heliograph signals to the passing patrol boat … but that’s another story.

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Jim: A Character Study

Days of beer and weed: Stories from a wasted decade

Henry Lawson once said the if you were drunk more than twice a week, you were never sober … using that as a premise, I can confidentially state that many of us boomers in the seventies were rarely sober!

The story goes that Jim, on visiting the dentist to have his mouth-full of rotten teeth attended to, promptly told the dentist they would all have to come out …

“I’ll be the judge of that!” the dentist hastily replied. Then asked him to open up … ”Good lord! … They’ll have to come out!” … and Jim smiled … not for the fact that he was going to lose all his teeth, but, you see, Jim was right again! … he regaled us with this knowledge that same night at “The Cliff” (The Seacliff Hotel) … Jim was a specialist at “regaling” people with his stories, for that’s what they were, fictions of a very fertile imagination. But getting back to his teeth for a moment. It was a good job he attended to them when he did, he was fast losing friends from the mere sight of that “cavern of broken and blackened stalactites” as someone (I forget who) once said … ”It’s enough to put yer off yer finking” someone else (I forget whom) remarked … (maybe it was Jeff Otto … it sounds like him!).

Jim was of dark-haired medium height, but he looked taller than he was through being rather lanky … he was one of those blokes who could hold their pint of beer and cigarette in the one hand while gesticulating a point with the other … he was always there on the fringe of a discussion, willing to make his contribution whenever he could … not by butting in, but by picking the right moment … for good yarn-spinning demands a damn good sense of timing … it is in using the accoutrements around one as props .. like long-drawing on a fag, or pausing to lick the paper when rolling a cigarette, or polishing off the dregs of a beer and calling to Noela for a refill … it gives the listener pause enough to “get ahead” in their minds , of the story-teller … but the story-teller is really always in control … Jim was a natural.

However, as much as I can make out, Jim’s career as the local bullshit artist began when he was employed with the district council on an unemployment relief scheme. Jim and his mate Mark, with whom Jim used to board, were both working up near the old golf course, widening the road. A lot of the local riff-raff of the community were employed on these schemes and this project was no exception. There were a few members of the notorious “Barbarians” motorcycle gang working the same stretch of road as Jim and Mark. These “youths” were known to possess a rather cruel streak within their ugly facades of greasy, unwashed grottyness … otherwise they were rather nice chaps!

One day at smoko, Jim decided to endear himself to the nearest “Barb” with an example of his fiction … we’ll take up the thread at the ending …

“ … well, there I was … broken down truck, no food, no water, no road out … the middle of the desert … the middle of summer … I knew I was in a fix, so I started walking south … (a drag on his cigarette … slow expel of smoke) … I walked for three days, no food, no water … on the third day I was standing under a gum tree resting … when suddenly an Aborigine appeared before me … I thought I was hallucinating, I don’t know where he came from as there was nothing but desert all around … but there he was … a full-blood … dark as a pint of stout and armed with spears and things … (pause for meaningful reflection and another drag) … I couldn’t speak his dialect and he couldn’t speak mine … he gave me a drink and some chewy-meat stuff … then we sat down cross-legged in the red sand and he drew some wriggly lines with his fingers which I took to mean water … and he turned his head to the sunset and pointed … he then made three strokes in the sand … and sure enough, I walked three days in that direction and came across water.”

All through this extraordinary tale, the gruesome bikie was suitably impressed with Jim’s courage in the face of such odds and his calm demeanor in the retelling of the adventure, so that with every pause, he would punctuate the story with “yeah!” or ”really!?” and even a proud “bloody hell!” so that Jim returned to work a hero in one man’s eyes … that is until the bikie repeated the yarn (replete with amazed interjections) to Mark.

“Oh, he was just bullshitting to you … he’s never been further north than Wheatland Street!” (the street leading to the Seacliff Hotel).

“Yeah!! …,” the bikie raged … ”I’ll kill the bastard!!” … it took Mark another half hour to calm the man down. Mark frequently had to follow behind to undo the damage that Jim innocently wrought. For however outlandish were his stories, he never meant any harm by them, They were as I said … figment of a very fertile imagination.

But there was method to Jim’s madness. He would mostly relate these Munchausenish adventures to someone of influence … and as Jim spent a good deal of time in the clutches of poverty … and the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel, that “influence” usually centered around the financial capacity to purchase more beer, or as in the case just mentioned, a toke on a joint or two of “Barbarian” weed!

To keep up his supply of stories, Jim would clip out obscure articles from newspapers to file away in this little notepad he kept he kept in a top pocket. Occasionally, he would be seen to write something in this pad, but never was he known to show anybody it’s contents. I suspect there was little to show, but was “played upon” to increase the “mystery“ surrounding his person … there was a rumour (no doubt started by himself), that he was in Sth Aust’ as a kind of modern-day “remittance man” from a wealthy family back in Sydney. Jim would draw upon those clippings and notes with suitable embellishments to concoct another outlandish tale with himself as hero to impress whoever had the generosity to maintain supply …

An Example …

You may have read in the papers many years ago about the discovery in the sea north of Darwin, a sunken Japanese submarine from the second world war that contained a fortune in mercury. However, the Japanese government pressed for the wreck to be left alone as a “war grave” … which, eventually it was. Well … a couple of evenings after that story broke in the papers, Jim had buttonholed some unfortunate and was relating to him the details (between draughts of the old amber), of how he; Jim … and some others had dived for and retrieved canisters of mercury from a Japanese sub sunken out in St Vincent’s Gulf … ” … if you follow that sunbeam on the water there straight out ‘bout five mile … ” and sold it for a fortune which was used to buy arms for gun-running to Timor … oh!, pardon my slip, I forgot to tell you that Timor was at that time in conflict with Indonesia, which also made the dailys … and Jim’s notepad.

Most of these tales were good entertainment and people didn’t mind paying the price of a beer or two for such. However, Bruce (The Pinball Wizard), made the mistake of believing one of Jim’s creations and he never lived it down! …

It went like this …

Bruce was known as The Pinball Wizard because that was his occupation; hiring and maintaining pinball machines. He ran a very successful business at it too … until the electronic video games made their appearance on the scene. Bruce failed to take these first crude machines seriously, thinking they were a passing fad. They weren’t, and failing to “take the tide at the flood”, missed the boat. Nobody wanted his machines in their shop anymore and he couldn’t get rid of them nor borrow against them to upgrade … he had left his run too late! Anyhow, he walked into the front bar one evening, looking for company and maybe a sympathetic ear to chew ( a problem shared is a problem halved) not to mention a cool beaded glass of beer to smack one’s lips over and who was there on the next stool? … Jim !

“Hello Bruce, why the long face?”

“O … g’day, Jim.” A pause to sip his beer and weigh his reply “Oh … a few problems with the business … y’know.” … And Bruce told Jim the whole sorry saga of his missing the gravy train and light-heartedly berating himself for not seeing the obvious. Jim sat through this narrative in unusual silence, just swilling the dregs of his nearly (and ruefully) empty pint glass. Jim’s contemplative silence, Bruce later confessed, may have been more to do with this fact rather than his: Bruce’s enlightening story. Then, however, Jim had an inspiration that many consider his finest moment. For when Bruce had finished talking, Jim stared at him open mouthed as if to say something … he then swiveled his whole body around on the bar-stool to gape into the bar severy … he nodded his head several times as if amazed and then slapped his hand down smartly and sharply on the bar-top turning back to Bruce as he did so …

“Now that’s fate!” he announced with nodding head to Bruce. Bruce finished sipping his beer and looked sideways to Jim.

“Huh! … What is?” Bruce asked.

“Why, meeting you just at this moment!” Jim didn’t give Bruce a chance to question him, but took up the conversation. “Just today I received a letter from my uncle’s trustees … (my uncle died recently, you know) telling me that he had left me some property in his will … (he had a tidy packet tucked away I can tell you … but no kids!) a two-storey building in Bankstown!” Jim’s eyes were fairly popping out of his head.

“What’s that got to do with me?” Bruce asked, but now interested in this suddenly wealthier Jim.

“Well! … it’s an amusement parlour … TWO HUNDRED MACHINES! … and I was just sitting here lamenting how in the blue blazes I was going to manage the place … I was thinking to best sell the whole lot!” … Now you or I would’ve squinted one eye at Jim and perhaps left it at that .. but as I just told you, Bruce was a desperate man staring bankruptcy in its’ ugly face … also ( if I might add ), the gods had at that moment chosen to punish Bruce for being too successful at wooing women! … so had endowed Jim’s story with a cloak of irresistible attraction .. Bruce looked smilingly at Jim’s credulous expression and spoke the very words Jim wanted to hear ..

“Care for another beer, Jim?”

Let me just go off on a bit of a tangent an tell you about Bruce. How many times have we said; “If only I knew then what I know now” … Bruce was what would be called these days “A chic magnet” … attractive young ladies adhered to him like rouge to a mummer … He didn’t work at it, he wasn’t a mongrel nor presumptuous bloke … he didn’t put on airs or con anybody … he was what he was … and that is; calm … Bruce exuded what the Italians call ‘tranquillamente’ … and in a climate of frenzy and hurry, that was all that was needed … and he had it naturally … I remember a conversation amongst a group of us about rising early for work and how lousy it was some times … Bruce listened, sipped his beer (he always sipped … he was in no hurry) and commented to the attentative gathering that he like to wake “naturally”.

“Oh … and what time is that?” someone asked … Bruce casually lit up a cigarette before replying …

“About one pm.” He replied … a low whistle came from somewhere … but back to the story.

So the remainder of the night was spent examining; a;- the layout of the premises (Jim), b;- Machine maintenance and upgrading (Bruce) c;- staff requirements / management policy (combined effort), d ;- wages … here, Jim’s benevolence came to the fore.

“Well .. that’s very generous of you Jim, but fifty – fifty seems a little too good … ” Bruce stared glassy-eyed into his beer … ” BUT … if it’s alright with the boss … who am I to argue?” and they shook hands on the deal and I might say that Bruce was so overwhelmed with this stroke of good fortune when all looked blackest that tears of happiness nearly, I say; nearly, welled up in his eyes. And Jim WAS generous, because that is what he would have liked to have given … had he got it!

Closing time came and the two partners separated with more handshaking and effusive congratulations on the promise of a glowing future etc, etc … and Jim reminding Bruce to meet him here at the pub at ten o’clock in the morning and they would go to the airport to get a standby flight to Sydney to look the joint over.

“Righto, Jim”. Bruce slurred.

“Righto, Bruce”. Jim slurred.

And they wobbled away to their respective vehicles.

Scene:

Bruce standing at the front bar sipping a Angostura bitters and soda. There is a discarded “Bex Powder” wrapper at his feet. Next to it stands a light, traveling suitcase containing the necessities for a short stay in Sydney. The time is ten-thirty am … no Jim. Bruce makes a phone call from the booth.

“Hello Mark … It’s Bruce … er … where’s Jim?” (Jim boards with Mark).

“In bed … why?”

“What’s he doing in bed? … He’s supposed to meet me here at the pub at ten!”

“He’s in bed because some fool was buying him drinks all night and now he’s hungover to buggery! … anyway, what’s he got to meet you for?” … Bruce suddenly got a shakey feeling and hesitated to answer.

“Well … ” he drawled uneasily … ” We’re supposed to go to Sydney to look at this pinball parlour that he had inherited from his uncle … ”Bruce didn’t get the chance to say any more as the guffawing laughter at the other end of the line drowned all further communication. It also made it useless to proceed as Bruce had suddenly become enlightened … he just quietly hung up.

To his credit, Bruce never held any animosity against Jim for the con-job. He saw the ludicrousness of the proposition and laughed at his own folly. Jim, of course never even considered it a “con”, to him it was just another good yarn … ”that was yesterday … this is today” was his philosophy.

Though I will let you in on a little secret I discovered with Jim … I buttonholed him one day and asked him (carefully choosing my words ), if there was ever a risk of over-egging the details in his “explanations” … his answer surprised me for it’s unspoken depth of understanding of that basic human weakness … he looked intently at me for a longer than comfortable time and he said ;

“My father had a small dagger in scabbard … middle-eastern, very ornate handle with emeralds and rubies … the scabbard with gold inlay, looked good … all fake of course … he used to bring it out when people came to dinner .. said he won it from a sheik in a marksmanship competition when he was serving in the army during the war … really, he bought it from a stall in the Prahran Markets when we were on a holiday in Melbourne when I was very young … and he was only a supply clerk in the war and never went overseas … but everyone marveled at it … rarely did anyone take the dagger from the sheath .. they just loved the jewels and the gold … I thought that strange .. considering that the blade is really the most important part, since it must do the real “work” … so I learned at a very young age that people will always admire the bling rather than respect the blade ” …

… and the cheeky bastard then gave me a wink!!

The last time I saw Jim, was when I was working with my brickie mate ; Frank, on a job at Brighton, just off the esplanade. I’d heard Jim was threatening to return for a visit from Sydney where he had gone a year or two before to live. I was riding my treadly home one afternoon and had just reached the Seacliff Hotel when I chanced to glance over to the car-park and there was Jim’s car with the NSW. number plate on it and Jim sitting in it. I quickly glided over the road on my bike, alighting to one pedal as I cruised up behind the car. I was just going to call out when I noticed he was sitting in a trance-like state staring out to sea. He was wearing a “combat” style jacket, “C.I.A. sunglasses” and a camouflage baseball cap. There was a book open on the steering-wheel, I crept up and peered over his shoulder at the title … ”Submarine Command” Hello! I thought … here’s tonight’s story … I stepped back a couple of paces out of respect to his daydreams , then banged on the side of the car … ”Jim!” I called … ”hey, Jim!”

But I have a soft spot for ol’ Jim … you see, he’s a loner … a dreamer … one must respect dreamers, they’re our only salvation. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I have jotted down a few lines of verse to celebrate his audacity …

“It is only in the harbours of our mind

That we reach our full potential,

Where images of reality and fantasy mingle,

Where drunkards and kings are equal … ”

 

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Darwin dayze

Days of beer and weed

Growing up in the 70s … The following are a series of vignettes and cameos of where and with whom I grew up with in the 1970’s as a young man … some of them you may see as pure delinquency, others as that clumsy, clunky half-innocence of the fumbling youth trying to get a grip on the disorder of those times … Times that were revolutionary in both freedom of movement from state to state and job to job. Gone were the ties that bound one socially and economically to home and hearth … there was adventure “out there” and being young and free with more than a hint of delinquency about us, by Christ, we were going to taste a bit of it before we all grew too old to remember what the thrill of life was about … Perhaps some of us never really grew old, but rather stayed in a state of suspended youth … a type of “forever young” … but then there are those I meet in these older times who seem to have been old from their earliest childhood!

Potts

I shared a flat with Potts and a piss-wreck named “Hopkirk” in Darwin back in the seventies.

Pott’s girfriend; “Chic”, had a horse aggisted out at East Arm, Darwin which, as one has to do with horses, she attended and groomed and rode in competitions, much to the chagrin of Potter, who demanded a lot of attention … ”High-maintenance” I believe they called it.

As I said, I shared that flat with Potter and Hopkirk. Hopkirk was a squirrellish little bloke who could and did drink extraordinary amounts of beer and never put on weight … indeed, in the months preceding the 1975 cyclone, “Tracey”, that wiped out most of Darwin, Hopkirk had accumulated a remarkable supply of slabs of beer in anticipation of the Christmas season celebrations … and did indeed live up to his promise of getting blotto on Christmas eve … so much so that he slept through the worst moments of the cyclone and only became aware of some special event had happened that night when he went out the back door to relieve himself in the back yard the following morning … He shrugged and then went back to his drinking.

I would spend my weekends playing baseball or relaxing on the bed with a good book and mostly enjoying the peace and quiet when Hopkirk was down the “Koala Hotel” getting pissed and Potter was out marauding about somewhere … I must comment here that my incessant reading of books infuriated Potter, whose only perusal of literature was to read, for his own reassurance, the alcohol content listing on the label of a Vic-bitter can … Though one day in a moment of weakness, he did purchase from a persistent door-to-door salesman a whole set of Encyclopedia Britannica … for the sole purpose of it being just the right height when stacked one on top of the other to set near the 8-ball table so he could put his beloved “green-cans” (Vic-bitter’) on them … sometimes he’d stop at my room door and shout in frustration:

“People die in bed, you know!”

I confess that I used to order my books through an Adelaide bookshop to ship to Darwin … Those days, Darwin was not known as a capital of education and the perusal of anything in literature was seen as suspect and perhaps even worthy of reporting to ASIO for possible communist activity! … Potter caught me one day reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Ecce Homo” (trans; “Here is the man”), his autobiography … He went into a sullen sulk toward me for about a week until at last at the 8-ball table I demanded to know what was his gripe. He paused, stood loose limbed clutching his cue and with the most downcast look quietly asked of me:

“That book you are reading … something Homo … is that about homosexuals and are you a homosexual?”

I rest my case just there about Potter’s political and literature depth of knowledge.

Anyway, this one day I was at the flat by myself peacefully reading, when the door burst open and in came Potter and Chic accompanied by a cacophony of mutual accusation and abuse …

“You and that bloody horse!” Potter was shouting … to which Chic put up a courageous and equally solid defence about Potter and his car … and they stood there just outside but on opposite sides of the door-way to my room, arguing back and forth … I put my book on my chest and watched as first one head protruded into the door frame space, shouted their point and then withdrew and the other would immediately intrude … back and forth, like some bizarre Punch and Judy show until … with a lengthy tirade from Potter on his demands from Chic for a successful relationship, his chiseled jaw jutting out and that Dennis Lillie moustache bristling aggressively … time froze that “frame” in that doorway for me forever … because just as Potter had reached the zenith of his vocal eloquence, I saw Chic’s big brown leather (hand made w/embossing and brass clasp) handbag, containing a multitude of heavy, wooden horse-brushes, perform a perfect parabolic curve to connect with the crown of Potter’s head in an act of physical and physic intensity (There must be an mathematical equation for this connection of ; a) Descending Force meets; b) Immovable Force … a sort of; DF–IF = X ) equal to a king-hit from Muhammad Ali at his peak.

Potter went down like a screaming bag of shit! … Chic immediately rushed to their bedroom, Potter rose with an unsteady poise and regaining his intellect, immediately gave chase … I lay abed in weary but curious observation … moments similar to this had happened before … I could make out the movements of the protagonists by the screaming of Chic: “He’s gonna kill me, he’s gonna kill me!” and the sound of mattress inner-spring as they leapt from one side of the room to the other … Chic got the better of the moment and fled through their door, right past mine with screaming fright and Potter not two steps behind … she lunged into the bathroom and just had time to slam the door on Potter’s face … literally … he became a tad more upset at this and proceeded to punch three holes through the bathroom door; ”wham, wham, wham!” ..

It was this activity which inspired me to take some action. I wearily arose from the bed, slipped on my thongs, excused myself past Potter still furiously “negotiating” through the door with his girlfriend to make my way, as I had so many times before, to the poster shop on Cavanaugh Street to purchase some more cute pictures of doggies or cats to place over yet more holes in doors or walls … I returned to the sound of the two lovers doing what they both did best after the release of these regular moments of “sexual tension” and vacated the flat for a few hours to seek the amusing company of this crazy public servant at a known pub near by who would insist he was either (depending on the day) a secret agent (he’d have a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist) or John Wayne in disguise (he was about five foot five in height).

But we were young and carefree then and life was one big long-weekend.

Tiger Brennan

Tiger Brennan was the mayor of Darwin back in the seventies. He was a strange character who got around dressed in colonial “Pukka sahib” kahki shorts and shirt, replete with pith helmet and long socks and was always smoking a Winston Churchill style fat cigar … a punctilious buffoon and as bent as a drawer full of used Uri Geller spoons.

Tiger lived in a flat on the next floor above us … I don’t know when he was sober, because I can only recall him drunk … He drove this big Ford Fairlane in such a reckless fashion that he’d scatter the rubbish bins in wild collision every time he drove into the car-park of the flats, so he made a deal with Potter that he would leave the car out the front and potter would park it for him … this was a kind of trade-off for the noise of the raucous parties we held in our flat almost every opportunity … it was the seventies and this was Darwin!

I remember one night, another party … it was going great guns! … the walls were vibrating with Neil Diamond pouring out of the new quadraphonic system Potter had signed another rubber cheque for and the beer running freely … then there was this banging on the door … took a little while to hear it, but I threw the door open and there was Tiger with his pith helmet … wearing only a pair of boxer-short undies and a pair of slippers and smoking that fat cigar … He didn’t say a word, just took the cigar out of his mouth with his left hand and with index finger and thumb of his right made “turn-it-down” motions he then shoved the cigar back into his mouth, puffed smokily a couple of times to make the point, turned on his heels and trudged back up the stairs.

One night, around midnight Tiger Brennan came crashing into the carpark as usual sending bins and shit flying … he gets out staggering about as drunk as a skunk … someone in one of the flats called out:

“You drunken bastard … you couldn’t drive a greasy stick …” To which Tiger regains his unsteady balance takes his cigar from his lips and slurs out:

“You … watch your tongue or … or I’ll have the bloody coppers ‘round here … and book ev’ry last one of you … perverts … yeah … ” And he staggered off under the flats .

But he was never one to miss a political opportunity … was Tiger …

One balmy Darwin afternoon, just before the wet rains came in … I was sitting on the back balcony having a coupla quiet beers, watching the world slip by … I have to admit there is a lot to see from a balcony … Hal Porter was well paced on his cast-iron balcony.

It was after Cyclone Tracy and many of the flats were abandoned and ruined, but had been taken over by squatting hippies … who would congregate in a clearing, out in the back yards of the flats and would for want of a better description: Pow-wow around a camp-fire and pass the joints around … this infuriated Tiger because he had just that season driven the hippies out of their tree-houses on Darwin beach and they then retreated to squat right under his nose in these flats.

I was sitting there listening to the hippie conversation and then I could hear Potter talking to Tiger just under the balcony … I looked down and I could see Potter showing Tiger his newest acquisition, a short-barrel shotgun he had purchased to take with him every time he went further South down the Stuart Highway past Berri Springs … The movie Deliverence had just done the rounds of the Darwin Cinema and it put the wind up many of the alpha males in Darwin, who believed the worst thing could happen to a red-blooded Aussie male was to get rheemed up the arse no matter what the disadvantage or situation … hence the shotgun.

“How many shots can you get off in a minute?” Tiger asked as he held his cigar.

“I can empty the magazine,” Potter reassured him.

“Go on!” Tiger looked impressed.

“I’ll show you,” Potter replied.and in doing so quickly filled the magazine with solid slug 12-gauge shells … pumped the magazine once and fired off five shots in quick succession into an idle 44-gallon drum full of water nearby. “Boom, boom, boom … As the drum jumped and thumped and water sprayed everywhere, the hippies scattered like chaff in the wind in every direction, Tiger sprang to the offered opportunity and yelled after them.

“And there’s plenty more of that for you bastards if you come back too!”

I don’t know what happened to Tiger eventually … I do know he retired under some kind of cloud … but that’s all I remember … there are limits and it was the seventies!

More Potter

I remember one balmy afternoon, sitting back in a recliner at the flat, sans Hopkirk, sans Potter, listening to my latest LP acquisition: “Santana; Caravanserai” … when suddenly there was a howl of spinning tyres and then a screeching of brakes in the car-park underneath the flats …. Potter was back from the “Adelaide River Show Society” (ARSS) horse event his fiance competed in.

He crashed through the door in a foul but kind of satisfied mood … went to the fridge, swished the door open, plucked out a “green-can” and threw himself on the other recliner (I had swapped Santana, which he did not like for Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night which he did like) … He took a long draught out of the can smacked his lips a couple of times then began:

“Bloody hippies! … You wouldn’t believe what just happened to me down by Adelaide River on the way back here … You know how windey and narrow that stretch of road is there, not many places to safely overtake and all … well I came flying around a bend in the road and there, right in front of me was this Kombi van … fuckin’ all painted over with peace symbols and rainbows and fuckin’ flowers and shit and chock-a-block full of pot-smoking hippies!”

He took another draught to lubricate and continued …

“Fuckin’ hippies … hate ’em! So the next straight stretch I planted the foot to overtake (Potter, it must be mentioned at this point, always drove these souped-up Ford V8s … these fuel-guzzling monsters had things he waxed lyrical about … like extra-lift cams, Edelbrock manifolds, four barrell-carbis and dizzys – that did something wonderful to the motor – and this one had a bull bar on front) … but the bastards swerved right out in front of me to block my way … like it was some sort of joke … and they’re leaning out of the Kombi waving their “peace, man” fingers and laughing and offering me a joint while they’re at it … fuckin’ hippies! And every time I tried to over-take … the same thing … Drrrrrrrrrrr … the Kombi would swerve over to block me … with them all laughing. I got jack of this so I waited until we straightened upon the road and then I crept up to the rear-end of that Kombi, nudged it on contact with the bull-bar and then planted my foot!

“The fuckin’ 400 horses in that Ford howled and the wheels spun like fuck and I pushed that Kombi up till we were going over ninety miles per hour and they’re all screaming now!”

” … scream you fuckers, scream … it’s not funny now is it?” And I started singing that John Lennon song Give Peace a Chance out the window at them and they’re screaming and I waited until we got to a clear part of the road-side and I shoved them off into the paddock … you shoulda’ seen it … geez it was fuckin’ funny!”

… And he got up, went to the fridge and got himself another beer.

Ahh … Darwin in the seventies … just one long, endless party.

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More days of beer and weed …

Growing up in the 70s … The following are a series of vignettes and cameos of where and with whom I grew up with in the 1970s as a young man … some of them you may see as pure delinquency, others as that clumsy, clunky half-innocence of the fumbling youth trying to get a grip on the disorder of those times … Times that were revolutionary in both freedom of movement from state to state and job to job. Gone were the ties that bound one socially and economically to home and hearth … there was adventure “out there” and being young and free with more than a hint of delinquency about us, by Christ, we were going to taste a bit of it before we all grew too old to remember what the thrill of life was about …

Steve

He was a study in tragedy … because of what he had become from what he once was. In the early days, you’d see Steve sitting in a tatty, stuffed lounge chair in one of the many dives and squats he frequented down ‘The Bay’ (Glenelg), his acoustic guitar cradled in his lap, a wide smile on his fragile delicate featured face, and he would be engaged in an enthusiastic esoteric analysis of the meaning of life with any young lass nearby … these young women were usually itinerants passing through the squat and were themselves in search of that elusive “me” … most of them were in reality middle-class hippies escaping from stultifying pre-war generation parents who wanted to see them betrothed and off their hands and into a ‘good marriage’ w/kids before they were 25 yrs old … So they were out for a bit of adventure armed with bright eyes, an experimental nature and a regular supply of the pill.

Steve was keen to assist in all facets of their education.

And so he cultivated this air of the ‘wandering minstrel I’ with a repertoire of light, airy conversation, a mix of rote-learned poetry, a permanent smile and keenly agreeable nodding head with a rising crest of wavy hair brushed so it resembled the southerly break of surf at Boomer Beach … and a regular supply of nefarious substances he was willing to share to these ‘soul mates’.

Steve always had that guitar handy and now and then he would pluck … not a complete tune … but bits and pieces of chords … he’d place that rolly-ciggy in between his lips, squint his eye from the trickle of smoke and concentrate on striking up a bar or two from a known song … but that’s all he’d do … a bit of a recognisable chord or a bar or two … and then he’d interrupt his “playing” to extract the cigarette and place one palm over the strings and extrapolate on the musicology of the unplayed piece.

He really was impressive in his knowledge of the deeper meanings of those songs.

He drove from squat to pub to dive to party in an old Austin A40 convertible … and it suited him … the paint was faded, the bumptious shape contrasted against his willowy youthful form, and the fact that it was a convertible meant that he could place that guitar in a conveniently visible place in the back seat … just in case it was needed.

This lifestyle continued for some years, right up until the mid-seventies, when both grotty squats and free-wheeling hippy girls started to be hard to come by, and Steve now a tad older and showing his age, never being the most employable type of person, was reduced to couch surfing on friends benevolence and trying to chat up the girls who frequented the bars in the Seacliff Hotel … His fortune in both categories was soon exhausted and he started to take more drugs and in consequence look more seedy.

His once-brushed wavy hair grew more lank and he substituted brush for Welsh-combing … His once boyish laughter now became more a hardened shrill and that wide smile a cruel grimace … the end game was approaching.

One of the last times I ever saw him, was at the front bar of the Seacliff Hotel … he’d been living in a distant suburb so had not frequented this side of town for a while … Now here he was sitting on a bar-stool in that girly cross-legged manner he always had, the rolly in hand and the other arm pressing down on a slim leather satchel on the bar top … I said my greetings and passed the usual idle chatter with him, but the leather folder drew my attention ..

“What’s in the satchel … sheet music?” I pointed.

“This … ” he said in a secretive whisper, “is my evidence.” He smiled his ‘new smile’.

“For what?” I persisted.

“For a claim I intend to bring against my ex-landlord … ” and he gently tapped the folder. “It’s all recorded in here … every leaking tap or faulty door lock … I’ve got them all listed down … oh yes … he won’t get me that easy … ”

And he proceeded to relate to me the ongoing conflict he had with his last landlord and why he was thrown out of the old shack he was renting … It was a sad tale of the obvious … and Steve ticked off on his grubby hand, every perceived insult, every incriminating action, every bit of “evidence” that he was sure would secure him a hefty compensated win in any court of law … of which it was only a matter of time before he would “consult his lawyer” and …

Steve had almost lost his mind … and that guitar he would always have by his side was nowhere to be seen … I remarked upon this anomaly later to Mark …

“Nah … he pawned it to buy some ‘gear’ … ”

“That’s bad luck, he must miss the playing,” I whimsically observed.

“What playing? … ” Mark snorted. “He was lucky he could put those chords together that he did! … I was there when he first bought it from the pawn shop … he never could play a full song, it was just an image he projected for the girls … ”

I nodded a disappointed face and went back to my beer … it’s never good to see anyone fall from grace.

Jasper

Jasper was a ‘Balt’ … ie; he was of those states centred around the Baltic Sea … perhaps he could have been Estonian … he was a tall ponderous sort of chap … with a long serious gaze, with one of those what are called “lantern jawed” faces. He always spoke in a slow, carefully chosen word way … I don’t wonder many philosophers came from the Baltic States … Jasper appeared to put a lot of thought into what he said before he said it … but then he didn’t ever say much of great import.

“You gotta watch those ‘Balts’“ Jack Mitchell warned … ’Ooo … they’re trouble … those bloody Balts.”

He always wore shorts in the Summer … not short shorts like a footballer, but loose baggy ones to the knee. He would sit at the bar pint in hand with legs crossed in a peculiar effeminate way … that is; with his legs entwined like women do … and he would stare incessantly at one person or spot before delivering some profound statement.

“Michael” … he announced out of the blue one day “Michael … would you tell your girlfriend to stop staring at my legs … I know I haff good, manly legs … but could she please not to stare at them so ?”

Of course, Mick was astonished and choked on his beer … Tracey, Mick’s girlfriend, was outraged and put on one hell of a show … Jasper was nonplussed by the whole affair and just commenced to roll a cigarette with his slow ponderous methodology.

Jasper had huge hands … big fingers more suited to blacksmithing or a farrier for draught horses than what he did do … but no-one knew quite what that was as he was an awful liar. Jasper’s toil at rolling a cigarette was something to watch … he was so clumsy with those big hands that it was quite a chore that exasperated him at times.

One day a ‘airy’ young lady sitting next to him at the bar took out of her dilly-bag one of those automatic cigarette rollers where you place the paper then the tobacco, then lift or flip the lid and a perfectly formed ’rolly’ appears to greet you. Jasper, ciggy-paper stuck to his bottom lip watched this magic with deep concentration, his big paw all the while shoved deep into the pouch of tobacco … as he watched, the ciggy-paper fluttered with his breath on his lip … he detached it and addressed the young lady.

“That is a cleffer machine … a vonderful machine … where did you obtain it?” he asked in his slow deep voice.

“Well I didn’t steal it if that’s what you mean?’ The young woman replied.

“ Ivas not accusing you, madam … you look like a honest young lady … an honest AND attractive young lady … perhaps later I would like to get to know you in a more familiar way … I like you … and I like your machine … I am asking where you haff purchased it” …

The following week, Jasper was seen to have one of those machines … it would sit at his elbow on the bar next to his pouch of Drum tobacco … Jasper now had a contented look on his face, and he would gladly demonstrate the marvels of that machine to anyone who asked … and many would take advantage of his hospitality of the proffered resulting cigarette until he woke up to the fact that he was being taken for a ride … philosophers are like that, they learn fast!

Jasper disappeared out of our lives as quickly as he appeared … Late one night he asked Mick for a lift home on the back of his 1000cc Suzuki motor-cycle … Mick delighted in putting the fear of god in anyone silly enough to ride pillion with him … Jasper had no sooner settled himself on the trembling machine and informed Mick to drive carefully as he, Jasper, was … and that was the last we heard of Jasper as Mick took off full-throttle and it was impossible to tell if it was the roar of the motor, the squeal of the tyre, or the Joe. E. Brown howl of despair from Jasper as they disappeared down Yakka Road toward Sth. Brighton.

But he never came back.

Erroll’s Prawn Night

The pub gathering was interesting, if for all the other things, the Hotel where it was held. I have “history” with that establishment … lesser so than my old ‘alma puttana’; The Seacliff Hotel … it was there that I forged an alliance (however accidental) with Beelzebub! … ahh! … the demon drink did for all us youth in THAT den of iniquity!

But beside that, the three hotels that formed a triangle in the suburbs there (nick-named; “The Pollywaffle Triangle” (as a foil to “The Iron Triangle” of Spencer Gulf); The Esplanade, The Brighton and The Seacliff, had thriving membership to their respective “Sports and Social Clubs” … mind you, speaking for the members of the Seacliff Club (of which I was not a member ref; Groucho Marx and ‘clubs HE would not join!’) … but I was quite familiar with those said members), while I would not for a moment doubt their capacity to “socialise” with hard liquour, their capacity for sport of any kind was limited to “elbow bending” and channel surfing with the remote …. and I am reminded of a Nelson Algren story (“The Captain is a Card”) where the Captain of police asks a suspect why he was running a house of ill repute:

“It wasn’t a brothel, it was a sports and social club” the reprobate defended …

“So who were the scantily dressed women?” the Capt’ asks …

“They were the social part,” the man replies …

“Oh that’s good,” the Capt’ says. “For a moment I thought you were going to tell me they were lady wrestlers!”

But besides that, the three hotels thought it good fellowship to join in a joint-hosting program where they would take turns, once a month, to host the other’s social club for dining at their premises. This went on for a while till a small mishap involving Errol “the drunk” and member of the Seacliff club. I heard it from Mark, a fellow imbiber at that hallowed trough ….

“So how come the event was cancelled?” I asked.

“It wasn’t cancelled, it’s just the Seacliff has been banned for the near future from participating.”

“Why … what’s the dirt?”

“Errol!” … Mark’s eyes lowered and his top lip curled.

Errol was one of those homosexuals of the seventies who seemed to slip under the “Aussie Poofter Radar”; acceptable because they were amusing even though high camp! … as a matter of fact, I remember the owner of the pub in those days, a retired footballer (of course!) addressing the crowded front bar thus:

“Listen youse blokes … I don’t want anybody picking on Errol or Steve (Errol’s occasional partner) …. They’re good blokes … not like you an’ me … p’rhaps … but they’re alright … ALRIGHT!?”

Truth be known, Errol and Steve drank enough to lift the pub’s profit margin above “respectable” on a good night! … Errol was in his mid-fifties, corpulent, red-faced w/comb-over and was a quite disreputable person regardless of ANY sexual proclivities!

I recall a moment when I was next to them along the bar and I distinctly heard Erroll addressing a petulant, Stevie:

”Jeesus … Steve, you’re really up-tight tonight … you should try farting … it’ll loosen you up a little.”

I took the accompanying moment of silence to slip away from that location at the bar.

Anyway … this night it was the turn of the Brighton Hotel to be Mine Host … Errol had been tossing a few down at “the cliff” before he went to the dinner … At The Brighton, in the dining room, quite full of family diners, it being Fri’ night, Errol took a shine to the bay-marie bowl full of big, fat prawns … he gouged himself … GOUGED himself! … and drank another couple of pints … then he decided he’d go for seconds … (you just know where this is heading, don’t you?) … eyewitness accounts state that Errol unsteadily approached the bay-marie side-table … a miniature, mock wagonette in the Oklahoma Musical style, replete with the “fringe on top” … plate out-stretched … he stood in front of the prawn container momentarily … he swayed a tad, his eyes widened somewhat and he then delivered what has been described as a Guinness Book of Records quality “technicolour yawn” … all over the prawns, all over the chopped carrots and the three-bean mix and the sweet corn (off the cob) … finishing in a dead faint flop onto the lot, then sliding, slipping, unconscious to the ceramic floor dragging the entire bay-marie potpourri and waggonette down with him … one witness remarked that his inert body slipped over the tiles like a dead fish would on a fluid baised tray.

Of course, such action did not go un-noticed and the consequences were felt right up to the highest echelon of The Seacliff Hotel Sports and Social Club management, ie; Col Penny and Joe Phistus!

The “night to remember” has gone down in the annals of Seacliff front-bar mythology … along with other memorable moments … of which, if you like, more later!

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Days of Beer and Weed …

Growing up in the 70s …

The following are a series of vignettes and cameos I would like to put up over the coming weeks of where and with whom I grew up with in the 1970’s as a young man in my late teens/early twenties … some of them you may see as pure delinquency, others as that clumsy, clunky half-innocence of the fumbling youth trying to get a grip on the disorder of those times … Times that were revolutionary in both freedom of movement from state to state and job to job … even a freedom from rational behaviour … we were remaking society even if we didn’t know it at the time. Gone were the ties that bound one socially and economically to home and hearth … there was adventure “out there” and being young and free with more than a hint of delinquency about us, by Christ, we were going to taste a bit of it before we all grew too old to remember what the thrill of life was about … Perhaps some of us never really grew old, but rather stayed in a state of suspended youth … a type of “forever young” … but then there are those I meet in these older times who seem to have been old pensioners from their earliest childhood!

But I’d like to kick off these vignettes of another age with what I feel is one of the great signature songs that reflect the attitude of those times: Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence.

“One must forgive the young their foolishness, for without them, there would not seem so much wisdom in old age.” … Socrates.

Mick … A character study

It never ceases to amaze me how some people can compress the whole spectrum of human emotions re. disgust, despair, weariness and futility into a short, sharp comment.

“Jesus wept!”

Bubblehead passed his hand wearily over his eyes. Mick had just that minute walked in through the bar-room doors. It had been nearly one year since Mick had crossed that same threshold, albeit at a different direction, pace and mood. Absent now was the fearful glance quickly over the shoulder and “duck!” look so memorable in Bubblehead’s mind. But that one year had done little to obliterate the memory of the insidious deed committed by Mick against his (Bubblehead’s) establishment … to wit; the negotiation ON PREMISES! to purchase the notorious “weed” in contrast to purchasing AND imbibing (copiously preferred) the amber fluid legally available over the front bar of said establishment … such insults were not to be tolerated!

It had been nearly a year since Mick had been “BANNED FOR LIFE!” (these sentences were occasionally inflicted on regulars for misdemeanours, varying from periods of one, two and three months, to “life” for the more extreme offenders. Mick’s insult fell solidly into the latter) and now, here he was in all his glory … indeed … never had the patrons of the front-bar of the Seacliff Hotel seen Mick so well attired! Wolf whistles followed his every step toward where Bubblehead slouched on his bar-stool … both parties steeled themselves for the encounter.

“Mr. Francis … ” (Bubblehead’s real name), Mick began … and so ended that penitent time of denial for both parties (Bubblehead knew which side of the bar his money came from!) and Mick was welcomed back into the fold with the stern warning; “ … that if ever again … ”so the excuse for another booze-up was offered and accepted by all parties concerned … another Friday night at “The Cliff”.

Actually, Mick featured heavily in the adventures of our little group holed up there in the front bar … trouble and mishaps followed him like the faithful mutt his master. Mick fed disaster till it wouldn’t leave his side … but I’ll say this in his defence: He was never daunted by any set-backs … not even after twenty-eight car crashes in two years (“none of ‘em my fault!”) could depression be seen to enter his psyche … his old-man nearly went bananas … but Mick held steady to his merry way.

He was not a big youth … a tad on the shortish side, bandy legged, round, freckled, smiling face with a shock of dazzling red hair on a forever bobbing head when he talked … which he did more than listen and the eternal “reefer” dangling from his fingers or his lips, sending a curl of smoke up past a wincing eye. A pint glass of beer could always be found clutched in those same fingers, as tenderly fidgeted as the rosary beads in the hands of a nun …

At any rate, “Mick’s Glorious Return” was celebrated in a piece of doggerel and displayed in the men’s toilets for the patrons pleasure .. this verse was written “impromptu” (in the true ancient Greek tradition) by a cagey little character appropriately nick-named; “spatchcock” … so named because of his rolling into the campfire on the beach while drunk one night … ”Leave ‘im there” … Little Johnny, the SP Bookie said in disgust … ”He’ll cook up nicely … like a young spatchcock!” … I have a copy of that doggerel on hand and I’ll print it out just so you can “place” the sort of clientele that used to frequent that pub.

Mick’s Glorious Return

Realising that time had come to pass,
(notwithstanding the desire for the odd glass!)
I thought it best to broach “The Bubble”
And take him to task for all me troubles.
So doffing me best suit of clothes,
(I must say; these “Op-shops” have much to choose!)
And emptying the pocket of bong and hose.
I dressed myself “to the nines” and
Waited till dark to practice me lines.
“Now, Mr. Francis” I spoke to the mirror bold …
“We’re both grown men … (or so I’m told)
There’s a certain matter I would discuss,
Concerning you an’ me and all that “grass”
The truth of the matter, matters none,
Though I still maintain I’m the innocent one!
Betrayed by fate and addicted fools
Unable to abide to social rules.
But after it all, here I stand,
One year older … a changed man.
So I come to you on equal terms
To forgive and forget a man who’s learned!”
Then …
But as I fronted the barroom doors,
My courage failed me (as never before).
I got my mate to sneak me a glass,
To prime myself for this awesome task!
Then through the doors I stolidly bounded …
“Gor’ Blimey … What’s this!?” Jack Mitchell shouted.
Through laughs and whistles I was derided
But courage steeled me for the task decided.
“Mr. Francis … I spoke with quaking breath,
(like a man speaking to warmed-up death!)
“I come to empty me heart of its load,
And, pray, spend me money in your humble abode”
I dropped to my knees under his wrathful glare,
(a balloon, scorched and besieged with anguished hair!)
“I beg you forgive this wayward youth,
That wandered from your “elixir of truth”.
Please let me enter your bar once more,
An’ let me drink as I did before.
An’ let me prove I’m a changed man,
An’ let me for Chrissake have a can!”
“Arise, my son” his voice boomed out.
“Arise and sup with me a stout!
Then join your friends and have good cheer,
An get off the “grass” and onto the beer!”
And that was how one man learned,
That a “banned for life” can be turned.
It takes truth and courage and … and all that stuff …
And, oh! … I might suggest kneepads … (in case the floor is rough!).

I copied this tedious rhyme down to show you the sort of low wit that appealed to the patrons of that infamous hotel … But that memorable date would have soon been forgotten if not for another spectacular entertainment that occurred later that same evening … to wit: The torching of the notorious “Astoria Apartments” over the road (Wheatland St.) from the Seacliff Hotel …

The Astoria apartments started life, I believe, as the weekend residence of some well-heeled family. It moved from that idle occupation to the more congenial employment of guest house for holiday makers intent on inhaling the invigorating sea air. Once that clientele took its child-like laughter and kiddies with yellow plastic sand-buckets and spades away to more exotic locations, it fell back on to “taking in boarders” and from there to the inevitable breaking up into separate flats for long term rental.

The maintenance on the Astoria Apartments (as it was now so grandly named) gradually slipped till the outside paint peeled and fretted away, the gutters dipped and dropped rusting in places and seediness blotched its once grand facade. By now, the clientele residing within matched in description the appearance of the building outside. Both contributed to the final destruction of the once proud Astoria.

It seems the current owner, intent on evicting … a poor-paying tenant, went to pay a visit to the aforementioned tenant (a rather fierce man with a fiercer reputation), to keep himself company he took along two relatives with big fists and also a couple of shortish lengths of stout jarrah,(presumably to do a little long overdue maintenance on the premises!). However, pre-warned is pre-armed, and fierce men seem to keep company with birds of the same ilk, so the good landlord and his ex-relatives were “sent packing”, along with the pieces of jarrah whistling past their ears and expletives echoing in them!

That same evening however, the landlord snuck back to cut off the power to the offensive man’s flat, thinking this would drive him away. But he didn’t just remove the fuse, he fiddled with the wires thereby causing an overload on the circuit that those ancient, groaning wires couldn’t take. The result; fire! Some rooms, they say, burnt faster than others! such was the reputation the Astoria had by now achieved.

The landlord was contacted at his home where he had retired smugly satisfied hours before and he arrived in an anguished state, striding up and down the footpath over the road outside the pub rolling his hands over each other and lamenting his misfortune (and no doubt secretly aware that he had caused this misfortune!) when he bumped into a short, bandy-legged individual with a reefer in one hand and a pint of “Bubblehead’s Best” in the other and looking terribly overdressed in a garish op-shop suit. “A problem shared is a problem halved,” goes the old saying.

“Ah!” the contrite landlord began “a terrible mishap, a terrible mishap.”

“Yeah,” agreed Mick. ”I left me dad’s bike in the hallway.”

“You lived there?!”

“Nah!” Mick shrugged. ”But me mate Wayne does with his girlfriend.”

“But they are not there now, surely?” … The landlord’s eyes as big as saucers!

Mick glanced sideways and saw a chance to impress upon a stranger (Mick was unaware this was the landlord), his “nonchalance in the face of tragedy,” an act all pretentious people like to adopt.

“I wouldn’t be surprised, he was up there with her an hour ago,” he snorted and ‘tched’ his tongue, ”probably grilled like a snag on a barbie by now!” And he turned abruptly and went through the front bar doors leaving the distressed landlord trembling on the footpath (Mick, we hasten to add, was well aware both Wayne and his girlfriend were safely propped against the bar with Mick-paid celebratory drinks firmly grasped in their hands).

“Yeah!” Jeff Otto’s’ reedy falsetto sounded over the conversation, “dropped down dead as a doornail right outside there on the footpath while the fire was on, Yeah!, the landlord, seems he thought there was someone trapped in the flats … poor bugger! … er … two brandies, Noela.”

Jeff turned to his drinking mate and sighed …

“Oh well, more work for the office.” Jeff worked for the local undertaker.

The only person who profited from the fire was Matt Waters, who shimmied up a drainpipe to rescue “Puffy” the licensees’ wife’s overindulged pet cat! This heroic act was rewarded with generous libations from the besotted woman much to our envious disgust! But Matt’ would still “humbly” accept her gifts of ambrosia with sickly obsequiousness then throw us a wink across the bar! (Accusations of gross illegitimacy were mumbled amongst the serfs!).

Mick’s moment of glory, however, was yet to come and when it did it was short-lived but long remembered: That despotic clique known collectively as “Bikies”, seem to make a habit of “discovering” quiet watering-holes (pubs) then invading enmasse till the whole tribe, their machines and other potpourri and hangers-on turn even the most sedate establishment into a realistic collage of a desperate refugee camp, or rather; question time in the federal parliament! This goes on, with the accompanying brawls and shrieking till the police are called in to restore law-and-disorder.

Such an event was taking place one afternoon at the Seacliff Hotel.

Scene: Twenty or more bikies and their “molls” with assorted motorcycles lolling around in rebellious disdain toward the police there, outside the plate-glass window of the lounge-bar. Leather jackets, crash helmets and empty bottles lay about in no discernible order. Police officers moved methodically through the throng, defecting one machine after the other, thereby removing the cause of disturbance from the road (temporarily!). A gathering of young clientele watched this pantomime through the hotel lounge-bar window, a hum of sympathy for the bikies permeates the crowd.

Enter Mick: Pint of beer in one hand, reefer in the other. He pushes his way to the front of the clientele gathered there, then drags on his smoke. He is several years older than the majority of these spectators, (and he realises it) and enjoys a small degree of respect that is automatically bestowed upon those more experienced in obtaining (and distributing) those childish intoxicants so sought after by gullible youth.

He gazes steadily and disgustedly at the proceedings outside. He throws his cigarette butt on the carpet and grinds it slowly underfoot. He holds pint in one hand and places clenched fist of the other on his hip. He snorts:

“The f.#king bastards, those coppers can’t leave anyone alone we ought to sneak out and slash their tyres!”

Suddenly, a great hairy fist attached to a great hairy arm reaches over the heads of nearby youths and grasps Mick by the scruff of the neck, lifting him clear of the floor!

“Right,” a thunderous voice boomed out, “I’ll have you, me of china!!” and Mick was frog-marched unceremoniously away and thrown in the paddy-wagon.

Neither cries of misunderstanding nor innocence availed, Mick was “pinched!” on hearing of this disrespectful allusion to the constabulary, Bubblehead bestowed upon Mick the dreaded “BANNED FOR LIFE!” (again!).

There came the time about then when I moved interstate for work so lost touch with the local goings on. The last contact I had with anyone connected with the “crowd”, was Mick’s old man. I was driving out to go north and he was coming back toward the suburb and we crossed paths at the roundabout, he on one side me on the other. He had a car-trailer hooked on the back with the wreck of a familiar looking car lumped on it. He wearily lifted his hand that dangled outside the car window to acknowledge my questioning glance: ”Yeah! … bloody Mick … done it again!” And he drove away shaking his head.

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The Exile of Celia Adamson (part 3)

One afternoon Jean was working on a mill near the road on the McDonald’s property, just south of the Adamson’s farm. Celia, on a stock check saw his silhouette at the top of the mill framed against the limitless azure sky. She decided to stop and say hello, “after all,” she told herself, “I haven’t even spoken to him for weeks.”

A light breeze tossed the golden tips of the mallee trees and two corellas chortled overhead. A strange elation crept into Celia’s body. The world around her embraced them into that secret sphere of isolation where only lovers go. Of course he had seen her coming out along the plain, so had climbed to the top of the windmill and was hanging out with his right foot on the last rung of the ladder and his right hand grasping the pivot of the tail of the mill and waved with his hat in his left hand, calling out at the top of his voice so it seemed to echo back off the curve of the sky.

Celia pulled up at the gate about fifty yards from the windmill and laughed at his silly antics: “What a curious feeling, that laughter,” she thought. It was a young girl’s laughter and with it felt a softening glow sweep over her till it tingled and the cool morning breeze lifted her hair and wrapped soft sunshine around her body.

“Silly bugger!” She called back and her voice careered across the distance and bounced off the open fields up to the sky like an echo.

“It’s such a beautiful day!”, he cried, like a call from some wild free bird; “Come with me to Paris and we’ll dine like royalty: a la carte!”, he laughed boyishly.

“Horse and cart?” She laughed and the two corellas careered overhead screeching in symmetry to their laughter and he called to her again in a deep, deep mannish call and it swirled around her and the early morning sun glowed softly in her hair and she called back in competition with her hands cupped to her mouth, her woman’s voice like a song on the air and they laughed at each other for nothing but the feeling of it and he swung his hat round and round calling and singing bits of songs and she sang back to him and laughed till she felt so full and giddy like being spun around blind-folded, round and around and the corellas cried out with the wind and she laughed within and without and the feel of it all swept her away and she cried out amongst a rollicking laughter that had her hands on her knees with her bent laughing and she cried out from the bottom of her lungs as she straightened up so very happy …

“O’ I love you! … ”

And the words hurled over the plains, crashing against the very perimeter of the sky, roaring in her ears in sustaining peals like the toll of some great bell and the corellas ducked and weaved overhead screaming in ecstasy silhouetted again the pristine blue sky. Celia gasped … why did she say that? She flung her hand to her cheek and froze in her stance. Jean’s hand stopped waving and hung out as if frozen also in the action and they gazed at each other silently over the acres of paddock framed in an eternal frieze of mallee-bush collage.

Celia turned and jumped into the utility, reversed back hastily and sped off down the dusty road, a trail of smoke-like dust rising behind the utility. Jean squatted on the top rung of the ladder with only the clonking steel against steel blade of the windmill to background his thoughts. He gazed sombrely after the fading ute.

“That I had the courage to say the same, Celia,” he said wistfully.

The afternoon had been so hot and sticky, and it carried over into the early evening. Celia had been restless all afternoon. Joy had risen in her heart only to be suffocated by the mundane repetition in her life. Gilbert called raspingly from the bedroom as she was washing the dishes.

“Celia … Celia, give us a light, will you?” Celia moved to get the matches. “The very things that kills him, he nurtures,” she thought. Then she reflected on her own years and the words she had just spoken sent a shiver over her. When she returned to the sink, the doleful clatter of dishes and pans seemed to drum inside her head. She could stand it no more; she threw the dishcloth into the tepid water.

“I’ve got a bit of a headache,” she told Gilbert. “I’m going outside for some fresh air.”

“Count the bags of ‘super’ while you’re about it,” called Gilbert.

A cool evening zephyr lifted a sigh to her lips. She blew a long expiring breath and strolled to the gate and walked out onto the deserted sandy road. Celia gazed to the right and then turned and looked down the road in the direction of Jean’s little farm about two kilometres away, and she started walking in that direction. The sunset drooled lilac over the vast expanse of the mallee, nestling birds syrupy chatter spilled into the evening air and every now and then some small creature would disturb the underbrush.

What was this affection she felt for Jean? Surely she couldn’t love another man while her own husband was so ill? What was this joy of affection that she felt so keenly for the first time in her life? Do others feel love at all but just dismiss it and go about their everyday jobs as though it didn’t exist? And if they can do it why can’t she dismiss her emotions, her hunger, like everyone else? She wasn’t a young girl anymore, why should she fall for that old trickster love at her age? “You’ve turned fifty, Celia, fifty.” She repeated to herself as if such words could reverse her feelings and all would go back to normal.

She thought of Jean, his manliness, his tender eyes when she had hurt her hands, his joy of song today on the windmill so bright against the blue sky. His face, his body, his strong gentleness … but it wasn’t exactly all those … she strolled along the dusty road thinking these thoughts as the sky slowly yielded its light over the somnolent bush and over the hills away across the plains night shadows crept slowly nearer. A cool breeze lifted and curled her cotton dress about her legs and her sandals squelched in the soft dry sand edging the road.

She stopped to gather her thoughts:

“What do I see in him?”, she reasoned with herself.

“I see his confidence in his work, his manliness, his strength (she smiled), his lovely eyes.”

“What do I hear with him? … His singing voice, so soft, so sure. His tenderness in his touch.”

“How do I feel with his presence?”

“My skin trembles at his touch. His strength of body at his age is healthy and virile. His chest is so strong I want to hold him against me,” (she blushed at the thought).

As Celia was ticking these boxes for her own assurance … she was making a decision this time on her own terms, her own decision … for she was not going to rush into a new life without consideration … why would any grown person? … a realisation came to her:

“He’s the only person I’ve never felt shy with. From the first day I’ve felt certain of myself in his presence, almost as though we have been apart all our lives and now, we belong together.” She strode on purposefully, certain of her actions now. She was certain also of Jean’s love for her, for as much as any woman can read a man’s heart, Celia felt certain of Jean’s.

What would she do? There was no going back home now, she had cast her lot into exile, for exile it must be, for both of them, her children would not understand and certainly the district of Callaran would not tolerate such rebellion to duty. But what was all that opposition in the face of love and for love even death must stand aside! Celia walked on in the plumed penumbra of night.

Jean turned the truck into his farm gate and swung the steering wheel left to drive to the shed. As the headlights swept past his front porch he noticed someone sitting on the step: Celia! He stopped the truck quickly and jumped down. He walked warily over to the house. Celia rose slowly as he approached, her hand moved to straighten her dress as she rose. They gazed at each other in the pressing quiet of the night.

“Jean.” Celia looked into his eyes: “Jean, I can’t stay with Gilbert any longer.” Jean stepped up to her, and they gently and deeply embraced …

Part 2

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The Exile of Celia Adamson (part 2)

The name Jean presented a bit of a problem to the townsfolk of Callaran, in that they just couldn’t seem to roll their tongues around it to pronounce it in the French manner. But then they couldn’t bring themselves to call a man by a girl’s name. So they fell to the comfortable habit of Anglicising it to John, Jack or Gammo, or simply The Windmill Man. Jean Gameau came to the mallee to escape a doomed marriage. Celia Adamson, came in compliance to her husband’s desires, each in their own way in exile.

Now, it happened that the windmill that served the water trough in the east paddock, two kilometres from the homestead, had it’s blade damaged by a windstorm the previous week so that Celia couldn’t move stock into that paddock for feed.

“I want you to move those wethers into the east paddock as soon a possible,” Gilbert spoke one morning as Celia was preparing breakfast.

“I’ll have to get the mill fixed first,” Celia said.

“What! When did it get broken?” Gilbert demanded.

“Oh last week,” Celia replied casually.

“Last week!” Gilbert yelled “Well why didn’t you arrange to get it fixed last week?”

“I’ve been busy and simply put it down the list,” Celia replied as she licked her fingers of a spill of marmalade. Such casual tones of voice can be very annoying to invalids whose perceptions of moods and attitudes heighten with the length of convalescence. Celia’s casual attitude at such “catastrophe” annoyed Gilbert to the point of almost curing him, and with an acid tongue he drove Celia out of the house to arrange the repair of the damaged mill immediately.

Jean Gameau’s farm was a “dusty little spread” two kilometres down the road from the Adamson’s. Celia drove through the permanent open gate up to a fibro “transportable” dwelling with a little porch carefully built around the front door. The porch with it’s wooden deck added a gentle charm to the otherwise plain cream house. A few well tendered pot-plants on the porch daubed it with geranium reds and pinks and greens.

Celia stepped out of the utility and with hands on hips surveyed the yard. It was untidy as mallee farms tend to be in such vast countryside. An ancient plough, seeder and harvester, were parked at various positions and angles in the yard. She didn’t take notice of these things out of any curiosity of the contents of another persons yard, for nearly all farms in the mallee have the same sweated wrecks both in the yard and in the house. She stood there looking for a sign of life. Celia heard a shriek of abuse from around the back and walked over to the corner of the house.

“Grab the bastard!” She was ordered as soon as she turned the corner. But too late, she was bowled over by a rollicking great woolly, black sheep that careered around the house straight into her, sending them both sprawling onto the dusty yard.

“Shit,” cried Celia as she realised the inevitable.

“Oh bloody hell,” cried Jean as he saw the sheep regain its pace and disappear out of the front gate and head down the road.

Jean galloped up on his long striding legs and stopped next to the sprawled Celia. He didn’t look at her so much as gaze after the disappearing sheep. He dusted his hat against his trouser leg.

“Hello,” he offered his hand to Celia to help her up. “Sorry about that,” he spoke as he dusted her off. Celia saw a slim,strong looking man, in his mid fifties, going toward bald in a tidy balanced way. He was tallish but not over height. There was a casual gentleness in his nature that took trouble to dust Celia down as she stood in front of him. He held her left arm while with his hat dusted her off like one would dust a small rug or an article of clothing. He moved her this way and that and, when satisfied that the article before him was restored to its former cleanliness, let her go and stepped back.

“Hello,” he said again. “I’m Jean Gameau, I don’t think we’ve met.”

“No,” Celia shook his hand mannishly. “I’m Celia Adamson … from Flora Downs” she added as if to put an identification onto her name. Jean motioned after the lost sheep.

“I was cleaning it of a bit of strike and it got the jump on me,” he spoke as if apologising.

Jean was one of those people who can gaze straight into ones’ eyes and seem to see into the bottom of your soul. Such people can be uncomfortable, but strangely, it made Celia smile.

“It’s black,” she teased. “Is it the family pet?”

Jean laughed softly.

“No … But I might have to make a meal out of it one day.” They both smiled.
When compatible souls meet there is no need for idle chatter, the eyes do the talking, indeed, perhaps we only talk at such moments to hide or distract ourselves from too close a contact, for the world of humanity can be a lonely place, a world of fear, fear most of all of an intimate contact of touch for, I’m sure, all of us have met some-one, strangers, that at the very first introduction we would like to, if not embrace, at least hold gently, for they are what could best be described as soul-mates, but such is the life of a structured society that we cannot, dare not become so familiar with that other stranger in our world … a human!

Celia and Jean looked into each others eyes and simultaneously turned their glance away and talked of the business at hand. Jean would go and look at the mill the morrow.

Over the following couple of months a friendship grew between the windmill man and Celia Adamson, a platonic friendship that drew him to the farmhouse of the Adamson’s for lunch some days. After Gilbert’s initial suspicions had been overcome by the enjoyment of the company, Jean became a familiar face at the dinner table. He would gladly do some small jobs about the farm that were beyond Celia’s strength, and he had no ulterior motive in mind. Although he enjoyed Celia’s company immensely, his person had not yet awakened to the reason of his delight at her voice in greeting, or farewell of an evening after dinner as he climbed into his truck and swept out of the Adamson’s gate into the pencil brush landscape of the mallee.

Let us reflect again that we are talking about two people in their fifties. No great beauties either, as I have described before, but what can you say … for surely, one person will see as much beauty in the petals of a sour-sob as another will in a rose … for it is certain that as we all grow from the child to the adult, do we not seek that love most denied? Here were two souls anchored in a vast landscape, of no significance and of little interest to any but each other. Yet in their private lives there grew a common bond.

Quite often when meeting on the road they’d discuss affairs of the district or farming problems each while leaning out of the windows of their parked vehicles opposite each other on a sandy back-road, or if in no hurry and in need of deeper discussion, would stand outside the car, on the road, and talk in attentive tones while sweeping the blowflies away with a grimace and wave of the hand. The jokes and chiacking would fly on parting never realising they were each other peeling off layer upon layer of social protocol that was holding them aloof from their true desires .. each talk, each meet, was bringing them toward the start of their journey into exile. An exile from social correctness into an exile of love.

It happened one morning while Jean was repairing the gearbox of the mill in the “home paddock” only a couple of hundred yards from the farmhouse. Celia had watched Jean wrestle with the blade of the mill and hoist it with pulley and rope toward the top of the mill frame. He looked so small and pitiful against a backdrop so vast of parched plain and black-line mallee bush. The frame of the mill like a child’s toy and Jean a foolish ant fussing around a hopelessly impossible task, both of them jellying in the rising waves of heated air. Celia left the breakfast dishes for a moment and with the tea-towel dangling from her left hand at rest on the sink, gazed hypnotically out at the scurrying figure of Jean. A fleeting wave of loneliness for them both swept through her.

“Celia,” Gilbert called.

She was wrenched back into her world. Gilbert wanted his smokes and a light. Celia tended to his needs and fussed over his side-table then announced:

“I’ll go down and see how Jean’s getting on with the mill.”

“Tell him to finish it by this weekend or we’ll die of thirst!” Gilbert grumbled as he snapped the pages of a stock journal. Celia felt her world shrinking smaller and smaller.
She walked past the grove of mallee gums toward the windmill where Jean was working. The bent and twisted trunks of the trees threw crooked shadows over the rubbled ground.

“Hello Jean,” she said slowly. “How’s it goin’?”

Jean glanced over his shoulder, he was holding a rope with both hands that stretched to the top of the windmill frame.

“Oh Celia, just the person … give us a hand could you?” Celia start clapping …  “Don’t be silly,” he laughed.

He was bathed alternately in sunshine and shadow as he moved and turned while he held the taut cord and glanced around looking for something. His workman’s shirt was streaked with sweat at the chest line. He attempted to wipe the sweat off his brow with his forearm. His hat fell off. Celia bent down, picked it up and scrunched it back on his head.

“There,” she teased as she fashioned it onto a different slant than he usually wore.

“That makes you look sort of rakish like those young bucks at the stockyards,” she giggled.

“Knock it off, Celia … and give us a hand with this rope.”

“What do you want me to do?” She queried as she held her hands ready.

“Just help me here … I’ve got the blade balancing up there on the end of the rope here so if you can hold it so’s I can get my spanners it’d save me a lot of trouble … ”

“Is it heavy?” Celia asked.

“My oath,” Jean replied, “for a fragile girl.” He smiled teasingly … “But you’ll be right.”

Celia slapped him playfully on his bicep, she felt it hard and moist with a film of sweat under her palm.

“Get on with you,” she laughed. “Give it here,” she took the rope.

“Now it’s balanced up there on that lug so it won’t go anywhere … so just steady it … keep the rope tight an it’ll be right … ta.”

He lifted one arm and she slipped coyishly under and with cautious manoeuvring they exchanged places.

“You right?” Jean asked.

“As rain,” Celia replied with a grimace.

Jean moved to his truck to get some spanners. Now, fate always selects it’s moments for mischief, a gust of wind snatched at the blade at the top of the mill and it twisted off the supporting lug. It jumped and slipped down the frame.

“Jean!!” Celia yelled as the rope burned through her hands. She didn’t let go though.

Jean leapt to her and reaching around her with his strong arms grabbed the rope and planted his foot against the bulwark at the base of the mill. The blade, in it’s swinging descent caught in one of the bracing bars of the frame and jammed. Jean was braced there with both arms around Celia and holding the rope. She had disappeared inside his encompassing body. The muscles on his arms and legs were solid with the tension. Celias’ face was brushing against his chest while his upper right arm pressed against her forehead. Celia let go of the rope and clasped her hands together.

“Oh bugger!” She sighed.

“What’ve you done?”, Jean asked as he stood there still in his braced position. Celia looked up, she was only inches from his eyes and she saw the deep concern reflected in them. She became aware of the warmth of his body, his arms, his manliness around her, his scent, not the scent of sweat, but rather the scent of man, of work, of that unfathomable allure of man to woman.

“What have you done to your hands?” Jean repeated. Celia snapped to her senses,

“My hands,” she softly said, “they hurt so.”

Jean raised his right arm and Celia reluctantly, for all her pain, slipped out of that moment of non-conditional bond of belonging that she felt she owned of Jean’s personality. She slipped out of his cushioned embrace and edged over to the truck.  Jean reached down and double looped the rope around a spike at the base of the ladder and eased the blade secure. Then he went over to help Celia attend her injury. She stood at the end of the tray of the truck with her lips pinched, holding her hands cupped and not quite knowing or daring to touch one or the other.

Jean took her arms gently and turned the palms upward and they put their heads together gazing at the injury like two children gazing open eyed at some strange object. The skin of both palms had been burnt red by the coarse rope.

“Oh dear,” Celia sighed.

“Hold on a minute, I’ve got some salve in the glove box.” Jean said. He steered her over to the truck cabin, opened the door and reached inside rummaging around till he reappeared with a tin of Rawliegh’s golden salve. He wiped his hands clean and with clumsy fingers, as gently as possible, spread a thin film of the ointment over the burns. Reaching behind the drivers seat he pulled out a bag of clean rags and tore two strips off a piece of white cotton and placed the squares over the wounds.

“That’s about all I can do here, Celia.” He spoke apologetically. Celia looked from her poor hands up to Jean’s eyes, they were looking deep into hers too, though but a moment, it seemed a long time for silence between them and they both knew then, but could not acknowledge it to themselves yet; the thrill of each others touch.

“It’s enough … Jean,” Celia softly replied. She turned her eyes away and stepped from Jean’s nearness. His hand slipped from her arm in silence. She turned back to his glance and ran her tongue over her top lip. “Ta,” she added softly and turned toward the house. Jean watched her walk away over the gibbered paddock, her feet sometimes slipped, askew as she trod on some of the many small rounded stones.

Oh how he would have loved to have carried her, he imagined for a moment, like some chivalrous knight in a romantic story – (for is it not in the better nature of a man to desire to protect women … to shield her from hurt and harm?) – he was feeling, but then he chastised himself for the foolishness of his silly thoughts … juvenile desires … and anyway … what was he really, but a grubby worker … a lowly mechanic. Celia stopped by the backdoor and looked back toward Jean who was still staring after her. She bit her bottom lip and went inside.

They didn’t see each other for a few weeks after that incident; such was the mutual discomfort of their discovery toward each other. Each of them too, at this voluntary separation was surprised to learn that they were quite casual at not seeing one another. Neither was distressed at the others absence, amazing, it seemed, though in fact they each had reached that phase of longing so that denial was bonding their egos together. They each knew with joyous delight that the other was thinking of them so the physical contact was not at all necessary.

Concludes tomorrow …

Part 1

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The Exile of Celia Adamson

I’ll tell you a story … A story of two lovers of vastly different lifestyles, of an age when one would never expect such a event to ever again enter one’s life … Two people from that older generation that we had come to think of as staid, conservative and settled … emotions suppressed under an obligation of domestic duty. Our two lovers, for that is what they did become and they did forge a new life together for the rest of their lives … were in their mid-fifties, neither were of what we would call; “The beautiful people” … nor given to extravagant lifestyles … in short: Plain, everyday people … but do not those same people, those “plain people” desire, dream, want for that elusive satisfaction denied in a mundane lifestyle … will the mystery and pleasure of love be lost in the duty of domesticity?

I knew them well. I am a builder. I built the house for the people in this story a long, long time ago, and that building over several months allowed me to learn about the personalities of my customers. I lived in the district as I built the house, so I also was able to study other people and trades as they came and went on the farm site. I met and was known to the protagonists of the tale … how they fell in love is their own private concern, I can only relate what I learned from observation and what was divulged to me in quiet conversations at a later date.

Then, a couple of years ago, I was asked to attend as an observer, a workshop on alternative crops for arid area farming. It was to be held in the district where the story below is based. There, I asked a couple of local farmers if they had heard of the couple since. Well, it seems that after twenty five or so years away farming in another state, they had returned in their old age to the district … I did not enquire any deeper into their circumstance … nor health … I would wonder if they were still “of this world“ now.

The Murray Mallee is a vast area … it is sparsely populated and the farms of huge acreage. The loneliness of those places can consume a person and create a hunger for company as ravenous as the real hunger of a starving refugee! So too can the hunger for love haunt and drive a person to seek comfort in a lover’s embrace … so it was for our two lovers in this story.

Prologue

It was evening, the sky had darkened to a voluminous pitch with the encroaching night. Celia strolled out to the home paddock windmill to get away from the house and her grumpy husband. She walked out over the gibbered paddock to see the approaching storm. There is a wildness within thunderstorms that both frighten and thrill, and Celia liked to feel that release of the power within the storm. The cool wind slipped about her arms as she stood at the base of the windmill-pump and listened to its creaking and groaning. She climbed the ladder to the top of the frame and gazed out over the purpling, endless mallee scrub.

The rumbling of thunder made her catch her breath a little and suddenly two simultaneous stabs of lightning made her heart jump! jump! with their frightening power and their following thunder thrilled her senses! She felt so insignificant in the entire scheme of the world around her, so powerless, as if swept along a frightening rapid river. All her life seemed to be a series of decisions made for her outside of her control, outside of her wants and considerations: Her education, her marriage, her domesticity and now, the farm.

Lightning struck closer now and the cracks of thunder positively scared her and she climbed back down the ladder just as the first spits of rain dappled onto the dry paddock. She shook her hair as she ran to the house. It was so refreshing, the rain, that wet-hay smell that comes with that first wash of rain after a dry spell in the mallee … life reborn!

“Celia … Celia,” Gilbert Adamson called impatiently from the interior of the house.

“Coming, coming,” cried Celia with weary frustration.

The Exile of Celia Adamson

“That which is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil.” (Nietzche, Being and Niceness).

One day, many years ago, when Celia was in her late teens, nearing twenty, her mother came into the lounge-room and saw Celia reading a book. She moved over and with her index finger tilted the book back to read the title:

“Carmen and Calomba,” she read out softly. She knew the stories, she had read them herself as a young woman.

“Yes,” said Celia.” I found it in the bookshelf, it’s quite interesting!” she spoke enthusiastically.

Celia’s mother dropped her hands down and clasped them together in front of her skirt. She gazed down at her daughter and sighed and went over to the bookshelf. After a quick perusal she picked out a small Gideon’s Bible that had fallen into her ownership years before. She moved back over to Celia with a wry smile on her face and with index finger and thumb, as though picking fluff off some material, plucked “Carmen and Calomba” out of Celia’s hands and replaced it with the stern lessons of the Bible.

“It would do better with you, my young lady, to learn patience and fidelity through the Bible rather than whoring and conniving through literature. One will serve you well for marriage while the other … well … it can serve you, that I won’t deny … but it can also hurt you more than you can realise.” Her mother’s eyes softened here a little, for she could already see her daughter’s weaknesses and for all their apparent simplicity to their children, a parent has the opportunity to watch the child grow in both body and personality. So much did her mother presume to know of her daughter and so much was she dominant in that relationship, that when told of Gilbert Adamson’s proposal of marriage, she set her lips in a determined smile and without so much as a serious discussion with Celia set about organising the wedding arrangements. Celia, like it or not, was betrothed.

What nature had denied Celia Adamson in physical beauty, she had endowed with adaptability. Celia Adamson grew to be a very capable person. She ran “Flora Downs” station with all the expertise of a seasoned farmer and when they lived in the city had raised three children to boot! As per beauty, well, any sensible man will deny there is such a thing as a “plain woman” … there’s a certain mystique as any mature man would know, surrounding what foolish persons call “plain” women, perhaps from those secluded years of bashfulness as a teenager, when a cutting remark can hurt so much, the downcast eyes in company, that shy tone of voice and the with-drawn shying away from crowds all combined, it seems to create an attractive aura of personal mystique and inner strength that can compete on any platform with physical beauty.

Gilbert Adamson nurtured the illusion that farming was a profitable and healthy lifestyle. This illusion grew from the childhood miss-perception of a family tale of a forefather back several generations who had been a successful farmer before moving to the city to try his hand at commerce, which duly failed miserably and therefore the family belief that “he should’ve stuck to farming, he was successful at that!” So Gilbert Adamson wanted to be a farmer. After serving his apprenticeship to industry for twenty years in managing a cement factory, he bought a farm in the mallee district of Callaran. When the last of their children left home so did they.

He worked the farm part-time for a number of years till they set up the farmhouse, then they sold the house in the city and moved lock, stock and barrel to the mallee to run the farm full-time. There is an old Italian saying: “When you have achieved your goal in life, beware, for death is not far behind!” Gilbert had reached his goal with the farm and no sooner had he harvested his second season of grain there than he was struck down with his first heart attack … this in the days before the surgical heart “by-pass” was freely available.

Celia, after a time of adjustment to her husband’s stricken state, took over the running of the farm. Although somewhat incapacitated, Gilbert would advise on schedules of fertilising and cropping and shearing etc. But Celia would hire the labour, arrange the servicing of the farm machinery, the care of the livestock and a hundred and one other things necessary in running the farm. It was such a necessity that brought her to meet, for the first time, the windmill mechanic, Jean Gameau.

Jean Gameau was one of those congenial Frenchmen who appear now and then in the most remote areas of Australia with a fragile smile and an endearing personality that seems to adjust to the hardships of that area with fatalistic aplomb. As familiar with the landscape as though that desert township street was the Champs Elysee that he was strolling down!

Continued tomorrow …

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The Apprentice’s Revenge

This yarn was told to me back in the early eighties by my brother in law as we walked from his house to the “Top Bar” in his village in Sth’n Italy … It apparently happened in his village, which was known for it’s workers in textiles and shoes … My B-i-L is himself a cobbler by trade. He told me the basic rudiments of the story … as one does when relating a passing yarn rather than a complete and constructed story-line … which is what I offer here to you.

It is of interest that in the days of yore, not that long ago … perhaps even to the early 1950s. In many of these villages, an apprentice was not hired like we do here and now, rather, he was offered to a master craftsman to be trained, by the youth’s parents … and sometimes money would be paid for that training … the apprentice becoming a sort of “live-in” servant to the master … not being paid any wage, save maybe a little pocket-money, but given board and keep in lieu of … and perhaps being trained alongside a son as a companion. I have spoken to some older European tradesmen who “served their time” in this “feudal-like” manner … I’ll tell you a story about one, one day.

The downside was that once apprenticed, there was little that could be done to get out of the arrangement and this could result in a cruel master subjugating the youth to all sorts of abusive treatment. The story I heard may or may not be a type of generic village “myth” … but none the less, it was one of the best “paybacks” by a tyrannised apprentice I have heard. It must be said that the peasants of these isolated villages were very gullible to a well presented lie, and could be persuaded to accept all sorts of weird and lurid scenarios (what am I saying! … Is it any different here and now?) … It wasn’t long ago that I heard and witnessed a “Evil Eye” consultation with a “empowered woman” in that same village.

The superstitions still remain … Anyway, to the story for your entertainment …

It went like this:

The Apprentice’s Revenge

Little puffs of condensed breath steamed from the boy’s mouth in unison with his quick steps.

“Hurry there, boy, hurry,” the Master Tailor poked and prodded the youth in the ribs with his rule “why, I had a donkey once, more lively than you.”

“Yes! … ” thought the boy “and I bet it carried almost as much, you old bugger!” but he said nothing and kept on hurrying over the cobblestone road, as he stepped, the pewter’d sheen of window-lamps reflecting off the wet stones made his steps cautious .

“What are you mumbling about? … don’t mumble, just get a move on … we have to be at Gemano Alfonsi’s half an hour ago! … step lively now!”

“Please don’t push me, master, for if I stumble I will surely drop these bolts of cloth in the mud!”

“Drop the cloth?! Drop the cloth?! Just you try it, boy, just you try it and you will feel the thick edge of my boot a thousand times … yes, yes two thousand times!!” and he prodded the youth once more. A door opened on their right and a shaft of yellow light stabbed onto the road to their feet. a stocky man silhouetted in the doorway called to them in a mocking tone.

“Ahh! Master Tailor … keep a tight rein on your steed there, for these young ones will find any excuse to spit the bit!”

“Ha ha! … right you are Signor blacksmith … right you are … but never fear, I have this young colt well and truly hobbled … ha ha! on with you boy, on with you! … to Gemano Alfonsi’s to measure a suit … hurry now!”

So on they went, down street and lane till they halted in front of a peasant’s cottage at the far end of the village. Through the small window facing the street could be seen the wife and three children … girls (for Signor Alfonsi was blessed solely with girls) methodically preparing the evening meal. Waftings of steam from a large pot misted over the window, a man’s hand wiped circular on the glass and a face peered out, then with raised eyebrows of recognition pulled away and opened the heavy wooden door.

“Master Tailor … and his apprentice no less … we were expecting you an hour ago … lose your way?”

“I was busy fitting a ruby coat to the king of Siam!” replied the tailor.

“And I am to meet him next Monday! What a coincidence!” mocked the peasant.

“Ebbene! … my house is your house … Master Tailor … the good wife is preparing a meal for us now.”

“First I will measure you and then I will eat … and tomorrow evening I will cut the cloth … speaking of which, I will leave some cloth for you to choose from. Though if I may suggest … ”

“Ah! … I can guess what you may suggest, Master Tailor. But I want cloth that is elegant, BUT! … manly … ”

“Well, if I may … ”

“A suit with fine lines, BUT! … not too delicate … ”

“Well, if I may … ”

”Robust. BUT! … ” (and here he wagged his finger side to side) not in the style of a pig farmer’s overalls!”

“Allora! … then it leaves me only one option to pursue I will make a suit of clothes for you that when you take the promenade on the Sabbath, people will stop and stare and say: “Ah! … There goes Signore Alfonsi; a Gentleman!”

All this banter back and forth was done with the appropriate gestures and twirls and twists of fingers and hands, with all the nuances insinuated with raised eyebrows and winked eyes. The two men finished with effusive back slapping.

“Master … ” the youth interjected so they both turned a surprised eye to him. “The cloth, it gets heavy.”

“Ah! … if they’re not lazing off in some corner … they’re whining for the little work they have to do.”

Signor Alfonsi “tch’d-tch’d” and nodded in agreement.

The cottage, having one room for eating and meeting, the rest for bedrooms, meant the measuring for the suit had to be done amongst the setting out of the evening meal. The females weaving about and placing dishes amongst the lifting of arms and the shifting of legs … the apprentice eyed the meal, for he was as hungry as … as only a young man can be … and oh! … the tantalising aromas of a hearty peasant feast sent his tongue licking and smacking against his lips!

“But seriously, Master Tailor, I must look my best for the council meeting next month!” and here he bent low to whisper secretively into the tailor’s ear. ”I have heard … heard mind, that a position may be available for me to sit on the commune council for next term … and then?” (a gesture with the hand).

“Aha! … then you must look to your friends who support your election … and I for one would be grateful for any uniform work that could come my way.”

“Well, I am not elected yet, Master Tailor, but … er … given the right price for your services … er … I will certainly not overlook the … er … consideration.”

“BOY! … ” called the tailor, “wake up and bring me the chalk!”

“Signori! … ,” called the matron of the house: “Dinner is served!” And placed a large bowl of Chicken Cacciatori in the middle of the table.

“Are you asleep, boy? … ah! … I see … more of a mind for the meal than your work eh? … I didn’t bring you here for a feast outside with you! out! out!”

“Ah … truly, Master Tailor … ?” began the peasant in protest …

“Out … and next time think more of the duty to your trade than your stomach!” … and he shut the youth outside. The peasant and his family were a little embarrassed at the whole incident, but said nothing, not wishing to further compromise the boy.

“A firm hand … Gemano … a firm hand is what is needed … ” a cutting motion with hand-on-edge up and down …

The youth outside sat sorrowfully down on a bench seat and commiserated with himself … then he plotted his revenge … he would have to be cunning!

“Hmm … Ah!”

(The next day in the street near the post office).

Gemano Alfonsi gently lay his hand on the apprenticed youth’s shoulder …

“Look, it was a terrible thing for you to be left out of the meal … We expected you to eat with the tailor as is the custom (shrug of shoulders) but …”

“NO, no, signor Alfonsi, think not of it, for I am used to Master Tailor’s growing moods … ” Here he turned to look about him and then looking meaningfully to the peasant made a twirling motion with his finger about his ear

“He is a bit crazy, you know.” The peasant raised his eyebrows.

“How do you mean … he doesn’t seem … ?”

” A little bit unbalanced … is what I mean … oh! not badly, mind … he just flys off the handle sometimes … it builds up in him, you know.”

“He did seem a bit tense last night … for he was a little hard on you … ”

“Oh that was nothing … but it is building up though … little by little … until …” The youth leant a little closer: “That incident last year in San Angelo.”

“What incident!?”

“Yes, it was hushed up nicely … cost, Master Tailor a pretty penny … ,” with a nodding of his head. “It’s those lonnng, sharrp scissors he uses to cut the cloth … he becomes mesmerised by them … they say his pregnant mother was threatened by a sword-weilding soldier.”

“Long, sharp, scissors?”

“Yes, Signor Alfonsi … you’ll see … you watch his eyes when he runs his thumb along the edge to test the sharpness … you watch … mesmerised … ”

“But what will he do? … I have my family … ”

“Nothing! … nothing, if you act quickly to snap him out of it! … Oh don’t judge him cruelly I beg you … and I chastise myself most severely if I have led you to doubt Master Tailor’s intentions, which, at all other times are irreproachable … and I beg of you also not to tell of this … this confession to Master Tailor, for, while I feel I must be a sort of guardian against any outrage that he may commit in a … a confused state, I must consider his “face” in the community and his pride … and I tell you this in honourable secrecy to not repeat it to any others … for what man needs his pride dragged through the mud.” At those words the peasant puffed out his chest … for there is none more proud than he! … for it is always so: The more unworldly a man is, the more that pride has hold of his heart.

“Have no fear of betrayal on my part, boy … but what can I do to snap him out of this … this mood?”

The youth pulled the peasant close in a huddle, shoulder to shoulder, face to face and went through a little pantomime.

“You will see when he is about to “snap”, for he will be cutting the cloth like this and his tongue will be pushed between his lips and he will be biting down on it … look, look … like this … and his eyes will grow wider and wider as he makes the cut with those scissors,” and the youth acted out the gesture while the peasant, now wide eyed also, obediently watched and followed every exaggerated gesture … “and when he is doing that, you must have a stout stick handy … no, not too heavy, for we don’t want to brain him! … just stun him … and when he is doing that … whack! … on the back of the head … just here.” He tapped the peasants’ head … the peasant rubbed the spot as if reassuring himself it was really there … “And he will snap out of it and be right back to normal.”

“But, but he will demand to know why I hit him!”

The youth pulled a confident face and made a dismissing gesture.

“Deny it … and say he fainted … and tell your family to all say the same and all will be well … you’ll see … this isn’t the first time, you know … remember San Angelo … and after all, you’ll be protecting yourselves AND his honour.”

“Why don’t YOU hit him then … since you know how it’s done?”

“ME! … As if I can move about without Master Tailor watching my every move and giving me orders … no … it must be you, signor Alfonsi … or we must ALL take our chances.”

(That night in the kitchen of Gemano Alfonsi’s … ).

It was a very nervous family that gathered behind Master Tailor as he stood at the kitchen table with the cloth laid out in front of him. The peasant: Gemano Alfonsi stood immediately behind the tailor, behind him cowered his wife and the three girls clutching at her skirt. All were wide eyed and trembling.

“My scissors,” commanded the tailor, with hand out.

The youth made a grand gesture of extracting the long shears from their sheaf, like he was withdrawing a sword for the executioner (he had spent some time that day polishing these shears so they gleamed cruelly). The peasant’s hand tightened on a stout stick he had ready behind his leg, his tongue flicked over his dry lips, his eyes as wide as saucers. The tailor snipped once or twice then suddenly spun around toward Gemano …

God, how they all leapt in the air!

“I had the boy sharpen them today … you can’t do a good job with blunt instruments,” and he licked and ran his thumb slowly along the keen edge of the blade. The apprentice puckered his eyebrows toward Gemano meaningfully, fear filled the peasant’s eyes, mama’s knees began to fold and she was clutched under the arm by the stout Gemano and brought around.

“Allora!” cried the tailor, “to work.” And he bent over the cloth, the family in one motion also leant over the tailor watching his lips closely … he straightened up, so did they.

“My glasses!” he announced, reaching into his pocket, “where are they?” He stared into the empty holder … (the youth had earlier deliberately removed them and left them at the tailor’s home).

“I remember you setting them on your desk at your home,” the youth quickly answered.

“Well if you know where they are, go and get them! … don’t just stand there!”

The boy opened the door, stopped for a moment and gazed back at the little scene … The tailor, head slightly turned on one side, his right eye wide-open and close to his markings on the cloth, his left hand held the cloth off the table, his right was ready to cut the cloth with the gleaming scissors, then with an expression of utmost concentration on his face, he slipped his tongue (as was his wont to always habitually do) out between his lips and bit down on it gently, his eyes widening in deep concentration … The boy stepped outside and closed the door … he took two steps, halted, cocked his ear to one side to listen …

“WHACK!”

The noise of the thump, a trifling interruption in the cool, still, silent air of the night. The youth smiled and with his hands plunged deep in his pockets, went off whistling down the cobbled street!

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The man who discovered forever

If you were ever to ask old Jack Henke about it, he’d go all modest and dismiss any such notoriety about his discovery, and say;

“I wouldn’t say I actually discovered it, because it was already there! … Had been all along … like penicillin … or Australia … they were always there, but someone just recognised the fact. I just happened to be in the right frame of mind at the right time.“

Pressing further on the subject, he confided that he had to give some credit to a couple of Mormons who by chance came down his drive way at the very moment he was pondering on the word ‘forever’.

“I was weeding around a nice batch of flowers in the garden, flowers with the curiously named “Live Forever” … I think some would call similar flowers “Everlasting daisies” … I suppose everlasting and forever are the same meaning … and I was pondering on the creation of the word ‘forever’ … not in any deep-thought way, just letting the word roll around in my thoughts while I weeded … you know the feeling … we all do it quite often. And these Mormons came straight toward me, one with his hand outstretched holding a printed pamphlet. He held it to me as if to give it away and then when I took the paper he held it still and with his other hand pointed, in silence, to the printed phrase at the top. It said; “ In the beginning there was the word.” I released the pamphlet to and politely dismissed them from my interest … but that phrase “in the beginning“ stuck in my head, along with the other mystical word; ‘forever’.”

Jack paused … considered his next words and then surprisingly asked:

“Are you a gambling man, George?”

I had to confess that I had such little faith in the chances of Lady Luck smiling in my favour that I had never wanted to place my hard-earned money in her hands. Old Jack smiled gently …

“Then you have never felt the soft kiss of fortune nor the hard slap of fate … But you have gambled none the less, for what else but a wager with social politics would get you such a career? … Good education? … Chance appointment? … The right place at the right time? I would think the latter played a very important risk factor in your life ambitions … a day late, a missed train, a stopped watch, a flat tyre … a horse-shoe nail … all these can alter the entire track of one’s life.”

Jack sat back in his comfortable chair and sipped at his tea before re-telling his story.

“When I was a young bloke and liked to “play the ponies” as we used to say, I had very plain luck at picking winners … but one day I accidentally and temporarily hit on a winning method of picking the horses. Becoming sick and tired of “form picking” from the guide, I decided to try another … more loose and carefree approach … a riskier option. Working on the proposition that there are approximately 12-15 horses in a regular race, I got a deck of cards and randomly flipped over a card and put a win/place on that number … with 11-12-13-14 for Jack , Queen, King, and Joker … for each race … and would you believe it? … I started winning! … Daily doubles, even a couple of trifectas! And individual races … lots of them … I kid you not … not big winners, but it was good enough … I was only a penny-punter after all. But … now here’s where the Human Failing came in … after this initial good fortune had become an expectation, I altered the methodology. Now, having turned over the card, I would then check its form in the race guide … and if it was such a long-shot outsider, I would choose another … so then the corruption crept it … as did the doubt … it was the old “Silken Ladder” moral all over again. I tried to resurrect the system, but my doubt rose and my courage failed … and I would over shuffle the deck of cards, I changed from the cards to numbers on slips of paper picked out of a tin … trying to once again grasp that elusive Goddess of Fortune … but to no avail, I had betrayed the gift of luck and now had only the deserved, futile company of hard fate. And I have to say by this time I was getting older and thinking of marriage … and life got the better of me and I gave the punting away … but it did give me a clue to a much wider knowledge of patterns of chance … in that the secret pattern of chance is; the fact that it has no pattern … and there is where the pattern lay, ie; you cannot play chance as a pattern, but you can play it using random choice as your pattern … if you get my meaning … because sometimes the best thing to do in a chancy situation is to do nothing, for there are so many variables in life operating all at the same time, there is sure to be the chance that something will intervene as much in your favour as against it.”

I must say that while I could see a vague perception of where old Jack was going with this information, I was wondering if it did have anything to do with his theory of ‘Forever’. I was soon enlightened to this fact when he moved the conversation back onto the subject.

“It was the chance meeting of those Mormons and the one pointing to those words from Genesis that set me on the road to the discovery of forever. Those Mormons would’ve gone to the front door and spoken to my good lady if I had not been there in the garden … if I had been in my shed, which is where I was before taking a break to come to weed the flowers, I would not have had that trigger sentence to give me the clue … that; ‘In the beginning … ‘.”

A care attendant came into the room at this juncture and placed a plate of food on the table. It was lunch time … I dismissed myself from Jack’s company so as to let him eat in peace. He thanked me for my time and said we can continue the discussion later.

There was never to be any “later”, as old Jack Henke passed away peacefully in his sleep that very night.

It was several days later that I had opportunity to make an appointment to visit Jack, only to be told by the aged-care nurse that he had passed away. I was surprised and saddened by this news as I had wanted to talk further on his interest … and mine now too … of the “discovery of forever”. However, luck, of a kind was at hand and the station nurse touched my arm as I was about to turn away and held out a large notebook to me.

“Here, Doctor … Jenke, he asked that this be given to you if anything happened to him.”

“What is it about?” I asked automatically as I took the notebook.

“Not sure,” she answered … “but it is in his own hand-writing, so it may have something to do with his strange interest in the obscure.”

“The obscure?” I queried.

“Well … it had to be something like that I suppose, judging on his somewhat cryptic replies he’d give to commonplace questions.”

“Like?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Oh … nothing in particular, just that … well if you asked if he’d like to go out for a bit of air, he would sometimes shrug and say; ‘Out, in, up down inside out and all around … who will laugh at the tumbling clown’ … that was one of his favourites … and another one was his asking any new carer if they knew the secret of forever. He’d always grab the attention of a new carer with that one. I mean, it has an attraction of curiosity about it, doesn’t it? But he never did tell his secret.”

I must have frowned at this seeming innocent jollity from old Jack, because the nurse then blushed a little and said that well, he was a little different from the other clients .. they never said anything like that! I inquired of the nurse what Old Jack’s occupation was when he worked for a living and was surprised to hear that it was in the trade of joinery.

“A joiner?” I repeated, surprised as he seemed more well-read than most tradesmen I have spoken to. I made this observation to the nurse.

“He read a lot of books,” the nurse informed me … and added that those books had been given already to the home’s op-shop for resale.

I thanked the nurse and made my way to my office to examine the reports of my day’s patients. I placed the notebook in my briefcase to take home for a more relaxed perusal later in the evening.

At home after a long day, the penumbra of a winter’s evening fading with the last light, I stoked the wood in the fire to a satisfactory warmth and settled back with a glass of Muscat handy to my reach and with the soft but ample glow of a standard light behind my shoulder, I sank into the broad reach of the sofa chair and opened the hard-cardboard cover of Jack Henke’s notebook.

It was quarto-sized, of approximately one hundred pages. The covers were of a thick, firm cardboard, covered with a pattern of false marbling with a red cloth binding. It opened to a well-written text, in a carefully scripted hand, as if wanting to be clearly understood by a strange reader.

In the first pages, there were two sketches of what looked to be mechanical descriptions of enactments for the, in the first, raising of building stones for the constructions of a pyramid … as in the pyramids of ancient Egypt, and in the other, the raising of one of those huge solid stone obelisks … also, I believe, of ancient Egypt.

I am wont to go into too much detail of those drawings and the simple notes that accompanied them, sufficient to describe them such:

The pyramid drawing described the lifting of those heavy stones from what looked to be a ramp that took them to around a third height of the completed pyramid and from there a slide that ascended up the rest of the height that the stones were elevated upon using a lubrication of mud on timber skids set parallel to each other up the side of the structure … and hauled up by ropes that were pulled through a wheel … much like those cables seen through huge wheels on pictures of old mining operations in the English Midlands of the nineteenth century. These ropes were hauled upon by what looked like many men descending down the slope of the pyramid while the stone went up … much like, I ascertained from notes in the side column, the sash of a casement window being counter-weighted by the sash-cord tied weights in the side casement of that window. A side note indicated that enough men were used that counter-weighted the stone because they were the only “counterweight” that could ascend and descend repeatedly of their own volition to work the principle of weight-counterweight. Whether such a principle would work I leave to an engineer to peruse.

The second sketch showed one of those large obelisks on its side, with just over half, the lower half, protruding over the sharp edge of a ramp but attached to what looked like a quarter-circle wedge of a wheel-cradle, made, as old Jack indicated, of huge wooden lengths and of four short, stout spokes. There was an algebraic ‘X’ denoting both the measured length of the circumference of the cradle’s arc from the lowest point of contact with the ground to the foot of the obelisk resting on the upper lip, then from that same first point of the cradle, to where the obelisk would sit on a plinth already sited on the earth nearby. A high, formidable tower stood on the immediate far side of that plinth that would site and stabilise the obelisk temporarily when it was raised to its zenith. Stout ropes first soaked in water tied the obelisk to the cradle so that when dried, the ropes would shrink and fix the two together in a tight, rigid bind enough to secure the obelisk from slipping from its bed while in motion.

I studied the principle of the mechanics of the raising of the obelisk and I have come to the conclusion, in accordance with Jack’s notes, that once a chock is pulled out from the base of the cradle, the weight of the lower section of the obelisk would slowly fall in a controlled motion of the arc of circumference of the cradle, following the laws of gravity till it picked up enough momentum and force of speed with the arc of the cradle controlling both speed and accuracy of direction, to allow with using the obelisk’s own falling weight as the source of energy to assist the lift of the complete obelisk toward the huge frame that would secure it in place while a coordinated crew of workmen would swiftly chock and then cut the binding cords of the cradle so that the obelisk would not be encumbered with its extra weight once it reached its peak position, quickly secured with ties to the tower.

I am not an engineer, so will have to leave the calculations of these two extraordinary documents to those who can confirm or deny their competency. But given the numerous theories put forward for both these subjects, I can but give old Jack the benefit of the doubt that he can compete with other orthodox explanations.

But it was in his notes on the subject of “Forever” that I had the most interest and it is there that I will trust in his own words to relay to you, the reader, the basis of his discovery.

“It was the most extraordinary of revelations … perhaps best described as a “road to Damascus” moment. I had just returned inside to my workshop from weeding some flowers and having been accosted by those nuisance religious folk proselytising for their absurd religion. I turned to resume my attention to smoothing a length of pine I had fixed in the bench vice for use as a shelving frame in the pantry. It was a clean length, meaning no knots or other defects that sometimes mar timber mass-produced and sold in the bulk merchandise warehouses in the suburbs. I had selected the timber myself, seeking the cleanest lengths from the shelf there.

I adjusted my sharpened smoothing plane and started to shave off the milled edge. I had taken a couple of runs to get the rough off, and then to give the timber a smooth, sharp-edged finished, I ran the plane straight along the entire length in one smooth cut, the shaving peeling back in a flowing curl, ribbon-like, to fall complete to the work-shop floor. It was that moment, that shaving curling like it did and the crisp sound it made as it peeled away from the timber … like the sharp, crisp zizzing sound made with the tearing of a piece of fine rice-paper… and the gentle scent of the wood … it was magnificent!

I made a couple more passes of that length of timber just to hear and see that perfect moment. I then picked up one of those complete curls from the floor, sat in a chair nearby and just stared at it … the words; “in the beginning” and “forever” suspended above my thoughts. How these three different worlds of substance, language and possibility combined to coalesce into my “Discovery of Forever” I put down to the creative mysteries of the mind.

When I pressed that long curl of shaving into a singular, flat circular ring, the skin encircling each other over the top of the other to become a circle of about two inches diameter, I saw I couldn’t tell which end originally came from which end of the length of timber and as it was a complete circle, you could say there was no end … that is; no beginning and no end … just a continuity of circle without start or finish … a kind of eternal circle a; forever.

And I have noticed this quirk of religions that they embrace as a justification of Godly creation, a “Beginning” … which, proceeding along logical lines would determine that there then must be an implied ending … for nothing can begin except where there has been another ending … giving those who are inclined toward ecclesiastical belief a perimeter of understood boundary of territorial ownership … ”In the beginning to the day of judgement” … an allotted time and also a perceived length of time.

I let the shaving of wood fall while holding one end and it described a smooth, even helix as it hung down, two surfaces, outside and inside exactly the same, if I joined the top and bottom ends to their respective planes, one to the outside and the other to the inner, it would form a continuous repetitive track up and down the spiral … where the inside of the shaving goes on to become the new outside of the helix and so it continues on forever …

Now, given that we have these words; ‘eternal’ and ‘forever’ in the language that describe a perception of endlessness, and given that we, even those of ecclesiastical bent, accept the notion of “forever” and now when I look at that example of endless continuity in the joined shaving in front of me, I have to conclude, which you who read this must also conclude, that if there is no beginning and if there is such a thing as “forever”, then that “forever” has the capacity to reach back in time gone as much as it reaches forward in time yet to come … ergo, since like a circle where there is no beginning or ending, then the notion of forever is at any point of that circle … so one has to conclude that as much as our ancient ancestors looked to the future and fore-saw us in the here and now as a point toward forever, we can as easy look back toward those ancestors and say they are at a reverse point in the future ie; what we call “the past”, because there is no beginning nor end and forever is neither here nor there, neither out, in, up down inside out and all around … here, in this very spot, this workshop in the suburbs, here and now is forever!”

I have to confess to not knowing what to make of this dialogue of forever. The theories of helixes, circles with no beginnings nor endings is nothing novel and putting aside Jack’s theories on the Egyptian puzzles, I have to say that I had to wonder how or why a joiner would think of these things …

I could see the line of rational thought that old Jack’s premise ran along, but given his lack of qualifications in the realm of science, theology or physics, I would be inclined to dismiss his writings as the ravings of a mad-man … were it not for that niggling inquisitiveness … that curiosity for the strange and elusive that lures many including myself to ponder further on such theories … perhaps such are the temptations of pursuing raw knowledge in the privacy of one’s own thoughts.

Here was I, an educated man of medicine, now becoming interested in this strange treatise on a subject that I would have thought irrelevant but a few hours ago. And then what of old Jack Henke? What pulled him into this vortex of obscurity? The only thing I have concluded is that it must be a universal attraction of inquisitive intuition.

If we give it some thought, the inquiries of the world have brought us down three distinctive paths: Religion, Science and Tribal intuition. I abhor the first as a “Black art”, suitable only for the parking up of those basic human fears of superstition and death. Science is more reliable for the pursuit of solid knowledge, be it in the various fields; organic, mathematics or physics, but even there it has to obey and prove itself eventually with concrete resolution.

But tribal intuition … there is a fascination for the human intellect! And it is there that I would park old Jack’s ruminations … it is there that such imaginations appeal most to my relaxing hours … and I would wonder if such thoughts and revelations played more often that we like to accept in the conversations of our ancient forebears. Perhaps the notion of “forever” crossed the minds of those tribal groups as they made the regular rounds of their seasonal camps. The knowledge of having to regularly shift camp so as to renew and let regrow the worked-over site and hunting grounds would surely have become obvious and then habitual then become ritual as each season, each regular phase of moon and stars made their impression on the observant eyes and astute minds of those tribal elders, so that over many thousands of seasons, the regular pattern of activity that matched the geographical location of the camps brought the notion that here, in this repetitive movement and stillness, in the consumption and renewal of bush, berry and game was a hint of the notion of “forever” …

But yet, against the established orthodoxy of religion and science, tribal intuition doesn’t much get a consideration, yet I have concluded that with Jack’s personal discovery, he has hit upon a much larger piece of the jigsaw puzzle that humanity has been remiss in excluding from its complete knowledge … its wholeness; the intuitive understanding of our “tribal place” in the universe and how forever is not in the far future, but is here and now, a moment that comes and goes with each circumference of the circle of life.

For this understanding, I give thanks to old Jack Henke … tradesman joiner, the discoverer of forever.

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Danny and Moira (part 3)

Continued from Part 2.

It was the Sunday night a couple of weeks after I had given Moira the locket. It was a foul night of the big storm that took down the telephone wires all around the district … so the exchange was out of action. Mrs Glastonbury came in and told me to go home as there was little chance the exchange would be up and running any time soon. I had walked almost to the junction when I saw a utility parked ahead … there were no lights on and after coming closer, I recognised it as Bruce’s ute…and he was there with Moira. I had the feeling he was waiting for me. True enough, for as I got close, he stepped out of the ute. He had a swagger in his step. I stopped.

“Took you a while to get here boy. I been wanting to have a little talk with you.” I could see that ‘talking’ was the last thing on his mind. I paused and did not answer, not really having anything to say and I knew what his intention was.

“You been playing at sweet-talking to my girl, I believe.”

“I … we just talk of things,” I weakly said. “Just things.”

“Yes … I should imagine.” Bruce approached me at the back of the ute. “It’s those ‘things’ I want to talk to you about. With my fists!” And he slowly stepped toward me. I stepped back from the ute … Moira had got out of the car and came around to the back of the ute. She grabbed Bruce by the shoulder and pleaded with him …

“Leave it, Bruce, he’s only seventeen. He’s no equal to you in a fight.” Bruce gave a sudden reflex jerking away of his shoulder from Moira’s grip and swung his arm at her and hit her with a backhander, yelling at her.

“Hold off, woman. Don’t tell me how to deal with this little shit!”

I leapt at him and connected with my fist with one blow. He spun back and grabbed me with both hands and flung me easily to the ground. Moira recovered from his blow and went for him as well. He grabbed and held her and then yelled to me while I was still prostrate on the ground.

“What the hell do you think you’re playing at … eh … eh? Trying to muscle in on my life … my woman!?” he yelled. And then he saw the locket there swinging on Moira’s neck. He flung her away grabbing the locket as he did so and tearing it from her neck … he held it in his fist right in front of my face and yelled:

“You think this will make me go away? Hey? You think this trinket will force me to say ‘Oh, look … my woman’s been stolen by another … so I’ll just leave them to it?’ You think so? … Hey! Well think again!” And he grabbed me by my shirt front and struck me full in the face with the fist that held the locket and he was about to land another when suddenly there was fast moving shadow and a whack! … and Bruce fell off to one side of the road and rolled down the edge to lay dead still on the ground. Moira stood above me holding the bladed spade that she had struck Bruce with. It happened that fast and was without the tragic intent that resulted … but I think that’s how many of these things happen … we both were silent and the storm raged.

Upon examination, we could see that the edge of the spade blade had almost cut through Bruce’s neck and he had quickly bled out. He died quickly and we were there in the wild storm and darkness of the night in shock and with no idea of what to do. We were just a couple of young people caught up in an uncontrollable situation.

After some short while of consoling each other and attending to our own selves, we started to formulate a plan. Considering that while it was in truth self-defence, it would look awfully suspicious if it were to come to the attention of the police and Moira would for sure risk the custody of her child in the process. We were fortunate that day of the week and the violence of the night storm kept all traffic off the back roads … so we set to with a plan … it is a wonder how quick the mind focuses on a problem when the cause demands it. Everything we needed to do just fell into place in that short space of time …

“You take the ute and go pack yours and Bruce’s things and make it look like you both have done a runner … it happens all the time with itinerants, drive to a distant city and leave the ute by a river or the sea with Bruce’s gear in it only so it will look as if he has topped himself … with all those sherry bottles it will not be hard to imagine. I’ll bury him here where he fell and look after this end of things.”

Moira was shaking and tearful, but her natural sensibility soon got control …

“Yes … yes … I will make sure of my end of things and get rid of the car. I will have to get a bus back to Adelaide and act as if Bruce threw me over for another. I can do that.” She wiped away the tears.

“Moira …,” I held her shoulders and said regretfully; ”we can do this if everything goes right. You are both temporary workers, so you will not be missed … I … I have no connection to either of you so I will not be considered … but we have to not be in contact with each other until such a time as it seems there is no chance of us being found out. We cannot see each other again for a long time … a long time … and it’s hurting me already.”

Well … we kissed and held each other and kissed again and professed our love together and swore that we would meet when the time was right. And as Moira drove away in the slanting rain of the night, I truly wondered if I would ever see her again … but there was this deed to do and I set to work with the very spade that killed Bruce, to now bury him.

As I moved to do the job, in a flash of lightning, I saw the chain of the locket on the dirt road at my feet. I picked it up but could not see the locket itself … and though I looked desperately, I couldn’t find it and the urgency of the moment made me attend to the digging of the grave.

Fortunately, the sandy soil there allowed me to dig a deep hole in a short time and I tipped the body into it, making sure to place some heavy rocks on top of the first layer of soil to dissuade any animals from digging down to the corpse. I also took advantage of a road-kill kangaroo just down the track a way to drag it to place it on top of the grave so as to cover any decaying smell from the buried corpse. I then made my way home in the filthy weather up the sleeper track, confident the driving rain would wash any evidence of the night’s deeds far away.

The next few months I lived out in trepidation of suddenly being grasped by the arm by a police constable and arrested for the killing of Bruce … but no … nothing happened … not then nor ever over the next years. Of course, there was some grumbling in the district of Bruce and Moira doing a runner while owing a small amount of money to the local store and rent for the cottage they stayed in … but that was the only gossip that came to my ears. I was never considered connected to the couple owing to my position and age. About six months later, my family changed address over to the Bulldog Run about five miles north of the Sleeper Track, so I never went that way again … so the months and the years came and went with no longer a mention of the couple and the town went on with its life …

As did I … albeit with a melancholy sadness lodged deep in my heart.

Danny continued:

“It was five years to the month before I heard from her again. It was getting near to Christmas and now I was permanently employed in the post office … five days a week and Saturday morning. Mrs. Glastonbury got another lad to man the exchange overnight and the weekend. It was getting near Christmas, as I said, and I was serving old Gladys Auricht in the shop … she wanted a page of stamps so as to send her regular batch of cards and she was fussing with her purse and contesting ‘the price of stamps nowadays’…

“I don’t make the prices, Mrs. Auricht. They’re printed on the stamp by the government,” I said.

So I was busy attending to her wants and though I heard the bell over the front door ring that told me another person had entered the shop, I only quickly glanced up to see and then went back to Galdys’s fussing. What I did see, was a head of red hair … a woman … who went to the far end of the shop there, for it was a gift shop along with the post office, so I didn’t give much thought to her. Then Gladys gathered up her stamps and purse and things and left the shop and I would have gone to attend the other customer except, as fate or chance or call it what you will, intervened and at that moment there started to play a treasured piece of music over the radio … only the music … no singing with it … an’ it was the tune of ‘Danny Boy’. I must’ve been tired or a tad sentimental at the time, because I forgot all about the other person there and went into a kind of daydream … and the music just played softly and seemed to caress me … like even now, sometimes over the speakers here they play ‘Danny Boy’ and I go into a kind of dream … and then too … and it was playing through the tune till it got to that part in the singing where it goes: ‘So come ye back when Summer’s in the meadow …” And I thought I was hearing things, ‘cause I thought I could hear a voice softly mouthing the words … softly singing along with the music; ‘… or the valley’s hushed and white with snow’ … and I suddenly became aware that the other person who came into the shop was singing those very words … and singing them with the same inflection of voice that I remember from so long ago. And then I saw her … I saw her … she lifted her sunglasses and I saw her eyes … and she sung those beautiful words along with the song … but oh so softly so affectionately … to me she sung … only to me as she looked into my eyes … reading me deeply … ‘I’ll be here … in sunshine or in shadow …’ And then she almost whispered breathlessly, those last delicious, delightful words; “Oh Danny Boy … Oh Danny Boy … I love you so …”

There was a quiet in the room so solid and deep that when Danny next spoke it was almost as in a prayer …

“I can’t tell you the feelings that came over me with the seeing of Moira there … right there in front of me … and hearing her say those words to me … enough to say that we threw ourselves into each other’s arms and held and held each other like we would never let each other go again. I pushed my face into her hair just to breathe in her scent and how I wept … how I wept … how we wept.” Danny stopped at that moment and took a deep breath before speaking again … “And that was when I saw her again.”

Tom sat through Danny’s talking, quietly and impassively … for whatever the sentiment, he had to close this episode … this file. He broke the silence …

“Well … whatever the circumstances of your relationship with this lady … this Moira, I have to find her if she’s still alive and talk to her about this death.”

“You’ll not find her this side of Heaven, I’m afraid, Tom. She’s gone.”

“Oh … and you know that for sure, Dad … you kept in touch?” Danny raised his eyebrows a little. Tom persisted; “Well, if you do know her last address, you had better tell me so I can at least go talk to her or her relatives.”

“It’s no use, son … she changed her name by deed-poll before she came back to Sedan that day. She became a different person.”

“You seem to have a close knowledge of the situation … tell me then what she changed her name to.” Tom was getting impatient.

“She changed her name I tell you, Tom. Moira Kenneally became Mary Kennedy!” Danny burst out.

“And just where does this Mary Kenn …” and that was as far as Sgt. Tom Flannigan got, because his thinking had just caught up to his demanding. Tom slumped shocked back into the chair, staring blankly. Danny continued his thoughts for him …

“Yes, Tom … she changed her name, Tom. Moira Kenneally became Mary Kennedy … your mother, Tom. Your mother!”

From that moment on nothing really mattered to Daniel Flannigan, he was comfortable where he was, the feeling was all warmth and embracing … the afternoon sun, the river silently flowing past, he clasped the locket and chain tight in his hand and for the life of him, wasn’t that music he was hearing over the speakers an old favourite … wasn’t it ‘Danny Boy’? Yes, that’s it … Danny Boy! And even the cries from Tom calling for a nurse to come quickly and all the scrambling around and over his person and Tom calling his name over and over … all fading away … nothing could now stop Danny from his long anticipated assignation with his only love … Moira.

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