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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.

The Jewel of the Eye

The farmhand held the burly sheep tightly by its head and rump. The farmer lay his two hands flat, side by side on the sheep’s back and pressing, spread the dusty coloured fleece to reveal the glowing, creamy fibres beneath. The thick, smooth fleece seemed to glow with health. You could smell the lanolin. The farmer looked up at the helper, “That’s the real McCoy!” he smiled. “Look at those fibres. It’s a real beauty!” He let go of the wool and the gap in the fleece closed up and the animal was released.

The soft woolly clouds parted on that November day and the sun beamed down on the creamy limestone road of the small Mallee town of Sedan.

“Hello,” his smile beamed out from a ruddy face, and the storekeeper lay his hands flat on the wooden counter. “I know now,” the storekeeper snapped his fingers. “You’re the new bloke in town,” he offered his handshake, “I’m Hans Bulmer.”

“I see you’ve taken up Schirmer’s old place.” The storekeeper continued “not a bad site in the town.”

“What? Oh don’t worry about fitting in here, I reckon it’s more a matter of you accepting us rather than us accepting you.” Hans Bulmer pulled over a stool and made himself comfortable and crossed his burly arms. His brow knitted thoughtfully:

“In my experience, the people who don’t meld into these small towns and end up leaving are the ones that won’t accept us for what we are. Oh, I’m not saying we’re faultless, just the opposite rather. But you have some that see us country people as a little … er … backward, you know … hayseeds behind the ears and they like to have a little giggle at our naivety. Well, like I said, those people don’t fit in … don’t want to I think, for once the giggles wear off they get bored with the place and move off to giggle at other people … you know?”

“Here, have a glass of orange … No! No! on the house, welcoming gesture … cheers!” The storekeeper belched: “Pardon!”

“Well, I’ve been here my whole life. Was born down the road there, and I can tell you we’ve had some beauts in this town. Probably no more than any neighbourhood, but still … Now take old Willy Meister, silly as a wheel, harmless, but still they put him “away” for a while you know, used to get around town in women’s dresses, and if you made a remark at him, why he’d up and double over like this … lift his dress and bare his ugly hairy old bum at you … gawd it was a sight … some of the chaps over the road there at the pub would jibe him just for the spectacle of it all, ha! still, the local copper got him certified for a while, just in case.”

The storekeeper broke off the conversation as a customer came in. He served the “local” and then resumed his seat behind the wooden counter.

“Funny thing was though, when they let him out they gave him a certificate of sanity … ha! Ha! he got the last laugh on all those blokes at the pub when he come back.

I can see it now … it was a warm evening, around dark when this side of the street is in shadow and the post office over there gets the last bit of sunlight so that it and the house next door glows a sort of pink … ’long with the road. Well the chaps are sittin’ and standin’ along the verandah havin’ a beer an’ along comes Willy, still with his dress on, mind and the chaps give him a few snickering jibes and giggles, you know. Well, Willy doesn’t show them his arse no more, he just digs into his bodice an pulls out a large piece of paper like this .. unfolds it and says to the assembly:

“So you think I’m crazy eh? Well this piece of paper from them doctors at the hospital declares me sane and I’m the only person in this whole town ‘as got a certificate that says he’s sane … so what does that make you lot?!! ha! ha! ha!” and away he runs laughin’ his head off and them all swearing at him and chuckin’ stones after him what a sight never forget that,” and Hans Bulmer gave a rumbling laugh.

“But then we’ve had sad cases too.” Here the store-keeper thought for a moment …

“Janet Green for instance, but that wasn’t any fault of hers, it’s hard enough as it is to keep yourself together out in the bush without the bad luck as some people have. Some people curse drink for ruining people, but I tell you; if it wasn’t for the country pub in these Mallee towns, a lot of those hard working farmers would’ve ended up in the funny-farm long ago.”

“Drinkers and dreamers they used to say the Mallee was made up of. Well, I reckon drink can drown a man’s sorrows better than any teapot, and dreams well, dreams are the carriages of new ideas … ”

“But I was tellin’ you about Janet Green … old Mrs Green now. But she was young then. My father ran this store then and I was twelve and helped him out here. Janet had only been married early that year, ’bout lambing season, autumn, and she had a kiddie in December .. they didn’t muck around in those days … I’m going back sixty year or so, gives my age away eh! a little boy it was and oh she was struck on that child. Happy as a lark she was, showing it off to everyone that first month or so. But then after that first flush of newness she sort of got a bit worried about something with the child. I remember she was in here one day and she says to my Dad: “Kurt?” (that was my Dad’s name) “Kurt, don’t you think his colour is a bit off?”

“Oh I don’t know Janet, what do I know about babies, I haven’t grown up myself yet!”

“Well, I feel he’s not that well … I feel it,” she spoke tensely.

“Take him to the doctor then,” my Dad said.

“Oh I did … he said the baby was perfectly well and I was just upsetting myself for nothing.”

“Well there you go then,” my father encouraged.

“Yes,” she looked uncertain “but something’s not right … his colour … ”

Well she bothered that doctor again and again over the next couple of weeks till he sent her off to the hospital who sent her back to the doctor who sent her home and that little boy died at six months and she was so struck on the child.”

The storekeeper wiped his hands up and down the thighs of his trousers as he sat on the stool. He seemed to be thinking.

“People thought it strange she showed so little emotion at the funeral … shock, they said, shock, she’ll get over it. I dunno how it went at home but her husband wore a lot of it for a while I reckon, he looked terrible. He’d come in here and Dad would ask; “How’s it going Ted?” an’ Ted would nod his head on and on and sigh and say “alright I guess, but Janet doesn’t even talk about it.”

And she didn’t talk about that little boy to anyone in town, wouldn’t say a word .. till one day about six months or so after the death, she’s in here an’ the old man asks her how’s it going and she looks all perky and bright and has this little smile on her face and says:

“Guess what, Kurt?”

“What?” says the old man while he’s packin’ the groceries into a box.

“I’m expecting.” She blushes and smiles that little smile.

“Well that’s grand!” Says the old man and he slaps her on the back gentle like and gives her encouragement like on the turn around in events and that’s that … Till we find out it’s all a tale she’s invented in her head … the shock people said … the shock … and she’d get around town telling everyone she was expecting a little baby boy in the summer and she’d pat her swelling tummy only it was a pillow she’d put under her dress and she’d smile and say she was expecting a baby boy in the summer.”

The storekeeper sighed and shook his head.

“I take me hat off to some people, the way they carry hurt around with them. Some can shake it off quicker than others, though it doesn’t hurt any less, but others stretch that hurt out over months, years till it becomes almost a habit … I don’t know where some people get the strength.” He sighed and rubbed his thighs again.

“Well she got about like that for months so that we all got used to her and just used to humour her along in sympathy, it’d been a real shock to her and we could sympathise …all we could do really, I ‘spose …

Anyway we were in here one day and Janet Green was shopping down the aisle there with her pillow under her dress and her green string bag on her arm. I was stacking the shelves just over there an’ my old man was at the counter serving Mrs Turner who’d not long before had a baby herself. She and the old man were laughing and chaffing each other and she had her back to the store while she rocked the pram to and fro with the baby inside and a bundle of fresh nappies folded at the end of the pram. She and the old man were giggling over something when Janet Green comes out of the aisle between the rows of shelves and spots the pram and she stops and stares an’ a puzzled look came over her face, I could see it all as I was just there, but I don’t think she even saw me. I don’t think she saw anyone in the entire store. She stopped and looked with that green string bag hangin’ from her arm and she went slowly to the pram so I thought she was going to touch the baby, instead she slowly, gently picked up one of those folded nappies, puzzled like, she gazes at it and then raised it slowly up to her face with her hand and then with both hands like this she caressed her cheek with it, just rubbed it over her cheek like this as though she was in a trance … well the old man happened to look over his shoulder sort of and stopped talking suddenly and then after a sec’ just touched Mrs Turner gently on the shoulder to get her attention and not to alarm her at the same time an’ Mrs Turner looked around slowly and the old man stared and Janet Green was there with her eyes closed an’ that fresh soft nappy pressed against her cheek and then a big tear slowly crept out of her shut eyes and then another till she seemed to go weak all over an’ started to shake in the shoulders like people do when they cry but she wasn’t crying out loud, just shaking in the shoulders so the old man comes quickly around the counter without a word and just took her in his arms and she just sort of broke down in great big breathless, heaving sobs, her mouth agape but not a sound, just a sort of gasping for breath and she held her arms around Dad with her fists clenching and unclenching behind his back and her head on his shoulder and she just kept on saying over and over … ”Kurt … oh Kurt … oh Kurt,” like she was trying to tell how much it hurt and the old man was saying “It’s alright Janet, it’s alright now.” and I was behind the old man and I watched as a big tear rolled down her cheek and dropped onto his shoulder and ran down the back of his vest and then stopped and stayed there and glowed like a little shining jewel in the middle of his back.

“Well, that was sixty year ago now and she had a couple of kids after that and lived to regret it like the rest of us I ‘spose eh! But she was crook for a while there but she came good again.”

Hans Bulmer stood up and strolled over to the window looking out at the sky.

“Looks as if the weather is going to close back in, we might be in for another wet night.”

Outside, the big woolly clouds gradually closed over and shut out the afternoon sun. The storekeeper shot a glance over his shoulder.

“Didja fix that leak they had in the kitchen roof?” he asked.

 

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On Empathy, Sympathy and our Pets

In these days of the news of so much brutality in many places in the world, of domestic violence, military massacres or social collapse in far away places or here in our own backyard, it may appear self-indulgent and facile to shed a tear or two for the loss of a domestic pet when we can but turn our gaze away from the hurt of humanity. An indulgence of sympathy some would say.

But there is the thing about a knowledge of love and affection. I believe we as humans are born with the innocence of love already in our self, while affection is a thing that can grow in our hearts … There is the interpretation that affection can be a stepping stone toward love … which is true, I’d say, but love is not a learned thing but a indelible emotion of the human spirit … to be capable of love is to be human.

The same with empathy and sympathy … With all those suffering peoples we see every day on the news, there is both empathy and sympathy … I would say that the combination of those emotions as between the separation of those emotions is the major difference between the Right and the Left persuasions of societies:

“To sum up the differences between the most commonly used meanings of these two terms: sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.”

I recently finished a project I have been working on in fits and starts for many a year … the result gives little evidence of that time … and perhaps the quality of the finished product may be viewed as a wasted effort on my part! … But it had to be written … and some of you have read it to which I am very grateful … after all, it was directed to be read.

It is the story of the Italians interned in the 2nd World War to cut and burn mallee here near the Murray River … and the “play” … which I called a “reading opera” … ”A Ukulele Opera” describes a microcosm of their situation in those camps … The “opera” starts and finishes with a character named “Gemano” who is lamenting for his fiancé who he left behind in Italy when he came to Australia (with my father) to start a new life and then to go back and marry the lady and bring her to Oz to start a family … It was a true event … But the war broke out and he heard nothing of her … whether she be alive or, like so many millions more … dead … what were the odds? … Yet he held out with a belief and conviction that she lives … for five years! … five years of despair and internment … and then came the letter of joy …

In these days of “instant gratification”, how many can hold onto a desire or a commitment a person to love or hold affection with for more than a “clickbait” moment? … We seem to live in a time more of “want” than desire …

Which brings us to the love of our pets and the loss felt at their parting. With the death of a pet, in most cases we are there at the dying, we touch the body and witness the fading life and say a gentle goodbye with the stroke of the fur … or a gentle twist of the pet’s ear or some other favourite touch or word … I would think, in that moment of death, we are more in sympathy to that loss of mute, innocent love with the parting than with the empathy of the loved one. But once we are parted from that unconditional continuity of mutual company and aware of that loss of mutual confederacy between two close companions … I believe we then feel the sympathy of camaraderie so much that the weld of empathy to sympathy can become seamless, a stepping stone from affection to love is complete and that knowledge learned through the companionship of our love toward a pet takes over as instinctive behaviour into our adult relationships between fellow citizens, is what guides decent and civilized attitudes toward our fellow humans no matter what their circumstances. And it is fairly said that one can judge a person by their treatment of their pets or animals. It is a pity our leadership cannot seem to travel far enough down this route to become civilized barbarians!

It has to be fair to ask: Where would we be without our precious pets?

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Poor Cocky

My mother worked as a servant girl at the station on the Murray where this event took place … She heard it told by the station owner to a guest one night after dinner. Those stations in those days were almost like miniature kingdoms on their own.

It is one of those little things that one sometimes meets a hardy, rough-on-the-outside farmer, only to find a soft centre due to some event in their lives.

His story went like this:

Poor Cocky

The door of the shearing shed opened and it clattered that grating corrugated iron sound as it banged against the steel rails of the holding pens. A short, stocky farmer stood framed in the square of light that was the doorway. Another man and a young lad ceased their occupation to turn to stare at the intruder.

“Gazza!” the man in the doorway called.

“Ah … George … come in, come in,” the older man responded.

George stepped into the shearing shed eclipsed as it was in its corrugated iron cladding from the bright day outside … Nail-hole shafts of sunlight on floating gossamers of dust beaded the gloomy floor. He ambled over to the others with a swinging gait familiar with aged workmen. The man called “Gazza” (Gary) was busy cleaning the working parts of a rifle with a soft cloth; the young lad, around fifteen years, sat, legs dangling, on the skirting table, watching half-interestedly. The air in the shed was musty with residual odour of sheep, shearing, workmen and machinery oil.

All the trappings of a just finished shearing season remained scattered about the work-space; marking dyes, dousing drenches, tufts of belly wool and wool bags with sharp, bent fastening staples hooked onto them hanging from a nail in the wall. A steel-plate stencil with the station’s name “Portsea” black-edged with paint hung skew-wiff on another nail next to the bags and the floor-boards still greasy with a waxy gleam from the task just completed.

“What’s the score, Gazz?!” George asked as he approached, hands in pockets.

“This is my grandson … Jamie … ” and the man sort of winced at the boy’s name.

“Jay-mee, eh?” George pronounced slowly with an emphasis not lost on Gazza …

“Yeah, righto.” Gary silenced any further comments on what he too considered an effeminate name for a boy child, but the lad surprised them both by standing up from the skirting table and offered his hand to George.

“Call me Jim,” he said confidently.

George raised one eyebrow in respect and took the lad’s hand proffered. The other man, Gary, smiled gently but proudly at this small gesture, then he spoke.

“We’re going to get a lesson in gun-handling, so I thought it best to start off with the basic requirements of the skills.” Gary spoke as he concentrated first with a toothbrush and turpentine, then with the soft cloth as he cleaned and worked the trigger mechanism of the rifle. The small metallic clicking sounds mixed with their breathing seemed to drift smoke-like up to the rafters to mix with the lingering, tremulous feelings of the cacophony of shearing machinery and men over the past few weeks … like the residue of excitement left in a stadium after a full-house wild sporting event … the people gone but the echoes remain!

“You gonna teach him to shoot?” George asked.

“Mmm … this arvo.”

“Where?”

“Oh … dunno … I thought down on the flats, near Dempsey’s Landing.”

“Coupla’ bunnies?” George persisted.

Gary was reassembling the rifle as he spoke and now it was complete, he pushed in the bolt and worked it a couple of times with a click! clack!

“That,” he answered contemplatively ” … or maybe a couple of those bloody galahs.”

George winced imperceptibly, he himself did not shoot at all now, although it was once said that he was the best shot in the district.

“Gonna come along?” Gary asked, though he knew George would refuse.

“Nah … nah … give it a miss, Gary.”

Maybe it was the moment, maybe it was the fact that the younger lad was there which prompted Gary, but he carefully placed the rifle on a cloth on the skirting table and folding his arms whilst leaning against the table, looked George squarely in the eye and said:

“George … you used to be the best shot in the district when we were young, but now you don’t even pick up a gun … it’s a puzzle, George, a real puzzle … so c’mon, out with it, what’s the story of all this pacifism, eh?”

George took his hands off the table and plunged them into his pockets, they were rough hands, coarse hands with solid callouses and chipped nails, they were hands that had shaped the framework of the family farm, he himself was a nuggety man, old now but still solid with yet firm muscles from an age of hard labour on the farm, from a generation who structured their lives around the necessities rather than the leisure’s, his face wore evidence of struggle against nature … nature was winning! … His shoulders set.

“Aww … you wouldn’t want to know Gary … Why … you’d just laugh,” he grimaced a sort of smile.

“Oh give it a rest George … how long have I known you … ?”

“Yeah … well … but some things that happen to a man might be terribly upsetting to him but still seem funny to others … like, like slipping on a banana skin, or walking into a street sign while looking the other way, for instance.”

“Ha, ha.” Jim and Gary laughed together.

“No, George,” Gary shifted his body, “you’re not going to get out of it that easy … Now, if I’m going to teach young … ” and he paused “young Jim … here the correct use of firearms, he’d do well to hear why another man (who used to drop a rabbit at a hundred yards running) … suddenly gives the game away … you owe it to the young lad’s education, so c’mon,” he made little flicking “c’mon” gestures with his fingers and hand “ … out with it … ” and he crossed his arms again.

They both looked at George impatiently.

“Well,” George decided, “alright, I’ll tell you, but it mightn’t mean much to you and I feel a bit of a fool for the telling of it, so I’ll trust you not to spread it far and wide.”

Gary agreed with this request with an of course … of course: George took his hands out of his pockets and leaned at arms length against the skirting table and gazed at the floor.

“You know, it’s strange, the things that change a man’s life … and it’s almost always little things that do it too, not the big but the little.” He took a breath, pursed his lips and began.

“You remember that Sulphur crested cocky we had for a pet years ago?”

“No … no, can’t recollect it … but everyone had a pet magpie or cocky ’round here at some time.” Gary scratched his head as he answered.

“Well, we did and you know we got him from old Tedmonson out there on the ‘Bulldog Run.’ He was a cranky old bastard, that Tedmonson, he used to treat that cocky mean, was there myself one day and the old man swearing and hammering away at a plough-arm, trying to straighten it and that cocky up and mimics him. “‘Bloody bastard of a thing,’ says Tedmonson. “‘Bloody thing! Bloody thing!’ cackled cocky. “‘Shuddup stupid!’ yells Tedmonson. “‘Stupid bastard, stupid bastard!’ mimics the bird, and old man Tedmonson up and chucks a hammer at the cage, swearing and cursing, picks up a length of water pipe and smacks the side of the cage with it something shocking, so the bird in there has its crest shooting up and is flapping its wings and screeching something awful! “‘Steady on Sandy,” I said to Tedmonson. “‘Bloody bird … I’d wring its neck if I could get close to it.” “‘Wring your neck! Wring you neck!’ cocky mimicked again, so the old man picks up the water hose and sprays the parrot while all the time laughing sort of cruel like ’till I calmed him down.

Then one day they’re moving interstate and I happened to be over there looking at a generator I was thinking to buy and I asked him what he was going to do with the cocky.

“‘Wait till the wife’s gone and then shoot the bloody thing … then I’ll tell her it got away.’

He grinned menacingly at the parrot who just raised its crest and ducked its head away sideways, always keeping its beady eye on the old man though.

“‘I’ll take him,” I offered. “Be a shame to kill it, I don’t mind birds and the kids’ll be thrilled!’

Tedmonson looked disappointed, but I pressed him on the subject and said I’d ask his wife that night, so he shrugged and said: “Oh well … so be it, but it’ll cost you a dozen bottles of beer.”’ and that’s how we came by the cocky … and we called it “Wudgie” or “Wudge” because when I first brought him home, Louise, who was just three years old then, looked at it and asked: “‘Is that a wudgie?” meaning budgie of course and we all laughed, so we called it “Wudge” … and the kids taught that bird to say all sorts of things and some words it picked up on it’s own, like those birds do.”

“We had that parrot for around eight or so years, ’til one day it escaped, an’ it tells you how clever those birds are: every day we came to feed it, it’d climb up the wire, beak over claw to hold by the door lock with its head cocked and one eye watching us lift that catch. We had one of those gate catches that click up themselves as you shut the gate, and that bird spent eight years every day watching us lift that catch ’til one day I come out to feed it and he was gone and a twig was left pushed through the wire where he’d flicked that latch …

“Oh bullshit!” groaned Gary, turning away.

“No … no … listen, “Bandy” Phillips had a cocky that used to undo the valve-caps on his bike with its beak and press the tiny tip in there to let the tires down … and Harry Hocking’ll tell you … ”

“Alright, alright … I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but go on with your story.”

“They’re clever birds, those sulphur-crested cockys,” George persisted

“Yeah?” Gary broke in sarcastically, “then they oughta put ’em through university and make politicians out of them … or perhaps they already have” and he raised his eyebrows and an indicative finger as he nodded his head sagely.

“Anyway,” continued George with a sigh, “it was gone … but I thought I might see it again if’n it came back or someone caught it, and I’d recognise it by the one missing claw on its left foot where, presumably, Tedmanson had hit it with something one day. By and by over the next few years I forgot all about the bloody thing … presumed it was dead … Then one morning the missus says that Uncle Charlie is coming up for the weekend and would I go shoot a couple of wild ducks down by the river so as to have a nice roast come Sunday. They always said that: “George, go shoot a couple of ducks … George, go shoot some bunnies for Christmas … ’cause I was a good shot, you see.”

“I’ll say,” interrupted Gary, then turning to his grandson eagerly, “I seen George here trim the corners off a playing card at twenty-five yards with his .22, then plug the centre with his .410 shotgun.” Gary finished with his arms gesturing.

“Wow,” the boy remarked, suitable impressed.

“Well, I was a reasonable shot then,” George admitted shyly.

“Any-road,” he continued, “I’m down near ‘Westies Billabong’ there at seven in the morning and my breath’s steaming … I’d spotted a couple of ducks by the reeds there so I got into a crouch … (and here George went into a pantomime of his actions) … and was working my way bent-backed ’round the billabong real quiet when suddenly all hell breaks loose … (he threw up his arms in a gesture of surprise) … and these two cockys come twisting and screeching in the air above me … must’ve had their nest in a hole in a tree there and saw me as a threat. Any-road, they were making a hell of a racket so it scared the ducks who flew off , and I was that angry with those bloody birds that when one came swooping and diving then twisted side-on to me … (George used his hand flat to show the action) … just above, I quickly just swung the shotgun in its’ general direction and let fly … boom! ”

“Well, I hit it and it fell like a folded object to ground over near a red gum and it lay twisting on the grass so I started walking casually over to it all the while pushing another cartridge into the breech of the shotgun. (He went through the action of loading the gun) … ”But as I came nearer, suddenly! (he paused) … I hear a voice … call out:

“Poor cocky.”

“What’s that!” I called … again I hear it …

“Poor cocky.”

“Who’s there!” I called … turning 360 degrees to see who it was … I thought someone was having me on .. but there was no-one, nothing but the screeching of that cocky’s mate weaving and diving madly in the air above, around the branches of the gums … Then again, that same voice calling weakly and I turned to the direction of the sound (George turned staring to the empty pens) and there it was, on the ground in front of me, the cocky I had shot, calling weakly … ’poor cocky’ it was saying, ‘poor cocky, poor cocky’ over and over till its voice faded, I looked down at the bird … and suddenly I saw that missing claw … Nah! I thought … it couldn’t be … Wudge … Wudgie? I said unbelievingly as I stood over it, but sure enough, there was the crook foot with the one claw missing … sure, it could have been another pet bird that had escaped and gone back to the wild … after all ,it had been years since I last saw it … I bent down and lay the gun on the grass, then raised the body of the bird close to look at its’ eyes to see if there was still some life left in it … but it was dead, and I stared and stared, but all I could see in that dark pool of it’s eye was the reflections of passing clouds overhead … and there was something about that … that killing of the bird, it threw me … maybe something to do with it gaining it’s freedom and losing it perhaps, and I couldn’t even let a poor bloody cocky have a bit of life but I go and kill it! So really, in the end I was no better than old man Tedmonson, perhaps worse .. ’cause even he didn’t kill the bird … Killing, killing … George kill this, George kill that and I was so sick of it, sick of the killing … ” he let his arms fall to his sides wearily. “ … I dunno … just … sick of the killing … so I went home, threw the gun in a locker in the corner of the shed and I haven’t shot it since …

“It was the killing, I think … I just got sick of the killing … ”

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A Study in Scarlet

Can we see a pattern emerging?

Do we see a certain fear … no! … wrong word … not “fear” but rather a wariness in being seen to join in any seemingly “suggestive” activity, even if only looking or reading something that may hint of impropriety?

Recently … a couple of weeks ago … I put up a post; The Eroticism of Hildegarde Hempel … it got several hundred clicks on it … that’s alright … but only one actual comment on the piece from the reliable and perceptive Anne Byam … who correctly observed what I was trying to convey in the writing:

“Anne Byam October 10, 2020 at 2:42 pm

A delightful read again Joseph, with great visual imagery which sent me to a place I believe I might have been many decades ago – but certainly to the people and their actions, speech and body language etc.

An excellent portrayal of people and not so much of a by-gone day, either. Just as relevant today, as far as whispers and rumours, as it was in the yesteryear.

Cheers ~~ ”

No … not so much of a by-gone day … You see, I drew inspiration for that modest social observation from a story by Guy de Maupassant: The Piece of String, where a thrifty peasant stops to pick up a piece of string from the road, and in doing so is spotted in the action by a person he dislikes and the coincidental loss of a wallet is misconstrued and reported by that peasant’s enemy as the action in picking up that piece of string and the consequences thereof … no spoiler alert from me! … a great story …

In the story, the peasant ends up dying of the stress to clear his name and there are none who believe his simple explanation of the piece of string … in my story, the main character is already deceased before her good name is put under suspicion … indeed, the simple mention of the one word; “Erotic” … was enough to throw suspicion on the innocent Hildegarde Hempel, and so the rumour mill grinds on … certainly the same today as of yesteryear … on nothing but the strength of one little word or action …

And I’ll tell you why I can say that with a degree of certainty …

I put my stories up on my Facebook page, where I have a modest readership of relatives and frenemies, who usually place at least a “like” to my posts … yet this particular post drew absolutely zilch “likes” or comments … even no “visits” to my blog where I first placed the story from Facebook … unusual … I then experimented and put up a picture of little consequence with no explanation at all to accompany it … and almost immediately there were the usual suspects gracing the post with likes … So I have to conclude that with the insertion of the word “Eroticism”, that previous post was just that little bit “over the line” of acceptable decency to warrant a look … a “blush” of modesty?

I confess that the use of the word “eroticism” was a deliberate choice … rather than … ”innocence” or “mistake” … or even “guilt” … to name a few considerations for the title that passed through my mind … I chose “erotic” for the hidden voluptuousness and suggestiveness of that word … that directed the mood of the story … vis: that people are more driven by salacious rumour than actual fact … that gossip and suspicion can play a greater part in a person’s demise than actual action … and to this end I feel I was proven correct … and the fact that it was only Anne Byam who dared to make comment on a perfectly straight story as against any number that comment on the most banal posts everyday shows a bent toward avoiding being drawn into social commentary that could mean taking sides.

Truly … a “Study in Scarlet” … if not the scarlet letter …

And this is why I think many people now are over-cautious in such a degree concerning matters of women’s eroticism.

I suspect that the image of heterosexual women has become captive in a web of perceived fraudulent “ownership” of the gender by extremist feminists and dominant political “identity queens” so that a manufactured image of what they perceive womanhood should look like and what should be looked at, is the only one permitted on the “stage of life” … Any perception of the “erotic” or “sexualised” heterosexual woman is verboten and as a result, about the only “permitted imagery” we see these days of attractive women is of either sterile anatomical observation or “soft” pornography … even those moments on screen of men and women in a lover’s sexual embrace are so woodenly enacted as to become brutal, sharp and brittle, that the sensitive male has to wince and turn one’s eyes away … ”that’s no way to treat a lady” … no more room or allowance of admiration, fully clothed or otherwise, of the curvaceous classic lines of female beauty for beauty’s sake in itself, lest one attract the condemning eye of ferocious accusation from the “owners” of the gender demanding remorse or guilt for any act of visionary delight!

But I am fully aware that any heterosexual woman, confident of her own sexuality and capacity to attract attention to themselves to fulfil her social needs does not need to heed or make acknowledgement of those more fanatical elements of society … and more power to them for it!

I wrote on this situation a long while ago and the article was taken down after protest from some of the above-mentioned cabal … I post the link to that piece here; I’m worried about you ladies, (lurve those 40’s fashions and hairstyles!)

I again write of this conundrum to provoke some commentary on such an important subject, lest we all become too accepting of an artificial construct of the gender issues that only suit a small percentage of us all.

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The Eroticism of Hildegarde Hempel

An incident borne out of an innocent remark can inflame old resentments among a confined people. ‘Folk will have their ways’, goes the old saying. Such was the occasion of the spread of the accusation in the little parish of Saint Paul’s in our little Mallee town of Sandleton a long while ago and it became for a time the mainstay of undertone gossip did the eroticism of Hildegarde Hempel.

I have to say that the suspicion of Hildegarde Hempel’s eroticism did not become talked about until after her passing … indeed, it was a slip of the tongue of Pastor Noske at Hilda’s funeral that started the chatter … the slip came at the mention of a collection of Spanish veils, mantillas and combs, that Hilda had proudly collected over the years and would put out on display at times of community shows or church fundraising events.

Having survived her husband by more than a decade, Hildegarde Hempel devoted her time to church events and fundraising. Being childless, she was capable of devoting many hours of volunteering to that end … and her tireless activities were held in high esteem by the Pastor of that church … even if she did have a certain wearing effect upon those more taken up with family life and farm than she herself .. some even found her requests upon their valued spare time a little tiresome and wished she had found another husband to occupy herself with … But it was also with a certain sadness and shock that her death by heart attack was announced one day around the gossip pools of the small town.

It was in the eulogy that Pastor Noske was waxing lyrical about Hilda’s achievements and works for the church community that the mention of her being proud of her collection of Spanish veils and the combs that went with the veils that the slip of the tongue was made …

“Hilda can also be remembered by us all with her generosity at fund raising, where she would proudly put on display her collection of seven Spanish veils and combs … Hilda was very proud of her veils … and it has to be said the she had a taste for the erotic … pardon … the exotic … ” and the Pastor went on to further deliver his panegyric … but it was too late … the voicing of the word “erotic” just after the mention of the seven veils conjured up in more than one mind of those whose bible was closely studied in prayer and Bible classes as a testament of blind faith, the story of John the Baptist, King Herod and Salome’s dance of the seven veils … a most lustful evocation mistakenly, but believed to derive from their most holy book … and no matter the trying, the image of Hildegarde Hempel doing the dance of the seven veils could not be removed from the thoughts of many of the congregation.

So the idle chatter began among the hatted and gloved men and ladies of the congregation outside St. Pauls church on that Sunday morning .. their heads all leaning in to hear while the ladies taffeta skirts and soft silken scarves floated on the rising air of the spring day, their corsages of new blooms dancing with each excited opinion …

“A slip of the tongue is no fault of the mind” … Silvie Tempke judiciously remarked .. ”none the less, you have to be wondering just where pastor’s mind was wandering to.” Other members of that little gathering pinched their lips and nodded their heads in cautious agreement.

And it wasn’t long before the memory of certain moments concerning Hilda were recalled with a leaning toward the possibility of salacious intent. And one has to keep in mind that those veils of Hilda’s were not just any old veils, but rather exquisite pieces of the finest silken Spanish lace … seven mantillas of the finest quality with their accompanying combs … peinetas of finely carved ivory … a world of conjured images of dark-haired Spanish ladies dancing a lustful flamenco with swirling abandon … Whenever they were on display, many visitors to her stall couldn’t help but touch those finely carved combs or run the soft flowing silken veils over their hands … the electric sensation of the finely laced craftmanship sending a thrill through the skin …

There was that time at one of those shows where Hilda, in a moment of delightful abandon ala Isadora Duncan, upon a request did throw one of the veils across her body and do a pirouette with a snap of her fingers held high so that she made to be a Flamenco dancer in an exotic pose … a picture of just this moment was taken by the enthusiastic Norman Ziedel with his “Kodak Brownie” camera that was brought out of his archives and passed around, now that there was an interest in more than just the everyday display of veils … and as is sometimes the unfortunate situation with such candid snaps, they can capture one in a most undignifying pose or facial expression … and in this photo too, was Hilda caught expressing a most vampish look in her eyes coupled with an alluring twist of her body … while suitable for that particular moment as wanting to demonstrate the voluptuousness of the pose, the ramifications of that picture spread even more the luridness of the rumours.

Another, a drinking mate of Hilda’s long deceased husband; Herbert Hempel, recalled being told by Herbert, with accompanying wink of confederacy, that Hilda was an excellent dancer in her day … but that “day” being so long ago, none could recall. And that left Hildegarde Hempel out on a limb with none to defend her honour or reputation … such is the form of small town gossip that relies on a healthy diet of rumour, envy and schadenfreude to thrive.

Layered on top of the salacious rumours now circulating among the congregation, was the curious fact that Hilda only had those seven veils … and a niggling reference to the Bible story of John the Baptist, King Herod and Salome dancing the “dance of the seven veils” was resurrected time and again and washed the whole episode with fantastic colours and intense gossip … THEN, when it was heard that Hilda had bequeathed her collection of Spanish veils and combs to the church fete committee under the care of Pastor Noske … well … didn’t the tongues really start to wag!

Of course, Pastor Noske never heard any of the gossip or rumours surrounding Hildegarde Hempel and her collection of veils … indeed, he wasn’t even aware that he had started the whole thing off with his miss-reading of the word “exotic” for “erotic” in his eulogy, so was delighted to announce to the congregation one Sunday later that month of the fortunate and generous benevolence of Ms Hempel’s bequeath and those veils would be, as per usual, on display for public gaze the next month’s Strawberry Fete … a not too small rumbling of disquiet erupted from the pews of the church gathering … Pastor Noske took this as a murmur of approval and beamed a satisfied smile from the pulpit.

“I will ask Mrs. Appelt if she could arrange and attend to the display of those most exotic items on the day … ” the pastor continued innocently … There was again a frantic rumbling of turned bodies and all faces now fixed upon Mrs. Appelt in wide-eyed inquiry … Mrs. Appelt blushed and twisted her hands together in anxiety and blurted out ..

”Oh … oh really, Pastor, I don’t know … I don’t think … ” the congregation again turned as one to look to the Pastor …

“No, no … I can assure you, Mrs. Appelt, we have the greatest confidence in your capability to “man” the stall … after all, I believe YOU were one of the greatest admirers of Hildegarde’s collection.” The congregation instantly as one spun to gaze upon the hapless and now shocked Mrs. Appelt.

“Oh but Pastor … only in admiration of the craftmanship … I can assure you!” … she protested loudly and she gazed appealingly to all around her.

But in the end, it all turned out for the best, as the hint of eroticism now attached to those exquisite veils drew more visitors to the stall and by consequence, the sale of raffle-tickets from that one stall outsold more than several other stalls combined … and such an inquisitive crowd as gathered at Mrs. Appelt’s stall brought a cheerful smile to the cheeks of Pastor Noske as he did his rounds.

“Quite the interest in the veils today, Mrs. Appelt?” the Pastor enquired.

“Yes … it seems there has been an upshot of interest in them this year … and several strangers have commented on how they certainly DO have an erotic appeal.”

Pastor Noske blinked and squinted at the mention of “erotic” … and he looked deeply at Mrs. Appelt.

“I’m sorry … did you say ‘erotic’? … I … I don’t understand … ,” and he stood there, hands clasped behind his back bending toward Mrs. Appelt with his right ear listening ..

“Yes … erotic, Pastor” … and Mrs Appelt pointed to a small hand written sign that said: “Erotic Spanish silk veils and peinetas, worn by Spanish women when dancing to attract their menfolk” …

Pastor Noske immediately stiffened in shock and surprise, his hands raised up in front of him …

“Oh good heavens, NO! … Mrs. Appelt … not erotic … but exotic! .. EXOTIC, Mrs. Appelt! … good heavens … no!” … and he snatched the sign away … and it has to be noted that on replacing the sign with more subdued though accurate wording, the attendance at the stall soon dropped away … but that did not stop any future reference to those veils among the small congregation as being of the collection of the eroticism of Hildegarde Hempel.

Folk will have their ways …

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Decem Fabulum … Ten Tales … Albert Namatjira: A Story in Three Acts

Ten Tales … Dieci Racconti … Decem Fabulum.

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number nine:

[Warning]: This story contains names of Indigenous persons who have passed away].

Albert Namatjira: A story in 3 acts

Act One; Scene #1:

It is the 1950s. Albert Namatjira applies for a grazing licence so as to try to take his people away from the influence and reliance of charity from the Lutheran mission for their living.

Scene:

A government office, a sign: “Department of Native Affairs.” Two men in Regulation public service dress (open-necked plain shirt, belted plain shorts, knee-high beige stretch socks and patent-leather shoes) are in the office … one is seated, the other walks about the room as he speaks, stooping over the desk to address the seated man when making a point …

1st man: ”So that’s it in a nutshell … we have the unique situation of an Aborigine trying to lease some of his tribal land to use for grazing cattle.”

2nd man (seated): (picks up manila folder, flips through it then replaces it casually on the desk), ”So what’s the problem? … he’s an Aborigine, not an Australian citizen … he can’t own or lease land … tribal or otherwise.”

1st M: “That’s just it … this isn’t just any Aboriginal, its Albert Namatjira … THE painter.”

2nd M: (leans back in swivel seat, puts hands behind head … snorts). “So he’s a painter … so what? … I got a boong doing my gardening for me and he can’t buy land neither!” (laughs).

1st M: “Well … I thought we better approach the subject with a little bit of diplomacy … not to mention covering our arses with the newspapers. So I’ve dropped it into the lap of the boss … he’ll be here in a sec’.“

2nd M: “That useless pri … ! (door suddenly opens , suited man strides in) … oh, g’day, Ron … (leaps up) … here, have a seat (obsequiously holds seat for the boss) … now, about this situation, what do you think?”

Ron: (sits) “Just what we don’t bloody need … not at this moment.”

1st M: “What do you mean … at this moment?”

Ron: “I mean … (Ron stands and paces behind desk while speaking) the whole bloody centre of the country is being sounded for mineral exploration … from the Kimberleys to the Blue Mountains … from Port Augusta to here, Port. Darwin … every man-jack mineral company with a licence and a prospector’s pick will be scouring the desert within the next decade and the last thing they want is to ask permission from a tribe of Abo’s if they can sink a shaft on their land.”

2nd M: “What about the other pastoralists?”

Ron:  (stops, sneers) ”What about ’em? … they welcome it … royalties per ton of ore will be money in the bank plus the company will sink bores in those god-awful places that the cocky can draw on for water (snaps fingers) That’s it! … water.”

1st M: “What water?”

Ron: “Ha Ha! … No water! … (slaps hands together and rubs them) … no water … Mr Namatjira can’t lease that land for a cattle station b-e-c-a-u-s-e … ”

2nd M: (cries gleefully) “Because there is no permanent water supply!”

1st M: “And so we don’t refuse permission because he is an Aborigine but because there is no water! Our arse is covered, the mineral companies are happy, the newspapers are appeased and the only one to miss out is Mr Namatjira!?”

Ron: “And he’s just one boong after all said and done, gentlemen … this calls for a beer … (they gather together, Ron points to the door). To the “Darwin” quick march, two three four (they march out in file).”

Stage darkens for fifteen seconds, then lights up same scene the same two men in the same postures as before … the door flies open and Ron strides in again.

Ron: “What’s this bastard trying to do, get me posted to Roper River? (throws newspaper on desk … pokes it with finger) quote: Albert Namatjira wants to buy town block in Alice Springs dress-circle … (reads mockingly) I want to build a house and studio near my agent and friend, Mr Battarbee” … There … he wants to be near-his-friend (shouts) I’ve had nearly every resident within half a mile of the proposed site on the blower to me this morning, threatening to have my balls if I give permission … and that’s the women! … the blokes are a little more lenient … why oh why can’t he stay out in the desert like all the other Abos and leave me alone … The southern “liberal” papers are having a field day!”

1st M: (reads paper) ”Give Albert a fair go!”

Ron: (snatches paper, throws it on desk) ”Yeah, give him a fair go … that’s because they’re down there safely out of the way … let him build a house next door to those hacks and then see who screams the loudest … what to do, what to do?”

1st M: (sits on edge of desk, swings one leg) ”Just refuse permission.”

Ron: “And have these jackels (stabs paper) on my back?”

2nd M: “No, he’s right … refuse permission on the grounds that it is a federal law that is the problem … (strikes off points on finger) a: He is not an Australian citizen so he cannot buy land … b: He is an Aborigine so he must obey the curfew and not remain in the town limits after dark … see? Not your problem … you are only enforcing the law.” (spreads hands, pouts, raises eyebrows).

1st M: ”Our arse is covered, the citizens are happy … the only one to miss out is Mr Namatjira, and after all …”

All three: “ … He’s only a boong!”

Ron: (smiles) ”That’s a very sound law too … but we mustn’t be too churlish, offer him a block of land on the nearby reserve … as a sort of consolation. (smiles again) … Gentlemen, this calls for a beer … to the “Darwin”, quick march, two three four.”

Stage darkens again for fifteen seconds, lights to find the same three men pacing the floor, Ron is agitated and waving some papers in the air as he paces.

Ron: “What are these bastards trying to do to me? I thought we’d got rid of the bastard and now these other bastards have gone and given him citizenship! … nigger-loving bastards!”

1st M: “Christ! That’s put the kybosh on the residential allotment scheme.”

Ron: “I’ll fuckin’ say it has … now there’s no stopping him … thank Christ citizenship only covers him and his lubra.”

2nd M: “What about his kids … there must be a mess of them?”

Ron: “Nah … they’re out of the picture” (he stops his striding and gesticulates excitedly) “Yes! … of course his children! … WAIT! … Here we go, as a citizen, HE doesn’t have to adhere to the curfew of all natives out of town limits by nightfall … but as technically “wards of the state”, his children do!”

1st M: ”Eureka! … he can have his house but not his children … brilliant.”

2nd M: “Bewdy! … our arse is covered, the good citizens are happy and the only one to lose out is Mr. Namatjira and after all … ”

All Three: “He’s only a boong! to the Darwin three four!”

Exit scene.

 

Act 2; Scene # 1.

Stage is in darkness save for Albert sitting near a soft glowing campfire, left centre stage. He is alone … He lifts head and calls …

Alb: “Rubina Rubina where are you? Children? Friends? Where is everybody? … (He stands, turns slowly) Anybody? Am I all alone? … ”

Elder: “Namatjira!” (almost a command … The Elder remains unseen, his voice echoes around the stage … rhythm of clapsticks in background)

Alb: “Tjamu? … Tjamu? (Albert hunches his body, afraid) … is that you? … but you are gone, Tjamu … gone these two years … ”

Eld: “Namatiira … You have crossed the boundary of your country … you are in white-man’s land now … you have no weapons, you have not the skills to hunt their game …”

Alb: ”Hunt me? … But why? … I am only an artist … I am only one man trying to live amongst them, as they would have me.”

Mb: “My soul, Tjamu? … but how can they take my soul unless I give it to them?”

Eld: “You already have, Namatjira … in colour and form … and now they will play creation games with you and yours … ”

Alb: “What am I to do ,Tjamu? I am alone.”

Eld : “I cannot help you any more … as you said, I am now gone … You, Namatjira are now the Elder … Seek your own wisdom.”

Alb: ”Tjamu? Where, Tjamu (silence) … Where do I go for wisdom? Tjamu! … (he cries aloud) Tjamu, Tjamu!” (stage darkens)

Exit scene.

 

Act 2; Scene #2:

After Albert Namatjira’s initial success, one of the more obscure friendships he developed was with the broadcaster and public figure of Jack Davey … appearing on stage with Davey and also with his son, Keith, being taken out fishing with Davey on his (Davey’s) boat; the “Sea Mist”.

Scene:

The after-deck of Jack Davey’s cruising boat … ”Sea Mist” … there is an awning and deck chairs about. there are several fishing rods leaning against the bulkhead … a door in this bulkhead is open. Enter an ebullient Jack Davey followed by a smiling Albert and his son Keith …

Jack: “Well … that’s the story of all fishermen, Albert … ha ha! … (places rod with others) The one that got away … Just prop those rods over with the others … ”

Albert: “Anyhow, its closer than we get to them in Hermannsburg! (both laugh heartily) though we do get fish in the desert you know.”

Jack: “In the desert! … really! … How big?”

A: (Albert holds hands apart about one foot, with thumbs pointing inwards) “About this big.”

Jack: (looks extremely surprised) “Really!?”

A: (winks to Keith) “Yeah! between the thumbs.” The old joke is sprung on jack … he throws his head back and laughs).

Jack Davey twists back in his chair and calls into the cabin.

Jack: “Bill! … bring us out some cold drinks if you will … ” He then turns to Albert and gestures conciliatory … ”I’m sorry for not being able to offer you any alcoholic beverages but, well, it’s the law … dumb as it is I hope you’re not offended?”

A: ” I’m not sure if I’d be more offended if you presumed I wanted alcohol,” he laughs.

Jack: “Well … the law is an ass … and the trouble is also I am watched whatever I do.”

A: “You, Jack … I would have thought you’d be free to do as you pleased.”

J: “Ahh! (tch) you see Albert, and this is something that will soon concern you too, so if I may presume to offer a bit of advice … I am what is called a “performing artist” … that is I get up on a stage, be it radio or theatre or wherever and “perform” to an audience … the public. You, likewise in a different way are hoisted onto a stage of a kind and expected to “perform” … or at least through your paintings … and more so in your case with the novelty of being an aboriginal artist! and we get paid to “perform” so in effect we are “owned” by the public and believe me, they want their pound of flesh!”

A: “What do you mean : “owned by the public” and “pound of flesh?”

J: “Well … they don’t “Own” you by possession, but rather by expectation … The public expect us to perform to their expectation, and if you don’t … “ He makes a gesture with his index-finger across his throat.

A: “Yes, well, I suppose you’d get cut up in the papers, but I’d just be forgotten.”

J: “Don’t kid yourself, Albert, You’re much more vulnerable than me.”

A: “How so?”

J: “Well … look at me, Jack Davey; raconteur, comedian, congenial man-about-town … I tell some dirty jokes for them, they love me … I wash their dirty linen … when they get tired of my jokes they’ll say “Piss off Jack, we’re sick of you” … an’ I’ll piss off but you; Albert Namatjira … with their eyes they soak in your beautiful landscapes and it washes their souls … I suppose an artist as painter is a washer of souls … you have a deeper talent than me (he holds his hand up to block Alberts protests), when they tire of me they will cut me in the press and the cuts will be shallow … but the universal rule is; ‘The greater the talent, the deeper the cut!’ … (he pauses and considers if he has said too much) there are people in this country whose souls need an awful lot of washing … just … just watch out you don’t become their Black Christ.” He suddenly stands and reaches for a fishing rod” Alright, enough of the maudlin conversation, lets catch some fish and talk about jokes, say … have you heard the one about the travelling salesman?”

Exit scene.

 

Act 3; Scene #1:

The final act in Albert Namatjira’s journey can be said to be his imprisonment for the “supply of alcohol” to some companions at a favourite gathering place named “Morris Soak” that led to the death of a young woman …

Scene:

Rex Battarbee and Albert on stage. Albert sits in the dirt in front of a ramshackle shelter, but he is dejected, morose. Rex is standing before him, arms outstretched. appealing to him to cheer up.

Rex: “Listen, Albert …You’ve got to bounce back from all this … ”

Alb: “You don’t understand, Rex … I was the Elder there, it was MY camp. there should not have been drink there … that girl … she shouldn’t have died.”

Rex: “But they were all grown people there, you can’t be responsible for the actions … ”

Alb: (raising his head and voice) “I was the Elder … l WAS responsible … that is the trouble. Rex. I was thinking as a white person would … I neglected my part in the tribe .. I was responsible TO my people, not FOR my people, but TO!”

Rex: (turning and welsh combing his hair) ”Well, Albert, maybe you know better in that matter … but surely what’s done is done … you’ve had other setbacks like … like when Mr Lindsay of the Melbourne Gallery knocked back those paintings a couple of years ago … that was very disappointing.”

Alb: (looks up, puzzled) “You know, I can’t understand why he did refuse those paintings … they were good ones … and they got them cheap because Mr Lindsay asked me when I was in Melbourne if I could give him a painting (Albert glances right then left , then in an exaggerated whisper) “A little bit cheap” … er, Rex, does Mr Dobell give paintings “a little bit cheap? (a bitter laugh).”

Rex: “Well … (makes a shrugging gesture) but listen Albert, you remember that time they refused you permission to build a house in The Alice … That upset you then … eh? … but you remember we went out bush to Glen Helen Gorge and set up camp out there in that beautiful country and we forgot about it, eh?”

Alb: “Did we, Rex … did we?”

Rex: “Yes we did … and it was so hot, you remember and … and you made that joke about how some people ask why there is always a gum tree on the side of your paintings … and you said it was there to give you shade as you painted … (a laugh from Rex, a guffaw from Albert) I remember it was so hot for two days, then that cool change came through with that rain (Rex plays a pantomime with his hands wiping over his face … Albert stands up, staring at him silently) Ahh! … it was so beautiful … so cooling … I remember us standing there with the rain just running down our faces … ” Rex has his eyes closed reminiscing) …

Alb: (He gazes steadily at Rex, then nods his head slowly) ”Yes … I remember … The two of us were there standing with the rain pouring down our faces like a river of tears … but only one of us was really weeping.”

Rex takes his hands from his face. opens his eyes, blinks a couple of times, turns slowly to face Albert who stands staring at him. Both remain motionless … stage-light fades out …

Darkness …

Exit scene.

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Letters from the dead

“I was abandoned on the side of a hill as a baby.”

I suppose I had a kind of reflective, forlorn sound or tone in my voice when I told Jacqui that, as she stopped doing what she was doing, let her hands drop to her side and sympathetically gazed at me …

“Oh … that’s really sad … Were you left there by your parents because you were seen as a weak child and they were testing if you could survive a night in the open fields … like the ancient Pagans would do to a crippled baby?”

“No! … no!” … I was shocked at her suggestion … though I thought I detected an edge of cynical doubt in her voice … “They were just out on a picnic by the Onkaparinga River and forgot about me when they left to go! … it wasn’t for long … they stopped the car and rushed back! … ”

Jacqui expressed a cynical snort and went back to her work with, I now noticed, an agitated manner … a little annoyed that she had expressed a modicum of unwarranted kindness toward me.

We were sorting through a tippled out box of correspondence to my mother … My mother had passed away six months or so before after a long illness and I was given a big box of these things to sort through and separate. I finally got around to it one Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t long before some of the personal letters from aunts or distant relatives caught my eye like seeing familiar people go about their everyday lives without them noticing you … a voyeur on domesticity.

“Oh … this ones from ‘Aunt Daphne’ … in England,” I announced. Jacqui cocked a quizzical eye at me. “She’s a half-sister of my grandmother … from her father’s second marriage … after his first wife died … a bit of a scandal really … she … the new wife .. was his secretary and many years younger than he,” I enlightened … “Daphne’s long dead now, like most of these people here, I imagine .” I looked down at the spread of letters on the carpet.

I started reading from the letter:

“Dear Tess.” Most of them called my mother ; ‘Tess’ … “Dear Tess … So nice to get your long letter, it is always grand to hear from your distant home. Over here, England is having one of its worst droughts on record now … I suppose those sorts of things are not that unusual out there in Australia … but it makes so much more work to keep the garden going … we are only permitted to use the hose at certain times of the day. I am enclosing post-cards and pictures which are always nice to have … ”

They were great on post-cards in those days … I offered as an explanation … you could take a family photo and get it turned into a post-card … Here she says she got all the snaps of her mother’s when she died and the father came to live with her, Daphne … ” … otherwise I would never had got a thing as he hates me … ” Crikey! … she continues … ” … in fact, he hates all children and never wanted any more and it was only that my mother threatened to leave him that they had me! … ” sounds like he was a terrible bloke … I folded the letter and put it back in its envelope. I read the post date on the front …

“That was from nineteen seventy five … that’s a long time ago … she’d be long gone by now.”

“How can a parent hate their child?” … Jaq’s reflected … ” … throttle the little blighters sometimes … certainly … but to actually, physically hate them?” She shook her head not wanting (nor getting) an answer … She sat back up straight as she read another letter … and then blew out a push of air in disbelief …

“Flamin’ ‘ell! … and I say THAT in shock and surprise … cop a squizz at this letter!” … she pushed my grabbing hand away and proceeded to read from it …

“Dear Mr. Howes … Please accept my deepest sympathy in the sad loss of your dear wife and mother. I was shocked and saddened at her sudden passing, she was a lovely mother devoted to her family and home AND ABOVE ALL (her bold underlining) to her church and teachings. She was a DEVOUT CATHOLIC … ” … Wow! … this is really full on Jesus stuff! … Who is it from and to?“

“Giz a look” I took the letter … “Oh … it’s to my grandfather after gran’ died … back in the eighties … I can’t quite make out the surname … but it’s Ellen S … something … must be one of gran’s fellow parishioners she chummed up with while at church … ” … I gave the letter back to Jacqui and she read some more emphasising the underlined words …

“ … she will REST IN PEACE with her loved ones to AWAIT the SECOND COMING of our BLESSED LORD on the RESURRECTION DAY … ” Christ! … the whole letter’s full of it! “… in the BEAUTIFUL COURTS OF HEAVEN, with our Lord and Saviour. He died for us ALL and was hung on a CRUEL CROSS and rose again so that all who believe in HIM will inherit ETERNAL LIFE with HIM in HEAVEN and so what a joy to LOOK FORWARD TO … “ … oh that’s enough! … I can’t stand it anymore! “ and Jaq’s thrust the letter back into the envelope.

“I don’t know why my mother ended up with that letter, seeing how it was addressed to my grandfather … except that I think he couldn’t read or write very well … or couldn’t be bothered … like many Methodists, religion wasn’t a big thing with him … I remember them having a huge blue one night back when they lived with us for a while … grandpa had wrenched a bottle of ink from gran’ and they wrestled toward the back door and grandpa broke free and hurled the bottle of ink into the night toward the chook yards, while crying out: “ You and your bloody letters … ”

Speaking of the devil, I picked up one envelope which had a script in my grandmother’s obvious precise hand-writing : “Read then BURN!” … I giggled aloud at that instruction as I read it to Jacqui … ”It’s a letter from Aunt Harriet, Uncle Kevin’s wife … Gran despised her … said she was like a wrung-out dish cloth … but really gran hated her because she took her son away from her ambitions to see him enter the presbytery as a priest … she never forgave either of them for that and cut uncle Kev’ from her will … not even a mention of his name … pretty vicious.”

“Well, no-one knows how to hate like a good Catholic, I always say … ” and Jacqui smiled her cat smile … Her family were from Methodist stock.

“I think it would be telling how much one is respected by the words carved onto one’s tombstone when you die … I recall my grandmother getting more consideration than my grandfather by their children … probably because, in truth, he was a narcissic sort of chap in life … and they paid him back in death. I can recall that when my grandmother died first, on her tombstone there was her name, place and country of birth, children’s names and a short reverence for the Lord and Saviour and that eternal life thingy … but then when granddad passed away a few years later, and was buried on top of her in the same grave (some said it was a terrible burden that having “carried him” all their married life, she now would have to support him into eternity), they simply inscribed on the same headstone under her testimony:

“Here lies John Howes-loved husband of the above” … and that was it … brilliant , eh?”

Then I pulled a type-written letter from the scattered lot … I unfolded it and perused the contents:

“Oh, this is an interesting one,” I said. “It’s a form-letter from one of the daughters of this old lady my mother did house-cleaning for … It’s notifying every one of the old lady’s death; ‘Dear friends of Helga Rosen’ … and it gives details of the last days of the old lady’s illness, where she died and when she died … of course, my mother knew all about it, as it was she who called the ambulance … ”

“Oh … and was the woman a very wealthy lady?” Jacqui asked.

“Well, they weren’t extremely wealthy, but they were comfortably retired … secure middle-class, I would say … My mother worked for her for over twenty-five years … became her confident and close companion … in a mistress – servant kind of way.”

“What … close companion between a middle-class woman and her house-cleaner? … How would you know that? … Were you there?”

I was a bit put out by Jacqui’s doubting tone, seeing as how I was also employed by some of those customers of my mother’s when they needed a bit of maintenance done about the yard or house … I was a handy sort of young fellow when it was needed …

“So how would I know of the relationship between middle-class women and their poorer cleaners? … I know because my mother was one of those poorer cleaners … for most of her working life … She used to take me with her when I was a child … and she continued way past the time I was a young man, when she then used to take my younger siblings with her … She would tell me the everyday events in the lives of her “Ladies” .. as she used to call them … though she was not a gossip and the women would confide in her to an almost embarrassing depth that sometimes shocked her.

Many of these Ladies were from the professional class that needed a cleaner to keep on top of the housework that their two-bit husbands didn’t do … lazzeroni! … I remember many tales she later related to me when I would visit her as she got older …

I remember her telling me that one wealthy woman from an elite address confessed to her that she made it a point to NEVER pay any account until she had got the third threatening letter just in case the company wrote the bill off as a lost cause …

But most of all, I remember this one here she was devoted to … My mother even near retirement age herself, would walk the two kilometres to the woman’s place on a Monday evening to put her rubbish bin out for the Tuesday pick-up … at no cost … just because she was such a long term client … twenty-five years in fact … and in all that time, I can only recall my mother telling me once in surprise that:

“Oh … I was given an extra dollar for my cleaning at Mrs. Rosen’s on Friday … she pressed it into my hand and whispered (though there is never anyone there but her and myself) that in future I can look forward to that little bit extra … and she patted my hand … ”

But she was devoted to that old Mrs. Rosen, a retired professional who “had rooms” somewhere in the city … The husband was a university professor in some faculty … I did know once, but I have forgotten … Anyway, after he died, my mother became almost, from what I could gather, the closest companion of that old Lady … They had a couple of children, also now professional people, but they were never around much .. shades of that Harry Chapin song … what was it? Oh yes!: “Cats in the Cradle.”

As a matter of fact, my mother saved her life a couple of times by climbing through the small (my mother was always a slight build) bathroom window to assist the woman who had collapsed on the floor ..

One time, however, when my mother was not there, the woman had a fall and was not found for several days until my mother came to clean her house … She was in critical care in hospital in a bad way … My mother went to visit her a couple of days later and though Mrs. Rosen had her eyes shut, my mother told me she was sure she was aware …

“I sat next to her,” she told me “… and said hello and told her I had cleaned the house and attended to the cat and taken out the rubbish bin and whatever … I knew she would have wanted that … and she reached for and held my hand … I could feel she hadn’t long to live and she held my hand so tight … even for the frail little thing she now was. She held my hand so tight … so that when the nurse came in to check on her she saw she had my hand and asked me in a whisper if I was her daughter … it seems that I was her first and only visitor, and her children had not been … and I had to say that no … (and my mother shrugged her shoulders and grimaced somewhat at the thought of the moment) I was her house cleaner … ”

So yes … Mrs. Rosen did die and after the funeral and all was settled, the children gave my mother five hundred dollars in recognition of her services for twenty five years … my mother was delightfully surprised.“

Jacqui sat up straight on her tucked-in legs and frowned:

“They’re such a sad lot of letters in the main … all about loss and scandal or missing from action fathers and husbands … isn’t there any cheerful ones we can read?”

I had just that moment happened upon three envelopes bundled together with a rubber-band around them and my mother’s neat hand stating: “Granny Kreiger” on them … I opened one as Jacqui was complaining … I read it and had to laugh ..

“Something funny at last!?” Jacqui lent in to me.

“Yes … well, funny in its telling … but just a general whinge from old Granny Krieger when she was in the local hospital getting treated for a re-set broken arm … Here, listen to this bit:” Jacqui leaned over my arm and nestled into my neck and read silently as I read aloud

“ … my arm has not improved much and even after I go to the Fizzo Ferapy treatment it is not better the doctor that has treated me for my arm should go jump in the lake old doctor Drever from Calvery sent me back to this jolly place before I was finished treatment down there now it is nearly my birthday and I’m still stuck in this bloomen place. Well, dear, I have the wireless on an while I am waiting for Hilda I just heard the Electric and Postal strike is over thank heavens for that wonder what next will be strike all they think about now is bloomen strikes and living off government relief a useless lot of robbery going on all over the places like when old man Ziedel got broken in an had Anteek Furnicture stolen … ” … Oh dear … that English really was a trial to those old generations of pioneers … no punctuation or anything … it was no wonder they had a twisted outlook on the world around them … but ah well at least their personality shines through … I suppose they managed”

I put the letter back in its envelope and consigned it to the “miscellaneous” box … and I had to agree with Jacqui that all these letters were so old now, written between people who were even then quite aged, my mother being one of the younger ones and now she too had passed away at the ripe old age of eighty six years … so all these people were gone too … and after all … who writes real letters anymore, it’s all Skype or email or whatever.

“Have you noticed that it is mostly women who write these letters … not men … perhaps it is worth a reflection that while men write the official histories of a people, it is really women who write the deeper stories of those people. They are like echos from years ago … the remaining cries of their spirit departing and when I have their letters all sorted and packed away, they will be finally laid to rest I suppose … forgotten … perhaps I should just throw them all back in one big box together and mix them up … all the pages loose and mixed together and then they could “talk” to each other again and again forever and ever … like letters from the dead to the dead … ”

“C’mon,” I said wearily, “time for some afternoon tea.”

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Decum Fabulum : Ten Stories, A Candid Conversation

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number six:

A Candid Conversation

… And the afternoon sun illuminated the panorama with dazzling glare so that the sea, with its distant choppy water flashed a glitter reflected off the waves. There were trees out the front of the hotel over the road, big trees, shrubs and bushes, the tops of the tall trees hidden from view by the edge of the roof from the fascia up with leaves hung in long hanging fronds down the trunk and out a little, dangling heavy like those big gum leaves do, the palm trees swirled a little with the slight breeze that had whipped up from the north across the backwater swamp.

The beach sand a muddy colour with the tide right out and a couple of kids throwing handfuls of the stuff at each other down by the creek, laughing and running away with a quick glance over the shoulder at his chaser, their laughter a stabbing staccato, rattling across in the heat from a distance.

Two of the few “long-grassmen” that lived down by the make-shift shelters next to the beach crossed the road, their hair lank and greasy, the same could be said for their shreds of clothing.

“You could be worse you know,” the friend said, “You could end up like those.”

“At the way I’m going I’ll be worse than those,” the man answered. He picked up his beer and had a sip. They sat quietly for a while, and one fiddled with his beer glass, the kids swimming now down across the creek, splashing and ducking each other, childish squeals between the silences of the hubbub of the hotel bar behind them.

“Have you told her then?” the friend asked.

“No, I’ve been sort of putting it off on the chance of an improvement.” He winced and sipped.

“That won’t help you know,” the friend motioned to the beer.

“I’ve got to.”

“Why? It would be better to leave it alone … well … at least until they finish the treatment?”

“I know, I know … but if I don’t get sozzled these nights, I’ll have no excuse for not doing it.”

“Oh come on, she must think there’s something wrong if you come home drunk every night?”

“Yes, she thinks I’ve developed a drinking problem.”

His friend grunted. A waitress come to the table, picked up the empty glasses and wiped the table top down with a damp rag.

“And how are you gentlemen today?” she spoke as she wiped.

“Oh, very well thank you, Min, very well.”

“That’s the way to be,” and she smiled a little smile .,. ”No good being crook in this sort of weather.” The men just grunted. The waitress went on to the next table.

“How are you boys today?” she repeated.

“Nice girl, Min, always friendly,” the friend remarked.

“I’m beginning to think no girls are nice.”

“You just picked the wrong one that night.”

“Yes, I should’ve left her well alone.”

A fisherman steered his dinghy up the small creek, water slipping off the bow and fanning out in ripples behind, the man standing erect in the boat with tiller in hand. He gave a little wave to the excited kids running along the bank. His progress tracked by flashes of boat and man between thick green bushes and trees, going to his moorings.

The man brought his fist down firmly but quietly on the table, his face twisted in bitter frustration.

“I don’t know, a man’s a fool.” … His friend was quiet.

He wiped his hand over his face, then dabbled his finger in the condensation made by the drink.

“I know I’ve been a fool, but then I wanted it, for some strange fucking reason I needed it more than ever that night, after all” (he did a quick movement with his finger in the liquid) … ”I’d just become a father then … and it had been so long … ” He had a quick draw at the beer as if to wash the weak excuse of words away.

“How in Heaven’s name do you put her off?”

“Well, it’s (let me see) about two months now since little Pauline arrived, and I’ve been saying that we ought to be careful cause it might not be best to start just yet, give it another coupla’ weeks. And then you know she’s not supposed to go back on the pill just yet, so I’ve used that as a backup. And now I’ve got on to this drinking thing.” Here he reflected a little. “Trouble is she’s starting to blame herself for my not being able to get it up. She thinks it was all those months of confinement that bought it round … Shit, shit, shit.”

“Why don’t you come right out and tell her?”

“No!” He looked shocked “Hell no! she’d leave me, by Christ, she’d leave me quick, it’s one thing we got, or HAD between us; trust … no she’d just give up and go.” He looked suspiciously at the friend. “You won’t tell anyone else about this will you? … You better not.”

The friend was shaking his head quickly …

“No, no … don’t you worry … boy, I wouldn’t tell anyone about that don’t you worry.”

They sat quiet again for a little. The friend stood up.

“Well … I gotta go.”

“Oh, well, I’ll see you later, I guess.”

“Yeah, listen … I hope this works out for you … ”

“Yeah, thanks.”  The man smiled weakly. The other smiled back. He tried a joke.

“Just watch out all this pissing on doesn’t develop into a drinking problem.” They both chuckled a little and the friend walked away. The man finished his beer, walked over to the bar got another and went back to his table. He stretched his legs out in front and clenched his hands behind his head. He just stared out to sea.

“Damn that bitch,” he thought “and she looked so clean … that’s the trouble, who’d have thought that a quickie in the car-park could cause all this. Bugger it, I just hope those damn doctors can fix it soon as … ”

He sat there staring out to sea.

The kids had gone home. The leaves of the eucalyptus trees had come to life a little with the coolness of the evening, while the tide crept stealthily over the brown sand and up the running water of the creek, the big gums threw soft shadows crookedly over the bonnets of parked cars.

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Warrior

A short biography of a working-class warrior.

Let me present to you an image of an aged man, rather heavy-set, sitting deep in a relaxed posture in a large, plump, rounded sofa purchased ‘unused’ from an eBay seller five years ago that was gifted to this same man sitting in it from his children on Father’s day. The sofa is large and the man is content. You can see he is content by the fact that he is looking plump and relaxed with a remote control for the CD player in one hand and a stubbie of West End Draught beer in the other … there is a smile on his lips not dissimilar to that which plays on the lips of the “Mona Lisa” painting currently held in The Louvre in Paris.

Mark Price is a contented man.

Wisdom, according to the ages is a thing learned not with education, but rather accrued through pragmatic experience. That experience can be one personally lived … the most instructive method … or one witnessed with the actions or situations enacted upon others. Mark was a witness and experiencer of both methods of instruction from a young age.

Mark Price was a learned man.

But Mark Price held no trade, no profession, no specialised employable skilled base or self-employment record at all. In this world of “market-based” consumerist demand, Mark Price was never ‘in demand’. Oh, yes … he worked … at menial labouring tasks, applied when requested or required to put shoulder to the wheel for family sustenance and need … but never was he recruited for any specialised skill or trade application. And that was precisely the way he wanted it, having learned by witness at a young age just what a consumerist society really wanted from those most willing to give their precious time of life to the wheels of industry … the consumerist society did not want your intelligence, your applied skills, your hunger for promotion or “recognition”, it wanted your blood! .. pure and simple, along with the many disposable items consumed by society, the ‘market society’ wanted to consume you … for body and soul has a value to be bought and sold.

Mark Price had learned this from a young age. In high school, he would see his teachers drive in everyday with their aged cars … step out in their workaday clothes … the same ones for quite a few days … holding that same brown-leather satchel … lock the car and if chance placed them near a favourite colleague, they would flirt whilst on their usual way to the staff-room. They did not see Mark, but he saw them … he did not make a habit of deliberately watching the teachers, workers on the trains or anyone else for that matter, they were just acting out their everyday roles and Mark saw them … and in seeing them and other people and family acting out their everyday roles, he began to recognise a pattern of social behaviour … a pattern of conversation … and a pattern, eventually, of a predicted ending.

Wisdom is a learned thing … and through his growing years, Mark was being pragmatically educated by the practicalities of his impoverished upbringing. Mark was learning.

He learned the meaning of “losing with grace” from his friend at school when the friend was chastised by the station master of Brighton railway station when the friend, who was captain of the school baseball team tried to re-position some of the hopelessly inept players in the team to different positions so as to improve their chances of winning at least one game …  “You are the captain, not the coach .. and I will decide who plays where!” … his friend was scolded. “But we can’t win a game,” the friend complained. “It is not all about winning”, the station master lectured, “it is also about losing with grace … one must learn that when one loses, one should show dignity.” The collector of the Sunday Catholic mass plate collections informed Mark’s friend.

Mark saw examples of “dignity in losing” amongst his family and friends as he grew.

He saw the working men down at the Seacliff Hotel drink themselves drunk on a Friday night to alleviate the aches and pains of strained muscles and arthritic joints … he saw them make fools of themselves whilst in this drunken state … trying with their limited vocabulary to explain what was missing in their lives … when what was missing all the while was that love of self that had been beaten out of them with labouring or the war so many years before … He saw the dignity in losing on the bruised face of Ruth Holmstrom around the corner of his street, after being beaten once again by her drunken husband while herself also drunk. He saw the dignity in losing in the lonely eyes of Jack Mitchell who lived out his loneliness with his old spinster sisters, the three of them sharing the same family home they all grew up together in … He saw Jack slowly drink himself to tears down at the Seacliff Hotel, always dressed in a salesmen’s suit, and tie and polished shoes … the last vestige of his respectability … Oh yes, Mark learned from witnessing others the dignity in losing. He saw a friend’s father drunk on the train coming home after the day’s work at the building site, drop his ticket and the smirking porter give the workman surreptitiously, a nudge with his knee as he struggled in his fuzzled state to bend down to pick the ticket up, sending the old bricklayer sprawling onto the floor of the carriage in front of so many laughing passengers …

Mark Price saw the lifetime of honest work be debased in the dignity of losing.

Mark Price was learning that there was something remiss with the promise told him so many years before by his school teacher that hard work and an honest forbearance was what “got a man through life with success and happiness” … Mark was learning that there was a war going on between those who had and those who needed … it was very difficult to get what was needed from the hands of those who had. There was a lie being told that was never being voiced .. a lie that was being heard but never audible, printed but never read … there were those who would be warriors and those who would remain slaves.

Mark Price saw what slavery looked like … and he didn’t like the look of it.

Mark had by now reached an age where he developed a philosophy to guide his steps through this battlefield of demands upon his time and his own needs to survive without falling into slavery … His learned experiences and the witness of others attempts at suburban security has shown him that there being so many variables that await to ambush the best laid plans of mice and men that it was almost impossible for someone like himself, with absolutely no assets available and no working skills to sell to gain material possessions without resorting to thievery or skulduggery, but seeing those who had tried and failed through no real fault of their own taught him that in most cases of making a decision one way or another, the best thing one could do was to do nothing and await fate to direct his hand. This was the most wise and fortunate philosophy someone of his position in an uncaring society could attain. In a world where “doing something” was wasted value, Mark Price succeeded most well at doing as little as possible … so that having time to see opportunities arise while others were too busy ‘achieving’, he was able to place himself in the right place at the right time. Some would call it luck, but Mark knew that it was a strategy that allowed him to move about freely to pick up many rewards that a lack of time and availability denied to so many of his friends. Mark built a network of job-sources with foremen and hiring staff of different industries so that he could always find casual employment in a menial job with local councils or a building project … he never took a job that demanded higher responsibility … Mark had no interest in contributing to the good or welfare of a society that respected only profit and materialism … he only had interest in maintaining his and his own family’s needs, for the rest, they could go to hell!

Mark learned the price and value of many things … He knew what was most valuable to himself; Time … ”You can always make money but you cannot remake time.” He would say.

Fortune smiled upon Mark in the companionship of marriage. It favoured him that his future wife knew of his behaviours before she even started going out with him. Mandy frequented the Seacliff Hotel regularly and was able to notice Mark’s more exuberant behaviour … she didn’t mind his behaviour and she accepted his invitation to accompany him. Mark was wary of marriage … he had witnessed close friends, tradesmen in the building industry marry and build the family home … several family homes in fact, for disgruntled women … unhappy wives who resented even the name “wife”, who resented the idea of being a companion to a male … who resented having to defer to the husband to make, repair and structure a home for their mutual benefit. A society that profited from the separation of the sexes more than the unity of the sexes would promote dissension between men and women, even in the case where both parties were of the same working class, the same level of struggle, the same struggle to improve their and their children’s lives … anger, dissent, distrust … these were the tools of divide and rule in the world of middle-class profiteering … two adults needing double the housing, furniture, white-goods and cars made for a more profitable bottom-line … divide and rule it will be, even if both parents be impoverished and the children denied … A happy wife is a happy life was the theory that guided many men … now it made many men despair of ever attaining such.

Mark had no intention to build many houses … he only wanted one home and fortune had placed Mandy inside his realm of satisfaction … they both were content with what they had.

And what they had improved as the years went by and children graced their table. Five healthy children grew by Mark’s table and garden shed, five healthy children grew and did in turn find partners of their own and produced grandchildren that grew by Mark’s table and garden shed … Now, secure with an aged pension, Mark could look back on a life well managed, on fortune envious of nothing and no-one, for here with the evidence of so many arrows in his quiver, could the suburban warrior arm himself against a future that would be denied some of the more industrious, worked to the bone for little gain save the bitter gall of seeing their hard-earned possessions snatched away from them when old and care-worn … to be left to rot in the ironically named “aged care” facility … to be forgotten by those children that a quarrelling world of men versus women made resentful of the feeling of being abandoned when the administration of divorce forced them to take sides. No, this was not the fate of Mark and Mandy, laugh if you will of their seemingly comical circumstance that a more ‘sophisticated’ person might spurn, but here they were and deny them you cannot, surrounded at every celebratory event by generations of caring children and grandchildren, Mark would revel in idle appreciation of fuss and touch of his tribe. The noise of laughter and delight a song of assurance for the continuing health of the family.

Mark realised the blessings of good fortune and he worshipped at fortune’s altar with suitable penance … for deep in his soul and spirit, he was sincerely grateful … Mark had the Pagan’s respect for chance.

It was Christmas day, the entire family with grandchildren … all ten grandchildren … were in the house making merry and preparing the Christmas dinner. Mark had one grandchild on his left knee as he sat deep in the club lounge chair given to him on Father’s Day by his children five years before. He sat in a contented state with a stubbie of beer in one hand and the remote for the CD player in the other … under his instructions, his grandchild that sat on his left knee had just inserted a CD of Mark’s choosing into the player and awaited Mark to select the track and press the play-button … which with great satisfaction he now did and turning up the sound so the music bellowed out over the cacophony of Christmas noise, Mark smiled his ‘Mona Lisa’ smile and wallowed in the pure saturation of Jimi Hendrix’s All along the Watchtower

 

 

Wisdom is a thing learned not with education, but rather accrued through pragmatic experience. That experience can be one personally lived … the most instructive method … or one witnessed with the actions or situations enacted upon others. Mark was a witness and experiencer of both methods of instruction from a young age. Mark Price was now a wise man.

The Warrior feasted on his victorious bounty.

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The Caretaker

Kylee Clements always came home from work to an empty kitchen. She came from her work as principle of the Hudson Street Primary school always in an agitated manner, primarily because of certain incidents that bedevilled her at the school, mostly concerning the behaviour of students and parents reacting to certain students there, or because her husband, now recently unemployed lacked what she considered “attention to her implicit instructions” to fix this or that maintenance problem or purchased the wrong brand of product from the supermarket when she had made it perfectly clear that if he’d just looked at the nutrition values there on the label, he would have seen that the carbohydrates per hundred grams were by far too many for one with her condition!! … If he’d just had taken time to read the label.

“Heaven knows it is not a difficult matter for one to do,” she insisted. “And heaven knows how many times I have been there with you as I purchased the product! … And haven’t I showed you as much? … anyone would think you did it on purpose just to vex me! … and on this day of all days, when I’ve had nothing but trouble at the school” … Kylee again read the label on the offending item … she then placed this item to the back of the upper cupboard with other miscellaneous offending items.

“God only knows how difficult it is to deal with the everyday conflicts between those tenacious little terrors and their fussing mothers on any given day … really … the way some of those mothers fuss … you’d think their offspring were forged in a jeweller’s diamond tiara rather than some random spray of semen after a night on the Pimm’s number two and lemonade!” Kylee herself never had the enthusiasm toward childbearing or children in general that her position as principle of a primary school demanded of her … it was an act of professionalism, not maternal instinct that guided her career.

“Did you see this list of jobs I put on the fridge?” she called out to her husband upstairs … “The tap over the bath keeps dripping and it drives me to distraction when I am trying to do my make-up … and for heaven’s sake … can you please do something about the shade cloth over the rose garden before it completely blows away and that ‘blue moon’ gets thrashed by the damn flapping thing!”

Kylee filled and placed the electric kettle in its cradle and prepared her regular afternoon cup of soothing tea … she extracted a shortbread biscuit from a container and placed it on the rim of the saucer … this biscuit was her reward after what she considered a trying day … the one small “allowance” she would make in an otherwise strict diet …

“That caretaker at the school, Martin, pulled a whammy today … caused an awful fracas with one of the prep’ teachers … Pammy Shorren … the prep’ teacher who is married to the footballer chap … You’ve heard me mention Martin before, I’m sure … Can’t be far off retirement himself … usually a witty, congenial fellow … good with the kids … you know, he sometimes gives these impromptu little stories to a gathering of kiddies when they come to his janitor storage room to ask him silly things … you know how kids always ask the most silly things … like … oh … why do you do that? … or why is water wet? … those sort of things .. and he’s never short of an interesting yarn to spin to the kiddies … sometimes so ridiculous that you just have to smile … and he’d catch me lurking there and he’d give me a wink as he finished and shoo’d the kids away or he’ll never get any work done … ”

Kylee cleared her handbag and an assortment of files from the table and sat down to enjoy the “one peaceful moment in an otherwise troubled day” … she placed a sweetener tablet into the teacup and stirred, making sure to chime the spoon on the side of the porcelain cup … a chime that resonated throughout the stillness of the room and injected a sweet sensation into the silence … She pondered aloud on the day’s events that now vexed her.

“Yes … a real whammy … that’s what it was … Pammy came to my office in a tizz accusing Martin of making a suggestion toward her that she found disgusting … especially from one as old as himself … I had to sit back in shock at her accusation … for I had never heard Martin even make any double entendres of any sort to any of the female teachers … being aware as he has informed me of his sensibilities toward the “placid nature of the feminine gender of the species” … He has a way with words … and I have always held him to that knowledge … as I have to all the staff … one cannot let the least infringement go unanswered lest the whole situation get away from one … not in the least.”

“By the way … What did the mechanic say about that grating noise as you put the brakes on in the four-wheel drive? … Is he going to keep it there for another week? … heaven help our chances for that trip down the coast if he does … I have to wonder sometimes if we should’ve taken it to that Greek fellah over in Croyden where we used to get our cars fixed … George was a good mechanic … never pressed for quick payment like they do now … I sometimes wonder if moving to the Eastern Suburbs was a good move … what good is a better post-code if your Range Rover is worse off?”

Kylee picked up a brochure from the days post and perused the items offered … “Don’t know if we need a garden mulcher just now … hard enough to get something to just grow let alone cut things down to feed the blasted machine … ” She heaved a sigh of weariness and took a delighted sip of her drink.

“Anyway, I had to bring Martin into the office to explain himself … but between you and me, if Pammy’s account was anything to go by, he was skating on thin ice … I don’t want to sack the fellow this close to his retirement … but there it goes … if he had done the deed, there could be no other way ..

So I dragged him into the office, sat him down and gave him the floor to tell his side of the story …

“I didn’t suggest anything really” he started … ” I thought I made a rather innocuous statement, considering the situation,” he said. “Well tell me,” I replied … Martin shuffled a bit in the chair and said that thinking back on it, it may have seemed like that sort of thing a younger man might use as a pick-up line, “But I certainly didn’t mean it as such … give it a go! … at my age? … and Pammy’s age!?” … I just raised my eyebrows enough to show him I was getting impatient … He began; “I was there just outside my storeroom with the mop and bucket as one of the little kids had dropped and broke their water bottle there and I was clearing up the mess … the kids had just gone home and I thought I was there alone in the classroom block … but as I was finishing up, I saw Pammy … Ms Shorren come out of the end classroom and start walking toward me … She was walking toward me down the corridor past the other three rooms like she was walking down a modelling catwalk … and I have to say that those micro-miniskirts she wears and the black stockings that ascend to … to … where my memory forgets … and the high heels that went a tap-tapping like some sort of Morse code upon the tiles did create an image in my mind that I should have just let pass by … but as she drew nearer, I leaned on the mop handle and contemplated the scenario … she stopped just away from me and looked at me in silence … and I don’t know what made me think of it, but as I leaned there on the mop handle with this image in front of me, I said; “You know, Pammy … I’m not a religious man, so I don’t believe in a God … But when I look at you, I sure as hell believe in the devil” … and I swear to heaven that was it!

“You do know that Ms Shorren and her partner are quite the religious couple don’t you? … I told Martin … Pentecostal … every Sunday without fail … down at the centre, singing to Jesus … I believe it is she that leaves those religious pamphlets anonymously at the front counter from time to time? … It was the reference to her having association with the devil most offended her … ”

“The long and short of it was that I would have to give the situation some thought and I sent him home … ”

“To be honest, I did contemplate sacking him and I was needing a bit of time to frame my response … But then a strange thing happened on my way home to change my mind … I was there at Donahue’s Hardware getting those hose fittings that I distinctly remember asking you to get and there was Martin walking down the footpath by that line of high school buses that park there … I was getting into the Holden and there was Martin slouching along looking just a bit careworn … as those older men look … perhaps the burden of the day’s events weighing on his shoulders … and as he walked past this bus, there was a young man … oh around sixteen or seventeen years old, leaning out of the window of the bus calling and whistling to the high school girls … like young men do; “Hey blondie! … What’s your number? … give it to me … ” … those sort of things and the girls tittering and giving him the finger … little good it did to dissuade him though … and through this noisy back and forth calling, just as Martin passed, the young fellow leans out the window of the bus, looks to Martin sympathetically and says; “G’day old timer” … in a confederacy sort of way … like two mates from the same background, but with one just came off the field of battle while the younger one goes on; “G’day old timer” … I mean really … men!

And I suddenly had a glimpse into that male world where there are behavioural expectations and rules that define their manner toward women … and it does not change from one generation to the next … a strange world of driven demands upon their own expectations … and I thought … “I could sack him and bust him and make him regret even thinking what he thinks about women” … but I could never change that male desire within that makes him … and that young man behave … or at least think … the way they do … it is a choice between cause and effect … Oh the choices one must manage to keep the ship on a steady and even keel … What is it with you men?

So I have decided instead to play the mediator and get Martin to apologise to Pammy, after all he is a very good caretaker … and to make an edict about the placement of non-education literature in the school and perhaps even make a suggestion for a dress code for teachers and pupils at the school … really, the needs of caretaking in one’s working life demand a continuous review … ”

Kylee finished her cup of tea and called for her husband to ask what he had prepared for dinner that evening as she was famished.

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Bedtime Stories #8 … The Cabal of Complicity

There is a curious double standard inherent in these regional communities that goes way back to the pioneer days and has it’s roots deep in the soil of “old family/old traditions” loyalty. Sure, and it is a misguided loyalty in these times as those same “old families” have been long watered down by new systems, new blood and new technology that has swept away the old work ethic creed and community morality standard.

It works like this:

Every regional community has its’ number of “old families” … “long-time residents” … “long-time employees.”Every single one of these people over the years evolve to become part of a strata of acknowledged hierarchical status, ie; They are allocated their place in that community. Some have a leadership place, some have a “drone” place, some have the inherited if unearned respect of an influential family, while others are what you would call “floaters”; in and out of favour at some time or other … The perfect example of the Peter Principle … Then there are the “blow-ins.”

(From) Ode to Machiavelli

“ … The biggest mistake being; not understanding history,

But make mystery of what we WILL NOT see … Is it just me?

Or is it thee who takes more pleasure from the infinite variety

Of incidents in this or that society and scandalous pleasure

As your measure of understanding, rather than demanding

We take heed to the answers to those deeds, as if these

Times have changed the behaviour of men and then of women too

It’s a shoo-in to see ; the Sun the Moon, the sea and thee

Have not changed their motions and power, hour on hour

From ancient times, I’d avower and from such error; allora! … “

All of these “old” regional communities seem to thrive on a social diet of rumour, envy and schadenfreude. There are short and long-term feuds, niggling, petty hates and overall the cautious, suspicious envy of what the neighbour may have that you have not … and if they do have it, how did they get it!

The level that these petty trysts achieve and are operating on can be seen by the state of beauty or disrepair of the township. Those towns in a greater state of turmoil show little regard for their environment, or for the general civic repair or beauty of their town, being more concerned with their feuds than their civic obligations.

BUT! … but, strangely, all these communities, no matter how divided within , will unite against what is perceived as a common outside threat. This unity of concentration is called; The Cabal of Complicity.

The mirror tells its secret tale,

What is REALLY YOU will prevail,

When all may not be as it seems,

The really you will haunt my dreams.

There are, of course, the age-old bigotries against race, religion and politics … Then there are the new hatreds: Environmentalists seem to fill the void for a common enemy, as do refugees, strangely as most who came to this country and particularly those regional communities were refugees of one kind or another and there is that lovely old standby distrust: The Indigenous Peoples.

Curiously though, there is another “player” that comes into the picture about now, he is a “blow-in”, a newcomer, but he is saying all the right phrases that appeal to the local prejudices … He pushes all the right approval buttons. This toady targets the most influential to his station and needs. With astute flattery and sycophantic conversation, not to mention the strategic “on me” beer, he soon becomes accepted into the cabal as a “friend of the community”, he “legitimises” local opinion as being “in-tune” with the broader population and is often privy to a host of secrets, while juggling conspiracies and confederacies. He is a strange animal and in most cases a reject of the more cosmopolitan world of city life.

Beauty

These are things once memory sees,

Cannot be forgot, nor disdained.

These things that we do treasure,

Things lost or all forlorn,

Which I did adore is grown pale and wan,

What was ever so beautiful once,

Is gone … is gone.

Nature may mark the species,

But history marks the men,

Lies shape the person,

Whose fortune is already damned.

The stupid repeat their mistakes – and

A fool is condemned in vain.

These things our memory has seen,

Not to be forgot, nor to be disdained,

Lest that we most treasure, be lost or forlorn,

And which we adore grow pale and wan,

So THAT beauty that ever once was,

Is gone … is gone.

This “strange animal” adopts the dress, the language, the scepticisms and the inherent suspicions against that universal political generic: “The head office” … The Guvverment. There being no easier audience to find applause from than that who knows already and shares as their own ; your every story, every joke your every prejudice.

In each of us there is that twist,

That in the end will come to this.

No matter the culture, the mother, the art,

Each to each,

Heart to heart.

To enter such communities and hold views in conflict with the status quo (listed above) is to court social pariahism. For although you may be of the opinion that you have just had a “heated discussion” with only one member of the community … because such a member “went to school with … “, “grew up with … “, “played football with … “, “drank with … “, “did a season shearing with … “, “works with … “, or just plain “is related to … ”, it won’t be long, regardless if the culprit is despised, hated, reviled or spurned by nearly every other single individual in the entire cabal … YOU will “have the problem”.

Because the one grain, perhaps the only grain of carved-in-stone knowledge in such communities is that its very weakness is its’ strength, so each is complicit in backing-up, right or wrong, innocence or guilt, with silent dismissal or wilful disdain, its’ “in-house” member.

Jacta alia est

Jacta alia est; The die it is cast.

Caesar quietly mumbles the words,

Mixed with the tumbling Rubicon’s waters,

And when he whispers his secret,

Who does he direct his knowledge to?

What lines do the poet place on page?

Is there those who will like the rhyme,

But curse the metre?

Will like the idea,

But curse the action?

Jacta alia est; The die it is cast.

But there is no-one left

Who knows what chance is.

None want to take the risk.

So he says it quietly … under-breath,

And leads the dumb and blind

On to their deserved death.

It is the strength of their denial, it is their unifying fear of “divided they fall”, for each individual, lacking a worldly confidence, distrusting worldly knowledge, has no solid footing, but is fixed in the matrix of all … it is the age-old maxim of “honour among thieves” … so take on one, you take on all!

It is The Cabal of Complicity.

And now it is late for this little tacker to be up and about … time for sleepy-byes … night, night tweeps … sweet dreams ..

“The Windmills of Your Mind”: Noel Harrison …

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Decum Fabulum: The Rider to the Sea

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number nine:

The Rider to the Sea

Ah, youth! … a time of plenty … so much to want, so much to desire, so much to love … yet one had the feeling of so much to lose … so much to lose … there was never enough of anything, least of all patience …

Adam reached out for the handful of peaches out far on the branch. He quickly picked these and shoved them into his bag, it was now full. He clambered down the ladder and strode over to his bin. This was the last load for the day, the bin was now full. The overseer nodded his approval and checked it into his book. His third bin for the day, not bad, he was no gun picker but it wasn’t bad. A wave of fatigue swept through his leg muscles as he leant against the bin. Sweat flowed cleanly down his chest, his hair sticky and stringy from the heat and fuzz from the fruit. he felt tacky all over.

“What a day for Chrissake.” He spoke to himself as he sat on the trailer.

“Ok boys, let’s go home.” The overseer had hooked up the trailers that carried the bins and started the tractor.

The pickers flung their ladders on the empty trailer behind and clambered aboard, the dust thick and yellow in the air.

“You still going to Sydney tomorra’, Jim?”

”K’noath, can’t see me stayin’ here another week can you.”

“He’s got the hots for his wife already,” someone called out.

“Oh yeah, if you’d felt it once you wouldn’t be here even,” Jim retaliated.

The tractor slowly bumped and twisted through the orchard. Adam clung sleepily to the edge of the trailer, gently rolling … Life, small moments of awakened senses, aware: Daylight bright, the clatter of loose leaves dancing and whirling over the road in the buffeting wind of a passing car. Long strands of gum leaves hanging low and hot in the humid afternoon, with skinny shadows stealthily creeping like thieves from the glaring sun.

The banks rose steep from the river’s edge and the water flows with soft swirling eddies clipping the far bank and ripples fanning out from projecting arms of sunken logs, like drowning swimmers grasping for the sky, scratching, clawing … A long white sandbar swept smooth around the bend with scattered leaves over the grit and heavy gums leaning long fronds into silent waters of the Murray River creeping past in the afternoon.

(A.E. & J.B. Cameron. Fruit growers. Blockers: Owners of vast acreage of fruit trees. Peaches, pears and apricots. Pickers employed every season. Seven am – five pm, an hour for lunch.)

Adam was a nineteen year old picker … working the seasonal crops.

“Hey Casey, comin’ for a swim before tea?” … Ear cocked for an answer from the next room. A creaking bed, he’s there.

“No, I’ll just have a shower.” Another creak of his bed. He won’t even shower, Adam knew.

“Well alright ,but it’ll be nice … cool and fresh …”

“Yeah, so what.”

Adam left him there …

Dust and insects filled the yard between the dormitory and mess shed, with its rattling pots and pans and the cook’s yells and songs crackling between the weatherboard walls. The sweet-smelling trees all around the compound. Crowds at the showers, sticky men jostling each other, towels and dirty shirts and shins and bristly chins, water overflowing on smooth cement sheen floor, muddy puddle by the door. A singer; Gerry … ”O′ Gerry boy, th’ gurls of Cobram are calling … ” Then lost in the roar of the motorbike coasting the long straight into town. A quick trip through to the river in the hot afternoon, his shirt sticking to his back, small insects glued to his chest with the dried sweat.

Adam parked his motorbike at the top of the riverbank on the dirt track. A path cut down the edge onto a flat lowland of sand built up over the years. Tall gums and shrubs between, all thick and scratchy down to the river’s edge. He placed his helmet on the sand, stripped to his shorts and placed his shirt and shoes with the helmet.

Halting at the river’s edge, he gazed up and down, then slipped quietly into the water. The smooth liquid washed up his back and filtered through his hair, its soothing coolness cleansing the sticky sweat and insects from his skin then washing away with the current swiftly flowing. He dug his hands down into the sandy bar, floating motionlessly, body pointing upstream with water slipping around, caressing, soft … Every few moments he ducked his head below the surface to come up again with a swish and shake the lanks of hair off his face, the droplets flicking away with a splash on the smoother surface of the river.

A large grey log jutted out from the bank on the far side. He decided to swim for it. But the river was swift, so he crawled with his hands digging in the sandy bed upstream a little to allow for the drag, then with six deep breaths, struck out for the far shore.

The river grabbed him straight away as he swam, its liquid fingers grasping at every portion of his body, trying to pull him down the busy stream to a far away ocean … a body riding the river to its mouth … a rider to the sea! … The thought of just letting himself be taken like a leaf on the water crossed his mind, the thought of being supported by the river’s strength and coasting slowly down the ribbon of wide water to the rushing sea. He stopped for a second feeling the deep waters … Nothing below him: He sank a little and came up again spitting and swishing his head to clear his hair. Nothing below him, he thought as he struck out again, his feet churning steadily behind him.

Nothing below but hidden depths of liquid, soft flowing liquid’ deeper down below, lovely warmth … (he thought of Jennifer). A Willy-wagtail alighted on the log just before he reached it, to wag its tail a couple of times and then dart away as he swung an arm over and hauled himself up to rest. Adam lay on his belly over the warm log, his legs dangling in the cool river, the rattlings and scratchings of scrub animals and birds in the vicinity a relaxing tonic for his tired body … his memory switched to a story his mother told him about the river when she was a child … about a man who drowned and his body washed up on the bank of the river and they were told not to go near there to look at the drowned man washed up on the bank of the river but they did go there on the way to school and they saw the drowned man all bloated and bumping and bobbing against a log on the river bank, surrounded by a mass of oranges all a bobbing there with the drowned man … oranges dumped in the river when the orchards couldn’t sell their excess fruit … and they would pluck one of those oranges each to take to school … but not this time and never more … for the drowned man’s eyes had been plucked out by the creatures of the river … ” … eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves” Samson Agonistes … and they ran and ran away from the drowned man … but they couldn’t run from the memory …

A new sound pitched high above the others pierced his ear, squeals of delight and giggling laughter. Girls, young girls, splashing in the river up by the bridge. He looked to them, all white in the surrounding bushland, their bodies springing about with youthful energy, purity to think of. Tender youth not yet caressed with a lover’s gentle touch, young voices never lowered to a lovers ear, whispering lover’s desires.

Adam lay quiet, the water rippling about his feet softly. He listened.

”Julie, I’ll race you across.“

“Bet you won’t.“ Two girls splashed in, a glimmer of white before becoming submerged in cooling water.

”Hey, wait for me!” A third racing across the sand, her legs flashing with carefree running, the line of her swimsuit seen for a moment, gone into the river, laughter, splashing, voices, a moments desire quietly breathed the afternoon air, river water flowing down deep, deep down clinging, touching, Adam closed his eyes … he desired …

“Jennifer” … he mumbled … lost …

”Do you like it, Adam?”

”Mmm, more than anything.” Her hand moving over his body, searching, feeling … her finger trailing along his spine, sending thrilling sparks to his muscles ..

”Do you like that … hmm … do you feel that?”

“Ah … Now where did you learn that trick?”

”Do you like it?” Her hair brushing his cheek, soft whispers into his ear, the song of Circe … her arm under his over his back, her palm open flat, warm in the small of his back moving softly, gently, her voice, he remembered the tone perfectly, right in his ear, she was inside his brain, sweetly tacky. Gone, lovely woman, lovely life. Nineteen.

”Do you love me, Jenny?” … Nineteen … gone …

Adam slipped back into the water, kicked off from the log to swim back to the sandy bank, striking furiously at the water with each stroke, harder and harder, self-derision tearing into him. He finally dove deep to cool the heat in his head, deep in the river, the deeper you go the cleaner you become, it’s a game, you see, and the one who swims deepest and longest wins.

His lungs ached as he burst the surface about thirty yards down from his clothes. He gulped the air and swam the rest of the way to the bank.

The Sun dried his body, soaking right into his skin as he lay on the warm sand. He flipped his shirt over his eyes to shade them, only the heat now touched his body, the river moving gently away, quietly shifting … humming … water, the essence of life: All life emanates from the sea. The heat warmed him while the river swayed his thoughts slowly. as a limb in a breeze, rolling wave upon wave … drum … “… rolling drum we lay down gently with the wetness drum of the sea drying in sunshine … children! laughter trilling in our hearing mind … She is here too, her finger brushing down drum along our closed eyelid so gentle, the laughter, her person here beside us, touch removed why? Opened our eyes to see her but she wasn’t there … soaring drum ache of desire rushing longingly through our body … Oh that it were only possible for us … for us … we lay back down in the warm sunshine the wetness drum of the sea drying in the sunshine wave upon wave rolling O …”

Adam woke suddenly, he had dozed off for a few minutes, restfully, He collected his things and started back to camp.

The evening meal was being dished out when he arrived, so he dressed and stood in line with the rest of the pickers to collect his serve. The mess was empty of any sound other than the clatter of eating utensils employed in the consumption of food.

After dinner Adam lay on his bunk, hands behind his head and staring at the water-stain pattens on the ceiling. Casey stopped in and placed his shoe on the edge of the bed while he tied his shoelace.

“You comin’ to town, Adam?”

“What for?”

“Jim’s leavin’ you know, we’re gonna have a cupla drinks”.

“Yeah, I might be in that. When are you leaving?”

“O, a cupla minutes, you better hurry, Pete’s drivin” …

Adam raised himself lazily and reached for his shirt.

“I’ll be ready in a sec.”

“Meet you outside then, OK?” Casey tromped on down the corridor with his heavy steps echoing through the dormitory.

Pete screamed the car on the dirt road through the orchard and careered onto the bitumen heading into town. All along the left side of the road were peach trees heavy with fruit, their branches supported with crutches of forked branches of other trees. Jim talked of his wife, house, and car he had left in Sydney. He drolled on in his boring monotone in tune with the humming of the car motor, Pete just mumbling; “Yes” or “Oh yeah” to Jim’s comments. Adam sat quietly in the back of the car, the sun heating his face through the glass. Bright spots of fruit, the green of the leaves flicking past; harlequin. A man appeared for a second, on a tractor towing spraying equipment, mist fanning out from the rear of the machine. The afternoon finishing slowly as they bumped down the long straight.

The town appeared up ahead, Jim talking continuously, quietly, to no-one in particular … just his usual meaningless babble about his wife, kids, and home … the suburban dream slowly turning into a nightmare of endless debt, remission, work and more debt. Small snatches of his talk filtered through Adam’s observations of the world around him …

Big gums flash past … ”You come here to get away from home, to have a good time, save some dough for the little luxuries, you know” … outskirts of town, all the neat gardens, then the rubbish gardens, trellises of creeping plants being watered by an old lady … ”You buy these little knick-knacks, to keep you happy …” shoe stores, hardware stores, deli’s with cracked glass windows .. a town swinging on the survival of the fruit industry … ” … doing nothing but work and you end up a slob, like Casey here, only joking son, but just hanging around, waiting for the next season … the next job … ” residents of the town shuffling along permanent footpaths, ancients, middle aged, youths too soon to look as ancient as their grandfathers … ” … property clinging like … like leeches on your time as years slip by … ” … no-one really gives a shit for Jim’s woes …

Pete pulled the car up at an hotel with ugly stone facade and arches plain, brown painted wood angular cleaved.

There were crowds of bawling blockers, pickers, packers from the sheds .. red-faced from too much grog … “It’s weird if you ask me, a body just can’t seem to win with this life.”

A chord was struck in Adam by those words, simple as they were, the mere babble of a selfish man, they were a prophecy so clear for the moment. Of course, living, being alive, nineteen … nineteen! … that’s what matters; life, those places he’d been, all alive, still there, waiting for his return to pass through to newer places, towns on towns, states on states, countries, people, over seven billions of them in this world, all living, a living breathing world of people. World, so round, whirled, world so round, those girls at the river, youth just starting to live. The joy of revelation cooled his head and cleared all cluttering thoughts from his mind, a new energy flooded through his body.

Jennifer is gone … so be it … so be it … Let life begin again!

Loose leaves danced flittering along the footpath with each eddy of wind around the buildings, their clatter of slight sound a moments awareness.

“C’mon Jim, wipe that frown from your ugly puss, the first round’s on me.” The four of them pushed through the throng of drinkers to the glittering bar all a clatter of glass. The evening was alive with light. “Ah! … Here’s the boy!” … a cry from a friend at the bar … The silent river cruising steadily between steep banks to the sea … the mad whooping from a room full of rolliking drunks … riding a wave of booze-filled reverly … riding to the sea …

Down, down … the Murray River flows … down to the sea … John Millington Synge … we are all riders to the sea!

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The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon

Once upon a time, out in the deep Mallee forest near the Murray River there lived three sisters, aged sixteen, fourteen and thirteen … for as was common in those days, children came in quick succession. Their names being … from the eldest: Tess, Maggie and Rose. It was the years of post-Great Depression and the second world war raged another world away … in the deep Mallee where the sisters lived, the war was only a policy inconvenience, or in their case an opportunity for their father and mother to gain steady employment at a charcoal burning camp as he; a mechanic, and she; as cook to around a dozen men who cut the mallee wood to burn in the pits to make charcoal. The two younger girls helped their mother with the preparation of the food, while, Tess, the eldest worked not far away at Portee Station, a cattle and sheep station on the rim of the Murray River.

Being of a family that by necessity throughout the Great Depression had to make their living moving from town to town, seasonal crop to seasonal crop for work, the girls were schooled at home by their mother who was fortunate back in her native Ireland to have had an excellent education because of her middle-class family … coming to this country to be suddenly married and a mother of three girls at the start of the worst set-back for the nation’s economy in its short history while moving around seeking casual employment left her to make do on her own capabilities.

A long time back she had abandoned her middle-class sensibilities to the practical bent of survival … another thing that she had abandoned was her Protestant religion to swing to Catholicism … and she embraced that faith with all the fervour of the religious convert … she was unbending and unyielding in her reverence toward the belief and standards of that faith … and as such would not tolerate her daughters becoming corrupted by such deviant subjects like romantic novels or poetry, herself having a long time before cast out such publications from her possessions till the only tome of any literature in her domestic enclave … which by frugal providence was a hand-stitched, split wheat-bag tent of her husband’s own design, for rarely was there a actual house over or around them … was her large, prized edition of The Bible (with illustrations).

So when her eldest daughter brought home a second-hand book of poetry; The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, accompanied by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, her lips pinched, her eyes narrowed and her heart hardened and at first opportunity, she cast both editions out of the tent-flap with an admonishing chastisement and appropriate irony considering their present establishment to her daughter that such wanton literature will not be tolerated under her roof while she yet lives!

This did not deter Tess from pursuing her secret inner desire to one day become a poet herself … she dreamed of lines of absolute beauty written with the most delightful script on pages of soft paper … Her favourite poem from the book she now held most dear to herself was Thora’s Song … her romantic heart ached for the chance to just feel the same emotions Thora felt for her lover … and Tess would dream of one day meeting just such a poetic soul as herself to be able to exchange that similar felt emotion in tender moments of love … As such a time had not yet come, Tess would stroll to the river’s edge on her evening off perambulations and there under the fading light of an afternoon’s umbra shine, read softly out to the air the works of Adam Lindsay Gordon, taking particular care on that most loved poem Thora’s Song, her lilting Irish falsetto matching tune with the many river birds calls and warbles there so that the lingua franca of the evening on the river’s edge was a song in itself … a melody of harmonies that lay a hymn of sound floating just above those primrose-lit waters of the soft flowing Murray River.

To this dream of poet, Tess would, in between chores in the kitchen of the riverside station where she worked, take time to compose poems of her own hand. Most of these crude attempts she screwed up and burnt in the big kitchen stove … some … a few she felt happier with she placed between the pages of a school exercise book she used for her home school lessons that she taught to her younger siblings when she went home for two days a week to the charcoal camp where her family lived … Tess would sometimes read these poems out to the giggling frivolity of her siblings who had little interest in literature and more in ribbons and hats.

Now the world of that district held to habit and routine and the celebration of Empire Day was one of fan-fair, parade and concert in the main town institute, where a repertoire of songs and short skits of plays and dances by locals were encouraged. So that when Tess arrived at her parent’s tent on the Friday afternoon, her sisters excitedly greeted her with the news that they were going with old Eddy in the truck to Truro to audition as sailors in a skit dancing The Sailor’s Hornpipe … and surely Tess would come along to watch! … Of course Tess was as excited and delighted and went to sleep that night formulating a desire to approach Miss Josie Rudge, the organising person, on the morrow to see if she could perform a poetic recitation at the event.

The dour Miss Rudge, school teacher and choralist for the Truro Congregational Church, was a disciplinarian type who “took no prisoners”, as she was want to say whenever the children got out of hand …

”In line! In line!” … she’d demand “and no fooling around … I’ll take no prisoners if I see anyone mucking about! … you there! … back in line … watch the markers on the floor … in line!”

But yes, they were seeking appropriate recitations for the “in-betweens” of the songs and dance routines and Miss Rudge gave Tess a time that afternoon for a reading. The piece Miss Rudge picked was a short poem that tested the elocution of the reader … more suited to one of the preferred young ladies from a “good family” of the district who were favoured with an exclusive schooled education in Adelaide and spoke the “King’s English” with just a little bit of plummy accent. Of course, Tess, coming from the Mallee bush with the hint of brogue of her Irish mother slipping off her lips like a syrup of Sligo was hard pressed to wrap those words around her tongue and she stumbled in quite a few places with the desired entrapment placed there by the cunning Miss Rudge.

And as she finished the reading from the elevated stage, Tess, who had prided herself on her practiced poetry was somewhat shy and reticent of her chances … The stern Miss Rudge did not dismiss Tess there and then, but rather encouraged her to practice when at home and she will be notified of her placement with in the fortnight.

Tess felt encouraged by that short advice and regardless of a faint feeling of caution, spent the following days at and after work bending her spoken language to deliver to the best of her capability those immortal words of her beloved bard; Adam Lindsay Gordon, and his poem, Thora’s Song.

Unbeknownst to Tess, from the first introduction of herself to Miss Josie Rudge, she hadn’t a chance of stepping out on that stage at Empire Day to deliver any thing at all, as her family situation was already known and scorned by the stern Protestant Miss Rudge, who despised anything Catholic entering within her perimeter of “England forever” … and after Tess and her sisters departed, she was heard to say to her assistant most viciously:

“The nerve! … to think I would allow the daughter of that Irish Catholic woman to stumble and ramble with her atrocious interpretation of the good King’s English upon my stage … On Empire Day of all times .. The poor child threw out more “Haiches” from her mouth than Clem Highett would dud hen’s from his hatchery! … and that mother of hers! … a face the map of Ireland … “As Catholic as Connaugh” they would say … No, I won’t have it … I will send a letter to her this week or so … don’t want to break the poor kitchen maid’s heart here and now … I’ll let her sisters dance The Hornpipe though … don’t want to appear too officious … do we?”

Unaware of the futility of her ambitions, Tess kept softly practicing her recitation whenever she had time … so that the Lady of Portee Station … Margaret Esau, would smile to herself when she heard her young servant girl softly reciting poems on the back verandah of the Portee Station Homestead on many a quiet evening.

Margaret Esau encouraged Tess to work on her pronunciations, for she was well aware of Tess’s poetical ambitions which were innocently and proudly confessed when Margret first interviewed Tess for the position of kitchen maid … an ambition that made Tess’s eyes shine with delight when she said it and brought a sympathetic smile to Margaret’s lips … for she could see that while the ambition was worthy, the letter Tess had written and the language of her spoken words displayed a working class accent with less than ready education. And so Margaret would sensitively correct any of the more exaggerated mistakes of interpretation when Tess served at the table … even promising Tess a day off so as to be able to attend to rehearsals when required. So it was a rather worried Margaret Esau that heard the gentle sobbing on the back verandah outside the kitchen one evening … Upon enquiry, she was shown the letter of rejection from Miss Josie Rudge of the Empire Day Hall Committee, citing (dishonestly) a lack of space within the program for Tess’s poetry recitation. Margaret comforted the sad Tess and taking the letter from her hands, Margaret said she would see if she could persuade Miss Rudge to find space for Tess’s reading.

This reassurance did little to comfort Tess’s unease, for she had read something unsettling in the tone of Miss Rudge’s letter … a more than hint of slighting tone of voice … even the opening address of “Dear Child” felt like a dismissal of her as a working girl with a place in the household of a large station … a position of responsibility that Tess wore with some degree of pride … And even though the wording was seemingly polite and respectful, Tess (as did Margaret when she read the letter) could feel her eyes burn with indignation when the writer had consoled her with the expression that “ … regardless of this lost opportunity to recite with those fine young ladies from the Adelaide private finishing schools, she was sure to use her accrued skills learned at the kitchen table to further herself in the arts of scullery maid or another hand trade”.

This example of passive snobbery on Miss Rudge’s part did not go un-noticed by Margaret Esau and while Tess wept for the burning insult, Margaret’s lips pinched together in anger for the presumption of Miss Rudge’s to insult her; Margaret’s young study, with such language reserved for that middle-class to use against one of their own … “She has no right to presume” Margaret hissed and took it upon herself to sort Miss Rudge out by putting her back in her place in the order of status in the district.

Tess had gone to that spot on the banks of the Murray River where she felt most private and secure, she took with her that tome of poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s that she felt in kinship with and began to read out loud that most private of her favourites;

Thora’s Song

“We severed in autumn early,

Ere the earth was torn by the plough;

The wheat and the oats and the barley

Are ripe for the harvest now.

We sunder’d one misty morning,

Ere the hills were dimm’d by the rain,

Through the flowers those hills adorning —

Thou comest not back again.

My heart is heavy and weary

With the weight of a weary soul;

The mid-day glare grows dreary,

And dreary the midnight scroll.

The corn-stalks sigh for the sickle,

‘Neath the load of the golden grain;

I sigh for a mate more fickle —

Thou comest not back again … ” (Adam Lindsay Gordon)

The soft lilting of her voice now pitched less high as a sadness weighed down upon her soul … that gentle wash of the Irish brogue inserted from her mother’s talk and homeland as sweet as the honeyed air of summer skies … Her Irish tongue a whisper of angels in the voice when saddened enough to sing a lament to her own destiny … for there was growing in her heart a dread that her ambition to aspire for a poet was but a pipe dream … the words of her mother damning such heathen verse to Sheol and the tittering laughter of her sisters when she tried to share with them her love for the written word in rhyme and metre and now that letter from Miss Rudge, a teacher at the Truro school no less, that gave more than hint of Tess’s incompetence with the language, all buffering down on her spirit and telling her that she was just being a silly girl to try to reach for a place above her station in life .. the life of a servant girl and workhorse for her betters and nothing more … her dreams of one day writing poetry that sang with the spirits of the Gods of air, fire and water … a dream of smoke and mirrors … a will o’ the wisp that will vanish with the first puff of wind … silly person … silly girl.

Tess stood and straightened her skirt and turned to go … she had noticed the silence of the birds as she read her verse … and she sensed that even they were in accord with her sombre mood and were wont to intrude too cheerfully upon her mood there … Tess stopped for just that moment in her departure and,turned to address The River …

“Goodnight,” she said.

A few days later, Tess was called to the telephone to receive a call from Miss Rudge of the Empire Day Concert Committee … the short of the conversation … for it was short and terse .. was that, yes, there now appeared a place in the program for her to recite some poetry and it was imperative that she most promptly attend to rehearsals on the fifth of the month 10:00AM sharp … at the Civic Hall Truro … and report to her, Miss Rudge. And the telephone went dead at that demand. Tess was beside herself with joy and handed the receiver back to Margaret who smiled in kind.

“Did you … ?” Tess asked and then stopped.

“I think Miss Rudge looked into her heart and reconsidered” Margaret cut any further conversation on the subject short … “I always say, Tess … that The River has ways of letting a poor man live like a king and in turn making the wise man look like an ass! … You know … I wasn’t always the wife of Mr, John Esau … ”

It was after Tess had left to walk to the river that evening on receiving the letter, that Margaret Esau placed a call through to Miss Josie Rudge’s residence … there was a controlled anger in Margaret’s voice as she explained that it would be a pity for herself and her husband John, who were quite generous to the school and hall committees, to make the trip to Truro for the concert only to find that her house-maid, Tess was being denied a chance to recite a most favoured poem that she had been practicing assiduously for the last few weeks …

“Oh but really, Mrs Esau … the girl is totally unsuitable to recite on stage,” Josie Rudge complained. “She is almost illiterate and her elocution is as deep and broad as an Irish bog!” … Margaret let a long silence hang in the air before she answered:

“I have been coaching her, Miss Rudge.”

There was a sharp intake of breath at the other end of the line … then a new tack was tried …

“Well, the McBain twins have come back for the holidays from their finishing school in Adelaide and I have promised them a quartet of songs with piano accompaniment in the program” …

“Yes, we are well acquainted with the McBains of Anna Creek Station … quite well acquainted and I can assure you that they will not mind if you reduce their girls to a triplet of songs and make shift to place young Tess into the repertoire.” This last with the stern voice of the Lady of the Manor … of course, Miss Rudge complied with Margaret’s wishes and a telephone was put through several days later to tell Tess the good news.

Tess walked out onto the stage of the Truro Civic Hall on the evening of the Empire Day Concert and stood proud to recite her favourite poem:

“From the collected poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon.” She spoke in a clear and precise voice … the hint of Irish brogue adding a lilt of delightful colour to her words …

Thora’s Song, Tess announced .. and she began the recital.

And when Tess had finished the poem, and a suitable round of applause rent the high ceilings of the hall, she surprised everyone to announce that she …

“ … would now like to do a short poem of my own hand in recognition of our benefactor Mrs Margaret Esau of Portee station … on a theme gratefully borrowed from Mr Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; “Hiawatha” … and Tess began:

“On the shores of the mighty Murray,

By its calm and tranquil waters,

Stood the halls of Portee Station … “

John Esau leaned over to whisper into Margaret’s ear …

“Be blowed if she hasn’t stolen some of the thunder of Mr Longfellow” … and he chuckled.

“I suspect Mr Longfellow can spare a bit,” Margaret smiled.

“The cheek of the girl,” John smirked.

“Yes,” Margaret agreed, “marvellous, isn’t it?”

There is an announcement in the regional newspaper of the times of the proceedings of that Empire Day evening … it reads thus:

“Items that were particularly well received were “The Flag Makers”, a patriotic tableau presented by grades VI and VII. A nautical song; All Over the Place by Pauline Harris assisted by the senior girls who danced The Sailor’s Hornpipe.

Films were also shown on the school’s projector, interesting and instructive films in keeping with the observance of Empire Day. They were entitled “Battle for France” the “Evacuation of Dunkirk” and the fall of France (two years ago) and “The Navy at Work.”

A variety of songs and poetry recitals were given by the young ladies of the district … Of particular appeal was the recital of a poem Thora’s Song from The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, by Miss Tess Jones of Portee Station.

The dancing and other items were arranged by Miss Josie Rudge and Mrs I. Richards was the pianist for the evening … A grand time was had by all!”

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The passing of the amateur

If I consult this little pencilled in book of a shopping bill from a Mr. D. Lambert & Son, general store and victuals supplier of Towitta, for the fortnight in February 1936, I see that a packet of Yo-Yo biscuits was a mere 7 pence, and while the entire shopping for that bill was a total of 1/14/7 (one pound fourteen shillings and seven pence) there was deducted for 4 dozen eggs and 6 pounds of butter as barter for a total of 9/6 pence taken off the bill … and then Mr. Lambert would continue on his way in his horse and sulky delivery wagon to the next family farm to repeat the procedure … a round trip he did once a fortnight to deliver the grocery list and pick up bartered exchanged produce. A congenial and fruitful arrangement of the times.

These casual trades between shop-keeper and households were common fare in the times … there is also record of an Indian dry-goods trader used to do the rounds, selling or trading cloth and haberdashery goods, staying at this or that farm for a day or so then moving on. Of course, many of us from the boomer generations remember the “milky” with his plodding horse drawn cart running from house to house with billy-can and scoop … the ice-man and baker … of course, who could forget Mr. Hahn, the green-grocer, parked up in the suburban side street with a clutch of housewives at the back of his truck while he proudly showed them his cluster of fine fresh chokos!

All this was done in the most amateurish manner, the local trader, the (mostly) women of the house, the common supply of goods and the casual chiaking between them all … I remember staying at my aunty’s in Sedan and her delivery of groceries from the local store included one single biscuit … ”Oh look … that silly man … just because I wrote; biscuits/one … instead of a packet he sends me one biscuit! … silly man!” … such were the frivolous back and forth of trading in those times.

The same could be said for the male side of the farm in the cropping and upkeep of animals and equipment. The farm blacksmith shop an integral component of farming practice, needed to repair or invent parts required for harness and wagon … sheds and homesteads … the entire structure, social and practical a continuity of the self-sufficient amateur application … local women as midwives … local apothecaries with their huge tomes of folk medicine and a head full of experience and old-wives tales and “cures” that must have cost as many lives as they saved … possibly an average equally contested by some modern medical practices and could compete with the traffic causalities of these times.

But what stands out most is the skilled amateurism of those times. The time-lapsed photographs for the post and beam “pioneer hut” to the cut-slab and thatch sheds of the first settlement to “The new house” bracketed the obvious faults of the DIY constructs of the first to prefer the hired trades to build the second … and it was the pause in between the original claiming of the property and the sweat and tears that built up the family fortune enough to bring in the tradesmen to make the growing family’s life more comfortable and life in general more liveable … for the burden of home life of the times fell solidly upon the shoulders of the women. Whilst on the farm, developments in agricultural machinery remained pretty static right up until the second world war … the cumbersome stump jump plough the major improvement while all else was structured for application to horse-drawn machinery and it’s risky use, for horses could be prone to fright and flight, taking chains, harness, equipment and handler on a wild unrestrained gallop across lumpy, ploughed paddocks and straight through fences toward the home stable … a most unsettling experience.

And it was about this time that with the advanced development of mechanical tractors that all this came to an abrupt end … and with that sudden killing off of a labour intensive era, was the decline of community connection, for the mechanic and his garage has become the “go-to” person for both fuel and expertise of machine maintenance. No more saddler, blacksmith/iron monger … no more farrier and horse doctor or even the exchange of local knowledge on animal husbandry and with the demise of intensive labour farming, went the families to the city or elsewhere and with them went the town choir, the town band, the town baker, bank, church and assorted community businesses, not to mention the local sporting teams … and in the end in some cases, the town itself … for the once “family farm” being bulldozed and the property held in the portfolio of an Agri-corp absentee owner.

But by far the most damaging wreckage from this demise was the loss of the ethical creed associated with labour and its work … the mantra of: “Responsibility – Work – Reward” … to be replaced by the capitalist cant of Debt, Chance, and Compound interest. For tooling-up for the demands of this new era of “Agri-corp” farming meant mortgaging the family farm and then the squeezing of the profit margins to compete within an open market of high-risk cropping … pre-sale of crops and borrowing to sow, to harvest even in some cases to just get their product to market … the final result; collapse of family fortune, community structure and the town fabric itself.

Welcome to the new world of “professional consultants” and political influencers … high debt, high risk, low return, no future for the generational family farm.

Goodbye to the passing of the amateur.

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Bedtime Stories #6

Haunted by History

So I drive to the town, pick up a few groceries, check the mail, chat a while … a bit of goss … a bit of this an’ that and then hit the road to home again … and that is where the haunting starts.

You’ve seen them, as you drive along the main roads and the back roads … sunlight slanting off white sepulchre … you catch fleeting glimpses of them through the trees … deep in the scrub, sometimes almost complete, sometimes but a shadow of their former glory … you can sometimes drive past them for years before you suddenly realise they are there and then you get a shock at their ‘sudden appearance’: ruins of old cottages and huts … scattered, crumbling ruins … sad testament to optimistic aspirations.

The Son’s Heritage

Bleached, white bones all awry,

Road-kill bared to the open sky.

The windmill there clunks and sighs,

The windmill beside where it lies.

Golden wheat on the paddock rise,

Golden heat in summer skies,

Dust upon dust blinds the eyes,

And pummels the cloth of countryside.

The whitened bones.

The mill that groans.

The crop all golden, all golden shon’

That leads the eye on and on,

And on under an aching, searing sun,

From an empty soul all forlorn,

With regret of the place to which he is born.

Mostly we drive on … just giving an acknowledged glance to these pieces of jaded history … someone else’s tribulations, another’s history. I have stopped at several of these sites … joined in a pagan-like offering to another’s story … tossed a pebble or two into the underground tank out the back. I’ve stood for a moment in the remains of a back door opening, silent, wondering on the view they must have seen from that same place, another time … a time which may move inexorably on, yet the human condition remains.

Who were these intrepid builders? What singular ambition drove them to sculpture out of rough earth and stone, from memory and trial and error these testaments to a hopeful dream? They haunt me, these vacant souls … shuffling through sad ruins, backing onto abandoned fields that once must have swayed wave-like with fronds of wheat or oats. Now, scavenging crows pick nastily at an obscure morsel and a cruel sun rakes it’s talons over old wounds.

Heat

You can stand, transfixed,

For as long as you can bear.

Staring at the thistle flower,

A spot of yellow bliss in an ocean of dust.

The sun beating down on your back,

A thunderous beat as heavy

As the lumbering speech of a stupid man.

The only bright bristle,

In a field so barren,

Is that one yellow flower of the courageous thistle,

Pleading for it’s life to the open sky,

And I wonder and wonder … for the life of I.

There are stories out there, hovering around these ghosts of the past. An entire population of early settlers with their children and animals, gone now, the only memory in some cases being a headstone or two marking a seriously foreshortened life and now only a sighing wind through a perimeter of sheoaks to serenade their sleep into eternity … and along with such disaster the presumed tragedy for the rest of the family, having to absorb the sadness into their hearts. When one scans the landscape of those long-ago years, the inevitable hardship and difficulties faced, one gets the feeling their lives were dominated by the practical demands of weights and measures, time and distance. The burden of necessity, always the prime consideration of their immediate attention.

Strangely, the history of these ruins seem to be shrouded in mystery … few if any people living now have knowledge of the folk who built and lived in many of these ruins. Their short moments of occupation at odds to the effort it must have taken to erect such structures. It is as if strangers to us all had swept fleetingly through the land, leaving no word or lasting deed of their presence save these crumbling hovels. One wonders what the indigenous peoples would have made of these pioneers, struggling with stone and beast, fire and plough to make a meal for their family when food was in abundance all around! … madness, surely!

This Island Earth

Lament, fair children, lament fair child,

Lament for what you have to abide.

Born to us a gift supreme, sight sublime,

Beauty’s hand to hand in mine,

But now I turn mine eyes askine,

Now in shame and guilt decline

To walk hand with hand in thine.

Whilst fair Beauty and her entourage

Lay dying in irreversible damage.

And ponder I, why ‘tis always encouraged,

That we pluck the prettiest flowers,

But leave the weeds to flourish …

But it is the history that haunts me, for it is there, fixed in stone as solid as any Roman effigy, though perhaps not as romantic … But then THAT would depend on the story and the rumour of salacious intrigues! It seems a pity we can stand where they once stood, feel the heat and wind which they once felt and imagine the sweat and toil they once gave to a land and ambition that both their ghosts and our living spirit still share, yet not know their name.

What is its name?

Who is it holds the candle,

Who will ignite the flame?

When we call to that God on high,

What will be its name?

When we strive for God’s glory,

What reason is to blame?

What went so far awry,

When we struck the home with flame?

Who will command cruel deed,

When God cries out their names?

What excuse will we allow ourselves,

When we lay them in their graves?

When all is done and dusted,

Who will kill the flame?

Who are these wonderful Gods,

Would have such things done in their name?

Quo vadis? … Whither goest thou, people …?

Well, this person must goest to sleep, and I suggest you do likewise … so it’s goodnight from me to goodnight to thee …

 

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