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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.

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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Rosie’s Hut

If you turn off the main road and travel around five furlongs … in the old money … down a dirt track called Kruger Road, you will come to Rosie’s Hut.

I first heard of Rosie’s Hut around … oh … fifteen year or so ago now … when we first brought this place from my Aunty … old Vera … you see, she had gotten old and was a bit crook, so her doctor advised her … quite strongly .. that she needed to move into the main town in the Barossa for the sake of her health … so she put this property on the market and we just happened to be looking for a dusty little spread out here in the mallee and bango! … Bob’s your uncle … so to speak.

Well, one side of the property backs onto Kruger Road, just a stone’s throw from Rosie’s Hut … so it wasn’t long before my curiosity got the better of me and I wandered over to have a squizz at the place.

“Hut” is probably the wrong description of the place … because it is too large and too well-built to be considered that … but at the same time, it is just a one roomed building standing by itself without any other sheds or out buildings backing it up. But there, that’s what it is called … sure an’ I did originally think the name was in relation to a woman’s name and I could let my imagination … of which I have an over abundance … conjure up an image of a past age, with a woman living out here in the hut … a woman with rich red hair … of the Christina Rosetti type … an image of her as depicted by the Pre-Raphaelite painters … throw in a touch of Shirley MacLaine in Irma la Douce and you are getting somewhere near me.

Or perhaps as the Inn-keepers daughter in the poem The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes:

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding–
Riding–riding–
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.”

And so on it goes … a lovely piece worth the read.

But in truth, there was no long-tressed woman to stand at the hut’s door, no blue-eyed daughter in the moonlight, no simpering eyes in the moonlight, to tempt a young man to share in the moonlight … the local knowledge of why Rosie’s Hut was there or why that name, took a little searching on my part over a span of these near fifteen years … for all those who lived through those years have now passed away and have taken with them that knowledge of who, what and why these people and places existed … Except! …

Except … there were clues that gave it away … the first was old Mr. Rosenswieg … he was the “Ted” in my story of Ted and Edie dance the Rumba … he was born around 1933 … and he filled in the rest of the name from “Rosie” to Rosenswieg … hence: Rosenswieg’s Hut. Evidently another branch of his clan owned land around there but had disposed of it before he was born … But he did give me the next clue to the reason for the hut’s existence … He told me that back in the early days of cropping here on the flats, in the late nineteenth century, some landholders did not actually live on the blocks, but rather would come down from their hills homesteads, bringing their workers, family and horses and assorted equipment for either sowing or harvesting … depending upon the season and would camp down on the flats paddocks while they did an intensive round of ploughing and seeding or harvesting and bagging the seed or sheathing the hay …

All the family including women and children were brought down to help with the labour-intensive work … the women to cook, the children to clear stones from the paddocks or feed the horses and that is why there was that one solid-built “hut” … to give the women and children shelter at night after doing the cooking and serving for the workmen and family … who slept in the thatched-roofed post and beam outbuildings.

It was a different life back in those days … this area being known by it’s branded name: “Breakheart Country” … all hard work and muscle for both the men and the women, while the children also were expected to pitch in to help … I know about the children being there in the fields because I have record of one child from my German relatives family dying from burns because of being caught in the burning of the stubble that was practised in those days before ploughing for the seeding season.

That explained the whys and wherefores, but not the confirming date of the construct and by association, the times of when those families stayed in the hut.

What threw me about the dimensions of the one-roomed hut, was, as a builder myself, the proportions and construct told me that this was no family home … not even in the pioneer sense … I have experience of those pioneer settler’s houses … they are mostly of stone/post and beam with pug and pine-walled infills. Rosie’s Hut was well built, the corner quoins not of local limestone nor a local granite, but layered large pieces of slate … this secured the corners of the building and held it fast for a long time, unlike other early buildings the fell down without the solid corner bondings … The lime mortar placed the building in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but the machined roof timbers of Oregon and the stamped/branded roofing iron from England gave the date to around the turn of the twentieth century … The clean walls of solid, lime plaster showed that there was never any room divisions and there was no evidence of wall plugging for cupboards … so the one big room, with a small fireplace with a large German vault-oven behind it showed this hut served as eating place after a hard, long days work and then the private sleeping quarters for the women and children, while the men slept in those thatched shed outbuildings …

It would seem that everything required for the month’s duration needed to seed or harvest the crop was brought down from the hill farm, including the slate building stones as there is no slate of any reasonable quality to be found on the flats … I wrote of those days and the trials and tribulations here.

So now, after all these years, I feel I can quietly say with a sense of confidence that Rosie’s Hut had a long and fruitful career as cookhouse/shelter until the days of the horse drawn farming era came to a close … the end of many things … much back-breaking work, labour intensive farming and all, yet there must also be admitted that alongside those daylight hours of chore and grind, there was also the evenings of no doubt some singing of old folk songs from their homelands along with the weary relief and satisfaction of what they had achieved and the resulting harvest would give claim to the nod of a job well done and payment well deserved … a thing fast becoming obscure and unfathomable in this age of cynical weariness.

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What did you do on your holiday?

Sure an’ it was a short one … what with the horses to look after and all that, but we did go for a stint over the peninsula to one of those now booming coastal towns where marinas and holiday development enclaves have replaced that sleepy-village atmosphere and ‘beachfront cafes’ now pepper the foreshore along with the McMansions and other beachfront developments to keep a holiday-happy clientele … well … happy!

Perhaps it is time here to inject a conundrum into the conversation about the connection between the idea of the sleepy village, cultural architecture and the hunger for so many housing developments in these coastal locations … Well how about this:

Why is Art?

Indeed … or rather what has art got to do with the above three discussion points … where does an artistic eye come into the relationship of village, housing and development? … Simple … The once sleepy-village picture of these coastal towns didn’t just arise out of nothing … they were a result of settlement of one distinct cultural ethnic group … the Cornish in this case … and with their migration from their homeland, they transport.ed their own peculiar style of housing size and design … these styles slowly morphed into the turn of the twentieth century cottage we see in the older parts of the towns and give the village that attractive air of settled conformity …

In a sample street of the old part of the towns, you will see limestone constructed houses of similar dimensions, the straight or return verandah, finials and lacework or timber shaped corbels on the posts … similar but never the same … slight variations to mark the individual tastes of the builders …

But these variations only ventured within a kind of perimeter of cultural allowance … to be too extreme was frowned upon .. to be too radical was seen as thumbing one’s nose at your fellows … not appreciated nor tolerated .. hence we see the evolution of the uniform umbrella of sleepy-village cultural architecture … that ingredient that made these coastal villages so attractive to the holidaying city dweller and then opened up the surrounding land to speculators and property entrepreneurs … who went on to develop the eyesores we now have to endure in these once lovely coastal locales.

Where we stayed for our short sojourn was in one of those lovely old town streets … in a renovated old house … a pleasant feel … next door, an old house was knocked down and a brand-spanking modern unit was built … it was said the knocked down house was in a bad state of repair … I have my doubts of these claims .. I have been employed in trade to renovate many older houses and find that when the in-situ structure is reasonably sound, the roof and rooms can be restored within reasonably cost … certainly cheaper than demolition and new build with the incumbent costs of fire, energy and structural engineering requirements now required by law …

In a street of cultural/period-piece dwellings, this new unit is an eyesore … regardless of design material, colour … it stands out like I suspect the bombastic owner wanted … but I see it as a blot on the streetscape that should never have been allowed … and the fact that it is in the end no more than a “holiday house” more incriminates the owner for its gross intrusion.

In stark contrast across the street stands an old house of the turn of the 20th century … not renovated, but assiduously maintained … it’s walls and roof line along with the footpath aligned wooden balustrade original and complete … certainly the maintenance has been attentive to detail as can be expected to retain the cultural architecture of the street … I have sat and just stared at that house in its balanced beauty for a long time … just absorbing the “art” of balanced construct inherent with the eye of the trades who built it … for certainly the trades of times gone by are reflected in both design and construct … from the burnt lime of the mortar to the size of the limestone chosen and placed to the joinery of the windows and structure … what the ancient Greeks would call “Eye sweet” … in contrast: A thing of beauty … a joy forever.

At one point in our holiday, we were taken to the town lookout and our friend pointed to the bay and exclaimed …

“Isn’t it a beautiful view?”

There blotting out most of the bay-view was the backyards of foreshore McMansions and the caravan park with the usual flotsam and jetsam of accompanying residences … I wasn’t wanting to rain on the friend’s parade, so just nodded in reply and when they directed my attention to the North Shore Beach in the distance and how wonderful the sands there were, I recalled my visit the those same sands around 40 years before and remember camping behind dunes there and casting a fishing line from that beach … now the dunes are long gone and the foreshore lined with those same McMansions (is there a design factory somewhere churning out the same designs for these boxes?) and if I turned around at this lookout, I would see similar boxes overlooking even the lookout … like the owners saw it as their right to even steal the view!

I have worked for many spec-builders and I can tell you that few … very few … have any sort of eye for the Art of the thing they are building … their developments certainly capitalise on the “sleepy village” atmosphere of the locale when selling their ghastly eyesores … and then play upon the “getting away from it all” holiday feeling of the coast … and then proceed to dump their monstrosities onto the landscape until they completely destroy that very essence of the location that first attracted their unwanted attention …

This is where the “Art” is lost and where it badly needs to be restored … restored like those cultural architecture houses … the streetscapes that were not just dropped from a designers sketch-board in one day, one year or one generation … but rather evolved and grew as did those Cornish and other migrants to the vastness of this country … an art that grew from the foundations up rather than dropped from a false God down onto the populace … and this attitude has expanded unwanted and unwarranted into every part of our lives, from our workplaces to our politics, we have this demand of the “individual” to both steal our culture and dominate our view of where our lives ought to be heading … there needs to be change and the only way it will change is to once again seek the cultural base of our lives and rebuild from those solid foundations.

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The Contract: Bedtime Stories #5

Saturday mornings were a special moment for us youth in our little group back in the mid-1960s. This was in the days of our mid-teens, too young to go to the pubs but old enough to have a motorcycle licence. All of us, to a lad, were apprentices … most of us were in the building industry … a couple in the Auto industry. Our take-home pay was such that we had to make our own fun, fortunately, petrol was at such a low price (relative to our income) we could go tear-arseing through the hills playing at boy-racers, like our heroes on the Isle of Man TT Circuit.

What has one gained

When a tally done?

Are pelf and possessions

Worthy of time gone?

If a smile is lost

And bright eyes grow dun.

We would meet at a certain cross-road and take off into our favourite “runs”. If it was a short run, we would go through Coromandel Valley / Clarendon … if it was an all-day affair, it would be the Murray Bridge run on what is now the “old road”, through Mt Barker, Nairne, Kanmantoo / Callington. With long straight stretches where you could unwind the bikes to see how fast they would go. On the winding roads, we’d make a single file, snaking through the corners on what was understood as; “The Right Line”, after a short film of the era that featured a racing bike on a circuit, with the camera fixed to the front and it took you through the “line” most suited to the fastest speed in the corners … I believe the bike was a Manx Norton … I remember the throaty big-piston sound that they had … a thrilling ride … then!

Sometimes, on those long straight lengths of road we would ride side by side and exchange chatter, my Japanese two-stroke a higher pitch than Ron Parker’s BSA or Russel Hamby’s Triumph … those British bikes had a certain smell of hot oil and a distinctive hum of chain driven gears … those Brits loved chains! … But I loved that smell of burning oil … it also was prevalent on the old steam trains, a smell of steam and oil would sometimes shisssh out from the front drive of the train as you walked past … shishhhwhoosh! … and there was that smell.

So I am now clasped in a hold,

I cannot stay young,

Dare not grow old.

But cannot stop feeling

What my heart be told.

Was life,

And all its promises,

But a Judas kiss!

This idyll went on for many years in my youth, work was there, a sense of permanence was there, routine was in place and the reward of the inviolate weekend to relax permeated through the whole of society. Mums and dads were at home, doing things in the garden or the house, dinner, mundane as it sometimes was, was always there. Kids were climbing trees or running over paddocks and we teens were going to the beach or the pictures watching banal American “teen-flicks” with Annette Funnicello, Gidget, Eric Von Zipper and a host of rhinestone cowboys and other ghastly indoctrination pieces. We were being shown “the good life”, the “American Dream”, like when television came along and we got “My Three Sons” or “Leave It To Beaver”, ”Dysneyland” … then those series of “Crime doesn’t pay” gumshoe-detective genre I believe was in the mix also. One is inclined now, with the wisdom of age, to ask; “What were the adults thinking!?”

But now, we do know just what “they” were thinking.

They were showing us “The Contract”. An unwritten agreement that “all this” could be yours if you stick to the line and the terms of the contract and just do as you are directed. It was the age of wall to wall Conservative Liberal Governments … Federal, State, Local, one great big broad church of conservatism with a capital “C”. The endless long-weekend with work aplenty, radio, TV, the flicks, sun, surf and an endless horizon that seemed as if it could have gone on forever … an endless; ”Come Saturday Morning” … and it wasn’t us workers who broke the contract.

Bring me no roses

Bring me no roses, on this sad day.

No fancy words, no bright eulogy, pray.

Bring nothing but your tears,

Your regrets and fears … for what has gone awry,

And what is now come into play.

My people are dead, their works repealed,

Their strikes, their rights, their hard-won wages reviled.

Their lives of toil and camaraderie forgot,

Traded away as an auctioned lot,

Along with their “crude and clumsy jot”.

Their fumbling demands for rights at work,

Dismissed by “class-less” finishing-schooled jerks,

With soft, crème’d hands and a tongue that is forked.

No .. bring me no roses on this, such a day,

For I am still weeping for my lost comrades ..

Give flowers to the “pretty people” as they go about their play,

The soft, sweet scent will hide the stench as they betray.

I was apprenticed to a builder who held a major contract with the then Housing Trust, and he ran one of those old family businesses, a Latvian whom I now suspect of being one of those Nazi collaborators in WW2. I worked in the joinery / machine shop. I was in my third year of the apprenticeship and I was keen to extend my carpentry knowledge with a stint on the job with roofing and wall structures. I asked if I could leave the joinery shop and go on the job.

I was told; no, as there was only sub-contractors on the job, not company employees.

I then asked if I could be assigned with one of these subbies so I could learn more about carpentry. I was told no, and that was the end of it … I was to stay in the shop.

I then started to wonder how this system worked … Why were there so many apprentices in proportion to tradie joiners? … Were these “joiners” really tradesmen or just bench-hands? I soon worked out that not only were the workers there not tradesmen, but that there were more apprentices as that was the cheapest labour … and when I queried both the “apprenticeship commission” and my union on the situation, I was told to shut-up and not to make trouble.

Our Father

That meager kitchen light

Cut his reflection on the glass.

He looks … the collar of his overcoat tugs,

A fumbling with the latch.

Another dawn interminably,

The workplace calls him down.

The trains, the jostle, the silent journeys

Through winter’s cutting edge.

Though visible within my memory,

No touch, no talk, no sound,

But an awkward gentle smiling,

That baleful knotted frown.

The evening family rosary;

Pray God maintain our health.

HIS prayers I’d say were directed

To stay the creeping stealth

Of years, that cut a swathe

Through the patience of the man,

The blocks, the bricks, the working tools

Raised welts of callouses on his hands.

When the cup of love went empty,

Would do to fill it up with wine.

He drank to forget the future,

He drank for Auld Lang Syne!

The weakness was his, they tell us;

The drink, the swearing, the hand

That struck us fiercely stinging …

But I see the courage in the man.

And though his “achievements” were empty,

And poverty enriched our band,

I’d do worse than esteem his persistence,

Nor prefer I memories of “better” men.

So there it was; the perfect fool’s paradise … The factory filled with cheap labour churning out a product for a conservative govt’ being run by a conservative opportunist with the permission of conservative govt’ authority overseen by a conservative / R-wing union … As long as the status quo was maintained, all would be sweet; Work would come in, wages would go out, “The Real McCoy’s” (with Walter Brennan) or “Rawhide” (with Ward Bond and Clint Eastwood) would keep repeating and every weekend would be another; “Come Saturday Morning.”

But the bastards got greedy, they got away with the shit wages and conditions for so long, they saw it as their privilege, so that when the workers did finally get some unions with balls like the BLF and did kick up about it, they got heavy and then the shit really hit the fan! It was called Vietnam and protest songs and freedom!

Time for a bit of protest poetry!

A Gap in the Line

He touched the medals tenderly, the ribbon colours sublime,

The case of burnished velvet, the soft attractive shine,

He touched the medals tenderly, an Uncle’s Great War “shrine.”

Posthumously given for courage, in “closing a gap in the line.”

In closing a gap in the line he died, in mud, gore and slime.

It was for these tokens of honour, he marched, to fill a gap in the line.

With Union men, many of them with those medals he’d proudly stride.

Union men, many of them and a title his Uncle wore with pride.

Himself, a Wharfie, born and bred, right down the family line,

His Uncle too, t’was always said, could lump a hundred-weight a time,

Bagged sugar, sticky with sweat, soaking wet, at eighty tons an hour,

The men would lug from those cargo holds with no break for tucker.

In the Summer strike of ’98 they marched for conditions fair,

When “Patrick” crawled to Howard’s Government to send the coppers there.

Along with the Farmer mercenaries trained by the covert; “Sandline,”

They sought to break the strikers … to break through a gap in the line.

In the middle of the night they sent in the thugs, the scabs and the dogs,

It was hard to tell which was which among the slavering, crawling hogs.

And deals were made and rights were trade between the ruling class,

That left the strikers on their own to hold the line tight to the last.

Howard set the dogs on the men and the women and children in kind,

Reith, the crawling bastard, banked the scabs through a mercenary company; “Sandline,”

And the journalist sucks and the Murdoch hacks lent their honour to that shameful crew,

And wrote of “overpaid wharfie bludgers” when of sweat and blood they never knew.

And he saw the hate in the breaker’s eyes, he saw that hate confined,

So clasping tight, holding the next striker’s arms with all his might,

He called and bellowed fit to wake in fright: ”Hold boys, Hold!”

“Hold my bastard boys! … We’ll not let them force a gap in the line!”

There comes a time in everyone’s heart, where honour and justice combine,

We must choose which side we’re marching on … what a sense of honour defines.

Would his uncle have him march for nought, but just a place in a line,

Or should he honour best his uncle’s pride with his class aligned.

Today he touches those medals tenderly, with a habit long refined,

But he’ll not march on Anzac Day … not while those Tory scabs declaim,

No … there’ll be a space where he held his place with the others marching time,

And owed in respect for his Uncle’s indebt’ … they’ll now see clearly outlined,

That in the place of his marching space … there’ll be a gap in the line.

There’ll be a gap in the line my fellows … there’ll be a gap in the line.

Owed in respect to an Uncle’s indebt’…Today there’s a gap in the line.

Now it’s time to make for some sleep, lest we wake the souls of the dead with our songs … So it’s goodnight and goodbye from me to thee …

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The Burden of the Beasts of Civilisation

Marcus Cato the Elder: “Di Agricultura” … on the care of beasts of the fields:

“For these are your beasts of the fields, look to them carefully. Litter the cattle and flocks carefully, and see that their hoofs are kept clean. Guard against the scab in flocks and herds; it is usually caused by under-feeding and exposure to wet weather. See that you carry out all farm operations betimes, for this is the way with farming: if you are late in doing one thing you will be late in doing everything. If bedding runs short, gather oak leaves and use them for bedding down sheep and cattle.”

“But mark carefully, these are yet but beasts of the fields, certainly they are to be cared for as any animal deserves. Take care that they are rightfully contained within their paddocks and pens so they do no damage by brute force and actions to your other crops and gardens. Their freedom to wander must be curtailed and their habits contained to do only that as you see fit and proper to good farm management.”

Was having a debate on Twitter with a like Leftie but with differing opinions about the tactics of ‘attack politics.’ … Their notion of NOT attacking the political Leader but rather debating the policies of the party, I disputed on the grounds that in politics … both ancient and modern, the personality of the Leader … (In this instance; Morrison at the NRL game) was direct representation of the politics of the party … and the portrayal of Morrison as the ‘daggy-dad’ … or the cutsey ‘Scomo’ and the other portrayals of sports enthusiast, family man etc, are but promotional icons used by the party machine to give credibility and validity from image to application of policy.

Hence, if we rewind back a couple of Liberal Party PMs, we have the ‘Man of Steel’ (Howard), the ‘Conservative Warrior’ (Abbott) and the ‘Cautious Man at the Tiller’ (Turnbull) … on to this now useless bum in situ … and with the appellation of the nickname came appropriate policies … I need not spell them out, you saw them … cruel, vicious, lying, devious and blundering incompetence … all the usual actions that one has grown to expect from a LNP govt’ … and yet they keep getting voted back in … go figure … well, actually, it’s not rocket science, it’s “personality politics” … aka; ‘Popularism.’

But in truth, those above LNP Prime Ministers and their cabinets were/are but beasts of the fields … animals that are used by covert masters who ‘work’ them under a yoke of obligation and dedication … That they owe their ‘success’ to the rabid onslaught of the MSM in both outrageous promotion on one part and vicious denigration of Labor on the other is common knowledge and common practice, with the leaders of either party getting the best or the worst of printed/broadcast copy laid before the feet of a gullible public … the cruellest of slighting or outright accusation saved for those who can display the slightest degree of political honesty or care for the most vulnerable.

These beasts of the field of politics gave carte blanche to Howard when he condemned the Siev X passengers of over 300 mainly women and children to death by drowning at sea … allowing him the excuse that he was “protecting our borders” … indeed, I have heard some stupid members of the general public, his supporters, giving credence to such a circumspect excuse by claiming that at least it will deter ‘others’ from trying to “invade” the country … death by slow hanging would, in my opinion, be sufficient for such people to dissuade them from being so dismissive of innocent lives!

And this is where personality politics has brought us … to the perceived “right” of the incumbent and his lieutenants to lay down the most egregious policies that bludgeon and brutalise those citizens who reside or seek life in this once … I repeat for the more obtuse … ONCE (well .. at least for Whites) brilliant nation, a life worth living … that now such policies is swiftly making life hardly worth living.

I recently was at table with several other retirees who vehemently repeated the memes and slogans of this LNP sickness with all the confidence and encouragement of aggressive permitted social approval that; “Homelessness was a life-style choice. The use of guns to shoot-to-kill mentally disturbed citizens was justified as “if you break the law then you must take the consequences” … and finally (but certainly not the last!); “The unemployed aren’t really looking for work as there are jobs ‘out there’ for the taking” … most of these claims they put forward with the rider that they knew them to be true “because they were told by, saw it themselves ‘every day’ or had a cousin who ‘worked in the dept’ ‘ and knew for a fact … ” but in reality and with scant investigation revealed the shadowy world of Sky News/After Dark to be their main validation/source.

This is why it can be futile to “debate the policy facts”, as the voting public rarely does … they vote on emotive hunches … the most vacuous knowledge … no study of history ever crosses their remote control, save some commercial channel docco’ of the most facile nature … there is no history, no lesson, no intellect, no depth of reason, no logic and certainly no brainpower input … there is only ‘brute force and ignorance’ … and such ‘fossilised knowledge’ can only be counteracted by a greater defence of containment and corralling … like you would do to hold and seize any runaway stock … and beast of the fields.

There is only ONE way to contain the right-wing of politics, either they are brought to heel with sound and secure “at arm’s length” authorities to check and control their natural inclination to corrupt and steal governance, or they have to be brought under the work-boot of accusation and charge of criminal actions by that “arm’s length” authority and taken to a place of containment and severe retraining …

”for these are yet but beasts of the fields, certainly they are to be cared for as any animal deserves.Take care that they are rightfully contained within their paddocks and pens so they do no damage by brute force and actions to your other crops and gardens. Their freedom to wander must be curtailed and their habits contained to do only that as you see fit and proper to good farm management.”

We currently have the in-situ remnants of civilisation that can and ought to administer for the benefit of all the citizens under duty of care of The State … but we are in grave danger of losing control of that civilisation to a menagerie of beasts and animals passing as human form that will trample and crush those most sensitive environmental gardens that sustain and replenish our very capacity to survive as both a civilisation and a species … it is becoming our sovereign duty to attack … not with lame words, but rather with decisive action, those most determined to destroy our society and our country … and by consequence; our very lives!

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Bedtime Stories #4

Those Roman Women!

“An equally characteristic feature of this period was the emancipation of women. In an economic point of view the women had long since made themselves independent; in the present epoch we even meet with solicitors acting specially for women, who officiously lend their aid to solitary rich ladies in the management of their property and their lawsuits, make an impression on them by their knowledge of business and law, and thereby procure for themselves ampler perquisites and legacies than other loungers on the exchange.” (Quoted from “History of Rome”; Theodor Mommsen)

Ode to Women’s Beauty

Speechless and numb, I gazed on her beauty there,

Her limbs, her hands, her soft flowing hair.

Her voice the whisper of an angel’s prayer …

SHE … roamed her eyes over the banquet fair,

The roasts, the salads, the fruits so rare,

And of my adoration, just so … au contraire.

“There is so much beauty before us here ,

It is so hard to decide … you tell me, my dear,” …

She said …

”What to you is the most desirous fare?”

“But it was not merely from the economic guardianship of father or husband that women felt themselves emancipated. Love-intrigues of all sorts were constantly in progress. The ballet-dancers (-mimae-) were quite a match for those of the present day in the variety of their pursuits and the skill with which they followed them out; their primadonnas, Cytheris (Volumnia Cytheris was an Ancient Roman actress and mimae dancer) and the like, populate even the pages of history.

“But their, as it were, licensed trade was very materially injured by the free art of the ladies of aristocratic circles. Liaisons in the first houses had become so frequent, that only a scandal altogether exceptional could make them the subject of special talk; a judicial interference seemed now almost ridiculous. An unparalleled scandal, such as Publius Clodius produced in 693 at the women’s festival in the house of the Pontifex Maximus (Julius Caesar at that time … hence his divorce from his wife, claiming that now famous line; “Ceasar’s wife must be above even suspicion”), although a thousand times worse than the occurrences which fifty years before had led to a series of capital sentences, passed almost without investigation and wholly without punishment.” (Quoted from “History of Rome”; Theodor Mommsen)

The Twist of the Knife

“ ‘Twas the cruel hand of fate,” some will attest,

“Plain bad luck … had to give it best”.

No plot nor plan nor Nemesis,

That loss of life, fortune … no redress.

There was that time for just the smile,

Luck, sweet mistress, walk a mile,

Friends, well wishes, oh wilful guile,

Was jealous intent? or blunt revile!

Chance will intervene yet awhile,

To arm the hand, repay the slight,

Fate; cruel mistress will plunge the knife,

Yes … Fate’s deft hand … would repay it best,

But truly I say; ” ‘tis the twisting of the blade,

Gives most pleasure …

Above ALL the rest.”

“The watering-place season — in April, when political business was suspended and the world of quality congregated in Baiae and Puteoli (Naples) — derived its chief charm from the relations licit and illicit which, along with music and song and elegant breakfasts on board or on shore, enlivened the gondola voyages. There the ladies held absolute sway; but they were by no means content with this domain which rightfully belonged to them; they also acted as politicians, appeared in party conferences, and took part with their money and their intrigues in the wild coterie-doings of the time.

Any one who beheld these female statesmen performing on the stage of Scipio and Cato and saw at their side the young fop — as with smooth chin, delicate voice, and mincing gait, with headdress and neckerchiefs, frilled robe, and women’s sandals he copied the loose courtesan — might well have a horror of the unnatural world, in which the sexes seemed as though they wished to change parts.” (Quoted from “History of Rome”; Theodor Mommsen)

A Cold, Cruel Dream

I dreamt she’d died, unsatisfied …

And our children asked me to attend the rite.

And though divorced these many years,

Would I please to view her in state?

Now that, is not something I’d normally do,

The plastic presentation of death I eschew.

But curiosity urged me abide,

To view that woman I’ve many years evade.

As I gazed on the broad, Irish face,

That had lied and cheated from my embrace,

I blanched at the look of innocence there,

Rose blossoms dappling her now grey hair.

As if to deny to me by this final sight ,

The justice for many years that was my right.

Forgiveness not what I sought,

But rather admission for the damage wrought.

Upon marriage, relationship and our children begot.

But now, in the silence of this final place,

No word from those lips so bitter she’d trace,

No reason, no ’scuse, no thought of disgrace.

Just an emptiness, as per her usual escape.

Nothing … save one long-stemmed rose strategically placed,

HER request, no doubt … sensitive to an image she’d like embraced,

Always keen to leave an impression entranced …

Enough!

I turned to go … then … in a moment inspired ,

I took that rose there so astutely attired,

Broke off part of the stem … and did place

The thorny stalk, it’s vicious spikes,

Across those tight, pressed lips now forever chaste.

“What ideas as to divorce prevailed in the circles of the aristocracy may be discernedin the conduct of their best and most moral hero Marcus Cato, who did not hesitate to separate from his wife at the request of a friend desirous to marry her, and as little scrupled on the death of this friend to marry the same wife a second time. Celibacy and childlessness became more and more common, especially among the upper classes.  While among these marriage had for long been regarded as a burden which people took upon them at the best in the public interest, we now encounter even in Cato and those who shared Cato’s sentiments the maxim to which Polybius a century before traced the decay of Hellas, that it is the duty of a citizen to keep great wealth together and therefore not to beget too many children. Where were the times, when the designation “children-producer” (-proletarius-) had been a term of honour for the Roman?” (Quoted from “History of Rome”; Theodor Mommsen)

Loss

Into the fire she did cast,

Letter by letter until the last.

Her stern face, flame-lit aglow,

No pity nor sentiment did it show.

No regret, nor heartfelt loss,

As letter by letter she did toss.

Until the last in hesitant hold,

One short sentence writ in bold,

One final line that caught her eye,

And though the rest she did despise,

That one broken promise with love’s death,

Gave pause for memory’s catch of breath,

Forgotten above this, all the rest;

“Forever my Love, my love, to you,

I do bequeath.”

Time now, my little chickadees to sign off on both Roman Women and the day … night-night, my little ones …

Joni Mitchell … “The Circle Game” …

 

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Bedtime Stories #3

Got the old shack up for sale … years ago, back in around 1980 … we (the family / brother, sister and the old folks) chipped in a few hundred quid each and bought this block of land on the peninsula and I built a holiday shack there … sure an it was built on the dirt cheap, out of bits of sticky-tape and bent wire sort of, but it was great for the kids to get away from the city and we’d go fishing, crabbing, that sort of thing …

You’d get there and the first thing is you’d run to claim a bed and throw your clobber in one of the two big rooms with four beds in each, grab a crab-rake or fishing rod from the corner and make for the beach … the shack … and it really was a shack … was just to flop in for the night … cook the tucker in and watch the fire burn and crackle before you hit the sack … it was effing great when the kids were growing up ..

You’d go for a walk in the calm, balmy evenings down to show your body to the ocean … all was well there when on holiday …

A Summer Evening Walk

A melodious whistle serenades the Summer evening air,

A gentler light falls tonight upon the buildings where

I walk a solitary walk down the empty street,

In company to the tune I whistle, my foot falls to the beat.

And I murmur simple flattery to the prism of the sky,

It’s strata’d colours ascending in layered symmetry.

My eye is caught by a flutter of geraniums upon a wall,

A host of colour trembling, a sight to be enthralled!

A woman appears, a laughing toss of golden, long-tressed hair,

Her laughter balanced the moment caught,

… I stop whistling to admire.

You know … treasures can be stolen from life’s relentless drudge,

That would sweep our eyes, our ears, our heart ever over its fidgeting edge.

Then … I continue my melodious whistle serenading the evening Summer air,

A gentler light … I feel … falls tonight,

Upon these buildings here.

But now, the old shack is up for sale, I am getting too old to maintain it … and after the recent hernia operation ( I’ll tell you about it someday!) … it’s all getting a bit too much for me … The kids have grown up into Gen Y adults … and are no longer interested in “crab island” or “cockle cove” or “starfish rock” … the shallow flats are “smelly” now … and just who wants to gut and clean their own fish anymore? … indeed … who wants to even go fishing anymore … and the old place has that “old smell” and look … it never was pretty … the old shack … not like the brand-spanking new McMansions popping up all around the little enclave … and NO-WAY will anyone be using the “out-the-back” dunny … even if it is a flush toilet … the spiders? the dark!? And the rainwater in the old tank … is it safe to drink? … doesn’t everyone nowadays have an ensuite?

And those retirees who came here to getaway from the city … and brought the city expectations with them, expect there to be ; services, no fire risk … and that grey-water run-off from the kitchen and the shower that goes under the trees to keep them watered in the long hot summers … is that a health risk, is it legal? … and if there is a bush fire, those trees around your shack could “catch on fire and send it onto my house … I’m going to ring the council” … But the birds, the animals, you protest … the delicate native lilies and such? … Poison the lot … not a blade of grass … not a hint of verdant cover shall tarnish the scoria and gravel expanse ..

The Ant

The ant, in silence, goes about

It’s ordered business,

It builds nests,

And it knows.

The worm, in depths of dark, damp Earth,

Tunnels and turns,

In silence,

And it knows.

Humanity, goes about its intent,

With all the noise and rancour

Of accrued wisdom,

But it knows not.

It’s the school holidays … and there are no kids fishing … not even an adult walking the beach … nor at the wharf at Pt. Vincent … no kids, no people even to watch the crayfish boat sidle up to the wharf and unload it’s catch … not a curious soul … what has happened … is this a kind of Brave New World of hideaway people … is there no wonder in nature anymore? … no cry of children in a discovery of delight … Do not the parents delight in showing and explaining even with a touch of bullshit those strange shells and twists of sea-worm casings … to tell lurid tales of the goings on there just around the next cliff of “smugglers cove” … of dark nights and pirates and booty and good lord knows what else to see the wide-eyed wonder in their eyes as they fall to sleep snuggled in your lap by the fire in the old shack …

The Little Things

Bodkins and bobbins and little things you need,

Hatpins and napkin rings or whatever you please.

Boxed and tied with ribbons and bows,

Tho’ whatever for these days, God only knows.

For that world has passed such need to sew,

Socks and pinafores, aprons … ricrac in rows.

“Where the remote!?” is now the cry ..

“Where the laptop? … Where the phone named “i”?

The day is gone where a passage of quiet,

Would presage not unease, but a healthy diet

Of patience … music or meditation on life,

And wine, friend or lover in company with thy,

Neither gone nor forgotten from the sight of eye,

Ever our company … ever our thoughts occupy.

The shack is up for sale now … and I was there to cut the grass and tidy the place up a tad so it’ll look good … But really, it is only being sold for land-value … to be honest … no-one wants a shack anymore … you see … everyone now has an ensuite … the kids their ipads or smart-phones … But you know, as we were walking on the cliff-top road down to the jetty there … for just a moment … be it the wind-blown smell of the mallee trees in flower, or the cry of a gull surfing the air … for just that one short inhale of breath, I was back in that time with the kids and our arms full of fishing gear and buckets and a crab-net and we were all laughing and heading to the jetty and my little boy was saying that he bet he will catch a big, big squid … for just that one short moment …

Time has stolen the years from me , and I could bloody well weep.

The Final Fall of Delphi

“Tell the king …
The fair wrought hall is fallen,
No more hut, nor prophetic laurel,

Its waters murmur, sigh and sorrow,
The spring of eloquence is quenched … ”

Tell the folk:
Delphi; the house of Apollo is fallen.
The Oracle speaks it’s last,
In stuttering tongue, before dusk,
And cometh now an age of gilded lust.

Tell the people:
The Gods are gone, their whispered scent
From spring and bough wisdom sent
Is barren now … rubble strewn,
Where once was beauty marble hewn.

Tell them all:
The temple walls are forlorn and broken!
The paths of herb and steps awry,
Beast debased, their perfumes descry,
Man’s heart’s desire … now a banker’s token.

Yes! … Go! … Tell the Kings of the world :
Of the thousands who have homaged Delphi,
Now … only two of us stand on the Sibylline Rock
… in the pouring rain …
Two stand; the merchant and the poet …
… but only one of us is crying.

But it’s no use crying over spilt milk … as they say .. and anyway, it’s getting late and this old bloke needs his beauty sleep now more than ever … so It’s goodnight from me … Carly Simon: “That’s the way I always heard it should be.”

 

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