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

The Resurrection of Herbert Griegs

I have a war story … well, not actually about war itself, but about how it broke and remade a life … It is a true story and was told to me by Darcy C; an old farmer who lived on the farm next to us (in my first marriage) in the hills. He was one of those generational farmers whose family had been in the district since its inception. A dry old stick who knew everything that went on in the district, he was taken to telling a yarn or two when he had nothing else to do or it was raining … I was always a keen listener.

Of course, Darcy told me the main parts of the incident and I picked up bits and pieces elsewhere in the district … You have to be a bit canny when making inquiries of this nature … the locals don’t like giving anything away … it’s a bit like fly-fishing for trout you have to know how to search the shadows.

It went like this:

The Resurrection of Herbert Griegs

“Pray for me my sweet,

Lest I forget to praise myself,

For God is a distant star … ”

The small casement window of the dining room of the old house lay slightly ajar so that the gentle afternoon breeze just lifted the cotton lace edged curtain and it brushed against the glass fronted china cabinet next to the window. A crystal-glass wind chime tinkled sweetly as the breeze chinked its pieces together making little pin-pricks of sound. On top of the cabinet stood three objects, two of which were framed photographs and one ceramic figurine of a young lady with a basket of flowers over her left arm. One of the photos in a gilt-edged frame showed a young snapshot of the just recently deceased Herbert Griegs with his then new bride; Mary-Ann. Herbert is dressed in his army uniform. They both appear very, very happy. The other photo is of a young family, about the same age as Herbert and Mary-Ann. There is also a small child in the photograph. The man is also in a uniform, but it is the uniform of the Fascist army of Italy. The young family too, appear very happy. All these people, with the exception, perhaps, of the child are now deceased. Herbert and the wife of the Italian soldier died of old age. Mary-Ann and the Italian soldier died in the Second World War.

Here is their story:

Herbert Griegs and Mary-Ann were married in the local church at the small country town where they were raised and intended to live after the war. They did not doubt that Herbert would return from the war, it just seemed impossible that he would not. There was so much life ahead, the promise of a fine full life on the farm.

Herbert was already in the army when they married. He had joined up some months before so he had finished his basic training and was on leave. He expected to be posted to barracks in the eastern states awaiting orders to go overseas to active service. They had been married a week and three days when Herbert’s orders came through. He kissed his new wife goodbye reluctantly and travelled with a large number of soldiers away to New South Wales.

In the days of the Second World War, in many country places in Australia, soldiers were billeted on farms in the countryside. If there was a shearing shed on the property, the army would staff it with a cook and kitchen helpers and put a hundred or so soldiers there under canvas. Such an event happened at Mary-Ann and Herbert’s farm, two or three months after Herbert had been shipped off to New South Wales. Soldiers from all parts of the state were camped there.

This was a very unsettling time for Mary-Ann, for she missed her husband terribly, and in the course of fate, whether it was similarity in looks, sympathy toward their fate or simply the uniform, Mary-Ann one day was seduced by one of the soldiers. Why? Well, who knows, as mentioned before, it could have been for a number of reasons or desires but for whatever reason she did, Mary-Ann was the most shocked, and fell to despair when she found she was pregnant to the soldier who had by now long gone away.

Mary-Ann became so desperate of the situation, that she somehow, someway found the address of a place in the city that would, for a price, do abortions. Mary-Ann paid the money and was attended by the anonymous people. But the operation was a failure. she hemorrhaged badly and it couldn’t be stopped. She died in the room of a house in the back-street of the inner-city. During the night her body was re-moved and left propped against a tree in one of the parklands that surround the city.

Herbert received the news with horror and disbelief. Impossible! How could she be dead, she was alive and healthy six months ago, she was smiling still in his memory, she was laughing just out of reach on the slopes of the field-daisy covered hills behind their farm-house when he chased her up the slopes and laughing, pulled her down on the yellow and green carpet and there amongst the miles and miles of open countryside under a soft sky they made love.

“No! It couldn’t be so, No!”

The letter from his brother didn’t tell of the circumstances of Mary-Ann’s death, and he didn’t find out till he returned home for the funeral on leave of compassion. But still he was so shocked that even the sordid details didn’t seem to sink in. How? How? he kept asking himself and he would sit for hours at his brothers’ kitchen table and sometimes look as if he were about to ask a question but then would close his mouth in silence and look deeply into his cup of tea. He mechanically went through the ritual of the funeral and stumbled from the graveside in silence. It was in silence also that he re-turned to the barracks in the East to be shipped off overseas to the war in Africa.

On the crossing to the front he searched again and again through all the details in his mind that he knew of the tragedy. He started to hate Mary-Ann. He stood her before him in daydreams and called her “whore”, “betrayer” and any other names that he thought he could hurt her memory with, but in the end of it all he called her “love” and wept for the sadness of it all.

Then he started to hate the soldier who had seduced her. He looked around at the noisy men about him and tried in his heart to pick the types that would seduce “a lonely sympathetic woman.” Several times he fought fights with braggarts who told lurid tales of their “conquests” before they left home. He had to be dragged off one fight before he killed the man. Fortunately none of these fights reached the ears of the high ranking officers, it was just the “locking of horns” amongst the men, the release of tension before the approaching theatre of war.

The first action Herbert’s battalion was to see was the assault on Bardia in Libya. By now Herbert’s hatred was directed toward the enemy out front and there was no more eager soul for battle in the battalion. He was in a state of silent desperation. He silently nurtured the philosophy of “kill or be killed”, it didn’t matter to him at all. What was there home now? What was there here? Who was he fighting for? It just didn’t seem to matter anymore. He just wanted to throw himself into the teeth of war with a seething vengeance! He wanted to kill, if only himself, he wanted to kill!

At zero hour the artillery barrage began. Herbert was humming and whistling nervously. Then the barrage lifted and the first wave of infantry attacked behind the engineers who blew the wire with “bangalore torpedoes”. Herbert was rushing, running into the acrid fumes amid the fires and shooting. He shot at a few fast moving shadowy figures near a guard post. The horizon jumped and jerked with the flashes from the Italian artillery. He ran past a truck destroyed by their own barrage, wild orange flames swept around the cabin of the truck from the burning tyres, the flames lashed and licked at the metal like the wet tongue of a huge animal. His temper was almost uncontrollable as he rounded the corner of supply building of the post. An Italian soldier suddenly stepped out of a doorway just ahead of him with his hands on the verge of raising in surrender, he didn’t get the chance. Herbert shot at point blank range and the soldier fell in front of him. He rushed up and plunged his bayoneted rifle into the man’s chest. The soldier gasped. “Ah Dio Boia!, Dio Boia!” he cried and Herbert too yelled out amid the wild weird racket of battle all around him, it seemed as if a demon had escaped from the depths of his soul and he cried out for the release of it all while the filthy smoke from the burning machinery engulfed the entire battle scene and he fell to his knees beside the body of the dying soldier. Herbert felt his chest constricted and his breath laboured in short gasps as he knelt there with his hand on the Italian soldier’s chest.

He became aware of some words spoken near his ear. It was the dying soldier. At first Herbert was shocked, open mouthed, he lifted his rifle to strike the soldier again till he realized the man was no threat and that he was saying over and over again; “Non e colpa tua, non e colpa tua.” The soldiers hand moved slowly, falteringly up to his chest pocket, then quivering fell to his side. He was dead.

Herbert jumped to his feet and stood staring down at the first man he had killed, he was about to rush off when he was drawn, compulsively to reach into the dead soldier’s breast pocket. He did this quickly as if repulsed at the thought that he could be looting a dead body. He quickly put his hand in and pulled out a leather folder. He thrust it quickly into his own pocket and scrambled off to the battle further ahead in the mist of dawn and fire.

Herbert did survive the war and he did go back to the farm amongst the gently sloping hills of the hinterland. But he did not go to the grave of his wife in the grounds of the little church on the edge of the town. He could not face her name on a tombstone and he could not say her name for a long, long time.

His farm was suffering from lack of care and he himself moved about under an oppressive cloud of lethargy and listlessness till his friends and neighbours all felt it was only a matter of time till he broke down or cracked up. Herbert could feel himself being slowly drowned by his despair and was aware that he would have to do something to get his life back on track soon or he would go under. A friend of his from the district who had gone to the African war with him had returned and gone into a ministry with the church. Herbert drove to the city one day to speak with him of a certain matter that was troubling him. He was shown to the minister’s room and left to knock on the door.

“Come in” a voice called from inside. “Why hello, Herb!” The minister smiled and rose from his chair

“Here, come over here and sit down … cup of tea? good, good.” … He poured a cup from a pot. “ … just had one myself … I’m afraid this isn’t the army now … nothing stronger … ” and he laughed.

“Ta, thanks, Brian … no, it’ll do fine.” Herbert spoke quietly.

After the cup of tea was placed in front of him Herbert started to sugar and stir the drink with slow solemnity. The minister settled back into his chair and gazed quizzically at his old friend.

“You don’t look too cheerful, Herb,” he spoke.

“Well, no, no, I’m not much fun to be with these days.”

“Is it the memories of the war?” The minister asked.

“That … and Mary-Ann,” Herb answered.

“Hmm, I think I can sense that … but what precisely is the trouble with Mary-Ann?” The minister pried.

“I haven’t been able to go to her grave since I’ve been back,” Herbert spoke softly, a silence fell between them.

“You remember Bardia?”

“Do I?” The minister replied, “scared the pants off me.” He snorted “Glad it’s gone … why?”

“Brian … ” began Herbert “Brian … I killed a man there … ”

The minister squinted his eyes a little, there was something more in this, he was feeling, he replied with a stock answer:

“Well … we all killed there … many of our side were killed also.”

“No.” Herbert spoke slowly and carefully … ” I murdered a man there … an Italian soldier … he was about to surrender, I see that now, but … but I was full of hate, full of Mary-Ann … I didn’t give him a chance … I killed him out of my own hatred … I killed a man … ” Herbert dropped his head in shame.

The minister raised his eyebrows at the problem he saw before him, but then, he was thinking, who didn’t kill in hate of some kind, did people kill for kindness? … we were all full of hatred when we went there, otherwise we’d have stayed home and raised families! The minister spoke these thoughts and moved to quieten his friend’s fears, and because he spoke with the sincerity and honesty of friend to friend, he could see it sinking in … An inspiration came upon him:

“Have you told this to Mary-Ann?”

“What? But it’s too late now … she’s dead, Brian, dead and gone.”

“Dead maybe, Herbert … but not gone, surely.”

Herbert raised his head to gaze steadily upon his friend.

“Why don’t you go down there Herb, go down and visit the grave? It won’t hurt, and who knows, you may feel some sort of response to your worries … it certainly couldn’t really do any harm.”

It seemed a strange thing to do, to go down and consult the dead. He was a little apprehensive and also a little scared, so clutching a small bouquet of field daisies that he and Mary-Ann had lay in those days so long ago, Herbert walked through the whitened cemetery gates on a grey-clouded, winters day. He stopped before the white marble gravestone that read :

“Mary-Ann Griegs

Loved wife of Herbert Greigs.

Died Oct. 4. 1940.

A Tragedy”

Herbert stood before the grave, feeling lonely, not knowing what to think, what to say. So he just stood with his hands clasped in front with the small bouquet held upside down in his fingers. He thought over the happy days, the early days, the sad days in numbness and the war days in pain. The picture of the dying soldier came into his memory, the man’s life fading from the brutal attack of the bayonet.

“Dio Boia, Dio Boia!” The man had cried, the words now clear in Herbert’s mind. And then the final fatalistic sighing of the dying soldier :

“Non e colpa tua … Non e colpa tua.”

Herbert never could understand what the soldier meant by those words, even when he heard them translated, surely it was HIS fault the soldier died … HE was the one doing the killing! … He repeated the words now to himself and the repetitive tone seemed to bring clarity to his thoughts till suddenly, as if illuminated by light he understood the juxtaposition of their lives, Mary-Ann, the soldier’s, his own, and he suddenly realized why Mary-Ann had risked her life and destroyed the unborn child, her child, for whoever the father, it was still her child. But she destroyed her child and lost her life, not out of self protection, but rather for a greater prize to her … Herbert’s love … she died for love of him …

“Oh God,” he cried at the realisation “oh God! oh God! oh God!” and he fell to his knees in front of the grave and the meaning of the soldiers last words fell into place and he sobbed to same words to his wife:

“It’s not your fault, It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault!” he wept , falling down on his knees with his face clasped in his hands, he wept, and so as his tears were falling to the earth, so was his soul descending down, down, till he felt he could ‘touch’ the soul of his loved … and he now understood; the unborn child she sacrificed to Herbert to save her love and the Italian soldier he sacrificed to Mary-Ann to show his love. “pity the killed, pity the killers, pity us all, God pity us all !” he wept to her … a light rain misted over the small graveyard, beside the church on the edge of the town. The bouquet of daisies had slipped from his hands and lay softly on the flat polished gravestone. It’s yellow and green glowing brightly against the wet, white marble …

Herbert Griegs came back from that time of despair and started farming again. He never married again and spent his years in service to the local community and the church. The wallet he took from the dead soldier that night contained, beside other things, a photograph of a young family: The soldier, his wife and a young child. This photograph he put in a gilded frame matching the one of his own marriage and stood them side by side on top of the china cabinet in the dining room of the farm house. These people are now all gone and soon, but for this, I feel, will be forgotten.

This article was originally published on The Pub.

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Incident on the Bulldog Run

I can see by some of the recent comments that there are those who are getting a bit “nervy” … tempers are being tested and in some, found wanting … so please, if it can be of assistance in these testing times, perhaps you can let ol’ Uncle Joe tell you a tale or two to settle the nerves … after all, we may be here for some time.

Now … where were we?

If you turn off the main “Halfway House Road” there about seven mile out of the town, there onto a dirt, bush track; “The Bulldog Run” and go a few miles down that track, you’ll see away there off the side in the mallee scrub; Rhidoni’s old place … a small cottage built in that old pioneer style of four rooms with a lean-to on the back and the old “bucket ‘n’ chuck-it” dunny out the back yard.

The Hocking family had made this cottage their home … for the near future .. a future fraught with the uncertainty of shifting fortune and work … Not that Dick Hocking was such a determined seeker of full-time permanent employment … nor was his wife Alice that keen to become a part of any township community … herself having escaped from a trapped, middle-class life back in civil-war torn Ireland, but still retaining enough of that class’s snobbery to scorn small-town society.

No … the bush suited them just fine and so they sought out these cheap-rental, isolated cottages where scrutiny and regulation was never a problem.

So in consequence, Dick and Alice Hocking and their children stayed in many old pioneer huts out in the deep mallee back in the pre-war years … Because of their isolated positions, far from the nearest town, these huts and settler’s cottages could be rented much cheaper … and with them never being flush of funds at the best of times …

Such run-down old pioneers huts, part stone construct, part pug ‘n’ pine were the usual homes on such tracks as “The Sleeper Track” … named after the cutting of railway sleepers … ”The Seven Cross-roads” or as it is locally known; “The Seven Sisters Junction” … or in the case I am about to tell of: “The Bulldog Run” … locally shortened to just “The Bulldog” … not named solely on account of that particular breed of dog, but because of the wilds of country there … as in; “That’s wild country out there … real bulldog country … ”

It was at Rhidoni’s old place … out in the sticks there just a bit off from The Bulldog … The Hockings lived there a while with three of their children … there were five kids, but the eldest girl had gone to work on one of the river stations as a servant girl and the oldest boy had got work at the local post office in the town of Sedan and was away for most weekends … that left the two early teenage girls and the youngest boy who was around four or five years old.

The parents went to town one day, taking the youngest boy with them to get supplies, leaving the two girls home with the company of a local youth named Murray also in his late teens, who was courting after the elder girl, Maggie … he was safe … But there were some dodgy characters who made their way to the Murray Mallee to escape the law in the city and there was no better place to “disappear” than in the wilds of the mallee in those days … Such a desperate character came upon the cottage there with the three teenagers alone.

The rough looking man watched the youths play a while, reassuring himself there was no adult about … He then calmly approached them in the front yard.

“Hello, children,” he said, his gaze roaming cautiously about, ”Is mum or dad around?” He asked in an innocuous tone as if he knew the parents … foolishly, Rose, the younger of the three replied that “No … they had gone to the town to get supplies and won’t be back for a while” …

The man nodded, tipped his hat and melted into the bush …

But the teenagers became suspicious of his motives when they spotted him lurking about just out a ways in the scrub … They decided it was better if they went inside when they saw him sneaking up closer to the house …

It was fortunate they did, for no sooner than they had gone inside than they heard him cautiously try the door handle … the three children silently stared in fear as the handle of the door moved up and down and then could hear the door creaking and see the door being forced upon gently with his shoulder as he tried to get in … Now this is when things got a tad worse! … Rose had a little dog … a poodle she was most fond of and it had been forgotten when they retreated into the house … Rose became distressed when she noticed the dog’s absence and with a shriek, quickly ducked out the back door to retrieve the poodle, much to the panicked cries of Maggie and her boyfriend Murray …

“NO! … Rosie … come back!” But it was too late … they heard her call for the dog and they could hear the man leave the front door and scurry toward the voice of Rose … They heard his rough voice cry:

“YOU … stay there! … ”

Murray opened the front door and called for Rose …

“IN HERE Rosie, the front door!” and she suddenly appeared, little dog in arms and scurried through the front door with the rough man not half a dozen strides behind her! … Murray slammed the door in his face and quickly secured it … the man put his shoulder to the door and crashed it several times, but fortunately it was built of strong, stout rough-cut timber with a cross-bar securing it, so it stood firm against his thrusts … He then went to get the axe there at the wood heap and proceeded to hack at the door … The children were terrified …

Here, the youth; Murray, did the smartest thing he would do in what turned out to be an otherwise mundane life … He went as close to the front door as to be heard by the man outside and in a ‘just too loud’ whisper, said:

“Maggie … go get your dad’s 303 rifle and I’ll shoot the bugger through the door!” …

All went silent, the axe went still and the man seemed to think for a moment and then abandoned his intended deed and slunk away quickly into the bush … Of course, there was no rifle, it was just a clever bluff … and it worked … The police who later came and searched for the man found him and reported to the parents that he was a wanted rapist from the city …

Lucky children indeed …

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Irresistable Song

Many years ago, I was invited by a close friend to come to Perth to do some major renovations to his house … a kind of “carpenter’s holiday”. There, I met the lady about which this story was written. I got to learn about a kind of “way of life” for seemingly many single parents there … ie; the weekend love-tourists commuting between Fremantle and Perth. This was in the days before mobile phones and internet dating. It was a sad replacement for the permanent relationship. I would think it even was then or perhaps is now, a less than happy substitute for loneliness.

It went like this:

Irresistible Song

Memories are an irresistible song; chained to our triumphs and failings as the notes are played out on the music sheet and the song is ever played in tones of sweet delight or melancholy:

One memory always brought her back to the old water-mill they would visit as a family in her childhood. They would visit that mill in the Summer months for picnics as it was always cool under the reaching shade of that enormous building. She could see now the shadowed sloping lawn slipping away to the willows on the bank of the stream in the lee of the hill with the crumbling limestone edifice of the mill on the opposite bank. Silvered bracelets of water wept from a rusted sluice channel onto the blades of the mighty but now frozen wheel suspended from the side of the stone building. Her minds eye swept over the scene and fixed on her mother and father sitting next to each other on the red checked rug. Her mother’s head thrown back in a sudden shout of laughter so her father leant close kissing her neck in a noisy exaggerated passion so her mother squealed delightedly and they both overbalanced, falling back giggling onto the cool grass.

The memory faded and she came back to the present like a falling leaf and she waved to her children, departing excitedly in their father’s car … her ex-husband … today was Sunday, they go with the father’ every Sunday; her day off.

“Bye, bye mum … Ta! Ta!” the children cried.

The father said nothing, for the bitterness still rankled both parties so silence served for accusations.

“Behave for your father,” she called as they drove away.

Her shoulders drooped as the car disappeared around the corner, as if shedding armor and responsibility combined; the tonnage of adulthood. Marie lingered in the driveway, gazing across the road. Sunshine poured out of the morning sky and the enormous expanse of oval lapped, water like, right up to the kerb of the footpath. A gaggle of gulls frozen collage on the embankment stared patiently at a small group of children running, crying, kicking a ball in the centre of the oval.

On the closest edge of the park stood, isolated and deserted, one of those gauche spaghetti plasticised “playgrounds” that reflect the banal taste of local-govt’ and the naivety of design that would believe that children can be enticed to “have fun” on such sterile frameworks that appeal only to vandals and local government administrators. It stood out painfully yellow and red against the placid azure-blue of the western sky.

Marie turned from the oval to gaze upon a row of scraggy geraniums lined, dusty and weary along the length of the gravel driveway. There is an unfathomable insanity inherent in our society, reflected most visually, I feel, in those tawdry flower beds of the houses in the outer suburbs; earth desperately scratched and scrapped and mounded with paths of various coloured gravels or scoria, cacti and daisy bushes, hardy roses (without scent!) or other tough, dry climate vegetation and, of course, that mainstay of colourful desperation: the geranium! with its scaly stems like rooters legs and the little circlets of hue almost precocious in its attention grabbing way like a spoilt child with a new toy to show off, demanding to be seen and used by those poverty stricken gardeners to balance out against the financial unpredictability of their own existence, at least flowers are manageable!

“Oh this dry weather,” Marie sighed. “The poor garden,” she added with a “tch” and took the hose to sprinkle some water over the geraniums. She then went inside to pick up the last discarded clothes that the kids had dropped before leaving, then again fell to washing up the breakfast dishes, as she didn’t like coming home to a dirty kitchen; it was one thing she detested; the dirty sink. “If I let the little things go,” she would protest, “it soon gets to be a frightful mess!” and she would mop the floor to finish off so she could go out and know there was a clean kitchen to come home to. For today was Sunday, her day off…today she could dress up and drive to Fremantle … Freo.

She would drive to Fremantle to sit in some cafe and try to meet a man. She smiled a little smile at the thought of these strange encounters, she smiled as she remembered Ivan, the Slav who was nice but so noisy … and he laughed at his own jokes! which she found annoying! and then there was that nice Egyptian man; … Rafaya his name was and she thought they had so much in common … almost soul-mates you could say, then she saw him that time in the city with his family and he made like he didn’t know her and she knew he saw her by the frown and the warning away with his eyes … and he too agreed they were “soul-mates” but he couldn’t risk talking to her with his family because:

“You see, my sweet … my wife she would get very jealous and maybe take a knife to you! They are like that, my people … very jealous.”

But still he had a lovely voice and when he talked of love in the dark sanctuary of her bedroom his words were like an irresistible song, the sweetness dropping dew-like into an empty heart, and even if it was only for one night affairs they could still see each other now and then … “Eh, my darling Marie.”

Memories are like an irresistible song, only where the lyrics of the song are fixed, the memory will sometimes edit, cut, embellish, till what is left is the scattered coloured fragments of that which we desire so deeply to see. But today was Sunday, today she would dress up and go to Freo.

She carefully selected her clothes as to best show off her figure, which (she observed critically) was in need of “strenuous exercise,” she was “running to fat” and she frowned, then brightened a little as the noticed that her buttocks at least, now had a rather voluptuous curve to them, something she knew some men found irresistible in a woman, she gave herself a playful slap on the bum, “You’ll be right!” and she smiled into the mirror, giving herself a furtive wink. She finished her dressing, adjusted her sunglasses and hit the road to ‘Freo!’

Once she cleared the city traffic and made the highway, she pressed the ‘pedal to the metal’ and streaked down the road, the window down and her elbow out, with one hand on the wheel and the stereo blasting a suburban beat, her long dark hair streaming in wisps out the window from the speed of the car. Long streaks of cirrus cloud from the west pointed abstractedly to her destination and the car ate up the miles. Ah! speed, speed, that euphoria universal that swiftly carries body and soul on an ecstatic high to god knows where … where? … the same place, most usually, from whence we came!

Marie felt the cool rush of air over her face … Sunday … Freo! … she laughed … But Oh! did she lock the house securely? She went over a check-list in her mind: Front and back doors … barrel-bolts?- Yes. Security locks? – Yes. The windows? – Yes. The kids room … the lounge? – Yes – Yes. Ah, but did she plug in the electronic security alarm? … ”Yes, oh yes! … and I better be careful when I come home not to trip over the cord in the dark and pull the bloody thing off the wall! … Freo here I come!”

Travel is like an irresistible song, escape from the dreariness of an ordered existence, even a day-trip can have the feeling of severing the ties that bind us to our duties. So the countryman goes to the city and the coastal-plainsman to the mountains. The desert appeals to the forest dweller and there must be an ache in the heart, sometime, of the Bedouin for sweet rainforests!

Marie parked the car under a large conifer tree next to the park, she locked the steering bar in place then checked all the doors were locked, “you can’t be too careful, you know.” She suddenly remembered the house. Did she lock up securely? – “Yes.” Good, with her mind comforted as regards her material security she could go forth to risk her heart!

Bells! bells, she paused as she heard the faintest tinkling of bells, no, not bells, too metallic,

“What is that? can’t see, can’t imagine, too far away.” And she stepped off the footpath.

Memory is an irresistible song. She remembered her own wedding and how her father wished to hear the peal of bells to celebrate the occasion, but there not being any bells at the church he decided to supply his own in the form of two enormous hand held bells that her younger brothers were to ring as she stepped out of the portal of the church, and how her father, on seeing the youngest boy struggling to sound his strongly, rushed up to grasp hands over hands and ring the bell furiously so it clapped out its joyous peal over the whole assembly in the churchyard and she could still see his grimacing smile and his suit coat flapping open with his strenuous efforts! Ah, what started so sweet should end so wan.

‘Francines,” the pastel coloured neon light glowed softly and the art-deco interior oozed cleanliness. Marie stepped up to the counter and ordered a coffee and cake.

“I’ll bring them to your table,” the waitress said.

Marie chose a table with only two seats near a potted palm and the full glass window. As she sat, she gazed around the cafe, there were only two other women there, seated two tables away, they were dressed as though on show. “Looking for men too,” mused Marie.

“Here Luv.” The waitress placed the coffee and a small plate with fork and cake on the table. “Oh, that’s alright,” she assured Marie with a light touch on her shoulder, “you can pay me on your way out,” and she moved away with a soft smile.

“This looks a nice place … a clean place,” Marie thought, “I must remember to come here again,” and she sipped the coffee sweetly.

She finished her first cup and took it to the counter for another. The waitress server her and asked in a comraderie sort of way:

“Nice then, was it?”

“Oh … yes, very much.”

“So,” the waitress smiled as she placed another cup in front of Marie on the counter, “your day off is it’?” Marie looked at her puzzled.

“Pardon?” Marie said quizzically. The waitress placed two sachets of sugar on the saucer and leant towards Marie.

“It’s alright luv,” she spoke with a familiar confidence, “Saturday’s my day off from the kids but I live here in ‘Freo’ so I go to Perth.” And she winked at Marie as she moved down the counter. “Oh, I’ll put that on your tab … and who knows, you may not have to pay it on your way out’” and the waitress smiled knowingly.

Marie was shocked, the familiar tone of the woman’s voice and the insinuation left her speechless, was she that obvious, she had always considered these sorties into ‘Freo’ as her own private excursions, she never would have thought that her behaviour was such a public spectacle. She turned to go to her table and then stopped, for two men had approached the other women at the table near hers.

“Hello Ladies.” The taller of the two spoke in a cheerful voice. “May we join you for a coffee?” The women smiled stealthily at each other, not giving anything away, then as if coming to an agreement without spoken word or sign, one of the women said:

“Well, we don’t know you but … well…they look harmless … don’t they Marcie?” and she smiled.

“We’ll take a chance,” the one called Marcie replied.

“I may look harmless but there’s a sting in my tail!” The man laughed as he sat down. It broke the ice.

“Your friend’s quiet, has the cat got his tongue?”

“Oh … he’s thinking,” the first man said quickly.

“What about? … no … don’t tell me, I know what all you men think about … don’t we Marcie?” and the group broke into thrills of laughter and a lively conversation ensued, punctuated by lowered voices and secret confidences then bursts of shrill laughter.

Sexual attraction is an irresistible song, like an intricate spiraling melody it encircles and entwines desires to mull, mould then meld the senses into sensuality till voice and eye become a hypnotic serenade to lure the soul to hungrily acquiesce to the body’s physical need.

Marie sat gazing into her cup, but this was terrible, she was thinking, the crass coarseness of their conversation was embarrassing … then she remembered that day with Ivan in another cafe … oh God! was she that vulgar too! Yes! … yes! she recalled their own conversations … noisy and touched with crudity … conversations of idle chatter, of subtle innuendo designed to lower the barriers of strangeness between two people, the probing into lifestyles, work, interest and leisures, all followed closely with eye contact to filter out the compatibilities of two distinct personalities. She had never thought twice about her behaviour, but today was different, the waitress’s wink had triggered off a feeling of disquiet in Marie, a feeling of commonness that she was party to, a conspiracy of seduction, a whole underclass of single parents desperate for company to hold off the loneliness of isolation from casual conversation with the opposite sex. Marie sat stunned at the table, not quite knowing what to do with this new found discovery, like a person witnessing a crime but not knowing whom to tell.

The tail end of a joke wafted over from the nearby group, the men laughed.

“Oh, that’s an old one,” Marcie moved her hand wearily. “And a dirty one, the other woman admonished playfully, the man raised his hands flat in surrender.

“You should have your mouth washed out,” the woman said chidingly.

“You’re right,” the man agreed, “and I know just the club to do it in … Anyone for a brandy and dry?”

“Make mine a ‘Harvey-Wallbanger’ and you’ve got a deal!” and the laughter resumed gaily as they all stood from the table.

“Excuse me.” Marie turned to see a man standing at her elbow. “Excuse me,” he repeated, “I noticed you sitting alone and I wondered if I may join you?”

Marie turned to gaze up at him. But it was no good, the magician’s trick was exposed and she couldn’t now fake it. She stood up from the table and gathered her things together.

“Are you leaving?” the man asked

“Y … yes,” Marie mumbled.

“Why?”

Marie turned to him, trembling slightly.

“I … I’m the mother of two children … ” she said weakly as if that in itself was an explanation … there was a moment’s silence between them.

“And I … I am the father of three,” he said softly.

Marie looked into the proud eyes then lowered her own, he was not to blame, there was no fault in either of them, just as there was also no common interest save their own circumstances.

“Excuse me,” Marie said quietly and the man stepped aside. But as she passed, he touched her arm.

“Then why did you come here?” he asked, for each of us recognises others of like personality and needs.

“I … I made a mistake,” was all she could say, then lowering her eyes turned away to pay her bill.

The waitress leant over closely as she tallied the account.

“He looks alright to me, luv,” she whispered secretly. Marie didn’t answer but quickly left the cafe.

The sound of bells echoed over the park as Marie sat sad faced on a bench under an elm tree, the sea breeze hissing soft admonitions through the leaves.

Love is an irresistible song, that searches the emptiness of the heart, weaving melodies of possibility within its chamber, and like an irresistible song; the more you shun it, hold it away, the more alluring it becomes and not even a cloak of bitterness will shut out its desiring warmth. The one that seems so wise can be the one most vulnerable to its passions.

“What are those bloody bells!” Marie cried in exasperation and she arose from her stupor in a determined stance to investigate. Clasping her handbag to her stomach she strode through the lawned park toward the sound of the bells. A cry of gulls permeated the air as if harking attention to the dropping sun and a sweet song of voices wafted above the chime of those “bells” … the washing of waves against the sea-wall slapped time to the dancing yachts in the marina.

The singing voices were a trio of Vietnamese women talking and laughing on the wharf of the marina and the gulls overhead argued in competition to their musical language of tone and song … and the clipping of the sail ropes ringing against the aluminium masts of the yachts swaying at their moorings in the harbour: “the bells.” Marie sighed, she had expected a more mysterious solution, not such idiotic simplicity!

“Dammit,” she hissed, “why must every avenue of retreat be just a deceitful blind alley?”

Life is an irresistible song. All its trickery!, all its joy, its fanfare, its deceit but a moment etched on us like breath on a mirror and who really has the time or wisdom to answer the whys and wherefores before that mist is evaporated forever?

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The Big Catch

A silent, still night on Darwin Jetty … fishing … it wasn’t my idea of an eventful evening, but Bernie wanted to fish … and after “fishing” him out of the local lock-up the last night, I presume the last thing he wanted was another “eventful evening”. I won’t go into the details of Bernie’s jailing, many and varied are the layman’s path to chokey, injured pride being the usual penance for the journey … I will just say that even in those more tolerant times of yore, if you’re going to get plastered and still drive, make sure the other car you run off the road is not the local copper! … But tonight it is better to go fishing!

Trouble is, Bernie had that unfailing knack of attracting attention. Perhaps it was the too loud voice that carried, the unfortunate practice of an uncivil comment when commentee was not out of earshot, bringing a wincing to the eye and a moving away of the vulnerable body before – the – fight – starts.

And there we were … on Darwin Jetty, fishing.

Someone once said (perhaps it was me) that fishing is akin to a sadomasochist waiting for the thrill of the dentist’s drill to commence! Translate that as you will. But there we were, the night was still, the water calm and every man-jack of fisherman tense for the first catch AND jealous as only fishermen can be, waiting for the BIG-BITE … that BIG BARRAMUNDI!

I was admiring the argent reflections of the harbour lights on the waters, taking no part in the fetish of fishing, leaving Bernie to bait-up and check the hand lines at decent intervals (laid down in the hand-book of code of ethics for fishermen … it is a thin book!) … I was dreaming, I had just sighed, when that annoying, too loud whisper that was Bernie’s trademark …

“Hey, Jay! … this line’s got something on it.” My interest was aroused … as were others nearby … I know … I saw the sudden jerky twitch as the antennas were shifted “into the wind”.

“It’s gotta be something big … feel that!” … Bernie quickly let me feel the line … and just as quickly took it back and started to haul-in.

This is the highlight of action for the spectator fisherman, that proof-of-the-pudding time and much speculation and exaggeration is spent on the deed! Bernie excelled at both!

“Could be a bloody big Barra!”

He mused out loud to the gathering audience. Who, strangely enough, seemed to shove their hands deep into their pockets at this juncture, such are the habits of fishing envy that you can tell the degree suffered by the depths of fist in the pocket … the hunching-up of the shoulders and uncontrollable rocking back and forth on the heels. None but the most hardened fisherman can show such cruel cynicism for other’s catches. Tell the yarn of your biggest triumph and with certainty, another will, with snarling lips dismiss it with a greater triumph on a lesser strength line than your own .. that is how “fishermen’s tales” were perfected.

“Yep!” … called Bernie over his shoulder … ”Big Barra’ … maybe shark!” And he strained on the line to show the weight on the business end.

By now, all those who had been on the jetty (about twenty persons) were ranged along the edge of the planking gazing down to the silvered line as it dipped and strained out of the sea. Now and then one or another would remove a hand from his pocket and “feel” the line, then add his “expert” speculation to the pool of information as to the breed of monster at the other end. Of course, as any seasoned Darwin fisherperson will know, the tide in the harbour goes in and out like a fast flowing river … adding tension to the line … Bernie pulled hand over hand, slowly, methodically … the line “sang” and the spectators leaned over the edge.

” Whatever it is,” Bernie gleefully in formed us, “ … it’s bloody BIG!” … fists plunge further into pockets .. ” Gotta be the catch of the night!” he added mischievously …

Oh the bitter bile of jealousy bites deep in fishermen! … and he hauled in hand over hand … till a wake could be seen to break the surface …

“There she is!” someone shouted and Bernie gave a sudden, nervous tug on the line that made the thing “jump” with the jerk!

“What is it?”

“Can you see it?”

“Get it up, man … get it up! … you’ll lose it!”

Bernie, addled by a feeling of simultaneous heroism and panic, quickly heaved the thing out of the water toward the jetty … there, in the sallow wash of the one single jetty lamp-light, the realisation of the “Big Barra” came to light.

It was nothing but a pair of greasy, clogged, heavy with mud workman’s overalls. They remained suspended there halfway between the jetty and the water, like a leper kept at arms length … a deep silence prevailed … so silent one could possibly hear the chirping of crickets way over the other side of the bay at Mandorah …

Everyone was peering over at the catch, seemingly mesmerised, the whole lot of them dumbfounded … then … as if on cue to the stage directions of an invisible director …

Bernie looked to me, looked pleadingly to the others … who in turn, all together, turned their scornful, disgusted gaze on Bernie, who dropped the line and could only mutter … ” I .. I “ … and they turned away as one and silently walked away, forever unforgiving that such a hoax could be played on their good persons … fists came swiftly our of pockets and much low muttering could be heard up and down the jetty.

Bernie and I quickly and humbly gathered out tackle together and stole away into the gloom, to slake our humiliation with a “cuppla beers” at The Darwin Hotel.

Bernie wiped the modicum of beery foam from his upper lip … “The blokes in the cells had more understanding,” he muttered sadly.

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Renmark to Mildura in a row-boat

This article originally appeared in The Riverlander, March 1958. The author, Therese Hocking, who is now in her 85th year (now deceased), did the trip with her parents in the Depression years, when work and money were very scarce. It shows the determination of the hardy souls in those times.

Row-Boat from Renmark to Mildura

By Therese Hocking.

Have you ever thought of travelling by river? Not in a comfortable steamer, but in an open boat. My father and mother, my sister and I tried it some years ago when we did the trip from Renmark to Mildura and back.

Our two-roomed canvas cottage that stood on blocks was exchanged for a rowing boat and a white tent. We rolled the latter, stowing it with only what was necessary, including a fortnight’s groceries, into the boat and left early one morning.

It was my job to mind my little sister, while mother and father, seated side by side, rowed the boat. Unfortunately “Mary” developed a love for watching things zig-zag down through the water out of sight. I am unable to remember how many odds and ends we lost this way until she tired of it. We then began to count the scarred trees out of which the aborigines had cut their canoes. On the lonely stretches of the river there often were many.

Posts for the tent were cut whenever we decided it was too chilly to sleep under the stars, or if we stayed a few days to fish or set rabbit traps. In fact, we travelled ‘Wagga’s way’, as we came to call it; because he was the only other person we met using a rowing boat for that purpose.

Wagga was the first, but one of the many characters we happened to meet. A big man, straight, in spite of sixty years, He had a huge, rounded beard as black as midnight. So was his big cat “Satan”, who sat on the prow of his master’s rowing boat and was the most ‘human’ cat I have ever met. Wagga always pushed, facing the front to row his boat, as he “liked to see the way”, He was a super-cook and used the native way to cook fish or wild game, straight from line or gun, wrapped in clay and placed amongst glowing coals: When cooked the feathers stripped off with the clay.

We first met him one evening when he rowed across the river to warn us that the side where we intended to camp was haunted. The story was that a woman passenger on one of the paddle steamers had wandered off while the crew were cutting logs for the boiler fires. She was never found. Her spirit, we were told, used to come back to that part of the river looking for the boat.

Mother is Irish, so we did not stay to find out the truth, but quickly crossed to the other side. It was here next day that a huge ram frightened us. Father and Wagga went off shooting and We other three sat on a fallen gum tree to drink in the surroundings. Suddenly mother’s sixth sense caused her to look round and there, not more than three yards behind, stood the ram. His curled horns looked really dreadful. We hastily and quietly withdrew to the boat and continued enjoying peace and wild beauty from there.

Between towns we met several families who had settled on the banks of the river. One that astonished us was the goat farm people. They were a big family and owned goats of every kind, size, sex and colour. They ate goats, milked them and used home-tanned skins for rugs and mats. We were welcomed like old friends. A huge meal was prepared for all and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I have often wondered how they never grew tired of goats, goats, goats.

Sometimes we never met anyone for days; there was just the never-ending scrub and the gurgling of the Murray River. Then, round a bend, a home stead would come suddenly into view. The people of the homesteads were mostly kind, giving us meat and often flour. In return father would solder their leaking kettles and things.

There was only one accident. Mary, running down to the water’s edge to watch a paddle steamer, cut her foot badly. We came to a homestead next day and the people there re-bandaged it. Not a scar was left.

We reached Mildura four days before Christmas, pitched our tent opposite the town and decided to stay a few days.

The next couple of mornings father spent in the township, trying to get soldering or other work. We others washed and cleaned every thing, giving, the camp oven a good scrub with the clean, white sand found at he water’s edge. Christmas was spent quietly, it was cool under the giant gums. Then it was decided we would go back to Renmark. In Renmark the fruit picking season was about to start and father had been promised some work. So we started back. It took six weeks to come up, and a fortnight to get back.

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‘Precious’

Here … a bit of Australiana to cheer the place up a tad … as Barry Humphries says: “It’s nice to be in the cheering-up business.”

‘Precious’ was a travelling stores requisitioner and supplier for a large mineral drilling company. He was called Precious because of his penchant for slapping on the after-shave and a Dandy for the attire … In town it would be Fletcher Jones and Julius Marlow … in the Outback it was strictly R.M.Williams, right down to the Cuban heels .. and always particular about things right down to the hair-oil.

Back in my youth, when a bad case of industrial diarrhoea forced me from the building industry for a short break, I took a job with that drilling supply company, building specialised shipping crates for machinery and drilling equipment … it was a dumb job, just what I wanted … didn’t have to think much, and we could play “shoot-‘em-up” target practice with the air-compressed nail gun (they didn’t have safety locks those days) … one of the shipping clerks would make a dash past the timber racks and I’d try and get him with the “rat,tat,tat” nail gun … great fun!

Come smoko, a group would gather and yarn about life and things … you know … the usual crap. One of the sales reps used to work on the rigs and one day he told about this chap nick-named Precious … I’ll relate it to you as best I remember he told us.

Doug Orchard’s (Orchies) crew had set up camp on a grid-line somewhere way out west of Longreach in Qld’ in January … Lethargy usually sets in by that month in Summer, due to the heat and isolation from all forms of civilised discipline.

When the camp was first set up, Doug discovered an old, dry bore hole about fifty yards from the camp.

“This,” he thought “will do for a dunny-hole and will save me from setting up and drilling one.”

He asked the ‘cocky’ about using the old bore hole and the farmer shrugged and said; “Sure, why not?” So the rickety site dunny was erected over the old bore hole. This toilet hadn’t a roof because of the horrors of being trapped in such a sweat box under an unforgiving sun with a bad … bad conscience (shall we say?).

It was January and a Sunday and it was hot so that most of the team were sitting outside under the mess-van annex in canvas deck chairs having a cold beer. There were a couple of dogs lolling about there too.

Who should turn up but Precious … Actually, they could see someone approaching by the thin streak of dust rising over the dirt road on the distant plain rising to the low plateau on which they were camped.

“A fiver it’s Precious,” one of the men spoke languidly to no-one in particular.

“You’re on,” … replied Bob.

When Precious stepped out of the truck, a fiver changed hands with a fatalistic sigh from Bob.

“Hello chaps,” greeted Precious, without a hair out of place and a smile on his face.

“ ‘day Precious” … they replied and greetings were exchanged in monosyllabic words as only can be understood by those who have spent time in the Outback and mixed with the many and complex eccentrics that inhabit those remote parts … and it is said that an open mouth only attracts flies.

Precious settled down in an empty chair and partook of a nice cool beer … only he drank from a glass … his own … After a short interval of idle chatting, he indicated he wanted to use “the conveniences” (his words).

“Down by the big tree,” Bob pointed with his chin.

“Flamin’ long hike,” exclaimed Precious.

Bob shrugged and flicked the ash from his cigarette.

After returning from the dunny. Precious complained, with a screwed-up nose:

I can see why you’re so far from that dunny! … Geez, fellahs, it’s a bit on the nose!”

“It don’t bother us, Precious,” said Bob.

“No … I s’pose it wouldn’t,” said Precious with a sigh; “anyway, I’ll do you a favour and burn it out … er … where’s some petrol?”

One of the men motioned to some five gallon drums in the shade of a lean-to. Precious doffed his Akubra, took one of the drums and headed down to the toilet.

As Precious told his story later … ”A man’s a fool. I’ll tell you what happened … I emptied the whole drum down that hole … say; How deep is it? … you don’t say … well, no wonder I didn’t hear it splash on the bottom. Well, after I’d emptied the drum, I lit a match and threw it down … nothing happened (it musta blew out before it got deep enough). I tried again and still nothing, so I got a few bits of toilet paper, lit them and dropped them down and stepped back … still nothing!! … Well, I don’t know what made me do it, I shoulda’ known better … but I gingerly leant out over that hole and looked down … and suddenly … god! it was frightening.”

Doug was up at the rig and arrived at the mess van as Precious was walking down to the dunny with the drum of petrol. The boys told him what precious was up to. He just grunted … ”Good luck to him,” he thought and sat down to a beer with the other blokes.

“A fiver says he’ll blow himself up.”

“You’re on,” said Bob.

He’d only a couple of draws on his beer when suddenly … and it’s strange how, at a distance, the action happens before the sound reaches you … like a person chopping wood with an axe, and you can see the axe fall before the “chop” sound reaches you.

They saw Precious’ Akubra hat flip, spinning away out the top of the dunny like a frisbee with bits of snowy stuff floating with it, then the ‘WHOOMPH’ of the explosion and Precious crashed out of that dunny, ‘swimming’ sort of out of the smoke and coughing heavily. Bob reached into his pocket and gave over the fiver … Doug, not to miss a chance at dry humour asked; “Baked beans for tea again tonight, Bob?”

The sales rep said they all just sat there like they were the audience in a theatre watching a show. Precious came stumbling back shaking his head and cursing … when he got closer, they could see bits of toilet paper and … stuff … stuck all over his face … ”an’ his eyebrows were all burnt off.”

“You’re gonna have to change your after-shave, Precious,” Bob said, shaking his head.

Anyway, that’s why you’d know Precious if’n you met him … He’d probably tell you his tale if you showed curiosity in his complexion.

He’s a bit nervous around petrol these days, and even traded in his old petrol driven truck he swore by and bought a diesel …

“Better mileage,” is what he says.

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A Simple Love Affair

I can see there is need of a little distraction …

Years ago I was “doing a reno” for this Greek bloke who was managing the job for his daughter, who was the owner of the house. She was as the lovely “Anna” described in the story below. She would come around to the job every few days and talk to the old man about design and so on … I never spoke to her and only saw her from a distance … she always wore a jacket thrown over her shoulders in the Greek tradition, so I didn’t know she was a thalidomide child.

“Is your daughter married?“ I once asked him.

“No!! … she never marry!” he replied with a twist of his face. I was puzzled.

“What do you mean; never?” I persisted.

‘What? … You not see? … no arm, no marry.”

“What do you mean: No arm’?” I queried him.

“She have no arm … just a stump … her mother she once take that pill … tha … tha … ” I twigged.

“Thalidomide?”

“Yes! … that’s it … and she have no arm … so, no arm no marry … ”

So I have built a story around that moment, that awful reality … and I have moved the story to the mallee, to another older time and place … Why not? … I too desire a better ending than what the sour cynicism of that old man offered. Why should there not be a … a simple love affair, set in a mallee town with two young people? Yes! … let us create our own “reality” … our own desire if only for one moment, one afternoon! And even as the some may attest; that only 1% of people are interested … so what!? Let it be just that 1%, for that small number is powerful enough to move Heaven and Earth to a better place in the heart of humanity even against the greater odds of the indolent 99% … We must accept that our “Art” is failing us … there is a loss in western interpretation of “romantic inspiration” … by romantic I mean that desire for the imaginable reality rather than the “cynical certainty” … bad things in life are a given, but hope is always there … without desire, there is no hope … without hope there is no life.

So, dear reader … as the story unfolds, let us desire …

A Simple Love Affair

When Anna fell in love it was not without a good deal of caution. You see : Anna was a thalidomide child and though she had grown to a beautiful woman, her left arm, stunted just below the elbow with two stumpy fingers threw a “check” on any chance of an out-going personality. So when Anna fell in love with Harry, it was a long, cautious apprenticeship.

Anna worked in partnership with her cousin; Bella, running a small general store in a country town out in the mallee. They named the business: “Annabellas” and it was a good business, an honest business well run that reflected the determination of the proprietors.

Anna was twenty – eight years old, of medium height with a slim face and long black hair down to the middle of her back. Let no-one doubt that old truth that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory! Anna was a fiercely independent woman and held no truck with self- pity, yet, there was that natural reserve that sets aside those with physical disabilities, that je ne sais quoi, (that certain something) of the spirit that brackets their behaviour, a caution in manner and speech that is sometimes sadly lacking in other, less impaired specimens of “Humanus Grossness!” However, in matters physical, Anna never failed to pull her weight, and was always ready with a quick witticism if her stunted limb failed her. Yet, she never developed a long term relationship with any boy from the district. Oh, she was not the type to lament this reality, nor did she overcompensate her disadvantage with lasciviousness! She just had a well-balanced perspective of the situation and the close-knit societies of country towns of those times seemed to lock the young of that era into behaviour systems that excluded, in the majority, any dabbling in relationships away from the physical and physiological norm … sadly, any who went against this “norm” had to leave the community for the wider understanding of the cities. Not that this is an unforgivable fault, for a country town is born of the earth and survives from the earth and therefore any deviation from the “pure state” (however illusory that is) of natural wholeness is, if not condemned; shunned. To put it simply, as old Smith once remarked with a worldly shrug: “No arm … no marry.”

Harry was of the district, once. His family sold up and moved away many years before and now he had moved back to take over the garage once old Peter Porter retired, for Harry was a mechanic. Harry was thirty-three years old when he moved back to the district. He was tallish, well-built (for a mechanic!) with short fuzzy hair and a fixed smile on a generally happy face. Harry had no chip on his shoulder (no axe to grind!) and a healthy disposition. Just the person to run a garage in a small country town! Why sneer? he created neither moon nor sun, nor shook fist at others fortune, yet, Harry suffered that most disabling of conditions: He was shy! Oh, he could slam the gearbox of any tractor onto the block of the engine, with appropriate epithets and wiping of greasy hands and shout to a farmer across the road:

”She’ll be right this ‘arvo Clem’,” … but, stand him in front of a social crowd in the Hall meeting, or a pretty woman and he’d fumble about like a cow in a mud-hole. So consequently, one rarely saw Harry outside of overalls and armed with a spanner … except for the annual football club ball. (you don’t like football? … tough, millions do!)

Harry’s garage was three doors down from “Annabellas”, consequently there was frequent conversation concerning pies or pasties or pieces of string between Anna and Harry. One of these centered around the aforementioned Ball …

“Getting close now,” Harry said in an offhand way.

“Yes.” Anna checked the list of groceries. Harry shifted foot, like a horse resting.

“Who are you going with, Harry?” this threw him a little as he was about to ask Anna the same question.

“Huh,oh! … well, myself I ‘spose … you got someone?” a slight inflection of voice.

“Yes … ”(drop of mouth from Harry). ”My father.” (Mouth picks up again) Anna ticks the last entry on the shopping list and looks up expectantly.

“Oh, … right.”

Harry fumbles in his top pocket and withdraws some money. He counts out carefully on the counter saying as he does so:

“Well I was wondering if you’d care to go with me?” Anna raised her eyebrows, the merest flicker of a warm smile at the edge of her mouth.

“Hmm, … but what about dad?”

“Oh, … he’d come too,” Harry quickly replied, lest there be insurmountable opposition. His eyes appealed.

“Well … ”and here the usual reserve stalled her, but this time she relented. “I’ll ask dad if he doesn’t mind … ”

“And you’ll come if it’s ok with him?” Harry persisted unusually but fearfully.

Anna thought, then looked at Harry closely.

“Yes,” she said. Harry seemed to lose a frightful burden just then, for he suddenly straightened up and smiled.

“Righto! … ” he quipped confidently,” I’ll … I’ll catch you later.” And he left the store … he suddenly returned sheeplishly to take his groceries. He gathered them up as if they were a clutch of puppies, smiled, and quickly retreated to his greasy nirvana.

Well, the night out at the ball went smoothly, as neither Anna nor Harry were wild ragers and would rather dance than drink. So consequently there were other social events that they escorted each other to, for Anna would invite Harry as much as vice-versa and so it became accepted that Harry and Anna would be matched on invitations ipso-facto, so do small communities naturally react … and their mutual company gave confidence to the two companions as they grew more familiar with each other’s idiosyncracies.

No more than a stage of evolution I suppose ( but you knew this was going to happen; quiet man meets beautiful, flawed lady, they fall in love, get married etc, etc and so forth!). But there was one hindering factor in this quaint affair of the heart, something most of us in our safe, sheltered worlds have never to face or confront: the thalidomide arm … the flaw! … ah! as a flaw in a diamond will deflect the light so does a flaw in a human disturb the smooth natural flow of emotions. Why even an embrace would draw attention to Anna’s stump arm, she; the embarrassed frustration of not being able to rub a caressing hand over Harry’s shoulders, he; the knowing of this frustration in Anna and the clumsy overcompensation on his part, the actions of dismissal of the offending limb! Yet that limb was her, or a part of her, as much as a leg or nose or breast! She knew it, he knew it but still the dammed thing would obtrude, out of all proportion into their consciousness. But then again, neither of them could or would broach such a delicate subject, such are the cautions in the courting phase of a romance, the halting secrets of the heart: “Will I? Should?” And so neither is done.

I’ll have to mention that long before Anna had met Harry, she became aware of this nagging feeling and once even, had seen a doctor in the city with a view to amputation of the offending limb, reasoning that it would be easier to explain away an injury than be eternally on show as a “freak”. Fortunately (for she was strong willed) this idea, born on the wings of youthful despair, was soon cast aside as ridiculous and childish. And she grew stronger for it. Oh! that us with body complete could draw on such fortitude, when even a slight ailment of body or soul sends us into paroxysms of complaints … Oh frail souls! Oh weak heart!

So into the summer months under a vacant sky rafting on a sea of mallee bush did they continue with their courting, a gentle affair with neither tryst nor jealousy but as two labourers with a common goal they met, socialised and parted. And then one day Harry “popped” the question. And Anna accepted and indeed, why shouldn’t she? … She desired children, a home to raise them in … but should one feel a little raising of hackles at this servile “acceptance” of a woman’s lot? Should she rebel at this “presumed” social construction? … for after all it is but a story … a facsimile of a life … But ah! … permit me a query … and I ask : do we really believe the world and all in it waits with bated breath for miraculous revelations from those that would have us stride with determination down this or that corrected path? … Have we not all waited, so many in vain … and then all the while inside each of us there is that strange hunger, that desired want for a kind of fulfilment … Yes. Anna accepted, yet there was one unsolved dilemma left in the air and she meant to speak, felt she had to speak, to Harry about it soon.

Saterdee arvo, is there a more pleasant occupation than being young and alive in the summer with work behind you on a sunny Saterdee afternoon in the country? … Harry thought not as he stood wiping his greasy hands with a bundle of cotton waste outside his garage. A smile on his dial, a song in his heart and whom should he spot walking up the pavement toward him? …

“Anna!” he called with glee.”Where’re you off to with such a pretty bouquet? … not another secret love I hope?” and he laughed … and gosh, didn’t she look pretty … her warming smile above the multi hued bouquet.

“It’s for mothers grave actually”, she said. Harry gulped at his over exuberant gaffe!

“Oh dear, pardon me,” he gasped. Anna smiled now.

“Don’t be silly, she’s been dead fifteen years now.” And she fussed with the arranging of the flowers”I’m going out to her memorial now, … you want to come?”

“Say no more,” and off they went.They had hardly driven a hundred yards when Harry suddenly ducked his head below the dashboard.

“What are you doing?” frowned Anna. “Just keep going it’s Noela Gretze! I said I’d have her car fixed this arvo!”

“What, are you afraid of her?”

“Dammit, the whole town’s afraid of her.”

“Whatever for? she’s a lovely lady … she just knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it.” Harry raised his eyes to glance backwards out of the car.

“Well, if she saw me driving around instead of fixing her car, she’d want my guts for garters! I’d lend her my car, ‘cept it’s out of action.”

“Your car?! it’s the worst bomb in town!”

“Oh yeah. an’ I bet your cupboards are empty!” they were both silent for a moment then burst into simultaneous laughter.

“The carpenter’s house is falling down around his ears! … Anna cried … ”And the cobbler has holes in his shoes! … Harry laughed … ”And the tailor has the arse hangin’ out of his trousers! they both choked in fits of laughter … ”Ahhaha! … but it’s true!” cried Anna.

The car pulled up at the cemetery gates, Anna jumped out, Harry made to follow.

“Wait there, just be a minute.”

“But I thought you wanted me to come?”

“To her memorial. yes, this is her grave. We’ll go there next, I’ll be right back.”

It seemed a mystery to Harry, “Graves … memorials … same thing.” Anna returned in a moment and they started going again.

“I just had to replace the flowers.”

“So where is the memorial?”

“On the farm, dad made it just after mum died, it is rather unusual … we’ll be there in a little while.”

The family farm was ten kilometers out of town on a side road. After the black ribbon of bitumen, turning off onto the dirt road was like turning into a photograph:

“And I mark how the green of the trees,
Matches the blue vault of the sky … ”

The low stunted mallee trees leant in from the shoulder of the road, the fronds of slim leaves dipping over the limestone gravel. Blackened twists of discarded bark and twigs littered around the knuckled boles and roots. Here and there amongst fallen trees, rabbit warrens displayed their sprays of fresh diggings white and musty amongst tangles and hummocks and if the eye is quick enough, a flash of cheeky tail can be spotted sporting behind tussocks of native grass, or even a round-glassy eye spying unblinkingly for any sign of danger, then a quick “thump-thump!” signal to other rabbits and scurry down the safety of a burrow and braer rabbit says cheerio for the daylight hours!

Anna drove off onto a track with a gate in the fence, entering the paddock, she drove alongside the fence till she reached another gate, though much smaller than the first, like a front gate to a house, there was a carefully manicured path with white stones edging it, that led on a gentle slope toward a grotto-like cavern at the bottom of a basin in the surrounding land. Anna led them to this singular spot, for Harry had never heard of it before. They stood at the lip of the soak, green kikuyu grass spilled out from the sunken pit, it was circular, about thirty feet in diameter and the front sloped down to a pool of cool, clear water mirrored under an overhanging lip of limestone six foot above the pool. To one side of the pond, in a well tended, circle of earth, was the most beautiful flowering yellow rose-bush Harry had ever seen! He stood at the lip, gazing around at the scene.

“How long has this been here?” he asked amazed.

“As long as I can remember, Mum and Dad used to bring us here in the hot weather and we’d wade in the pool. After Mum died, Dad and us kids made it into a sort of memorial … she liked the place so much … ”The oasis” she called it. Dad also pumps water out for the stock in the dry weather. It never seems to run dry.”

“And the rose?” Harry asked.

“I planted that … a rose for incorruption … she liked yellow.”

“It’s a lovely place … peaceful.” Harry spoke dreamily … Anna took out a pair of clippers and went toward the rose.

“Come … ” she called “Help me cut some roses.”

So they stood, she cutting, he taking the blooms. With her stumpy arm Anna deftly moved the prickly stems out of the way, her long, dark tresses falling this way and that over the blossoms so sparkling yellow in the sunlight. Now and then a petal would dislodge and fall spiraling to the earth, so silent was it there you could almost hear the petals touch the soil.

“Harry?” Anna spoke as she concentrated.

“Mmm.”

“What do you think of my arm?” she didn’t look at him as she asked, she was listening to the tone in his voice. Harry hesitated … he knew what she meant and was delving into his emotions .

“Your arm … ”He repeated almost to himself. “I … I think it’s unfortunate but I don’t feel put off by it.” It was a start.

“It’s a burden, Harry, always has been, always will be, strange how sometimes it feels like it isn’t a part of me, so different, when I wake sometimes I look to see if it was just a dream.”

“Does it make a difference to our relationship?” he asked.

“In its clumsy intrusion, you know that … yes … more later perhaps than now, when our company grows so much more familiar and little things come between us.”

Harry didn’t answer, but shrugged his shoulders. Anna stood facing him and placed her hand on his shoulder,

“Harry, we are about to be married … to have children … from there it’s a long road ahead … ”

“I … I’m sure we can do as good as other people in their marriages.” Harry gently replied. Anna turned slowly to one side to stare at the rose.

“I worry, Harry, that any children we may have will not also be affected.”

“It’s not passed on. I believe.”

“You believe, but who knows!” Anna’s emotions engulfed her and she dropped her head crying “ Who knows,Harry … it killed my mother, the responsibility she felt for it … if … if I bore children that were deformed … ”

“Oh I’d hardly call … ”Harry interrupted.

“Yes!” Anna persisted “deformed, for that’s what it is Harry, deformed … it may just be a word, but there it is and I would indeed blame myself for … for … ” and she turned her tear-stained face to him …

“Oh, Harry, If ever there was a time to back away from your commitment, it is now! … I wouldn’t hold it against you … but marry me not with naivety, nor … for gods’ sake … pity!” And she turned to him with a steady challenging gaze. Harry reached for her stump-arm and deliberately took it in his hands. she automatically went to pull it away but he held it tight and though she could have withdrawn it. a stronger force held her.

“Anna … would you think me so simple so as not to see the complications that lie ahead in our marriage? … for marriage it shall be, lest thou refuse me now … and would you hold my feelings for you so lightly that you could see me casting them aside, like a discarded rag, for nothing more than this stunted limb? For if that be the measurement of grace, where does one start? Do I compare the beauty of your eyes against size of your feet? … or grace of your step to the lobe of your ear? … hearty laugh against dirty nail? … and where do I stop? … ”He rubbed Anna’s two stumpy fingers gently: “If I gaze into your eyes, do you see pity, greed, selfishness? .. look now, Anna , don’t turn away, look! … you see affection … no pity, no naivety, no denial … I’m a grown man … l love you, Anna, do not misjudge me nor deny your own feelings but just say you will marry me.”

Harry raised her stump-arm to his lips, the two tiny fingernails painted red like those on her other arm, and kissed her fingers. Anna’s face contorted to one of weeping happiness and she flung her good arm about Harry’s neck and there they embraced while standing over the rose bush.

“Yes, Harry,” she murmured in his ear” I will marry you, yes!”

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The Three Sisters (part 2)

Continued from Part 1

Sfaccio fronts the house of Mother Fortune …

“Hey! … ” he called out sheepishly from the gate, “hey there … Lady Fortune?” But there was no answer. He was about to leave with hands in pockets when Lady Face motioned him to come over to her fence.

“My sister is away in Brommio on business what would you want with her?”

“Ah … it is a little business between us two, madam,” Sfaccio grumbled.

“And have the seeds sprouted?” Lady Face asked slyly. Sfaccio looked up suddenly.

“What would you know of any seeds?”

“One has ears master Sfaccio. and one knows one’s own kin!”

Sfaccio grasped the pickets of the fence fiercely.

“Then tell me, if you know the curse, what have I to do to undo it?”

“Why master, who spoke of a curse? … still … one shouldn’t jest with Kaileena, she has no ear for humour and she will try hard to avenge any slight she feels … ”

“But what of this mystery of the seeds … is that not a curse?”

“Ah! … maybe, but then again the seeds may have been boiled beforehand for just such an occasion … ”

“But how would she have known the question before it was asked?”

“There you may have the “magic” master Sfaccio,” Lady Face said cunningly. “Why was she in her garden just as you passed? … But there … let it lie, and take these seeds, they are ‘Love’s heart lies bleeding’ and plant them next to the others, see, they sprout everywhere here, you will soon see a bounty for yourself and your wife.”

“What! … more seeds! … ma fungool … if I have to plant a whole pasture next!?”

“Well, young master, leave it be and go away then and none shall be the sorrier,” and she turned to go.

“Wait! … I apologise for my hastiness signora, I … I will take the seeds we have nothing to lose” he mumbled as he held out his hand.

“just one thing”, she said as she gave him the seeds,” you must first water them with an idiot’s tears!”

“What! … Madonna santissima dio boio! I’m the only idiot left here I’m sure!”

“No, there is Boffo.”

“But how am I to do that, signora?”

“That is your problem, I can only give you the solution … good day to you master Sfaccio,” and she went inside the cottage.

Boffo was the village idiot, he would be mostly idle save when required to do a little light labouring in return for food or drink. At other times he was full of pranks. Sfaccio indeed had his work cut out for him, for all Boffo did was laugh! But Sfaccio struck onto a plan!

Now isn’t it a strange thing, amici, that nothing is freely given in this world without some string attached to the tail … even God wrote a “rider” into the contract of the garden of Eden!

So Sfaccio caught up to Boffo at the Bar …

“Here Boffo, have another glass … it’s a little thing for such a hard world that we live in”.

“Ha Ha … well, and thankee, master Sfaccio. Cruel, yes cruel,” and he gulped the wine greedily.

They sat at a table in the darkened corner of the bar. “Yess … (Sfaccio drawled out) cruel … I was just yesterday thinking of old Mother Zoanetti, and her three sons.”

“Ohh! … Zoanetti … si,si … sad … so sad … tell me, Sfaccio … who was she and what of her?”

“Here, drink up Boffo, drink up!” and he filled the glass again after Buffo gulped down the last dregs.

”Ah! … it’s a worthy tale from sadder times,” Sfaccio sighed “Those were loyal people, loyal to their kindred, stuck like glue they did. Well … The Zoanetti’s were peasants farming up in the hills over Campobasso when the war was at its height. There were the father, mother and three sons. The war was raging in the north and as the oldest son came of age to fight, he was called up. Away he went, oh the sadness for a mother to see her offspring going away with rifle over his shoulder where once he carried his favourite blanket and never knowing if that child ( for we are always children in our mothers eyes, eh Boffo? … drink up!) would return. And they waved him off down the road … and he never came back … never heard a word from him, probably killed straight off as he got to the front.

Then the second son came of age and he too marched off to war with nothing but a backward wave to his grieving mother … and he too was lost in the mayhem of fighting in the mountains. Try as they would, no word came back of his fate. Ahh! the grief a mother feels at such moments when her children are snatched from her bosom and thrown to the dogs of war! The weeping, the grieving … ( drink Boffo, drink! ), still, there was the youngest, when he came of age she refused to part with him, for he was the favourite, she implored him to hide. for her sake! But to no avail, he ,himself turned up to be kitted out, for how could he shirk that duty that his brothers faced so courageously. How she wept and implored the saints as he too walked down that road. The father had to support her as she collapsed to her knees with clasped hands and weeping contorted face! (You see the situation eh Boffo? You could just see them there in the middle of the road all sad and miserable … some more?) and would you believe it? … the same again, no word, silence to every enquiry the old couple made. But then they were dying like flies up there at the front and who knew who was alive or dead.”

“Oohh … master Sfaccio … si … I myself lost two uncles at that war … oh it was indeed pitiful” and Boffo sniffed sorrowfully, Sfacio was encouraged.

“So one day the father says: ‘Wife, you’ll have to manage the farm, I’m going to the front to find my sons” and sad as she was, she rejoiced that at last they would at least get some answers to their worries. So he joined that circus of fighting to see what or where his sons were. If he found them no-one ever will know for he too failed to return, till there, all alone with her grief, mother Zoanetti vowed to search the mountains and battlefields till she found her family. The courage of those mothers was something to reckon with, eh Boffo?” Boffo’s eyes were brimming with tears, Sfaccio was overjoyed, his plan was working!

“Ahh! My own mother … ah!” Boffo nodded his head sadly. Sfaccio took out a clean handkerchief ready to capture those tears and then to wrap them around the seeds given him by Lady Face.

“She was a sturdy peasant so it wasn’t hard to disguise herself as a journeyman labourer, and in this guise she shouldered her pack of essentials and with one last glance over her shoulder at the old farm that had given them so many memories, she headed down the road and do you know, Boffo? … she-never-came-back!” Sfaccio finished his story with a sad drawn out sentence and Boffo sat there drunk and maudlin with tears running down his cheeks.

“That is the saddest story master Sfaccio …” and he sniffled and snortled.

Sfaccio held out the handkerchief:

“Here, my good friend Boffo, wipe your tears with this.” He offered the cloth generously, Buffo looked wide eyed at the crisp clean handkerchief.

“Why … grazie, signore Sfaccio … grazie,” he said softly and he took it so very gently in both hands as if it would break and raised it to his face in wide-eyed wonder, ( as was also the anticipating Sfaccio) then suddenly put it to his nose and blew with such force it fluttered as it filled with his gruesome snot!

“Stronzi!” cried Sfaccio and he swung his fist to knock Buffo flying, but too late, for Buffo was to his feet like a shot and out the door baying like a donkey, for such was his laughter. Sfaccio ran to the door yelling abuse after him to no avail, for it was his own misery that he was abusing.

“Why curse the fool? Sfaccio,” one of the men standing there asked.

“Ah … nothing,” Sfacio answered and stormed off, but not without hearing as he went:

“Even a well-dressed donkey cannot hide his ears,” and then followed light laughter. He decided on another more direct way to get those tears from Boffo. A fortnight later, Sfaccio bailed up Boffo in the street.

“Hey! Boffo … give us a hand will you?” Boffo approached with caution.

“You’re not … not going to attack me are you, Sfaccio?”

“No,no … what’s done is done, no use crying over spilt milk! but I do need a labourer for a small job.”

“What job?”

“See, I have a little work up at the grotto of Saint Felice, I need you to help me take this material up there.”

“It’s late in the day to start work Sfaccio, its near dusk already … and there’s a storm coming on.” “Yes,yes … but this is for tomorrow … so I can get an early start in the morning … a meal and drink for a little help … OK?” Boffo thought for a second:

”OK, master … I’m your man.” So Boffo took up the wheelbarrow and Sfaccio the tools and they set off up the hill. It was dusk when they reached the grotto, a stiff wind was blowing off the mountains and rain-heavy clouds rose toward them from the south. Flashes of lightning and soft rumblings of thunder echoed in the distance. They placed the gear in the grotto.

“Well, Sfaccio, we’d better hasten back if we don’t want to get drenched.”

“Why hurry, Boffo? The storm is a while away and I have some wine to refresh us after that long hike,” and he pulled out a bottle of wine and a small bag of food from his sack.

“Ah well then, as you say, master, why rush?” Boffo squatted down on the earth and licked his lips in anticipation. And there they sat in congenial comfort while the weather closed in on them. They had been there a while passing the bottle and bread and indulging in small-talk when Sfaccio let out a sigh.

“Ahh! Boffo, Boffo … I’ll have to let you in on the real reason I lured you up here tonight.” Sfaccio spoke in a wistful! way. Buffo took the bottle and drank a swill.

“What’s that, master? … lure? … reason?”

“You see these seeds? … here … well, lady Face says I have to plant them tonight, and need your assistance.”

“Ahh! … the seeds, yes I have heard of them that did not grow … You have more? … How many bambini do you want, Sfaccio? … You will need a whole province if they all grow, ha, ha!”

“I have only ten, Boffo, but the lady said that ‘Boffo must plant them,’ and I dare not disobey.” Sfaccio held the seeds out in the palm of his hand.

“Such a small thing, Boffo will be glad to help you.” Boffo took the tiny seeds into his hand.” Where will we plant them?”

“Out there by that boulder is the spot.” Sfaccio pointed to guide Boffo.

They both went outside. The wind was wilder now and sudden little squalls of rain whipped up the valley, the storm was upon them.

“Here,Boffo, dig a little hole here and plant them. Boffo scraped at the earth with his fingers while behind his bent form stood Sfaccio with a long-bladed knife he had secreted in his belt! Boffo dropped the seeds into the earth,

“Now, Sfaccio, do I cover them up?”

“Not just yet, there is one small thing that must be added.”

Sfaccio suddenly grasped Boffo’s hair and pulled back, at the same time brought the knife around to his throat! Boffo yelped in surprise and anguish.

“Now Boffo!! I must have your life!” Sfaccio cried. Boffo howled with fear as he heard these words.

“Why! master, Why?” he whimpered.

“So I am instructed; ‘The blood of Boffo must fertilise them’ she said.”

He brought the knife out so Boffo could see it glimmer and flash in the lightning, like ice in the heart! Boffo howled with fear.

“Stay, master, stay, I am just a poor fool with no home,” he wailed. Sfaccio pulled Boffa’s head hack and called out. to the heavens;

“By all the saints in the heavens, I’ll have his tears or I’ll have his blood!” cried Sfaccio to the breaking storm (Bertouli stood glass in one hand, the other raised to emphasise the action) and the heavens opened up and a shaft of lightening struck the side of the hill upon which they were and the crack of thunder shook the very ground upon which they stood … such was the sudden tempest that Sfaccio loosened his grip on Buffo so that in a flash, he twisted out of his grasp and sprung to his freedom out of Sfaccio’s reach as quick as the lightening that just struck the hillside!

Sfaccio gave a desperate cry to the heavens when he saw that his last chance to have an idiot’s tears fertilise the seeds was now running, arms flaying in consternation, down the hillside track … and at that moment it was as if time suddenly stilled, the wind dropped as if out of breath and the storm ceased in its tumult while thunder drummed into the distance the very heavens held its breath … and then, Sfaccio dropped to his knees and broke into a piteous sob and his wretched face rubbered into the most horrible twist of sadness and big tears rolled down his dirty cheeks and dropped, jewel-like into the soft, damp hole that held the seeds … dropped, dazzling like diamonds onto those tiny seeds. Sfaccio gasped and trembled with lost hope wrapped around his heart and with every tear that touched the earth and those seeds, a clap of thunder shook the mountain and lightning whipped across the apron of the sky!

His face, sheened with rain and fear, quivered and shook with grotesque sculpture and it couldn’t be said who wept the most: the stormy sky from a thunderous rain, or Sfaccio from despair. Sfaccio dropped the knife and wept.

Sfacio had no fears that Boffo would make trouble for him, the story would sound too ridiculous to be believed and besides who would believe an idiot! No, Sfaccio stayed mesmerised to the little hole scraped in the earth which held the seeds. He covered them gently anyhow and patted the soil down then went back to the shelter of the grotto to pray. (Ha!, there! One moment a pagan, the next a Christian!) and so he fell asleep in the grotto to wake to a fine dawn and a clear sky.

Sfaccio rubbed his eyes when he woke, he couldn’t remember falling asleep. But he slowly got to his feet and stumbled out to the dawn. He stretched and yawned, then , remembering the events of the night before glanced quickly to the spot where the seeds were planted, imagine his surprise when he saw there, miraculously just pushing through the topsoil, tiny shoots of seedlings! Their tender tips just penetrating to the air.

”Blessed Lady!” he cried dropping to his knees and quickly crossing himself … and so the kind sister was correct in predicting that the tears of an idiot would have to fertilise the seeds … and it was when he saw the fragile, sprouts, that he realised that all along … he was the idiot …

“Fool am I!” he cried in a mix of shame and ecstacy …

He rose and walked backwards, never taking his eyes off those seedlings. Stumbling clumsily toward the path, he turned suddenly and ran whooping down to get Primula to show her the good tidings. Indeed, it became one of those minor miracles well known in the district and many people gathered that day to witness that marvellous event. However, the next day, those seeds where just yesterday there were ten, the next day there were just six, though that in itself remained a mystery, I know old Signora Rauni who had ten children herself, had pinched off four of those shoots ,

“Ten bambini are four too many Bertouli,” she told me, shaking her head.

And that is how Sfaccio and Primula came to have six beautiful children and grey hair before they were fifty! Allora signori, there is little that people will not do to be blessed with heartaches and happiness! And while The Three Sisters are with us no more, now those who wish for children will go to the grotto of San Felice, and there plant some seeds of “Loves Heart Lies Bleeding” (that they can purchase from my cousin, Sergio, for a few lira) as a gesture of desire … so that now the statue is more one of Pagan worship than Christian! … But enough, there is wine for all!

”Alfredo! Biacchio!” come here and drink , don’t be shy, the good people have been listening to my story and now we celebrate! Alfredo smiled weakly at the two tourists, took a glass and called; ”Saluti!”, then turned to Bertouli and spoke in dialect; “My god, Berto, you’re the longest winded bullshit artist between here and hell, saluti!”

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The Three Sisters (part 1)

“Buongiorno signore e signora turisti”… Bertouli called out effusively with appropriate operatic gestures with the arms.” Welcome to my humble stall … Scusi signora, but your shadow falls on my bowls and utensils and dulls their shine … grazi!” he danced around his wares manipulating the tourists with gentle hand movements, all the while keeping up a running commentary on everything and anything …

“So, just off the train from Naples eh? Have a good trip? … see here, this is an exact replica of the Emperor Caligula’s goblet … that he would use to toast the death stroke of some unfortunate wretch! … and here, a platter very useful for the salada … fruit … or just hanging on the wall for the decoration.“

“Now, this urn, madam, cast your eyes on the ancient Greek embossing, from the temple of Aphrodite … a fertility celebration … you can have it cheap! What, no fertility left! … ahh! a sad fate signora … and one that overtakes us all I’m sorry to say but then we have … (you have the bambini? … ah! good, bene) our children, but pity those who are denied that delight signora … ahh, madonna mio.” And Bertouli sat wearily down on a door step next to his stall and sighed; “Yes signori, many a tale can be told of couples desperate for the little bambini.”

Here he puckered his lips then raised a finger to the sky … for the day was wearing long and he had not sold many wares … and his thirst for a good glass or two of vino was gnawing at his mood … Bertouli had an idea!

“I remember one such couple in our village many years ago.” He paused, looked to the ground then raised his eyes stealthily … ”but you wouldn’t want to hear such a mysterious tale, “there was a stillness in the air as Bertouli felt for their sympathy … He played his card …,” especially as it concerns three witches!” and his eyes met the eyes of the woman cunningly. “What’s that, you would!? … but no, no signora, it is much too long, the day is warm and I am already thirsty! … ” he stroked his bristly chin thoughtfully. “I tell you what I’ll do, for just a little carafe of vino from the ”Bar Centuri” over there, I’ll regale you with the whole sordid story .. heh, heh … you’ll like that, eh signora? … But quickly, quickly, presto. I thirst and the two tourists rushed off to the Bar.

Bertouli sighed. The man from the next stall sidled over to Bertouli and spoke out of the corner of his mouth:

“Eh, Berto, you got a couple of live ones there … buona fortuna!” And he moved away smiling, stopped, thought a moment then turned back to Bertouli; “If you have a little of the wine left remember your friend Alfonso!” and he tapped the side of his nose and winked.

Bertouli suddenly became motivated, he poked his head into the doorway of the house next to his stall and called:

“Signora Seneca, tre bicchieri per favore?”

“Quando ritorno?” a voice inside asked.

“As soon as we have finished the bottle!”, Bertouli cried. “Pulito? Yes … clean as a whistle and I’ll dry them with my tongue!” The last comment was spoken in a whisper.

The two tourists returned with the carafe of wine. Bertouli began his story …

“Now, amici, keep in mind that these events took place in another age. An age when superstition was to some degrees; dogma! and every village had its “Witch-doctor”. But then, that was also not so long ago! I sometimes think our modern medicine hovers on the boundry of the absurd, and in the end we all have to be our own physicians, eh?”

Bertouli took the carafe from the tourists so as to facilitate more expediently the transfer of wine from bottle to glass.

”There,” he said, handing a small glass of the wine to each; “Salute!”

“Our little village of Castella di Luci, was part of the estate of a wealthy Padrone, who lacked in nothing save a son to carry on his name and the estate. For he was of that generation that looked to the male to become the next “Padrone” and so continue the family tradition. But that was not to be! Three girls and no boy. Then one cruel winter, his wife died of influenza … he was heart-broken, for he loved that woman dearly … and she was pregnant when she died … yes … a boy child that died with her (“sigonori … un ultri? ah! si! grazi!”).

“Well, the Padrone buried them both then settled down to drink and curse his fate into an early grave. The three young girls were raised by an old retainer and her husband, the gardener. The Padrone forgot about them, so bitter was he, and continued to drink his misfortune away. And so he joined his wife and unborn child ten years later to the day!”

Bertouli slapped both hands flat on his knees to emphasize fates’ whimsical twists.

“Well, those three little children were raised by the housekeeper and her husband. The property was sold by the executors to pay debts the old Padrone had run up … all was sold except three identical cottages, side by side along the high road. These the old man had built as a sort of dowry for when the girls grew up. And grew up they did, though none too handsome I might add, and they each one lived in one of those three cottages, and as time went on and they never married, they slowly took on those inevitable eccentricities that identify bachelors and spinsters. Each had an interest in gardening, so with a small income left them from the estate they lived and thrived in their little individual worlds.“

“The first one had an interest in herbs, her garden bristled with strange, wondrous weeds which would overwhelm you with mystical aromas when you walked past. She could always be seen out amongst those tenacious plants singing and crooning soft songs while dressed in tasselled cloaks and heavy woollen dresses of her own make and design, busy turning the earth with a small garden spade as she hummed … Her name was Marita ..  we nicknamed her ‘FATE’. “

“The second was a light, delicate child, and indeed, she was the same grown to womanhood. Her passion was flowers. Such sweet fulsome blooms of so many varied hues you never saw the like of before and I’ll risk the future to say; you’ll never see the like of again! She too would sing while tending her beds of poppies or mughetti, rose-hedges and lilies, showers of sweet-peas would wash over the fence like a woven waterfall of dancing confetti … and when a wild wind blew, all the front yard up and leapt a-swaying and swirling like a wild tribe in the free abandon of some pagan dance! … she of the multi-coloured skirts we called ‘FACE’ … though her name be Katrina.”

“The third sister was the more serious of them all, with her hair pulled back stern to a tight bun at the back of her head and she clothed in trousers and gum-boots, she would till the earth in her garden as though she were teaching it a lesson, so there were long beds of rich, brown soil oozing an aroma of humus and worm with a faint scent of dry straw wafting amongst the bean trellises. She grew vegetables, all types, and she grew them well or cursed them to hell, her name was Kaileena, we nicknamed her ‘FAVOUR’.”

“So there they stayed and there they cultivated their own peculiar idiosyncrasies, we referred to them as the three sisters: Fate, Face. Favour! And they had strange powers those sisters … mark my words when I say that! … strange ways, strange powers! (fill my glass signor, I thirst! … huh? .0. you’ll second that? … ha.ha … very good! saluti!). I’ll tell you amici, down south here, we are still very pagan in our beliefs, very superstitious … oh si, yes … we give the saints their candles and the pope still gets his silver, but our hearts … (he leant close to whisper) our hearts are with the pagan gods! Ecco! (Bertouli cried as he leapt to his feet and spun his torso in a lithe, quick-stepping momentary dance, finishing with a “Spanish” flourish of the wrists in the air) : we pray to Jesus but dance to Dionysus!”

“The three sisters grew to be our “priests” of pagan superstition, to them we would go for visions of hope, of wealth, for cures of illness. Many mothers would burn a candle at the church for a sick child, then sneak off to Lady Fate for a hopeful cure with a concoction of herbs and secret chanting … even for a little fortune telling from lady Face … what do I mean; even … Madonna mio!, for wasn’t that their speciality? … and they would do it with riddles, with cryptic clues or even facial expressions … my word! they were not often wrong either.”

“For instance: There once was a black marketeer; Capodolcia, his name was, a very wealthy man. then one day he suddenly disappeared … never came back (Bertouli tapped the side of his nose) he was, as they say in those old Yankee movies; “taken for a ride.” And do you know. the day before he disappeared, he comes over to my shop holding a cucumber …

” Mother Favour, she gives this to me as I passed her place,” he said quizzically.

“Did she say anything?” I asked.

“Not a word! … curious, what can it mean?” he said puzzled.

“Well, I for one remember the old saying: The world is like a cucumber ; one day it is in the palm of your hand, the next it is up your arse!” The next day he goes and never comes back … a mystery eh? … but that is what those sisters were like, cryptic and mysterious. (I can see the future now in the bottom of my glass, signor … it looks like a drought … grazie!).

But there was one young fellow who scorned the superstitions, even openly mocked those ladies to the quiet mirth of his friends, though none of his companions would openly laugh at his jibes, being caught between the two worlds, so to speak.

And it came about that the young man, “Sfaccio”, married. and the wedding party walked past the cottages of the three sisters from the church to the parent’s house for the reception, as was the custom in the village and as was also the custom, the three sisters would give the married couple a token each from their garden to wish the newly-weds well.

At the first cottage, that of Mother Fate, parsley was given to the bride as a sign of fertility.

Mother Face gave a boquet of lily as a testament of lasting beauty … and the party then proceeded on to the third cottage.

As Sfaccio came abreast of the cottage of Favour, he, being in an extra happy frame of mind, thought for a bit of sport with the lady there in her garden. He held his hands high to stop the procession and leant over the fence of mother Favour.

“My dear Mother Favour,” he called jovially … “pray attend to the request of the bridal party and tell, if it be in your power, how many bambini will bless their household?” and he laughed uproaresly, others ducked their eyes away, some moaned sheepishly for no-one had ever openly mocked those women before.

”Tell me, oh wise mistress … how many seeds planted in our garden will germinate to fruition or will our loins be as barren as … ” and Sfaccio suddenly snatched off the hat of his father-in-law … ” Pappa’s head!?” And at this everyone laughed, even the father-in-law grinned as he grabbed his hat back, for Sfaccio was friendly if a little cheeky! as the laughter died down there was mother Favour standing there at the fence with her hand out and ten seeds in the palm.

“What are these?” Sfaccio asked, the giggles dying around him.

“Melon seeds” Favour answered,” Take them to the grotto of San Felice, plant them in the shadow of her smile and there count your bounty.” and she turned away with no more to say.

Well, Sfaccio made to cast them aside but his bride held his arm.

“Hold thy patience love, plant them for but the novelty and should they sprout, we will try to match their number.”

“And should all ten sprout?” Sfaccio laughed.

“All the more arrows for thine quiver.” His bride smiled (ah!, amici, it is true that the women have a closer tie to the gods … and the devil!) Sfaccio held his arm up with the seeds in his fist and gazed deeply into his bride’s eyes, but those same that once mesmerised him were now shrouded in mystery! (a wine, signore, a wine!) and he lowered his arm, put the seeds in his pocket, he then called an over-exagerated: “

Addio! Mother Fortune.” And the party moved on.

A week later they passed my shop walking up the hill.

“Ah!” I called out jovially “the newlyweds surface! and where are you two off to on such a crisp day?”

“We are off to plant some seeds, Signore coppersmith,” Sfaccio called back

“What! … and thou has been idle for the last week!?” I laughed.

“Ah! … but this time we plant them under the nose of the blessed Saint Felice!” Sfaccio waved his right hand in a swirling motion.

“Well at least cover her eyes with your cloak lest she get jealous, the saints can’t abide with happy humans!” And the two laughed together and trudged off up the hill.

Now, Franco, the shepherd-boy just happened to be with his flock there near the grotto, and while he saw and heard them, they were oblivious to his presence, particularly as he had hidden himself most cunningly behind some rocks. This is what he heard:

”Now, Sfaccio, we are nearly there … where did she say to plant the seeds?”

“In the shadow of Saint Felice’s smile, wherever that is … but, my love, I confess, I have forgotten to bring them!” And Sfaccio raised his hands in mock apology.

”It’s alright, I took them myself … lest thou fail to remember … Now … where can be the shadow of her smile?” and she gazed around the base of the grotto. Sfaccio’s shoulders dropped with his arms.

“Dear Primula (for that was the wife’s name) this is foolishness to pursue, such a sweet day was made for embracing, not grovelling on a fool’s errand!”

“Ah!” Primula cried ”There … Sfaccio, look!” and she pointed to the ground. Poor Franco was nearly exposed as he gaped over the rocks to see what it was …

“Oh. Of course … I see it, mio stupido … dirt!” Sfaccio mocked.

“Don’t be silly, there, the shadow of her statue on the ground, and there, her lips at the base of the boulder. Here, the seeds, plant them. Sfaccio!”

“What! … not I, dearest … why ”(and he turned to look in every direction)” what if someone were to see me?”

“There is no-one here save the saint and thee and me.”

“Those look like Franco’s flock, he could be hiding, watching us this very minute.”

“What fearest thou from his tongue?”

“You know these people, they see you doing any little strange thing why, if one was to fart in the village of Brommio. by the time you reach Castella di Luci three kilometri hence, the word is already about that you shit yourself!”

But Primula took no notice of him, such is the stubbornness of women.

“Just plant the seeds quickly and it will be done and we will not linger. The longer thou speech … ”

“Alright, alright, it is done!” he said vexed and suspecting that he had been conned, such are the remaining feelings of a woman’s persuasive logic. And I tell you amici, none of those seeds sprouted, and also … no bambini! (look signore! no more wine, presto per favore … to the Bar Centuri” … and the tourists trotted off to get another carafe).

“Bertouli! .. Bertouli!” Alfredo called from the next stall … “You talk too much and too long, remember your friends!” Bertouli looked over and there was Alfredo and Biacchio both wide eyed rubbing their hands together. Bertouli schussed them with pattering hands as the tourists returned.

“Ah! … new wine, new friends, new day!” Bertouli cried effusively … and then continued …

“At first Sfaccio dismissed the delay as bad luck then, as the cycles came and went, they both grew more alarmed … no bambini! … and what is it that possesses the Italian heart, even more than love? … ah! … the family, the bambini! … the little children that drop to earth from God’s lips … il piccilo baci di Dio! Secretly, Sfaccio was seen to visit the grotto of Saint Felice to check if those seeds had sprouted, for little by little that idea had got hold of him, so do we all grasp such thin straws in times of despair. But no seedlings, and allora … no bambini.”

“The people of the village had not failed to notice either, not for nothing is it written: “and the eyes are not satisfied with seeing, nor the ears filled with hearing … ” and I might add: “and the mouth emptied from talking!” so the chatter did the rounds of the village, one gossip to the next and worst of all, Sfaccio and Primula heard not a word of it! Which made them all the more anxious, for they suspected the substance of those rumours. Finally Sfaccio could stand no more, so he fronted the cottage of Mother Fortune.

(Continued tomorrow with Part 2)

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Art for communities sake?

In a sort of response to the post; “Ahead of Our Times: Is Political Progressivism Part of the Australia’s Creative DNA?“, I offer this post up. While I do not dispute the best intentions of Denis Bright’s piece, I would contest the best approach to bring art to the people … I would rather that “art” as we call it, be more a growth FROM the root UP rather than dropped as fruit from the branch DOWN …

Unfortunately, as with many good intentions, my meaningful attempt to gain support from the folk mentioned below in this piece was sabotaged by those ever present warring “issues” between the parties and I fear that while the notion of an idea was appreciated and will be adopted, it has been taken out of my hands completely with a govvy’ grant applied for and already would appear to be morphing into another notion completely, with only the skeletal remains of the original idea kept in place … if at all!
Anyway, here is the original sent to the Progress Assn’ …

“Just a notion of an idea.

A couple of weeks back I put up a story on my blog; “The Seven Weeping Men of Sedan.” I wrote that piece along with another local-centred story … that I also put up there, it stretches out to nearly 7000 words … It is a romance that I wanted to locate locally using local names and identifying landmarks that I feel demonstrate the Australian quirkiness of names … places like The Bulldog Run … The Sleeper Track … The Seven Sisters Junction, etc … I wanted to use these places as a background for the developing love story of the young couple … I wanted the story to show how a story grows from a point of location to a moment of … or perhaps a lifetime of … commitment to each other … sure … in this cynical age of everyone for themselves, romantic love can be seen as a fantasy … a youthful delusion best grown out of … and I can see from my own experience of grown children, the idea of romance of any kind today is looked upon with the curled lip of scepticism … But I don’t know … I think there is still a little bit of room for the desire of close affection and loyalty … and (can I say it?) … Love … right into old age.

Here is a link to the story if you want to read it.

For that story, I claim bragging rights to being the first author to place the action of a romantic tragedy in the town of Sedan!

I had a notion of an idea for such stories to be the basis … along with pieces of local history, to lay a foundation for the construction of a new direction for the town of Sedan … here in the Murray Mallee.

Sedan is just another of those slowly disappearing towns hanging on by the skin of its teeth in what was once a thriving farming area of the Germanic pioneers, but is now a fringe marginal farming district. Weather change and market needs has made the averages of cropping/stock yields turn from good to medium to now marginal … and in doing so has brought about a shift in perception for those who inherit the old farms from a career in agriculture to a more reliable income in the Barossa wine industry or other pursuits. So many old cottages have been let go for too long and much infrastructure neglected … from a once thriving centre with numerous businesses catering to a large labour force to now only three functioning operations. It is fading away.

I wanted to shift the perception from a sighted remnant of a town to one jam-packed with history, mythology and mystery … Ideally located between two major tourist drawcards of the Barossa Valley and the Murray River, Sedan has the history and the silent, brooding nature of those Germanic Pioneers to provide the mystery and the mythology for an interesting stop-over to any travellers through the town.

Sedan is different than most country towns that have the one main-street drive-through in that it is located at a crossroad north, south, east and west … traffic to and from the river district of that section of the Murray River has to pass through Sedan … and where you have crossroads, some traffic has to stop … and once stopped, people have a tendency to look about their position … and there you have them! … you just have to have the attraction to hold them.

And that is where the Sedan Hotel comes in.

Of the three remaining businesses operating in Sedan, only the hotel has the capacity to attract and hold the public … the other two being service places for passing travellers. I took that story of the “weeping men of Sedan” to the mine-hosts of that hotel and explained my ambition and the methodology for ascertaining the possible success of such a plan that I thought would be of benefit to all in the town … It was to leave several copies – anonymous – in A4 loose leaf – tied at the corners with soft cord – on the bar-top just to see if there was interest at all in the notion of a different story-line for the town … ie; would there be enough interest locally AND with the hotel managers to create an aura of mystery and mythology of the district to push the envelope further up the chain of command to the progress association and thence to the local council for further promotion.

As it turned out, there was enough interest in those pieces to encourage me to approach the Progress Association with this prospect.

As I said … the stories are there, the mystery is there as is the history … all it needs is mixing and marketing … and those stories were perhaps the blue-touch paper that could light up the imagination seeking for more!

I would propose to the progress association that we investigate the celebrating of a ceremony … perhaps a kind of “gathering” at the hotel to introduce amateur story-tellers and yarn spinners from – SPECIFICALLY – the Murray Mallee to each other in an atmosphere of convivial homeliness … tongues encouraged to be loosened with a modicum of amber fluid or vino. I would hold to the “Amateur” status for the early days so as to encourage the more reclusive or shy story tellers to yield their knowledge of tales and events of the area.

I could imagine a bit of music accompaniment at such an event would add to the atmosphere, but I would bulk at letting TOO MUCH guitar rather than say … ukulele … or banjo … or hand accordion squeeze-box … to give it that quirky feel to the stories … rather than have it fall back onto a folk-festival event.

I can see that if timed to coincide with the Barossa wine and food festival, it could lure many “over the hill” to taste a little of what we have to offer that is quirky, mysterious and different on the Murray Flats. An annual “gathering” of story-tellers and yarn spinners could re-brand the town with a completely new appreciation.

What do you think?”

(Sent on the 24/4/2019).

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The Arrogance of Power

A Play …

This is a condensed part of a full play that is centred around a well-worked story; that of “The Kelly Gang” … But the difference is displayed in the title … I hope to have delved a little at least into what I call; “An Arrogance of Power” … It is political and social power sometimes held by a charismatic individual like Kelly, or an Authority of governance … or subordinate officials who aspire to have it.

In Ned Kelly’s case, He possessed it as a natural strength, the Colonial Authorities jealously guarded it as their perceived right, and other minor officials desired it as a personal treasure. In the story of the Kelly uprising, this “arrogance” was played out by several people.

I want to try with this portrayal of Ned Kelly, to elevate the man from what may be called in some quarters; A “criminal” mythology, to where I think he more rightly deserves to be placed in our Nation’s short but colourful Colonial history:

That of Heroic Mythology

Act# 4 Scene: 2

… A jail cell. Kelly sits on wooden bench … hands clasped, head down, he is musing on his fate, a cock crows, Kelly starts!

Kelly- “Hark, the dawn, sweet Christ! dawn.(he places his head in his hands, then raises it to gaze straight toward audience). Dear Lord, give my distress reason, this last moment before sunrise … this last moment of my life on this earth. What dire fate carried me to this end? Where my brothers now … my friends? .. Must I face this darkness alone amongst my enemies? … Ah, damn, damn, damn! What humour of the gods threw me to such beasts … is it for the meanest pun that I am cast so? a murderer they call me, yet they have killed more than I. A thief they call me and still they rob the poor and ignorant. (He stands and paces the cell) Yet, there are many who see such injustices done … but why was it to me that fell the responsibility to try to correct such injustices? … I who wanted no more than a farm, and a quiet life. What trick of circumstance brought me to these gallows? … No! … Settle your mind, Ned … hark now while there is still time … go steadily over the facts, for there, is the secret of the rebellion.”

(He sits down, hands apart in front and reflects)

[Stage direction: Here the stage is divided into two, Ned in his cell on the right, (from the audience’s viewpoint) the Governor, Judge Redmond Barry, Superintendent Hare sitting in comfortable chairs, on the left. They are surrounded by all the trappings of their class, they pour themselves glasses of wine from time to time whilst they talk. Their conversation is calm, well constructed and carefully considered. Kelly’s soliloquy is questioning, his answers full of self-doubt till the end where he finally gains the upper-hand, then he becomes calm, self-assured, certain of his conclusion, whilst the others shift about in their chairs, squirming as they become evasive. doubtful …

As each question is put up by Kelly, his side of the stage darkens, the other lights up and his question is “answered” by one of the three as if they were talking to him and vice-versa.]

Judge Redmond Barry holds out his glass, superintendent Hare starts, quickly servile but clumsily reaches out and fills the glass from a carafe on the table … as he fills, they hear a cock crow … they all turn to a window on the set wall.

Governor: “Dawn … it won’t be long now!”

Sir Red. Barry: “If it were done, best it were done quickly.”

Gov; “No passing regrets, Redmond?”

Sir Redmond Barry: ‘With each mans’ death I too am diminished … ha ha! But no, not this time … for Kelly’s crimes shaped his own end eh, Hare? ”

Sup’ Hare: “Certainly, we had all the evidence … (snorts humorously) if such were needed, for he convicted himself by his intent … and that was clear enough.”

Gov’: “What then the talk of his mother?”
[stage darkens, return to Kelly.]

Kelly: ”When the troopers harassed and arrested my mother … did I act too hastily and with too much temper’?”

Sup. Hare.: ”Well, to be accurate, the evidence against his mother was a little … thin on the ground (a soft guffaw from the others) to warrant her arrest … but! … we had to create a catalyst to follow through with the suppression of the district radicals.”

Gov’.: ”Hear! hear!”( the judge snorts approval)

Kelly:” Did I act in too much haste to avenge the treatment given to my family, and friends? … Perhaps I was bold beyond reason?”

Sup’. H.: ”Likewise his father and assorted relatives and friends … we had to make an example of the clan lest their outspoken behaviour be seen as a quality of leadership and so spark rebellion amongst the larger Irish community there in the district. Amongst such clannish people we had little evidence … but we had power and arms enough to divide and accuse regardless of guilt … it is our right to rule … and the prisons, ours to fill!”

Judge Barry: “’Tis a pity Kennedy, and his patrol didn’t rid us of the problem early in the piece.”

Gov’ … ”Being their own kind … you’d have thought they would have been more cunning … set a thief to catch a thief … ”

Sup’. H.:” Ah! … they were ambushed … ’twas bad luck for them … armed to the teeth they were too … ’twas bad luck for us, that!”

(Lights up his pipe).

Kelly: ”Kennedy and his lot … that was an evil day!… For Kennedy was a brave man, the wrath of God be upon me for his death. I’m sure. But then … what were they to expect? Irishmen hunting Irishmen, they could expect nothing but trouble! Those canny bastards always set us against ourselves … divide and rule is the order of the day.“

Sup’ H.:(he draws on his pipe, expels a long breath)” ‘Twas very important to have their own countrymen hunting them, sets the train of doubt and mistrust amongst their community .. They have a long memory: the Irish. And a long memory gives rise to a shorter temper!.
(all three laugh).

Gov’.:  “He’ll be but a memory in a few short moments! … ha! ha!” (the gov’ throws his head back to laugh at his own joke … the other two look at each other and roll their eyes).

Judge Barry: (taps tips of his finders together) ”Though in the eyes of the Crown … we have achieved the desired effect of suppressing a sedition and or a potential uprising of the Irish rebellious contingent in the community … there is a mild … mild I reiterate, moral question that begs discussion. eye-eee (ie.) the deliberate setting-up of these people and incidents and subsequent loss of life to achieve the objective … vis-a-vis: the rooting out and extinguishing of seditious elements within the community”.

Gov’.: “Deliberate setting-up?” (Gov looks to Sup.Hare).

Sup’.H.: (clears throat)”Well, Sir … er, to be honest … (clears throat again).

Gov’: “Out with it man!”

Kelly; (pacing the cell, stops, turns head to side, ponders) All the circumstances, all the petty infringements of law, the paltry nit-picking and harassment of our clan … (paces floor as he reasons) the Irish agin’ Irish, relative against relative it seems as if there was a more deliberate force at work than mere chance, it seems as if everything fell too, too smoothly into place, as if all the trivial accusations were deliberately set up to “strike at” our family but … no!, no! … surely it couldn’t be so …?

Sup. H.: ”I did have a report from Superintendent Nicholson that, among other people, most strongly recommended the (gazes quickly to Judge Barry) “rooting out” of the Kelly family from the district and to (if I may quote)”send them to Pentridge even on a paltry charge” to take them away from the community and to reduce their influence in the area so, yes, Sir, in some ways it was a deliberate “set-up” as Judge Barry mentioned, though I must admit that it did not go always as planned and I think it was our good fortune that there was not a general uprising at the siege of the Glenrowan Inn! .. and if they had succeeded in the derailment of the troop train … ?(he finishes with a nervous swig of wine) … thank heaven for the schoolmaster” …

Gov’: ”Ah, yes … the spoiler … ”

Sup’ H: ”Spoiler, Sir?”

Judge B; “We have our own “spoilers”, Hare … every Jesus has his Judas …” He gulps his wine.

Gov’; “Quite so, quite so … That close, eh? … (Sup Hare nods in silence) Hmm, is this report common knowledge?”

Sup’.H.: “Only to the higher echelons of the department, Sir.”

Gov’: (stands and begins to pace the floor with hands clasped behind back) “Then keep it such … and Nicholson? … good man that, sees deeply into a problem … (pauses, reflects on his statement) … reward him with a promotion (suddenly raises finger) no, wait! … not promotion, money! give him a supplement to his pay … heh!heh! … money is the most subtle gag! … besides, we don’t want a too competent man near the “top” (stops pacing, looks to the others meaningfully) do we?” (no word from the other two, so he smiles). You know I have received a petition of plea for clemency for Kelly … thirty thousand signatures … (he looks from one to the other, reading their reactions). Yes … (he sighs and sits back down) that is an awful lot of support in the community … of course there is no chance of it happening, as if the Crown can relinquish so firm a grasp on law and order! No, he shall hang as ordained in the courts of justice.” (Gov raises his glass toward Judge Barry).

Kelly: ”But if it was such, if there was a deliberate conspiracy to victimise our family and friends … let me think … (counts out on fingers) Me. Mother, Dan, Jim, Joe Byrne, Aaron Sherrit, Jack Lloyd, Bill Skillion, James Quinn. Pat Quinn (stops counting and looks toward audience in a state of shock) all sentenced, all served time … there can be little doubt but that we were hounded into the courts for some covert reason. Damn their eyes that they have played us into an insidious trap! That the authorised government would sink to such depths to isolate and oppress a group of people as an example to the general mass. What twisted frame of mind would seek such notorious security? That it would selectively sacrifice individuals for its own greater comfort. No, it was not I who was the criminal in this escapade. Let the filth of their cunning permeate into the furtherest reaches of their administration, for they will reap just reward for the evil they sow this day (clenches fist in anger).

Judge B.:(swills wine in glass whilst gazing down reflectively) ”I fear we have set a precedent with this action that can lead us down a treacherous path,”

Gov.: ”How so. Redmond?”

Judge B: “‘Tis a fateful pity we picked on such courageous an individual as Edward Kelly, on the surface he would appear “easy-meat”; poor, uneducated country-bumkin! But there is a natural leader under that impoverished hide that may yet become a beacon to others.”

Gov.: “Come, come,Redmond. You colour us as tyrants and that … that(waves fingers) dirt as a new Brian Boru !”

Judge B.: ”You heard him in my courtroom? … You read his “Jerilderie Letter”?

Gov.: ”Ravings! my dear man, ravings!”

Judge B.: ”To us, yes, for we deem them as such … We dismiss the crude rhetoric as a maniacs rave … but I tell you there was a power in both those “ravings”, a power that came from a deep belief in the injustice of his jailing … of his family’s convictions … of the oppression of his peoples … MY peoples still! … Such a power has its own silent brooding strength within! … we are indeed fortunate if there is not an uprising after dawn today!”

(A silence prevails)

Gov.: (stands and thinks) “Then we must ‘colour’ the man’s last moments.”

Sup’ Hare; ”How so Your Excellency?”

Gov.: ”Why, we shall apply that time-honoured system when dealing with the ‘honest’ opposition we shall LIE! … lie and dishonour their memory! (pounds fist into palm of other hand)Let the sentence follow its rubric script, only we, (pauses, wags finger) shall darken the language to the pitch of blood! What is left untarnished … let them adore! But I beg you, fellow corpsmen, let it be little or best still … nothing of respectable substance! We hang Kelly as a murderer; let us paint him as more than such! You; Hare, make sure you report his “cowardice” at the hanging, use any language at your command to make an unfavourable impression with our friends of the Press of his last moments … we must start now to nip any sympathy in the bud and we shall use all means available to do it! … ”

Kelly: “And still it was I who took up the challenge to right their criminal intent but why? … why was it left to me? … many a time gladly would I have given over the reins to another … (softly). Christ too begged release, yet there was none to take it. Likewise my own position … Joe Byrne? … too cavalier … Dan? too young, likewise Steve Hart but of the rest? … like the disciples of Christ: no vision, it would have all frittered away till there was only the cruel oppression left and us rotting in Pentridge goal … No, there was no other to take the initiative … only I (slumps down on bunk, arms limp on lap…slowly looks up to audience, stands, points to audience accusingly) … and you! You stand by and let me and the likes of us carry the burden of responsibility and pay the price! … what is your part in this history? … (stands transfixed, mouth slightly open, pointing finger lowers slowly softly speaks) … But what am I saying … they are invisible: the silent majority, they do not figure in history, till the suffering attains a greater magnitude, then and only then does the collective whinge become a moan of anguish! … aaaahhh! (flings arm wide).bugger the lot of them! … it is too late to lament my lot now, I am condemned to die dishonourably to give cold honour to a cowardly population … well, I’ll give them one thing to think about: at least I’ll die game! … (shouts) I AM NED KELLY … SON OF RED KELLY! … ”

Gov.: ”It is nearly time now, superintendant, go and witness Kelly’s “cowardice” and give it favourable report in the daily press.” (Sup’ Hare stands to attn, salutes and departs.) ”Good man that (nods after Hare), I must recommend a suitable reward for his services.”

Judge B: “More money, Your Excellency? (Gov is about to sit, stops mid action and gazes questioningly at the judge) … since I’m sure we don’t want too competent a man near the top” (sips wine innocently)

Gov.: (sits down slowly but comfortably) ”I’m sure I can manage my … subordinates … Redmond … yes, more money, never fails (sips wine, sighs) I’ll have to order in another crate of this most enjoyable red, it sits most delightfully on my digestion!”

Judge B.: “It disturbs mine.”

Gov.: “That is because you gulp it down too fast my dear Redmond … I’ve watched you. No! … don’t deny it, but listen, good wine is money to the blood … as the coins feel reassuring when they jingle in your pocket and you “embrace” them with your fingers before you spend them … So it is with wine, you let it lay a little on the tongue then press it gently against the palate to feel the richness of it’s fruit before you consume … BEFORE you consume, my dear Redmond … then it will not sour your gut! … (looks to the judge and laughs) ha! ha! ha!”

Kelly: (returns to bench and sits, hands on knees) “Ah well, they destroy me … but I will take some of them with me … for I will be the nemesis of their hatred! … they have “roped ” themselves to me. Now, as I die … so must they … mine is not the only neck that will be gracing the rope !” (places head in hands and sobs gently he then stops, looks up) Mother … please give me strength to die like a Kelly.”

Judge B.: (taps fingertips together as he speaks) “Of course all this damn drama has risen out of the selectors’ poverty. There is such a thing as too much poverty, Gov’, I see it before my bench continually … ”

Gov.: ”… and where there is poverty there is crime … ”

Judge B.: “And where there is wealth, I contritely add: Is there not greater crime?”

Gov.: “Ahh! but that ‘crime’ is affiliated, my dear Redmond, affiliated.”

Judge B.: “And we, I take it, are all shareholders?”

Gov.: (stands up abruptly, looks to the judge) “Yes, by God!, that or poverty! … I leave you choose the more favourable … (lowers voice) but come , Redmond, I didn’t make the rules, I am only a caretaker and I too must answer to a greater power … well aware am I that the substance of the poor always goes to enrich the wealthy (hunches shoulders appealingly) but what would you? … Those of us who pull the levers of Authority know only too well the tenuous hold we have on that power … and we know only too well that we rule not on our own strength … for what really are you Redmond, or I, if challenged to arms … but through the obedient strength of those we command … those we own … and if they but knew what we know … So, dear Redmond … Let us be thankful we are only hanging one man, not a whole class!”

Judge B.: ”(drains glass with a wince) Pray we are not , in the long run, hanging ourselves!”

(Stands to leave). Stage darkens.

Exit scene.

N.B.: The full play “An Arrogance of Power” can be read on my blog site here.

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The story of Hannibal / Hannibal’s Tale

I always find that when things in the political / work world get just TOO complicated and solutions seem to get further and further away, it is best to return to the simpler things in one’s life to think about …

This children’s story has it’s origin in two events. The first was in my wanderings as a much younger man trying my hand at opal mining … not so much mining, really as scratching around.

In amongst those months of loneliness up in the desert, I had as a “pet” companion, a mouse that I caught one day eating at a packet of biscuits … I named him “Hannibal” and I kept him / her in my top pocket fed on bits and pieces of crumbs .

The other part is filled by an old miner who lived in a “dugout” hole in the side of a hill a couple of miles away, like the header pic above.

He was quite old then and his “dugout” in the hill contained only a big iron-frame bed and one small picture hanging precariously on the cave wall … It was a painting of a sailing clipper-ship that he assured me was the very ship he sailed in to Australia so many years ago.

The “dugout” he lived in had a big hole in the roof that with the bright moonlight shining in, would give the super-white alunite walls a kind of blueish-phosphorous glow … quite a sight with he there on the edge of the bed talking of ships and seas while we were both in the middle of a vast desert!

Spinifex hopping mouse.

The spinifex hopping mouse, also known as the tarkawara or tarrkawarra, occurs throughout the central and western Australian arid zones, occupying both spinifex-covered sand flats and stabilised sand dunes, and loamy mulga and melaleuca flats.

The Story of Hannibal / Hannibal’s Tale

When old Charlie took me in as a live-in companion, I was living out in the sticks … Most of my experience had been a close encounter with the seedy side of life … a pretty hairy existence. So I was quite happy to be nothing more than a “conversation piece” to a lonely old man while I got my room and board, along with regular meals free of charge.

It took me a little while to get used to his house and habits … some of those older folk have habits of doing things that have taken them dozens of years to perfect. But I didn’t mind, he was always quiet in the mornings as he come to the breakfast table … just saying; “Hello, Hannibal” … that’s the nickname he gave me … He reckoned that anyone as tough and resilient as myself deserved a heroic name! He didn’t really expect too much conversation, and sometimes he would even ask me something and then answer for me as well.

Sometimes he’d take a piece of rock out of his pocket and ask;

“What do you think of that colour, Hannibal?” and he’d answer himself before I even had time to think; “… well I think it’s nice … a bit on the pale side, but it will scrub up well.”

I think it was just the fact of having some company there that cheered him up, and sometimes we would do things together … ”I want you to stick close to me today, Hannibal … I want you as close as my shirt pocket.”

On some days, he’d take me with him to work …

“Today, Hannibal, we are going to drive a little way along the east ridge … I think we might find some colour there” … and if it wasn’t too much of a tight squeeze on the drive, he’d take me with him for a bit of company, keeping up a running commentary of what he was thinking while he worked. It was often quite entertaining and I didn’t have to contribute to the work or the conversation at all as he told story after story … he didn’t even expect me to laugh … though they could be sort of funny at times, I think he would have been shocked if I did laugh!

At night, he would cook up a nice little dinner and I would get my meal from the best bits … with all the trimmings of a yeast bun dessert, or a biscuit .

At bed-time he would see me to my room with his “Tilley lantern”, and make sure I was safe and comfortable for the night before going to his own bedroom … all in all, it was a very nice billet for the several months I was with him.

Eventually though, he had to let me go … I am afraid some of my nocturnal adventures had got the better of me and I came home with my three tiny babies … and he had to rename me “Hannibelle”. Old Charlie said he was too old now for the pitter-patter of little feet, and I had to find a place of my own.

He read out a letter his sister wrote to him to say she too had; “ … found another nice “home” that HE could go into when he was ready … after all, he wasn’t getting any younger … ,” and he sighed and shook his head.

“Hannibelle,” he said; “I’d rather live in a hole of my own choosing … if they don’t mind.”

Old Charlie has since left the district to go to another mining town, because that was his life; he was an opal miner you see? … and he had to let me go my own way … after all, he couldn’t be expected to take a Spinifex hopping mouse and all her offspring with him in the inside pocket of his old jacket, could he?

This was originally published on my own site; freefall852.wordpress.com.

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Ted and Edie dance the Rumba

“I saw it happen an’ that’s how I knows it … and I know why it happened … an’ I’m sorry it didn’t happen a long time ago, back when they could’ve made something with it.” Swertzy took a drag on his cigarette again and settled into the chair outside the Sedan Post Office and reflected on times past … his portly frame shifted to ease the rheumatic pain in his hip.

Heinie Schwertzferger explained:

“Ted and I first learned proper dancing with old Mrs Harris, who used to give dance classes in her home back in the fifties … over there in Towitta … when Ted and I were young blades … She would move the lounge table to one side and crank up the old gramophone player and she and her hubby would teach a group of us locals how to dance real proper like … you know … the Fox-trot, Military Two Step … those old ballroom dances of the day … ”

“A few of us young blokes went there because there was a lot of old-style dances in those days or when the rock and roll came along, there were those 60/40 type dances and we wanted to meet and dance with girls … none of us being that suave with the ladies … save Johnny Hocking … he was a goer .. but “Rosie” … Ted Rosenswietz and I … well, we just weren’t in the game … so we learned how to dance with Mrs. Harris .. and learned darn good too! … oh, she was a good teacher … so that when we went to those dances held in the Sedan Hall by Gladys and Johan Herbig, she … Gladys, said that there wasn’t anything she could teach us and that we were just swell at dancing … ”

“But she could show us a new dance … The Rumba … ”

Heinie took a draw on his ciggy and stared into the distance as he deliberated on his thoughts ..

“I wasn’t that good at the rumba, the movements were a tad too quick for me .. ’specially the turn and stepping back … I was a bit clumsy in that movement … but Ted and his dance partner, Edith Bentley were a perfect match … they moved as one, joined by a kind of tied cord through their arms and hands … they were very good … but they were at their best when they danced the rumba to that then new Roy Orbison song: “In Dreams” … they’d look into each other’s eyes and sweep around that floor like they were floating on a cloud … they were so good.”

“Every month, the Herbigs would have a dance at the Sedan Hall, and every month, Ted and Edie would do a centre of the floor demonstration of the perfect rumba … and you couldn’t help but give them the applause they deserved at the end … they were good … they were so good.”

“Well, after dancing together so long, it was no surprise that Ted took a shine to Edie in a serious way … and he confided to me and Edie’s brother one afternoon in the hotel, that he had honourable intentions to ask for Edie to become engaged to him at the next dance … and he smiled the smile of a happy man … ”

“He didn’t say any more on the subject, but you can bet that Edie’s brother told his mother that same week of Teds intentions … now, while the war had ended a long time ago, there still lingered that undertone of distrust between the Anglo community and the German community … things had not yet got back to any sort of normalicy … after all , it was only just a recent memory as far as memories go … ”

“Well, that next dance, Ted shows up in his best clothes … his only suit, he has his high polish Roaul Martin dance shoes on and a bright red rose in his lapel that he had plucked from Mrs. Auright’s front garden on his way to the dance … He’s standing there over the one side of the hall, and Edie is sitting with her mother over the other side of the hall … they only have eyes for each other … Ted smiles his biggest smile and walks across the dance floor to stand in front of Edie, who now has a pinched lips look on her face … a worried look … Ted reaches out his hand and requests her hand for the next dance …

Ted had arranged that the music for that dance would be their favourite rumba number … yes … Roy Orbison … ”In Dreams” … they would face each other in those first opening lines where he says; “That candy coloured clown they call the sand man … ” … they would get set ‘in the square’ as they say and then move on from there when the song starts … ” I close my eyes and I drift away … ” Well, there Ted is in all his glory … and Edie hesitates, looks to her mother, who does not say a word … not – a – word … does not even look at Ted or Edie, but just stares straight ahead into the hall and then firmly places her hand on Edie’s forearm and holds it in her grip … stopping Edie from reaching to Ted’s outstretched hand … and there it stood for a greater time than can be measured in a moment … it was to be an eternity … for with that one mute gesture, Mrs. Mavis Bentley had asserted her parental authority upon the desires of the younger couple and in effect cancelled any wish of Ted to “pop the question” to Edie … the dance partnership was over … and as they remained there in silence, that song played mockingly out over the hall:

“In dreams I walk with you …

in dreams you’re mine …

in beautiful dreams … ”

Ted stepped back, stood tall gave a measured bow of his head and without a word, walked out of the hall … ”

“The Bentleys moved from the district to the city not many months after that incident, Ted never went back to the dances, eventually he married a lass from Angaston and settled down to a farming life … But it was a doomed marriage in the long run and he ended up growing old alone … ”

“And now there they were, fifty years later … Ted dressed to his best, his resurrected Raoul Martin dance shoes polished to a dazzling shine … though he was no longer the strapping young man that he was … indeed, you could say that time had worked its measure on his body, for he walked with a limp now … and there was Edie again, after so many years there at this one-off celebratory “Olde time dance” for the anniversary of the Sedan Hall, there with her grand-children … and she herself was also what we would call time-worn through the usual burdens of life and children … no longer the lithe maiden that Ted swept around the dance floor in his arms … herself now a widow … and there they were, again with only eyes for each other … not in a romantic way, but now rather more in a “I dare you” way. A cheeky smile played on both their lips as they held each other’s stare.

Ted had once again plucked a rose from the front yard of … the now deceased … Mrs. Auright’s place and he had arranged that the disc-jockey put on that now very old song of Roy Orbison: “In Dreams” … he stepped out onto the dance floor just as the first chords of the song were played … and with his eyes as a querying gesture and his hand outstretched toward Edie, he raised his eyebrows questioningly … Edie accepted his request … ”

They squared up to each other as those first words were spoken by the Big ‘O’:

“That candied coloured clown they call the sand-man,

Tiptoes to my room every night,

Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper …

Go to sleep, everything’s alright … ”

“I close my eyes …” The Big ‘O’ sang …

“And off they went into that rumba … like they had just left off yesterday some fifty years ago … not a movement out of step, not a turn fumbled for lack of practice or usual companionship … not even a sign of that limp that so bedevilled Ted for all these years and Edie’s hip showed not the least sign of slip or hindrance as they moved from hand to hand, half or double turn … in step with old Roy ‘O’s beautiful lyrics:

“In Dreams I walk with you … – four-one two three …

In dreams I talk to you … – turn, fan … alemana …

In dreams you’re mine … all of the time … -forward walk … hockey-stick, touch …

We’re together … in dreams … in dreams … -spot turn … again single … then double …”

Oh they were good … just so good … and that rumba was made for Roy Orbison’s song … a perfect match … and every one else on that dance floor had stopped dancing and stepped away to gaze stupefied at this lovely old couple sweeping up and down the dance floor, movement upon movement in exact and beautiful synchrony … no! … they were not old, they were alive with their own youthful vigour!

Turn and step forward and backward … hand high to hand alemana and fan then cucaracha …

like a young couple fresh from a dance class of the sixties … as indeed they were in their heads and hearts … their eyes glued to each other, their hands and bodies not just touching, but finger-tip caressing with the touch of young lovers all over again …

shoulder to shoulder … the song continued …

“But just before the dawn, I awake to find you gone … ”

side to side … alemana, in and out four, one two three four …

“I remember-when you said-goodbye …

It’s too bad that all these things … ”

And on they danced to the end … till those last notes and words from the Big ‘O’ finished the dance:

“And I’ll be happy in my dreams …

only in dreams …

in beautiful dreams … ”

They finished with a beautifully executed hand to hand turn to end up facing each other “in the square” as they started … there was complete silence in the hall … their dance was beyond compliment of mere applause, for this was the completion of their relationship that started so long ago, only to be interrupted by the tyrannical hand of social expectation … but with this dance they had completed their obligation of their love affair to themselves and each other … there was no more needed to be said … indeed, they were deaf and blind to all around them …

Ted dropped his hands to his side, bowed his head in a measured way and said.:

“Thank you, Edie.”

To which Edith Bentley smiled coquettishly, blushed and replied …

“Thank YOU, Ted.”

“Edie turned and walked back to where her grandchildren sat open mouthed and Ted walked proud and without limp to the door-way and out of the hall.”

Swertzy stubbed out his cigarette in the aluminium ash tray on the table and finished with:

“I saw it happen and that’s how I knows it … an’ I’ll say again .. it’s a pity it didn’t happen that way a long time ago when they could’a made something with it … but that’s life … ”

 

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The Tancredi Dilemma

Tancredi is a character in the Lampedusa novel (The Leopard) about the unification of Italy and the ending of aristocratic governance in Southern Italy … and it was this character who uttered that most famous of lines; “For things to remain the same, everything must change.” Of course, he was referring to the aristocratic rulers inserting covert agents like himself into democratic government so as to keep a hold on any revolutionary changes that would lessen the power (as much as possible) of the ruling class … of which he was one.

The end of the nineteenth century saw the diminishing of aristocratic power in favour of the rising middle-class political base … just like now, in the twenty-first century, we are seeing that now old/aged middle-class of high industry/banking losing ground to a rising aspirant/younger middle-class of brash technocrats and entrepreneurs, not necessarily savvy in the complex ‘rules’ of patriarchal network, military engagements and old-money finance, but more keen on flash finance, fast turnover and short, swift credit transfers based more on the theory of gambler’s luck than a book-keepers reliable ledger account.

Chance of a quick ‘killing’ being the modus operandi of the next generation of players!

And this is where The Tancredi Dilemma becomes interesting … for in the first instance above, the middle-classes that replaced the aristocrats were solid merchants, with investments in solid goods … products from the far east, trading ships and barges up and down the major rivers of the world … the spices and silks .. the ivory and slaves, manchester and machinery formed the base of their massive accumulated wealth … they were well-placed to challenge the decadent aristocratic class for the top job of sovereign governance … all it took was a wave of the royal sword of knighthood to ‘legitimise’ a swathe of the more wealthy or devious of the crew and they were cemented into the ‘network’.

Now, as this network gets old and decrepit in a generational sense, we see a new set of eyes peering through the glass darkly, hungry for a grab at that sovereign governance … but these new eyes are not as political savvy as the old hands … not as patient to wait for the royal dab with the Wilkinson Sword of knighthood … these new kids on the block are brash, aggressive bastards who are breaking the panelled doors down with mace and sledge-hammer … vulgar is not strong enough a word to describe them … barbarian is closer to the truth … the Visigoths at the gates of Rome …

How is this new breed of ‘Bankers on Credit’, ‘Merchants of internet selling’ going to manage the social structures needed to keep a society stable and conducive to good, predictable, long-term governance? In short … they cannot! … Their failing at even the most simple social programs that we see falling to pieces around us as we go about our work, child-care, health, transport and play demonstrates a cabal of wannaby ‘leaders’ who couldn’t lead a blind man down a wide, empty boulevard without tripping on every slight obstacle in their path … they themselves being blind and ignorant beyond comprehension.

Since the end of the generations that saw Keating pass the baton to Howard, who in his own mean-spirited way did a ‘Tiberius’ and prepared a ‘Satyr’ for the people of Australia with his paving the way for a far right infection into the LNP that even he couldn’t see the damage he was inflicting, there has been an endless stream of younger blunt, weaponised LNP members fumbling around The House and the authorities, corrupting without thought on the consequences, every authority, every bureaucracy and oversight office so that now we have no confidence ..  and rightly so! In any judgement brought down on any investigation of possible departmental fraud or high political office corruption … the individualistic operations of many members of the parliament to feather their own nests or those of their backers has totally corrupted the system … so that even our voting system, once the yardstick of safe, secure and fair elections copied around the world, is now tainted with an air of doubt … if not absolute distrust and scorn!

Even those of us on the Left of politics have had to watch unbelieving as we see our representatives go to water in the face of right-wing wedging and bluff … their fear of a MSM attack on their persons driving them to shelter and hide … Their now plump and shiny selves, from the largesse of many years in office losing that “lean and hungry look” so necessary in a political animal needed to shift the corpulent carcass of LNP dead-weights so welded to their seats.

The Tancredi Dilemma is needed again to have the middle-class burn some of its own … be that middle-class of the left or the right, they have to waste some of the dead-wood and decrepit stooges laying like rotting logs across the path … The new middle-class of IT techies and self-employed tradies have to wade into the fray and with metaphorical laser and hammer carve and smash away those who would never want change … and it has to be done soon and with extreme prejudice before we all burn in our beds from a destroyed environment!

For things to remain the same … ie; the ‘ruling bodies’ to hold position of power in the parliament with orthodox structures securing their authority … everything must now change … just as Rome had to fall so that Europe could rise, the dinosaurs in our politics must ‘die’.

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Aunty

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

It went like this:

Aunty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is Mihali?” Aunty asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six months later:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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