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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.

Days of Beer and Weed …

Growing up in the 70s …

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

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

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

Mick … A character study

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

“Jesus wept!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mick’s Glorious Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You lived there?!”

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff turned to his drinking mate and sighed …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Exile of Celia Adamson (part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“O’ I love you! … ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She stopped to gather her thoughts:

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

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

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

“How do I feel with his presence?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2

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The Exile of Celia Adamson (part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh last week,” Celia replied casually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean laughed softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Celia,” Gilbert called.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it heavy?” Celia asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“You right?” Jean asked.

“As rain,” Celia replied with a grimace.

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

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

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

“Oh bugger!” She sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh dear,” Celia sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

Concludes tomorrow …

Part 1

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The Exile of Celia Adamson

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

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

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

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

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

The Exile of Celia Adamson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continued tomorrow …

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The Apprentice’s Revenge

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

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

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

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

It went like this:

The Apprentice’s Revenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, if I may … ”

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

“Well, if I may … ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hmm … Ah!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What incident!?”

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

“Long, sharp, scissors?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God, how they all leapt in the air!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“WHACK!”

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

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The man who discovered forever

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you a gambling man, George?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The obscure?” I queried.

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

“Like?” I raised my eyebrows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Danny and Moira (part 3)

Continued from Part 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danny continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Danny and Moira (part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

“It all started with my going outside for a ciggy and a break from the post office. It was a very clear night, with the only intrusion being the usual raucous from the pub over the road. The harvest was going full tilt. Then from somewhere inside the hotel, a piano started playing and the hubbub started to die down and a woman started singing … and in the now silent night air, that voice sounded to me like the voice of a free bird … her lilting and sighing a joy to my ears …

I flung the cigarette to the ground and crossed the road to look through the window … I was too young to go into the bar, besides, I couldn’t leave the exchange for long in case a call came through. Looking through the window I saw Moira for the first time. To me, her face shone even in that smoky bar-room light like the morning sun on a new day, and her raven hair shimmered and shone … her body lithe and full … she was all that my awakening young male body desired in a woman. Already I was in love.

She looked a beauty then, and I was to get to know her much better in the weeks to come.

The first time we spoke was through the door of the post office. It was late Saturday afternoon after closing time and she was at the front door knocking and making appealing gestures to be let in. Unknown to her, it was with a trembling hand that I opened the door to her.

“Ah! Thanking you there, my good man,” she gushed with a beautiful smile, “could I be troubling you to write me out a money order to send to my sister in the city this late in the day?”

“I … I’m afraid the post office is closed now. I’m sorry,” I mumbled out apologetically.

“Yes … the post office is closed, but I see you’re still here … and it would be you who could do me this favour,” she smiled cheekily.

The upshot of it was that she needed to send the money to her sister as a payment for caring for Moira’s young child while she; Moira was there earning some money. A single mother could lose custody of her child in those days if the authorities deemed her not capable of ‘supplying for needs of the child,’ and as Moira was paid on the Saturday afternoon, she wanted to get the money to her sister as soon as possible …

Of course, I wasn’t supposed to, but how could I refuse? … Both because of her parental situation and then because I adored her. So I sent the money … she was genuinely happy that I did her the favour and even kissed my cheek as I leant over the desk to give her the receipt. I did indeed blush deeply.

“That’s to say thanks,” she smiled. “It means so much to me to have that one thing out of the way … but could I ask that same favour of you every week … I’m sorry for bothering you, but I get paid every Saturday and we live so far out of town?”

Of course, I would gladly do her the favour … any favour … but I told her to come to the back door and call in for me so no-one else would demand the same service.

“And to whom do I call?” she asked.

“Danny,” I stammered out … “me. I’m Daniel.”

“And a fine Irish name that be too.” Moira smiled again; “I’ll be asking for you then … my Danny Boy!” and again she smiled that beautiful smile.

And that’s how we got closer and easier in our relationship over the following weeks. Moira would come into the back room and call a cooee and I would attend to her money order and sometimes she would sit and chatter while I did the paperwork. Sometimes I’d get her a cup of tea or she would light up a cigarette with me just outside the back door and we talked of each other.

I remember early in this arrangement Moira suddenly asked me; “How old are you?” I shot a quick look at her, trying to judge her motive …

“Seventeen,” I replied. “And yourself … if I may ask?”

“Cheeky!” she admonished as she stubbed out her cigarette. “If you must know; twenty-one next week!” and she then slipped away with a teasing laugh. God … she was my delight at that time … my utter delight.

Through all this harvest, she and I became close pals … that’s all … just pals … as we used to say … though there is a point in the relationships between men and women where that line of friendship, once crossed into the realm of affection, can never be returned … and it can grow like a blossoming flower, slowly, yet intensely, so that you aren’t completely aware of it at all, till one day, one sudden look tips you over the line. But there was one cloud on the horizon of our friendship and that was her ‘man’ … a brutish fellow named Bruce Dobson – an itinerant labourer that followed the seasonal harvests around the country – a man of around twenty-eight or nine years old … a loner, a scrapper, rather handsome in that hard-chiselled way. Not someone to cross swords with, if you get my drift. But he was a problem external to Moira and my regular Saturday meetings. He would be working or at the bar drinking when we would meet at the post office. Strange how some men hold their relationships with women more as a trophy, a possession, rather than a loved one.

“Danny!” she’d call through the back door and I’d call her to come in. Oh how I loved hearing her call my name and how I adored saying her name in return. I recall a quiet moment having a ciggy there by the back door one evening just before she went to do her stint singing that night, she quietly said:

“Danny … would you like me to sing a song for you?” I flicked the ash off my smoke nervously and replied:

“Oh … yes … that’d be nice … very nice. I’d like that … thank you.”

“Well I finish my stand at the piano there at eleven o’clock. If you come to the side window there by the planter-box and look in … I’ll sing you the last song.”

I mumbled and blushed my gratitude and she touched the side of my cheek with her hand, smiled a gentle smile and walked away. I can still hold the memory of that touch … the warmth of her hand … for it was more than a casual gesture … it was the passing of an affection between us. It changed our relationship from that moment on.

The song she sung to me that night was ‘Danny Boy’ … oh how my heart sung along with her. And every now and then she would look to me … straight to me as I stared through the smudged glass of that window and sing those most tender words to me … only to me …

“But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow,
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow,
It’s I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow,
Oh, Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so!”

And with those last sung words, she looked straight to me … straight into my heart it seemed. Oh the power a woman has to grasp and hold a man’s deepest desires, whether she is aware of it or no … it is a power so all embracing, so strong that sometimes only death can release him from her hold. And so it must be in return … with a man to a woman. I don’t know what that hold was to her from someone as meek as myself, but Moira saw a strength in me that touched and held her heart likewise … a bond supreme … and it would prove to be a bonding extreme, for it became a point that at the end of her Saturday night session, she would finish with that song and I would make it a point to be there at the window, peering in and through that smoky world, Moira would finish every time with those lovely words whilst staring right into my eyes … into my soul.

As Moira told me, her birthday was to be soon, and I knew the harvest season was coming to a close. Already some of the contractors had terminated their season in the district and moved on, so would Moira and Bruce move away, I presumed. My heart was suffering from the thought of never seeing her again, so one day that week, I grabbed a lift to the city from a local and went to a jeweller and bought a golden locket on a chain for Moira’s birthday … it took a goodly amount of my savings, but I could think of no better use for them than this gift.

That following Saturday, Moira came knocking at the back door as usual. We went through the regular business of her posting the money to her sister and then went to have our usual smoke by the back door. I had the locket and chain ready in my pocket.

“When did you say your birthday was?” I broke the ice. Moira looked slightly askance to me.

“I didn’t … but since you ask, it was two days ago.” She took a drag on the cigarette and then continued; “Why do you ask?”

I stubbed the smoke out and reached into my pocket and removed the locket nervously. I wondered now if it was not too presumptuous on my part … perhaps the locket and chain looked too cheap. Many doubts now crossed my mind.

“Because I … I brought something for you.” And I held up the locket and chain. I mumbled on nervously and quickly; “It is a special locket where … if you look here there is a tiny clip that you can unlock with your fingernail and it opens up and you can put a keepsake inside …”

Moira left the cigarette fall to the ground and turned and clasped the locket in both her hands like it was a fragile thing. Her eyes glowed with delight at the gift … she then turned her face to me and gazed with the deepest affection.

“And I had it engraved inside … if you don’t mind … here, see?”

Moira read out the words:

“To Moira, from your Danny Boy.”

“Oh, Danny … it is so wonderful … truly beautiful. Thank you.” And she then took the locket into her hands and gazed upon it. “Could you clip it on me, please?” And she held it to me. I took it and she turned around and lifted her hair so I could fix the clasp on the nape of her neck … which I did, but so slowly as I wanted to see and touch her skin there … my finger-tips absorbing the warmth of her body. I closed my eyes and took in the moment. I wanted to totally absorb the feeling of her body there … the soft touch of her hair and the colour of her skin … the tiny follicles of hair on the nape of her neck as I fixed the clasp of the chain. I was enthralled.

After I had finished, Moira turned to me … she lifted the locket to look closely at it then she suddenly let it go, threw her arms about my neck and kissed me passionately on my lips. I drew life there and then from that kiss … oh that kiss. I held her so tight with my open hand and fingers spread so as to touch and clasp as much of her to me as possible. I had then embraced a joy complete … we kissed and kissed.

Before she left just then, she went and took a pair of scissors from the counter and coming back, she cut a tiny lock from my hair and placed it into the locket … we kissed again, and she went to her work.

It was the commencement of life for both of us.

Of course, it did not take long for Bruce to notice a change of heart in Moira … for her heart was now given to another and such a shift of the soul cannot go un-noticed. Bruce’s jealous spite took command and even though she had told him that the locket was a gift from her sister, he was foully suspicious … even more so than we had suspected, and it happened one night as I was making my way home up the ‘Sleeper Track Road’ at the Seven Sisters Junction.

Concludes tomorrow …

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Danny and Moira

The large, plate-glass window of the lounge area of the River View aged care home overlooked the willow-lined banks of the Murray River in the centre of that regional city that had been home for him and his family for these many years … known for its fruit and wine industry … Mr. Daniel Flannigan lay quiet in a parked palliative care bed placed in an advantageous position that gave him a full vista of the passing river. He lay quiet in what could be describe as a pensive mood, the latest results of his advanced condition giving little to no hope of continued life expectancy. His pensive mood was not from a state of depression, no … for at his advanced age of eighty-six, he was more in a state of reflection of past events that most satisfied and pleased him in his long life.

He was thinking of Moira.

After a long marriage of sixty years and two children, Danny’s wife, Moira, passed away three years ago, leaving him lonely and listless with little will to live longer than what life ordained, so when a diagnosis of terminal cancer was pronounced upon him, he quietly greeted the news as a kind release from an empty life. Now, as the river slipped away past the window, so too did the last breaths of Danny Flannigan.

Yet, not a week ago, did he get a long visit from his son; Sargent Tom Flannigan, resident and sole officer of the Mallee Region police patrol, that oversees an area the size of Scotland. The visit was a combination of regular “touching of home base” and an inquiry into his father’s knowledge of where he was raised as a young man back in the ‘fifties. Tom was seeking Danny’s insight into a puzzling case that had come to Sgt. Flannigan’s attention with the recent discovery of a skeleton unearthed beside a lonely stretch of road just east of the town of Sedan.

It was an interesting conversation between father and son. The father, because it touched upon his main considerations of the moment, being his reflections on his life lived with Moira Kenneally, how they met and how they married. The son, the police business of wanting to get to the bottom of this mysterious skeleton. But in reality, both father and son knew the solution to the conversation was already resolved, the only missing ingredient was the crossing of the “t’s” and the dotting of the “i’s”.

Sgt. Tom Flannigan entered the private room with Danny’s care attendant who brought in a plate of soft food for lunch. Following a minor stroke a year before, Danny had lost the dexterous use of his right hand and so it was usual for the care attendant to help him with his eating, in case of a minor “spill” with the food.

“It will be fine if I help him, nurse,” Tom quietly spoke.

The nurse looked to son then father and with a nod of approval from Danny, the nurse placed the utensil on the tray and made out of the room. Tom went behind her and softly closed the door. He then pulled up a chair next to the bed and attended to the food on the plate.

“Is the tucker good, Dad?” he asked.

“It’s alright … most days …” Danny replied cautiously “depends on the cook, which days” … he narrowed his eyes a little as he watched his son’s demeanour … there was more to this one visit than the others, he was thinking.

“Everything alright, son?” Danny asked…Tom raised one eyebrow inquisitively … he pursed his lips and blew a bit of breath.

“Phoo, yeah”, he thought a moment. “Still can’t get Gloria to come live with me permanently … she’s not fond of the place.”

“Oh … well, that’s women for yer … if they don’t like it … that’s it … best to know in advance otherwise could be trouble further down the line.” And Danny took a spoon full of the food.

“Yeah, well …,” Tom wiped a smidgen of mashed potato from his father’s chin “ We’re both not getting any younger … an’ it would be good to settle down to a married life   ,” and he thought for a moment before he finished … “like you and mum.”

“Would’ve been sixty-three years this month,” Danny said with a sigh.

“Yes … I suppose so … she was a tad older than you, wasn’t she?” and Tom looked down to something on the floor as he spoke, not that there was anything there, but so as he wouldn’t appear to be gazing too hard at his father as he asked him the question. Danny wasn’t fooled by the evasiveness.

“Whatcha want, Tom? There’s a choke in the pipe and you’re not getting it out.”

Sgt. Tom Flannigan stroked his chin several times and decided to come to the point of his visit.

“Was called by Jack at the council office to go look at something the road crew found there at the “Seven Sisters Junction” around a month or so ago … They were widening the intersection there because of a accident between Heinie Shultz coming home after a few at the hotel and a grain truck of “Slammers” that tipped over trying to avoid hitting Heinie’s old Ford ute … There’s a bit of a blind spot apparently and the council road crew were there widening the intersection to make it safer to see any oncoming traffic.

“And?” Danny had stopped eating and stared at the downcast face of his son.

“And …” Tom breathed, “They unearthed a skeleton that had been buried there … sometime back in the fifties.”

“How do you know it was the fifties?” Danny asked.

“There was a wallet amongst the remains with a money order in it.” Tom now looked close to his father’s reaction … “You used to work in the post office there in Sedan back in the fifties, didn’t you, when you were a young chap?” Tom stared hard at his father’s face.

Danny did not reply, but just slowly spooned the food off the plate and silently chewed.

Tom took the moment of silence to dab again at some bit of food on his father’s cheek. Danny stared back at his son before he answered.

“Yes … I did … Friday night through to midnight Sunday for Mrs Glastonbury. She ran the Post office and there had to be someone there twenty-four seven for the telephone exchange. She took back over midnight Sunday as it was the start of the new week.”

“And you used to sleep there under the front desk … right?” Tom casually spoke.

“That’s right … I had a pull out mattress … but I’d hardly call it ‘sleep’ … I had to answer the telephone if a call came through.”

Tom changed the subject.

“A lot of blokes there in the harvest season in those days, I’d say.”

“Yeah … heaps … it was all labour-intensive those days … and you had to get the harvest in quick-smart in case of bad weather … or locusts.”

“Hmm,” Tom again touched up a morsel on Danny’s face, “I suppose there was a lot of drinking and celebrating going on at the hotel too in those days”

“Too right there was,” Danny cautiously answered.

“And I shouldn’t wonder if a woman was brought in to do some singing some nights as a bit of entertainment,” Tom quietly added.

Danny paused in the lifting of a spoon full of the dinner … he replaced it on the side of the plate. A tenseness had risen between them. He then confronted his son with his own query.

“What’s this getting to, Tom? This is about that skeleton I suppose?”

Tom shifted in his chair, the creaking of the frame and the sound of the rustling of his uniform in his movement dominating the stillness of the room. He reached into his pocket and took something small out … something the size of a bulbous button. He did not display it to his father just then.

“Yes … I’m afraid it is.” He then lent in closer to Danny.

“You see, I was the first one there to examine the thing. The backhoe had exposed the bones and the men just downed tools and left it as it was for me to have a look at. I got there and poked about with a small rod just to see if it was an Aborigine or what … and I found a bottle of cheap sweet-sherry there, along with the shoes and clothing mostly rotted away from the length of time … after all, what would it be … 50 … 60 years or so … so not much left,” and then Tom gently placed the item he had taken from his pocket right in front of Danny on the dinner tray, “ … and then there was this …”

The item was a locket of soft gold … it was tarnished and marked, but whole. Danny was speechless, his mouth a little bit agape as he stared and stared at the golden locket. He reached for it, but Tom placed his own hand over the locket. Danny looked to Tom and saw his meaning. He leant back onto his pillow.

“Where did you find that?” he asked. Tom moved the locket away a little closer to himself on the tray before he answered.

“In his hand.” And Tom tilted his head as in curiosity. Danny sighed and then softly laughed …

“I always wondered if it had just been lost on the road in the scuffle and some lucky person had come across it and took it away … God! How long and how many times I looked for that treasure.”

“So, I was right in my assumption then. The locket did belong to you?”

“Well, in truth … not really mine … I gave it to her.”

Tom lifted the locket and with his fingernail edged a tiny clip at the top … it opened and Tom read from an inscription there:

“To Moira from your Danny Boy” He stared closely at his father; “That’d be you, I suppose?” he asked.

“I reckon,” Danny replied.

“Yes …” Tom left the open locket on the tray, “And I reckon if we looked closely at that lock of hair remnant there, it could be yours as well?” Danny nodded, keeping his eyes glued to the locket. Tom shifted in his chair and brought his hands together on his legs. “You see, dad … when that locket fell out of those bones of his hand … sans chain … my experience in this game straight away told me that here was a moment of anger … an act of grabbing and ripping away of a necklace and an attack on someone. I’ve been to enough fights and fracas in front-bar and footy-club to know what this means…” Tom then lifted one hand and pointed a finger onto the inscription…” and It didn’t take me many days, what with the money order scrap and the location to run down the people around in those days. “Tom then sat back in the chair, “It’s amazing the memory of those old people for those old times … clear as a bell some of them. Old Kevin Rozenswietz, f’rinstance … he remembers a young woman sang there in the hotel in those days … says he was sweet on her, as was many a young man in the town. Why even … he says … yourself.” Danny remained silent throughout Tom’s soliloquy; his eyes still fixed on the locket. Tom continued; “Took him a while to remember her name … rang me just yesterday, in fact … to tell me …,” and Tom then leaned in close to whisper the name to Danny:

“Moira Kenneally.”

Danny sank back into his pillows on the bed and looked like he was going to pass away there and then Tom sprang to his feet and called for the nurse … there followed much fussing and Tom had no further opportunity that day to follow through with his inquiry. He recovered the locket and waited for his father to recover his strength … a few more days wouldn’t matter.

It was when Tom came at his father’s request a week later that he saw the difference in him. Danny had a more relaxed look and attitude … he looked … ‘serene’ is the word Tom would later use to describe that meeting.

The first thing Danny requested from Tom was that he let him hold the locket taken from the dead man’s hand. Tom hesitated at first then realised the absurdity of his reticence, so he held out his hand and Danny took the locket and taking from a small box at his elbow, a fine gold chain, he passed the links of the chain through the ring at the top of the locket … he then held the completed set up in front of them both.

“I had the chain all the while … I found that on the road where we struggled, and I’ve had it repaired … I was always hoping against hope that I would get that locket back, and now here it is … so I can tell you the whole story of that time.”

Danny held onto the locket and chain as a kind of talisman while he regaled his son with his and Moira’s story.

Continued tomorrow …

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The Commission

I read of this incident, one of many, in a biography of Albert Namatjira called “Namatjira; Wanderer Between Two Worlds”, by Joyce Batty.

If ever you want to read a matter of fact account of simply appalling, disgusting, vile racism that can ever be afflicted upon and to deliberately destroy a fine spirit and an artistic genius, then the understated outrage inflicted upon Albert Namatjira carefully written in that book will serve you well.

It was a moment of absolute disgust, the manner in which he and his family were treated, as the Indigenous are still now being treated. Will we ever see an end to this behaviour?

The Commission

”Ah! there he is …”

Of course, she had been keeping a keen eye out for him.

“Albert!” she obviously but cautiously called, “Albert Namatjira?”

Jean Littlemore was the wife of the bank manager. She was a woman voluntarily trapped into that facile world of “social responsibility”, of contrived behaviour moulded by an invisible force into “correct” mannerisms. Though she had a sensitive side, it was a side almost, but not quite, defeated. She had just that week returned from Adelaide to The Alice on a visit to that southern metropolis of societal bondage and while there, had gone to an exhibition of Albert Namatjira’s paintings. Now she wanted one. Many of her friends (or at least those that mattered) had one of those curios … one of those transitions between two cultures, called (for want of a finer spirituality); ”Water-colours by Albert Namatjira.” Jean wanted an original Albert Namatjira water-colour.

She had remarked while mingling with her entourage in Adelaide that:

Why yes, she had seen Albert Namatjira many times wandering around the town … and though she had never before had call to speak to him (perish the thought!) in the street, she might now “commission” him to do a painting for her.

“Albert!” she called again, her gloved hand holding a delicate balance on her purse.

“Yes, missus?” Albert tipped his hat politely, while his eyes searched her face and demeanor for meanings, for here was “the bank manager’s wife” accosting him in the street!

“Albert, I saw last week, a painting by you of Mount Sonder. I would like to purchase that painting.” She paused and snapped open her purse and took out a twenty pound note which, Albert intued, must have been put aside for just this action and moment … “Now, all I am prepared to pay is twenty pounds.”

Jean flourished the note pinched between thumb and index finger as she had been advised (“show him cash … they can’t resist cash! … then wave it around a little under his nose”). Albert remained silent. Staring first at the twenty pounds and then raising his eyes slowly, he looked directly into the bank manager’s wife’s eyes. He held his gaze. Hers answered for a moment, strengthened by the position of her class, but then wavered and dropped and when they rose again to meet his, it was as an equal.

Albert shook his head wearily and sighed. He then spoke to her in his ‘mock-English’ voice:

“You go along New South Wales (a pause). You go along gallery of Anthony Horden (pause) you see Albert. Namatjira painting there; one hundred and twenty five guineas … some smaller, one hundred guineas. You say; ‘That nice painting, I like, I give twenty quid?’ No, him price you pay what Anthony Horden say.”

Albert stopped there. He looked at the woman … she turned her head shamefully aside, her lips pinched together. Albert nodded his head, for here was the weakness in the chain … the Achilles Heel of the colonial white-man, the rock from which they will fall; insatiable greed! … and failing to attain their desire; a swift descent into begging, for that is the soft underbelly of a haughty middle-class.

Nonetheless, as an individual, Albert could feel for the wretched woman, being fully aware of the structure of white-man’s society, he could see the shame the woman now endured. He could picture the build-up to her approaching him in the street like she did, the desire for a painting, not, as he was aware, for its artistic merit, but for the social status it gave. The contrived “assimilation”, the act of contrition unspoken, undemanded, uncommitted, that was bestowed upon those that “owned” a work by the Aboriginal artist, a “veil” which, hung on the wall, would mask the abyss between their world and that of “the others”. It was this sad weakness in her that Albert turned from in sympathy. She touched his sleeve as he turned …

“Albert … Mr Namatjira,” she spoke softly, with a haughty pleading tone … could you then paint me a landscape of the Macdonnell Ranges?”

Albert turned his eyes to where Jean still held his sleeve. Her eyes followed, they both stood transfixed for the moment, then she quickly pulled her hand back to clutch her purse.

“I will,” Albert said, looking into Jean’s eyes, “But I want the money in advance.”

“How much?” Jean asked nervously, “I … I only have … my husband doesn’t think … I … ” she ran out of words. Albert stared hard at the woman … one eye flickered a little.

“Twenty quid.”

“You what! Well there’s twenty pounds (he always used the correct name for currency) gone on a bender for Albert and his tribe! … and, fat chance of you ever getting a painting from him!” Jean’s husband railed at her when she told him of her purchase.

“But, Thomas … ”

“If only you’d have consulted me first. I could have arranged … oh … something or other though why you want one of Albert’s paintings I cannot begin to fathom … ”

“The Turnbulls have one,” Jean appealed.

“Likely as not! … They buy any daubing they see. Really, some of the ghastly prints they have … Bob Campbell rejected him, and if he’s not good enough for the National Gallery … ”

“That may just be Bob’s taste in art … ”

“Be jiggered! … Why, Bob’s on the board of half a dozen respectable companies. He’s a man with impeccable taste … in all things cultured … No. I’d suggest most strongly you keep a good look-out for your Mr. Namatjira and chivvy him along about your painting or you likely as not can kiss that twenty pounds goodbye!”

Such a ponderous lecture from her husband made Jean worry that she had been a little unwise in trusting Albert. The last thing she would want is to be made to look a fool by a Black!

“Oh, lord! How the tongues would wag!”

So Jean kept an eye out for Albert and the next time she saw him, reminded him of her order.

“I’ll bring you the painting,” he promised. “What do you think I am … a bad white man?”

A couple of weeks later, Jean was walking down the street with a close companion, when Albert called her from the other side of the street. He waved and held up a rolled article.

“Oh!” she exclaimed “It’s my painting … yoo hoo!, Albert … over here! … over here! Oh is the man deaf … surely he doesn’t expect me to go running across the street after him now does he? Hoo-oo! Albert! … over here!” and she waved her gloved hand.

Albert stood there. He had one hand in his pocket. He put the rolled painting under that arm and then put his other hand in the other pocket. He stood still where he was. Jean suddenly stopped waving and making noises when she saw this … she was no social slouch. She was well skilled in the art of snubbing. Many a cutting remark had she delivered on cue with devastating effect.

Her companion started prattling on at her elbow, but Jean had no ear for it. She had locked eyes duel-like with a “solid rock” and she knew she would lose! … But how to lose gracefully? How to keep face with her companion: To be seen crossing the street to gratify a Black man. Jean squared her shoulders.

“Oh well,” she heaved a false sigh with just, she hoped, the right mixture of pique and impatience … ”if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed … ” and she stepped to cross the road.

“Wait here, Madeline, I’ll just be a minute while I deal with this.”

Albert watched as she crossed the road. It didn’t give him any pleasure to force her hand like this, he was a polite man … but there was something about the way she … she … expected things … and as he watched her arrogant confidence, he realised how terribly ignorant were these merchant people … and what compounded their ignorance was their dull insouciance!

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“The House”

Anyone familiar with that 1998 film The Truman Show will not be too amazed at what I am about to reveal. I will warm those unfamiliar with the aforementioned film up a tad and bring them up to speed on my revelation.

“He doesn’t know it, but everything in Truman Burbank’s (Jim Carrey) life is part of a massive TV set. Executive producer Christof (Ed Harris) orchestrates “The Truman Show,” a live broadcast of Truman’s every move captured by hidden cameras. Cristof tries to control Truman’s mind, even removing his true love, Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), from the show and replacing her with Meryl (Laura Linney). As Truman gradually discovers the truth, however, he must decide whether to act on it.” (Wikipedia: The Truman Show).

Of course, that was just a film … and with The House, being of course a reference to The Houses of Parliament, we are dealing with a different kettle of fish … these “fish” in the Parliament operate into and out of our everyday lives, making laws and decisions that affect our well-being and survival … and that being so, have you ever wondered, as I have why some obvious misdemeanours and obvious fraudulent criminal activities by the members of The House are seldom punished or just receive a “slap on the wrist” misdemeanour warning at worst and then proceed to be voted back into The House at the next election with an increased majority!

Well, thanks to a close acquaintance with an accountant from an old family business of accountants, I have recently been informed that there is some rather strange goings on involving the major parties and the running of our Parliament.

It all started before a federal election some years ago with this accountant being given the task of sorting out and separating the investments and incoming moneys and arranging the accounts of a sitting member of Parliament so as to make his position legally accommodating to the rules and requirements sitting members of The House.

Of course, coming from an old and trusted establishment of solicitors and accountants, the accountant was given complete access to the Members financial details … but the thing that had changed from the old days of written ledgers and account books, was the access to the internet and the capability to cross-check and deep-delve into domestic and overseas accounts … and the accountant in question, being the youngest member of that “old Family”, was super-savvy at digging and delving into domestic and … most particularly … overseas accounts … as a matter of fact, he delighted in noseying in and out of tax-havens to see just who was here or there and where the money went in such cases … he sometimes would, on a “quiet day” peruse a client’s accounts as an amusement … chasing their connections to this or that company or corporation through a labyrinth of data and discombobulation.

It was on a meander through the incoming moneys of the contracted Member of The House that the accountant stumbled upon a most intriguing list … a list of sources of incoming payments into various accounts held by the Member of The House … it all seemed innocence enough until it came to the Parliamentary salary he received … for there, entered against the regular amount was a name of a corporation familiar to the young accountant of a company registered in the Seychelle Islands as a tax haven foundation.

At first, thinking that it was just a diversion of funds through another established account, he dug deeper into the source of the Seychelles deposit amount and found that it had come from another tax-haven account registered to a different corporation in another area of the world. This threw some suspicious doubt upon the legitimacy of the moneys and he decided he would consult with the head clerk of accounts, one Ambrose Symonds and see if he could enlighten the situation … but even there, he met with cautious advice …

“I would suggest you leave off with the delving into and concentrate more on the shelving of such accounts … ,” and Ambrose adjusted his spectacles on his nose whilst looking down at the young man with a most imposing stare.

Of course, this was grist for the young investigator’s mill and he made it his “outside work hours” hobby to pursue the matter further … and this is where I came in.

The young accountant … we’ll call him “Dexter” for convenience … and I played tennis in the same competition … in the same club and occasionally teamed up as a unbeatable doubles combination! … After the day’s competition, the common practice was to adjourn to the club-rooms for libations and chatter … This day, Dexter was a bit more subdued … it took several mixed drinks to ease the reason out of him … and I could feel it was a weight lifted to share his doubts.

He told me the above mentioned details about the separation of accounts and the restructuring of the members stocks, shares and holdings … a moment of absolute, crushing boredom to one of the physical work-world like myself … and then he paused, gazed about suspiciously and lowering his eyes and his voice spoke in a conspiratory tone …

“The thing that threw me,” Dexter leaned into me “was that when I checked the salary accounts of several other parliament members we have on our books, they were also paid from the same account.”

“Well, perhaps the party has a deal with that company to take the moneys from the Parliamentary salaries office or wherever they are paid from and distribute it accordingly” … I casually remarked.

Dexter again looked about in a suspicious manner and replied:

“The accounts we hold are from different political parties … both major parties!” … he almost hissed.

“Hang on,” I said … trying to get a hold on the situation … ”You’re telling me that both members salaries of the major parties are paid into the one account in this tax-haven and the moneys then go to your clients?”

Yes!” Dexter made a grimaced face.

“Well … I don’t know … perhaps they all have a deal with this company because they offer the best options … I don’t know … a bit above my pay-level I’m afraid … ” and I gave a chuckle.

“Yes … that would be all well and good, except I did some more digging … I have contacts through the company with a level of accountants in Treasury and while I did not speak or inquire directly about the said accounts, I could circumnavigate around the issue to find out some more information of direct payments to certain “efficiencies” … that’s what they call them … ”efficiencies” … and it has led me to a conclusion that even you would find extreme and outlandish!”

“Shoot … ” I said … Dexter winced at my slang term.

“Well, to cut a long story-trail of “following the money” short, what if I told you that there really isn’t any such a thing as a political party in this “government” … ” Dexter framed his last word with fingers making inverted commas … I stared at him with a smile for a moment then laughed softly ..

“You’re joking … aren’t you? … you’re having me on … ” and I laughed a bit louder … ”C’mon, Dexter … we’ve only had a couple of drinks … you losing it this early?” …

“I wish I was … ,” Dexter swilled the drink in the glass. “Perhaps I am losing it … but it gets worse … ” … and here his face went a tad paler and he really did lean into me to whisper …

“What if I told you that there really isn’t even a Parliament … well not in the sense we understand it … oh it is there in front of our eyes on the Floor of The House, for sure … they go about their business, passing bills and laws etc … and perhaps the greater majority of those members are unaware of what or who they are really serving as they do go about their working lives … ” and he downed the remainder of his drink.

“Hang on … hang on … ,” I paused him … ” so you’re saying that you have found a link between the moneys that are paid these member of The House and some … some vague entity that pays … or perhaps hires these members … unknown to even themselves … who go to work every day in an “constructed establishment” we know as the Houses of Parliament?” … I sat back in my chair and blinked.

“Yes … I am saying exactly that! … ” Dexter continued … ” and this is what I have surmised from the results of my digging far and wide … from this country to the other side of the world … thanks to the internet and my hacking skills … I will tell you this … ” and Dexter started to count off on his fingers the points he made …

“One … While the government bureaucracy exists and does its various tasks, the paying out of the Members of The House salaries in total does not go into those individual members personal accounts before passing through a complex filter of overseas corporate accounts and various tax-haven accounts.

Two … These corporate accounts then distribute the monies into their allocated parts into the private member’s bank accounts without them being aware of exactly where or who is paying them.

Three … The major party’s moneys paid from treasury are held in the one corporate entity in an account in the Seychelles in a company name of SD&E Corporation … a shortening of “Social Distribution and Equity Corporation”.

Four … These same major parties are held as ownership trade-marks by that corporation and the rights to operate under those trademarks are restricted to various franchises … call them factions … operating within the party.

Five … The performances we see in The House are an orchestration derived from the confected conflicts of various opposing agenda “written” into a kind of script of which the outcome is already settled, to give credence to the farce that we call a Two Party Democratic System of Governance.”

And Dexter finished with a large inhale and exhale of breath like it was a throwing off of a great weight from his shoulders. I have to admit that I just sat there open mouthed at the audacity of even the notion of such a vast and complex operation … after a long silence I finally had my mind around the notion to speak.

“So … there is no major political parties … just some kind of franchisees … and the members of those parties are just patsies going to work not knowing that they are doing the work of a corporation and not their nation … and then in effect, there really isn’t any real Parliament, just a … a … performance … like on a stage and everyone there are players in a super script … a theatrical illusion?” … I finished.

“To which I assert that “The Crown”, has outsourced the Australian Parliament to an overseas corporation-slash-corporations,” Dexter added.

“Yes but at each new government those elected members are … “

“Are sworn in by the Governor General … the CEO of “Australia Inc.” … Dexter finished my sentence.

He then continued:

“Have you not wondered why there can be so much outrage at certain decisions made in The House, and nothing can change or will change it? … How some members seem to hold an invulnerable position in their electorate and can do almost as they please; act immorally, steal land, funds and collude to corrupt laws and bills yet have no charges laid against them? … How the main-stream media seem to “expose” so many outrages that then come to nothing? … that’s because it is all nothing! … things seem to be happening in this or that location … but where exactly are these places .. do you know where they are .. exactly? … I don’t know anybody from some of these places they talk about on the news … I suspect only a handful of real people do! … and then they are “nobodies” that no-one takes any notice of after an initial “expose” of a kind … and then it all settles down to “business as usual” … elections are run, polls are constructed, bookies consulted and votes counted … but when has there ever been an unsurprising outcome or a surprising one at that, that has been put under a microscope to see just how or why it happened? … never … life just goes on … because we ALL are now so disconnected from each other, from the world around us, our “friendships” little more than temporary acquaintances that we meet on the internet … so that we hardly know even our closest friends … many of us are little more than some gravatar on a social media feed“

That was the gist of my conversation with Dexter that afternoon in the club-rooms of the “Barossa Valley Tennis and Netball Club” … and it ended about that moment as we were then joined by the club secretary very curious why our heads were so close together in deep conspiracy … we laughed at the idea …

It was the next Thursday that I rang Dexter to confirm our partnership for the weekend tennis … his phone was unexpectedly answered by a sparkling young lass, who had to disappoint me in regards to Dexter and the tennis because he had left earlier Monday that week to go for a holiday to Argentina with his girlfriend …

“Oh … right … ” I replied to the lass … ”Oh well, it’s back to playing singles for me then … another losing weekend, eh?” … and we both laughed at my self-disparaging humour … but you see … I know for a fact that Dexter is still “in the closet” with his sexuality and his family and he has no “girlfriend”.

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Fields of Deceit

“For the farmer sows his fields

Of barley, oats or wheat.

While the lawyer reaps fortune

From fields of deceit.”

Brian Pascoe leaned forward in the soft leather chair with one arm on the lawyer’s desk and the other hand on his knee. His brow was knitted and he felt his anger raising as he listened to the lawyers’ dissertation.

“She’s got you on those points, Brian. First, you admit you’ve come home drunk and second you admit to striking the children … ”

“But not both at the same time … bloody hell. Yes, I’ve come home drunk at times … not blind drunk mind … and then only after some event, like winning the district grand final say, or something like that … but I didn’t come home drunk and drag the kids out of bed and thump them if that’s what you mean … oh I’ve given ’em a “clip around the ear’ole” a couple of times for mucking about … ”

Brian listened to his voice as he rambled on and he was amazed that here he was defending his behaviour as a father when he was certain that he hadn’t done anything wrong! The lawyer tossed several pages of statement onto his desk and sighed as if in frustration of ever having these clients understand the finer points of law.

“I know, I know Brian … but still the facts remain. Look, it’s an old trick of evidence, I’ve used it myself at times. You take separate pieces of fact, they may be totally estranged from each other, and you bring them together to make one picture … ” The lawyer spoke with the enthusiasm of someone who obviously enjoyed the game of law … “Like two negatives of photographs … one of a person and one of a background” … he held his arms up in front of them both at eye level with his hands flat and moved them in a scissor motion … “you bring them together and you have the person standing against the background … you see” his eyes were bright. “It’s an illusion of evidence … and you can’t deny either frame … clever eh?”

He sat back and threw his hands up in acknowledgement. Brian Pascoe looked over the desk at the lawyer through narrowing eyes, he was beginning to feel out of his depth in a system that disgusted him and although it was HIS lawyer in front of him he felt a revulsion creep over his feelings.

“You people have got it all sown up, haven’t you?” He said quietly.

“What do you mean?” the lawyer looked surprised.

“Never mind.” Brian waved it aside “What’s the third accusation she’s got on me?”

“You struck her,” the lawyer read from the form.

Brian looked down at his crossed legs with the foot “tapping” at the air.

“I … I gave her a back-hander once.” Brian recalled.

“Rather vicious of you?” the lawyer pried.

Brian recalled the fight in the kitchen when they were arguing, she was only a few inches from his face yelling abuse at him and when he was about to turn away, she swung to hit him on the head and he automatically flung his arm in response and struck her on the face. she gasped and wept then … he felt his stomach knot up … he felt it knot up now … but the pride in him, the male in him did not, could not allow him to take advantage, even in her absence, of the situation …

“Yes,” Brian replied, “it was.”

The lawyer raised his eyebrow.

“Well, you’ve got to realise she has those facts on her side.” He lifted his fingers up to count them off “A … you have come home drunk … B … you have hit the children … and C … you did strike her. Brian was about to interject but the lawyer held up his hand. “Hold on, Brian, hold on … those are the facts that will be presented to the magistrate, you won’t be allowed to interject to explain in a broken-voiced, hesitant way … as a matter of legal point, I’d advise against it if what you just said to me is the best you can do … all excuses will be irrelevant, those are the facts, like the negatives of the photographs I told you about, the final picture is the one the family court will see and if you can excuse me saying; a picture paints a thousand words.”

The lawyer finished breathless, for although he was young, he already had the look of frail professionalism. There was a silence in the room, it was a room of heavy furniture, dark furniture with heavy antiques and red-bound books leaning from the walls. The lawyer was exasperated at the naivety of his client.

Brian placed his hands in his lap. He was an honest man, a hard working farmer whose shoulders had carried the burdens of work till they were broad and strong. His hands were large and hard from the raw materials that were his workload. He could see deeply into the world of his work, but he was too short-sighted for the trickery of a school of thought that would slander a man and manipulate the fact, and present the mixture as truth … and as the lawyer asserted … be blessed for it! Brian looked down at his gnarled hands, there he saw the evidence of his honesty, there was the result of his concern for his children: well-being. Anger rose to his lips.

“No, bugger it, Mr Crompton.” He spat out “I won’t accept that, I’ll fight that if only to clear my name. I’ll not accept those lies, I’ll not have it insinuated that I was a bad father … they’re lies.” He stabbed a finger at the document … his face red “no matter how clever they’re put into words and I’ll fight it, I’ll fight it” … he pounded the desk with his big fist … the lawyer gazed at the clenched fist with the knuckles all white. He sighed.

“Well, Mr Pascoe, I’ll pass that information on to my opposite colleague and we’ll deliberate on the matter … but she’s a hard one I’ll tell you that for free!”

“The first and last thing I’ll get free from you,” Brian thought.

“Right” … he responded. “But you make sure they understand!” Brian waved his index finger in emphasis.

“Well, that’ll do for now” … the lawyer stood … “I’ll get in touch with the results.”

Brian left the office and stepped out into the busy street and the sunshine. “What a world,” he mumbled as he looked back to the name plate on the archway of the “Chambers”. “What a bloody world!”

The farm set in the open countryside seemed an age away from all the intrigue of the law. Brian couldn’t comprehend how it came to all this. What started out as a marriage separation ended up with him having to prove he wasn’t some kind of monster, child abuser, a drunkard, wife basher …

“Bloody hell, what next?!” He banged his flat hands against the steering wheel of the tractor. “What the hell can a man do?” he shouted up to the blue sky. There was of course no answer.

A fortnight passed before the lawyer got in touch with him for an appointment in the office. Brian paced over the carpet as the lawyer explained the terms of agreement coldly to him …

“ … and further to agree to drop all accusations of abuse against you, should you agree to sign over custody … ” the lawyer stopped short as Brian suddenly turned and strode up to his desk.

“Agree!” he shouted “They agree! … my oath they agree!” he nodded his head in satire and anger “My bloody oath they agree … as long as I sign away my children … sure they agree! … that’s blackmail!!” he rapped his fingertips on the desk top.

“Well,” the lawyer sighed “that’s how it stands at this moment … ” he shrugged.

Brian stood straight, his lips pressed tight together, he took a deep breath to steady himself, an age of oppression arose before his eyes.

“No it bloody well isn’t.” He spoke with controlled anger. He was trembling with temper. “Not in a pink fit it isn’t!”

“But I’ll tell you how it is me ol’china, an’ I’ll tell YOU for free … It’s doin’ the “Bobby Limb” every morning till it gets to be a habit and you forget what tired is, it’s when there’s too much work and not enough time and no-one to help and they keep piling on more till you’re bent double with responsibilities and prodded on to up-hold the lot. It’s when the crops failed or the sheep come down with some pox or other and it’s any excuse to die and the fridge can’t stay empty and kids need new shoes. It’s when the machinery needs to be overhauled and the wool cheques not in yet and the fence needs mendin’ because some bloody hoon’s crashed his car through it and pissed off an’ left you with another job to do. It’s when your hand’s gashed on the reaper’s teeth so it needs a dozen stitches and you have to work the bloody thing that same after-noon so the doctor gives you some painkillers and tells you to buy a ticket in “tatts”. It’s when you’re carrying some sort of physical injury big or small every fuckin’ day for years till you’re like some sort of sick animal. It’s the workin’ in the forty plus degree heat so you’re that beat when you get home but still get called “lazy” for not doing “your share” of the housework.

It’s when you’re old and your hands are like claws for the arthritis in them and the only thing you can carry is a bloody stick. It’s being accused of trying to keep them in their place so you throw your hand down on the table in exasperation of it all, your palm up so they can see the in-grained dirt and cuts and callouses and you say to “put your hand next to mine and tell me who knows their place!”. It’s society pointing the finger when the family goes bust and asks “what’s HE doing, why isn’t HE supporting his family?” It’s the presumption that he’s some commodity that’s there for the privilege of people to work till he drops and screw what ever’s left from the corpse … Well, the presumptions wrong. I’m no boozer, I’m no child abuser, I’m no wife beater and I’m not a bastard, Mr Crompton. I’m a working man, an honest man … ” he stood solidly before the desk, anger reflected in his stance.

The lawyer’s secretary gingerly opened the door of the office and poked her head in.

“Is everything alright, Mr Crompton?” she asked.

The lawyer ssh! sshed! her out with a grimace and a wave of his hand. He gazed hatefully over his rich desk at the farmer.

“Very heroic, Brian” … he paused for effect, then pushed the paper document toward him.

“Still … that’s their proposition, and I think you know the score,” he looked slyly out of his eyes, he wanted this resolved as quick and as cleanly as possible … these “hard-working” types set his teeth on edge … they were too rough and crude-thinking for his class.

“You do realise of course, if she presses these accusations, they could well be taken out of the civil court and into the criminal court,” he added drily.

A lonely pang of hopelessness swept away Brian’s pride, he looked into the hard, cold face of his lawyer. A realisation came over him: This was no field of labour that he was in, this wasn’t a situation he could physically work his way through, this was a field of deceit and his armour of honesty and simplicity was no match for the law’s duplicity. His defence was silently swept away like a child’s castle on the evening tide. He sat wearily down in the plump cushioned chair, a fatalistic sigh escaped his lips …

“What do you advise, Mr Crompton?”

Brian sat before the form that would give his wife custody of their children. On his right sat his wife’s lawyer, then his wife. Beside them and a little back sat his wife’s father and mother, “good people the parents”, he thought, he always got on well with the old couple. On his left sat his lawyer and before him sat the court official. Brian stared down at the document in resentful awe. The official pointed with his finger to a dotted line.

“Just sign there, Mr Pascoe,” he said softly.

Brian hesitated. Both his lawyer and the wife’s lawyer placed their fingers simultaneously on the space to sign. Brian held the pen over the space, there was silence in the room as if in anticipation of some great event. Anger welled up in Brian’s heart. “Bastards! Bastards!” he was thinking as he lowered the pen. He didn’t want to sign, it was all wrong; “a document to control lives, it shouldn’t be so. A piece of paper over flesh and blood, no! it wasn’t right.” He started to write his name with his hand but his heart kept screaming: “No! No!” as the pen moved over the paper. Once before he signed a similar document in marriage, with similar people around him and now it had come to this. He fought to hold back tears of bitterness and sadness in his eyes as he finished the flourish of his family name. He dropped the pen and fell back into his chair.

“Yippee! Yippee!” his ex-wife jumped up in elation, like a child. “I’ve won!, I’ve won!” she cried and clapped her hands together in glee.

The lawyers looked at each other and rolled their eyes and her father winced. He leant over and touched his daughter on the arm as if to quieten her.

“Jilly,” he said softly, “Jilly, I don’t think”, he glanced at the ashen faced Brian sitting there … “I don’t think you realize what Brian has signed away.”

He spoke as if to quieten the woman’s ecstatic outburst, but she just shot him a glance as if to kill and he shrunk back red faced and then, hesitatingly turned his face away. Brian sat there for a moment longer while the official straightened the papers and was about to dismiss them all. Brian suddenly pushed himself back and stood up, the chair fell backwards onto the floor, he ignored it and strode impatiently to the door. He could feel the tears sting his lids even as he passed out of the room and let the big panelled doors swing to and all down the cold empty corridor he could hear Jilly’s voice crying shrilly: “I’ve won, I’ve won, I’ve won.”

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From the hand to the mind

Dalla mano alla mente … (From the hand to the mind).

The trade-guild artists.

Manifesto …

Having come to the conclusion that middle-class politics cannot, through it’s servile impotency in honouring capital gain over social necessity, or will not, through its abandonment of the poor, the vulnerable and the under-educated in first preference for its own priorities, improve the ambitions of many people seeking a fairer and more equal distribution of social equality and comforts of mind in our nation … I have decided to try to use my interest in artistic expression to bring social change so desperately needed to the people and the streets of our nation … I am going to inaugurate a collective of retired tradespeople who have in their retirement applied themselves to interpret their physical working lives with their artistic endeavours … I call this collective: “The Trade-Guild Artists” … its motto (in Italian … [I am Italian]: “Dalla mano alla mente”.

Our direction is one from lived experience in working in our respective trade professions for a living and from such a background moving to interpret those lived moments when more than a simple shout or expletive could explain our frustrations or bewilderment of a given incident or drama … We, of the trades, have been on the “front-line” of construction, caring, delivery of services and needs for millennia. Time we take our rightful place to give better interpretation of those seen things that need a skilled hand to deliver to a keen mind the intricacies of movement and colour of life to a blank page or canvas.

Having myself been a long-time admirer of the “social realism” style of painted/sculptured/written art, in a Diego Rivera or Albert Camus style … and others, I envisage a movement intent on delivering strong, determined and resolute impressions and characters to the eyes, ears and minds of those absorbing our intentions … whether those characters be imperfect of body, impure of thought or unchaste of character, they will be honest of attitude and intention … there will be little mistake in that.

Dare one speak words of Anguish,
Under such a tempered sky,
Rather heed to those that break,
Tho’ speak not … but sigh.

A Work of Art … or … The Art of Work?

The motivation for this piece came from four flat-box displays of ladies embraided cotton/lace handkerchiefs. I had purchased them some years before at a garage sale for the pitiful sum of fifty cents each box … one from Nth. Ireland, two from Switzerland and the other from China. Looking at them in their tissued, flat boxes, with the delicate lace-edges folded into diamonds or squares, the brilliant white contrasted with the small embraided flowers and sundry delicate patterns, I thought them too, too beautiful to be used other than as a display … So I made four frames and placed those “works of art” behind glass to be admired rather than soiled. I could imagine the girls or women hard-at-work, worrying over those pieces of cloth … Pieces of work became pieces of art … hence the title of this article!

I am an artisan (carpenter) … my father was an artisan (stone-mason) … the people who made those hankies were artisans, a multitude of people producing, constructing, moulding, knitting and on and on are artisans … coming from the French; “without art”.
Getting back to my father; the stone-mason … in his employment around Adelaide he built many stone walls and such. He built that curving weather wall along the Glenelg foreshore … by the sideshows … (it is gone now ). He told me years later that if I was to go to one particular place along that wall, I could see, shaped within the stone work, a map of Italy, with all the provinces in varying shades of stone, built cunningly into the wall! … indeed; a cunning stunt! … Artisan becomes artist!

So perhaps it could be proposed: Who stationed “artists” and “artisans” in their prospective environs? What are the boundaries of these environs, i.e. when does artisan become artist and vice-versa? Can art be interpreted as the “one-off” piece of deliberate intent? If an artisan uses his craft skills to produce a “one-off” article for decoration or beauty, does that one piece become a work of art? Likewise, if the artist takes a “one-off” work and by reproductive prints, mass-produces many images, does that work then become craft?

Are there then any boundaries to “art”? … does art exist in itself? Or is it an adjunct to physical existence … and not a separate construction of the imagination? … And if it was, then surely every wicked creation, every insidious act could also be construed as a “work of art” alongside sublime desire! … for wasn’t it Alexander the Great who volunteered that “war, is the greatest art”?

Perhaps the boundary between art and the artisan can be judged as; artisan being a measure of one’s craft skills, whereas art ; the measured, skillfull baring of one’s soul! … while there is chance of ridicule in the former, there is every chance of absolute condemnation in the latter … How deeply we choose to express one or the other is perhaps a judgement on one’s personal strength of character.

Can everybody be an artist … or is there art for everybody? I’m certain the answer is; yes, to both … although there may not be a market for everybody’s “art”! There is a risk of mockery in too much display and, I’m sure many of us are aware that the road between flattery and mockery is very short and very straight! But here again, the depth of soul-baring would, I’m sure, lift that sublime piece towering above the dross, such is the power of sincerity and in the end, there being so many avenues of material, visual or musical expression these days, the Andy Warhol claim of 15 minutes of fame may just be around the corner for all of us … The big question is: Would you want it?

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No Pasaran!

“NO PASARAN! … The cry went out, “The Fascists are about!, “No Pasaran! … and so the war began.”

That is the start of an early draft of what I hoped would be a rousting piece of rhyming poetry I wanted to write just these last couple of days … You can see by the syllabic construction of that phrase: “No pasaran” that it has a natural “beat” a rhythmic sequence like a marching foot-fall or the beat of a drum … Perhaps, if it were loud enough … the beat of a human heart. It is a natural for building on … almost like a Sousa march.

No Pasaran:

“Credit for that (no pasaran) goes to the fiery Spanish Communist party leader Dolores Ibárruri (1895-1989), whose popular nickname was “La Pasionaria” (“The Passion Flower”).

On July 18, 1936, mutinous Spanish Army troops led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco invaded the Spanish mainland from Morocco, with the goal of overthrowing Spain’s elected Republican government. This was the beginning of the bloody Spanish Civil War.

The next day, July 19, 1936, Ibárruri made a brief but eloquent speech on Radio-Madrid.

She urged her fellow citizens to put aside their other political differences and join together to fight against Franco’s fascist forces.

“Young men, prepare for combat!,” she said. “Women … fight alongside your men in order to defend the lives and freedom of your sons … All workers, all anti-fascists must now look upon each other as brothers in arms.”

It was to be built on the words spoken by that Spanish lady; “La Passionaria” … “No Pasaran!” (They shall not pass!) in the time of the Spanish civil war. But while I had the words almost down pat in my head, the rhythm kinda sorted and the rolling theme just about right … I could not put it down on paper … I started, but I bulked at the actual printing out what I had now questioned in my mind the veracity of the honesty of the poem.

Because of course, Franco did break through their barricades … he did “pass” their fighters and their walls … with the help of the other fascista in Germany and Italy … Franco’s only hope, the fascist cowards only hope of success is to gang-up on their opposition … they did break through the barricades and take control of the country … and they mocked and sneered at the cry of resistance of “NO PASARAN!” … The right wing still mock and sneer at what they disparagingly call “leftie rantings” … but they do not , cannot know the real meaning behind those words; “No Pasaran” … they do not have the depth of understanding the cultural collective of the working people of not just one country, but the entire world … not one election, but a whole democracy … not just one moment in time, but through all time … the entire span of human recorded history … ”No pasaran” strikes a deeper cord in the worker’s heart than just a cry of resistance with arms … it is a barricade against the attempted conquest of ALL vulnerable peoples, a cry of resistance to reject the tyrannical fascist / corporate mindset from the very heart of a people … it is a rejection of the selfish, oafish, cruel nature of exploitation that would set citizen against citizen, brother against sister, one ethnic group against another and use religion, that over-arching drug-of-least-resistance to enact violence and hatred against all.

NO PASARAN!

NO PASARAN! … They WILL NOT pass! They will NEVER be part of our lives! They will NEVER be accepted into our hearts! … and they can never become a part of our country.

But there now is a weakness in the wall … a blind-spot that the right-wing has found and is exploiting to entrap the more gullible and naive of the working class to trust them to lead the nation … The entrepreneurial middle class has taken a leaf out of Greek mythology and used a “Trojan Horse” to break through the innermost defence to plant their disease of divide and rule within the heart of the nation. It has used the stupid to attract the stupid, much like one uses a cut piece of bait from the one fish to attract and catch another of the same species. The Right-wing has used those now familiar fools so clumsy in their knowledge of politics and social needs, but so rat-cunning in their use of phrasing of tongue so that it appeals to the most gullible … the almost incoherent imbecility as appealing to the most uneducated knowledgeable group as also to the most educated knowledgeable “don’t-want-to-see” group … one may be more savvy than the other , but in the end both as dangerous and as gullible as each other.

I penned an article calling for: “A Revolution against the Middle-Classes” … in which I claimed that history has shown that once the Entrepreneurial / Speculative (MARK THAT; the Entrepreneurial / Speculative ) middle-classes gained control of political governance, it spelt the beginning of the end for not only the economy of a nation, but OF THE NATION ITSELF! … I do not demur from that claim … unfortunately, a few folk seem to take such an accusation on a whole class as a personal attack upon themselves … why? … I can only presume some sort of personal interest in the claim … perhaps as a kind of “gate-keeper” of that philosophy. But whatever it was, it has cost me in blogging cred with some people … I expect no better with this article … and it tells me just how far the middle-class virus has penetrated into our everyday lives when a large section of the voting public will trust, without question, lying, tax avoiding wealthy dilettantes to rule the nation.

There was an interview with Richard Flannigan on ABC tele a while back … It traced his career as a struggling and now successful writer … I admire Richard Flannigan immensely. I like his honest approach to his art and also his social conscience that he infuses into his writing. He spoke in answer to a query on a career in writing; “if the writing out of his stories diminishes the writer inside?” He answered in the affirmative, quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald in his piece called “The Crack-up”, who reiterated his thoughts … but there is another angle to that “emptying of the spirit” … there is another “breaking of the heart” of anyone who creates art from their heart.

There is a moment in the creation of art, where the artist, of whatever skill or ethnic group, of whatever genre, must ask themselves; “For whom am I creating this?” they must ask themselves that or they might as well keep the image or process to themselves and go their way (for the “true artist”, the “honest artist” creates their art for their fellow peoples; “everything comes from without, not within”), leaving the vacuum to be filled by some other nature. Of course, the problem for the creative artist is that driving urge to create that forces one to go to the workshop and produce that piece just to stop it rolling around inside the head like a ball-bearing in a tin-can … to, as Henry Lawson once said; “I had to write it down or burst!”.

For myself. an amateur at best, a scribbler at worst … many times I have asked that question of myself … which brings me back to the start of this piece where I stated (and I have to say that there have been many times lately) where I have not wanted to put down created characters and incidents … not wanted to share those experiences with my fellow citizens … so disappointed have I been in their pathetic aspiration toward material comforts that they have abandoned their sense of honesty and good-will toward others … and when I have pushed myself to do that, I have felt a great disappointment in “exposing” the characters that I do love (even when at times fictional) and the situations that I do treasure. I have felt I have let them down or used them in a most venal way … I feel “dirtied” by the experience … quite disappointing.

But, of course, there are many others who must feel the same way … I would call them friends and I would willingly, gladly share experiences with them … for they too would, I suspect like myself, hold true to their hearts that universal cry of revolution that has rung down the ages, despite many attempts to be smothered by a suffocating “mummyism” of middle-class servility.

“So raise the Scarlet Standard high
within its shade we live and die
though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
we’ll keep the red flag flying here.”

NO PASARAN!

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The Silence of the Lambs

Many years ago, in my days as the bachelor tradie in my twenties, I was subbied as a contractor to do “shut-down maintenance” on the old Metro Meats abattoir at Old Noarlunga over the Christmas holiday break. It was my job as the carpenter to fix and make good a list of jobs from office doors to the replacement of thick wooden slats on the sheep slaughter conveyor line.

In the progression from one sector of that place to another … from admin’ offices to different sections of the “factory”, I got to know other trades involved in the maintenance schedule and they explained the workings of their particular section … like the cattle killing box and the equipment used and the hydraulics that handled the carcass etc … I won’t go into it here … it is a brutal procedure even in its necessity. I was proudly told that the time from the beast entering the killing pen to the cold room was so short that some carcasses could still be seen quivering with nerves reaction after being skinned and on their way to the cold-room.

But it was the sheep killing system that most intrigued me … the wooden slats that I had to replace were on this twin conveyor system set in a “V”, where two “belts” of these wooden slats, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom to let the trapped legs go through when the animal was driven onto it, so that the slats carried the animal in a least resistance method with it’s legs penned and the animal’s body supported by this “V” combination toward the person who then slit the animal’s throat … a concise, predictable and perhaps considering the requirements of the deed, a neat conclusion. And given that what we have heard about the absolute brutality of live sheep export these last months, the quick dispatching of those beasts in the most “humane” manner would be the most acceptable method.

There was a day toward the end of the contract where I stood in the approximate centre of the killing-floor operations and did a 360-degree turnaround to just absorb the complete methodology of operations … it sent a chill down my spine, and I thought of those pics one sees of the Nazi years of concentration camps, where the human hand and mind exercises its natural bent toward the most efficient method of “getting a job done”. I saw the mechanised procedures as a metaphor of the politics of management and while I was unsophisticated then, I can now look back and compare that killing floor of flesh and blood with the kind of “killing floor” of right-wing economic rationalism, where a large section of the working population is “sacrificed” to the profit-motive of banking corporations and now has no chance to become an owner of their own home, yet is still driven at breakneck speed with deluded illusions of perhaps … perhaps being able to one day … one day … and those managers of corporate business and politics, in their concern to not ( very much like those animals to slaughter ) create nervous apprehension or awareness in the populace of their hopeless inevitability, lest they get too excited and cause themselves and society damage.

There is so much “killing” being done, one must become insensitive to the slaughter, both on the abattoir floor and the economic houses of the world .. There must be a brutalisation of both the butcher of the animals and the financial speculator toward their environment … there MUST be.

The manager of operations, when I went to sign off on the last day of the job, sat back in his chair and asked me my personal opinion of what I thought of the efficiency of the operation … I answered truthfully that it seemed to work in a most efficient, streamlined way … and then he asked if I would like to stay on in a full-time position as a maintenance staffer …

I politely declined, claiming (again, truthfully AND thankfully) other pressing engagements. And I have to add, that all the while I worked there, in whatever capacity, and although the abattoir was completely shut down so that the only sounds were the mechanical clatter of maintenance work being carried out, I was continually haunted by what I imagined was the cacophony of bellowing of the fearful animals being sent to slaughter … yet there I was at those very conveyor belts that carried the poor things to their inevitable doom with nothing about me but silence … the silence of the lambs.

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