(I can see youse all need a bit of cheering up … tempers flaring an’ all that … )
“Joyce Hartingdale … Secretary”. The writing on the triangular wedge of wood prominent at the front of her desk was written in bright, gold paint. It was there the first day she came to the job at the office situated at the front of the “Shoebridge Furniture Factory”. A job she had come all the way from Manchester, England for … well … it was not just the job, but she had applied for the secretarial job while home in England, fresh graduated from the secretarial college where she had seen the advertisement seeking young ladies to come to the Australian colonies for a bright, fresh life … or at least that is how Joyce saw it … and she took it.
The telegram from her mother back in Manchester sat on the passenger’s seat of the Morris Minor 1000 sedan she was at that very moment driving out to the country town of Kanmantoo so as to attend the funeral of an obscure uncle who had just passed away.
“Uncle Stan has died” the telegram started, “funeral at Kanmantoo C of E 1pm. Fri. Chance meet family … go!” … and it was signed: “Mother”.
Joyce, having no friends before she came to this new country, was keen to make contact with those distant relatives her mother had told her lived in the country there … and what better way to introduce oneself than at a funeral. She had her Mother’s telegram handy as a note of introduction when she arrived at the church.
It was nice of Mr. Shoebridge to allow her the day off to attend the funeral, and considering that she had only been employed for one month, it gave credibility to how high her secretarial skills were held in the office. In fact, the whole experience of her new life in the Antipodes was working out just fine … the weather was much to her liking, the job was a breeze – considering her long years spent in training in the cold corridors of the Manchester college – and her flat in the western suburbs by the sea was so comfortable with its own little patch of garden that she had every intention of planting out with her favourite flowers just as soon as time allowed.
It was the thought of that flower garden that brought her thoughts right down to earth with a crash!
“Flowers!” she exclaimed out loud … “I haven’t brought any flowers!”
The suddenness of the arrangement for attending the funeral, the buying of clothes and instructions of how to get to Kanmantoo from the kindly young man next door threw Joyce’s thoughts for flowers right out the window. Now here she was, out in the countryside, barely a few miles from her destination and only now has she thought of flowers … What could she do?
Fate, at this desperate time had smiled upon Joyce, she decided, for there, not one yard from the verge of the road, was a veritable paddock full to the wire fence of the most brilliant, beautiful purple flowers, resplendent in their colourful, healthy bloom ..
“They must be a native species,” Joyce concluded as she pulled to the side of the road, for she had never seen such resplendent flowers before. She gathered a bouquet of these blossoms before she threw caution to the winds and gathered a large number more …
“Why not?” she reasoned, “be generous.” And she rummaged for a slip of ribbon in the glove-box and tied the volume of flowers into the most bright, fulsome bouquet. “This’ll make a splash!” she pouted in satisfaction … and though she could not add a card of identification of the gift of the flowers, she consoled herself that it would take little effort to enlighten anyone who asked.
Upon arrival at the Church of England chapel, Joyce was obliged to find a park away from the gathering at the front and park the car around the side of the little church. It was apparent from the glimpse she saw of the minister at the door, there was intent to soon start the entrance to the ceremony. Hurrying out of the car with her huge bouquet, Joyce saw the side door to the church ajar and peeking in, saw the coffin on the bier with many bouquets of flowers on top … she quickly slipped into the empty church and placed her bright purple fronds amongst the dahlias and gladiolas and other blooms there, snuggling her generous purple bunch right on top in the middle. Satisfying herself the bunch was secure, she hurriedly slipped out and made her way around to the front of the church to try and meet some of the other mourners there.
As Joyce made her way around to the front of the church, she couldn’t help but notice here and there along the fence-line of the church yard, those very same flowers that she had gathered into her bouquet and placed on top of the coffin and she was wondering if she had been a tad overzealous in her gathering so many into a bunch …
“Coals to Newcastle,” she pondered …
Joyce moved close to a couple and smiled … they smiled back … and she just coyly introduced herself as “Joyce” … a distant relative … a niece. The couple smiled again. Then Joyce tried to break the ice a bit with some light conversation about the purple flowers along the fence-line.
“Those purple flowers are quite pretty now, aren’t they?”
“The Salvation Jane?” … the lady replied.
“Oh … is that their name? I … I didn’t know … from the city, you see … ” and she smiled her secretarial smile. “A lovely name … most suitable to the occasion, one might say.”
“Hrumph!” the lady snorted. “Good job old Stan is no longer around to hear you say that! ‘Patterson’s curse’ he called ‘em … a blight on the district!”
“Oh … they troubled him? Was it hayfever?” Joyce inquired.
“Hayfever!?” … the lady pulled her shoulders back, “hardly … you mustn’t know what old Stanley Knowles did for a living all these last twenty five years … he were the council weeds and pests control officer … it were his life’s ambition to rid the district of them purple curse!”
“But they are everywhere … ” Joyce quietly exclaimed. “He hardly was a success story then.”
“You can blame that on those lot over there,” the lady motioned to a group apart.
“And they are?” Joyce now wide-eyed asked.
“The local Bee-Keepers and Honey Distillers Cooperative … Every time Stan pushed for greater effort and funding to really get stuck into the Patterson’s Curse problem, they’d come out swingin’ .. ’cause they depended on the flowers in any off-season and drought. But they weren’t deep enemies for all that and now they come to pay their respect … as neighbours do.”
An awful realisation of doom was starting to descend upon Joyce and she was almost at the point of making a dash around to the side door of the church to remove her bouquet from the coffin when the minister made a call for the friends of Stanley Knowles to come gather inside the church for the service.
It only took a little while as the congregation settled into the rows of pews in the chapel that someone noticed Joyce’s bunch of Salvation Jane (Patterson’s Curse) sitting proud as punch on the very top of the collection of funeral wreaths and bouquets on the coffin of the local council’s recently deceased weeds and pest control officer. Things moved pretty fast from that moment on.
A cry of exclamation heralded up to the rafters and it took only a little guess before the obvious conclusion for this gross insult upon a dead man’s reputation was laid upon the shoulders of the Bee-Keepers and Honey Distillers Cooperative and the rest, as is so often recorded in moments of public disorder where accusation and abuse colours what should be a sombre celebration … is history.
Joyce did not wait to see the outcome of the fracas, but at the first cry of outrage, she deftly slipped out of the chapel doors and hastily making her way to the trusty Morris Minor 1000, she was already in third gear as she shot out of the gate onto the main road back to the city. The introduction to the country cousins would have to wait till another day.