From Ruined Europe to White Australia
There was a time when Europeans most savagely slaughtered one another, until 1945. Escaping from horror, one man arrived in Australia, a continent where Aborigènes did not enjoy any human rights whereas white migrants received assisted passage.
From a Ruinous Europe to a White Australia (edited)
Fernando García Izquierdo
For nearly four years now, that part of the continent, known as “Mittle Europa”, had been castigated, by some mysterious evil force, with fights, deaths and ruin, and all the time things had been going from bad to worse: the shelling by the artillery, the tramping of the infantry, heavy tanks and then that most awful invention so-called carpet-bombing from the air; an English invention it had to be. Towns and cities had simply been wiped out of existence and, still more terrible than destruction, the killing of humans on the land agony and strife, for some, a Beautiful War World.
The continual slaughter of the innocent, that was it, and the resulting long trails of refugees trying to reach the teeming shores of migrants, escapees, cadavers.
Many were still treading on the ruins, alone or in little groups, whispering to one another in the ear. Overhead, over the firmament, there were always clouds shrouding the earth.
A monstrous Leviathan spitting out death in all directions had plunged the world into utter misery. The German nation, that had first unsheathed the sword, was the one that suffered most.The country, the forested hills and mountains, the towns, industrial systems and highroads, bridges, viaduct and canals, the inhabited parts, suburbs and cities, all was devastation. And it was not the only country to be demolished. Bielorussia, Russia, Ukraine, Poland…
A paroxism of human madness, the blood spilling, the mind exploding. A fight to the last! As the gods and semigods ordain.
The German city that had suffered most was the ancient capital of a Germanic Kingdom of the Barbaric North. Indeed, it had been transformed into many square miles of dust and wrinkled steel: fallen walls, gravel, broken windows, headless statues of heroes of the past and old mythology, chunks of marble. A headless Venus or christian courtisan, the pedestal of a statue announcing that there had been there a king or a duke, a warrior, legendary knight… always criminal, rich possessors of men and othe community.
Fallen rampant lions which once protected the entrances of palaces, high offices and administrations, now pure dust, stones and broken bricks; projecting steel bars and beams that had been holding marbled loggias and galleries; enclosures full of debris that might had been flourishing gardens, retreats for monks and nuns! now simple compostheaps. The same metamorphosis of so many ancient royal parks, gardens and orchards, exhaling many fine odours, now empty, in complete putrefaction! A murky rivulet coursing on in the middle of a former famous avenue of trees and hedges. And the miracle of a wild red rose surging out of a heap of living residue, grass, and gravel and cinders.
A prettty young woman of twenty, by the name of Silwia Bilska, is seen in those parts one day at dusk, alone. Her eyes are in tears, her bosom heaving. Three years ago she had been there for the first time, a monumental city then, to marry the man she loved, a German soldier who had been working near Nojewo when they first fell in love, and learned to kiss one another. One day Dieter had been taken in an army lorry to the war; and she had received a letter from the Kommandatura, informing her of his death. After that she had beeen treading the ample world, poor widow, roaming desperately the now devastated land, looking for the impossible, her man so beloved who was no more, she knew. But she wanted to see him, to hold his head, his dear face in her hands: and there were so many like her! women specially, but men too, and children. They were called displaced persons. The war had created these travellers, migrants, refugees or reffos. No longer a home, a family or a fatherland as one used to call her place of birth. All that had constituted her life had been sent out of existence, swallowed up by satanic forces, and nothing new seemed to emerge but a paroxism of madness.
Roaming with wondering minds and hungry hearts, many of those still alive. Since they all belonged to a world that had gone mad, in an atmosphere of death and persecution the solution was to escape, in ceaseless gloom.They shook their heads as they crossed one another, whispering that it was the fault of the Soviet Union, Stalin and that set of ogres, and rarely settled to form a group together, live in society, act rationally. Only inertia kept them going.
Haunting silence, dust scattered by the wind upon the hills, the fields, the steppe, the woods, the very ruins abundantly produced by a war, creatures coming from the north, or coming from the south, and some times from the west, but particularly innumerable escapees from the east!
Manuel Diez was a man of twenty-four who had come to those parts from the south. He had been a student at Salamanca when the second world war began in northern Europe with the seizure of Poland by the Nazis; then came the defeat of France by the same enemy and the conversion of the country into fascism with Marshal Philippe Pétain, collaborationism.
One night, in Salamanca, coming out into a dark narrow street from a rather populous one, where he had been on the spree for an hour or two with some university pals, he was unlucky to fall into the nets of the infamous “esquadras de la muerte” that roamed the streets in search of young men to be sent to fight Russian Communism. And he did fight in the eastern front until the beginning of January, 1943, when the Red Army inflicted upon the German III Reich a most severe defeat which changed the course of history.
Thereafter Miguel Diez found himself alone, a runaway in the fields, woods, mountains and the steppe. He reached one night the bank of a big calm river full of berthed and thoroughly destroyed vessels. Nothing moved or gave a sign of life. Only the thunder of the cannon was heard from time to time, in the distance. Then he began to see, on the shiny surface of the river, some men (or phantoms) manning the oars of small rowing boats.
Going down the bank, he stole a rowing boat with oars, lurking for a moment behind some branches and other vegetation, and crossed the river. Dresden. Nothing equalled it. Here joined in close union Death and History, evil barbarism, the result of German fascism, and English destructive innovation. For hours, like a lost phantom, deserter soldier Miguel Diez traversed that lone obscure landscape, stamping his army boots on the ruins on an ancient wealthy city. Stones, gravel and cinders, the dispersed smouldering fire no longer finding anything to burn. Ruin swooping at a still bigger ruin, destruction of a vast empire whose buildings now are perfectly levelled to the ground. A single wall here and there, without the stained-glass windows of sacred manufacture. Particles, molecules, atoms of treasures no longer existing, dispersed about over the vast desert, rocks and boulders, the steel of all the broken bridges, the colours of gone works of sublime art, classical oils now consumed by the fire, burn, burn, burn.
He sees the rests of a red rose and the white marble of an ancient Grecian Column, churches, temples, palaces, castles and cathedrals; mansions of opaline hue and construction, all knocked down, unnecessarily, no war strategy or military garrison there. All decreed by London. Bomb those Germans from the air, as they did with our Coventry.
He plodded on and on, and soon began to see the bodies of some of the victims torn apart by bombs and shrapnel. Until he chanced to see a corpse lying whole on the dust, in good condition, complete witn a suit-of-clothes. Tweeds that he put on himself, instead of the blue uniform of the División Azul.
“What are you doing?” a young woman asked in broken German.
“Where d’ye come from?” he asked in turn, buttoning the tailor-cut trousers.
“Nojewo,” she said. “My husband was taken to the war,” she uttered, “and I came after him. He is dead, now.”
Coming down the hill, where they had spent the night, silently holding hands, they proceeded along obliterated avenues, demolished roads, felled trees, the haunting silence of streets, lanes and alleyways in what might have been some habitations, now dust. They wese sure it had to have been the town centre. “Let us leave this place,” she muttered, sorry to have come, and he agreed.
A storm was gathering on the horizon, and the couple walked on at an increased pace, in search of a refuge, some help, some place of humans.
They came upon a timber cottage in a large field. He knocked at the single door and asked for help, showing some silver on the palm of his hand. The silent creature let them in and let them pass the night there, in a room with one bed and several heaps of wheat and barley and instruments for husbandry and harvesting.
Afterwards they went trailing on, west, for three days. It was the thing to do, according to the canons of the day. Everybody became an escapee, in these parts. Sometimes they walked, other times a peasant took them in his cart, pulled by a pair of oxen, or it was an army truck that gave them a lift.
What had been the extensive territory of the Third Reich, of which Germans had been so proud, was now occupied and divided into Zones. The American Zone was the one Silwia and Miguel were traversing: Checkpoint Charlie first point of control, where Silwia saw for the first time in her life a blackman. The sergeant of the unit, a blond American, gave them chewing-gum and Coke. “Go ahead!”
However upon arrival at the U.S. Headquarters, in the city of Orleans, Miguel Diez learned that he would have to wait, if his intention was to emigrate to the Land of the Free. There was a system of quotas and Spaniards were not so favoured as Poles escaping and other escapees from communism.
They decided to go on to Dieppe, and from there take the ferry to Newhaven and try to solve the situation in London.
A week later Silwia had got her United States immigration visa, and she had to cross the ocean alone. She reached New York, and on entering the harbour, saw Our Lady of the Statue of Liberty, and on the pedestal (she was informed) there was the message: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores.”
“Will she be thinking of me?” thought Miguel, sauntering in the streets of Soho, looking for a Post Office from where to send an airmail letter to Silwia which he had writtten in a café. He was no longer emigrating to the United States, but to Australia. They had made arrangements for keeping in touch through the Mail.
“In a week I shall be well in the middle of the Atlanttic, and then New York will have been left well behind. What hope will there be that we meet again?
To adapt himself to a new life on a fine P&O liner was all he had to do, “assisted passage”, going round the Cape, and then a further two oceans, on to the Pacific, with no-one whom to love. Alone, would that be his destiny from now on?
Suddenly, early one afternoon, the ship’s engines ceased to function. In the middle of the ocean. Migrant Miguel Diez ponders.
… huge, enourmous, intense blue all around. The greatest chunk of continuous matter in the planet. Pacific Ocean huge! all water and all blue with streaks of green and the white crowning of the rollers.
… I am in the middle of this blue mass myself, an escapee, a migrant, or a sentimental traveller? a migrant ship, six hundred and twenty displaced persons, all white-skinned elements of the Human Race.
… onto the horizon, that far away distant black line; a new country, a continent. A land calling, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free”, will there be likewise a Statue of Liberty high above the city?
”What has happened?” anxious immigrants asked, coming out upon the decks. It was a most delightful early summer afternoon in the Southern Hemisphere. A sun the colour of a beautiful orange was going down in the West.
The silhouettes of a thousand silky-white seagulls were wheeling and wailing round the ship, and the cooks therein, showing their bloody hands, were inciting them. Poised by the portholes they were throwing chunks of meat to the sea for the screeching birds to dart like arrows and catch those chunks of blood in the air.
Of a sudden someone shouted, “the pilot boat”, and they all saw the launch approaching, then fastening onto the body of the liner. Two men were seen climbing up a rope-ladder that had been thrown from an oblong opening in the side of the vessel, which was closed again and the liner was again moving, the pilot launch moored to its side of the liner. Australia was approaching.
… an infinitely long stretch of land on the horizon approaching, cliffs all of the same height, miles and miles of cliffs, and you can now start seeing beyond the blue surface of the water, the beaches long and yellow, rocks and sands and rocks again, a line of green all along, no doubt some vegetation trees.
… there is nothing (where the liner is heading) that looks like an entrance; except that now yachts and other pleasure-boats are filtering out through two rocky promontories, can they be Sydneysiders rushing to welcome the newcomers? Oh God! on top of the cliffs, now, the travellers can see clusters of houses.
… The liner entering the new country now. The Heads, north and south: the entrance to Sydney Bay between said rocky promontories; tumultous breakers this way and that. Smash! Smash! Smash! Going through; and inside the bay now and still more cliffs, but of a different nature.
… hilly green outer suburbs, and parks and avenues. Elegance and art and other indications of a wealthy existence, fully detached big buildings, mansions with big gardens that look like small parks, followed by dwellings inhabited no doubt by less aristocratic persons than ordinary people, still well-to-do.
… the City full of lights and houses, banks, and also motor traffic; the blue Bay, the black structure of the Harbour Bridge, spanning the two sides of the harbour.
Night was drawing in when the liner passed under the bridge.
The bay splits into a hundred arms of water, the waterfront in full activity, with little yellow specks of lights appearing all along the coast, all the time. And on the water too. Not only this liner going in, other craft too, rowing boats, sportsmen’s motor boats and canoes and the POLICE launch crossing from side to side. Wharves and warehouses, dozens of cranes turning this way and that, with the driver sitting lnside a tiny cabin on top. And Miguel Diez on the upper deck now can read, in brilliant neon green, through the thick black clouds of smoke ejected by the little tugs pulling the liner towards ‘Terra Australis’, the words PYRMONT 13.
Every morning he crossed the harbour by ferry to the City, and returned by bus, across the Harbour Bridge. In the afternoon he walked from the camp to wherever his feet led him. For a while he promenaded on the waterfront of a small cove. He saw shops and cute two-storey houses on the one side; the berthed pleasure-boats on the other, calculating the number of years it might take him to become a man of property, when a wildly-running toddler unexpectedly bumped into him. He raised his brow with a start, and noticed that two young persons were looking at him, a man and a woman he had met before. Like himself, they were living in the migrants’ hostel in North Sydney. Someone had told him their story. “The young couple’s parents, though all four from North London, had only met on the liner bringing them to Australia. The pair of youngsters made love upon the ship, wherever they could find a place at night, but were caught, and their respective “governors” brought them before the ship’s captain, who made them husband and wife. They had since arrival lodged in the camp. By the captain’s recommendation, the young man had joined the Australian Army.
On Sunday he took a bus to Balmoral Beach (in the harbour) and as he was going into the water, he noticed that most swimmers were huddled together inside an enclosure, and stopped for a moment to consider.
“Why do they swim like puppies, all in a hundred-square-yard pool? – those Australians were decidedly acting most ridiculously. And as he moved towards the surging surface of the sea, always judging, comparing, deducing, someone bumping into him from behind nearly tumbled him into the water. At once he straightened up, ready to remonstrate… and was confronted by a ravishing green-eyed young woman with lovely suntanned legs and arms, who did not apologise or even open her mouth. Adjusting well her green rubber cap, the woman threw herself in the water sticking her perfectly beautiful legs up in the air. He swam after her, and when he caught up (their bodies swinging together between two rollers) he said: “Oh, what a lovely morning!”
The young woman, pedaling with her hands, turned her head round to look for a third person to whom the stranger might have been addressing the remark; and a devastated Miguel Diez now turned round and speedly swam away.
On the shore he ran into a dozen children digging in the fine wet sand or otherwise playing with their buckets and spades, and moved despondently up the beach. When he reached the hot dry sand, where he had left his belongings, he opened his haversack and put on his spectacles the better to see oh! such an abundant array of female beauty: the incomparable spectacle of wealth and comfort and, specially, female beauty.
“Allow me, sir,” says a big lady, standing under a big umbrella. “I see from your skin you are a new arrival. You’d better look out! This is not the sun we enjoy over there. I’m Russian, sir!” (he bends his brow.) “Besides, my dear sir, you mustn’t swim against the rules.” “Ah! Are there rules, Madame?” he asks.
“Ooh! Hoo!” she calls, waving at an approaching individual, big like herself.
The man has come out of the shark-net enclosure, wet and panting, and climbs up the sands. “My husband, sir.” They shake hands. “How do you do?” “Pleased to meet you!” Then the Spaniard turns to the lady. “Excuse me, Madam! … it’s been a pleasure,,, I have an appointment. I must go now.”
He grabs his haversack and wanders off, and climbs the flight of stone steps to the promenade and, after a solitary walk of a quarter of an hour, crosses to the other side of the road, where there is a row of detached and semidetached houses, the biggest of which is an old Chinese Shop. He buys two chicken-rolls, a big beef and onion pie, and a big bottle of ginger beer.
Back to the promenade, he sits eating his lunch on a bench, under a leafy tree. For a long time afterwards he observes absentmindedly the little that there is of “Australian life” and again, remembering and making comparisons, gets very depressed. There is a splendid sun, everything is so pretty, peaceful, that colour, that abundance and wellbeing… and himself? Homesick!
A young woman passes by. Thinking he’s seen Silwia, his ever only love, he clutches his haversack on the bench, and runs after her. At the bus-shelter a double-decker bus is just leaving and into it has jumped his Silwia. And he jumps too upon the open platform, climbs straight up to the top floor. The girl is there, her face reappears when he reaches the first row of seats. The vision of a green-eyed brown-haired angel. Why! the very girl that nearly tumbled him in the water this morning. Alone with her in the bus! Endearing and so beautiful, she sits there, their bare arms are touching.
Without making any sign of disapproval or otherwise, she discreetly draws away. He is instantly paralysed with fear and unbelievable immaturity for his age. Contemplating the woman he desires, he thinks and doesn’t know what to say or how to act.
There are few bystanders on the pavements down below, but rather heavy traffic; in the distance overhead now appears the black structure of the Harbour Bridge. He thinks “I’ve seen it in miniature, early one morning, spanning the Tyne, I`ll tell her.” But she’s just, at this moment, leaving the bus, barring his view of the Bridge; and the pain of knowing that he is alone. “I’ve seen, seen,” he mumbles, “the same bridge… Newcastle up…on Tyne.” And the bus is scudding towards the next stop. The young woman is standing on the pavement.
Three days later, Miguel Diez found a job with a bank in town, and he was no longer in such a state of despair. For he had on arrival been obliged to borrow some capital, simply to go on living, and he was about to say ‘yes’ to a proposition by a Big Corporation in the north and go to earn some pounds at the sugar cane plantations in Queensland.
The job was in the Bank of New South Wales (“First Bank of Australia”), Caltex House Branch, Kent Street, a portion of the city full of history, where first the British Army set camp and took possession of the whole continent.
Having gone out once, at lunch-hour, he directed his steps towards a Girls’ Grammar School to see the girls also come out for their lunch, in their mauve blazers plus beige skirts and white straw hats. Then he climbed the Agar Steps to the region where the invaders established their first garrison in 1788. And from hence he went into Lower Fort Street, rather a set of three or four ancient little lanes, with hardly anyone walking there or appearing at doors or windows. “Could I truly be at this moment treading the very earth where History was made 165 years ago?” he thought; and saw a young man who, cigarette between his lips and bent over the engine of a rusty old car, was converting its engine into a multiplicity of spare parts which he transferred one by one upon cloth on the pavement, at the entrance of a rather shabby house.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, pointing to the set of spare parts and tools, pots of grease and two beer bottles on the ground.
The fellow (he might have been eighteen) emitted an obscure grunt, without stopping his work, and Miguel sat on a flight of stone-steps opposite the road, eating and drinking: for he had bought in Argyle Street a packet of fish and chips, and a bottle of beer.
The young man (Johnny was his name), after a while went into the house and came out with a bottle of cold beer. He sat near the stranger and began to drink. Miguel asked him about the district and whether there would not be a boarding house around, a place offering accommodation. He loved the district, he said.
That is how he got to know the Murphys, who had lived in the country since 1938, having come from Spain, where they had fought for the Republic.
Johnny plied the knocker at a door up the road, and when the door opened, a buxom gingerhaired woman appeared on the landing, inside. To the Spaniard’s astonishment this landing was at least two feet lower than the level ground of the pavement outside, so that he was bending his neck down, in order to talk to her, who said she was Connie Murphy.
”Heyday!” thought the Spaniard as he stepped inside, where he found himself surrounded by timber and ‘masonite’ partitions. They passed farther into what seemed an extraordinary place, first engaging down upon a sort of gangway, into a lounge or drawing room, where he met her husband, Joe Murphy, a ‘wharfie’ on the docks, who took Miguel with him into another room.
Living on the very edge of a cliff and witnessing every morning the birth of day, the sun rising over the horizon, and seeing in his imagination the Pacific Ocean, all Sydney at his feet, it was sublime. He no longer felt homesick.
On Saturday, going down the cliff, he had his breakfast in the AUSTRALIAN HOTEL (which was said to be the first public house built in Sydney.)
In a different flannel suit and no tie, he proceeded to the Quay and Phillip Street, and the lawns and gardens of the Domain, and finally up the big flight of stone-steps and into Mitchell Library, where he spent part of the day reading about what he most wanted to know of the new country. The land and its people.
He learned one day that evening-classes were provided by the State of New South Wales free of charge for migrants, and he sought to enter the scheme.
The school he choose was in Surry Hills, one of the inner suburbs, and having to go there by public transport, the first day he arrived late. Much ashamed, he quietly sat down, murmuring however a “Good Evening”, with an inclination of his brow, and it was then that, to his great surprise, he found himself confronting the very adorable person who nearly tumbled him down into the sea, that first day he went to the beach in Australia, and with whom he came across again the same day on the bus.
However her gleaming green eyes gave no sign of recognition (as she went on with the lesson) and this nearly killed his ‘amour propre.’ She said: “Every race, every one inhabiting a country necessarily contributes to the transformation of the land. What I mean is that the Australian Aborigines have transmitted to the world this essential truth. They are the only people on the Earth, who have lived, worked, loved and procreated and when they pass on, they leave the earth to their descendants essentially in the same state of conservation as they found it.”
The lessons on successive days varied in content and personal interest, each pupil developing in his or her manner the subject under discussion. The teacher introduced herself as Anna Gardi. She was born in Europe, but had been almost all her life in Australia, having studied at a good school for girls in town and at Sydney University. Asked by one of her pupils, she related how she had escaped with her mother from a concentralion camp, as the world war was coming to an end, and migrated from Trieste on a liner of the Lloyd Triestina.
Going to Crown Street, twice a week, was for Miguel Diez also a way of coming out of his isolation. It was not easy for newly arrived migrants to make friends.
Once, the lesson had not yet started when he arrived, and everybody was standing talking to one another. The teacher was engaged in conversation with a handsome couple of Latvians who were interested in knowing about that thing, transportation. For the teacher (they all knew) had studied history and had written a thesis on “transportation”. The Latvians thought it meant trade.
“It is the transfer of convicts,” she replied, “from the British Isles to the Colony of New South Wales,” she made a pause, “but also to Van Diemen’s Land, the toughest of penitentiaries, the present Tasmania.
A boy of seventeen or eighteen, called Mietic, who had escaped from one of the concentration camps in Poland, asked to be read a story. “Please, Anna,” he said vehemently, “about convicts, like the other day.”
“I’ll read something for you one of these days. In the meantime I say, have you learned by heart all those Australian idioms I gave you?”
The teacher did fulfill her promise tof read a story; precisely on a day when Miguel’s mood was at its lowest (he often passed from elation to depression.) On arriving at Crown Street that evening, he saw the pretty brown-haired teacher, so straight and so athletic, saying goodbye to a blackhaired man at the school entrance, and he felt suddenly jealous. Stupid jealousy, for she had given no sign at all of any kind, to him, which could justify such feeling. He followed her upstairs and they entered the classrom together.
“There is a legend,” she read, as promised, “spread around the cottages and terrace-houses of these hills, that tells of four shadowy figures appearing of a sudden, on a moonless night, upon the scrubland extending all the way from the cliffs overlooking the ocean to these then forested hills. Nobody inhabited these parts at that time, save a dozen recently settled freed men, who did not mix with anyone. If they walked the three miles to the nearest public house, they stayed alone in a corner”, smoking and consuming a gallon of beer.
Next Saturday, at the Mitchell Library, Miguel, after some research in the archives, came upon a book about convicts, written by Percy Stevenson and Frank O’Clooney; he became convinced these two historians were giving the same story as Anna Gardi. They gave the names of the runaway convicts: Bill Swallow, Philip Murray, Jimmy O’Bryant and Leslie Ferguson.
Miguel Diez was rushing out of the classroom one evening, to catch up with
the teacher (for the blond Latvian woman had stopped him for a moment)
when he saw her hanging on to the banister (she was wearing high-heeled
shoes.) He lifted both arms to help her, and they descended the stairs and
went out into the street, walking on the pavement together. It began to rain.
And she entered the bus-shelter with him.
The bus arrived, the rain stopped, and from his seat he again caught sight of
the teacher turning into Albion Street, striding along, quite contentedly, swinging
her large briefcase and entering a sidestreet, just as the bus negociated bigger
Flinders Street. “Probably a man is waiting for her at home,” he thought.
And it became usual for them to go together downstreet in the evening after the lessons, sometimes with other students, but often the two alone. He always spoke of his literary ambitions, a book about Australia, a novel he was writing.
One evening Anna and Miguel, alone, entered the shelter in a rush and laughing, for after a spell of good weather, there had come a change, just then. Once more, a sudden big shower. He offered her his white handkerchief to dry her hair at the same time as she lifted her hand to say something and quite accidentally their two hands touched, and stayed together for a long while. And for a long while, too, he kissed her promising red mouth.
He bought a second-hand Holden, and drove it one Saturday, hitting first the Cahill Expressway and then all the way east on the dual-carriaged road to Flinders and Surry Hills. But before enganging on this expedition, he had pulled up at Circular Quay, where he bought a large bouquet of flowers. At Albion Street, where he found some easy parking, he left the car, and walked the rest of the way with the bouquet in his arms.
He specially had in mind to hit Fitzroy Street, and decidedly strode along one of the pavements when he reached it, trying to decipher the names on the brassplates. When he came upon ANNA GARDI on one of the cottages, he jumped up on the veranda and banged the knocker: next moment, a trembling Miguel had pretty Anna facing him. Her reaction on seeing the bouquet of flowers paralysed him.
“Oh, my!” (embracing him, flowers and all.) “What a beautiful bouquet! Thank you, Mike, thank you!” It was the first time she used the diminutive to call him.
He stammered, explaining awkwardly that he had… had purchased a car… and wanted to show it to her. A drive, may… He could not finish his sentence.
It was one of the torrid days of January and Anna, not unnaturally, was very lightly attired in a loose flowing gown, down to her knees, loosely tied up with a silk cord. They drove down to Bondi Beach where they spent the morning swimming and sunbaking; then had lunch in a Chinese restaurant nearby.
Now, with the afternoon well advanced, the temperature in the semidetached property had gone down, and they lay down on deck-chairs in the back garden, listening to the music on a Gramophone (by Aram Khatchaturian) that Miguel particularly liked. He was looking at the record cover which he had in his hands
… a blackhaired young girl who danced with a sword in her hand; there was a range of mountains, in the background, a cluster of houses and fir trees. “Plenty of trees,” he commented. She said nothing.
After a while, he asked: “Have you been disappointed, darling?”
“Why should I? No, my beloved,” and after a pause, “it was wonderful, Mike. I loved every minute of it. We can do it again.” Another pause. “If you so desire.”
He stretched out his right arm and caught her left hand which he kissed. She now had the record cover in her left hand. “I’ve told you,” she said, glancing at it, “how these here hills were also full of trees, long ago. Giant euchalypts, and acacia, oaks, even some red cypress. Gone with the practice of ringbarking.”
Looking at a portion of tree-trunk (in the middle on the garden) made to look like a table. “This one seems to have survived,” he said ironically, “until very recently. A gigantic one, by the way. Who cut it down?”
“Dino did, when he built the barbecue. He liked to bring his friends of a Saturday. All Italian… worked with him and then, went on the spree. A good cook.”
Miguel received this piece of news with surprise. “Who is Dino?” he asked.
“My ex-husband,” she replied.
That night, in his room in the Rocks, he could not fall asleep. Without switching on the light, he stepped to the window and tried to calm down looking at the Old City down below. Urban life was little by little coming to an end. The last ferry arriving at the jetties he could see on the left, the last taxi from the Quay taking a couple probably coming from the theatre, the last double-decker bus, leaving for the suburbs, the Black Maria taking way the drunks, and some late staggerer.
A last glance by a solitary pessimistic Spaniard at the murky sky.
Overhead, the snares of capitalism in its most glorious form and colours. PHILIPS, CAGA FINANCE, CORIO WHISKY, COCA-COLA, PENFOLDS WINE
In the morning he went down to town the way of the cliff, on a path going straight to THE AUSTRALIAN HOTEL, where he always had his breakfast; Then he walked the way to Circular Quay and George Street and then the way up through the small Grosvenor Street to Caltex House and into the bank.
… so, her surname is not Gardi, but Frankievich, born in that doubtful uncertain corner between Yugoslavia and Austria. Well, what business of mine is it? She is a grown-up, twenty-five. She can do whatever she likes. ‘La libertad es el don más sagrado que hay.’ But… but I… expecting a lass at the height of her purity?
They packed a hamper with some food and filled the ice-box with drinks, and drove down to the coast, parked the car in a place called “the overhanging”, and climbed down to a tiny solitary beach, the beginning of a long narrow gulf where they swam quite contentedly, without realising they were going out into a rather turbulent ocean. They decided to turn back. The place was called Tamarama Bay and they were to have supper on the sands. They had come down there for a special purpose. Miguel was writing about those convicts escaped from Van Diemen’s Land. The stolen boat, their sailing amid storms and winds of gale force which directed them to the craggy coasts of New South Wales. And the escapees had expected to reach some islands, inhabited by Melanasians, or some by Polynesians. But they were exhausted, and one of them was ill.
… by then the boat was a complete wreck, without mast and having lost part of the sails, it had to be abandoned. “They climbed this very cliff to safety,” she said. “Except that they did not have this path provided by the Council,” he said.
… then they proceeded along the scrubland to try and reach the forested hills, hoping thus to reach Sydney Town, known to be even then a paradise for rogues, and disappear among the varied multitude.
… they met nobody on their march to freedom, but were observed by half a dozen freed convicts, who watched suspiciously in the ever dreadful darkness, each from his window in tiny timber cabins.
… no one would have felt less interested in meeting those ‘apparitions from the cliffs’ than the freedmen from the hills, lest an army patrol passed by, some thing happened and the lot of them were reconvicted
... even when the freedmen, each one on his own, trudged three or four miles, the poor freedman stayed alone in his corner, swallowing a gallon or two of beer, without opening his mouth otherwise, and back to his cabin.
“We are doing,” observed Anna, as they were painfully climbing to the Tamarama Overhang, “what the runaways did so many years ago on a terribly awful night.”
“Well, yes, ” Miguel said , sneeringly, “except that they didn’t have this path with hardwood steps every now and then, offered to them by a County Council, love”.
That Saturday, as he lifted the latch gate, he noticed it was half past five. He did not know why, but he approached the veranda full of apprehension. The air smelt of tobacco, as he stepped in. He pressed in his hand a stack of recently written pages of the novel, which he wanted Anna to peruse, and perhaps edit.
“Oo-hoo!” he heard her calling from the bedroom.
She was in bed, in her pyjamas. At once, he sank on his knees and embraced and kissed her. She responded to his kisses pressing him to her breast. But he heard a noise in the house, which made him jump up and run to the corridor, a now hysterical Anna following him. There was a man in the kitchen, whom she introduced perfunctorily as “Dino”. No reason was given for his presence there at that hour. Miguel was paralysed with wonder and fear; while the other went on smoking, passing the palm of his right hand over the his blue-black hair.
In a minute Miguel passed into the back garden and walked down to the shed that served to Anna as a secluded reading room and library.
He placed the typewritten pages (which he carried in his hand) with the bound manuscirpt of his novel in a leather briefcase and, as he turned to go, saw his love one outside, in the garden, peering in through the small dusty window.
She looked pitiful, a marked sign of tragedy on her face. But he hardly noticed it.
He stepped out into the garden, by-passing a desolate Anna, and bounced away towards the house; reentered the kitchen. She went after him and caught him up in the lounge, facing Fitzroy Street.
“No,” she cried, catching the bottom of his jacket, “you must hear me, at least that. It is nothing, really. Please let me explain!” and she broke into desperate weeping. It was the first time she had spoken after Dino’s brief appearance.
He brutally rejected her, turned round and left the house. Entering the Holden, which he had parked at the entrance of the cottage, he lay his brow on the wheel. “A poor defeated Miguel Diez,” he stayed motionless on his seat, without starting the engine. At length, when he did a U-turn to take the direction of the City, he chanced to see himself in the rear mirror. “Is that my face,” he thought, “that man, whose bespectacled green eyes show the spirit of a monster?”
He hardly went out of his room those days, except to go to the bank. He now realised he had committed an irreparable offence; he had insulted the woman he loved. How had he been capable of that? he didn’t know. He had acted by instinct, not reason. The only knowledge that reached his brain, now, was that he needed his Anna; and the immense solitude in which he had sunk.
At night he watched the stars from his window, that fantastic house perched upon the cliff called the Rocks: the infinite universe and in it, the constellation of the Southern Cross, other constellations which he used to see overthere the other way round: he saw from his watch-tower the ancient thoroughfares, lanes and alleys of the old Sydney Town, where the British invaders built the garrison, on the rocks, civil offices and human habitations and the first tavern, the “Australian Hotel” which shone so brightly down below, in the conjunction of two streets full of traffic… the rocks dark and craggy.
Joe Murphy was a wharfie and a communist. He met with his comrades in the pub Australian Hotel, and Miguel joined his landlord. They both spoke to militant workers who had fought in Spain. He told them he was a Sunday writer. Perhaps they would help him. But, in fact, nobody bets on a losing horse.
Down below, a late straggler is runing to cacth the last bus leaving for the suburbs.
… the runaway convicts (he’s gone back to to his desk), knowing that beyond those trees was salvation, crawled up the hill in the dark. The goal was Sydney Town, full of people of all kinds. Who was going to discover them among a hundred thousand others? They would separate, of course, each one for himself.
… for Young Jimmy things got more complicated. A big lad who needed his nourishment; and as they penetrated the woods, he became weaker and lost his machete and did not know what he was doing, bumping into bigger trunks, all giant trees; as if he had gone blind. They were coming down a sort of ravine.
... a big lizard somehow crossed their path. The lad jumped upon it like a wild feline and caught it. Ferguson, the Scott, rubbing two sticks set fire to a pile of dry sticks and eucalypt leaves. Roasted lizard for some poor famished runaways was a perfect banquet. Besides, beggars are not choosers.
… It had rained torrentially last night, and the morning found the five runaways crawling from rivulet to rivulet, drinking the rain water. But on the third day, Swallow, the leader of the expedition, knew that there was for them little hope of survival. For days they could find nothing to eat but ferns and leaves.
Miguel Diez read a lot and resurrected the idea of a sixth convict called Thomas Barker, a runaway, like the others, from the Recherche Bay penal settlement, who had been transported on a convict ship from London in May 1831, at the same time as James O’Bryant, with whom he became good friends. The said Barker had been an honourable officer of the Royal Navy whose name in fact appears in the Civil Register of the coastal town of Maldon, where his parents had belonged to the merchant class, and had sent Tom to a good school. At sixteen he enlisted in the Royal Navy, and at eighteen he was in India, fighting for the Crown. Those were years of battling against the tribal people who lived in the mountains of the north. He took part in the massacres committed while pacifying the Crown’s most rebellious subjects. Returning south to Calcutta loaded with gold and other treasures, he was recommended by his commander, Colonel Newcombe, of the Salisbury Batallion, for promotion. Thomas R. Barker’s future was thus assured, now a lieutenant of the Third Royal Battalion of Bengali Lancers, always allied to the maharajahs, bankers and financiers.
Lieutenant Thomas Barker only returned to England when his fleet of six ships was ordered back home, to be flung anew into wars and colonial fights. A voyage to the North American colonies was now being prepared to help the merchant navy in the lucrative slave trade. Eventually the fleet berthed at Liverpool, where he met a very pretty girl he fell in love with. Tom was then a very handsome tall man of twenty-four, blond like a viking with a suntanned face.
Joan MacNally was as pure a specimen of Irish beauty as one could wish to see; long blue-black hair, perfectly white skin and a full red mouth. But her most beautiful trait were those eyes of a brilliant blue, like a cloudless sky in a summer morning. Lieutenant Barker saw her at a dinner party given by a rich local merchant, where a dozen King’s officers from the fleet had been invited as special guests. The following day he wrote to her father demanding her hand, explaining he was in the Royal Navy and trying to show in writing the intensity of his passion for Joan. The next time the fleet arrived in Liverpool Thomas and Joan were married, the wedding being celebrated in the Catholic Cathedral. As the newly wedded descended the carpeted flight of marble steps, from the altar down to the equally carpeted central aisle, twenty naval officers, members of the bridegroom’s detachment, ten on each side in full uniform, instantly drew twenty shiny swords out of their scabbards, and lifted them up in the air, thus forming an artificial tunnel inside which the happy newly-wedded walked all the way to the entrance, a shower of confetti falling upon the two lovers, Tom in full uniform passionately pressing Joan to him, oh! such great beauty, in a long white robe studded with little stones like diamonds. There was a flush on her cheek on account of her timidity, for she was only eighteen and everybody was looking at her: and the music. She loved her Tom and felt so very happy!
They had a happy married life: two years residing in Liverpool; where the fleet was temporarily based making regular voyages to North America, the merchant navy bringing from the colonies the cotton that was always needed to keep busy the many mills now operating in Manchester, Preston and all Lancashire.
Afterwards the Royal Navy made different arrangements, and Thomas Barker, through the influence of Lord Tiltontin of Liverpool, was commissioned to occupy a post in the Admiralty, London, where the happy family moved to. Two little children had been born in the meantime, Eliza and Danny.
But those were troubled years with wars on the Continent, and British sailors and soldiers were greatly required in order to defend Britain from her enemies, the more so as industry and commerce had greatly prospered and now Britain depended on free trade, and freedom of the sea, for exporting its industrial products. Because of this, the imperial army and navy found the way of making war everywhere, also on the Continent. At the siege of the coastal city of Szczecin, Tom Barker was knocked down by shrapnel that wounded his knee, and he lay, stretched out in the mire, for an hour or more. He was lucky that a sailor of his own ship found him; for his wound, though slight, was getting infected and giving him great pain. The man, called Swallow, was a Cockney from eastern London, a few years his senior, extremely nice and funny to the point of cheering him up. Less tall than Tom, the man, a corporal, was very strong and dragged him down to the beach, to embark him on their boat.
Soldiers and sailors who had been engaged by the thousand, in the heat of the continental wars, not so long ago, now were seen in the streets of English cities, fending for themselves, haggard-looking, arms despondently hanging down, stooping for a rest, trudging along in the streets of the capital specially. There were rumours that an economic recovery was at hand; which never came. The cotton trade was depressed. Barker came from a fairly well-to-do family and had saved some capital, when in India, and made several aristocratic acquaintances in his day. Nobody ever bets on a losing horse, it is well known.
… in the grate, as he entered, he first saw two iron pots boiling, some potatoes in one, and in the other there must be some fish, from the smell. The fire was the only light in the room, wherein the couple had shoved most of their things.
… he saw the silhouette of his adored Joan, a long black dress, a kerchief tied under her chin. He stepped forward, kissed his wife and burst out crying. And they cried together. By their side, on a mattress on the floor, the two children.
… In his mind, he went back to the days when he was an officer in the Royal Navy and a man of property. All was light and brilliancy then: poor Tom! With the end of the wars, unemployment all around. Darkness, hunger and despair! Through the glass of the closed window, he sees the snow falling so white.
Long, irregular rows of wooden sheds and wagons full of fruit and vegetables. Traders were selling beef, pork and fish. As well as poultry and sausages and other, for him, precious merchandise. Carts and barrows full of produce, bread above all, oats, wheat, pickled cabbage, bacon and many other commodities.
… Tom had been ambling along streets and alleys for a while, alone in the midst of the crowds. On the street-corner a little boy was seen sweeping the mud away to allow fine ladies and gentlemen to cross from pavement to pavement without dirtying their footwear, trousers and expensive gowns held upwards by delicate feminine fingers. A coin is seen slipping into the little guy’s hand, and a smile of recognition on his dirty face. Such an angelic looking face. Her husband or lover, his gloved hand passes the copper. ‘Ta, your Honr!’
… the capital of an empire where the sun never sets. And he, poor Tom, wandering in the streets at night alone, sees an occasional straggler. Trying to find something to take home for Joan and the children who probably haven’t eaten all day. Covent Garden, the market place, still one needs money.
… it was very cold. The nobles, the bankers, the industrialists and their wives were dining, a big banquet for thee hundred. Legions of lackeys are running about carrying big wax-candles alight. Ladies and gentlemen occasionally… and in hidden corners -oh, gosh! The porcelaine chamber-pots full of piss.
… but Thomas Barker is not there. It is the hour when Tom gathers other living matter rotting on the ground of a deserted Covent Garden. Some greens he can see quite clearly, shining in the moonlight, some still edible potatoes, lettuce leaves, a rotten orange still full of vitamins. He stoops low, stretches his long arm, catches the prize and slips it in his roughcloth sack. He rests a minute, listening to the chiming bells of Saint Clement’s nearby, the rumour of a feast.
…The sound has the effect of cheering him up for the time being. “Well done, my faithful! Well done!” It is God talking to an Englishman who yesterday was making sure there would exist the freedom of the seas the Crown demands in order to be sure of its grabbing power!! “Britannia rules the waves.”
‘Heavens above!’ he hears a cry at the same time as he feels a friendly touch on the shoulder. ‘Goodness gracious me! Lieutenant, what’s happened to you?’
Tom turns his gaze round, and tears flow suddenly down his hollow ckeeks, as he shouts: ‘Bill Swallow? Oh, so many years! Time does wear wings, my God! How do you do, dear friend?’ For he has recognised the man who saved him from dying in the mire during the terrible siege of Szczecin, on the Continent.
They enter a tavern in St. Giles, where there is more filth and squalid misery than in any other part of the mighty city of London. A big smoky hall, the old building purely falling in decay and full of people in rags. The place is also full with the smell of rotten wine, or beer or god-knows-what other alcohol.
Drunken men aplenty with some malcontent women and witches galore. Wagoners taking a one-day rest, with a girl in a corner. Tom and Bill sit with the others all, men and women, on benches along a thick liquor-soaked oak-table each semihuman with a tumbler in its and, sharing bottles of liquor, chatting. ‘What have you been doing, Bill my boy, all these years since we stopped waging war?’ Tom asks, cheering up at the presence of Bill Swallow.
… and Bill Swallow, after emptying a tumbler full of brandy-and-water, starts telling his sad story from the beginning, when he was a boy. He had finished quite succesfully his apprenticeship with a master cabinet-maker, at the age of nineteen, and was working on his own in the East End, when he met the nicest girl in the world, Gladys whom in due course he married and they had a child. One day, a battalion of red-coated soldiers press-ganged him into the navy.
… for two years he went to the wars. When he came back, once peace was restored, dear Gladys was the mother of three kids. And what was he to do? ‘You tell me Lieutenant Barker, what was a man to do, run after her with a kitchen-hatchet and kill her? No, lieutenant, but accept my lot, dear Gladys.’
It was not until the two ex-mariners had shuffled for a while through the streets that Swallow, lowering his voice, suggested. ‘Lieutenant, let’s unite our efforts.
… a partnership.’ The ex-sailor now revealed to the ex-officer a plan that had been maturing in his mind since their encounter in Covent Garden. They had to unite forces, would work at night. “My word,” he whispered, “sure a good profit.”
They shook hands on it, and the partnership thus constituted started operating with great success, for it was a cold moonless night when former Royal Navy officer led the expert in burglary, into a yard where he had been instrumental in naval stuff. They jumped the wall, got into the depots and took back things of good value: cables, anchors and other matter. Bill had borrowed a wagon from a friend trafficking in stolen goods, now hidden in a woods, and off they went.
… three nights they repeated the operation quite successfully, giving themselves a long rest between each successive raid. They sold the stolen material, through that friend of Bills, to good professionals and made a good profit. But on the fourth night they were caught by the guards and thrown into jail. They were judged and condemned to be transported for life to Australia. They could not even say goodbye to their respective families.
Like in a flash, one day when Miguel felt very depressed, and desperately needed the help of a woman, he picked the phone and rang.
“Hello! Anna?” ‘Yes, who’s calling?’ he heard at the other end of the line. “It’s me. Miguel.” Silence. Nothing but a sob, then a cry: ‘Who?’ and a moan. “Anna!!” ‘Oh, is it you… you?’ a sigh followed by confused sounds. ‘Mi… Miiigu…’ And he thought “Oh, gosh! She’s weeping (he thinks), what have I done?” ‘Miiii… oh my… Miguel! Is it you, you…?’ and renewed sobs. “Anna! darling, my darling!” And she replies only with sobs. “Anna, are you there?” he shouts in despair, and renewed weeping “Oh, darling, please, say something,” he cries with apprehension. “Anna, have I caused so much harm? should I not have called? If there’s ano… man?” And again silence, sobs. “Anna, dear,” he implored, “tell me, if… if… and I’ll hang up.” ‘Oh,no! Oh Miguel, my only love! what have you done to me. Why did you not let me tell you, that day? It is true… I love no other man… I never have.’ “Anna, my adorable! In the name of all that is dear and sacred, please, my pretty angel, let me… I want you, I love you, I adore you.” ‘Me too, I want you, Miguel. That day... you didn’t stop to listen. It was a mistake, he just wanted to pick up some tools and be gone.’ She spoke this time with a tinge of bitterness in her voice (he thought.) “Anna, please, my love, forgive me, tell me I can visit you.” And then, overflowing: “Ah! My dear Mike, I’ve been longing to hear from you. Come when you want, please.’
They spent a fortnight up north, a place called Dora Creek. They lived in a wooden cabin which belonged to Joe and Connie Murphy, a place where the two lived loving one another, intense, profound love; and swam naked in the river and drove the Holden to the ocean coast and surfed with the rollers, played volley-ball and ate in a pub; and went on with the novel.
… bypassing Cape Town, the clipper entered the Indian Ocean, a region of great turbulence, and went through a tropical storm further east. Some of the transported men, who had been sailors in the past, were brought out of the holds to help, among them Barker, Swallow and O’Bryant. This fomented their friendship. However they were carful, for they knew they were risking the lashes .
… on arrival at Hobart Town, on the twenty-ninth of October, 1829, the convicts were solemnly received on the wharf by Governor Arthur in person, who addressed them in formation, under a pale sun, with a batallion of the King’s Soldiers. Tom Barker and Jimmy O’Bryant were listening in the first row.
“I’ll read his speech to you, dear Anna,” Miguel said, getting hold of another book. It was a wonderful day and they were writng on the sands:
‘Men who are sober, industrious and steady may reasonably expect a ticket-of-leave, employment in the police and ultimately emancipation and freedom. On the other hand, he whose misconduct or habits of drunkenness involves him in wickedness and ruin can expect little else than assignment to hard labour on the roads or in the forest, a hundred lashes, the treadmill, confinement to a dark dungeon and, last, the gallows.’
… in the convicts’ encampment it was very cold during the winter,” Anna was at the typewriter. “Bill Swallow and Tom Barker chose well their moment. All wore big coats, made of kangaroo skin, usual that part of the year. One night the four men - for they had got a very strong Scotsman, Leslie Ferguson, to join them, and Tom had suggested they should take the young chap, Jimmy O’Bryant -, slipped out of one of the barracks and ran to the rocks, where the forest reached the sea. To their great surprise, they found a fifth man had been following them: they thought he was a spy. ‘No, don’t fear me,’ the man shouted. ‘It’s only Philip Murray,’ said Tom ‘I know him. A thorough-bred Englishman from Belfast this Philip was, who had been convicted for fraud. They took him and soon found they had done well to accept that aristocrat. Having served in the kitchen of the camp, he had come out with a sack full of food rations and a hatchet. The five runaways went along the coastline towards Hobart Port.
… it was only four hours previously that the original four had all bolted separately, and had gathered in a pre-arranged spot, where Murray joined the company. They were preparing for the next step when there came a further surprise. Another runaway appeared in the jungle…’
“Halt! Halt!” Anna complained. “I feel things are getting all in a muddle. No one’s going to understand your novel. Were they five or six, your runaways?”
“Look, Anna, don’t let’s quarrel, now you get the manuscript and read. I’ll type.”
… the runaways entered the wharves at Hobart Town when dawn was rising, and they hid for eight hours among the cordage, tackle, rigging and other maritime material abundant in the port. They all knew that there was very severe punishment for convicts who tried to escade. It was known that (at times) some men even died in the port, under the whip, when they were caught.
… all the same, they knew that the guards in winter forgot to watch all the time, and slept in their sentry boxes instead. One of the guards, that night, hearing something, came out to see. He was going to give the alert, when Ferguson, a giant of corpulent strength, caught him round the neck and strangled him.
… at once the bolters took possession of a one-mast boat, a small brigantine. At least two of the runaways were excellent sailors, a third had served some years, as a boy in the Royal Navy. Other guards appeared at the last moment on the jetty and sent a shower of bullets after the stolen vessel, which splashed harmlessly in the water, though some bullets came very close to the convicts.
… the escapees knew there would be an order of capture sent by the military to all the towns and garrisons of the colony. So, as soon as they could, they veered north-east towards New Zealand. Swallow knew there were in some gulfs and coves of the South Island Nantucket whalers, who every year established their camps for the season. They would ask no questions.
… by midnight the runaways had got a very big start, and the wind was indeed leading them towards New Zealand. Every man was at his post, each one doing exactly what was expected of him. ‘For all intents and purposes,’ Barker the captain said ‘our boat’s got away, now and forever, from the claws of the Royal Navy.’ The escapees were delighted, embracing one another, when the wind unexpectedly changed and the weather turned to storm. In another moment the wind reached gale force. And gigantic masses of water kept flying up and coming down on the poop of the ship. The sea swept Philip Murray away. Jimmy O’Bryant gave the alert. Ferguson was just about to jump into the turbulent waters and swim after the disappeared man, when Barker stopped him, grabbing him by his arm. ‘Nothing doing, Leslie,’ he howled above the roaring wind. Swallow came to help Tom. The strength of the gale increased and the boat, which had first veered to the right, along with the Tasman Sea currents, now veered left towards the prosperous Colony of New South Wales.
… but there was still hope. Someone said what everyone thought. ‘Hope we can go through yet and reach one of the South Sea islands and live with friendly natives over there.’ ‘Let’s do it!’ ‘Hurrah!! We’ll get the girls and the good life. But the wind had definitely changed and was directing them towards the New South Wales littoral. The poor wretches saw the land approaching. It was dawning. There was a long bay, a sandy beach, with lots of rocks on both sides.
… for a time the poor men saw the coast coming nearer, slowly, then at great speed. By chance their crippled boat was sent away from the rocks onto the sands. They saw the rollers were turning into gigantic, fearful breakers, splashing and roaring, and themselves flying on top, a terrible thump and a halt.
… Tom Barker had managed to steer the boat, nearly flying above the immense mass of water, and down with a formidable breaker upon the sands, luckily away from the rocks. Even so the boat split in two and the five men found themselves thoroughly wet and in tatters. He observed that they were surrounded by rocks and boulders, caves, cliffs and driftwood.
… they plodded up on the sand and came upon an unsurmountable barrier which they began to climb, there being no other way to escape, each like a mountain bear using his hands and nails, clinging to projecting stones and rocks or branches of small trees or bushes.Then, suddenly, a hideous howl rent the air; one of them, as he was trying to hold on to a projecting rock, this gave way on him, and fell down.
… the others all looked down, expecting to see their comrade’s body spread out on the sand and rocks down below. Ferguson (who was the one that shrieked) was holding on to a tree branch in the black night, trying to recommence climbing.
… reaching the scrubland on top of the cliff, the runaways found a cluster of desolate black cabins which they quickly left behind.. thinking smugglers inhabited them. The dwellers were in fact freedmen, one in each cabin.
… penetrating farther in the forest, they were saved from dying of exhaustion by sudden rain which lasted three hours. They dropped down on the ground to drink, fill their bellies with water, whereupon they stalked ahead once more.
… and once more the escapees dropped down, exhausted on a bed of leaves and fell asleep. For there was a thick undergrowth of dry leaves, among giant ferns and spiky bushes.
… there was nothing to eat, and as they got further into the forest, Jimmy O’Bryant kept on banging himself against the trunks, all the time thicker and closer together. After an hour or two he fell bleeding on the ground, crying:
… “Oh Mum, help! Please, pass us a bit of that Christmas Cake! Look at me, have pity on your son!” At once Ferguson and Swallow threw themselves, machetes in hand, on the young chap, and slaughtered him in a moment.
…the Scot made a fire, and the two laboriously roasted the body. This gave
them nourishment for three days, at the end of which it began to rain torrentially,
and receiving the rain on their faces, they rejoiced, drinking so much water in their sleep that they never woke up at all, while their mate Tom stalked on.
… he sat down on a low round boulder, his back straight up, as corresponds to
an Englishman, who was a Navy Officer, and prepared himself to carry out something for which he had been preparing himself these many days. He got out a pencil which he had always carried with him, and two pieces of cardboard which he had used in his haversack to hold pictures of his loving wife and two children, and wrote:
“Dear Joan, my beloved, to you and to Eliza and Danny my eternal love. In a hour or two, your faithful Tom will have ceased to exist, thousands of miles away from you, oh, my love! Having known and adored you, my angel, I can say say that I haven’t lived in vain. One thing is sure, having known my enchanting Joan, having daily shared my existence with you, my angel, those years, has been absolute felicity. Oh, those moments, that happy existence we have spent together! What may a man aspire to, desire more? Having lived with you has been been for me sufficient to say: I know I have lived. I know what is the meaning of happiness. It is quite enough. Thank you, my darling for every minute of our married life. Much love, dear Joan and Eliza and Danny. Tom.”
He folded the pieces of carboard, and placed them intimately near his heart, under his rags; and lay down on the leaves and briar, and as he closed his eyes. He knew it would be seen with his body, and would be sent to London.
“Anna, let me read aloud; no, not from the Stevenson book. Another one, here:
‘Three days he kept trudging on through the forest, at times moving swiftly, other times very slowly, for he was really at the end of his tether; and at times not moving at all. He was very sad. A tragic expression marked his previously handsome face. And yet, not in despair, for he had already accepted death.
‘Though in his mind he rebelled against an evil force which he had once obeyed and wanted afterwards to see destroyed, he was not sure of himself or of his knowledge, did not know if there was a possibility of finding a force among humans to destroy that satan which had conquered the world.
“Half-resting his back against the trunk of a eucalypt and bending his head forward, he clutched with two hands his brows and sent up such a shriek that all the living matter around him appeared to comprehend. It was the howl of suffering mankind. All atremble and looking overhead, he yelled: “Bill! William Swallow! Listen to me! If you arrive one day overthere, do all you can, to make Humanity change! Society!! Unite and get rid of the evildoer!”
“‘Oh, Joan, my Joan, my purest love!’ (he called) and the trees around him seemed to become less menacing. For Joan was with him. She was just twenty-one, he had her in his embrace; in their bed of love, together. ‘Please my Tom, be gentle, do not hurt me, I’m so afraid’. ‘Oh, Joan! Please, I love you so!’
The same pretty Joan, so loving, of always, a pretty blue-eyed angel.”
Miguel sent the manuscript to London, where a mainstream publisher accepted the novel, “WE ALL ARE RUNAWAY CONVICTS”. Within nine months it became a bestseller, and they celebrated the success at “THE CLUB”, a trendy nightclub in King’s Cross, where they dined and wined and chatted with a young married couple from the country who were celebrating the first anniversary of their wedding: so young indeed these two Aussies were, that they at times acted like two children, specially when they danced the four together, exchanging couples (the women gracefully lifting their colourful skirts, and kissing and laughing.) Anna had to drive the Jaguar back home, to Dover Heights, the district of wealthy abundance where they had purchased their new house, on a cliff looking over the ocean, the Immense Blue Pacific… water, eternal matter.
“Darling, Mike,” said Anna as they were undressing to go to bed, “I thought you had said that art in literature was the transmission to others of a deeply felt sensation, from the writer’s inner being? Sublime Art, as Longinus says. You always spoke of your novel as being an impression coming from real life.”
“Of course, my darling,” Miguel answered with a kiss. “You understood all right, the characters must be real, real life. And so is my novel, all copyng reality.”
“Then, sweety,” she said, with the shade of a sneer. “Why, you know very well, you told me once (you must remember) that you have invented from scratch one of them, at least one of them. That Thomas Barker of Maldon.”
Miguel approached a pretty very intelligent Anna Diez, and sat with her on the bed. “Hi, my intellectual beauty!” he said with a sarcastic smile: “You must know, my dear, that you’ve to supply the reading public with their own stuff. Eh! Publishers do know.” firstname.lastname@example.org