2 A Sentimental Journey through Sydney, edited
According to Australian writer George Johnston Australia was not meant to be a country for people. Immigrants from India long ago did migrate on foot in small numbers. End 18th century Whites arrived. Late 1950s a Spaniard meets Ukrainian escapee.
2 ‘A Sentimental Journey through Sydney’ edited
Fernando García Izquierdo
A long brisk walk home, every working day, as dusk was falling, coming out of the factory in Sussex Street, with several dozen other factoryhands. A few days ago he might have been accompanying his group of mates to the public house, at Pyrmont, for a drink of icy beer; there to spend the usual three crowns in as many frothing ‘middys’, of which he was not particularly fond.
Instead, nowadays once he passed the bridge which spanned the ever-busy Darling Harbour, Luis Galvao turned left, without bothering to say goodbye to Bruno and the others, and entered the suburb of Ultimo. Harris Street was the first road on the left.
Although the really hot weather was still faraway, it was not cold, the only seasonal difference in the new country really being the length of the day, natural light. As a matter of fact it was never really cold in Sydney; but the days were shorter now, and this was particularly remarked in the evenings, dusk seeming to arrive, for him, with much more precipitation than back home. One minute it was still light, the next the air was dark.
There was an explanation for all this, this haste of the New Australian to arrive at a simple, unprepossessing boarding house. A special intention. It was clear by now to any observer that Luis Galvao, the lodger, had fallen in love with the young landlady. He wanted to be in the boarding house before sunset, because he had noticed she had her evening meal rather early in the communal kitchen, and was looking for an occasion to confront her, hoping they would exchange a few words. He had been observing her, these days, without saying a word: her way of conduct, which was very regular, as indeed was his. She played the violin for half an hour after supper.
He entered the kitchen this time and switched the light on. The lady was standing by the copper boiler in the adjoining laundry, a wicker basket in her hands. He sat down at the massive long table with a dish and some cutlery in his hand, facing the door to the laundry and could not fail to notice that the young woman was displeased at his arrival. She was at some distance from him, and the small room rather dark.
Though windows and the door to the backyard were open, it was very hot, and her particular corner of the room was full of steam, the laundry having a unique tiny window. The whole place smelt unpleasantly of cheap soap. She had been alarmed to see him coming in, for she was in a rather shapeless dress and did not look her best at that moment. As soon as she had shoved all her washing into the boiler, she left the basket on the floor and went away, giving Galvao a sidelong glance as she passed by.
On another occasion, when Luis Galvao came into the room, the landlady looked calmer, seated as she was at table. He walked up to the cupboard and fridge, got a couple of things out, and took a seat, facing her, and after a while he asked:
“Well, how is life treating you?”
She smiled, and he went on, rather tactlessly: ‘‘You know… I can’t understand you. I would like, perhaps having a chat… sometimes you avoid me…?’’ he stopped short.
But she still said nothing, biting her nails, not vehemently, but rather as if she were licking the tips of her fingers, all the time looking him in the face.
“Are you afraid of me, is that it?” Galvao insisted.
“Of him, then?”
She assented in silence, scarcely moving anything but her eyelids, on which there was a film of silvery-blue eye-shadow.
“I also bite my nails,” he said, rather to comfort her, showing his hands, palms down, “you see?”
Again her long eyelashes moved, but she still uttered not a word.
They both went on eating. Presently she muttered, a warm flush surging into her cheeks. “But he won’t be here till next week.”
Galvao hesitated, mumbled a few unintelligible words, and the landlady went on.
“Perhaps you’ve noticed. He rides a bike. That’s why! I mean, he lives in the outback… and comes for the weekends. But he won’t come at all this week, for he goes with the rangers.”
He remembered something Heribert had told him. ‘’Rifle practising?’’ he asked.
“Yes. And to kill kangaroos. Oh, he’s got horrible friends!”
“So, we shall have to be careful,” Luis said, half in earnest, half in jest.
She threw him a glance full of mystery. “You are so kind… and so good-looking,” she said rather sadly.
“Now, don’t cry again,” he said. For she had taken one wrist to her eyes, those disconcertingly-looking eyes.
“I won’t let them cause you any harm,” she said bravely, snapping her fine teeth like a little wild animal.
After a pause Galvao observed: “You haven’t asked me my name.”
“But I know it. It is Lewis, is it not?”
“Well not Lewis, but Luis, pronounced at one go.”
“It sounds lovely on your lips,” he said, with an arch glance.
Her eyes were glistening, and she burst out sobbing, drawing her hand across her lips and choking.
“Come on!” he exhorted, touching her right arm.
The young woman had taken her hand to her eyes, making a mess of her mascara and she now looked like a horrid child, pursing her lips and yet trying to smile.
He stared fixedly across the table. There was not the slightest doubt, he found her pretty. The particular kind of beauty he liked, which was quite peculiar in a way: that roundish rosy face, which made her so attractive if she smiled, as at that moment.
He was absorbed in the contemplation of her face, the little round ears also, almost hidden in the blond curls, the nice pointed nose and those two rows of perfectly white teeth.
… except for the nose, the woman is a perfect copy of the girl I used to call mine, whom I met in Yorkshire, poor inexperienced student from Madridd. My English girl so beautiful, despite her snub nose.
Mumbling isolated words came out of the Ukrainian’s mouth, The Spaniard still absorbed in the contempletion of the woman he ardently desired. “Oh!” she cried, rubbing her eye, “I’ll... show you. I… want… I’ll play the violin, so… you can see… I’ll show you!”
“Come on, Malgorata,” he soothed her, “be of good cheer!” He clasped her free hand in his; but she tore free from him and made a dash to the door. Galvao heard her locking the door of her bedroom, and then, for a very short time, the sound of the violin.
On Friday Luis Galvao arrived back home earlier than usual and when he entered the kitchen, panting and out of breath, he found it empty. He went with a bottle of milk to the door that led to the backyard, which was open but for a wooden frame with fine metallic wiring, adjusted to the doorway from outside, to stop flying insects from coming in. The wiring was full of grease, dust and dirt, and at places the bodies of dead mosquitoes, which he watched absent-mindedly. He had made himself a peanut-butter sandwich, which he ate slowly, his eyes fixed on the back garden, in great disorder at this hour. The garbage-tin, with a loose metal top, was near the door, and towards the end of the long back-yard there was an old car, left there to rust and to serve as refuge to half a dozen stray cats and kittens.
Going out into the passage he heard the sound of music, and noticing the door of the room was ajar, he peeped inside, and saw Malgorata in her night-gown, her delicate pale face inclined over the violin, some golden locks falling over her eyes, and the bow playing in the other hand. Knowing she was being watched, she felt inspired and played marvellously for a few minutes, radiant with intellectual beauty, and sweet like an angel. She stopped suddenly and raised her bow, beckoning him, “Come here!”
He stepped in, absolutely bewitched, and although she made an effort to stop him, he took her in his arms: she drew away and bounced across the room, which was a double-room with a Roman arch in the middle. He saw her opening a drawer which she shut again, and came back pressing a big album against her chest, sat down on the bed under the standard lamp, placed the album on her thighs, giving Luis Galvao a triumphal glance.
They went through the album together; and she pointed out with her forefinger, explaining the details of each picture and giving the names of places and the dates. They all were photographs of her own person, and almost always playing the violin, from the age of five till she was an adolescent and won prizes in Vienna and other capitals; and later in concerts, during the tours, already a young woman. Galvao thought that in all of them she looked most charming; and particularly when she won that first prize in Vienna. She received these praises with girlish pleasure.
“I still have this dress,” she giggled. Her face was glowing and shining.
“Malgorata,” he said in admiration, “ there is no girl so beautiful as you.”
She had already stood up, stripped herself of her night-gown, and bounded to the wardrobe stark naked. Giving her back to him, she wriggled and twisted on her toes, pushing and rummaging among an array of dresses and other clothes in different states of conservation, until she got the desired apparel and slipped it on with a final very sexy wiggle. It was a black silk evening dress; yet not so long as to hide her pretty rounded calves; moreover, although at first she had appeared to him awfully thin, all her forms now showed to advantage in a good dress that had obviously been made for a more childish body: her little dimpled belly, her firm childish breasts, the shoulders, her back and dizzily curving buttocks. And she knew all this. It could be seen in her glowing smile.
Luis also stood up and held her by her shoulders, the palms of his hands pressing the two puffed-up little sleeves. The rather tight dress made her look more athletic, more womanish than she was.
“Lovely! Oh, my love!,” he exclaimed.
“You like it?” she asked with mischievous relish. She went back to the wardrobe, looking at herself in the mirror, and as she met Galvao’s eyes her cheeks flushed. Then she turned round with a flourish and approached him.
He caught her in his arms in the middle of this flourish, and they danced. Then, wriggling out of his embrace, she trotted off to the opposite side of the bed, Galvao following her. And this time he caught her tightly by the waist.
“No, don’t touch me like that,” she cried, shrinking from him. “I like to be stroked like a pussy cat, please.”
Whereupon he clutched her slim waist with both hands and slipped them tenderly down, caressing the soft tissue along the thighs; and, on his knees, kissed her and pressed his lips endearingly upon her forms. He remained in that position for a long moment, as if in ecstasy. Then she lifted him by his arms, and bending her head backwards pressed her supple frame against his, and when he bent his body forward she let him kiss her open mouth. Her eyes became glazed of a sudden, but her body was warm and endearing. Their lips had united in a kiss of love, and the tip of her tongue was caressing his. Until suddenly he felt like an electric shock, and a most excruciating pain in his tongue; and he saw her trembling frame drawing away, crouching. She was laughing and crying all at once. He was stunned, and for a moment unable to speak, the taste of blood now in his mouth. She came back to him, begging him, imploring him to forgive her. She hadn’t meant to do it; it was an accident, really, she forgot herself.
“Oh, I’m so grieved to’ve hurt you!” she went on, with tears in her eyes. “I love you, I love you. Please, believe me. Don’t go, don’t go away!”
“Mm… Malgorata,” he mumbled, and he felt that excruciating pain again, “I believe you. You d… didn’t m… mean it. But… can’t explain… Good-bye.”
Going out, as he turned to close the door, Galvao saw her crouching on her knees, her head resting on the edge of the bed, crying disconsolately.
The wide concrete promenade beneath the winter sun looks ghostly empty at this early hour. After a short brisk walk, which he takes in the vain hope of shrugging off his nervous agitation, he stops and gazes at the boundless ocean, his elbows on the parapet, his cheeks on the palms of his hands, and his mouth gaping wide to allow the soft breeze to cool his lacerated tongue. For a while he follows the flight of a dark rare bird overhead, until it becomes a mere black speck in the immense light-blue expanse and disappears. At length he goes down the stone steps and starts plodding along the soft yellow sand.
A large dog is ambling near the shore, sniffing the wet sand, then chasing a low flying seagull, and yelping. Suddenly, noticing the presence of Galvao, it races towards the intruder, growling most horribly. Galvao at once comes to a halt, pale and silent, and the dog starts barking again, its snout lifted up. A whistling sound is heard. A man in a yellow oilskin jacket and black rubber boots sits static on the rocks at the other end of the beach. And the dog at once turns round, lopes off at a gallop, trying to avoid the rolling waves, until it reaches the man, splashing and barking.
Slowly, wearily Galvao paces upon the sand, hardly noticing that as he approaches the water the ground sinks beneath his feet. He stands with his hands behind his back, casting a long lingering look at the dim horizon far away.
… and the vision of an elegant silvery-white liner sailing away to distant lands. I think of the old country: the things that made up my life before, exist no more; and those that do exist around me, are not related to me at all. Oh, crazy Malgorata! You’ve made fun of me. I thought you could have helped me to allay my fears and sorrows, looking so much like my English girl so beautiful.
Luis Galvao feels the damp penetrating through the soft polished leather, for his shoes slowly but surely have been sinking in the wet bubbling sand. Trudging painfully up the beach, he goes back to the stone steps, his shoes heavy with seawater and sand.
By now some strollers are seen on the promenade, where the glittering plastic benches are all occupied, in most cases, by a single individual, generally stock-still, or licking their upper lips like chimpanzees or brushing their teeth with their tongue; some watching the silky flight of the seagulls; some simply staring at the horizon, eyes hardly open.
“Good morning,” he mumbles as he sits on one of the comfortable benches, stamping his feet to shake the sand off his shoes. A grey-haired man at the other end of the seat turns his head round and fixes his empty gaze on him. Silence that lasts a few seconds, minutes, hours… or a whole eternity?
‘Is he a human being who has given up the ghost, or is he a still-born human-like creature, a phantom, a nothingness?’
He stands up and walks away. Individuals of both sexes, silent and solitary, glide past as he strolls on. The rich black soil of the flower-beds, between the benches, are beautiful: velvety pansies of all shades and colours, daisies, pinks and other buds he can’t put a name to.
“Good Lord Jesus. what a long journey, for this!,” he thinks in a moment of pessimism, “to live alone and without a purpose in this wonderful new world, selected of all lands to be inhabited by the best and most deserving portion of the human race! Oh, Luis… Luis Galvao, the girls again! awake and do something, or your life will become a hopeless flight! Do something, or you shall have lived in vain. The years will pass. You will no longer be a young man. Discouraged, tired, your energy, zest, willpower, all gone.
… oh, how I would have liked to close these aching eyes this minute, to have a long sleep… and then, upon awakening, to hear the old familiar sound, that sublime babble, those peals of merry laughter. If I had been so lucky! oh! to dash to open the shutters wide to let in the clear morning light and feel the gentle zephyr from the Guadarrama Mountains on my face: to behold the revered places, the never-forgotten streets of childhood thronged with strollers, my friends or relatives, students, comrades, my own people!
Work at the factory ended at four o’clock. He rushed to Railway Square, where he caught a tram for Bondi Beach. He walked along the promenade under the bright sunshine, receiving the cold maritime breeze on his face and watching the frothing rollers, the foaming tops now shining with the sunshine under the prussian-blue sky, and overhead the flight of the seagulls.
Eventually he stops before a snack-bar, buys a hot steak-and-kidney pie and a drink, and goes down to the sands squatting at the foot of the tall stone parapet, his eyes fixed on the horizon, the beautiful caressing breeze on his face, and in his mind images of things past… and that ceaseless gloom.
“An exile!” he thinks. “Why can’t I get rid of the idea?”
… only five years ago, and the enthusiasm with which I visited foreign lands, England, the student days, Volunteer Agricultural Camps, earning a few Sterling pounds. Never before so free and happy.
… that sweet night by the sleepy canal, near the camp. Margaret was sitting on the grass, holding her legs with both arms and resting her chin meditatively on her shiny knees, her short dishevelled hair shining in the moolight.
… I lifted my hand to caress those attractive thighs, and she did not move. What, my pretty one, looking sad and sorry, why, Margaret? and I spread my arms over the grass I was lying on, grabbed with ten fingers some blades.
… which I instantly took to my face and rub on. Oh heaven! Give me back my sense of hope. I so wanted to absorb through my senses the essence of that summernight, the essence of my love for a woman the first time. An English girl.
… I was in love, in love. My most earnest desires had been realised. The hope of having a girl in my arms, loving her. Still resting on the lawn where we’d made love, that warmth, your kisses; but specially my youth was there.
… and I wanted to rub those blades of grass upon my chin, my lips, my nose… so that in years to come, when I might happen to be on the brink of despair, I might by a stroke of will recall that sublime moment, your loving image.
And while he was thus dreaming, squatting against the stone wall at one side of Bondi Beach, there was of a sudden a change in the weather, and though the sky was still blue, the breeze had become a terrific wind.
An old abandoned newspaper lies nearby, half-hidden in a pile of sand, its fluttering yellowed pages producing a rustling sound, like a lady’s fan. His legs are sprawling over the soft warm sand, in flannel trousers. His eyes are fixed on the yellowed sheets of the half-buried newspaper. The noise eventually lulls him to doze off for another minute or two.
He is awakened by the calls of a dozen nymphs on the hard sand farther down the beach. Some are springing up and down, others skipping nimbly over the drifting waves, and all laughing and chattering and splashing one another. Such innocent faces! Oh, what pleasure beauty brings! He would have liked to undress and go down in his swimmers to talk to the pretty ones and go with them into the billowing water.
Some young men are seen striding down the beach with those resplendent surfboards under their arms, which they drop on the sand, and sit down in a row, holding their knees with both hands, looking at the nymphs at play, still skipping, still shouting, still giggling. Of a sudden a sylphlike creature walks towards the frightening ocean.
Like in a dream, Luis watches the girl advancing toward the water. She looks so superior, her eyes gazing at the sky, her back straightened up, her little buttocks sticking out, both arms holding her surfboard and her long legs so preciously marching forwards and disappearing. She lays her surfboard over the agitated surface, and up she jumps, her svelte body lying full length on the board. She paddles for a while with her arms and hands: going up a hill of frothing water, coming down a deep-blue valley; over another foaming crest and down again; until she has distanced herself sufficiently from the shore and turns round, her keen eyes watching, her chest and thighs still glued to the board and lifting her shapely calves and dainty feet in the air, splashing all the while to effect the change, paddling mostly with one arm to complete the circle. Up she stands and there she comes, riding the waves, stretching out her arms like the wings of a bird, approaching like a goddess, gliding over the frothing crests, coming down and climbing up again, at times quite invisible; the waves turn into rollers as she comes nearer, she gets unexpectedly caught under the cavernous curve of the whole rolling mass, the fearful breakers; but she keeps calm and crouches under the foam, bending her legs so that her buttocks almost touch the board, hands ready and her whole divine body tense, quite prepared for the worst…, that awful roaring mountain breaking on the sand… And there they are, board and surfer safely gliding on the wet bubbling sand.
Luis Galvao watches the heavenly long-haired nymph trudging up the beach, panting and shivering, not the slightest expression of happiness or otherwise on her pretty face. She stops before the stone parapet, where she had previously left her belongings, props the surfboard against the wall, and dries herself thoroughly with a large yellow towel, the same colour as her hair, which she presently combs with a tiny plastic brush.
So near and so far away! He is tormented by a wild desire to posses the girl; like going to her and saying “I love you!” then kissing those long golden tresses glowing green with the salt, under a low but still glittering sun in the west, or touching with his lips her little pointed nose, those cheeks full of freckles, her dimpled chin and her full purple-red lips…
He sighs. Hell, she’s only a school-girl, while he’s probably twice her age! A lonesome man in a foreign land, surrounded everywhere by the prettiest, most sculptural young ladies. Always hoping… ‘Oh, Malgorata!’ To be mauled by a golden pussy-cat ever so sweet!
“Is this here paper yours, mate?” Luis Galvao hears a man’s broken voice nearby.
It is a tramp who has come down onto the sands to see if he can find some useful rubbish.
“No,” he shouts, “take the bloody thing and be off with you !’’
By then, the young blonde has disappeared. And nobody else is down by the sea. Evening is drawing on: shrugging his shoulders, Luis Galvao collects his things and goes away. On the promenade, he catches the first bus that goes to Central Railway and from the terminus walks to Harris Street and home.
Luis Galvao was awakened by the sound of bells, which came to remind him that the weekend was not over and the landlord was in the house. He could just hear the couple bustling on the ground floor getting ready to go out. After exchanging a few polite words with his room-companion, who had also been awakened by the noise, Luis went downstairs. The Krappovs had already left to attend mass at St Catherine’s, for they were Roman Catholic, he knew. Alone in the kitchen, he prepared some breakfast and half an hour later, having got dressed back in his room, he again went down and scampered out of the building.
He had the time to review the circumstances of his life as he strolled in the empty streets of the city. In his heart he still clung to old Madrid, always full of cheerful people; It was so strange for a native-born Mediterranean to behold such an important metropolis as Sydney quite deserted on a Sunday of all days. So different all these streets from ordinary working days, when there always was a continuous flow of cars, and the fumes and the noise, ever a multitude of Sydneysiders rushing and whirling along on the pavements and at the zebra crossings, each one carrying his or her bag or briefcase, which more often than not only contained a box of sandwiches and a thermos full of tea.
To be sure, some motorcars were seen nevertheless, suburban dwellers crossing the City to go to the seaside for the most part. For a glorious sun was shining over the entire length and breadth of the great metropolis. He could perceive its effects, though actually barred from his view by a sturdy overhanging which, like a very long canopy, covered the pavements of the main commercial avenues of the City.
A solitary stroller in town, assaulted from all sides by the snares of capitalism, many different products glittering provocatively in the windows of CLOSED shops: manikins, teddy-bears, hosiery, cosmetics, perfumes, machines, radios, television sets. Signs everywhere, offering a thousand dazzling commodities. Innumerable boards and posters, pictures, lights, designs, high-sounding words spelt out in a multitude of colours and scripts. All big lies leading to anxiety and perpetual misery: DRINK A COKE, GUINESS IS GOOD FOR YOU, COME ALIVE WITH PEPSI, ETA PEANUT BUTTER, SMOKE A MARLBORO’, STILL WALKING WITH JOHNNY WALKER, PUT A TIGER IN YOUR TANK, IXL CANNED FOODS, PUT THE IDEA IN YOUR BRAIN, FLY ANSETT-ANA TO SURFERS’ PARADISE, CHOOSE COPPERTONE, FREEDOM OF CHOICE, DON’T BE VAGUE ASK FOR HAIG, OH! UNCLE TOBY YOUR OATS ARE DELIGHTFUL, ALL WITH BILLY GRAHAM TO THE STADIUM. On the walls, in the shop-windows, on the façades of the houses and roof-tops, everywhere: advertising, promotion, everything for sale… On a plastered cement wall, between two big commercial establishments, someone has spelt out the word “Eternity!” A message. Luis has seen it often before, ever since his arrival in Sydney. Why, what does it mean… that word, that empty concept, the white radiance of eternity which in any case is impossible to conceive? Life ever-lasting, so what. Always and everywhere the same rant. Three, four, five millennia of civilization, and still as primitive a race of bipeds as when the early hominids trod the Earth. Eternity indeed, the fear of death turned into a philosophy, the most retrograde of mankind’s manufactured cant. Whoever might they be? Who goes about, everywhere, scribbling such a meaningless word, always the same script-form, invariably done in yellow chalk, and ever that sort of flourish underneath, like a signature. On wooden palings and plastered walls, on the façades of houses and public buildings, on the steps of stone flights leading to churches, libraries, universities and town halls, smearing the pavements and footpaths, the concrete floors and stone slabs of plazas and squares, streets and avenues, blind lanes and alleyways… always quite open to the view of strollers and other pedestrians trudging along, their minds heavily loaded with numbers and problems: crouching shadows, their heads bent down, eyes fixed on the ground, legs heavy and arms ever hanging limply along their tired bodies…. There it is! The impertinent message, hitting the solitary wanderer in the eye, the native and the immigrant. Just an impression, an idea which from the half-closed eyes goes on… into the spinal cord… or maybe right up into a brain-of-sorts. Eternity! Eternity! Eternity!
And yet perhaps Luis Galvao’s got it wrong, perhaps nobody cares: Eternity, religion, music, dinners, football… why not? One more commercial message, and don’t ask yourself any question or think of others. For everyone has his or her own life to live, a life of sorts to which nothing may be added, no more room. Maybe the solitary strollers with or without the yellow chalk are above all just that, zombies without problems or fears that might be rotting still more their miserable rotten lives… Or perhaps the message is right – who knows? Maybe there is after all an everlasting life beyond. After death. Superhuman or semidivine existence. Up there somewhere… If so, let´s hope it is a little bit less absurd than this one on Earth!
Some buses, full of people, are seen arriving at Circular Quay, some twenty bus-stops in all. And under the expressway that comes from the east and goes gently up towards the Harbour Bridge there is a railway station, the line running for the time being under the macadamised stream of motorcars. All bringing the suburban Australians from the south and the west (where the less privileged citizens live who now want to see places.) Luis Galvao stares round at the mass of faces passing by on the pavement or inbetween the concrete columns, dashing to the wharves to embark on the different ferries that will take them to Taronga Park, Balmoral Beach, the Spit and Middle Harbour, the Manly Cove fairground. Families down to the third generation, eager New Australians taking the recently arrived grandparents, who have never seen a zoo in their lives, to admire the platypus, kangaroo, wallaby and koala bear; solitary male migrants boarding the ferries for the sole purpose of having a trip across the wonderfully beautiful bay and back. Children everywhere, some wearing thongs, and some even barefoot and just as happy.
The air was intensely clear as Galvao wandered from jetty to jetty. He watched the happy travellers in the rich glow of a sunny morning, on the ferryboats, bending over the rails, their children waving at the people on the quay… the boat sailing away and eventually disappearing in the distance… The marvellous blue bay full of yachts and other pleasure craft.
A solitary young man, strong and handsome and yet full of nostalgia and pessimism… how different his life would have been if he’d had a normal relationship with a woman he loved; with whom he might have had a family, as those lucky Australians (Old and New) he had just seen on the jetties and on the ferries. That heavy heart, that feeling of homesickness he experienced was nothing but the solitude of a man who constantly sought, and sought in vain, a woman he could call his own. As he wandered along the seashore towards a rocky promontory, some two hundred yards away, some dark clouds were gathering in the east, where Port Jackon bay joined the ocean, announcing heavy showers for the afternoon. And in an instant the sky clouded over, and he had to run back to Circular Quay, where he entered the only eating-place open for the moment on the waterfront, completely drenched in rain. A mist gathers on his glasses as he anxiously looks around for an empty place to sit and have a meal.
…that anguish once again; the noise of crockery and cutlery and the humming of many conversations in different languages filling the smoky air. He doesn’t belong in there. Why had all this happened? she had come to Madrid; they were going to get married.
“What’ll you have?” he hears a feminine voice. He lifts his head and murmurs: “Don… doesn’t matter.”
“Fish and chips, then. Tea, sir?”
Galvao assents with a slight movement of his head.
“Milk and sugar, sir?”
He does not answer. He is passing his handkerchief over the back of his head and neck, sneezing, one ejection after another.
“I’ll bring you a pot ov’tea an’ some milk,” the waitress says hurriedly turning away.
Bending his head over his scarcely touched meal, he has failed to realise that one of the men at his table is talking to him. He now feels the touch of a hand on his shoulder. “Buddy, you’re feeling homesick, I know the symptoms. No use getting depressed, whatever the reason, take my advice, buddy. What, don’t you recognise me? Well, I never!”
“It isn’t that,” Luis replies with some difficulty. “I… I’ve a wound in here…” taking his hand to the lips. “Difficult to speak.”
The man now says something in Italian. Some names are mentioned, mates from the factory. Oh, yes!, of course, now he has it: he was sometime ago introduced to the man by old Bruno. Somebody else says something in Spanish. All New Australians. They have come down from the mountains for the day; all employed, building dams, by the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. After a while, they revert to the English language. Actually, there is a Pommie among the men at the table: he speaks with a catch in his voice; that’s why he hadn’t noticed initially he was English. “Hey, mates!” the Pommie says, “why don’t we go to the Italian Club which you mentioned?” “Yes,” another says, “and find some girls for the night?’’; but another one disagrees: “You mean Leichhardt? Fuck, it’s too far for me!”
“Come on! I’ll drive you all in my Holden,’’ the man who knows Bruno says. To which the Englishman says: “Or I’ll take you in my Ford-Falcon.” One of them, turning to Luis, adds: ‘’You too, old fellow, I insist. Now, you must stop brooding, man.’’
The Italian Club, a corner from another continent. A multitude of men in their Sunday-best move about trying to find a female who might be available for a dance. Luis Galvao trudges along, with his newfound pals, among the tables and chairs. They sit in the midst of the noisesome crowd, the fumes and the smoke. The most attractive women, not many in comparison with the men, have succeeded in gathering about them great crowds of male immigrants, hungry fellows who have known no woman since their arrival in the promised land. To compound their frustration the rosier females, invariably accompanied by their handsome mammas and their terrifying papas, are strictly reserved for the male members of the clan, on the principle that what comes out of the Calabrian and Sicilian landscape belongs as a natural right to the blokes of the village, full stop. Like the pretty one at the neighbouring table. Her father must be a greengrocer: monstruously huge, with a massive gold chain holding his watch in his waistcoat pocket and a cigar between his teeth (he has hung his jacket on the back of his chair.)
Galvao looks at the girl, sweet and tender like an angel from heaven, a round peaches-and-cream delicate visage with large black eyes where the whites shine blue, and those glorious red lips as she sips her lemonade. There is a smile in her eyes as they cross with his. He is about to stand up and invite the dear one for a dance when a man, as old and ugly as her progenitor, after exchanging a few words with the latter, pulls her by the hand and leads her onto the dance-floor, a rather exiguous space surrounded by the people at the tables.
Luis has been told that there is air-conditioning, but it is still terribly hot. ‘There she goes, pretty like an angel… with that swine! Oh, my love, I’m alone!’ He wants to ignore the fact that he cannot dance at all Always the same, he thinks, I live in vain. Sitting at table with his eyes fixed on the young Italian, he overhears a conversation among his new friends. They swear they won’t go back to the mountains without having had a woman in their arms. With the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority they earn piles of money and mountains of solitude.
A handsome platinum-blonde with the orchestra is intoning a familiar South American song in the Italian language. Dancers pass by the tables in waves like fluttering birds. Luis catches sight of the rosy teenager of a minute ago, in the arms of her fat countryman. He sighs. Their eyes meet again. He blows her a kiss with his hand. Her cherry-red lips curl into a gracious smile. Then she is gone, immersed in the twirling mass on the floor, in the middle of the immense hall, and something like a mist now covers his eyes.
A waltz was now being played by the orchestra, and the adorable young Italian whirled round the dancing floor in the arms of her countryman who, surprise of all surprises, though obese, is an excellent dancer. ‘Always the same (Galvao recalls) I’ve lived in vain.’ She disappears in the compact mass of dancers. One of his pals at the table has noticed his anxiety. Just then another one comes from the bar, carrying a fresh jug of foaming cold beer. They all drink.
The singer is now intoning in the English language: “I’m an Englishman… From a London bank… In a bowler hat…” Galvao lowers his gaze to the amber-coloured liquid in the large glass, then passes a finger down the glass, full of lines of condensed vapour running along the nice cold surface, tiny drops shining like liquid gold.
The drink, the smoke, the twirling mass of embraced men and women describing the same figures again and again, and the heat, the smell and lack of air finally get the better of Luis Galvao, who, without saying a word to his mates, suddenly stands up and bounds across the hall, past the doorman, past the cloakroom, and rushes downstairs to the street. And on the moist pavement, holding onto a lamp-post, he is overcome with nausea.
Crushed by a thousand conflicting thoughts and fears, he plods to the bus-shelter, which is deserted at that hour. Eventually a bus to Railway Square arrives, and he boards it. But at night and in his state he cannot recognise anything, becomes impatient and leaves the bus too soon.
Trudging on towards a tall dark building with the name in neon light of GRACE BROS; light rain is falling as he comes out into an open space with a large lawn: there are several sports-fields in the middle, where he has seen people playing cricket or soccer of a Saturday morning. There are two lateral lines of large plane-trees all around. Crossing the green so as to reach Harris Street through one of the sidestreets, Luis has hardly stepped on the wet grass when, changing his mind, he goes back under the trees whose spreading leafy branches give him some protection from the rain, casting ominous shadows on the ground. A black figure is approaching under the trees. Luis steps again on the lawn, to cross the park at once. The noise of footsteps on the wet grass is heard, and then a very weak voice.
“Excuse me, sir!”
He looks round, laying his chin on his jacket lapel. Exhausted and soaking wet, a woman so far advanced in years as to be almost ageless, now standing before Galvao, perhaps the most piteous vision he has beheld in all his life.
“Sir, have you seen a tiny pussy,” wails the woman, pointing her soaked black glove now one way, now another, “going up that way… or down that way… or any way, sir, a small white pussy?”
“Sorry no, Madam,” Galvao mumbles.
And the woman moves away holding her black bonnet with one hand, the other in the air, pointing and calling out: “Oh! Kitty, kitty…”
Soon after that Luis reaches Harris Street. The glittering roadway and the pavements are literally covered with the Sunday papers, which the neighbours have left on top of their garbage bins inefficiently secured with a stone or broken brick; and the wind has made the news-sheets fly in all directions. Just now they are damp and static on the ground.
One of the garbage bins must have been overturned by a sudden gust of wind and is lying in the middle of the street: the body of a mangy dog moving inside: only the hind legs and tail are visible. Under the dark bodies of the parked cars, some stray cats are also seen. Galvao looks curiously at the crew of felines, wondering if one of them is the old lady’s missing white pussy.
When he reached the boarding-house he noticed the light was on in Manuel’s room, and he saw the silhouette of a man pacing up and down, holding a book in his hand.
Crossing over Luis gets a key out from his jacket pocket, opens the door and stepped inside, but does not switch the light on, choosing to proceed gropingly in the dark up the small flight of stairs in order not to disturb Krappov. There is hatred at this moment In his mind. A beam of light filters out from under the first door on the landing. The door opens and the same silhouette is seen cut against the light that now floods out of the room.
“Dear me,’’ Manuel whispers, ’’you’re shivering! We haven’t yet finished the month. September is still winter in Oz, absolutely. Come on in!” He helps his friend in.
“I’m all right,” Luis answered, making to go.
“All the same, come in and have a brandy with me.” He closes the door after Luis. “What’s the matter with your mouth?’’
The other does not answer, but gets rid of his flannel jacket as he enters the room, and takes a seat. There on the table is an opened book with pictures of animal entrails, as well as an ashtray full of cigarette-ends. Manuel is serving two tumblers of brandy.
Speaking with difficulty, Luis starts telling his friend how in the Italian Club at Leichhart he suddenly felt very lonely and in fact sick.
“Were you there alone?” Manuel asks, taking the tumbler to his thick lips. (Luis just mutters some words of thanks.) The other sits astride his chair, touching his friend’s ear under the pretext of checking on some possible ailment. After a short silence, Manuel stands up, steps to the bathroom and fetches a towel, which he hands to Luis: “Now, dear, what’s happening to you?,” he asks in a whisper. “Brooding, of course. You’re always looking for some reason to feel unhappy. My handsome pal, you must change! Be practical, man, or you will end...”
“Now you shut up,’’ Luis interrupts his friend. He gets hold of his jacket from the back of his chair. “Bye-bye.”
“Wait a momo, Manuel also stood up and held his friend at arm’s length, his black eyes fixed on him and smiling that queer smile of his.
“What d’you want?’’ Luis asks.
“No, seriously, dear,” Manuel says, caressing again the lobe of his friend’s ear, the other hand round his neck. “I’ve been worrying about you all these days, you know, thinking that you may commit suicide, that sort of thing.”
“Are you mad?”
“Why, I worry. May be wrong. Over cautious. That’s me, Mr. Suárez, you should know. But you’re right. Why bother? As a matter of fact I don’t know why I worry. But I do worry about you, dear. You see, I feel somehow responsible… well, for having brought you to this place and all that. Remember our encounter in Philip Street?”
Luis did not open his mouth, and Manuel went on.
“No, really. How could I forgive myself if you fell seriously ill or worse? And then all that upheaval that comes with it.’’
“Why? I don’t understand you.’’
“It’s quite simple though,’’ Manuel went on. “I like you and I don’t want you to fall ill. That to begin with. Now, I’ve been observing you and I’m sure I don’t know where all this is leading you.’’
“What?’’ asked Luis, with fury in expression, but without raising his voice
“This homesickness business,’’ the other murmurs between his teeth.
“I’m not homesick.’’
“Yes, my boy, you are. And what is still more worrying, you’re little by little sinking into a nasty nervous breakdown, I’ve told you already. Don’t mind me telling you. D’you know where you’re going to end up if you don’t find a remedy to your illness (yes, illness) pretty soon? You’ve guessed it, Callan Park. And I won’t have it. Dear, dear!’’
“I’ll go and see a doctor,’’ Luis said, making to go.
“Right’ee oh! That’s what you must do,’’ Manuel said, following the other to the door. ‘’He’ll prescribe you a tranquillizer. Nothing to be ashamed of, everyone takes them nowadays. And I also suggest,” he went on in a whisper, “that you take advantage of that accident (you know, your tongue) and say you burned it with a pie, steak and kidney or whatever, and tell them that you can’t do your work. Whatever occurs to you, so you can go on compo, man, for two days. No, seriously, Luis, go tomorrow first thing to the Royal Alexandra Hospital. Take a bus from Railway Square and you’ll be there in a jiffy. And I’ll ‘phone from work, if you wish, and tell them at your factory that you’re ill in bed,’’ he concluded, wiping his sensual mouth with a white cotton handkerchief.
“Thank you very much. I’ll do that,’’ Luis said, getting rid of his friend, whose right hand was again on his shoulder. ‘’Sorry to trouble you so. Bye-bye.’’
He was actually on the landing, when his friend, clutching his left arm, said in a low whisper: ‘’One last point, allow me. I fear…, correct me if I’m wrong… Well, that fascination for a woman you know little about, and who can bring you nothing but trouble, drop her. Take my advice, I beg you.’’
“What are you talking about?’’ Luis cried.
“Shsss! You know what I mean!” Manuel whispered, touching his lips, with a frown. “Listen to me, no names need be mentioned; but he may get to know, you see. And he’s surrounded by all sorts of rogues out there in the bush: Ukrainians, Yugoslavs, Poles and what not. Be very careful!”
The following day Luis Galvao went to see a doctor, who prescribed him some drugs and sent him on sick leave for two days. Arriving home he took the medicine and at once fell into a profound sleep. When he woke up the room was flooded with sunlight. The window was open and to the sound of birds twittering was added the music of a violin.
The music ceased as he sat on the bed and put his trousers on. Hearing the shuffling of feet outside his bedroom, he rushed to open the door. Malgorata stood on the landing, anxious and with tears in her eyes.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
She stepped inside, closing the door behind her, without answering.
He touched the lovely curves of her face in silence, wiping her tears. She turned her squinting eyes on him, and said: “Oh, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I didn’t!” taking her trembling fingers to his hand and kissing it. And again Luis Galvao, feeling intense love and desire for that blond curly-headed young woman, kissed her over and over again: on her exquisite nape, her neck, her ears; and she pressed her fine body against his.
“Come, let’s sit down,” she said holding his hand, now quite happy.
They sat on the bed. She clung to his arm and kissed him on his bare shoulder; when he opened his mouth to say something, she touched his lips and cried, in a tone of such sweet humility: “Don’t, dear, don’t hurt yourself! Poor Luis, what I’ve done to you. Forgive me, dearest. I shan’t do it again.” And she nestled her face against his shoulder.
He hugged her, pressing her gorgeous body against his heart, but she wriggled out of his embrace, swiftly wiggled out of her cotton dress and next moment the most beautiful young woman was lying naked on his bed. He felt passionately in love.
For a long time Luis Galvao had been wanting his friend to show him that second-hand car yard in Rozelle where Manuel Suárez himself had bought his own bomb, as the latter put it. They agreed on the date, and to Rozelle they drove together early one Saturday morning.
As soon as they were on the road, Manuel Suárez said somewhat solemnly to Luis Galvao: ‘’I’m thankful to you for the opportunity you’re giving me to have a conversation among friends –aren’t we?- away from the others.’’
“What about?” Luis asked, surprised at the tone employed by his friend.
“Can’t you guess?” Manuel asked in turn, laying a friendly hand on his compatriot’s thigh.
“No,” Luis replied, withdrawing his leg sideways towards the left. “Now, look where you drive.”
After a brief silence, Manuel resumed: “Why, about Malgorata, man. Here we can talk freely, there the walls have ears.”
“And so, you too are fascinated by the woman, it turns out,” Luis sneered.
“Don’t make me vomit, pray,” Manuel said, breaking into a queer laugh. “It is you, running after the first skirt you come across, ha!”
“But, what’s bitten you?” Luis said, quite annoyed. “Haven’t you heard? When it is none of your concern, you just step aside. Get yourself a girlfriend.”
“And if I don’t,” said Manuel Suárez; then, modulating his voice to a pitch. “You men! You’re impossible.”
There followed a moment silence, after which Manuel asked: “Well?”
“Well, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” Galvao, knowing what the other was at, answered in bad temper. “I’ve only kissed her properly once. And it cost me dearly. Let’s drop it, please.”
“That’s a lie, and you know it is,” Manuel said, turning to look at Luis with a smile.
“When asssailed by an impertinent question,” Luis began.
But the other did not let him continue. “Anyhow, no need to complicate your life, boy, stealing somebody else’s wife. Need you? Well, here is the garage I was telling you about.’’
They drove into a big yard full of wrecks and old bombs of all kinds, some very old and rusty, some recently arrived, all for sale either as scrap metal, spare parts or as second-hand cars; the yard was full of individuals, all of them men, moving about looking for good bargains. Manuel pointed to a forty-nine Hillman two-seater which was going for fifty pounds. His friend agreed that it was a bargain. They talked to one of the employees who turned the engine on; whereupon the two friends asked the manager to let them take the car for a trial run.
“I hope you didn’t mind me telling you about… You know,” Manuel tried to resume the interrupted conversation, once on the road, Luis this time at the wheel. “I’m glad, Luis. You’ve told me it’s a passing whim: well, that’s what you meant. Didn’t you?”
“Leave it, I said!” Luis shouted, pressing the brake on. “Hell, it is none of your bloody business!”
“Why, I can’t help noticing. There’s trouble brewing. And after all, I…”
“Shut up! I told you, I won’t listen. And you’re lucky I don’t punch your bloody nose for you.” Again Galvao stepped on the brake and turned to look at his friend in fury.
But the other would not leave it. “You know, that little bitch at Ultimo…”
“Don’t call her bitch!”
“Well, that Malgorata of yours is not what she looks. In the bush, she lured one of the rangers, Krapprov’s chum. I assure you. And that is why he bought the Harris Street property, to keep her away from his own men.”
“You told me she became ill.”
“Never mind what I told you. Anyway, one of them, a Yugoslav, actually a Croat, perished in her embrace.”
“Oh, now! you’re becoming mysterious. What on earth do you mean?”
“Now, you be careful how you drive,” returned Manuel, without answering the question. “Don’t get nervous.”
They were entering the yard, Luis bought the Hillman, an elegant cabriolet despite its age; and the two friends drove back to Harris Street, each in his own vehicle.
The sun was setting in the west, and a landscape of glowing light and penetrating shadows was now opening before their eyes. Luis was driving his secod-hand car, attentive to the road ahead of them, ever looking for the typical Aussie landscape, which he had admired in art galleries in town. The paintings by Albert Namatjira for instance.
There has always been something of the artist in him. At any rate, he is bringing this time with him the implements for painting: colours, canvas, brushes and the rest, which he plans to use during this trip to the interior, the journey having just commenced. Living in the outback he will come to know the real Australia, he thinks, and as a artist he will try to do something creative. Among other things he plans to paint some landscapes. Pictures full of colour, impressions, luminosity, the Australian sky so blue and the earth. All just as it has been shown to him as typical. The land which is now his country; for he certainly intends to swear Allegiance to the Queen as soon as possible and get that naturalisaton certificate, as legitimate a British Subject and Australian Citizen as the Brits that came with him in the S.S.Himalaya all the way from Southampton. “Yes, I’ll apply as soon as possible, and forget forever my native home of ‘mierda’.”
A landscape of deepening lines and varying hues: from the purest white of the isolated gum-tree trunk, to the green-grey leaves hanging like sharpened knives from the twisted branches, and the blue sky plus various reds and mauves and browns.
Luis smiled and the young woman, his companion, gave him a sidelong glance; but he remained attentive to the wheel. And Malgorata did not again raise her eyes; really the only feature in the nearly perfect face he did not like.
And it was because she could guess what he was thinking that she kissed him as she could without raising her eyes or disturbing the driving. He expected to paint all that scenery and become a known artist and sell his work and, certainly devote all his life from now to do what he liked. If the world condemmed him to manual labour, he would devote only a minimum of time to earning a living, the rest would be creating something sublime. On his left, that darling, smiling sweetly; yet she had had that strained look on her face and specially around the eyes (again.) She was wearing a short black skirt and the sleeveless satin blue blouse he liked. Knowing he was gazing, she bent her head, nestling silently upon his shoulder.
Again the red road, a small copse of twisted gum-trees on the right side, and nearer the yellow car, rolling noiselessly on the opposite direction a big Juggernaut lorry, and beyond far away the low rolling hills, the dark outline and infinite blue sky. He wanted to reach some inhabited place before dark set in, which he knew would happen soon. He also knew that once the Sun had gone entirely into the Earth’s belly, it would be dead of night.
Malgorata budged, her pretty head still on his shoulder: she started, and said amused half alarmed: “When he comes back and finds I’m not in the house, he’ll be furious. The last time I tried to run away he near murdered me.”
“Did he?” he asked absentmindedly.
He said no more. However her words had made him suffer, because they brought to his mind the real state of their relations, and particularly the events of the last few days, which had made him doubt once more about the possibility of ever enjoying a normal relationship with the woman he loved.
… her husband’s arrival from the bush this time had taken them both by surprise, arriving the man for his weekly-visit in the middle of the week.
… though the big bed downstairs was now their bed of love, Luis did still retire for the night to his own bed, in the room he shared with the German.
… he became his ancient catholic self: a rogue who had succeded in stealing the young lady’s heart, someone else’ wife. The pleasure beauty brings!!
They passed longer and longer stretches of uncultivated land and saw no more sheep or cattle-stations; just from time to time a kangaroo or wallaby crossing the bare plain, until then beaten by the sun. Only boulders and stones beyond the last clumps of trees and shrubs. His great expectations, the light and colour of the Australian landscape, where had they gone? Always a confirmed pessimist.
… because I am bringing with me my adorable wife I’ll succeed, she will give me what I need, will bring well-earned success. She shall be my art and triumph.
… but how? Alone, after all. It can’t be true that an artist… there must be communication, sharing feelings, transmitting impressions… what it means to others.
Malgorata’s cherry-red lips were on Galvao’s bare arm, and he liked it. “Thank you, my darling Luis,” she said lovingly, “for taking me to see places. I love you.”
For Luis and Malgorata had left the place at Harris Street and he needed to be reassured. Having by himself come to the conclusion that he could no longer live with the doubt, the shame, the situation in which he found himself, in love with Malgorata, now with the arrival of her husband unexpectedly at Harris Street, Ultimo, he only thought of running away.
As he had pushed on along the country road, just after Parramatta and the outer suburbs, Luis Galvao remembered how it come to happen, absconding with his wife to be, a few hours ago. He was going to switch the engine on, and leave the place alone, tired of waiting for his half orange, when Malgorata came round the corner of Harris Street and Thomas Street, which was where he had parked the car. “Please, my love, take me with you!” she said chokingly, falling in his arms. She opened the door of the car, threw a suitcase onto the back seat, and sat down on the passenger seat. “You naughty,” she stamped once more her beautiful lips on his face. “What were you doing? “I’m all nerves,” he retorted, confused, but pleased to have her with him.
“Oh, Luis, Luis, my Luis, accept me”, for she was thinking he rejected her, “I’ll follow you, I’ll serve you,” she exclaimed, clawing her blunt nails in his flesh. “It was… it was Manuel,” she said chokingly, “he helped me to run away…” and Luis heard from her lovely mouth that Manuel Suárez had taken her husband away for a spree with a set of crazy friends who met periodically at the Toxteth Hotel. “And I could flee, you see. Oh, Luis, we shall be so happy!”
“And you aren’t afraid of the wrath that will come,” he said, hesitatingly. “I mean, you are ma… married. Tell me, what is going to happen, when he comes back and sees you aren’t there?”
“And if we don’t come back to Harris Street?” she said. “Besides he’ll go back to Penrith. The Americans pay him for what he’s doing. They’ll get dead drunk,” she went on. “And with Manuel beside him. Ah! didn’t you know?”
After passing longer and longer stretches of uninhabited land, they reached a small town with a service station, and an attached garage for repairs, where they bought a set of provisions for the coming days.
In his mind was the idea of going on until they found the place he had in mind, hardly knowing the geography of the region. The little yellow car had been revised by the motor mechanic in the last town, and it would hold. Luis was prepared to drive at night. As for Malgorata, alway tender and fickle, in her precipitation to escape, had forgotten to take her violin with her. She mentioned this to Luis, who said nothing. He merely remembered that she had said to him one day: “Oh, the violin is my life, my whole life!”
“Why, my darling,” he answered, however, after a while, not turning to look at her, “you’ll have to wait.” and, reducing little by little their speed, pulled the car on the side of the road, “Now we have to think of drinking and eating something, I’m famished.”
The sky was still glowing in the west, but dusk had been advancing all the time. They made a small fire with the dry branches of trees and leaves they could gather around and among the trees and boulders, prepared a meal and he made the tea following the traditional bush rangers, billy-tea with a long wire to swing the can around. Afterwards they discussed the situation, and while they were calculating what to do next, night fell over the land, all of the sudden. They went back into the car, leaving doors and windows open. Malgorata lay on the passenger’s seat with her legs out into the open, her nice head on her suitcase, and fell asleep.
As for Luis Galvao, he was at this moment just a heap of nerves, almost on the brink of a breakdown. Nothing turned out to be a success, however he tried. The fact was that his degrees at Madrid and London universities had led him to unemployment in Sydney, and failure would assail him all his life. He did not know what to do next.
After a while he started to move his legs, which had suddenly gone stiff and cold. He had to get out of the car, seeking some calm, and started walking. The silence of the Australian outback almost terrified him. He was at fault, always confused, building fantasies in his mind. He had hardly driven a few hundred miles and already expected to behold the centre of the continent with all that fauna and flora of which he had read and heard, said to have been unknown to humankind before the arrival of the First British Fleet, ignoring most olympically that for thirteen thousand years already the continent had been inhabited. Was it because the Aborigine was not a Man of Property that he had to be ignored by our statistics?
He recalled something he had read in the library. The Aborigines did not consider themselves the owners of the land where they lived. Mother Earth gave them life, supplied them with their sustenance. They never considered themselves Proprietors, as among us (Pope Leo XIII’s saying that Man can possess not only the Fruits of the Earth, but the Earth Itself.) However the original inhabitants of all this immense land only consumed the fruit of the earth, being satisfied with little; and when they died they left the land to their descendants substantially as they found it.
The moon had not yet come out, all the better for him to see the twinkling stars overhead, in an expanding dark blue firmament, the constellations parading upside down, and others new him. The Southern Cross, glowing, magnificent, exactly as it must have been sighted by our mariners of centuries ago when circumnavigating the earth, looking for new lands to grab, to use, to transform, to constitute powerful colonies, great dominiums, empires, wealth, new lands with new governor-generals, officials, soldiers and other displaced people. New Australians hurrying to take oaths of allegiance to Superior Sovereigns back in Great Britain, Catholic Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands.
It was hot, without the slightest wind, and he thought he was ill, feverish. Fully depressed by now, he walked about, stumbling in the dark against some branches, leaves, shrubs and bushes which scratched his ears and brow, dishevelling his hair. He could not go on, he thought, in that hostile darknes, and called his woman, ran on the empty tracks. He wouldn’t be able to do it.
And yet he had to do it, he had to reach the yellow car in the black night, sit again at the wheel and go, drive, discover and produce something great, create something sublime like Natmajira . But where was the car now? What had happened?
And he was suddenly caught in the midst of a menacing thicket, not unlike the web of a gigantic spider, such as he had been told you could find in the Australian bush. Had he been tramping about longer than he reckoned, trapped in the midst of some wild flora, or was it all the product of his own fantasy? So small, so trembling, such a feeble human being Luis Galvao the exile. It seemed phantoms were advancing, shrouded with mystery. Aborigines! How many of them had perished in the first period of the Conquest of the land by the Whites? The ghosts of those set apart, expelled from their own territory! Desolation, isolation, transportation, colonisation, discrimination, much hard work and industrial creation, innovation, accumulation.
“In hardly two centuries and a half, the changing face, transformation,” he lifts his arms in the air. “Ringbarked euchalyptus forests. What about the land’s original inhabitants?
… Bogalara, Toongabbai, Burrabogee… (I was repeating the names I had seen or imagined in this journey, with my adorable companion, to see places, the places where the first Australians dwelt.) An awesome intensity!
… was this really meant to be inhabited only by Whites, in the circumstances? Conquests, expansion, destruction, wars, the invention of new machines, artificial intelligence for more efficent production. Spirit of discovery. In search of novelty and spasmodic instantaneous excitement?
… why not, like them, consume what we need and leave the land substantially unaltered or at least not so much destroyed? I hear the thunder of the furies, the gale-winds interwoven with no glimmer of hope, hear voices from many of the countries by us forgotten; I read about suffering people, migrants like myself. Man was first born in Africa.
… Bungarribee, Barangaroo, Budgeree… What language did they speak, those men without property? Where are they at present, the first immigrants to inhabit these parts, the sixth continent? One day unwanted, pushed away!… What is my advantage? Why? If after all I am only a man without ambition.
He walked, he sought to return to her, and nothing could he see but the shadows, boulders, low shrubs and giant ferns, and those small twisted gum trees… a feeling that sank him into a state of incomprehension and terror. What, a New Australian in the night in search of the Australian interior. Why? Is it barren, unwanted? He turns round. She will advise him and help him, be with him. Where is she? He runs and runs overcoming his fatigue, forgetting forever shortcomings and fears.
Coming swiftly out of the car, she received his trembling person in her always affectionate arms.