Natives and Settlers
Australia unknown for millionyears. First People from India spread all over. 1787 British start pushing Aborigenes to desert. After World War European immigration (Changing Face of Australia) Economic growth. But how do New White Aussies feel?
Natives and Settlers
Fernando García Izquierdo
All that immense territory known for centuries as the Lost Continent of the South, or Terra Australis, was inhabited (when the first Europeans arrived, some three or four centuries ago) by people we call Aborigines, who (despite the name) also came from abroad, undoubtedly from the north. They arrived, as most migrants do, in small waves, that is to say, little by little, during a time span which must have been very long, ten thousand years or more, according to the historians. They came on foot and by boat from island to island, maybe occupyng them or part of them for a time, then partially or totally moving on. It may be that the islands or some of them were then bigger, and consequently nearer to one another, than they are at present. How ingenious and sturdy their primitive craft must have been, the reader can guess.
Entering the continent through the north, they spread all over. The land that received them was generally poor, and in some places definitely arid; but they took things as they found them, adapting themselves to the earth they settled on. The climate at least in some parts was fairly pleasant, specially along the eastern coast, which they reached in due course. There they found a better soil, and a fauna and a flora which was varied and not hostile. Though in this eastern region they became more numerous, on the whole population was sparse and far between. And immense chunks of the continent remained forever a plain desert.
Human beings always have some influence on the country which they inhabit, in the same way as the land always produces some effect on the people living there. It must be remarked, however, that as far as the Aborigenes are concerned, they lived without causing great disturbance to the surrounding Nature, or unnecessarily altering it. They had their tools, helping them in their struggle for survival, but did not possess instruments or weapons of war and destruction. Food gathering and some hunting were their ways and means of satisfying their simple needs. They knew nothing, or very little, about farming or animal husbandry. The only domestic animal they had was brought from the north: the dog, which eventually got free and disappeared into the bush, becoming henceforth a wild animal, now called dingo, unlike the old dog, on the one hand, and different too from the rest of the continental fauna. Whether the Aborigenes developed their own arts and techniques in the new country or brought them from the north, is not relevant. In any case, their technical knowledge was limited, their tools were very simple. And yet, perfectly designed for use in the country, and at times very ingenious, as witnessed by the boomerang. Their primitive art, which embraced religion and legends (like the myth of the Dreamtime) is quite impressive. Finally, they undoubtedly were strong people, tough, dedicated, hardworking and very clever to be able to live and spread about a land, in places so inhospitable, that European explorers later on, looking as explorers do for a possible El Dorado (in this case, an inland sea), found it impossible to survive and died.
But the most important legacy from these people to the entire human race is the example of their respect for Nature. What they found they left for their descendants almost as they found it. They lived in the country for over ten thousand years, it seems, peacefully and undisturbed. Until the arrival of the British Navy in 1787-1788, a small force of well-armed soldiers bringing a set of convicts with them. They took possession of the land in the name of their Sovereign, as was the custom and the law at the time, and little by little the Aborigines were dislodged from the coast and the newcomers proceeded to occupy the land.
A new country was born. The settlers transformed the earth, the plains, the valleys, the rivers, the mountains and the sea as civilization progressed. It was a necessary task to accomplish. A new system of society was at work, imperial expansion, mercantilism, modern development, economic growth. New fauna and flora was brought in, the celebrated Merino sheep, among them, which soon became more numerous than any native animal; and so on and so forth. White people emigrated from the British Isles. They worked hard to create, wherever possible, a New England, a New Ireland, etc. Then other White people as well emigrated from Europe. The New Australians also introduced some new changes, some new values. They called the phenomenon The Changing Face of Australia. And with time, little by little, the changes (whoever and whatever had inspired them) became quite definite, more radical, irrevocable.
The Spaniard Luis Galvao had spent the Saturday with some friends in Glebe, a district near Ultimo, where he lived. He was now coming down the stone steps that would lead him to Wentworth Park, on his way home. He thought of the changes these eight months had brought to his life, nearly three of them spent in Harris Street. His friend, Vick Shanahan, a member of the Australian Communist Party, had lived in Albacete in his early youth, fighting with the International Brigades. His wife, also interested in politics, was a writer and a member the Realist Writers’ Group, with Frank Hardy and Kylie Tennant.
Vick worked in an orphanage, near Ferry Road, where the couple owned their terrace-cottage. This circumstance had given Galvao the opportunity of getting to know one aspect of Australian history he ignored. Visiting the orphanage with his friend, he saw a large manor house of the time of the convicts (probably inhabited then by an army commander or a high civil servant) and the small park surrounding it. A large buffalo-grass lawn, trees, shrubs and bushes. But what particularly attracted Galvao’s attention was a big tree situated at the entrance of the old mansion, and which had probably been there for a thousand years before anyone thought of building the property.
Vick Shanahan, a tall Australian of Irish descent, was that afternoon exceptionally in attendance during the orphans’ recreation hour. As soon as the bell rang there was big commotion inside the building, and then the noise of thumping on the stairs, the hall, then the lot accompanied by that happy babble which denotes the existence of a multitude of children. And all the orphans, in grey uniform, were seen running down the flight of stone steps leading to the garden. They all shouted and laughed, danced and played, and made all kinds of noise exercising their legs, some running round the large trunk of the lofty tree, some disapearing towards the wooden palings surrounding the property.
Galvao noticed that about a third of them were Aboriginal children. Shanahan took his friend to a stone bench hard by, and for about half an hour the Spaniard heard a sad story which impressed him very much.
… the Australian government, with the idea that something had to be done for the bush-people (and maybe it was a good idea), had elaborated a new scheme for the Aborigenes.
… in a country of ten million inhabitants, where all citizens were white, descending mainly from the British Islanders, and only a few hundred thousand people lived outside Society, it would only take two or three generations to constitute one uniform nation, if the scheme succeeded.
… the children of the Aboriginal people, starting with mixed-blooded, were separated from their progenitors, thinking that something great would thus be achieved in the end.
… separation, the breaking up of families, would lead to foster the children’s education and make of them eventually pure Australians…
Luis Galvao was coming down from Ferry Road to Taylor Street, a shortcut with stone steps, or quarry, as it was called, and on to Wentworth Park. He stopped short, in the park, still meditating, and looked back (up the steep descent he had just passed.) And there it was, nearly black in the approaching evening, the famous Moreton-Bay fig-tree, which told him that the orphanage was there. Quite imposing a tree, even at that distance. High above the houses, which looked black in the prussian-blue firmament, with little yellow squares, windows. All looked now odd and mysterious. He crossed the lawn and reached Harris Street. In his own street, he noticed the light was on in Manuel’s room, and saw the silhouette of a man pacing up and down, holding a book in his hand. He crossed over, opened the door, and stepped inside, but did not switch the hall light on, choosing to proceed gropingly in the dark up the small flight of stairs in order not to disturb the Krappovs. He would have hated seeing the bastard coming out of the room downstairs to check. 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,” touching Galvao’s ear. “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.’’
Galvao gets rid of his flannel jacket as he enters the room, and takes a seat opposite his friend. With a rather full ashtray there is, on the table, an opened book with pictures of animal entrails, that his friend has obviously just left.
Manuel gets a bottle, serves his friend a drink and sits astride his chair hard by. Luis mutters some words of thanks. And after a short silence:
“Manuel,” Luis starts, speaking very slowly, as he always does, “have you heard… I mean, do you know about… what do they call it… the scheme. I’ve been with a friend. He told me about Aboriginal children being taken from their families…”
Manuel flies unexpectedly into a rage. “Now,” he says, in a tone so unlike himself that his friend looks at him in alarm, “leave it, you hear me? Don’t want to hear anything about it. You know the proverb: when a matter doesn’t concern you, pasar de largo es cordura.”
“Well, I’ll leave the subject,” Luis rushes to add; but he does not leave it. ”Nice children though,” he goes on laboriously, “blond, some of them…strange… one would have thought…”
“Stop it, please. Now, dear, what’s happening to you?” Manuel says calmly; but still burning red. “Luis, dear! Always looking for some reason to be unhappy. Brooding, brooding! My handsome pal, you must change! Be practical, man, or you will end...’’
“Now you shut up,’’ Luis interrupted his friend, standing up and getting hold of his jacket. “By-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?’’
‘’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, now rather furious.
“This homesickness business.’’
“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 you take advantage of that accident (you know, your tongue) and say you burned if with a pie, steak and kidney, precisely, and tell them that you can’t do your work in the factory properly, anything. So you go on compo, man, for a few 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 said, quite loudly.
“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 Galvao went to see a doctor, who prescribed him some drugs and sent him on sick-leave for three 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. He could hear the sound of music coming from the room underneath, a violin. The music broke off suddenly, and after a while he decided to get up and go downstairs to prepare himself a meal. He was slipping his trousers on when he heard the shuffling of feet outside his bedroom door. He rushed to open it. Malgorata stood on the landing anxious, and with tears in her eyes.
‘’What’s the matter?’’ he asked, for some reason quite perturbed and ill-at-ease.
She stepped inside without replying and closed the door behind her. She looked strange, but all the same quite lovely. Not only her eyes, which were fixed on him so intently, were of different disparate colours, but the girl was positively squinting; and this somehow made her all the more attractive to him. There was no one else in the house, as the master had gone to the bush and the two other lodgers were at work.
“I shan’t do it again,’’ she whimpered with a most pitiful expression.
He was going to say something in reply, but she laid her hand upon his lips and said, in a tone of such sweet humility: ‘’Don’t, dear! Don’t hurt yourself. Oh, poor Luis, what I’ve done to you! I know you can no longer trust me. I’ve hurt you so badly.’’ She began to fondle him, passing her hand over his bare chest, looking imploringly at his eyes. And in spite of himself Luis opened his arms to receive her, feeling as he did so an intense sense of love and desire for that woman whom he pressed against his heart, calling her at the same time ‘’wicked’’ and ‘’bad angel’’ and ‘’sly little devil” and ‘’my own dear little horror’’; but so endearingly!
“Oh, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I didn’t, I didn’t!’’ she wailed, pressing her pretty frame against his body.
And for a long while he felt against his shirt the agitation of her bosom.
‘’Pray, pray, believe me!” she mumbled. “Forgive me, dearest Luis! I shan’t do it again. God strike me dead if I do!’’
Then, throwing her head back, she said more calmly: ‘’Darling! Yesterday I asked Our Mother the Virgin, all through the mass, to intercede before her son Christ…’’
‘’A prayer for a special intention?’’ he asked, mockingly.
‘’Yes, darling, for us… we shall be so happy,’’ she said as in a trance; then, coming down to earth, ‘’and so as your tongue gets better and we may kiss and love one another again.’’
She clung to his arm and kissed him on the shoulder, speaking enthusiastically of many different things. She had a vision, she said, they would live together alone in a place far away. While she spoke Luis was holding her tenderly by her hands, and made her sit down on the bed and he sat beside her. They chatted, laughed and kissed one another on the cheeks holding hands, just as if there had never existed the slightest misunderstanding between them. He found her so beautiful, particularly the eyes, so full of life. In one of these happy moments, she swiftly wriggled out of her cheap cotton dress, and soon they were rolling on the floor linked together in a most passionate embrace.
‘’Come, let’s go down to my room,’’ she suddenly suggested. And carrying her clothes with her, she tottered out of the room, Galvao following her. They ran naked downstairs and into the big bedroom, where he once more caught her wiggly body in his arms, fondly caressing her.
‘’Oh, dear love!’’ she exclaimed, nestling into his embrace and sighing.
Then she suddenly drew away, and giving him a queer look bounded across the room to the unmade bed and slipped between the sheets, covering her head and giggling. When he had followed her in and again had her in his arms, she unexpectedly burst out into a wild flood of weeping.
‘’What now?’’ he asked entirely at a loss.
She drew her hand across his injured mouth, caressing him. ‘’You won’t kiss me proper,’’ she answered with tears in her eyes.
‘’Malgorata, really,’’ he began, and he was unable to go on, for she had stamped a powerful kiss on his mouth.
‘’Don’t say anything, dearest,’’ she whispered, and holding his cheeks with her hands and caressing his lips with the tip of her tongue, she added: ‘’let me now kiss you like before, please, just a little.’’
Feeling that he could not deny her such a lovely request, he warned: ’’But I’ll wrench off your teats if you bite!’’ (offering his mouth for her to kiss, but at the same time clutching her girlish breasts with both hands.)
‘’Oh, I shan’t bite,’’ she answered confidently, snuggling in his embrace. ‘’I’ll love you tender this time, I promise.’’
His lips quivered, but her tongue looked for his. She was beautiful and passionately in love, full of desire. They kissed, played, made love, and stayed linked together ever so long. When Luis went back to the factory, he looked so exhausted and out of sorts that his work-mates would not have been surprised if he had asked to go on compo for another three days.
He walked the length of Sussex Street with his fellow-workers, but without sharing in their conversation, for his thoughts were thousands of miles away.
… I’ve got the feeling again that made me mourn for her over there, almost three years ago. Oh, Margaret, my English girl so beautiful!
… and yet, I should feel satisfied, a pretty woman loves me, and sure I love her. It is my inconstant character, oh Malgorata!, whinging, this silly mood of mine.
As the the factory mates reach Pyrmont Bridge Road, Luis Galvao does not turn right, with them, towards the bridge, the Power House (quite visible now with those towering chimneys belching out snow-white smoke) and the well illuminated Pyrmont Hotel, for a drink. Instead, he turns left into Market Street.
… a perfect bore, Luis Galvao, a loner who doesn’t find society with his mates at all amusing… having a drink by the bar, cracking jokes, gaffawing, bouncing on one leg and then absorbing the effluvia of the spilled beer under the soles of their work boots.
Luis turned left again, into George Street and caught a bus, at Circular Quay, that took him across Woolloomooloo and along New South Head Road to the ocean, always bordering the south of the big bay.
Again the thought of Malgorata mingled in his mind with recollections from the long past, as he sauntered across a large piece of scrub land full of shrubs and wild flowers, normally seen only in the outback. October was the month when the bush flourished with vegetation of all hues and kinds, destined to last only a few weeks, until the torrid heat of Christmastime burned it all. October was also the best month in Madrid (he remembered), when he started a new university course, and there it was the autumn. He thought back to the autumn of 1956. Margaret was with him.
Early spring weather. So fine. He was contemplating the mass of the ocean down below, so marvellously blue, and remembered he had promised Malgorata he would take her to see places. They would make trips to the bush, to see the waratah, granate-red and lofty, like enormous artichokes, and many other colourful flowers: it must be before summer. Australia had once been a land where nature reigned supreme, with plants and animals unknown to Europe, and big forests full of cedars and gumtrees, and where the Aborigines, now disappeared from these parts, roamed freely: even the coastal areas were theirs, then. “Woolloomooloo!” he cried, unable to get rid of the idea, the word, the sound. He had seen the word passing on the bus in the afternoon.
Little by little his thoughts made him more depressed, as he strolled on the scrub land, the westerly wind pushing him towards the edge of the cliff, where he landed on a sort of platform of grey stone and green grass, overhanging a world of stones and rocks. The sea was battering the bottom of the cliff, splashing white foam all over. A multitude of marine birds were now flying around Luis Galvao. A horrible noise of squeals, screeches and calls of all kinds and at all levels of sonority. For a long while he watched the birds without moving. He saw them swaying and cooing, sometimes soaring high into the now cobalt-blue sky, sometimes diving down to the very surface of the sea, resting perhaps for a moment on rocky islands or on the protruding rocks of the cliff, or perching on the branches of a small tree or bush miraculously growing between some rocks.
Although the abyss before him became dark as time went on, the setting sun (way behind him) was still sending its luminous rays over a good portion of the ocean, causing the rocks down below, and the foaming waters battering them, to look still more threatening. “Suicide’s Leap!” he exclaimed, and recalled having heard the terrifying name, given by Sydneysiders to this spot.
Sinking his shoes on the buffalo-grass, he called aloud: “The Gap, The Gap!”, as if to exorcise the evil conveyed by the term “suicide.” Turming round, he sauntered again across the scrub land. But before he reached the road his eyes were attracted by a monument, not far from the edge of the cliff bursting out of the buffalo grass, as it were, which he had not seen before. He came to a halt to read the inscription on the brassplate on the pedestal. The monument was in memory of the crew and passengers of the “Dunbar”, a British ship which on the twentieth day of August, eighteen fifty-seven, at night, became a complete wreck in the course of a most exceptional gale, (the craft, a Clipper, was already near the Sydney harbour, Port Jackson.) She was bringing one hundred and twenty people from the British Isles. After months of hazardous sailing, as was always the case then, having crossed four oceans, at last near the harbour! The Heads, the almost hidden entry between two high promontories, was within sight, a few miles more and the Clipper would have reached Sydney Cove. But it was not to be. In the days of yore, the inhabitants of the Colony, driving in their horse-driven carriages, used to travel along the dirt-road bordering the bay, past Woolloomooloo (where there still lived some Aboriginal families) to the ocean coast. On a natural platform, of stone and grass, full of enthusiasm and hope, the colonialists saw the newcomers arriving. They would bring news from Britain; relatives were coming, and friends, the expected young bride (yet unknown to the bridegroom) and new members of the local administration. People seeking to start a new, perhaps prosperous, life in the Colony of New South Wales. Oh, welcome! welcome all of them! Among the hundred and twenty passengers and crew there were prospective new settlers with their families, and soldiers for the garrison, officials to rule the colony, with royal patent and all, the wives of officials and army officers who after some hesitation had decided to join their husbands, and many a pretty maiden who had embarked on the great adventure at the end of which they were to become the wives of those officers in the city of Sydney who had for years been solitary dreamers and were now on the cliff seeing how their promised lovers were coming to them, who would be in their arms in a few hours, one more day at the most. And there were also women caught by the police walking the streets of London, or Dublin and many other big towns at home, who were being transported across the seas, destined to be married to lonely men, old settlers or new freedmen. They all, newcomers, perished in the storm, all but one. Only one (Galvao read) managed to escape the common fate. For he was strong enough, or supremely lucky, to be able to swim through the Heads and on to Sydney Cove, probably helped and directed by the tide and the natural surge of the sea.
When Luis Galvao caught his bus that evening at the Dover Heights bus-stop, it was dead of night, and he was shivering. What was happening to him? This was not natural. The thought that Malgorata could never be his, troubled him. Yes, he thought of Krappov. “I love the girl,” he said to himself, “love her dearly, but what? Another man’s wife!” He once more tried to change his train of thought. He lived in a large country, where he could move about, as other migrants did. With a camping car or a caravan they could go places, as Malgorata had suggested. It would be great. They could elope one day. He had been saving some money, all these months. Working in Australia. Changing jobs was easy. He might buy a car, to begin with. Travelling by tram or train, or bus, was no good, painful at times. Like now, spending an hour in the evening sitting at a bus-stop. It was just not practical. Not any more.
Indeed, for a long time Luis Galvao had been wanting Manuel Suárez to show him that second-hand car yard in Rozelle where the latter had bought his old bomb, as he put it. They agreed on the date, and to Rozelle they drove together early one Saturday morning. Manuel first headed for Railway Square, for he wanted to tackle the journey through Broadway and Parramatta Road and enjoy the opportunity of showing his friend the place where he worked.
As soon as they were on the road, he said most politely to Galvao: ‘’I’m thankful to you for the opportunity you’re giving me to have this conversation away from the others.’’
‘’What about?’’ Luis asked rather abruptly.
‘’Can’t you guess?’’ Manuel asked in turn, laying a friendly hand on his compatriot’s thigh.
‘’No,’’ Luis replied, withdrawing his legs 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.’’
‘’Don’t make me vomit, pray,’’ Manuel said, breaking into a queer laugh.
It was lucky that they were just driving by the university, and the tone of the conversation changed at once, both becoming friendly and relaxed. Manuel pointed out to his friend the Veterinary Faculty. He was studying hard (he said) to requalify his degree. It was not easy for him, having to work for a living. He had lately found a job in the faculty itself, as an assistant at the stables. They passed by a green open ground where several men in white were playing cricket, a typical spectacle as Manuel Suárez said. In a corner, under some eucalyptus trees, a family of aboriginal people were having a picnic, and Luis Galvao noticed with surprise that most of the children had perfectly blond hair.
‘’Do you think they dye their kiddies’ hair?’’ he asked.
‘Not at all,’’ Manuel replied, ‘’fair hair is common among them, the children, I mean. Anyhow, they are only half-casts, and that’s the reason why. Some genes introduced in the people by the blond convicts of old, you see. Scots or Irish, perhaps,’’ and he ended with the following obscure sentence. “For there are still classes among the Brits.”
There followed a long silence as they drove along congested Parramatta Road. After which Manuel went on, rather seriously: ‘’Well, about that Malgorata business, you now listen to me, it’s in your own interest. You seem to’ve forgotten what I told you.’’
‘’I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.’’
‘’Oh yes, you do! Luis, you’re swimming in troubled waters, you are. I’ve been trying to warn you, but you won’t listen. How come you choose to complicate your life, when everything could be so simple?’’
‘’You express yourself so queerly. Always in riddles. Now, simple? Simple for whom?’’
‘’Now you talk in riddles, my dear. Of course, simple for you,” Manuel answered, turning to look at Luis with a smile. “No need to complicate your life 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; and the yard was full of individuals, all of them men, moving about looking for treasures. 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 set the engine in motion; whereupon the two friends asked the manager to be allowed to take the car for a trial run.
‘’I hope you didn’t mind me telling you about… You know,’’ Manuel resumed the interrupted conversation when they were on the road, Luis this time at the wheel. ‘’It’s very important. At first I thought it was a passing whim, but some days and now… what?... two weeks have gone by and you are still at it.’’
‘’Now, what the hell d’you know about what’s going on, and is it any of your bloody business?’’
‘’Why, I can’t help noticing. And if I can see what is clear as daylight, others may. There’s trouble brewing.’’
‘Well, I don’t care. And don’t spy on me! You’re lucky I don’t punch your bloody nose for you.’’
‘’You know, Luis, that whore of yours…’’
‘’Don’t call her a whore!’’ Galvao stepped on the brake and turned to look at his friend in fury.
‘’All right, sorry,’’ Manuel apologised. ‘’But that Malgorata of yours, dear Luis, is not what she looks, and you should know.’’
‘’And what does she look to you, can you tell me?’’
‘’Well, to me... I can see she is petite, timid-looking, clever with the violin sometimes. But she’s a wild cat, you should realise, and she can bring trouble for us all. In the bush she lured on two or three of the rangers, Krappov’s chums, I assure you. And that’s actually why he bought the house at Ultimo, to bring the missus away from his own men. Not because she fell ill, as she pretends.’’
‘’You told me she did fall ill.’’
‘’Never mind what I told you. Anyway, one of them, a Yugoslav, actually a Croat, perished in her embrace.’’
‘’How? Oh, you’re so mysterious!’’
‘’Now you be careful how you drive,’’ Manuel returned, for they had gone back to the main road.
‘’But I want you to tell me about that Croat.’’
‘’Krappov found them in bed together, you see. And, as I understand…, mind you I’ve only heard this second hand, I believe the man disappeared.’’
‘’Probably Krappov had done away with him. Didn’t I tell you he’s a confessed murderer?’’
There was a brief pause, after which Galvao said, rather wearily: ‘’I understand you, my friend. So, I’ll be on my guard. Is that all you wanted to tell me?’’
‘’You can put it that way, if you want. Now, I think the bomb is all right. You’d better turn back at the next corner.’’
When they again entered 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 first trip Luis did in the Hillman was to the bush. He invited Malgorata to come with him. One Saturday, starting well before dawn, they drove south all the way to Parramatta and on to the Western Highway. After a whole hour of crossing suburb after suburb, with more unbuilt territory between each one, and finally an immense open space, almost bare, right up to the horizon, they came upon the first provincial town, all of a sudden, like an apparition. The main street, which they traversed, was full of Saturday shoppers, all strolling around in two directions, as it were, under sturdy overhangings which protected them from the fierce heat of the sun at that hour; for it was near lunch time.
After that town there were longer and longer stretches of nearly desert land. Some hamlets, rather on the side of the road, again more distanced from one another, some homesteads and sheep-stations in the distance and then no human habitation at all. Malgorata did point towards the distant slopes, saying she thought she had seen an Aboriginal settlement; but Luis, who was driving, said he had seen nothing.
All the same, he looked at the marvellous landscape, the contours of the hills and valleys, the luminous colours all about. The deepest blue sky he had seen in his life. From time to time, all kinds of bush flowers so varied in form and in colour, wherever (he thought) there was the slightest touch of humidity. The reddish land, including the dirt-road they were on. The whitish-green hue of the few gumtrees they came across, here and there, all small, strangely twisted, like tormented souls.
Luis mentioned that in his student days he had done some oil-painting. If he had known (he said) he would have brought some canvas and brushes and paints. This landscape reminded him of the Yorkshire moors (he said) which he had seen in his student days, which could not be: the colours were totally different. He had seen some paintings by the great Albert Namatjira. She too (Malgorata replied.) And both agreed that this painter’s were true representations of inland Australia. “That’s exactly where I seem to be, seeing this landscape,” he emphasised.
As they proceeded along the dirt-track, they unexpectedly came across a service-station, with a wooden house nearby, on which the sign HOTEL shone on top. There was a wood verandah all around the place, but nobody on it (it was late afternoon.) Above the verandah a first floor, about a dozen dusty sash-windows, some open, some closed, a corrugated-iron roof with a brick chimney and some rusty iron pipes around leading to an immense corrugated-iron tank on one side of the building.
Luis stopped the engine, and they went into the place. “Afternoon!” Luis spoke; Malgorata grabbed his left arm. Behind a small counter there was a stout blond woman, and along the bar there were six customers, seated upon tall stools, drinking. About half the number were Aborigenes, and the rest were so burned by the sun and the desert wind that one could hardly see the difference save in the nose and hair. They all turned to look at the new arrivals, not precipitously, but rather slowly. And then, for a minute or two, all eyes were fixed on the newcomers. No one spoke, though the couple had said “Good afternoon”, as they entered. When Luis and Malgorata approached the bar, the customers’ curiosity persisted, but no one uttered a sound or moved. Indeed they now looked like perfect wax-statues. The blond lady replied slowly to the couple’s questions. And the six men went back to their drinking. Big half-empty glasses of beer were in their hands.
If the visitors had ever thought, upon arrival, to book for a night at the hotel, they at once changed their minds, and after having a drink and some refreshments (and filling the water and petrol tanks), they packed off as fast as they could. Evening was approacching and as soon as they found a suitable place, among some big white boulders and greyish-green bushes, they pitched their tent and crawled inside.
After a short sleep, Galvao emerged and went for a solitary walk about. Night had now set in and he certainly walked for a long time without thinking. Until he came upon a large open space where he began to suspect that a mist was gathering around him, and became scared. He believed he could make out in the distance some lights. Indeed, a strange luminosity did appear in the fog, among some gumtrees, which in these parts were quite numerous.
“Gosh!” he exclaimed. “Are they coming out?” He was trembling. “Oh,yes, they are! They’re coming for me, a whiteman! their spirits!” And after a while, much calmer, he thought: “Where can they be, where in that mist may they be hidden, their souls, the spirits of the murdered Aborigines?”
… originally, they had populated these lands, right down to the coast. By the ocean they lived when we arrived. There where so many white people now live and own properties.
“¡Dios mío! Do we own the land? The land of which the natives were dispossessed? The land belongs to no man (that is what they rightly think); on the contrary, it is man who belongs to the earth.
“Woolloomooloo!” he called aloud, “Woollahra, Coogee, Wattamolla, Ulladula, Wollongong, Illawarra…”
… poor peaceful people, moving from one place to another, pushed from this earth, out of their land.
… migration indeed! El paraíso prometido de los sueños. And for the People… the Walkabout. Or worse. Dead and gone! Gone? Where, where to? New land? Is that their new country? The desert!!
… I can’t see them… I can’t see them, poor peaceful fellows facing the devil. We, the destroyers. War. Mercantilism. Imperialism. Woolloomoolloo, Woolloomoolloo, where are you? And repeating the Aborigines’ place-names he knew by heart, he ran away, ran for all he was worth, across the moonlit plain, back to where his girl friend was peacefully lying in her sleeping-bag. He had entered the tent, choking and shivering. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “I… I…” he mumbled glued to her warm sweet skin, trying… unable to answer.
The following Saturday they drove north to Narrabeen. The car having been packed the previous evening with food and drinks, they were in the city when the sun was rising and crossed the bay on the mighty Harbour Bridge, turning east as soon as they had passed Sydney North and other northern suburbs. And all along the coast, the lovely sandy beaches of DeeWhy, Collaroy, and on towards Mona Vale. However, they stopped at the picnic ground of the Narrabeen Surf Club. They parked the Hillman and got ready for a long walk on the sands to the very entrance of the lagoon, the sea on the right and soon the quiet blue waters of the lagoon became visible through the trees on the left. “Pray,” she begged, “let us undress and walk naked for the rest of the way! Nobody’ll see us.” The bliss of living in the state of nature with such a bewitching creature! How could he reply otherwise than kissing for a while her deliciously curly lip. He saw her going away in the nude, her long pearly necklace between her two rows of perfectly white teeth. For she kept this ornament, when they shoved their clothes into the haversack, which he again buckled on his naked back. And hand in hand they plodded contentedly on. After a while she left him and strode down to the rolling waves on the right. Oh, the playful waves coming in, rolling on, curling up as they came to the edge, up to the sky, then rolling down and crushing on the wet firm sand with a terrible thud. As she ran back to Luis, squealing, quite frightened, he insisted that they should keep together, striding upon the warm dry sand in the direction of the lagoon, the arm of land becoming narrower, the lagoon getting nearer. And he make sure she could not run away again, holding her tight by the waist. Her smooth young body had that golden tan often seen among Nordic women who lie in the sun on Australian beaches. She lay her head snuggly on the hollow of his neck. She had changed so much since their first encounter, only four months ago, when he arrived at Harris Street from Wollongong: the vision of a dishevelled young woman who vanished at once without speaking. Those strange eyes. She was glancing at him sideways (and now this bewitching gaze, oh, I love you.)
“We are alone,” she sighed.
Her face looked fresh and very beautiful, and ever her eyes, always so mysterious, were so very bright, even that colour disparity was delicious. Deliciously in love he was.
“Here we are alone, yes,” he said. “D’you want to stop here, then? Is that what you want?” He started to embrace her and she began bending her body backwards, the more to press her naked body against his.
Then, turning to look at a copse of eucalyptus trees on the left, she broke herself free and once more strode happily along, her necklace fluttering on her shoulder.
“Come, let’s lie down under those trees,” she cried, stopping short, looking back, and holding the long necklace high in her hand she beckoned him.
But Luis did not follow her this time. She ran between the trees and jumped into the water. Just at that moment, he saw a couple of motorboats speeding together, splashing their way with great noise in the middle of the perfectly blue lagoon.
Pulling two waterskiers the speed-boats passed in a moment: woman and man, side by side, in scanty swimwear; both tensely clutching their respective ropes or cables, and not even once turning their gaze right or left, nor even to gaze at one another. They reappeared, speeding back toward the Surf Club.
… I cannot be sure. There is this girl, pretty and blond. There was that dream when she always was by my side, those big blue eyes, her short wavy hair glittering in the dazzling sun.
… just a whim, imagination, a fiction: unless I could approach her, touch her blurred face, her naked forms, the body I have been lusting after; or more importantly, unless she directed her gaze at me and I could see her eyes. Oh, I’ve lost her, lost my English girl so beautiful!
“Luis, my darling!” She was there standing in front of him, water glistening down her shoulders, her round firm breasts. She grabbed his hand and pulled, trying to convince him to join her in the lagoon.
“No,” he said, “come, let’s go back to where we left the haversack, my pretty, and return to the picnic ground as soon as possible. I’m very hungry.”
“Me too!” she said, joining him, for he had already started to go.
Eventually, getting back into their clothes and striding on the firm sand by the line of trees they reached the picnic ground and sat down, not far from the Hillman, having lunch. And after packing their things back in the car, they spread two towels under a leafy tree, and slept siesta. The sky was still bright and cloudless when they woke up. They went to Hillman, locked it again, and went to see the Narrabeen Picnic Ground nearby, where they talked to an elderly couple who lived in their camping-car, which had some climbing plants over the side (plants in rusty metal containers and flower-beds were seen all over.) The lady invited them to sit down under a canopy which spread from the roof of the camping car to some young gumtrees, which constituted the limits of their “property”, and the four had tea and cakes together, talking. The man said the camping car was their “real estate”, to what the woman added that that was all they needed to be happy. They lived there all the year round and had no intention of ever moving away. The encounter gave Luis and Malgorata some ideas, specially when they learned the couple were not married. “That is to say,” the man put in, “we’re married to other people; but being roman catholics (and loving one another) we had no option but to elope one day.” “And we have never looked back,” the woman concluded, taking her man’s hand and pressing it endearingly.
The week had gone by very quickly, Luis working in the factory, Malgorata practising every day the violin. Krappov was in the bush engaged in the business of preparing himself and his gang with modern weapons brought from North America. During the weekends the two drove out to the country. Today, a Saturday they were driving south towards the industrial city of Wollongong. They crossed the southern suburbs, Marrickville, Rockdale and others. At noon they reached Botany Bay, a large shallow bay.
… where British Colonisation began in the eighteenth century, when the immense “Terra Australis” passed to form part of the Crown. Imperialism in all its magnitude. The Royal Navy would have settled there had not the bay been judged insalubrious.
The town of Cronulla came next. Just after lunch. And from there on, to the Royal National Park, half an hour. They crossed a large forested area at the end of which a choice was offered them, either turning right, pushing more deeply into the forest, or else turning left towards the coast. They chose the coast, where there was for a while plenty of forests, tall gumtrees of reddish trunks, oaks rather dark and still other trees of many different species. They parked the Hillman on what seemed to be the end of a dirt road and walked for about half an hour, towards the edge of a long varied cliff: a landscape of rocks and grass and still some trees, all the landscape flooded with sunlight, a brilliancy coming from on high and making the world around them wonderfully real and colourful: the infinite firmament above, the green-and-grey of a very high cliff, from the edge down, black at the bottom, the prussian-blue of the ocean, glittering here and there in the distance with infinite reflections and bright colours of different hues: the snow-white of the rollers, silver and dark green everywhere. It was indeed a dazzling view, so inspiring; though the temperature was as a matter of fact rather low, as it was still the fall and there was, besides, a strong cold west wind. They stayed gazing at that immensity with awe, being so near the edge, watching that wonderful spectacle at the moment upon a sort of stone platform partially covered with grass and weeds; they came close to one another, tightening their grip on each other’s waist.
Hanging rocks were all around and down below, the tumultuous sea, where tiny islands and basalt platforms continually received the full damaging battering of the waves. Glancing right and left, the cliffs, as far as their eyes could reach, and down below those superb long yellow beaches, entirely deserted.
Malgorata paced slowly for a while along the cliff-edge; while Luis remained static, watching, calculating the depth of the abyss at his feet, and, quite characteristically, wondering at the beauty of the world and the little brains of the humans that destroy it. He sighed. “In the glow of this splendid sun!” he sighed somewhat confused, the strong wind on his face.
“The beach,” Luis heard his girlfriend, approaching, “do you see, it’s empty. Let’s go down.”
But his heart recoiled. ‘Too dangerous!’ he thought, and as Malgorata again moved away from him, he called: “Come, let’s go back to the car.”
But she had a different purpose that morning. Adventure. Turning round, the dazzling light of the sun on their faces and the strong winds coming now from all sides, she fixed her eyes on his: “Oh, let’s go down, please, Luis!” She would like to see the breakers at arm’s length, she said, the waves roaring all along the water’s edge, each one changing as it came, flying up to the sky and rolling down at once, a thud upon the sand.
Luis was holding her pretty nervous body tight against his own, trying to calm her down, but she insisted, quietly caressing his chin, then kissing him. “Come on, darling!” And in the end he gave in. Turning his eyes right and left, looking for some way, a path somewhere that might take them to the sands, he saw some steps made out of stones and treetrunks. They caught sight of an abandoned railway line when they were coming down. Three static rusty medium-size containers linked together, without an engine, the line going the breadth of the beach down to a forlorn dark jetty, which went beyond the first line of the wild roaring waves. Luis explained to Malgorata, resting on a safe boulder, that the region was very rich: iron ore, coal and timber. “They took it to Sydney by sea,” he said.
As they approached the bottom the way became steep and very slippery. Some brambles among the rocks had by now made havoc of Malgorata’s dress, and as they reached the sands she took it off, and placed it in the haversack, from where she got a pullover to put on. Then, she ran to meet the waves, the breeze blowing directly on her excited face, her short curly hair fluttering, her sensual mouth open as though avidly swallowing the cool salty air.
“Come back! The water is freezing,” he ordered. “You’re going to catch a cold.” And when, obeying, she was already thoroughly wet, “let us find a place where we can make a fire and dry ourselves.”
The strength of the wind was not diminishing. So, first together and then separately, they plodded on, covering a large stretch of the sands, looking for firewood. In effect, there was an abundant supply of wood: all kinds of branches and and even whole treetrunks obviously brought in by the storms. They gathered as much as they could, and believing that higher up the beach some small caves would be found among weedcovered rocks, they trudged up the higher dunes to the cliff. Finding a good place, they piled the twigs and other wood in the middle, a lovely fire was made, sparks started blowing up, covering with ashes the sand, and Malgorata lay down in the nude on her towel. When she was dry she sat up, holding her knees with both arms, stopping Luis from seeing her white cute round breasts. He sat by her side, drying himself.
“Luis, my love,” she whispered after a few moments. “Can you hear?” (He thought she looked lovely, with that kind of intellectual beauty to be found only in artistic women.) “No?” And after a while: “The waves, the wind, the sea! Do you know much about German classical music?” (He did not reply, and she went on.) “That was one of the pieces we played. Listen! I feel exactly as I felt then. The same. It’s music, Luis! Sublime.”
… if I had known her when she was a Soviet citizen! But I had not had that chance. Such a pretty girl. Music, an orchestra, the violin. All gone with the wind. The irrevocable past.
… he visualised that young girl. Such an angel. Prodigious. Kiev, the first orchestra of her career. He had seen her in an album, that photograph. In a long black dress. Silk. Sure. No synthetic material in a communist country. So full of enthusiasm: a child, and already a first big prize. She won it in Vienna.
… the violin. Her whole life. Young and so determined. “Oh, the violin meant so much, so much to me!” Yes. Years had passed. And now, what? The same, it means a lot to her, it is her whole life.
“Fingal’s Cave, Luis. Listen,” her sweet voice made him come back from his reverie. “You heard, darling! … wonderful music…”
Later on, after those swift glorious few moments of bliss, which man can only feel if one truly loves a woman, he stood up, leaving the loved one. He dressed himself and stepped to the cave entrance and saw rain now falling down in torrents. It wouldn’t be easy, afterwards, to put those salty damp boots on. Perhaps he shouldn’t have left them near the fire. Forget it. There are other things to think about. The storm soon blew over and the sky got large patches of blue here and there. Pure cobalt-blue. It would not last, he knew. Quite right, soon the whole firmament became that deep blue which indicated night was approaching rapidly.
“Luis, I’m ready.” He felt the touch of Malgorata’s hand on his shoulder. With both hands she got hold of his glasses and placed them in the upper pocket of his white cotton shirt. Then she kissed him. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
In effect, he looked worried. The sun was already setting in the west, when they started back. There appeared, upwards beyond the cliffs, on the dark-blue of the sky, that yellow-pink hue that usually precedes sunset. He carried the haversack upon one shoulder and his already dry boots in his other hand. They strode side by side, trying to recognise the place where they had come down.
“Nothing. It is my character, really. Nothing wrong, dearest.”
“Yes, yes! Oh, my love, you must tell me!”
“I’ve been looking back at those carriages, the old railtrack down on the beach. You see? At the beginning I thought, perhaps an easier way up…”
He stopped short as Malgorata, who had been who had been running a step behind, now flung both arms over his shoulders. “Darling,” she said, cajolingly, “you are so good, tell me, what is happening to you just now? We were so happy… such a blissful time a moment ago! Is it that you don’t love me anymore?”
“Dearest Malgorata, I love, I adore you,” he answered, embracing her. “No, nothing… I’ve told you. Nothing is the matter. Believe me.”
“It’s not true. Something is troubling you. Please, Luis, be of good cheer.”
He found the way up they were looking for. Until then, he had been carrying the haversack, which contained Malgorata’s dress and the big towel, dangling from one shoulder. Now he shoved his cap inside and proceeded to buckle it on his back; sitting on a small boulder, he put his socks and boots on; Margorata did something similar, and again got on the move. It was easier to mount than it had been to descend. The way was free of brambles, and the path eventually became less steep. After a rather long zigzag they finally reached the top. And soon they were sauntering on the road, towards the spot where they had left the Hillman. Now, from up here, the thick dark eucalyptus forest on the opposite side of the road looked still more terrifying. And yet, they still could see the sunset, shining a still more beautiful, red over the top of the trees and through some of the thinner trees.
“Red at night,” Malgorata sang, “shepherd’s delight.”
Luis just smiled.
“Are you tired?” she asked.
“You ask that because of the haversack? No fear!”
Darkness was now invading in earnest the whole forest surrounding them, and though it was now quite dry, they had begun to feel the cold. Their two bodies together, they accelerated their gait. Beyond the car park there were some barracks and nissen-huts. After dropping the haversack on the back-seat of the car, Luis took the driving seat next to Malgorata. He did not switch the ignition on.
“You see those lights,” he began, very ponderously. “I lived there before we met.”
“Yes, I know,” she replied, “I know you lived in a camp. Is that why you have suddenly got so nervous. Oh, please, you must tell me! What happened?”
“Nothing, truly! nothing! I know at times… I’m a pain in the neck. Forgive me.” He paused. “You see, upon arrival in Australia, almost from the start … the day I landed.” He again paused. “I mean I wanted to get on the move at once. Work. Like everyone… other migrants. Get on, get on. get rich! that’s the idea. Those pounds awaiting you.”
“But, tell me. Oh, you’re cruel, Luis, you do make me suffer. Something has upset you now. Anything to do with this place?”
“Sweet Margorata, bear with me.” He was nervous and thoughtful. “Sometimes I feel… but I’ll be alright in the end.”
She had begun to suspect that he was hiding something.
“Nothing to do with you. Please, Malgorata. As a migrant, a New Australian…” Again he stopped short.
“I know, me too,” she replied “Anyhow, you worked, as most migrants do at the beginning, in whatever you found. Since you didn’t mention it before,” she went on, “leave it please. Oh, darling, don’t get upset! Look at me.” She was offering her lips for a kiss.
“Malgorata, dearest, it isn’t that,” he said rather confused. “I like physical work, and in the open air. I don’t complain.”
“Then what? I love you. Oh, let’s be happy!”
But he was concentrating on his thoughts. “I was once a young man of great ambition,”he began, “and then everything turned out badly somehow. To live at home was impossible. I hate fascism. I landed here, in Australia, the newest continent, a land full of opportunities. And I found myself here, the camp I mean. Good money, of course. Felling trees.” He clutched her hand.” I’m a lawyer, Malgorata. love! In a word, after four months I decided to move on to Sydney.” He was grabbing both her hands. “And still a manual worker! But… but… but now without money. You understand? What d’you say to that?”
“Couldn’t you have stayed longer, say one year, made lots of money, and gone on from there? I know a Pole. Studied in Warsaw. He worked for two years as a taxi-driver, day and night. Today he has his own practice. A law-firm, in Sydney.”
Galvao had still not switched the engine on. “Anyhow, I left. Was that the question?” he asked. “One day I ‘phoned for a cab and left, purely and simply. Funnily enough, with some regret then. You get attached, you know… we were a team of ten: five Finns, three Italians… and there was another Spaniard. Why, we had come together, the same liner. It was he who suggested we should work hard in order to make money.”
“All the same, you left. Why think of it?”
“It was the day I met you.”
Malgorata kissed him.
“That was the day, yes, my love. All I was thinking of, then… I should be moving to the big city, no more isolation… Well, almost five months after arrival… four and a half,” Luis stammered. “I didn’t do it, the move, I mean, without preparation, though. One month earlier… I’d gone on compo, you see… I met Manual at the Labour Exchange Office, York Street. I rang for a taxi at Wollongong. I mean, the previous day. I remember I told the driver, ‘Harris Street, Ultimo.’ ‘Where?’ he asked, frowning. He had not understood. ‘Ultimo!’ I shouted. ‘Ah,’ he shouted back, ‘Ah, Aoltimow!’”
Malgorata was silent. After a while, Luis went on: “And again, in Sydney, well, you know. I’ve turned out to be a failure.”
“Please, what do you mean?”
“Why, I’ve been a failure all my life. I’ll achieve nothing. Looking for a job in town and only as a factory worker, Sussex Street. A manual worker all my life, that is what.”
“You’re not sorry to have met me, are you?” she asked, crying.
“I love you with all my heart,” is all he replied.