Here’s several “cameos” of my personal interpretation of the place where I live. They are a personal slant and you can take it or leave it as you please.
A short announcement.
As well aware as we are these days of those “Great Moments in History” where an event is celebrated on canvas…like, say ; George Washington crossing the Delaware…or Captain James Cook bearing up proudly on the bow of the Endeavour’s whaler boat as he broaches the sandy shore of Botany Bay…or even our own Col’ Light on Montefiore Hill, with his determined arm outstretched pointing to the possible location of the future precinct of Adelaide….and how right he was!…. I’d like to draw your attention to those little moments in history…enacted in those little places way off the beaten track that, one must acknowledge, do deliver their own great moments within their own little worlds….less perhaps, “momentous” than “of the moment”!
Such an event happened on the evening of the 2nd of June 1953…..on The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2nd .. at the Sedan Hotel front bar, where was gathered a regular small group of loyal local blokes…many bearing the Germanic names of that peoples that had been enemies in two wars of recent memory….but wishing to scotch any rumours of disloyalty to The Crown, the publican of the hotel called for silence with the ringing of a spoon on the rim of a schooner glass and proposed a toast to;
“ Her Majesty…The Queen!”…..
THAT is the orthodox version of events…..I have it on good authority, though I will not vouch for it’s exactness of detail, that another short announcement accompanied that toast that created a certain amount of “discussion” within that small community….
it went like this..
I doubt it goes without some knowledge in these small country towns, that certain individuals practice ..habits..that are ..shall we say..of a different complexion to the mainstream. Most accomplish these little peccadilloes in the secrecy and privacy of their own homes…by themselves…of course there is a price to pay for all that secrecy…there is the paranoia that if discovered, the general consensus of “the mob” will excoriate and damn the individual in question to exile or worse….such “difference” is a heavy burden to carry..particularly if one is working every day, shoulder to shoulder with his fellows in the fields…it wears on a chap!
Such a burden had for several years weighed heavily upon one such chap amongst that gathering that evening in the front bar of The Sedan Hotel…(we shall not name names!)…He had come to the decision a week or so before that he would share this burden with his fellows and take the consequences ..whatever…he would “own” his idiosyncrasy.
He had chosen that particular evening and he had steeled himself for the occasion with rehearsed lines and solemn mood to deliver to best advantage that which he wished to say….the fact that the publican had chosen, with his unfortunate royal toast to the newly coroneted queen, the very apex of that moment, the very inhale of breath so to speak, was inconvenient, but not a deterrence…he decided to press ahead.
The silence was heeded, the glasses were charged, the toast was made..:
“To the Queen!”..”Hear, Hear!”
…the schooners were just touched to wetted lips when he made his own small announcement to the gathered circle …:
“I like wearing women’s clothes…..I always have .”
Several members of the party had to be revived after choking and spluttering on the amber fluid just then in the act of consumption.
I would not like to claim that he said it “gaily”…but rather, in a quiet, solemn voice…soft, but determined…his chin “steeled” to suit the gravitas of the moment.
You know, there are some hesitations in the general hubbub of public gatherings where a void of silence can follow momentous announcements…I’m thinking of Julius Caesar about to cross the Rubicon and he says quietly to the troops..;
“Jacta alia est” (the die is cast)..the legions, I suspect, fell respectfully silent…
..or Horatio Nelson with his famous telescope to the blind eye..:“I really do not see the signal”….
There are others…there are others…such a silence followed this announcement in the front bar of The Sedan Hotel….a full ten seconds silence…an eyewitness noted the ticking of a clock (two rooms away) for a full ten tocks…that record, I hasten to add, still stands!…I suspect the shock of this fellow navvy, this rough-handed roustabout, whom they were more used to see in moleskins and blucher-boots, informing them of his preference for women’s petticoats and finery threw some small confused images into their male minds…..it wasn’t long, however, “till the boat rightened itself”, the wave of confusion subsided and he was confronted with wide-eyed “enthusiasm”…..needless to say, his first suspicions of the possibility of estrangement, alienation and blind anger were quite sufficiently full-filled!
Sedan aspirations and goals.
Now, anyone here who has lived in a small country town will recognize the situation I am about to describe. There is a familiarity with both the pettiness of complaint and the seriousness of the minutiae of desire for redress that runs like “Orteses Thread” through the fabric of the community..and like all these little communities, a heady mix of “rumour, envy and shadenfreude” sustains all it’s members!
Into this community, there came the CEO. of the local council to address the citizens in a “Community Aspirations and Goals meeting at the Sedan Memorial Hall, all invited w/ coffee and cake provided”. Now right there, from the start, any local could’ve told him that he could’a doubled his attendance if’n he’d offered ‘mini-savs’ on the menu! As it was , a goodly group turned up to ‘sus out’ the new CEO. I was one of that group…I had a couple of ‘goals’ of my own to suggest at that meeting!….
It went like this.
The new CEO came from the Sth East…Mt Gambier , to be precise..There is a lot of water down that end of the state..and maybe they are more used to partaking of THAT liquid rather that the Sedan locals..to whom beer and the like are no strangers! So it was as no surprise that several “known” members of the local public came to the meeting straight from the front bar of the Sedan Hotel..and I did notice that one such, with the nickname ; “Pull-through” (I won’t go into the reasons for these designations, it could be too tedious and convoluted…some though, give a hint!), skinny as he is, found the doorway a tad too narrow as he ricocheted off the jambs!
“ Now I don’t want to be sitting back in my office in Mannum dictating to the community what it will have”..the CEO began. “I want YOU..the community to tell me what are YOUR aspirations and goals for Sedan…” and here he paused for effect to thrust his pointer at several headings written on a large piece of butchers paper blu-tacked on the wall…he swept his black-rimmed bespectacled and wide-eyed gaze accusatively around the room….feet shuffled..a sign of expected comment.
“How about a ramp in the gutter there outside the pub..there on the footpath” ‘Banger’ was first off the rank…the CEO raised his eyebrows.
“Oh, so ..a ‘disabled ramp’ in the kerbing?” he suggested.
“Well…” ‘Banger’ drawled “Not so much ‘disabled’…well not going IN..coming out maybe!..” this got a few laughs..” But you can make a miss-step there and do your self some damage on a Friday night”..a good deal of nodding and cross-chatter affirmed this point
“…broke six bottles the other week!…”was heard in one camp.
“Yes, yes..I see…mark that down Mr. Parker. “ the CEO addressed his clerk. “Some more please”.
Of course, Banger’s first foray into the pond unleashed a tirade of ideas…from the problem with puddles outside the post-office (when it DID rain), painted house numbers on the kerbs (only a small portion of the town has kerbing) to a scenic car-park on the top of Sedan Hill for the visitors to the district (this last drew a muffled gasp from the crowd for it’s audaciousness…a pet project of Mrs. Auricht) ..several more trite complaints followed. The poor CEO, expecting more in the line of aspirations than desperations was becoming impatient at the somewhat pettiness of the requests..
“Yes, yes..but I was hoping for…for…” his eyes swept the room..he saw not the least sympathy….he understood..”…NO!..put those down, Mr. Parker..put those..those ideas in that ledger of yours….ok..any more?”
I was waiting for my moment..After a short silence and the turning of heads toward each-other negatively, I put up my hand.
“ I have an idea “ I volunteered. A disapproving murmur pulsated through the crowd..my reputation had preceded me!..
” A fountain!” I exclaimed boldly..” In the centre of the ‘square’ there…we move that cement obelisk..after all it is only a street sign, not a memorial..and we put a fountain in the centre of the town..as a mark of beauty and a testament to the resilience of this community living in a dry country…I envisage (yes..I spoke like that!..I had rehearsed) a low, brimming bowl with the water lapping over a polished, curved lip..within this bowl is a tryptich sculpture of panels..three sandstone panels carved in relief with representations of (in the centre) ; The Ubiquitous Mallee Tree..flanked by on one side representations of the Indigenous peoples and on the other ; the Pioneers of the district..(There was silence in the room as I spoke..more now, I realise , from shock than from politeness!)…the entire fountain surrounded by beds of native flora….so that visitors driving into the town from any direction, will immediately see this amazing display in the middle of dryness and say ; “WOW!”…” I finished my little spiel with a flourish of my arms.
There was silence in the room..a full seven seconds silence…the record for Sedan is ten seconds!..then , like bursting through the surface of water after a deep dive, the cacophony of the world around came crashing in…a veritable HOWL of derision and outrage was flung in my direction…everybody moved away from me..of the dissenters, “Groper” was most red-faced ..on his feet straight up..
“ Move the obelisk!..” he raged, “..move the fuckin’ obelisk !!..my dad helped build that fuckin’ obelisk…it’s..it’s a treasure..almost sacred!…no!..no !…we don’t move the fuckin’ obelisk!..no, ferget it!” nodding heads and cries of support for ‘Groper’ were thick on the ground , so that the CEO. gave a shake of his head to his clerk and then decided to wrap up the meeting. I quickly made my escape.
It was about a month before some folk would talk to me in the street after such blasphemy. But I do hold second place (I believe) in the ‘Sound of Silence’ record in the community..There are some small moments to treasure with the experience of living in small country towns…I’ll tell you about them someday!
Ziedel’s secret carburetor.
There’s a lot of ; “Eee bah guumly” in this district..or there would be if they were Yorkshiremen.. as it is there’s the equivalent!…in Germanic brogue…if there is such a thing..
Was asking for a bit of background knowledge on a long deceased relative of mine from the local aged mechanic…Peter P….He and his offsider ; Vern, run the only workshop in the district..have done for near on fifty or sixty years!…I don’t know…neither does anyone else…not even them!
“He was a very inventive sort of chap” ..I assisted.
“Ooo, there were a lot of them about in them days” Peter opined “There was Pastor Ziedel…he was a sort of genius…Do you know, he invented this carburetor that could halve petrol consumption in a motor..but he was dammed clever how he done it.” and here Peter tapped the side of his nose.
“How so?” I asked.
“Well, you know he didn’t want anybody to find out how he done it, so he got those little jets and seats and whatnot made in many different places so no-one person could put them all together…Ooo..he was cunning alright”
“So did you get to see how it looked?” I pushed on. Peter stopped, pulled up and looked at me in wide-eyed wonder.
“No!..of course not, it was a secret…hell, he wouldn’t let anyone see how he done it…why, if he went to any motor event, he’d take that special carburetor off and put the old one on so nobody could pinch his design..Ooo, he was cunning , ; old Pastor Ziedel.”
“But if no one saw it, how do you know it worked?”
There was a pause in the response, which told me that this line of reasoning had rarely before been broached…then ;…
“Whhyy…of course it worked…you ask anybody who knew of it…he had it on his old Holden for years…of course it worked…and dammed good too!”
“Well, I imagine some one saw it after he passed away…was it in his estate when they went through his effects?”
“No..not that I ever heard..I suppose his son threw it out with a lot of other stuff.”
“What!” I exclaimed “I would have thought it would be a very valuable item.”
“Maybe…but because the old man was so secretive about it, I don’t suppose the sons would have know what it was if’n they came across it.”
And THAT is the wonderful way mythology is created!….eee bah guum !