The Caretaker.

He Was Just A School Janitor, Until One Day Students Discovered His Secret  | WorldTravelling

Jean Clements came home from work to an empty kitchen. She came from her work as principle of the Hudson Street Primary school quite often in an agitated manner, primarily because of certain incidents that bedevilled her at the school, mostly concerning the behaviour of students and parents reacting to certain students there, or because her husband, now recently unemployed lacked what she considered “ attention to her implicit instructions” to fix this or that maintenance problem or purchased the wrong brand of product from the supermarket when she had made it perfectly clear that if he’d just looked at the nutrition values there on the label, he would have seen that the carbohydrates per hundred grams were by far too many for one with her condition!!…IF he’d just had taken time to read the label.

“Heaven’s knows it is not a difficult matter for one to do” she insisted. “ and heavens knows how many times I have been there with you as I purchased the product!…AND haven’t I showed you as much?…anyone would think you did it on purpose just to vex me!….and on this day of all days, when I’ve had nothing but trouble at the school”…Jean again read the label on the offending item…she then placed this item to the back of the upper cupboard with other miscellaneous offending items.

“God only knows how difficult it is to deal with the everyday conflicts between those tenacious little terrors and their fussing mothers on any given day…really..the way some of those mothers’d think their offspring were forged in a jeweller’s diamond tiara rather than some random spray of semen after a night on the Pimm’s number one and lemonade!” Jean herself never had the enthusiasm toward childbearing or children in general that her position as principle of a primary school demanded of her…it was an act of professionalism, NOT maternal instinct that guided her career.

“Did you see this list of jobs I put on the fridge?” she called out to her husband upstairs..”The tap over the bath keeps dripping and it drives me to distraction when I am trying to do my make-up….and for heaven’s sake..can you PLEASE do something about the shade cloth over the rose garden before it completely blows away and that “blue moon” gets thrashed by the damn flapping thing!”

Jean filled and placed the electric kettle in its cradle and prepared her regular afternoon cup of soothing tea…she extracted a shortbread biscuit from a container and placed it on the rim of the saucer..this biscuit was her reward after what she considered a trying day…the one small “allowance” she would make in an otherwise strict diet..

“ That caretaker at the school, Martin, pulled a whammy today…caused an awful fracas with one of the prep’ teachers…Pammy Shorren…the Prep’ teacher who is married to the footballer chap…You’ve heard me mention Martin before, I’m sure..Can’t be far off retirement himself..usually a witty, congenial fellow…good with the know, he sometimes gives these impromptu little stories to a gathering of kiddies when they come to his janitor storage room to ask him silly things…you know how kids always ask the most silly do you do that?..or why is water wet?…those sort of things..and he’s never short of an interesting yarn to spin to the kiddies…sometimes so ridiculous that you just have to smile..and he’d catch me lurking there and he’d give me a wink as he finished and shoo’d the kids away or he’ll never get any work done…”

Jean cleared her handbag and an assortment of files from the table and sat down to enjoy the “one peaceful moment in an otherwise troubled day”…she placed a sweetner tablet into the teacup and stirred, making sure to chime the spoon on the side of the porcelain cup..a chime that resonated throughout the stillness of the room and injected a sweet sensation into the silence…She pondered aloud on the day’s events that now vexed her.

“Yes…a real whammy..that’s what it was..Pammy came to my office in a tizz accusing Martin of making a suggestion toward her that she found disgusting…especially from one as old as himself…I had to sit back in shock at her accusation..for I had never heard Martin even make ANY double entendres of any sort to ANY of the female teachers…being aware as he has informed me of his sensibilities toward the “placid nature of the feminine gender of the species”…He has a way with words..and I have always held him to that knowledge…as I have to all the staff…one cannot let the least infringement go unanswered lest the whole situation get away from one…not in the least.”

“By the way..What did the mechanic say about that grating noise as you put the brakes on in the four-wheel drive?..Is he going to keep it there for another week?…heaven help our chances for that trip down the coast if he does…I have to wonder sometimes if we should’ve taken it to that Greek fellah over in Croyden where we used to get our cars fixed…George was a good mechanic…never pressed for quick payment like they do now..I sometimes wonder if moving to the Eastern Suburbs was a good move..what good is a better post-code if your Range Rover is worse off?..”

Jean picked up a brochure from the days post and perused the items offered…”don’t know if we need a garden mulcher just now…hard enough to get something to just grow let alone cut things down to feed the blasted machine..”…she heaved a sigh of weariness and took a delighted sip of her drink.

“ Anyway, I had to bring Martin into the office to explain himself…but between you and me, if Pammy’s account was anything to go by, he was skating on thin ice…I don’t want to sack the fellow this close to his retirement..but there it goes..if he had done the deed, there could be no other way..

So I dragged him into the office, sat him down and gave him the floor to tell his side of the story..

“I didn’t “suggest’ anything really” he started….” I thought I made a rather innocuous statement, considering the situation,” he said…well tell me, I replied…Martin shuffled a bit in the chair and said that thinking back on it, it may have seemed like that sort of thing a younger man might use as a pick-up line, “..but I certainly didn’t mean it as such…give it a go!…at my age?..and Pammy’s age!?”…I just raised my eyebrows enough to show him I was getting impatient..He began..” I was there just outside my storeroom with the mop and bucket as one of the little kids had dropped and broke their water bottle there and I was clearing up the mess…the kids had just gone home and I thought I was there alone in the classroom block…but as I was finishing up, I saw Pammy.. Ms Shorren come out of the end classroom and start walking toward me…She was walking toward me down the corridor past the other three rooms like she was walking down a modelling catwalk..and I have to say that those micro-miniskirts she wears and the black stockings that ascend… where my memory forgets..AND the high heels that went a tap-tapping like some sort of Morse code upon the tiles did create an image in my mind that I should have just let pass by…but as she drew nearer, I leaned on the mop handle and contemplated the scenario..she stopped just away from me and looked at me in silence..and I don’t know what made me think of it, but as I leaned there on the mop handle with this image in front of me, I said ..”You know, Pammy…I’m not a religious man, so I don’t believe in a God….But when I look at you, I sure as hell believe in the devil”…and I swear to heaven that was it!..”

You do know that Ms Shorren and her partner are quite the religious couple don’t you?…I told Martin.. Pentecostal..every Sunday without fail…down at the centre, singing to Jesus..I believe it is she that leaves those religious pamphlets anonymously at the front counter from time to time?…It was the reference to her having association with the devil most offended her…”

The long and short of it was that I would have to give the situation some thought and I sent him home…”

To be honest, I did contemplate sacking him and I was needing a bit of time to frame my response..But then a strange thing happened on my way home to change my mind…I was there at Donahue’s  Hardware getting those hose fittings THAT I distinctly remember asking YOU to get and there was Martin walking down the footpath by that line of high school buses that park there..I was getting into the Statesman and there was Martin slouching along looking just a bit those older men look..perhaps the burden of the day’s events weighing on his shoulders…and as he walked past this bus, there was a young man…oh around sixteen or seventeen years old, leaning out of the window of the bus calling and whistling to the high school girls…like young men do..”Hey blondie!…What’s your number?..give it to me..”…those sort of things and the girls tittering and giving him the finger…little good it did to dissuade him though…and through this noisy back and forth calling, just as Martin passed, the young fellow leans out the window of the bus, looks to Martin sympathetically and says “ G’day old timer” a confederacy sort of way…like two mates from the same background, fighting the same conflict but with one just came off the field of battle while the younger one goes on..; “G’day old timer”, he says….I mean really….men!

And I suddenly had a glimpse into that male world where there are behavioural expectations and rules that define their manner toward women..and it does not change from one generation to the next..a strange world of driven demands upon their own expectations…and I thought ..”I could sack him and bust him and make him regret even thinking what he thinks about women”..but I could never change that male desire within that makes him…and that young man behave…or at least think..the way they do…it is a choice between cause and effect..and really, I have to wonder if it is the male “weakness” in regards to matters feminine that makes us women stronger…Oh the choices one must manage to keep the ship on a steady and even keel…What is it with you men?

So I have decided instead to play the mediator and get Martin to apologise to Pammy, after all he IS a very good caretaker…and to make an edict about the placement of non-education literature in the school and perhaps even make a suggestion for a dress code for teachers and pupils at the school…really, the needs of caretaking in one’s working life demand a continuous review…”

Jean finished her cup of tea and called for her husband to ask what he had prepared for dinner that evening as she was famished.

I’m worried about you ladies.

Stylish 1940's ladies. What interests me most about this picture is the  expression of the woman driving the … | Vintage photography, Vintage  glamour, Vintage photos

I was there giving my glasses a bit of a clean with that stuff supplied from ‘Specsavers’ .. you know .. that stuff that smells like those dentists surgeries of old … that stuff you spray on the lenses from a little misting bottle … much like a scent bottle that women spray onto their wrists at the cosmetic counter .. and then smell the sample of scent … their eyes following their thoughts up as they deliberate … I know this because I watch women … not in a purvey sort of way .. just the little mannerism as they go about their purchasing of things .. for there is an intricacy of behaviour within every psyche that gives clue to their cultural ‘climatisation’ … while MY partner is also there deciding on stuff .. I’m looking … just watching..

Men, in general .. I am afraid to say .. do too much purving and not enough observing of the opposite gender.

You see .. it’s important to watch people .. you learn. People have asked me what would be my favourite place to go for a holiday and are suspiciously surprised when I say that I would like to be left undisturbed, sitting for as long as I want, on a resting bench in the middle of a busy mall of a busy city shopping arcade … just looking at the passing parade.

Even now, as I accompany my good lady when we are at the Central Market, I watch and wonder where all these people come from and go to at the end of the day .. I know they go to a residence somewhere .. a “home” .. and they take their shopping there and go about their domestic duties and such …… but there are so many of them! .. and there must be others outside the realm of the shopping complex that are friends or family and wait for them to come home .. millions of them all making their way about city or suburb .. shopping .. and what of the thousands of tonnes of produce shipped into the supermarkets and then purchased and taken away every day?

And so many of those shoppers in percentage are women.

I have reached that age and appearance when I can be considered a “harmless old bloke” … an ; “old timer” … who can talk to and be seen as “non-threatening” by the ladies and I can be sometimes amusing .. in my own way .. and so I can sit on the ”pensioner’s bench” over the walkway from “Goodies and Grains” down at the market and just do a bit of casual observation of all and sundry who walk past … But it is mainly the ladies that interest me.

Blokes are not that interesting .. I suppose having grown up inside of one, I have no inclination to get to know others .. and besides .. they really only come in three different types .. : The Pretentious .. ; suited, with that self-important air and fashion-of-the-day haircut and shoes, striding briskly like they have an important appointment to keep … when really we know they are longing for the end of the day so they can have that beer or mixed drink and talk themselves up a bit down at their local …. The Worker …. fluros and steel-capped boots or shoes on his lunch-break .. a cluster of keys jangling from their hip-clip and stuffing a pasty into their face while clutching a carton of iced-coffee in their grubby hands …. The Slob …. with the arse of their jeans hanging down so you are glad they have a hoodie or open puffy jacket of some kind hiding their arse-crack replete with the red spotted pimply bulges of top-end bum from your gaze .. they have nothing going on in their lives and their sliding “potato-cocky” footsteps reveal a lack of intention to apply for anything either … and good luck to them too! … pensioners like myself in public if certainly not in private activity, I dismiss as generally innocuous spectators on life.

But the women .. Now there .. is a different kettle of fish. Just to see them sitting at a table eating their purchased healthy lunch of lentils, salad and vegan meal wrap is an education in itself … but to do it while reading a magazine and without spilling a bean-sprout from the bread-wrap denotes a skill of style management par-excellence. THAT in itself I can admire and wonder at … but then the way they sit at the table … not slouched like men .. ; hands in jacket pocket(even when gesticulating lazily) and sliding off the seat in a wonton display of disgusting slovenliness …. No .. there is a delicacy even with the most casual gen ‘Y’er … aware as they have been since teenage years that their whole body is on display whenever they go out in public, there is style even in lounging over a magazine at table while making genteel small bites at a vegan/salad wrap … the tucking with delicate finger-tip back in between the lips of that sprout shoot that attempts to evade consumption … then a quick flick of the magazine page … marvellous!

And walking on those tiled malls .. Tell me … are women’s shoes deliberately designed to make an extra loud sound as they walk .. perhaps with the IN-tention to attract the A-ttention of any suitable mates to them .. much like the humming warble of many female ornithological species when calling to “sound out” suitable partners? … Because I can hear a woman’s step a long way away .. their rhythmic tapping of heel to tile a sort of Morse-code cryptology to my ears .. even those slips of Asian women with sandals have a way of “slapping” their sandals, no matter how soft-soled, on the tiles so that a sharp clap is snapped with every step … I have experimented with the observed style and ; yes .. there is a knack to making that sound … I put it down in some cases to a walk developed from striding on uneven surfaces where the sandal has to be “snapped-back” to the foot with a natural clamping movement of the toes … to keep the sandal from slipping off in uneven terrain … but that is only a theory of mine.

Dress sense is another thing .. sure, there are a number of the suburban “trakky-dak” connoisseurs, who seem to have abandoned any concern for style or taste and flop about in public like a beached   Delphinidae …. but these are in the minority … Oh, don’t for a minute think that I deny any right for such to dress or flounce as they please .. go right ahead, I am but observing and reporting .. But for the most part, even the aforementioned casual vegan-wrap eater, there is consideration taken to “mix ‘n’ match” to a certain demanded style. So that even the lotus-style sitting on a café bench-seat ; al-fresco, is a couture’d delight! … then there are the “dressed for executive impress” ladies who have gone the whole hog on expensive looking clothes and shoes … with the full Max-Factor as well! … There are those who along with the precise intention of the fashion also adopt facial expression sternly suited to the picture … emotionally impervious to public gaze, serious to the eye and thoroughly professional in the deed at food stall or shop .. their grip on purse as tight as the same on a career direction.

But it’s the voice that most draws the male sense of desire toward the female of the species .. any species where a male is concerned. The musicality of that XX chromosome gender when they speak is more than just music to a heterosexual male’s ears, it is the primaeval call of the wild … And a sudden burst of laughter from a group of women will draw the immediate attention of every male within earshot .. their “women” antennae honing in like a guided missile. Good reason that the most successful woman singers deliver their songs in a coaxing, soothing croon … like Billie Holiday tempting the senses with a vocal velvet caress, even when singing of terrible things ..  .. or Piaf, with her coarse shivering tremolo, creating a certain undeniable hunger or want in the male psyche.   And too, the Germanic glutaral harshness of language melts on the tongue of a skilled vocal fraulein, into a temptresses lure to desire … I think of that alluring number by Lale Andersen (here featuring pictures of Marlene Deitrich) : “Lilli Marlene”  …

I have often wished for and certainly been envious of those males who possess .. sometimes undeservedly … a deep bass-baritone voice .. for I am certain that such vocal harmonies hummed in such a low masculine tone are an almost irresistible initial attraction to the female of the species. My partner’s son has such a voice .. even from a young age, and some of her female friends have confessed to keeping him on the phone with contrived enquiries when ringing her up just to hear his voice … and I don’t wonder that Sean Connery’s : “James Bond” had Miss Moneypenny obliging his every stationary request with her stenographic skills … I just wish!

Yes .. I worry about you ladies .. For I wonder if all this astute attention to small details you do in walk, talk, dress and style is appropriately appreciated .. NOT that it is only directed AT or FOR that section of the male fraternity, whose unfathomable and deluded vanity seems to heed not the wise sayings of the sages of old … : “A house without a woman is like a lantern without light.” So they proceed stumbling blind to all womanly beauty, into the lonely darkness with neither clue nor idea of direction nor destination … I weep for them .. : “Perfume of embraces all him assailed, with hungered flesh obscurely, he mutely craved to adore.”

But what I most worry about is that there is a confederacy of people .. mostly middle-class idealists and zealots who wish to take control of any conversation about the relationship between women and men and steer it away from mutual affection or admiration .. EVEN allowing for the massive blunders of emotional, sexual and physical misdemeanours that have blighted so many relationships and brought so much hardship to so many and they want to steer the conversation to a dark and lonely place, isolating each from each other by focusing on the eternal and predictable violence and conflicts between the genders .. an absurd and bizarre denial of the unstoppable and natural impetus that pulls a man toward a woman and through all its faults creating a connection that is physical, emotional and spiritual the like of which cannot be matched in a knowing intellect toward each other .. no matter how much we want to fool ourselves .. by any other relationship in the natural kingdom on this Earth .. The joining of man and woman is but a start of a long journey toward adoration.

For my part … till the day I die, I will adore thee ……

The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon.

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Once upon a time, out in the deep Mallee forest near the Murray River there lived three sisters, aged sixteen, fourteen and thirteen…for as was common in those days, children came in quick succession. Their names being..from the eldest : Tess, Maggie and Rose. It was the years of post-Great Depression and the second world war raged another world away…in the deep Mallee where the sisters lived, the war was only a policy inconvenience, or in their case an opportunity for their father and mother to gain steady employment at a charcoal burning camp as he; a mechanic, and she ; as cook to around a dozen men who cut the mallee wood to burn in the pits to make charcoal. The two younger girls helped their mother with the preparation of the food, while, Tess, the eldest worked not far away at Portee Station, a cattle and sheep station on the rim of the Murray River.

Being of a family that by necessity throughout the Great Depression had to make their living moving from town to town, seasonal crop to seasonal crop for work, the girls were schooled at home by their mother who was fortunate back in her native Ireland to have had an excellent education because of her middle-class family…coming to this country to be suddenly married and a mother of three girls at the start of the worst set-back for the nation’s economy in its short history while moving around seeking casual employment left her to make do on her own capabilities.

A long time back she had abandoned her middle-class sensibilities to the practical bent of survival..another thing that she had abandoned was her Protestant religion to swing to Catholicism…and she embraced that faith with all the fervour of the religious convert…she was unbending and unyielding in her reverence toward the belief and standards of that faith…and as such would not tolerate her daughters becoming corrupted by such deviant subjects like romantic novels or poetry, herself having a long time before cast out such publications from her possessions till the only tome of any literature in her domestic enclave…which by frugal providence was a hand-stitched, split wheat-bag tent of her husband’s own design, for rarely was there a actual house over or around them…was her large, prized edition of The Bible (with illustrations).

So when her eldest daughter brought home a second-hand book of poetry, “The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon”, accompanied by Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”, her lips pinched, her eyes narrowed and her heart hardened and at first opportunity, she cast both editions out of the tent-flap with an admonishing chastisement and appropriate irony considering their present establishment to her daughter that such wanton literature will not be tolerated under HER roof while she yet lives!

This did not deter Tess from pursuing her secret inner desire to one day become a poet herself…she dreamed of lines of absolute beauty written with the most delightful script on pages of soft paper..Her favourite poem from the book she now held most dear to herself was “Thora’s Song”..her romantic heart ached for the chance to just feel the same emotions Thora felt for her lover…and Tess would dream of one day meeting just such a poetic soul as herself to be able to exchange that similar felt emotion in tender moments of love…As such a time had not yet come, Tess would stroll to the river’s edge on her evening off perambulations and there under the fading light of an afternoon’s umbra shine, read softly out to the air the works of Adam Lindsay Gordon, taking particular care on that most loved poem “Thora’s  Song”, her lilting Irish falsetto matching tune with the many river birds calls and warbles there so that the lingua franca of the evening on the river’s edge was a song in itself..a melody of harmonies that lay a hymn of sound floating just above those primrose-lit waters of the soft flowing Murray River.

To this dream of poet, Tess would, in between chores in the kitchen of the riverside station where she worked, take time to compose poems of her own hand. Most of these crude attempts she screwed up and burnt in the big kitchen stove…some..a few she felt happier with she placed between the pages of a school exercise book she used for her home school lessons that she taught to her younger siblings when she went home for two days a week to the charcoal camp where her family lived.…Tess would sometimes read these poems out to the giggling frivolity of her siblings who had little interest in literature and more in ribbons and hats.

Now the world of that district held to habit and routine and the celebration of “Empire Day” was one of fan-fair, parade and concert in the main town institute, where a repertoire of songs and short skits of plays and dances by locals were encouraged. So that when Tess arrived at her parent’s tent on the Friday afternoon, her sisters excitedly greeted her with the news that they were going with old Eddy in the truck to Truro to audition as sailors in a skit dancing The Sailor’s Hornpipe…and surely Tess would come along to watch!…Of course Tess was as excited and delighted and went to sleep that night formulating a desire to approach Miss. Josie Rudge, the organising person, on the morrow to see if she could perform a poetic recitation at the event.

The dour Miss Rudge, school teacher and choralist for the Truro Congregational Church, was a disciplinarian type who “took no prisoners”, as she was want to say whenever the children got out of hand…

”In line! In line!”..she’d demand “and no fooling around…I’ll take no prisoners if I see anyone mucking about!…you there!..back in the markers on the floor…in line!”

But yes, They were seeking appropriate recitations for the “in-betweens” of the songs and dance routines and Miss Rudge gave Tess a time that afternoon for a reading. The piece Miss Rudge picked was a short poem that tested the elocution of the reader..more suited to one of the preferred young ladies from a “good family” of the district who were favoured with an exclusive schooled education in Adelaide and spoke the “King’s English” with just a little bit of plummy accent. Of course, Tess, coming from the Mallee bush with the hint of brogue of her Irish mother slipping off her lips like a syrup of Sligo was hard pressed to wrap those words around her tongue and she stumbled in quite a few places with the desired entrapment placed there by the cunning Miss Rudge.

And as she finished the reading from the elevated stage, Tess, who had prided herself on her practiced poetry was somewhat shy and reticent of her chances..The stern Miss Rudge did not dismiss Tess there and then, but rather encouraged her to practice when at home and she will be notified of her placement within the fortnight.

Tess felt encouraged by that short advice and regardless of a faint feeling of caution, spent the following days at and after work bending her spoken language to deliver to the best of her capability those immortal words of her beloved bard ; Adam Lindsay Gordon, and his poem ; “Thora’s Song”.

Unbeknownst to Tess, from the first introduction of herself to Miss Josie Rudge, she hadn’t a chance of stepping out on that stage at Empire Day to deliver any thing at all, as her family situation was already known and scorned by the stern protestant Miss Rudge, who despised anything Catholic entering within her perimeter of “England forever”..and after Tess and her sisters departed, she was heard to say to her assistant most viciously..:

“The nerve! think I would allow the daughter of that Irish Catholic woman to stumble and ramble with her atrocious interpretation of the good King’s English upon my stage…On Empire Day of all times..The poor child threw out more “Haiches” from her mouth than Clem Highett would dud hen’s from his hatchery!…and that mother of hers!.a face the map of Ireland…”As Catholic as Connaugh” they would say..No, I won’t have it..I will send a letter to her this week or so..don’t want to break the poor kitchen maid’s heart here and now…I’ll let her sisters dance The Hornpipe though…don’t want to appear too officious…do we?”

Unaware of the futility of her ambitions, Tess kept softly practicing her recitation whenever she had that the Lady of Portee Station..Margaret Esau, would smile to herself when she heard her young servant girl softly reciting poems on the back verandah of the Portee Station Homestead on many a quiet evening.

Margaret Esau encouraged Tess to work on her pronunciations, for she was well aware of Tess’s poetical ambitions which were innocently and proudly confessed when Margret first interviewed Tess for the position of kitchen maid… an ambition that made Tess’s eyes shine with delight when she said it and brought a sympathetic smile to Margaret’s lips..for she could see that while the ambition was worthy, the letter Tess had written and the language of her spoken words displayed a working class accent with less than ready education. And so  Margaret would sensitively correct any of the more exaggerated mistakes of interpretation when Tess served at the table… even promising Tess a day off so as to be able to attend to rehearsals when required. So it was a rather worried Margaret Esau that heard the gentle sobbing on the back verandah outside the kitchen one evening…Upon enquiry, she was shown the letter of rejection from Miss Josie Rudge of the Empire Day Hall Committee, citing (dishonestly) a lack of space within the program for Tess’s poetry recitation. Margaret comforted the sad Tess and taking the letter from her hands, Margaret said she would see if she could persuade Miss Rudge to find space for Tess’s reading.

This reassurance did little to comfort Tess’s unease, for she had read something unsettling in the tone of Miss Rudge’s letter..a more than hint of slighting tone of voice..even the opening address of “Dear Child” felt like a dismissal of her as a working girl with a place in the household of a large station..a position of responsibility that Tess wore with some degree of pride…And even though the wording was seemingly polite and respectful, Tess (as did Margaret when she read the letter ) could feel her eyes burn with indignation when the writer had consoled her with the expression that “. . .regardless of this lost opportunity to recite with those fine young ladies from the Adelaide private finishing schools, she was sure to use her accrued skills learned at the kitchen table to further herself in the arts of scullery maid or another hand trade”.

This example of passive snobbery on Miss Rudge’s part did not go un-noticed by Margaret Esau and while Tess wept for the burning insult, Margaret’s lips pinched together in anger for the presumption of Miss Rudge’s to insult her ; Margaret’s young study, with such language reserved for that middle-class to use against one of their own…”She has no right to presume” Margaret hissed and took it upon herself to sort Miss Rudge out by putting HER back in HER place in the order of status in the district.

Tess had gone to that spot on the banks of the Murray River where she felt most private and secure, she took with her that tome of poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s that she felt in kinship with and began to read out loud that most private of her favourites ;

“Thora’s Song”

“We severed in autumn early,

Ere the earth was torn by the plough;

The wheat and the oats and the barley

Are ripe for the harvest now.

We sunder’d one misty morning,

Ere the hills were dimm’d by the rain,

Through the flowers those hills adorning —

Thou comest not back again.

My heart is heavy and weary

With the weight of a weary soul;

The mid-day glare grows dreary,

And dreary the midnight scroll.

The corn-stalks sigh for the sickle,

‘Neath the load of the golden grain;

I sigh for a mate more fickle —

Thou comest not back again.  . . . ”

The soft lilting of her voice now pitched less high as a sadness weighed down upon her soul..that gentle wash of the Irish brogue inserted from her mother’s talk and homeland as sweet as the honeyed air of summer skies.. Her Irish tongue a whisper of angels in the voice when saddened enough to sing a lament to her own destiny. for there was growing in her heart a dread that her ambition to aspire for a poet was but a pipe dream…the words of her mother damning such heathen verse to Sheol and the tittering laughter of her sisters when she tried to share with them her love for the written word in rhyme and metre and now that letter from Miss Rudge, a teacher at the Truro school no less, that gave more than hint of Tess’s incompetence with the language, all buffering down on her spirit and telling her that she was just being a silly girl to try to reach for a place above her station in life..the life of a servant girl and workhorse for her betters and nothing more..her dreams of one day writing poetry that sang with the spirits of the Gods of air, fire and water…a dream of smoke and mirrors..a will o the wisp that will vanish with the first puff of wind…silly person…silly girl.

Tess stood and straightened her skirt and turned to go…she had noticed the silence of the birds as she read her verse..and she sensed that even they were in accord with her sombre mood and were wont to intrude too cheerfully upon her mood there…Tess stopped for just that moment in her departure and,turned to address The River….

“Goodnight” she said.

A few days later, Tess was called to the telephone to receive a call from Miss Rudge of the Empire Day Concert Committee..the short of the conversation..for it was short and terse..was that, yes, there now appeared a place in the program for her to recite some poetry and it was imperative that she MOST PROMPTLY attend to rehearsals on the fifth of the month ten am the Civic Hall Truro..and report to her, Miss Rudge. And the telephone went dead at that demand. Tess was beside herself with joy and handed the receiver back to Margaret who smiled in kind.

“Did you….?” Tess asked and then stopped.

“I think Miss Rudge looked into her heart and reconsidered” Margaret cut any further conversation on the subject short…”I always say, Tess…that The River has ways of letting a poor man live like a king and in turn making the wise man look like an ass!…You know..I wasn’t always the wife of Mr, John Esau…”

It was after Tess had left to walk to the river that evening on receiving the letter, that Margaret Esau placed a call through to Miss Josie Rudge’s residence…there was a controlled anger in Margaret’s voice as she explained that it would be a pity for herself and her husband John, who were quite generous to the school and hall committees, to make the trip to Truro for the concert only to find that her house-maid, Tess was being denied a chance to recite a most favoured poem that she had been practicing assiduously for the last few weeks…

“Oh but really, Mrs Esau..the girl is totally unsuitable to recite on stage” Josie Rudge complained “She is almost illiterate and her elocution is as deep and broad as an Irish bog!”…Margaret let a long silence hang in the air before she answered..

“I have been coaching her, Miss Rudge.”

There was a sharp intake of breath at the other end of the line..then a new tack was tried..

“Well, the McBain twins have come back for the holidays from their finishing school in Adelaide and I have promised them a quartet of songs with piano accompaniment in the program”…

“Yes, we are well acquainted with the McBains of Anna Creek Station…quite well acquainted and I can assure you that they will not mind if you reduce their girls to a triplet of songs and make shift to place young Tess into the repertoire.” This last with the stern voice of the Lady of the Manor…of course, Miss Rudge complied with Margaret’s wishes and a telephone call was put through several days later to tell Tess the good news.

Tess walked out onto the stage of the Truro Civic Hall on the evening of the Empire Day Concert and stood proud to recite her favourite poem..;

“From the collected poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon.” She spoke in a clear and precise voice..the hint of Irish brogue adding a lilt of delightful colour to her words..

“Thora’s Song” Tess announced..and she began the recital.

And when Tess had finished the poem, and a suitable round of applause rent the high ceilings of the hall, she surprised everyone to announce that she . . .

“ . . . would now like to do a short poem of my own hand in recognition of our benefactor Mrs Margaret Esau of Portee station…on a theme gratefully borrowed from Mr Henry Wadsworth Longfellow .. ;  “Hiawatha”…and Tess began ;

“On the shores of the mighty Murray,

By its calm and tranquil waters,

Stood the halls of Portee Station . . . “

John Esau leaned over to whisper into Margaret’s ear..

“Be blowed if she hasn’t stolen some of the thunder of Mr Longfellow”..and he chuckled.

“I suspect Mr Longfellow can spare a bit” Margaret smiled.

“The cheek of the girl” John smirked.

“Yes” Margaret agreed “marvellous isn’t it?”

There is an announcement in the regional newspaper of the times of the proceedings of that Empire Day reads thus:

“ Items that were particularly well received were “The Flag Makers”, a patriotic tableau presented by grades VI and VII . A nautical song ; All Over the Place by Pauline Harris assisted by the senior girls who danced The Sailor’s Hornpipe.

Films were also shown on the school’s projector, interesting and instructive films in keeping with the observance of Empire Day. They were entitled “Battle for France” the “Evacuation of Dunkirk” and the fall of France (two years ago) and “The Navy at Work”.

A variety of songs and poetry recitals were given by the young ladies of the district..Of particular appeal was the recital of a poem “Thora’s Song” from The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, by Miss Tess Jones of Portee Station.

The dancing and other items were arranged by Miss Josie Rudge and Mrs I. Richards was the pianist for the evening..A grand time was had by all!”

The passing of the amateur.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors – Small Farmer's Journal

If I consult this little pencilled in book of a shopping bill from a Mr. D. Lambert & Son, general store and victuals supplier of Towitta, for the fortnight in February 1936, I see that a packet of Yo-Yo biscuits was a mere 7 pence, and while the entire shopping for that bill was a total of 1/14/7 (one pound fourteen shillings and seven pence) there was deducted for 4 dozen eggs and 6 pounds of butter as barter for a total of 9 /6 pence taken off the bill….and then Mr. Lambert would continue on his way in his horse and sulky delivery wagon to the next family farm to repeat the procedure…a round trip he did once a fortnight to deliver the grocery list and pick up bartered exchanged produce. A congenial and fruitful arrangement of the times.

These casual trades between shop-keeper and households were common fare in the times…there is also record of an Indian dry-goods trader used to do the rounds, selling or trading cloth and haberdashery goods, staying at this or that farm for a day or so then moving on. Of course, many of us from the boomer generations remember the “milky” with his plodding horse drawn cart running from house to house with billy-can and scoop…the ice-man and baker…of course, who could forget Mr. Hahn, the green-grocer, parked up in the suburban side street with a clutch of housewives at the back of his truck while he proudly showed them his cluster of fine fresh chokos!

All this was done in the most amateurish manner, the local trader, the (mostly) women of the house, the common supply of goods and the casual chiaking between them all….I remember staying at my auntys in Sedan and her delivery of groceries from the local store included one single biscuit..”Oh look…that silly man…just because I wrote ; biscuits / one…instead of a packet he sends me one biscuit!…silly man!” …such were the frivolous back and forth of trading in those times.

The same could be said for the male side of the farm in the cropping and upkeep of animals and equipment. The farm blacksmith shop an integral component of farming practice, needed to repair or invent parts required for harness and wagon…sheds and homesteads…the entire structure, social and practical a continuity of the self-sufficient amateur application…local women as midwives…local apothecaries with their huge tomes of folk medicine and a head full of experience and old-wives tales and “cures” that must have cost as many lives as they saved..possibly an average equally contested by some modern medical practices and could compete with the traffic causalities of these times.

But what stands out most is the skilled amateurism of those times. The time-lapsed photographs for the post and beam “pioneer hut” to the cut-slab and thatch sheds of the first settlement to “The new house” bracketed the obvious faults of the DIY constructs of the first to prefer the hired trades to build the second…and it was the pause in between the original claiming of the property and the sweat and tears that built up the family fortune enough to bring in the tradesmen to make the growing family’s life more comfortable and life in general more liveable…for the burden of home life of the times fell solidly upon the shoulders of the women. Whilst on the farm, developments in agricultural machinery remained pretty static right up until the second world war…the cumbersome stump jump plough the major improvement while all else was structured for application to horse-drawn machinery and it’s risky use, for horses could be prone to fright and flight, taking chains, harness, equipment and handler on a wild unrestrained gallop across lumpy, ploughed paddocks and straight through fences toward the home stable…a most unsettling experience.

And it was about this time that with the advanced development of mechanical tractors that all this came to an abrupt end…and with that sudden killing off of a labour intensive era, was the decline of community connection, for the mechanic and his garage has become the “go-to” person for both fuel and expertise of machine maintenance. No more saddler, blacksmith/iron more farrier and horse doctor of even the exchange of local knowledge on animal husbandry and with the demise of intensive labour farming, went the families to the city or elsewhere and with them went the town choir, the town band, the town baker, bank, church and assorted community businesses, not to mention the sporting teams..and in the end in some cases, the town itself…for the once “family farm” being bulldozed and the property held in the portfolio of an Agri-corp absentee owner.

But by far the most damaging wreckage from this demise was the loss of the ethical creed associated with labour and its work…the mantra of : “Responsibility – Work – Reward “ …to be replaced by the capitalist cant of Debt, Chance, and Compound interest. For tooling-up for the demands of this new era of “Agri-corp” farming meant mortgaging the family farm and then the squeezing of the profit margins to compete within an open market of high-risk cropping…pre-sale of crops and borrowing to sow, to harvest even in some cases to just get their product to market…the final result ; collapse of family fortune, community structure and the town fabric itself.

Welcome to the new world of “professional consultants” and political influencers…high debt, high risk, low return, no future for the generational family farm.

Goodbye to the passing of the amateur.