Wednesday, July 27, 2011
For people who had never travelled more that a few kilometres from their home, the first leg of their journey in a covered wagon must have seemed extraordinary. Please on as Jack tells us of his disappointment.
Only we weren’t!
When the wagon stopped and the flaps were lifted Madge shouted, “This here’s no New South Wales. It’s only Woolwich. It’s where that no good sailor thought he could hide. But….”
Before she could say another word, the geezer appeared and started shouting at some redcoats who’d come out of the fog that covered everything.
“Get these women out of the wagon and down to the end of the pier quickly. Make sure they stay together. I don’t want any of them thinking they can escape.”
There was no chance of that. Those redcoats shoved us this way and that down a path of wooden planks. One of them decided to get a bit fresh with me mum. He asked her name and told her his was Higgins before he pinched her on the bottom. She let out a yelp so I kicked him in the shins. He swore, grabbed hold of me and lifted me clear off the ground.
“Ya’ little swine!”
I kicked again and got him in the belly. That made him let go of me. I fell in a heap on the planks. The geezer came rushing to see what was going on.
“Get to your feet, boy. Do you know the punishment for striking one of His Majesty’s officers?” I shook my head as he poked me with his silver topped cane. “No! I thought not. You’ll not do it again or I’ll have you thrown into an orphanage. Your mother will have to go to New South Wales without out you.”
Me mum started to cry. “Please, no! He’s all I’ve got. Besides he was only protecting me from this man.” She pointed at Higgins, but all the geezer said was “Hrrump,” and waved his stick as he bustled back into the fog.
He was waiting for us at the top of some steps.
“Down you go!” he ordered. There was a little boat bobbing about against the bottom step. Mad Sarah refused to move so Higgins picked her up and carried her down. Me and Joe and our mums ran down after him and sat ourselves down on a hard wooden seat that went across one end of the boat. Elsie and Dolly followed us but Madge stood at the top of the steps with her arms folded across her chest.
“I’m not going anywhere in that thing. It’s too small.”
The geezer prodded her with his silver topped cane. “Move woman,” he roared, but she wouldn’t budge. Higgins and another redcoat got behind her and pushed as hard as they could till she toppled over. She rolled down the stairs and into the boat sending water splashing up all around it. The two redcoats followed her down as the geezer shouted to the sailors to move off. They put their oars in the water and we began to move away from the steps into the fog.
We didn’t have far to go before we came smack up against a great wooden wall with a rope ladder hanging over it.
“Up you go,” Higgins said to me and Joe as the sailors lifted their oars and took hold of the ladder so we could climb on to it. It swung about a bit but we worked our way up it. When we got near the top some hands reached down and pulled us the rest of the way. We found ourselves standing on the deck of a huge ship.
Me mum and Mary helped Dolly up the ladder and Elsie scrambled up after them but Mad Sarah had to be prodded and poked by Higgins before she’d move at all. When she was half way up she decided she wasn’t going any further. Eventually one of the sailors from the ship had to scurry down and drag her the rest of the way. She hissed and spat at him like a frightened cat. Madge didn’t give the redcoats or the sailors any trouble as she made her own way up the ladder on to the deck.
There were more redcoats on the ship lining us up in rows and telling us to be quiet as more women were brought out to the ship. The last to come on board was the geezer who was met by an angry man in a long black coat with lots of shiny buttons and a three cornered hat on his head.
"How dare you bring women out to my ship in such a wretched condition. They’re covered in filth and their clothes are rags. I want none of their vermin infecting my clean ship. Do something about it.”
“I gave orders that they were to be properly dressed, Captain,” the geezer said in a much quieter voice than he used on us.
“Then you should have seen to it that your orders were obeyed.” The captain turned his back on the geezer and stood in front of us.
“I am the captain of this ship, the Lady Penrhyn, and while you are here you will obey me and my officers at all times. You will not fight among yourselves. You will keep yourselves clean and you will not have anything to do with my crew.”
Behind me Madge muttered, “Scurvy lot! Wouldn’t touch them if you paid me.”
The captain heard her.
“You speak when I’m talking, woman, and you’ll spend the journey in the coal hole.” He waited till there was real quiet. Then he roared. “Do you know what that’s like?” Madge didn’t answer. “It’s a pitch black hole full of coals for the galley. And anyone one of you that misbehaves will spend time in there. Do I make myself clear?” With that he turned on his heel and disappeared through a door at the end of the ship.
The geezer’s face was still pretty red when he ordered the redcoats to get us below.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
The unfashionable First Fleet.
I suppose I can understand why the story of the First Fleet was unpopular during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Good, honest, law abiding Australians did not want to be reminded that the prosperity they enjoyed in this great southern continent had come on the back of seventy years of convict transportation. They didn't want their children told about the shiploads of misery which were landed in Sydney and made to tame a landscape which had previously been in harmony with its human inhabitants.
Times have changed. Our convict past is a thing to be celebrated. Family historians mull over shipping lists, court records, convict movements and the like looking for ancestors. Writers like Kate Grenville have been very successful with the novels she has written for adult readers about the life and people of the convict colony of New South Wales. Jackie French has some excellent novels from then period for children. So why am I told that stories about the First Fleet are unfashionable?
Below is an excerpt of my First Fleet novel for middle readers called Dorrington’s Extraordinary Journey. Please tell me if you think it is unfashionable.
The name’s Dorrington, Jack Dorrington. And I’m here to tell you about the amazing journey I’ve just been on. You see, our King George, the one that lives in the palace in London, he gets this bit of land right down the bottom of the world, and he doesn’t know exactly what to do with it at first. Then he gets this idea. There’s too many criminals in London, he thinks. He could ship them off to the bottom of the world, and all the proper people what live in proper houses can feel safe again.
He gets some ships together and tells his people to start rounding up the criminals. Mostly they’re like me mum and me sitting about in the gaols wondering when this transportation across the seas that the magistrate sentenced us to was ever going to happen.
You see, we’d been thieving. Good at it, we were till I had a bit of an accident. I was reaching for this nice green vase I reckoned would fetch a pretty penny. Only it was too heavy and it slipped right through me hands. Crash! Down it went on the ground and me mum and me took off running. We would’ve got away too if it hadn’t been for an upturned lorry blocking the way. We were off to Newgate that very night.
That’s where I met Joe. He and his mum, Mary, were thieves too, but not very good ones judging by the rags he was wearing. He was eyeing off me velvet jacket till it got ripped off me back by a huge ugly woman called Madge. She sold it to the fellow with the gaol keys for a jug of beer.
She didn’t share any of it but none of the other women made a fuss. They didn’t dare, Joe told me. Madge was a murderer. Killed a sailor that cheated on her, chopped him up in little pieces and fed him to the fishes. I kept out of her way as much as possible while we waited in Newgate.
And we had to wait a long time. Elsie, the old crone who’d taken a bit of a shine to me mum, said we wouldn’t be going anywhere on account of the folks in America not wanting any more of England’s rubbish. But she didn’t know about King George’s bit of land then. Nor did Mary or Dolly, who had a baby that cried all the time and made Madge angry. And Mad Sarah was too mad to know anything. Then that geezer turned up and said we were all being transported to New South Wales.
“Where’s that?” Elsie asked him but he just glared at her and told her to hold her tongue. Joe’s mum Mary had a go at relieving him of his gold watch chain but he whirled around and caught her. He gave her such a wack on her skinny rump with his silver topped cane she let out a yell.
“Get your thieving hands off me woman or you’ll find yourself hanging from the gallows instead of going to New South Wales.”
When the wagon turned up to take us to New South Wales there was quite a fuss. Me mum got Mad Sarah up into it and she helped Dolly who had her baby hidden under the old blanket she’d wrapped around herself. But when she went to pull me up a man, who was counting how many there was to be squeezed into the wagon, shouted, "Can't take children."
Me mum started climbing back out of the wagon. “I’m not going then,” she told the geezer. Other women joined in pulling their children to them and crying.
The geezer shook his cane at the counting man. “They have to go. There’s nowhere else for them.”
“They can’t,” he snarled back. “No room and no provisions.”
The geezer ignored him. He grabbed me by the collar and threw me up into the wagon. The women piled in behind us till we were so packed in we could hardly move. The flaps were tied down and we were on the way to New South Wales.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
If, when I'm 95, I'm still:
- Listening to audio books
- Taking an interest in world affairs
- Championing the cause of women, indigenous populations and refugees
- And enjoying the company of good friends
Then please visit me
- Join me in a good Irish whiskey
- Or a cuppa
- Or a cafe latte
So we can talk about the books we have read, what we are writing, what the world is doing to our planet and anything else that comes into our heads.
But if I have spent the last ten years making excuses for why I can't do things
- Why I can't use the remote control on the television
- Why I can no longer read
- Why I can't visit with anyone who might be sicker than me
- Why I can't participate in any activities in which I won't be the centre of attention
Then don't visit me because all I'll be able to talk about is:
- How ill I am
- How my hands hurt when I write or knit
- How I am unable to learn how to use the remote control on the television, put my hearing aids in my ears or do up buttons
- How my back ache is worse than anyone else's backache
- How bad the food is
- How much difficulty I have eating, walking, sleeping and just about everything else
If I can only greet the people who still care about me with a litany of misery then for God's sake put me out of my misery.