The old photos you find in a box in the attic might be rubbish. You will only know if you take a look. You know what I mean I hope. The fuzzy black and white ones, the faded colour ones, came from long ago. The machinery you see in them seems unbelievable, yet it was as new as fresh paint when the photographer took the picture. The same can be said about the people. The clothes they wore, and the hair styles are different to yours. So much so everything looks old.
In another place you might find a book with old photos stuck to the pages. That is how people kept in touch with their past before the digital age. (You might have to look up the meaning of the digital age – things seem to change so fast). At first it might seem hard to see anything you recognise in the scenes, for example, if there is a photograph of your house – take it outside and compare the scene with your surroundings today, it is likely as not much will appear the same..
The children you see in the photographs grew up. Luckily most of them lived long lives. You know that because the photo of that girl “Grace”, that boy “Albert” are the same people we can see in this thirtieth birthday snap, see Grace here, and the old fellow with the walking stick is Albert. We know that because his name is on the reverse. (The names in your photos will be different. The challenge is to find their names, it might be fun).
This could become a little history game. You could try and guess what work they did just by looking at your photos. That would become a sociology game. You can learn some science, or some geography just from photos. If you take this far enough you can learn about obsolescence and how Kodak, the name most people used to capture their photos, died in capitalism’s nirvana.
My writing is like that box of old photos. Some ideas are stuck together. In other essays the point of the story is lost. I am hoping you might find a glint of something before it is trashed.
She wrests rusty orb
Forgotten in lost concepts
I am gathering some of my writing into a book to be released in 2021. I imagine the readers of my book are as yet unborn. Here is my proposed prologue. The reason for writing the prologue is to explain Cassandra’s prophecies are minute, like diamonds..
I married a country girl. She was of the land. She knew things about the rural idyll that other girls didn’t. She knew, in the fog of the early morning, the cows welcomed the release they felt in their udders when she milked them. She knew the fruit trees with spring flowers meant there would be bottling jobs to do in the autumn. She also knew that when the grass dried out in the summertime the hay she helped store in the barn would smell sweet in depth of winter.
Her larder was used to store the bounty of the seasons for use where nothing much grew and the days were short. A full larder meant there was no need to starve at all in less plentiful times. And so we married.
Into our home marched the habits of a lifetime. To be even more correct, as she was only young, she bought with her the wisdom handed down to her by her generations who had learned the benefits of prudent living through bitter experiences. If life couldn’t be predicted, it was wise to, at least, prepare for contingencies unknown.
Thus, instead of the clock announcing it was dinner time, and the necessity for food to placed on the table becoming a scramble, her well established routine meant dinner appeared on time. At our place there was no need to rush to the supermarket it was all at hand. Our panty has always groaned with the ingredients of a gourmet’s kitchen.
Country living had prepared this woman to plan. So there was never any need to rush to a shop at the last minute because the odds were, if you did the shop would be closed when you most needed it to be open.
For over fifty-five years it has been that way. Before something is consumed the need for its replacement is recorded on a list, and the list is set aside ready for our next visit to the shops. In the early days of wedlock we shopped fortnightly. We we settled in suburbia the need was perhaps not necessary but we shopped weekly. We still do.
Our world is currently in turmoil because of the unknown direction it will take as countries around the globe prepare for the threatened pandemic of coronavirus. Already many countries have closed their borders to foreigners. There are obvious signs of xenophobia especially towards Chinese people. (As far as I can see, in these early days before a vaccine is formulated, the virus does not choose to infect one nationality before another.)
The resultant caution is upsetting global markets. This country is predicting -along with an unprecedented run of bushfires- there will be a reduction in business output. In turn this means it must – at some stage – be met with other reductions.
I have read our oil supplies – supposed to be equivalent to three months – would only be enough for nineteen days. This is less time than Mrs W sets aside for staples like flour at our place. At a pinch, if the need arose, she would be able to supplement other cereal powders instead of wheat for even a much longer period.
Countries, like this one, that rely on things like petroleum they no longer refine – need to spend a little time in the company of country girls if they are to weather unconsidered emergencies unscathed.
Can you read about the life of a person by looking at their face? When you sit in a public space and you look about do you wonder who the people around you are? I do, and I search their faces to see what I can make of them from looking. None seem to notice my inquiry. The odds are if they are sitting they will not be doing anything else but looking into the screen of their phone. If they are on their feet they may be on some purposeful mission but many will be blissfully unaware others share the space with them.
In 1888 the child who became my grandfather was born. The rumour is he was born into the home of a public servant in the municipality Governor Phillip first called Rose Hill. By the time he was born it was called Parramatta. His parents names are an unanswered question to the family. Some members of the family have attempted to research his past but no one can yet claim certainty they have the whole truth for he was abducted as a child.
His abductor was the woman he grew to love and whom he called mum for about a third of his life. She was his nurse until she stole him away from his family home and disappeared into the neighbouring state of Victoria. She eventually settled with him in the forests of Gippsland. I am uncertain when she left New South Wales and whether she was married or not. Mrs Hartman was indeed married at some point to Mr Hartman. She continued to work in service to other families and Grandpa worked as a timber worker in the forests around Woori Yallock. The work he did in the isolated forests was to cut down trees. The timber he cut became railway sleepers used on the rail tracks that spider-web like spread across the state from Melbourne
Eventually she became a legitimate mother to other children but she was not my grandfather’s natural mother. I know this because he eventually changed his surname back to the name of his father. The truth emerged when he announced, to his parents, he was getting married. His mother confessed to him his past was not all he knew about himself when the Banns to his marriage was announced.
A fit young man, because of his work, he won the first underhand wood chop at the Royal Melbourne Show as Alex Hartman. He won many more magnificently ornate pieces of Victorian silverware in other similar competitors. By the time his firstborn child, Evelyn my mother, was christened as Hartman-Mason, he was entirely uncertain of his past. Known to everyone as Alex he had also recognised he was born James Fredrick Mason. He fathered seven more children and by the time the last, the twins, were born he had dropped the Hartman altogether. My mother, on the other hand was Hartman-Mason until she married. At that stage her wedding certificate named her Mason.
The life of a labourer is difficult. Like many of his kind during the Great Depression this fit man, just past his fortieth birthday, could not find work locally. It meant leaving home early on a Monday morning with something to sustain him and rough sleeping each evening after an often fruitless search for am itinerant job. By that stage he had qualified as a power monkey as the person in charge of blasting with explosives. This meant he did get a job, for a period, working on the Great Ocean Road at some stage.
Later on he returned to full time work in that job at the Cave Hill lime mills owned by the family of David Mitchell. Father of Nellie Melba.
Despite his hard physical labour he was a man who weathered the ups and downs of fortune. One of the downs was the compulsory acquisition of some land he owned near the road to Lilydale. Government policy at the time was to acquire whatever property they needed without paying the actual market rate. Thus the acquisition was a big blow to his financial security.
At another time land he had purchased for development was sold before it was exploited to assist a son, imprisoned in Bruma by the Japanese for three years during WW11, resettle on a Returned Soldiers Property in the Mallee. This was a further setback that he did not dwell upon.
The old man I knew as a child taught himself to swim in order to qualify as the local swimming pool manager. He built himself a shed. He pottered about with bees and chickens. He loved the twice daily paper and magazines deliveries. He was a big strong man used to his own company until he was hospitalised with a brain tumour in the last weeks of his life.
At one stage, many years after his abduction, he did get in touch with his Sydney family. Their response was, a child was abducted many years ago, however we don’t want to know you because you could be an imposter. With modern science it would be possible to easily prove my relationship with the other family today. I could not be bothered. No one in the extended family has an inclination to restart that search today. We all prefer to remember this tragic story as an interesting anecdote in the life of a relative.
He died on 3/9/1965. Today a stained glass window in St John’s church Lilydale is dedicated to the lives of both my maternal grandparents.
The person sitting beside you on the train. The one you see at the bus stop. The noisy person next door – has a life with a history. Mostly it will be mundane. The colour of a life is not always easily seen. To discover the interesting roles another plays allows you to appreciate the unseen life.