Monthly Archives: February 2017

Basil

 

Oh God, not again, who is it this time?”

Sarah looked at the envelope, the only typewritten letters she ever received were from the army. She walked outside the general store, put her basket down and sat down on the top step, staring at the envelope as if willing it to disappear. The townspeople kept an eye on her, but no one interfered, almost every family in the district had had their fair share those letters.

She took a deep breath, turned the envelope over, slowly opened the flap and removed the contents. She was an expert at this now, she could look slightly to the side of the envelope with unfocussed eyes, carefully unfold its contents, and take one more deep breath before focussing on the words.

“REPORTED SERGEANT BASIL HENDERSON WOUNDED WILL ADVISE ANYTHING FURTHER RECEIVED.”

“Basil” she said to the air, shaking her head. The nearest onlooker, nodded politely and quietly passed the name on. Everyone understood.

“Thank God John did not live to see this.  Four sons fighting in someone else’s war, Edward dead, George, Basil and Leonard, I’ve lost count of the letters.”

The shopkeeper, her best friend had come out to comfort her. “He’s a tough li’l bugger, you’ll see.” She sat beside her.

“Remember that day he disappeared?”

Suddenly they were both back in time.

 

 

She groaned as she rolled out of bed. She had barely slept. Lack of cloud cover made the night colder than usual, but for once, farmers were praying for it to not rain. Some of the men had continued to search throughout the night with a slither of a new moon reflecting only just enough light. Sent to bed at midnight, she had woken up every time one of them came in or out.

It was barely first light and already people were streaming in from the town. It was the second day. For the children, it was like a carnival, as whole families turned out to help. The women manned the kitchen and watched the children while the men and every boy over twelve, were out searching in rotation, on foot and on horseback. Thomas and Isaac had already left with their father.

 The atmosphere was surreal; her mind and body had disconnected to stop her from thinking about who they were searching for or whether he would be found. Her calm exterior belied the fact that she was on the verge of hysteria. She took charge of the kitchen, making sure that everyone had enough to eat and drink, and sending refreshments on horseback out to the search parties.  The hours passed.

She looked up to see the face of her best friend in the doorway.

“Sarah Henderson, if you don’t sit with me and take tea, you will feint with exhaustion, and then what use will you be to Basil when they bring him home? The dark rings around your eyes have dark rings around them.”

She had six other boys, four born on this very farm, and she had never lost one. For the first time since they had moved to the farm, she wished they had stayed keeping shop, in the township where no one could ever get lost.

 Suddenly she was back there, having tea with her friend.

She could feel the sawdust under her feet; smell the soaps, spices, fruits, wafting in and out with the breeze; hear her friend’s raucous laughter; and feel her face redden as meaning dawned on her innocent mind.

Sarah, Sarah,” the sound of her name bringing her back to life.

Outside was ominously silent. They went to the door and saw a man on horseback riding like the devil towards them. Sarah’s legs gave way as she swooned, it took several of the women to coax her back into the sitting room.

He burst through the door, red faced from the wild ride and with tears streaming down his dust encrusted face, he could hardly speak. Someone thrust a glass of water into his hand and he took a great gulp and then a great gulp of air.

“They found him Mrs Henderson, they found him. And the wee tyke is fine! Can you believe it?”

He was too choked with emotion to say any more. Outside, there were wild shouts of hooray and long piercing whistles, men, women and children whooping with relief. Even the dogs, sensing something, were barking.

 

 

“Oi, is anyone looking after this shop?”

The two women, jolted from their daydream, breathed sharply in. They looked at each other

“Yeah, he’s a tough li’l bugger, he’ll be fine”.

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Solemn Grandure

On the ninth of February, 1895, a man known only as a “Special Reporter” described the scene of a recent bush fire, perhaps this was how John Davis may have felt that night.

He wrote:[1]

“Having left Echunga after sunset, I had at least one advantage of travelling in the dark. The innumerable burning logs and trees which mark the extent of the devastation caused by the recent fire presented a scene of solumn grandeur not easily to be described. For many miles in every direction these brilliant glaring objects shone with an intense ruddy light, which, in the deep silence and solitude of the forests, was most imposing to behold.”

It could not be easily described, because to describe something, is to equate it to some similar thing already seen and known. These early Europeans would have been used to seeing a bright star-lit night, something that amazes many modern people accustomed to light pollution. They would not have been used to seeing a brightly lit landscape, unless they had recently arrived from Europe, Adelaide was yet to have universal street lighting. Few if any would have seen fireworks and no one could imagine have imagined flying, let alone the visage of city lights far below.

No, the scene facing this nameless reporter would not have been easily described. It would not have been easily forgotten either. The landscape, many locals escaping with only the clothes on their back,[2]  having lost their entire life’s work, and some who lost their lives. Everything changed, and all in a matter of a few short days.

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[1] 1859 ‘MACCLESFIELD.’, South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), 11 February, p. 3. , viewed 03 Feb 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49897242

[2] 1859 ‘No title’, The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), 8 February, p. 3. , viewed 03 Feb 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article788749

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Fire

In 1859, John and Rosa Davis had been married for nine years[1]. had four young children,[2] and lived in Macclesfield, South Australia, a colony less than thirty years old. [3].  In February of that year, a bush fire ravaged the area and several lives were lost.

There are no less than ten contemporary newspaper accounts. The damage caused by the fire was so widespread that detail about individual losses is lost. An Inquest into the fire lists J Davis (among others) simply as houseless.[4] It found, “That the fire originated in a section belonging to Mr. John Heyward, near Echunga, but by what means it was started, there is no evidence to show.”

In 1859 rural Australia, communication was by post and printed newspapers. There were no fire engines, motorised or electrical devices, no weather reports, or warning systems. The Bureau of Meteorology.[5] and even the clichéd outback radio were more than fifty years away.

One can only guess at how this could have been experienced by these European inhabitants.

 

[1]Australia, Marriage Index,1850, p 160, Vol 14 John Davis and Rosa Sophia Marry Wills (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/ retrieved 31 January, 2017)

[2] Adams, GF, Family History Workbook, unpublished, p 83.

[3] Tourist Information Distributors, “Exploring Adelaide: Brief History” (http://www.exploringaustralia.com.au/history.php?s=adel retrieved 3 January, 2017)

[4] 1859 ‘MACCLESFIELD.’, South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1867), 12 February, p. 5. , viewed 03 Feb 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article96494916

[5] Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, “Centenary of the Bureau, A hundred years young” (http://www.bom.gov.au/inside/centenary.shtml retrieved, 3 January, 2017)

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