Not everyone in the park sat by the water’s edge, engrossed in ardent conversation with an obliging pair of floating black swans.
Matthew could not claim ownership of cat or dog, so when it came to matters philosophical he preferred, in this moment of pre-marital confusion, to deliver his thoughts to the local wildlife. What, indeed, could be more appropriate than to converse with the beautiful Cygnus atratus.
Matthew would always recall this visit as a moment of inspiration for bringing closure to his deliciously licentious, youthful, swanning around period. Indeed, he considered it most auspicious that, prior to entering the park, he’d stopped at the nearby delicatessen to purchase a garden salad sandwich for his lunch. Matthew asked Audrey how she would describe the meaning of love. The poor girl, quite overcome at the prospect of romance, squished forth a dreamy opinion. “Love is a beautiful swan dive into the pool of life.” She even gave Matthew an extra slice of beetroot to go with his sandwich.
Matthew, reflecting upon the vagaries of adult cohabitation, voiced his concerns to uncle Reggie as to what particular element of loving ensured the longevity of marriage to auntie Melva.
“You can have that in three words, son,” said Reggie. “Understanding and compromise.”
Disappointed that the sage advice boiled down to little more than a rapid stutter, Matthew repeated Reggie’s words of wisdom to his footy-mad mate, Archie Evans.
“Yeah, your uncle is spot on there, mate. Like, see, say you are having a bit of agro with your missus and she is not exactly responding to your way of thinking. Well, let’s face it, mate, you are the alpha-male, so don’t muck about. Adopt your best dominant male attitude and tell her how you, being the boss, are a most understanding individual, and she, as an ever-loving subservient female, is going to compromise. End of story mate, no risk. Worked for me every time, right up until we got divorced.”
Understanding and compromise was a problem free exercise, provided Matthew understood it was women who owned the prerogative to arrange the wedding. It was most definitely a compromise between selection and a dwindling bank balance when it came to purchase of the assorted rings.
These were mere commercial matters. Of far greater importance was the question of married life, post honeymoon; the eventual entry into joint domesticity. Here there were no swans with which to consult. Perhaps an excellent bottle of Brookland Valley Merlot would assist with their reasoning. Finally, with empty glasses, they reached the decision regarding their immediate future as a married couple. They would travel to a place totally devoid of any in-law, or indeed any known relative of any description, yet still remain not so distant that they could not return, in haste, to assist with a family emergency. Siberia at one stage seemed a remote possibility, but then surely there must be some part of Australia that met with the required criterion. This responsibility Christa proudly passed onto her knight in shining matrimonial armour (or was that the Italian “Amore”?). Either way, the honour was now bestowed upon Matthew to be upstanding, understanding and uncompromising, in discovering both employment and place of future residence.
The problem in that respect was that neither Christa nor Matthew realised that one of Matthew’s great shortcomings in life was the strange but common human frailty of perusing documents without reading the fine print.
It came to pass that Matthew’s job application was accepted. The couple’s combined goods and chattels were loaded onto a road-train while they, a pigeon pair of adoring innocent souls brimming with hope and happiness, climbed aboard a small aircraft and headed for an isolated mining town called Boondi.
Never in a thousand years would you find Boondi listed in the tourist brochure as a desirable place to visit, let alone reside. Healthy locals claimed that dying folks, before their last gasp, reached for the Good Book and fervently prayed never to die there.
Boondi is an Aboriginal name meaning gibber, small rock or stone, and its namesakes cluttered the entire flat, arid treeless landscape for a radius of five hundred kilometers or more. Drunks swore on their last drop that if you listen carefully, you can hear the boondi mating and breeding during the night.
Years ago some idiot geologist, quite probably lost, discovered that there was more hidden value underground than what lay scattered upon the surface. There sprang into existence the Boondi Mining Company, which built and owned everything. The Company owned and controlled the town of Boondi and all who worked or resided within. You either worked for the Company or leased one of their buildings in which to operate a small business.
Matthew stood gazing out on the harsh, treeless expanse, wondering what it was he had forgotten to read in the job application that landed them in such a desolate situation. Their funds were so low they could not afford a return flight. “Read the fine print”, the pilot suggested. “You are here now, and when you complete twelve months, the Company generously refunds all your transfer expenses. Your best bet is to find the pub, enjoy a cool beer, and check with reception to find out what house number you have been allocated.”
Christa, who had experienced visions of a beautiful Siberia, had a sudden urge to take the pilot hostage. Christa did not want a beer, Christa wanted civilisation.
Truly, their first moment of understanding and compromise had arrived.
The accommodation, whilst clinically sparse, was spotlessly clean, with even evidence of some attempt to make them welcome … namely a form letter from the Company, explaining the rules of occupation and how Matthew would be fully acquainted once he reported for duty at 8am Monday. Christa and Matthew had been afforded two whole days together in which to discover the rest of Boondi and all who resided within her.
The business centre ran in a straight line from east to west. Directly north you encountered the huge ugliness of the working mine, massive machinery, unattractive box-like buildings that advertised an enterprise of calculated impermanence. Should the mine die, so would the town.
About three stubby lengths from the pub, the dongas for the single working male cluttered the landscape. The accommodation for the single women lay within a security gated community. The airstrip ran south-side of the business centre, while the east-end featured the married quarters and community hall. The Company completely owned the liquor licence and staffed the pub, which also doubled as an Off-Mine-Site reception office. It was whilst visiting the latter that Christa and Matthew discovered yet another item that inconveniently missed their fine print perusal.
It fell under the heading of Company policy. Now who in the hell would be bothered reading that? Well, Matthew certainly missed the opportunity, otherwise Christa would not have experienced an instant desire to commit justifiable homicide. The Company, it seems, adhered to an unbreakable policy never to employ married couples; either one. certainly, but never the two.
For Christa, the prospect of lifetime incarceration for murdering her ever-loving spouse was almost preferable to the vision of having, as a dutiful vivacious living home decoration, to eke out each and every hot, miserable day in this one-street hell hole. The physical act of stabbing Matthew to death with a miniscule nail-file was quickly postponed by the invasion of a friendly voice saying, ‘Of course, you are free to apply for employment from one of the many businesses located in Boondi Street’.
Love and happiness over the night meal allowed for drinking a laughing toast to the sage advice from uncle Reggie regarding the matrimonial necessity of understanding and compromise.
Monday was a busy day for both; Matthew off to the mine to become acquainted with his employed role as supervisor of accounts and office management, Christa to accept delivery of their personal effects from the road freighter. The unpacking was quite enough to occupy her schedule for the rest of the day, with nothing left to be done. The testing time would come tomorrow
Directly outside the front door lay an expanse of stony desperation. Inside, Christa was determined to create an illusion of personal paradise, something to proudly call home.
Flowers were out of the question. Even spinifex grass refused to grow in Boondi land.
In Christa’s mind, the most important section of the house was that which displayed not only their humble book collection but also Christa’s treasured record player.
Except for the invading influence of some weird mob called The Beatles, who had just landed in Melbourne, Boondi claimed being strictly country and western. Christa, however, evolved within a romantically classical environment. Apart from the news, the local radio was not worth two bob, and Christa’s passion for everything classical achieved an even higher home status.
Here, with housework completed, Christa could curl up with a good book and mind drift to another world courtesy of a twelve-inch vinyl record. No matter what transpired outside her front door, this was Christa’s zone of sanity.
Excursions into the business area revealed two major disturbing factors. The first was the current absence of available employment, maybe a spot of casual should someone be ill or conveniently die. The other was the expensive revelation that, while the mine company paid well above the award, everything, just everything, was fifty percent dearer than in the city. Forget about fresh milk, it was way cheaper to drink beer. In this respect, the Company displayed diabolical cunning. Wages were paid fortnightly in cash, but the little bank only opened for a few hours one day each week. The Company extracted all taxes and their rents prior to payment. They controlled the pub, so much of what was earned dribbled directly back to the mine. Further, there appeared to be a distinct pecking order when it came to pay rates. Dirt miners and heavy equipment operators were up there with the echelon when it came to the pay scale. Matthew, poor soul, was only slightly higher than the bottom of the list. On the plus side of the equation, Christa and Matthew enjoyed comfortable accommodation, an affordable rent and healthy food provided they shopped for the basics. The purchase of luxury items came at economic peril. After four weeks it became painfully apparent to Matthew that when it came to living they were existing on week-to-week sustenance. It was time for Matthew to understand and Christa to compromise.
As the weeks turned into months even a casual observer would have noticed the metamorphosis of Matthew and Christa from city dweller into uniquely local. Christa still retained her passion for classical music, but the fashionable city dresses hung limply on their wardrobe hangers. Classy footwear was long since worn and discarded to the rubbish. Good solid hardwearing desert boots were now the order of the day. From the top of her broad-brimmed hat to her booted feet, Christa had turned into a Boondi.
When not engrossed in her modest record collection, Christa now discovered the stony desert to be a place thriving with educational interest. There was life she never previously thought existed, most in hiding during the heat of the day but easily observed in cooler hours. Many of these smaller creatures became her special friends.
Once Christa became a familiar face around town, friendships developed, and with these new associations came opportunities for casual employment, Christa being someone reliable you could call upon in time of need.
With Matthew the transformation was less dramatic. He worked in the closeted rarefied atmosphere of the Company’s administration building, enjoyed air-conditioning and canteen meals. He worked on first name basis with the mine bosses. Only when he left the complex and returned to the real life in Boondi town did his newly acquired colours break out into full display.
“Matthew wouldn’t be a bad bloke” the butcher reckoned, "if only he would get to like Charlie Pride songs. Poor bugger. They say his missus is right into that classical stuff. Everyone knows when she is playing them records because all the dogs start howling.’
Workwise Matthew excelled at being the most efficient, conscientious employee the boss had sighted in many a long year. Staff mainly applied to work at the mine because of the attractive pay. Once they discovered the reality they became robots, just moving through the motions while waiting to escape back to the familiar comforts of city life.
Matthew, on the other hand, became determined to impress, seeking promotion up to that higher level where the salary turned into something more than a simple wage. He and Christa enjoyed a beautiful married relationship, but still Matthew felt that, because he never bothered to read the fine print, he owed it to Christa to compensate by markedly improving their standard of living.
This was Matthew’s understanding, for which Christa was not required to compromise.
October the twelfth might well be a special day for the Spanish, but for Matthew and Christa it was soon to be locked away in their memory banks for the rest of their natural lives for different reasons. October the tenth was the evening when Matthew bounced home with the news that the big boss was throwing a massive invitation-only party to celebrate his fiftieth, and guess what?! They were invited! In Boondi land this was the equivalent of receiving a nod from Buckingham Palace.
VIP guests would be flying in the next day. Caterers and a mountain of fresh seafood and gourmet delights would be freighted down via refrigerated transporters, and a genuine six-piece dance band would be imported for the occasion.
October the twelfth was a night of feasting, drinking, dancing and merrymaking inside the great assembly hall within the enclosed mine complex. Matthew received a personal invitation from the big boss when they met in one of the corridors. “Don’t bother with a present, son, just you make sure you come with that wife of yours — Christine, that’s it! I never forget a name. Going be a big night, son, biggest ever seen in this part of the world, that’s for sure. Could have some special news for you as well.”
Matthew’s face, brimful of enthused happiness ,dropped like a pigeon’s guano when he noticed Christa wrapped in a misery of sadness.
“And what do you think I will be wearing to this fine posh party?”
“Hey, you have a wardrobe full of flash city clothes.”
“Yep, and they are going to look just great with me in my desert boots. It could start a whole new trend in evening wear! The bank doesn’t open until next Thursday, and every shop in town features a sign, ‘We give credit — Pig’s arse we do’. I don’t have the cash. Best you tell the boss that your wife has leprosy. I will stay home with my records.”
“How much have we got in the tea caddy?”, asked Matthew.
“Unless you plan to stop eating, not enough for dancing shoes and food, that’s for sure.”
“Time to empty the tea caddy and our pockets and do an accounting,” suggested Matthew.
Boondi town did not boast a specialty shoe shop. Stock like that found its way into the general store, a great open plan barn of a building which had never blessed with the magic touch of a commercial decorator. Stock arrived, space was found, and there it sat with an invisible demarcation line proclaiming its right as a separate department. Christa slowly wandered between the tables, investigating the promise of whatever offered, never suspecting that in just a few more steps she would be confronted with what most folks call the horns of dilemma. There, adjacent to the shoes as part of a revolving display, was a record cover clearly advertising “Dvorak’s New World Symphony”.
Christa’s share of understanding and compromise was about to be tested to the ennesimo grado degree. Certainly, even with wizard accountancy, Christa could not afford food and city dancing shoes as well as Dvorak, but oh, how her heart did ache! What a classical record was doing in Boondi was a mystery. Every turn she made, there it was winking at her from the revolving stand.
So painful was the experience that Christa sought sanctuary in one of the chairs. Whenever one of the busy sales staff approached she would bury her head and sinful thoughts in a magazine. Later, much later, Christa recalled it was a picture on page 37 that forced her to flee the store to seek the professional advice of her good friend, Maggie Wolfe.
Most of the party guests had arrived, and still the big boss remained steadfast at his post to greet every arrival and accept birthday salutations.
“Ah greetings, Matthew, and your beautiful wife Crystal. I am so, so sorry to hear about your nasty accident.” Christa placed her full weight on her crutches, swung her plastered foot out for closer inspection, and allowed her painted toenails to smile at the boss. “You really should be more careful. Running on boondies is never recommended. Still, you have come and I feel quite privileged, especially because tonight is a double celebration. I will announce it later, but I have a surprise for you, Matthew. A unanimous decision of the board, a promotion, son. Old Ferguson is leaving. Spot of cancer, poor fellow, still such is life. Matthew, you are to be the new head of the Business Management department. Congratulations, son, you deserve the promotion to senior staff. Guess you know what that means in salary and special privileges, eh?”
Good God, thought Christa, Matthew is a god. The locals called everyone who worked on the top floor ‘the Gods’ and now Matthew was going to be one of them. Quite a major change in lifestyle, just around the corner. This was a night to kick up heels and dance, only sadly, in Christa’s case, she would just have to compromise. Such celebration was out of the question.
Christa slept in the next morning. Matthew, ever-attentive, delivered breakfast in bed and left a prepared salad for lunch in the fridge. Such a fuss all over a badly sprained ankle. Heck, it was not even broken. Maggie, the district conspiratorial nurse, suggested Christa would have to maintain the pretence for at least a week before the plaster could be removed.
With Matthew away at work, Christa made coffee and settled comfortably into the lounge chair, closing her eyes to enjoy the sounds of Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
For those about to be married, for others living in hope, for the experienced still capable of vivid past memories
I would suggest that reading the fine print is always advisable.