The Queenslander (excerpt)

World War Two is over and North Queensland is yawning its way back to normality. The name and exact location of this town is not important except it is somewhere on the coastal side of the Great Divide.

By small it is not a one horse town – but too under populated to score a red dot on the map and be classified as a city. Big enough to boast a Mayor – a Shire Council – a meat works – small port – a river plus a creek – a railway workshop – say ten pubs – a public hospital and library – a cemetery – two department stores – banks – a hardware business plus numerous small enterprises.

Oh yes, it also has a dominate Catholic Church, complete with a Bishop to cater for the spiritual needs of a large but mainly rural diocese and a Church of England house of worship that is content to accept its prelate guidance from somewhere further South. The only other religious persuasion of any consequence is the somewhat less patronized Presbyterian denomination.

Try to imagine a population that lives within a cocoon of simple, semi-isolated, sophistication that knows nothing of all the magic trappings of your modern era. They are in total ignorance because what you take for granted had either not yet been invented or was yet to surface upon their community. They reside within a world quite different from their city slicker southern cousins and most decidedly decades behind the lifestyle of those inhabiting the developed northern hemisphere. On the whole people are treated with polite respect. These citizens never lock residential doors – their lives are open and friendly. Mostly they make their own entertainment. A big night out is the School of Arts dance or a weekly treat to the pictures. They are bonded together by family – religion – sport – their workplace and the Union.

RITA

She was sitting in the shady protection of the massive Mango tree whilst lost in the enjoyment of book reading – never expecting her concentration to be broken by the squeaky noise of someone opening the front gate.

Oiling the hinges had long been on her work list – somehow she never made the effort. Oiling hinges was a male thing – Rita didn’t have a man about the house. Once had a husband, but he poor feller was killed in the Second World War. Not much use complaining, the small town was full of war widows.

Rita Lawrence was the product of two great wars and a global depression. A war widow, childless and now in her forties she accepted that her inheritance of the family home, the large Queenslander, had saved her from a poverty existence of trying to subsist upon a miserable government welfare payment.

Rita didn’t bemoan her fate in life. Indeed she considered she had been more fortunate than most of the aging war widows within her sphere of living. She was in good health. Strong in mind and body, of average intelligence plus possession of a quick wit. What she lacked was technical skills. Like most girls of her time she married quite young with dreams of home and family – an exploding shell somewhere on the other side of the world blew those dreams to pieces. Her parents, who had inherited the large Queenslander some thirty years previous, were the next to cause grief in Rita’s soul.

Everyone agreed that part of the coast road was an accident waiting to happen but why did it have to be her parents to prove the point. All the people she ever loved and really cared about had now disappeared from her life. Rita was left with just memories, a large house, and a modest bank savings account.

Shading her eyes with her book Rita walked into the full sunlight to capture the attention of the visitor.

‘I’m down here under the Mango tree.’

She could see now that her visitor was a male but moved out of the sun’s glare back into the shade where she could best ascertain his identity.

‘Mrs. Lawrence – Mrs. Rita Lawrence ?’

He was average height – youngish – had ‘local’ stamped all over him. Apparently he took her silence as an affirmation.

‘I am William Carfoot, Mrs. Lawrence. I am with the Council’s Health Department.’
‘Best make the most of a seat in the shade then. Baking in the hot sun won’t do your health much good Mr. Carfoot.’

Rita waited until he had settled into a vacant chair. There he sat, polished shoes, long white golf hose, smart grey shorts, spotless white shirt that looked like it had been dunked in a bucket of starch. Even carried a brief case to complete his badge of officialdom.

‘So Mr. Carfoot what can I do for the Council or is it the other way around?’

‘I’ve come about your Sanitary Night Soil Collection Closet, Mrs. Lawrence.’

‘You mean my Dunny?’ said Rita with a raucous laugh. She could see the red blush in his young face –

‘Worry not Mr. Carfoot – my Dad called it a Dunny and it has always been a Dunny as far as I’m concerned. So what is it that the Council wishes to know?’

‘The problem Mrs. Lawrence is where it is located – right down there in the bottom right hand corner of what is a bigger than average block of land.’

‘It’s been there since Adam was a boy.’

‘Quite so Mrs. Lawrence but times have changed since the war finished. More people are moving into this area. The union which looks after the interests of the Night Soil Workers have complained to Council that too many long established closets are located at an unreasonable distance from the roadway. It is difficult to efficiently service our clients within the time allocated for each premises. Council has decided that the union has a legitimate complaint – has decreed that all such offending closets must be relocated to a more accessible site. I am here to inform you that you have sixty days in which to arrange such a relocation.’

Just as she had observed his blushes he noticed her smile had been replaced with a look of concern.

‘Is there a problem Mrs. Lawrence?’

‘Just one that comes from being a war widow Mr. Carfoot. Believe me my sympathies are with the collectors – my concern is with the relocation costs. My pension just covers basic living expenses. I’ve been trying to protect my modest savings against unforeseen personal disasters – I didn’t expect sanitary problems to be counted in that equation.’

‘The Council could accommodate you on that score Mrs. Lawrence. In cases of financial hardship they would arrange for the work to be done by their own staff and accordingly make an addition to your annual rates, plus interest, for repayment. However in this instance the work could easily be done by a handyman instead of a tradesman and I would suggest it may not be as expensive as you might envisage.’

It was a friendly enough message but delivered with rote expression. No doubt Mr. Carfoot had counseled many a disadvantaged citizen in the performance of his employer’s duties. Rita knew better than to ask him to recommend such a person. That would go against the grain of Local Authority ethics so she simply replied ‘I could advertise for a quote then?’

‘Of course – you have sixty days to complete the move. A good handyman will knock it over in two no problem at all.’

‘Looks like I’ll have to place an advert in the ‘Northerner’ then Mr. Carfoot.’

‘Plenty of fellers looking for work these days Mrs. Lawrence. Blokes just back from the war – been demobbed – finding it difficult to settle down. Just make sure you are paying for a handyman and not some codger trying it on for tradesman’s rates.’
‘Thank you Mr. Carfoot – do I have to phone you or something when the work is finished ? ’

‘Worry not Mrs. Lawrence – I’ll drop in when I’m passing and I’ll cross you off my list when it’s all done.

‘See you then – going shopping tomorrow I’ll place the advert in the paper while I’m down town.’

As William was wandering off to his next client Rita tried to visualize the advert—-“Wanted handyman to move dunny” – need a better choice of words than that she laughed to herself – “Handyman required to relocate small out-house type building within existing property.”– That should do the trick.

TOM

O’Malley read the ‘Handyman Help Wanted’ advert in the local rag. ‘Right up my alley,’ he told himself. ‘Could do with a few extra bob eh.’

Ever since the meat works closed for the season he’d been living off his savings. He wasn’t rich but by local standards he wasn’t poor either. He was a frugal bloke O’Malley – that was why he was now living in a tent at the Six Mile Creek Camping Ground.

Why they ever called it Six Mile Creek he’d never know. Christ you could go six miles in any bloody direction and you still only saw scrub and red rocky outcrops. He swooshed the rest of the tea out of the mug and lumbered up to the camp office to borrow the phone.

‘It’s the Council. Mr. O’Malley.’

‘Call me Tom Mrs. L ….No one ever calls me Mister.’

‘The Union has complained to the Council that their members require our backyard toilets to be more conveniently located for ease of collection. Can’t say I blame them – carrying pans of human waste all that distance, especially in the wet is not a job I would wish on anyone. My father built that dunny soon after I started school. Mum wanted it as far away from the house as possible – guess no one gave a thought about the poor collectors. Probably didn’t even have a Union in those days.’

‘Yeah it’s a sh- dirty job eh, no worries Mrs. L. won’t take long to get that lot sorted.’
‘Mr. Carfoot the Council representative from the Health Department recommends we move it over there closer to the street boundary and suggests we also make a secondary gate in the front fence to allow easy access.’

‘No worries Mrs.L – although I reckon you’ll be wantin’ a new concrete path from the back steps as well eh ! Can’t have you getting’ yer tootsies all muddy and sloshed going to the lav in the wet season can we ?’

‘You’re right Tom of course you are right but it’s a matter of costs I’m afraid.’

‘Well now Mrs.L… I reckon we let that be until I do me sums and figure out how much its all going to cost yer. Never know it mightn’t be as much as you imagine. How about that cuppa you promised me. Can’t think straight without me cup of tea eh!’

The Queenslander (excerpt)

iAN Derrick

Tweed Heads, Australia

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An excerpt from my self-published novel, The Queenslander

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