Authors: Costello, Michael
Season of Hate
Discrimination towards others is sometimes based on as little as difference of appearance or culture and fuelled by intolerance. When confronted by it, do we turn our backs and walk away, or take a stand beside the oppressed?
1985 and Pat the narrator returns to his small wheat town to settle his father's estate. He recalls the events when he first moved there from Sydney as an eight year old in 1955 with twin brother Doug and his GP father.
Season of Hate is the moving story of the friendship between the boys and Johnny, the mute Aboriginal teenager. In those first two years in their seemingly ideal world, the boys are exposed to the best and worst of human nature as they become aware of the undercurrents of discrimination and racial bigotry that erupt into violence.
In particular, that one night where Pat's own life is challenged. The night where one wanton act places the town's very livelihood in jeopardy.
Season of Hate
First published in Australia in 2015 by Short Stop Press
An imprint of A&A Book Publishing Pty Ltd.
This EPUB edition:
Copyright © Michael Costello 2015
This book is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means or process whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publishers.
E-book format by David Andor / Wave Source Design
For Johnny, Harry, Kitty and Biddy
As I wandered through the house with Dad's shoebox of memories, those lifelong questions buried in the subconscious, resurfaced.
'Who am I? What
my purpose for being?'
For me everything had changed and yet looking around, very little had. I'd revisited my little sunbaked town many times since leaving twenty years ago in 1965 for university. My last stay was with my wife and kids for Dad's funeral. This time I was reluctant to come back, for my wife and I were here by ourselves to settle Dad's affairs and put 'Kilkenny' up for sale. In every room and in the branches of the giant jacaranda were snapshots of my childhood that I wanted to remain forever. Here every languid summer blended into another, filled with games and boyhood fantasies.
Those first two formative years here and meeting Johnny helped shape Doug and my lives. His friendship toward us and his treatment at the hands of others changed the very way we viewed the world. There was also that one night in particular that jolted us out of our small-town lethargy like an electric cattle prod. That night where one wanton act placed the town's very livelihood in jeopardy. The night that ended in tragedy. But I am ahead of myself.
Doug and I were eight when we left Sydney permanently with Dad in 1955. We went to live at Kilkenny with Nan after Poppie died of a massive heart attack. He was only sixty-three. Doug and I were twins. And when I say twins, everyone thinks identical, 'cept we weren't. We were fraternal twins and didn't look anything alike, 'cept only in the shape of our faces. He was black Irish with an olive complexion and dark brown eyes like Dad, while I'm pale, freckly and blue-eyed. My hair was curly light brown and Doug's was dark almost black and dead straight. He was also two inches taller and athletic.
Born an hour after him with iron deficiency anaemia, I was always referred to as being 'a bit on the weedy side' by the women of the Country Women's Association at Nan's afternoon tea fundraisers.
Invariably my health would somehow come up in conversation with her baking rival at the CWA, Gwen Grady. Gwen had won third place years ago at the Sydney Royal Easter Show for her fruit cake; and never let anyone forget it. She'd usually pin me to the wall under the pressure of her considerable bosom and proceed with the full examination of pulling down my lower eyelids, scrutinising the amount of blood flow in the area, and then telling me in her whiney voice to poke out my tongue, before continuing with the same line of questioning of my Nan as always.
"You're feedin' him enough red meat Maureen?"
"And the fish emulsion? He's very pasty."
"He's not caught a wog?"
"No Gwen," Nan would reply, with a roll of her eyes at me and the other ladies of the CWA, behind Mrs Grady's back.
"Mmm. Well I s'pose there's bound to be a runt, when you give birth to a litter. Hopefully he'll get a bit of colour once he's filled out."
The unspoken inference being, that no matter how well you cook Maureen, you've got the sickly grandkid while mine are as fit as mallee bulls. You could see Nan struggle to keep her congenial demeanour in front of all her CWA sisters. What she really wanted to do to 'old horse face', as most called her behind her back, was to give her a serve.
It was usually at this point I'd disappear into the bedroom to read, or take a couple of scones and join my brother in the giant jacaranda tree out front. Here we'd dream away another frying-hot summer's day under its frilly canopy. We'd lie there looking out over the town and the creek and the distant wheat fields that stretched beyond the horizon.
Since I can remember, Doug and I had spent all of our Christmas school holidays at Poppie and Nan's house. Dad would drop us off along with our 'not to be opened until Christmas' presents. He'd come back to pick us up, but in between go off on a short holiday by himself to recharge. As twin boys, I suspect we were a handful for a single father.
Ours was like any other 1950's small to medium size town west of the Great Dividing Range, in New South Wales – just a flyspeck on the map. The Shire was primarily a wheat growing district but there were smaller tracts of land for cattle farming and a few sheep. The district was so dependent on its wheat crop, that its destruction by fire from a lightning strike or someone's careless actions was always a constant fear.
Poppie and Nan had moved off their wheat farm at the start of the Great Depression to the town proper, after one too many unfulfilled promises of rain; and before mounting financial debt left them flat broke. They were the lucky ones. Seeing the hard times coming, Poppie also withdrew all their money from the bank before they closed their doors. He never returned it fully to them, maintaining a healthy mistrust. He wasn't on his own in that thinking.
Kilkenny, was on Main Street, south of the Railway Street train intersection. It was one of the largest weatherboard houses in town and the only one with a jacaranda tree. As big as the house was, it was dwarfed by this thirty foot high tree. Its branches stretched around the side of the house, one close enough to Doug and my bedroom window that we often used it as our secret entrance and exit to our room. Nan was born in Grafton, and when they moved into the house Poppie had the tree transported especially from there as a reminder of her childhood town.
The house itself was of the Queenslander style but rather than the usual three sided version, it had a verandah all the way around. It was mounted on sump oil painted tree stumps with metal capping on the top of each to stop the termites. The stumps were ten feet high, designed to save a house by letting flood waters pass underneath and to aid ventilation in the hotter months.
We were susceptible to the westerly dust storms that blew in from the Centre and blanketed the town, getting into every crack and crevice. When the rare cool breeze hit late on a hot afternoon after a stretch of white bright days and suffocating nights, windows and doors would be flung open to let it race around and through the house to cool it down. Where our town was located, when it was cold it was freezing, and when it was hot, it was
hot. Rather than the house being updated over the years, Poppie and Nan maintained and restored its interior and exterior as a museum to the 1920's.
North of the Main and Railway train intersection was the city business area. It was relatively small in comparison to the larger centres. Though during the post war economic boom of the 50's under the Menzies government, it grew large enough to contain at various times, a baker, a grocer, a small post office, two butcher shops, Green's Mixed Business, two milk bars, a stock and station agent, a barber shop and separate hairdressing salon. There was also a hardware store, tea rooms, both a Chinese and an Italian restaurant and eventually a chicken and hamburger takeaway, a chemist, a haberdasher, funeral parlour, police station, bank, a combined men's and womenswear shop, a district newspaper called
, a plumber, a blacksmith, an electrician, Poppie's motor shop and even a boot maker. We had two hotels, the Railway and the rougher Exchange, diagonally opposite at the Main and Railway intersection. There was a Golden Fleece service station, fire station and the Sacred Heart Church and Primary School.
We even had a School of Arts where dances and wedding receptions were held. Films, or 'pictures' as we called them then, were shown there every month or so – occasionally first releases. However public primary and high schools, hospitals, doctors, dentists, solicitors and any other shop or profession, were two and a half hours walking or three quarters of an hour of steady driving, away. There wasn't any school bus for the district until the early sixties. But what we didn't have, we never really missed. As Poppie might say, 'No use complainin', 'cause that's yer bleedin' lot.'
Thirty miles south of the town was the old Aboriginal Reserve. It was termed an 'unmanaged' Reserve. Unmanaged Reserves differed from 'managed' Reserves in that managed Reserves or stations were usually staffed by a teacher-manager and education, rations, and housing were provided. The 'unmanaged' ones like ours, provided the very basic of rations but no proper housing or education and were under the control of the town police. In our case, that was Sergeant Farrar.
Doug and I didn't attend Poppie's funeral for as Dad said, at eight years of age, we were too young. We stayed in Sydney with Mrs Crofter, our housekeeper. All we knew was what Dad had told us, holding back his own emotions as best he could.
"Poppie has died and gone to Heaven, boys." Doug and I both looked up to the sky.
"Can he see us?" asked Doug.
"I'm sure he can," Dad faltered then continued, "but now we must think of Nan and pray for her to get over losing Poppie, as she's very upset."
"We can still visit her for the Christmas holidays, can't we?" Doug pleaded.
"If we were with her now, I'd give her a hug and make her a cup of tea with four sugars, just as she likes," I offered. Dad smiled and ruffled my curls with his hands before pulling us to him in a tight embrace. He instructed us to be on our best behaviour for Mrs Crofter while he was away helping Nan tidy up Poppie's affairs. This included putting his motor shop up for sale.
Poppie left us with heaps of memories and invaluable advice only
he could come up with, like how to catch a pigeon. All you had to do was put salt on its tail to stop it flying away. Doug and I once spent a whole afternoon crouching in the bushes, both armed with a bag of salt, waiting for an unsuspecting pigeon to stand still long enough so that we could tip the salt on its tail. Only when we caught Poppie laughing himself silly on the verandah, did we realise it was impossible.
Doug and I talked about our loss as we put on our pyjamas.
"I'll miss Poppie taking us fishing," Doug sighed.
"You think he really can see us?"
"Sure, that's what they say. All the dead people are up there behind the clouds, seeing everything we do and guiding us to do the right thing."
"Poppie, I miss you," I blubbered.
"You're such a girl."
"Am not! You take that back or … or –" I threatened hollowly. He placed a gentle arm around my shoulders and I stopped crying. Leading me to the side of my bed, we both knelt and said our prayers.
"And please look after Poppie. Amen," I added. We jumped into bed and Dad's hand came around the door to turn out the light, as if he had been in the hallway all the time. He cleared his throat.
"Goodnight, Dad." We spoke as one, as we often did when our thoughts and tongues aligned.
After some time, I thought I could hear the muffled sound of Doug crying. I got out of bed with my pillow and pushed my way under his covers. There was no objection as he moved over to let me in. Nothing was said as I put my arm around him and we both fell asleep.
The two weeks until Dad's return went quickly. One morning as Mrs Crofter got our breakfast, Dad made an announcement.
"Boys, how would you like to go to Nan's?"