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OUR BOOKS > DIDGERIDOO

Waking into dream
Histories
Written by Chester Eagle
Designed by Vane Lindesay
DTP by Chris Giacomi
Assistance with the project kindly given by the History Department of the University of Melbourne
First published 1999 by Trojan Press
Circa 140,700 words
First edition 200 copies
Electronic publication 2006 by Trojan Press
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Here’s what it says on the cover:

didgeridoo is a variant of one of the oldest literary forms – a gathering of people, each of whom tells a story. A group makes its way every week to a tutorial where one of them presents a paper. Each has chosen a topic and is in some sense subject to the thing being considered. History is no easier to get in order than a person’s life, and the fourteen characters of this collection are depicted as they try to do both. They have all to choose a passage, written long ago, to illustrate their theme, and the author has a similar challenge, because a passage of music, the art revealing the innermost psyche of a culture, enters every story. Music too is history: thirteen of the pieces are European, and ‘classical’, while the sound of the didgeridoo is a vestige of the past and a reminder that the land, timeless and anonymous, shapes all in its unrelenting way.


To read some extracts from the book click here:
Brigitte
Sam
Danny
Lou
Angela
Karl
Neville

To read about the writing of this book click here.

Brigitte

‘ In the previous cricket series, the child had grown up very swiftly. The Australian team won easily, because it had a new champion, Mr Bradman ...’

Sam grinned. ‘Don!’

Brigitte glanced at him, intending to quell, if possible: ‘... who made more runs ...’

She paused. ‘There is a psychological dimension to this which I cannot explore today. Why are all these men gaining credit by running? It is very odd, if you think about it!’ Some of the group laughed, others were puzzled.

‘Anyhow, he made more runs than anybody had made before. This is something he did for the whole of his career. How could the English stop him? They thought of an idea. Bowl the ball very fast straight at him. Frighten him. Frighten the Australians. I am sorry to say that it is an idea that would occur very naturally to a European power with an empire ...’

More laughter, mostly from Karl and Max; Stephen wondered where the thing was going. ‘Years ago,’ Brigitte said, ‘I was teaching tennis to a girl who did not know how to play. It was pleasant. But she had more natural ability than I had, and once she had the idea, she started to beat me. Then she beat me easily. I found an excuse to stop playing. It was only a good game while I was on top! This is what happened to England. The colony became too good. It began to think it was superior. Now, you will say, this is only cricket. Was this also happening in business? Was Australia thinking of starting an empire of its own? The answer is no. No. But a crack, once it is opened, can widen very easily. Cracks have to be closed. The English thought of an idea. They called it leg theory. I am sorry, there are so many terms that are strange to me, perhaps you know them better than I do ...’

‘Bowl at the batsman,’ Sam said, ‘and put half a dozen fieldsmen around him so if he tries to hit the ball to leg, he’ll get caught. They changed the rules to stop it, but that took a while!’ He was pleased with himself. Brigitte listened, then tried to restart. ‘The Australians were not ready for this attack, for that was what it was. The crowds who watched became angry. At least two things are happening at the same time here. The new self-esteem of the colony is not being allowed to grow as the colony wishes, because the mother country wishes to stop the colony’s development. And the means used by the mother country to stop the development look, to the eyes of the people who go to watch the cricket, very like the means of the wealthy people in England to keep the colonials paying their debts. As we would say today ...’ a smile flitted across her face ‘... they felt screwed!’

‘A word with another meaning,’ Max put in.

‘I know. “Who is he screwing?” A strange expression, because the word doesn’t suggest the action it refers to.’ Lou laughed. ‘Good one, Brigitte!’ Brigitte said, ‘I must return to my path.’ She took the edge of a sheet of paper. ‘Now, what I have been telling you about is a family quarrel, I think I shall call it. But what about this? Here is something written fifteen years later, still about cricket, but there has been a huge war in the meantime. England has suffered. Its empire is breaking up. It will never dominate the world again, but it can still play cricket, if not very well. The Australians can beat it easily now.’ She paused. ‘What I am going to read is about the last time the two countries were close in the old way. After the moment I am going to describe, they grow apart. The maturing I spoke of has become a separation.’ Some of them could sense a personal sadness in her voice as she read.

The nature of the welcome given to the Australian team in all parts of the country was quite remarkable. Conventional language scarcely does justice to it. It was, I believe, much more than the traditional welcome to our brethren from overseas; it was in some measure a thanksgiving that one of the great institutions of our common life had been restored. The great crowds that gathered wherever the Australians appeared did more than testify to their love of cricket; they did more than pay their affectionate tribute to a consummate captain of a great team; they did more than give expression to their joy in seeing that team once more in their midst; they gave utterance to their deep-seated satisfaction, after years of darkness and danger, that cricket had once more come into its kingdom in these great and historic encounters.

Brigitte paused, then tried to go on. She got a few more words out before she stopped. For not the least of the deprivations of war is that the glory and ...

Something prevented her. She raised a hand as if to touch her heart, then lowered it. The group looked at her. She swallowed. Something was wrong. ‘Excuse me,’ she said. She tried to cough. ‘Give me a moment, if you please.’.

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Sam

They had dinner in a roadside hotel. Sam wanted to drink, but Ola let him have two glasses. ‘That’s your limit,’ she said, and he stared at her, not bothering to reply. She sipped once, but left the glass standing; her lips felt too dry. She wanted to go on, but he wanted to wait until it was dark. She sensed that if she hadn’t been there he’d have drunk himself silly and driven into the night to find his end against a tree, a telephone post, the wall of something near the road. She was with him, wanting to restrain, knowing that if she exerted a force on him he’d fight it, and her end would be as certain as his.

It was dark when they left. She dared not ask where he’d stop because there was no answer. It could only be when a process inside him reached its end. He drove reasonably for the first half hour, then speeded up. He put the wireless on, something he’d rarely allowed himself, even in his driving days, because it didn’t help his concentration. His agitation showed in the endless pressing of buttons to change stations, sending the figures on the dial in crazy sequence until another burst of booming sound came through the speakers. ‘Sam!’ she said, in a moment when she lost control, but it only excited him: he wanted her fear to help him overcome his own. There were cars and frequent trucks; Sam overtook them wildly, veering in front of them to express contempt. ‘Letting them know I’m leaving them behind!’ he yelled. The changing of stations speeded up, then his probing fingers led him to something that mirrored the frenzy inside him: drums were rolling, attacking the minds of listeners, and orchestral protests cut across; a quarrel of gargantuan proportions was being argued in their ears, the drums releasing destructive energies that expressed themselves in the rabid fury of the car. Ola saw a small, poorly lit car some distance in front; Sam pushed his foot down to consume this wayfarer, but as he was swinging out to overtake, a truck came over the brow of a hill, storming forward without thought of swaying from its path. In an ecstasy of destructive rage Sam took them in front of the truck, flicked the wheel so their tail dodged the car they were passing, in which a terrified man took his hands from the wheel and covered his eyes - Ola saw this, looking away from what was rushing at them - and, late in returning to their side of the road, forced the mighty truck to wobble, its multiple wheels straining to react properly, to remain stable though almost over the edge of track, the music, all this time, roaring in its quarrel - civilisation faces the darkness it carries within itself, and surges when it senses triumph, the madness of war giving way to purposeful, intelligently-driven life.

Ola felt her husband go limp. ‘Pull over,’ she told him. ‘Not here, on the highway. In the next town. Turn down a side street, so nobody knows who we are! We’ll stop. You’ve come through. You don’t deserve it, but you have!’.

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Danny

As classes drew to an end, the system was preparing to roll over for the long vacation, and the semester that would follow, when summer had come and gone. ‘I need a job,’ Danny told Ruby, ‘to keep up the rent if I stay here, or to pay for somewhere else if I move. Maybe I should say when,’ he said. ‘I’m starting to lose my way.’ Ruby had got herself a job as a make-up consultant at a city store. The kitchen was full of magazines about how to make yourself attractive, how to have multiple orgasms, which of the female figures of the day said they wanted to have babies, and how many, and who they’d prefer as the father. Or fathers; some thought that multiple babies meant multiple men. Fidelity was a virtue that filled only occasional columns. Infidelity was what sold. ‘Those girls that come into the shop,’ Ruby told Danny, ‘they’re changing. They know what make-up is. It’s a mask. If you want to do something risky, you need something to hide behind. That’s what I sell’em. That’s what we talk about. How much longer are we living here, Danny? Aren’t you going to make a pass at me? Juliet’ll never know.’

He’d thought of it, because Ruby had a good body, and a way of advertising sex in placing herself, whether close or standing back, but he felt - he believed: he had faith - that Juliet was thinking of him, and that she’d write. She wouldn’t know any other place to write to, she didn’t know any of his friends and, come to think of it, he didn’t have friends any more because he wasn’t drinking at McAdam’s or anywhere else. He was waiting. He couldn’t leave his house, between twenty nine and eighty seven, until she’d released him.

Then it came. A pink envelope and handwriting he knew well. The postmark was Darwin. He put it in his pocket and went for a walk. Something guided him to a park in process of revegetation with native trees and grasses. He took himself to a monument to some explorers, hardly more than a pile of rocks, but possessing a lingering craziness that seemed right for their adventure, and he sat at the bottom, his back against the stones. ‘I’m putting craziness behind me,’ he told the air about him, and, worried, relieved - scared, really - he opened the envelope. It was only a page, nothing on the back, her name written at the bottom. ‘I love you, Juliet’.

‘Dearest Danny,’ it began. ‘I’m so far, far, far from you but we both know we’re close. How can that be? According to the nuns, Jesus said, “I am always with you”; that makes sense to me. Mum - how does she manage it every time? - found a nuns’ school for me, even here, but they only run it, the teachers are, well, half normal. They live in the top end and they work for nuns! I have to study and pass, and go on to study some more and if I keep passing one day I’ll be free. It’s getting closer, I know I’ll last the distance. I want you to last the distance too. I’m sixteen now, Danny. That’s the main thing I wanted to tell you, and the other is ...’

He read her last three words, and her name. He whispered them to the air, then he stood up and shouted them to the city he could see at the edge of the park, the powerful skyline surrounding him. ‘I love you, Juliet!’ He shouted it three more times, holding the letter scrunched in the grip of his hand: ‘I love you, Juliet! I love you, Juliet! I love you, Juliet!’.

> back to TOP


Lou

‘ Ken?’

‘What is it Lou?’

‘Ken, do you like this desert?’

‘I can’t live without it Lou. I brought my wife out here once, not long after we were married. In our car, not the truck, and we went camping. Down by the sea, I’ll show you the turn-off, and we had a look in one of the underground caves. There’s quite a few, as you probably know. Tina’s got a lot of spirit, she was game to go down, though she knew even less about it than I did. I made all the mistakes in the book! However, luck was on our side, we didn’t get into any trouble, but when we’d done the cave, swum in the water down there, done a bit of exploring with torches, all that, and came back up, she said to me that it wasn’t her thing. All our holidays since then have been in places where there’s people. She’s very social, my Tina. Now that’s all right, but she said to me that day when we were back on the surface ...’ he paused, and this time his eyes roamed the horizon, as if looking for a trace of what had happened ‘... she said to me, “Ken, I want us both to be happy, but I know I have to be careful how I make that happen.” Notice what she said? I have to be careful how I make that happen. Then she said, “I don’t want to reduce you, Ken.” Reduce me. I asked her what she meant, but she couldn’t say. But she’s given me my freedom, though I know she’s lonely a lot of the time. The kids are starting to lead lives of their own, it won’t be long before they’ve left home.’ He looked at her through his dark lenses. ‘I don’t know if they’re going to study like you, Lulu. Maybe they will, after they’ve had a wild time, a lot of young’uns do. Here’s hoping, anyway.’

His eyes were back on the road. Lou said, ‘Do you feel big out here, Ken? Increased? That’s the opposite, isn’t it?’

He nodded. ‘I do and I don’t. I have to say I’m selfish. That’s another way of saying I’m lucky. I’ve got what I want. An enormous space with nothing in it except me and my rig to give me something to do. So far so good. It’s the life I always wanted, but it broke Tina’s heart when she had a look, and saw that it was ... strange to her. Distant. It didn’t touch her. It didn’t give her what she wanted. We bought a good house after I’d had a few years on the road, she’s made it look nice, I feel proud of her when I’m home, but I think she’d give it all away if she could take possession of this cabin.’ He paused, as if he’d said too much, but, Lou felt, it was as if she’d been allowed a space in his mind when she was allowed to sit in his truck.

‘Men like to be isolated. Women hate it.’

He nodded. ‘Most of the truckies I know think the same. They all say you can’t live with women and you can’t live without’em. Bloody silly, isn’t it?’ Again, he looked to see what her response would be. She nodded, as she felt he wanted, then she said, ‘When I was lying up there a minute ago, I was thinking ...’

‘Whoops,’ he said, looking at some tyre marks veering into the sand, ‘someone went to sleep for a minute. Not too bad, by the look of it. Buggers think they can drive on pills. Fuckin ridiculous. Sorry Lou, you were saying?’

> back to TOP


Angela

She arranged to have lunch with Carlo afterwards. He asked her to meet him at Tessa’s: ‘We can take a taxi from there. We’ll go somewhere special, a long way away.’ She knew he was thinking of Rome; they were still full of hopes. He met her across the road before the talk, wished her luck, and went to his sister’s room to add his energy to what she was doing. Tessa was there, and surprised to see him. ‘What’s bringing you here this morning? It’s not your usual time!’ Carlo told her, ‘It’s a big morning for Ange. She’s got to give a paper. I’m backing her up.’ Tessa had never heard him say anything like this before. ‘Getting serious, are we? Is there going to be an announcement soon, maybe? Huh?’ Carlo said nervously, ‘Might be. We’ve got things to work through first.’

Tessa left him, and he realised he had brought nothing to fill the time. He looked around his sister’s room. There was a newspaper on the table, opened out. It featured a photo of a man singing, his arms extended in a gesture that would be silly offstage. In the background was a woman with a coiffure so elaborate that he wondered how long she’d sat before the performance having it arranged. Idly he scanned the column. ‘David Symmonds’ rendition of the tenor aria in the middle of Act 1, the opera’s turning point, was rousing to the point of being overwhelming, the most notable performance in this country since the late Donald Smith thirty years ago. I asked myself if Strauss and Hofmannsthal meant it to be so energetic, or simply a graceful distraction, and found it hard to make up my mind. Symmonds certainly achieved the purpose of the aria, which is to divert us from what’s going on inside the Countess. The production underlined the trick being played on the audience by reminding us, only for a moment, by using a searing beam of light, that the true action was elsewhere.’

Carlo studied the picture. ‘The true action was elsewhere.’ He could relate to that. How was she doing, the woman who shared his sister’s bed with him? Were they going to marry? He sensed that if she gave him the chance to ask, then he’d be accepted. Some men - males, boys - he realised, would be happy with what was already happening; the sex would be enough. ‘I’m being joined to her,’ he told himself. ‘I went into this not knowing what was going to happen.’ It struck him that if he wanted to escape, he had a little less than an hour to do it, and if he was still in the room when Angela arrived, he was hers. At her disposition. He saw, too, that this joining sometimes took place by one person capitulating to another, and sometimes by negotiations that took years. He looked at the trees in the college garden. Everything was still, shaded, and the flowerbeds were well-groomed. The place where Tessa was a resident was old by local standards. Would he and Angela ever get to Rome together? He hoped so, and then it came to him again: if I want to get away, it has to be now.

Now!

He stood stock-still in the middle of the room, wishing impossible things. That he could hear what Angela was saying. That he could sing like the man in the photo, commanding attention with the power of art. He’s got music pouring through him, Carlo thought, so where does that leave me?

He searched himself. He had no wish to move. He was in Angela’s hands. He looked at the critic’s words again. ‘The trick being played on the audience.’ ‘The true action was elsewhere.’ Angela could do with him what she liked. That was the position he’d placed himself in. He wasn’t going to run. ‘It’s my fate,’ he said, ‘and I wish I knew how she’s going.’

As twelve o’clock came closer he became restless, trying to work out how long it would take her to walk to the college. Would she get away quickly, or would someone keep her talking? Would her body be readying itself to press against him in the room they’d made their own? To his surprise, he noticed a taxi swing into the college grounds. It stopped below Tessa’s window, and Angela got out. She said something to the driver, then looked up. Seeing him, she beckoned him down. They’d never been in a taxi before, and it struck him as strange in a way that he could only interpret as a warning. He looked back, in the moment before closing Tessa’s door, and saw his sister’s bed, neatly made, as if it had never a thought in its head about who would use it next.

> back to TOP


Karl

He went into the next room, fiddled with the video, and came back. The sound of commentators’ voices came through.

‘Nice ball. Well left though. He picked up the swing the moment it started, which was much later than we’ve seen so far this morning. And he let it go through to the keeper. Now what’s the bowler doing? I think he wants a change in the field. He’s signalling ...’

‘What’s all this about?’

Ronny lifted a finger, meaning wait. The commentators babbled for another three or four balls, then a deep drone came through the speaker of the set, and into their kitchen, filling the room, the flat ... Karl banged down the knife he was using on his toast. ‘Shit!’

Ronny was amused. Karl felt he’d been taken over, body and soul. He’d asked for a day and a night away from love, and now there was something else. ‘What is it?’

Ronny got up, Karl followed. Ronny squatted on the floor not far from the screen, grinning. Karl pulled over a chair. It was a cricket match replayed from years before. Though not a follower of the game, Karl knew that the signage on the players’ clothes was out of date. Australia was playing somebody, and the ground, he could see, was Adelaide. The camera kept panning, trying to locate who it was that was filling the stadium with sound. The commentators were at first nonplussed, then they realised that what they were hearing was a didgeridoo. ‘What a ... what a ... what a noise!’ Karl said. ‘Fuckin fantastic,’ Ronny returned, in charge of their relationship at last.

Karl’s eyes were on the screen. ‘Where’s it coming from?’

‘Keep watchin.’

The camera continued its search, passing quickly, for once, over skimpily clad young women, children with dobs of cream on their noses, old men with wrinkled faces comparing the players with their efforts of years before. The cathedral crept across the top of the screen as the camera searched. Eventually it located a man with a wooden pole somewhat longer than his legs. His cheeks were puffed with the air he was pushing down the pipe. The cricketers, when the camera returned to them, batted and bowled as if nothing was happening, but everything was happening. Everything was changing. ‘Nothing’s ever going to be the same!’ Karl yelled. ‘Thought it might getya,’ Ronny said. He was grinning. ‘How long have you had this?’ Karl wanted to know. ‘Coupla weeks now.’ Karl thought. ‘How did you get onto it?’ Ronny reverted to his normal self. ‘Huntin through the replays one night. Couldn’t sleep, they had this on. Fortunately I was tapin it. No good decidin you like somethin and then turn on the tape, ya miss the best part of it.’

Karl looked at the accidentally but amazingly preserved record of a moment that was changing his life. Wwwwwoooaaaoooaaaoooaaa ... The sound was so deep that it lay below any normal music. It was scarcely more than a reverberation, but it seemed to be booming off something both close and an infinity away. Though the camera lingered on the man - was it a white man? - playing the tube, it was as if he was only miming, pretending to locate what came from a mental space, a vast collective of all the minds that watched over, and received the magic of his country. Their country. Our country. My country..

> back to TOP


Neville

Neville knew everyone in the room was with her, with the exception, perhaps, of Stephen. ‘Perhaps not,’ he said, ‘but they couldn’t think of anything better, and it was consistent with the way they imagined the universe to be. Heaven and earth. Hell and damnation. Eternity in pain, or eternity in bliss, illuminated by the Almighty. This is the heart of what I want to say.’ He leaned forward, the humour that had tinged his presentation disappearing, though none of them noticed: ‘Most of what repels us about that prison was simply a part of the time. Most of the rest can be put down to stuff-ups, bad planning, those on high not wanting to know what those lower down did with the problems they dumped on them. Imagine trying to run a prison system, hard enough at any time, when the orders come from the other side of the world, and in a sailing ship at that! Foul-ups and confusion were inevitable. It’s common to blame the people who ran the prison. That isn’t fair.’ He tapped some books he had on the table. ‘Governor Arthur, O’Hara Booth ... they couldn’t stop British problems being shipped to the arse-end of the earth, excuse my French.’ He looked at Brigitte and felt stupid. She glanced at him with fire in her eye. ‘A silly expression,’ he said. ‘Forgive me, I wasn’t thinking ...’

When he got home his mother asked him how his talk had gone. ‘Not too badly,’ he said, ‘but really I don’t think I convinced anybody.’ His mother looked shyly at him, a sign he knew of a challenge. ‘Perhaps you weren’t fully convinced yourself?’

His answer came quickly. ‘It isn’t that. My problem is that I don’t know yet how to make people take seriously what I say. They think they can brush it off, so they do. It’s a way of reducing the load of things they carry, I suppose. What I said overturned a lot of what those people’ve been saying in their talks, but I don’t think many of them bothered about that because they don’t even know it’s happened. Oh well.’ His mother said, ‘Can I make you some coffee, darling? And those biscuits you like ... there’s still a few left.’ She looked tenderly at her son. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’ll go upstairs. There’s a bit of music dad plays that I like very much. I came home one night when he thought he was on his own. Well, he was, you were at Hilda’s, and this music was playing, and I caught a bit of it. I want to hear it all, properly, from beginning to end.’ He looked at his mother. ‘I think it might help. Balance me up again, or that’s what I hope.’ She said, ‘Your father’s got hundreds of discs in his cupboard.’ She laughed. ‘I’m not allowed to touch them. He says I’ll get them out of order if I go near them. What sort of order they’re in I’m blessed if I can tell, but somehow he finds what he wants. Do you know what the music was?’

‘It was music that put everything in order,’ her son replied. ‘It was very precious. I could tell, even from the bit I heard, that the man who wrote it had to lose everything else to become what he managed ... no, I mean struggled ... to become. It was music ...’

His fingers were trembling and his teeth on the verge of chattering; his mother watched him shrewdly, and with concern.

‘... that says that any cost is worthwhile, if your goal is big enough, or grand enough, dainty or delicate enough ...’

She saw that he couldn’t finish; he was too young to conclude anything yet. ‘Go and put it on, darling, nice and loud, so I can hear it down here. And when you’ve finished listening, come down and talk to me, if you feel ready. I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say.’.

> back to TOP


The writing of this book:

I am not sure why I took on such a difficult task as this. I had been reading Boccaccio, and Marguerite of Navarre, and I had been struck by how broadly descriptive of a society a collection of tales could be. There’s not much about a society that doesn’t find its way into its stories. Another influence feeding into this book was the two years (1986 – 1987) I spent assisting in the creation of a History field of study in the curriculum for years 11 & 12 in Victoria, the Australian state where I live. This was an exhaustive and often difficult process, and although, when I retired from education, I felt I had been on the winning side of a range of disputes, I also felt that history was a more complex matter than I had realised. I think that what was happening in 1998, when I decided that history was to be the next subject matter of my writing, was that I trying to merge, or blend, the sorts of thinking which I had developed in my thirty or so years in education with the things which came naturally to me as a writer. I’d struggled for ever so long to live the two lives, and now that I was leaving one of them – teaching – I was trying to take it forward into the life I would lead in obedience to the other. Writing. I had always tried to live by the principles of writing, but had had to squeeze it/them in with so much else. I was free at last, and this book, complex as it is, was the shout I wanted to give the world.

Complex. When I look back at the notes I developed in the early months of 1998, when this book was shaping itself, I am surprised. I began … if anything has a definite beginning … by taking my problem to the Caffe Sienna, in Chapel Street, Prahran, one Sunday morning. With a hot chocolate beside me I listed on a piece of paper the fourteen pieces of music that would come into the stories. Fourteen was an arbitrarily chosen number and I should say that I rely heavily, when making formative decisions, on arbitrary decisions that feel right. So fourteen it was. Each story would have a piece of music in it. That shouldn’t be too hard: I listed Carl Nielsen’s 4th Symphony (The Inextinguishable), Claude-Achilles Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande, Heinrich Schutz, Hector Berlioz, and so on until I had thirteen famous names. Who else?

Then I remembered (it’s in the second last story, ‘Karl’) a moment years before when I’d been watching on TV a test match at the Adelaide oval, and someone in the crowd had started to play a didgeridoo. It was a huge sound, it filled the ground and, I had no doubt, the area surrounding it. This was an expression of our land possessing great force. Looking at the notes I made in the Caffe Sienna that morning (9/3/98) I notice that I say of the didgeridoo at the test match that it was an ‘invasion of an invasion’. So the European music I was going to refer to in my stories (histories?) was a memory of, a borrowing from, the European culture which had imposed itself on our ancient land. It was something we had brought here, so inevitably it would be adapted in some way. Even to think of Bach, Monteverdi, Wagner et al was to underscore the difference of our land from Europe. The spirituality of Europe, and all its other characteristics, had tremendous authority in our new land but were also not quite right, because not home-grown. Thinking about this, it seemed to me that the problems of history which I had had to deal with in my last two years in education were starting to look simple beside the more considerable problems I was opening up for myself.

How to deal with them? The book would be my answer.

I started to shuffle my ideas on the computer. Fourteen stories, therefore fourteen people. Each would have a story of his/her own, and each would present a paper to the tutorial they shared. Each would quote a document of importance to their argument, so that meant I had to find fourteen quotations to incorporate. I started to spend days in the Borchhardt library at Latrobe University, to the north of where I live, and the Baillieu library at the University of Melbourne, another favourite retreat. I love to read in libraries. I started to put stories, people, quotations and musical traces together. Shuffle shuffle. I started to put the fourteen presentations in order. Who’d start? Who’d be last? Eventually I decided that I’d begin with Brigitte, the French woman married to an Australian, and I’d end with Neville, a young man the others thought didn’t amount to much, but who surprised them when his time came. Why Brigitte? Why Neville? I’m a writer before I’m an historian and I felt I could get most effect from these two if I used them to begin and to end.

Other challenges presented themselves. I decided that the music to slip into Angela’s story would be something from Richard Strauss. Der Rosenkavalier? Capriccio? I remembered a performance of the former opera in the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, when the Australian Donald Smith came on for the Italian tenor’s aria which deceives the audience into taking its eye, and mind, away from the Marschallin for a couple of minutes; it’s the trick on which the whole act is constructed. Without this trick, the Marshallin could not be wistful at the end after being lustful at the beginning. On the night I heard Donald Smith he walked to the front of the stage and filled the theatre with such a breathtaking account that nobody could think about anything else. The trick was perfectly performed. Well, I told myself, if you’re going to refer to that music you have to use it to pull the same trick. (See ‘Angela’.)

Suddenly I could see all sorts of games that might be played. Ti Chai, the Chinese student, has to cope with a marvellous slab of Wagner, which she can hardly understand, breaking into her life. My character Sam, wanting to kill himself, mysteriously turns on the car radio to hear Carl Nielsen’s music saying very forcefully that life will persist one way or another, whatever foolish mankind does by way of self-destruction. And into the inelegant world of prostitutes and pimps Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart finds a way, and the world shows all over again how amazing it can be.

When it was time to start, I began all fourteen stories at more or less the same time, advancing them a little at a time, to see if there were any problems I hadn’t foreseen, and to make sure that I didn’t have any clumsy overlaps that needed to be eliminated. After a few weeks of moving slowly I found Danny getting ahead of the others and asking to be finished, followed by Sam, Lou, Neville and so on. The whole book took about a year and I loved every moment of it.

I should record here my thanks to the History Department of the University of Melbourne. Stuart McIntyre and Peter McPhee made it possible for me to sit in on three tutorials conducted by Nick Vlahogiannis, soaking up their atmosphere – what was said and not said, their courtesies, silences, periods of rumination, the sorts of things that came out when people were exchanging thoughts. I collected addresses and sent copies of the book to Nick’s students, when the book was printed, but got only one reply – from the mother of one young woman who had gone overseas and asked her mother to send things on to her. Her mother opened the parcel to find the book and she, at least, found it interesting!

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