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OUR BOOKS > MINI–MAGS > TRAVERS

Travers
Memoir (Mini-Mags)
Written by Chester Eagle
Design by Vane Lindesay, cover image by Rodney Manning, 2007
DTP work by Karen Wilson
Circa 4,000 words
Electronic publication by Trojan Press, 2007
9,500 print copies distributed by Avant Card free postcards 2008, and another 500 by the author.
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Here’s what it says on the cover:

To write about a mother, sister, father, brother, is one thing; to write about an absence is harder. What would our lives have been like if the one that died had managed to live on, affecting us in all the normal ways? The question can’t be answered but this memoir is an attempt. The narrator’s brother is felt most keenly in his absence. Our only immortality is in memory, and its span is brief.


To read some extracts from this memoir click here:

The start
Footy
The crash
The absence
Travers remembered


To read about the writing of this memoir click here.

The start

Travers was my brother, and I never knew him very well.  He was killed in a car accident in 1956, so most of those who knew him are dead, or perhaps in that stage of long-distance recall which gives sharper memories than I can provide.  Alas, if there are such people, I wouldn’t know where to find them, so I can only give you what I know.

Travers was my brother, and six years older, so we always had that gap between us, a gap which, as many of you will know from your relations with your own siblings, is something that both (or all) parties need in order to give themselves privacy, some space for independence.  Travers was my brother, but he’d gone to school in another town when I entered Grade 4, then I went away to Melbourne, and by the time he came home, ready to take up our parents’ farm, I was in eastern Victoria, teaching, so we were never doing the same thing at the same time, never looking at the same part of the world in the same way …

With a few exceptions.  I shall try to put them down now, to see how much I can find.

Travers was my brother, and he was less concerned with his own thoughts than I was.  When he was at school and I was at home on our farm, I had hours and hours with my own thoughts, playing and imagining by myself.  We had a mouse plague one summer, and they crowded into our shed, where there bags full of wheat, oats and barley.  Father tried to stack the bags to keep the mice away, but there was no stopping them.  They were there in thousands, and they smelt.  I stayed away from the shed.  One afternoon my brother brought three other boys home from school; they had a drink of cordial, courtesy of my mother, then they went to the shed, armed with shovels for turning over everything in sight, and sticks to beat the mice.  They turned over everything and they chased the mice.  I stood in the yard, watching.  Mice ran under the windmill, across the tracks of the car and tractor, into the sheepyards, into the pigsty, under the legs of the horse trough, into the haystack, into the old blacksmith’s shop, under the various bits and pieces of agricultural machinery we had protected by greater or lesser degrees of shelter.  The boys yelled as they walloped fleeing mice and I watched in amazement.  It seemed very cruel to me, though I certainly saw the purpose of it.  Who cared about mice?  They’d eat you out of house and home, as Father said.  The boys had a great time, then they gathered back at the house, had another drink, said goodbye to Mother, and left.  Not Travers, of course, he stayed, but I don’t remember him saying a word, afterwards, about the slaughter he’d organised.  I guess the mice returned to the shed after a few hours; as far as I’m aware they don’t count the cost of a few of their number missing.

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Footy

I went to school in Melbourne.  Travers came to Melbourne too, working for a stock and station company, and boarding with a woman who had rooms for young men in Malvern, not far from my school.  Travers said he’d take me to the football, and did so on a handful of occasions.  Once we saw Essendon beat Collingwood; on the train back to the city Travers discussed the defeat with some people wearing scarves, or buttons, that showed their allegiance to the Pies, the black and white club.  We had magpies on our farm, and mudlarks, smaller birds with the same colours.  Collingwood was still, in those days, a highly successful (because fanatical) working class Catholic club and they’d won more premierships than any other team.  They’d somehow created a tradition out of nothing, and they were feared.  On the train back from Essendon that wintry afternoon Travers talked with these Collingwood people about whether the club should continue the struggle to win this year – that year – or work on developing a side for the year to come.

I thought they were silly, but then I wasn’t as passionate as they were.

Another day Travers took me to a grand final.  Essendon was playing Melbourne.  The game was not far from starting when I decided it might be best if I went to the toilet.  Off I went, and I came out of the concrete stairwell just as everyone stood for the national anthem.  Things seemed different with the crowd solemnly upright, and the music resonating against the mighty stand.  I couldn’t see my brother.  I didn’t know where my seat was.  The anthem was played while the players stood in two ranks, and watery sunlight cast shadows behind everything it touched.  I stood, more lost than I’ve ever felt before or since, and then, when the anthem ended, the shouting had died down and this mighty crowd resumed its seats, all was clear to me.  This row.  Along here.  There he was, and the rough young man he’d brought as well.  I slipped along the seated row of onlookers, settled in my seat, and said something to Travers’ companion, who was pouring beer into a mug.  ‘Needn’t say anything about this,’ Travers murmured to me, and I nodded.  I was in school uniform, which meant that I was subject to school rules, of which there were plenty, mostly to do with the behaviour expected of a gentleman, and they were in adult clothes, so they could do as they liked, and really, I didn’t care who drank beer, because Essendon got ahead and stayed there for a runaway win.  I had dinner that night at Travers’ boarding house and it seemed to me that the young men at the place were lost souls, working at low-level jobs, but not studying, the contents of their minds no better than the pages of Melbourne’s lowly newspaper, The Sun.  After the dinner, which finished with custard, I remember, Travers took me back to my school.  As I left him and walked in the gate I fumbled in my pocket for the exeat (He may go out!) which I hoped was still there.

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The crash

I’ve often thought of the next minute.  I’d been brought up in a small town, so I might have known.  Father and Mother too.  Perhaps they had to go to the bottom of the pit of the experience if they were ever to get over it, or learn to manage it in their minds.  Our driver, an employee of Father’s friend, had simple orders – take us home.  He took us on the road which Travers had travelled in the opposite direction only a few hours before.  The car was still there, smashed against a telegraph pole and the local kids, the very sort of kids my brother and I had gone to school with, were there by the dozen, scrambling over the wreck, picking up scattered bits as souvenirs, tracking skid marks, chattering, and, of course, living the crash again in all their childish vitality.  Mother cried, ‘Oh no!’ and wept.  Father went stiff.  Our driver speeded up slightly, though not so much as to underline the obvious.  None of us looked back.  We got to our town quickly enough, then to our farm.  Friends were waiting, with lunch prepared, on our own table.  We sat, the friends sat with us, and our driver.  ‘You’ve got arrangements to make,’ one of Mother’s friends said.  ‘You’ve got to do it all quietly, then you have to sleep.  You’ll need to talk, eventually, but not just yet.  You’ve got the shock to deal with, first.’

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The absence

Early the next morning I was woken by the sound of a lawn mower – one of the push variety – cutting the grass outside my window.  Father apologised.  ‘Sorry for the noise.  I couldn’t sleep.  I needed to do something.’  We got breakfast; our driver was a model of quiet courtesy, sitting beside Father, eating bacon and eggs.  Travers’ things – his hat, his boots – seemed to be everywhere.  An hour or two passed.  I sat myself in the lounge beside the fireplace writing to friends to tell them what had happened; I remember still, today, a feeling that I had as I wrote to them that I was telling myself with each and every letter the awful truth that I hadn’t yet internalised.  Travers would only finally be dead when I got cards or notes from these friends expressing their sympathy, their grief.

I finished my letters, and went to my room at the front of the house.  There was a photo of Travers on the mantelpiece which I wanted to turn around, but didn’t, because it would be disrespectful.  Then I saw a car coming to our house between the two lines of trees.  Someone had heard …

The car was driven by a young woman on her own.  She got out, nubile, wearing a quality frock, and a billowingly wide-brimmed hat.  I went to the door to receive her and she introduced herself: she was the wife of the man who’d been driving the car which crashed into the pole.  She’d come to tell my parents how sorry she was …

I called Mother, who came, and asked the young wife in.  I went for a long walk.  I think now that this was rude of me, and that Travers would have told me that I should have sat with Mother and her visitor in order to make the young woman know that her intentions in visiting to make the apology which her presence was certainly implying were respected.  Travers, I’m sure, would have stayed, but I didn’t think of that.  I went into the paddocks which he, and I, and Father had worked, and it seemed that I was surrounded by the infinity into which Travers had disappeared.  He was gone.

> back to TOP


Travers remembered

We lost each other, my brother and I, when he went away to school in northern Victoria and I, a little later, went to school in Melbourne.  The last time we were in the same world of growing up was before we made those fateful excursions, when we both went to the same little school in the same little town on our two bicycles, riding in and out every day.  There were two years of this, or possibly three.  Irrigation came to our district in that time, and this meant the Mulwala Canal cut through farms, bringing water.  On a hot day, when we were riding home from school, the water was very tempting.  Travers and I would often stop for a drink at Hamilton’s Bridge, where a road crossed the water.  My brother always had friends, and on one particular day there were two of them, and we stopped, all four of us, at Hamilton’s Bridge, and the boys said they’d like a swim.  Travers and the other boys stripped off their clothes and plunged in the water.  I wasn’t a good swimmer and I stayed on the bridge.  As I sit here writing I can see the three boys jumping and splashing, swaggering along the footwalk beside the bridge where the water bailiffs – that was what they were called – added boards, or took them out, to raise or lower the level of the stream.  The upstream side of Hamilton’s Bridge was the best swimming spot for a long way, and the boys made the most of it.  I see the three of them with their hair wet, wiping their faces, their buttocks, their developing but still almost hairless bodies, and beyond that I see their confidence, their natural nakedness as they played in the water and on the boardwalk, until they’d had enough and it was time to pick up their bikes again.

It’s a moment of no meaning to anyone else but if I look down the years to the time when my brother was alive, that’s when I feel closest to him and I can’t help wishing that I could go back to Hamilton’s Bridge, and see him swimming, splashing, calling out, hopping in and out of the water, about as happy as anyone could be.

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The writing of this memoir:

It dawned on me that my brother had been dead for fifty years.  As I make clear in my memoir, we were never close, but we were brothers, and this meant being part of each other in that troubling way by which members of a family are incomplete without each other.  Our lives took different paths, then my path continued and his did not.  It might easily have been the other way around.  There were times when I drove my first, and my second, motor car less well than I should have.  I might have brought about my own end, something he didn’t do, unless his willingness to get into the car that killed him was a decision in some sort of way.

Do we choose our time to die?  For many of us yes, for many, no.  And for some of us, it simply isn’t clear whether or not we’re complicit in our end.  Was my brother complicit in this way?  I cannot say.

As I make clear in the memoir, I didn’t know him well.  This would appear to make him unsuitable as a subject for writing, but the fact of his absence from my life appeared to me to be a subject in itself.  I would write about the brother that I’d missed, that I’d done without, for all those fifty years.  And something of him remained in a handful of memories.  He was there, and he wasn’t.  When I was writing the memoir, I taxed myself with being self-indulgent for talking about the music that I listened to in the days that followed my brother’s death.  The lines still got written, though.  If my subject was the absence of my brother, and the manner of his withdrawal from my life, then the things that filled the void were relevant.  I didn’t have my brother; the music was all I had.

I refer also to the effect of my brother’s absence on my mother; in particular the importance to her of my son, when he was born.  Life reasserted itself.  Life lifted for Mother when he was born.  On reflection, this caused me to realise that things we don’t think about very much may be the very things that give our lives the shape they have.

I must also mention, again, the fifty year gap between his death and me writing about him.  A time gap of this sort has affected me before.  More than thirty years elapsed between my leaving Melbourne Grammar School and being ready to write about it.  Towards the end of my teaching career, one of my colleagues told me he was looking forward to what I would have to say about our shared experience. I told him not to be in any hurry.  Twenty years have passed already and I haven’t drawn on that career for writing.  Will there be any such writing?  I have no idea.  I’ve also mentioned, elsewhere on this site, the gap of thirty years between hearing about certain events in the Gippsland mountains and the moment of feeling ready to write Wainwrights’ Mountain.  In the case of the first two stories in House of Music, the gap was even longer.  Paradoxically, there have been times when writing has followed experience fairly closely.  Why this should be so, I cannot say, although I suppose, in the case of the books of long gestation, there has been a need to get certain events and influences fully digested before they can be used.  The life of the mind, and the inner workings thereof, are not easily understood.  I am inclined to think that the vital factor, the explanatory one, is the willingness or otherwise of a writer to allow, to admit, that certain events are a necessary part of one’s existence.  There can be no greater acceptance of a set of events, or personalities, than to allow them to participate in one’s imaginative life. This is a vital part of any human being, perhaps the vital part.  Without the imagination we wouldn’t be able to fall in love. (Fall?  Fall?  We find it hard to separate language from imagination … but that’s too big a topic to enter into here.)  To let a personality, or certain events, enter into our imaginative lives is one of the most decisive things we can do.  Whether or not this explains the long gaps, in my case, between experience and writing, is an open question for me.

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