It was strange that Mrs Wright was the cause of Kip meeting up with Maali. But then, the fates often work that way.
The good ladies of the Anglican Church community had decided that it would be nice to do something for the native children as they called them. The something they chose to do was to invite them to an afternoon tea party in the Church grounds. A committee was formed - naturally - and a time and date settled upon. A delegation was sent to inform the native children that they were to attend on a specific Sunday at a specific time. No RSVP was included in the invite!
The first hurdle to overcome was to inform the Whadjuk folk of when, and what a Sunday was! It turned out that they called it wangarden ngoolyanak, which means screaming cockatoos in english, because when the church bells rang all the cockatoos flew out of the trees screaming in fright! The second challenge was to get them to understand that the children had to arrive at a specific time. Never having bothered too much with such a concept, it was eventually decided that they’d send a messenger along to bring them.
Kip was chosen as the man with a message.
On that blessed day of benevolence, the ladies had prepared tea, cakes and sandwiches and set them out on the shaded side of the church building. The more enlightened had even made some home made lemonade and biscuits. Kip was dispatched and took to the task with his usual unbridled enthusiasm. Maali’s family had a camp not far from the Settlement. Their original land was a bit further away but suffered from the fatal flaw of having the best views and the best land around for the more discerning settler. The aborigines had been ‘re-located’ to their current location on top of the cliffs which made access to their usual fishing grounds far more difficult. But they coped - just.
Kip arrived at the camp and stood there with his hands on his hips grinning from ear to ear. To anyone else’s eyes, it would appear that no one was expecting him and none of the children were ready. Maali, who was sitting with her mother at the time, was the first to spot him and smiled when she recognized his face. She whispered to her Mum and then went over to Kip.
“You’re Kip aren’t you” she asked.
“Yep” he smiled back. “You want to come and play at my place?”
They stood there grinning at each other.
“Come on, let’s go” Kip said excitedly.
“Hold one” Maali said, I need to get my brothers and sisters and cousins.
“Can I come with you” he asked?
Taking him by the hand the two children headed off as if they’d know each other all their lives. They gathered together a motley crew of half a dozen reluctant, scrawny shy kids and headed back down the track to town. Up front, Kip and Maali chatted away about this and that, exchanging ideas and information as they went.
“I’ve seen you before” Maali said as they descended the hill leading to the main settlement.
“When was that?”
“You were asleep in a log with old man brown snake sleeping in your lap. Djidi came to me and asked me to help so I took old man snake away and gave him a real good talking to.”
“Wow” Kip answered as a broad smile wreathed around his lips, “I don’t remember that! That’s amazing.” His imagination kicked into a higher gear, “Gee, it must be fun to be able to pick up snakes and not get bitten.” Adopting his serious expression he added, “My Dad says snakes can be very dangerous.”
Maali’s smile revealed perfect white teeth. “They’re not as dangerous as moondoong.”
“What are they” asked Kip. “They must be really scary then!”
Maali thought it best not to tell Kip that moondoong were white people.
Afternoon tea was not a great success. The ladies seemed to see the children as some sort of exotic exhibits from a zoological garden, whilst the children didn’t know what to make of such strange folk - wearing so many clothes and pretending not to feel hot. The food tasted terrible too to their way of thinking, though the sweetness of the cakes made up for the strangeness of the texture.
The children all gathered around Maali yet Kip was the only white person who seemed to be at ease with them. He and Maali developed an instant friendship and that made me so happy that I decided to drop in on them and share the fun ... and the food they’d dropped on the ground. Some ladies tried to shoo me away, and some of the boys chased after me until they got bored and decided to retreat to their own plans and clans. Soon enough I found my way back to where my two friends were chatting away to each other. Maali saw me first and tossed a few crumbs in my direction.
“Does he talk to you” Kip asked?
Maali looked surprised. “Sometimes. Why did you ask?”
“He talked to me once” he confided, “but I didn’t tell anyone. Most people seem to think I’m away with the fairies anyway and I didn’t want to give them anymore ammunition.” A wry expression curled up one side of his face.
Maali looked at Kip and saw that deep within, her new friend was not just lonely, he was very bright too. Still, she was not sure whether she’d just found a kindred spirit or just another annoying boy! “I promise I won’t tell anyone” she whispered back to him conspiratorially.
“Kip the dolphin talked to me as well. In fact we played catch together.”
This time Maali’s eyes opened wide. “You talked with Kwili?”
“Yep” he said with a proud grin on his face.
This time it was her turn to murmur “Wow. Really?”
“He said that I could call him if ever I needed him.” A frown shaded his face, “How did he get those scars on his side?”
“You really did see Kwili then?”
“Of course. Why would I tell you a lie” he replied in total innocence.
Maali, who in her short life had excelled at learning the lore of her people from her mother and aunts, had learned many stories about the great Kwili, king of the ocean and river, and of how he was the defender of all that the great Rainbow serpent had created on the land and in the waters that flowed over, under and around it.
“I thought that he only spoke to our people” she said, “but I think I can understand why he spoke to you too. You’re special Kip and I’m glad to be your friend even if you are a boy!” She pushed him in fun. Kip toppled back and landed on the table laden with tea cups and displaying the splendid sponge cake that the Vicars wife had created. There was a tremendous crashing noise as dozens of smashing cups, saucers and plates hit the ground all around him. Kip struggled to his feet and accidentally placed his hand smack bang in the middle of the sponge cake as he tried to rise.
“Oops” he said looking around sheepishly.
Mrs Wright had just manoeuvered her way into the gaggle of women surrounding the Governor’s wife when the calamity happened. To say that she was incandescent with rage would have done damage to the dignity of light! Whilst some nearby, kindly ladies helped Kip to his feet and tried to clean him up, Mrs W approached with one sole aim in life - retribution for her shame.
Maali meanwhile had slipped quietly over to where her family and friends were and whispered that it was time for them to leave. The party was over.
The Vicars wife’s tea party was the main topic of conversation in the Colony for some weeks afterwards. Most thought it to be funny, Mrs Wright’s intimates commiserated with her about how boys will ‘always let you down’, MRs W herself took her revenge on Kip who was beaten and grounded for a month. Poor Mr Wright was also the subject of her wrath for being such a weak man and such a poor example to the children - indeed to the whole of the colony. She sent him to Coventry which had the unexpected effect of making his life so much easier.
Kip himself never let on the reason for his fall from grace.
After some weeks, the misadventure at the vicarage was instantly forgotten with the news that a ship full of Irish convicts was due to anchor at Fremantle in the next few days. The gossip mongers went into overdrive. The newspaper had, for many years been supporting the idea of importing convict labour to help with the expansion of the colony. It was thought that with the cheap labour the farmers would be able to harvest bigger crops and the english prisons would be relieved of some of their burden at the same time. As for the convicts themselves, well, no one really gave them too much thought. In fact most of them thrived in their new found freedom. In the end, it turned out that every one reaped a benefit.
But with the arrival of the Irish, a different type of convict was about to join their ranks. These were not petty thieves or hardened criminals, these men were political prisoners. Their fame preceded them. Nearly all of them were well educated with a passionate love of their homeland and a deep disgust of how the British had treated the Emerald Isle.
Finally, one sunny day, the Hougoumont sailed over the horizon and dropped anchor off the port of Fremantle. Over the next few days it disgorged its human cargo onto the beach. There were two hundred and sixty convicts and almost a hundred passengers. In the town there was a festival atmosphere as the locals gathered to greet and gawp at the new arrivals.
The prisoners were directed to the big new imposing Fremantle prison which was to act as home to some of them - especially those considered the most dangerous: the murderers, the rapists and the Irish! The remaining convicts were soon released into the care of farmers and artisans from all around the expanding colony and most became model citizens. Even the murderers and rapists seemed to reform under the great southern skies and considering the number of villains who had arrived, very few reappeared before judge and jury.
The Irish were in a class of their own though.
Amongst them there were poets, writers and charmers! JB O’Reilly stood out from the rest. One day, when they were on a work patrol in the main settlement, Kip ran over to him saying “Hi, my name is Kip. Do you want to come to my place and play?”
The Irishman was pleasantly taken aback by the innocence of the child replying “Well Kip, I’d really like to do that but unfortunately I have a previous engagement, perhaps another day?”
Kip, not to be deterred went on “My Dad makes boots and shoes. He’s so clever at doing that. And my best friend is Maali. Do you know her?”
“No lad. I haven’t had that honour yet.”
“She’s a Noongar girl. She and I have met some amazing animals and birds.” As he said the word amazing, his eyes widened to match his emotions.
“Well Master Kip, I’m surely looking forward to meeting your Pappy and your friend Maali. It seems to me that there’s a lot to learn in this new country of yours. Perhaps, if I may make so bold, I might be able to teach you a few Irish ballads and poems and tell you a few stories of my own.”
“That would be so good Mister ...?”
“John O’Reilly, but most people call me JB.” With that he extended his hand and warmly shook Kips.
“Move on back there Irish” shouted the guard at the head of the detail.
“I look forward to seeing you again soon Kip” JB winked.
“Me too, Mr O’Reilly,” and the young boy saluted as the Irishman was marched away with the others.