Whilst researching my new book on Captain John Scully of the 80th Foot, erstwhile Resident Magistrate in the fledgling Swan River Settlement, I've also been visiting museums and reading Rosendo Salvado's records of that era.
In doing so you cannot avoid coming face to face with the dispossession of the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
These people had been living in the Great Southern Land for 30 to 40,000 years and had been husbanding the countryside with great effect. No, they didn't build any great monuments, but they did leave some of the most amazing rock drawings that pre-date anything found in Europe by tens of thousands of years! These people were not stupid savages - as Salvado himself notes - as can be seen from their ancient drawings. It is worthwhile remembering that the first telegraph operator in Western Australia was an extremely bright Indigenous lady!
The illustration above demonstrates the kind of justice that Governor Davey was trying to impose in the brutal early years of Tasmania - or Van Demien's Land as some called it. Whilst the poster suggests equal punishment for blacks and whites, what occurred after that would probably now be called "ethnic cleansing".
But we should also remember that these military wars were conducted under the auspices of the British Empire - not the Commonwealth of Australia.
The other fact to consider is that the life of the Indigenous Australian was not always that of the "Noble Savage". Salvado recounts in his books and writings - and he was definitely considered to be one of the most enlightened people ever to interact with Indigenous Australians - how the indigenous women had a terrible life and were treated appallingly by their own people. The female experience of european missionary influence in those early years was probably one of relief from a life of serfdom or slavery.
Sadly, many male europeans who were starved of female company acted no better than savages and took these poor women for sex slaves themselves - and there can be no excuse for that .... ever...... for anyone.
But along with european settlement came farming and a reliable food source. Yes, it did destroy the land the indigenous were used to hunting on and it did destroy the creeks and rivers too. But food did become more plentiful as the years rolled on and was probably the reason that cannibalism disappeared from Australia. Once again, Salvado is our source and he reports that in dire circumstances the natives would choose someone to kill and eat so that the rest could survive.
In summary: in war - whether declared or undeclared - there is evil committed by both sides and history is written by the winners. In Australia we still have to hear the stories of our indigenous folk - the good and not so good - so that we can understand them. If we do pause to listen to them we will learn so much that we have forgotten about this wonderful country and they will at last feel that they have been heard loud and clear. We also need to hear more about the amazing people who came out and worked with them to help them adapt to the new world order that was about to engulf them.
I'm hoping that my book about Scully and the work we are doing with the Pilgrim Trail will allow the Indigenous to tell their stories and let the current generation of Australians to hear what they have to say. Then, perhaps, all Australians can embrace the fact that we are one nation under the Great Spirit.
I've always been a passionate person and over the decades have written the occasional poem - usually in honour of my beloved!
But for the third book in the Rosso Trilogy - The Duchess - I've added some poetry to the saga. It's not spoken by Rosso but by a youth who is so full of passion he's almost drowning in life!
Let me know what you think.
This is about one of the many women he thinks he's in love with!
Glassy eyed with breath still stained by last night’s excess,
I stood and sang amongst the cloistered choir
Mouthing hollow words in that hallowed place.
Suspended in the lingering silence
The holy canticle haunted the vaults,
Filling the empty spaces that fled-fear oft leaves behind.
Then she appeared.
Her soundless slippered footfalls
blessed the flagstoned souls beneath her passing feet.
Her gentle knees graced the wooden floor,
Her timid eyes shivered as she mouthed her simple prayers,
Her soft lips forming their words in silent, sensuous mime.
One candle lit face
One tiny light to spear the bleak black landscape of my soul.
Oh blessed morn when my soul was seared by such beauty.
Green shoots of glorious deeds took root in my mind,
And life, in full-blown ecstasy exploded inside me.
It’s over now.
All is desolation.
All is darkness.
Hope has fled.
For she is taken from me and my mouth is full of ash.
One of the challenges about being a Locum rural Family Doctor is that it clashes with one of my other hats which is to promote my book Rosso here in the Antipodes.
But then I had a light bulb moment today whilst walking through Perth CBD.
Why sell books in bookshops?
Crazy idea really eh?
Why not promote them through coffee shops?
I can't thin why no I didn't think of it earlier really, especially when the coffee house is called .... pauses for a drum roll .....
I went in feeling a tad nervous but the Manager was my instant Guardian Angel especially as his name was Rafael and he was 100% Italian.
He was so happy with the idea and now the first 12 customers who sip his black blend on Monday will also be able to read a free copy of my book.
When I return from Tasmania in a few weeks, then we'll have a grand book signing in the heart of the city.
Rosso changes the world!
I've just returned from working as a relieving Family Doctor in a Rural General Practice - and boy was it busy. The downside was that I didn't get any time to do any writing for my new book on Captain John Scully (mind you I did spend a few moments doing some online research, but don't tell anyone!) The upside was that I met some great people - and hopefully was able to help some of them.
Today I was preparing the second edition of the book I've written for the Camino Salvado as we approach the official launch of our Pilgrim Trail, and was reminded of some of the those one-off meetings with people that can stay in your mind long after you've left them.
Here's what I wrote:
....... when preparing for this book, I took out my Camino de Santiago journal and read again about two people who had a deep impact on me at the time, and yet I only met them for a few minutes and will never see them again.
“We stopped for lunch at a tiny pub in a side street off the main highway. There we met the owner, a neat and spry septuagenarian, who was outside cleaning the little round tables that sit outside many such establishments. Sitting at one of these tables was a youthful pilgrim who was rewarding himself with an unhealthy cigarette and a glass of beer! The owner went inside where I followed him with the intention of placing my order. Two regulars were supporting the bar, but apart from them the place was empty. The owner eventually reappeared and provided our young colleague outside with his rural roll and mug of coffee.
I quickly came to the conclusion that life has its own pace here, and that pace was an extremely slow one ! I waited and waited to gain the owners attention.
An older lady shuffled in to the bar. The owner immediately turned his attention to her and began to listen to her needs. Being very put out by having been overlooked in the natural pecking order of service, I stood there exuding impatience from every pore of my being.
But then on closer inspection it seemed that all was not well the the lady. She had a bloated face and was blind. When I thought about it, my little old man who kept a clean house and served nourishing food, who spoke little but served well, had taught me that we don’t need to be fast and first. We don’t need to be sexy and glitzy. We just have to do our best wherever and whenever the moment arises”.
The second person I refer to as my Mary Magdalene experience!
“Journey means new experience and maybe new relationships. We hope these will be positive and yet we’re frequently disappointed. But the unexpected often gives us great joy - an old door painted blue; a flower growing out of a rocky wall or an unlooked for act of kindness.
We had walked several kilometres in the rain and thought we might be lost. Which, as it turned out, we were! Eventually we connected with the right path and decided to celebrate with a cup of coffee. The only establishment we could fine was a seedy looking bar down a side street, so we went in. It was one of those smoke filled places where you don’t just think that everyone’s looking at you, you KNOW that everyone’s looking at you! Our coffee was strong and hurriedly drunk. The barmaid - bar lady - looked harried and had a creased - or was it scarred - face. Once she had been a good looking lady, but her bloom had faded. She served the several locals their beer, returning their banter with easy repartee and with earthy, knowing looks.
But when I asked for the bill, she came over, and with great grace and gave us some sweet cake to eat and refused to charge for our coffees. We were both moved by that simple act of kindness. I followed her over to the bar and being me - I kissed her hand in thanks.
I think - no, I am certain - that for a brief moment there was a flushed look of gentle innocence on that tired and wounded face of hers.
She has a good heart and I thank God for having crossed her path”.
These two people performed simple acts of kindness to ordinary people who passed through their lives. I only saw them because my pilgrimage allowed me to slow down and see them. Too often we are in such a hurry to get onto the next “thing” that we miss the wonderful experience of life that is happening right in front of our eyes.
Slowing down, simplifying, and simple acts of kindness are all things we can take home from our Camino experiences. One suggestion would be to being really sincere when you say “Thank you” to the person at the checkout counter. It might even be stopping to say “Hi” to the person selling the ‘Big Issue’ in our city streets; I know they need your money, but they need to be acknowledged as fellow pilgrims too - just as we all are.
Yesterday was our last day in Sydney and on an impulse, the young bride decided that she needed her hair trimmed, so I chimed in with "I do too". Number two son, who works in Sydney CBD, duly came up with a hairdresser he knew and who would be able to fit us both in that very morning
I was given 45 minutes to idle away whilst the bride was washed and cut. I ambled down to the harbour to watch the world go by in the glorious Sydney sunshine. Then it was my turn and the young bride took her leave with the final admonition of "Not too short dear", then she left.
That's when it became apparent that I may not know myself as well as I thought!
It all began quite innocuously when Eli - he with the scissors and shears - benignly asked which side do I part my hair on. "From left to right" I replied thinking that it must be bleedingly obvious.
I was quite taken aback when he then asked "Are you sure"?
Looking back I suspect that there might have been a touch of smugness in my reply "Well I've been doing that way for over 5 decades ...." But Eli was not one to be put off by such trifling logic.
"Mind if I just study your hair lines" he said. For a few silent moments he scrutinised my scalp intensely before pronouncing "I think it falls much more naturally the other way."Then, hey presto, waving his comb through my tresses all became calm on serene on my cranium.
A big grin appeared on my face for a number of reason but the big one was that I now saw 2016 opening up with a whole new way of seeing me in the world. No longer would I accept things on face value: from now on I will question the status quo and ask can it be done better: can I do it better?
The other reason for the grin was that Eli obviously had a deep passion for his electric shears and was by now focusing hard on liberating my ears from decades of thatch. All I could think of was the young bride returning and seeing this new apparition of alien ears and an elongated neck. And I was not disappointed! When she came back (fortunately accompanied by number two son) she couldn't stop herself from a small scream of shock.
But the best was yet to come!
Today, after flying home to Perth, she was behind me in the kitchen when she said "Did that man damage your neck? You've got a big red mark there!"
The indicated area had no pain and wasn't itchy so I deduced no trauma and no allergy. So what was it? With the aid of a mirror and an iPhone camera the two of us discovered a ........................
Birthmark which I vaguely recalled from eons past but which had lain concealed for decades under my previously unruly tresses. "It's like a map of the world" the young bride said.
I grinned and replied, "You should see what's inside my head."
"Ha" was the short response "I've been doing that for years" and she gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before leaving.
Just a quick note amongst the post Christmas cheer to relate two wonderful things that happened to me in the last 24 hours.
First - someone rang me yesterday to say that he'd sat down n that post excess lull we call Boxing day, and he thought he'd read Rosso. He said that he enjoyed it so much that he spent the rest of the day reading and had just finished the book! That was the only reason he'd rung, to tell me how much he'd enjoyed the book and when was the next one being released!
Second - I was just on the front stoop of the place we're staying at here in Sydney and I was playing my Irish Folk Flute. A young woman with child in her arms popped her head over the front fence and said with a beautiful smile on her face "That's beautiful music". I was so taken by the unexpected compliment that I missed my next notes!!! But it did give the the opportunity to smile and wave at the little child who gave me a big grin in return.
Such are the little things in life that make it unexpectedly wonderful to be alive.
I hope and pray that 2016 is full of such unlooked for surprises for you too.