Here is the first Chapter from my children's book - Kip - which I will be serialising over the next several weeks before publishing later this year..
I hope you enjoy
Great Southern Land
It was the year of our Lord 1836, and the sailing ship the St Vincent had just deposited the Wright family on the beach at Fremantle. Their intention had been to make a new life for themselves on Government land one hundred miles to the south of the fledgling Settlement. But things didn’t work out exactly as they planned.
“I knew it” harrumphed Mona Wright.
Mona’s the wife of Joseph, and mother of three young Wrights: Annabel, the eldest, Kipling their son, and the formidable baby Freddie, prone to ferocious fits of crying if he doesn’t get his way.
“It’s all your fault Joseph” she fumed dropping both of her cases on the sand.
Joseph is a cobbler by trade and despite his large frame and ponderous way of thinking, when it comes to dealing with all things soft and leather he is a veritable genius. He is also the butt of his spouse’s venom, a habit unfortunately inoculated into her autocratic daughter Annabel. Mona, the fourth child of a distressed farmer from Ickleford, a small village in the countryside of Hertfordshire, linked Mona Wright, in her limited imagination, to the landed gentry of Great Britain.
For her, that she had met Joe was a circumstance to be eternally regretted. For her, that she had married him, was a great stumbling block on her road to attaining her true station in life. Yet to most sensible people it was great good fortune. As for status, Joe may not have been a great catch, but he was a wonderful provider and he had the gentlest of hearts.
It was Mona who had seen the advertisement in a tattered copy of the London Times seeking Fit and willing settlers for the new colony on the Swan River in Western Australia. Here was the chance she sought of escaping mediocrity and establishing herself amongst the landowners of a new country, of making their fortune and bestowing her favors and graces on the subjects of that distant land.
Unbeknown to them, during their three month sea journey from London, things had gone from bad to worse in the new settlement and by the time the Wrights arrived, their promised land had been totally abandoned.
Standing on the sandy shore she demanded that her husband fix the situation immediately. Joe put down his load, picked it up again before putting it back down. He took the hat off his head and scratched his thick black locks as if trying to dig out a solution. Having failed, he put his hat on again and, picking up his load once more, headed off toward a gaggle of fellow, bewildered settlers. From his vantage point, perched on of his Dad’s wide shoulders, young Kipling - or Kip was he was known - soaked up everything and he was mightily delighted with everything that he saw.
It was strange to watch it all. No one took any notice of me. Who would? Just another silly willy wagtail hopping around looking for flies. But someone had seen me. Kip was watching and as he went by on his familiar mount, he waved at me. There was something thrilling about the smile he gave me and I thought, ‘this one’s different’. And I was right.
Kip’s a strange lad. He’s so happy in himself, although some things do make him unhappy. I see the shadow of sadness on his face when his Mum yells at him for something or other, which is usually not his fault. But he always bounces back. I like that in a child. Over the following months I noticed all these things from a distance as the small family found their feet in the main settlement of Swan River. Joseph is a good worker and a skilled artisan and it wasn’t long before he had established himself in a small business repairing and making boots for the army, and creating fashionable shoes for those who could afford to wear them. Getting the right hide for leather was hard but he soon learned how to use kangaroo skin when cow hide was too scarce or too expensive.
“You shouldn’t pay those blacks so much for those flea bitten skins” Mona declared one morning over breakfast. Joe was sitting on a stool next to the fire with Kip in his usual position next to him. Annabel had woken up feeling tired. Being highly favored by her mother, that good lady fussed over her before declaiming that Kip would do her chores for this morning as the poor thing needed a lie-in. Freddie was thankfully asleep.
“Now come my dear” Joe began, “them poor fellows deserve all I give ‘em and ...”
He was cut short by the sour face of his wife. “You shouldn’t encourage them” she retorted haughtily. “Think of my position in society. What will the ladies think of me if my husband trades with the natives? And your poor daughter? Think of the shame she has to live with knowing what her father does.”
Joe looked at Kip and in their secret language decided to keep their heads down and finish their food. In their case, silence was often the better part of valor. With an exasperated “Cat got your tongue then,” and finding herself unable to vent her spleen on the two of them, she dropped the porridge pot on the table near them and frumphed out to the scullery.
“There he is again Joe” said Kip pointing at me in the doorway, “do you think he understands what we’re saying?”
“Well, and don’t let your mother hear tell that I told you so Kip, but to my mind there’s more to birds and animals and fishes than meets the eye. There’s definitely more Kip” and with that deep insight he scrapped the pot clean, finished off his meal and carried his dish to the sink to wash.
“Can you understand what I’m saying” Kip asked looking straight at me?
Now call me suspicious, but I take it as a rule not to rush into conversations with humans, otherwise all sorts of unexpected troubles can result. So I did my usual trick of acting very bird-like, hopping hither and yon in the doorway. Then, impulsively, I perched myself on the kitchen table next to him. What was I thinking? This could end up badly but Kip just grinned and said in a very bad english accent, “Welcome to my royal court my Lord Wagtail. And to what honor do we deserve the pleasure of your esteemed company?”
I think the sun must have boiled his freckle faced head.
“I’m not a wagtail mate, I’m a djidi djidi.”
Well, the look on his face was priceless: shock, wonder and delight all rolled into one small boys face. Before he could recover, I took flight.
I didn’t see Kip for some months after that so I don’t know if or what he told anyone. He probably told his Dad because the two of them were both children at heart, which was one of the reasons they were as thick as thieves. The other obvious reason that they were so close was Mrs Wright. She saw the two of them as the root cause of her loss of social standing and, as a result, her sole objective in life seemed to be to harass and harangue them at every opportunity.
Magpie, who likes to forage amongst the gardens down at the settlement whilst holding parliament with his mates, would keep me up to date with what was going on down there. He told me that he’d often see Kip head off into the bush on his own, usually with a stick - not to ward off snakes or wild beast, but to wield it as a mythical sword, such was the depth of the boys magical imagination. Kip would climb up onto rocks and shout out at the sky, calling to the wild birds and any creature that would listen that their long lost king had returned. At other times he’d stand by the river skimming stones and picking up the jelly fish that float back and forth with the tidal swell. He’d only pick them up to study them and I’d heard that he’d even tell them some of his fantastical stories. Most other boys just scooped the poor creatures out, dropped them on the sandy shore before dropping a rock on them. Boys can be cruel sometimes - but not young Kip, he was different. The trouble with being different though is that it attracts attention, mostly of the wrong sort.
“They’re pecking on him.” That was Magpie who wiffled his way to land near me one day. Seeing the confused look on my face he added, “The boys, they’re pecking on Kip again.”
“Don’t you mean picking” I said, waggling my tail perhaps a tad too cockily.
Magpie tilted his head, his viciously long beak and his beady black eye daring me to defy him. Discretion being the better part of valor, I hopped a few years further away from him where I bobbed and weaved in a more modest fashion.
“Worms” he said, staring back down at a small patch of grass.
Sometimes I just give up with Magpies, most of them have some sort of short circuit in their brains which makes having an intelligent conversation with them almost impossible.
“Worms. Humans get them. Makes them grumpy. Boys must have worms because they’re very grumpy with Kip.”
Sometimes Magpie has the logic of a very troubled bird!
“Where’s are they?”
My black and white informer turned his head, setting me with his other beady eye. “Who?”
“The boys who are bullying Kip!”
“Oh, that was yesterday.” He speared his beak into the ground before withdrawing it and producing a wriggling grub as if by magic. “Must fly” he said before thrashing off, although I doubt he got his own joke