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.
We Djidi Djidi have a bad reputation with the locals. It’s a shame really because most of us are just happy, carefree birds who enjoy a bit of human interaction from time to time. Some of us can be a little flamboyant with our preening and dancing, but what’s wrong with being just a little ‘out there’ if you’ve got the talent and the looks?
But some of the local mums tell their kids to steer clear of us, not because we’re bad, but because we might lead them into trouble. It’s like telling little folk not to talk to strangers. For the Djidi Djidi though, it’s a case of the little folk - namely us - leading the kids off to where the little hairy men live, and according to those Mums, you don’t want to mix with those little hairy men because they’re REALLY scary - not that any bird that I know of has ever met one.
But some Djidi Djidi can be real trouble makers. One of them nearly killed Kip.
It happened this way.
Kip’s dad was really good at what he did best, making and repairing boots. One day he was really busy with an order from the local garrison fixing tackle for the horses harnesses, and he needed someone to deliver a pair of boots back to its owner.
“Kip old chap, being as how I’m half drownd-ed with all this work, it would be a great relief to me if you were to take these here boots back to the Captain down at Point Taylor.” He held up the aforementioned articles for Kips general inspection.
“Wow Dad, they look like new. The Cap’n will be so happy with them. Shall I go now?”
Kip’s dad looked around the small shop and listened. “As to mentioning the presence of your dear mother, her being absent it would appear to be a wonderful opportunity as for you to deliver the Cap’n’s boots, lest she return and have other ideas such as you undertaking to cleaning out the fowl house or some such business.” Joe Wright's expression was a mixture of innocence and conspiracy, the former soon dispelling the latter.
“I’ll go straight away Dad. Point Taylors on the other side of the bush over there isn’t it” he said pointing to the limestone cliff across the bay which was crowded with trees and bushes. “The path to Fremantle goes that way and I can cut down to the Captain's place from there.”
“Make sure to be back afore dark otherwise there’ll be rumbunctions in this ‘ere little ‘ome of ours.”
Kip jumps into his Dad’s arms and felt his father’s strong arms hug him to his heart.
Taking the boots and laying them across his shoulder he said “I’ll be fine dad. I’ll tell you all about my adventures when I get back.” With which he dashed out the door and up the street towards the bridle track to the port city of Fremantle which was located some twelve mile distant. Kips errand would take him a few miles along this route until he reached the turn off to the Captain's residence. Begin a sea captain, he rarely used the path himself as he had his own skiff moored at the jetty at the end of his property, but his servants used it so Kip was certain that the path would be obvious once he reached it. But there were so many distractions for a young lad along the way, and Kip was a very unusual young lad!
Before he’d reached the top of the hill he’d picked up a stick and his imagination had taken over his mind. This was going to be a real adventure for a real knight who was going to achieve great deeds for his lord and king - which to his expansive mind was his Dad.
Heading off into the bush, the path ran along the higher ground where the sunlight played with the gossamer of a million spiders webs that decked just about every bush and plant along the way. Slashing away at them as if they were fairy shields Kip had fought several battles before he spied a Djidi Djidi further into the bush. It was Wudjadi, one of the blackest hearted birds ever to be blessed with feathers. If Kip thought he was going to have fun with him, then Wudjadi had other plans.
He hopped and skipped around, flew into a bush near kip and fixed him with his beady black eye and then fluttered onto another bush deeper into the wooded area. A large spiders web loomed menacingly nearby with its owner tensing the strings of its sticky net. Kip had walked into many of such similar webs in his short time in the colony and knew how strong they were.
The young knight grinned. “I’m coming to rescue you young damsel” he shouted and headed off into the scrub, slashing his magic stick this way and that, making several spidery dragons homeless as he went.
Wudjadi flew further and further into the dense scrub until Kip lost all sense of where he was.
As the sun reached high into the sky everywhere became hotter and hotter and Kip was overcome with an unnatural tiredness. “This dragon slaying is hard work” he smiled to himself. Looking around for shelter he spied a giant log, hollowed out by the ages and so big that it could accommodate the frame of a young lad in need of shelter from the midday heat. “Wow, a magical cave. I bet there’s some treasure in there” and he climbed inside.
Maybe it was a combination of his recent dragon slaying plus the oppressive heat of noon and the buzzing of busy insects that made Kip fall immediately into a deep sleep. Or maybe it was the malign magic of the little hairy men, but whatever it was, Kip didn’t noticed two yellow eyes at the far end of the log which belonged to old man brown snake.
Old man snake was cold. It was still early spring, and the nights in the bush remained really cold despite the daytime sunshine. The sound of Kip climbing into the log had disturbed his slumber so his head was still foggy and slow. Instead of something to attack, all he saw was a warmer, softer spot to carry on his hibernation so he slithered under Kips back and rested his sleepy head on the boys lap before heading back to dream land.
That’s how Magpie found them and hour later.
“Odd” he thought to himself. He was on the verge of letting forth a melodious carol when he thought better of it. “Very odd” he thought again, and flew off.
I was down at the Whadjuk encampment with my friend Maali. She’s a really kind girl who rescued me when one of those settlers cats almost ate me alive. Whenever I see cats now I dart as far away as I can. Too many of my friends have disappeared since those fierce felines arrived for it to be a just a coincidence.
Magpie swooped down and was hopping towards us when he stopped and eyed the ground. He looked up at me and then down at the ground. He was about to speak when he hopped forward once more and stared at the ground again. I knew he was listening for grubs, but I thought he might want to tell me something too. A ready made meal was too much for him and he speared that beak of his into the ground and proudly produced a wriggling white grub which he polished off in a flash.
“Lunch” I suggested?
“Snake” he replied.
“Looked like a grub to me” I replied cheekily.
“Log” he said eyeing the ground once more.
“Even for a big Maggie like you I suspect that a log would be a tad indigestible.”
“Are you being cheeky or just stupid.”
The tone which he’d adopted caused me to stop and think.
Maali interjected. “Hi Magpie. How are you? Have you seen a snake in a log” she asked her wide brown eyes widening in her brown face and foreshadowing a beautiful smile that would melt the heart of the most dark hearted of feathery friends.
Magpie gave me a withering look before replying, “Boy asleep in hollow log. Old man snake asleep on boy in hollow log. I thought I should tell someone.”
“Oh you’re a clever bird” she said. I gotta give it to the girl, she could wind Magpie around her little finger. “Where are they?”
“Follow me bird brain” he said to me and who was I to deny him?
“Come back straight away to get me Djidi” she said.
“Will do Maali. Thank you.”
Magpie took off and I followed. The log was only half a mile off but it was at the top of the cliff so by the time I’d been back for Maali and she’d climbed up and found him a good hour had passed. Luckily they were both still fast asleep.
“What do we do now” I asked in terror - snakes do that to me.
Maali laughed. Squatting down on her haunches she paused to look at Kips face and every so gently traced her fingers over his brow. Then she reached in and firmly grasped old man snake by the neck and slowly lifted him out of the log. Even though his mind was thick with sleep, he was still grumpy that he’d been disturbed for the second time on one day.
“Sshh old man” she soothed him, “I know a really good place for you to spend the rest of your winter.” She carried him off deep into the bush talking to him softly all the way. I had no intention of following them just in case old brown snake decided it was time for a midnight snack of something with feathers on!
Maali reappeared and went over to the log. She plucked a frond from a grass tree and lightly traced it along his arm. In his slumber Kip reached across with his other arm and scratched the area. Next she tickled his leg ever so gently and he repeated his gesture. Just as she was about to do the same with the tip of his nose, she paused and withdrew. “He’s going to wake up in a minute, I’d better go Djidi” she said, and she slipped off into the bush as quietly as a shadow.
I stood there watching, occasionally being distracted by midges which had already noted that the air was cooling. They’re quite tasty really.
Kip stirred and stretched. Tumbling out of the log, he sat up, gathered the boots which he’d slept on, and without a second thought retraced his steps to the path and continued his journey.
I followed him at a distance and within minutes he had found another magical sword and continued his battle with the fabled dragons lurking on wither side of his path. If I’d seen one shadow of Wudya, I’d have given him a piece of my mind - but there was no sign of that bad bird.
When he reached the turn off, he paused, looked all around him and then headed off down the path. I waited until he got to Captain Taylor’s place in the safe hands of his maid servant Mary. She and I were old friends, and if I’d visited her too often, I doubt my wings would have enough power to give me flight. She was a very generous young soul. She was from Ireland and missed her family terribly.
Little did I know that Mary was going to play a key role in the adventure.
Kip - Chapter II
Kip was down near the edge of the river a few bends away from the main settlement. As it was a Sunday, he’d been allowed some time after going to church to go off and play by himself, Mrs W being in her chosen environment of the social elite of the parish community. Having Kip out of the way suited her to a “t” on this occasion.
Her parting whisper to him was, “Don’t keep us all waiting for you for dinner my lad, not after all the work I’ve done preparing it for you. And don’t go falling into the river and drowning in your Sunday best either.”
Kip smiled, said thank you and then took off as fast as his legs would take him as he headed toward the shore line.
For Kip, the Swan River Settlement was a wonder-filled paradise. He loved the people who’d lived here for all those centuries before he’d arrived. If his mother had known that he’d stopped to talk with them, she’d have scrubbed his skin until it bled and washed his mouth out with carbolic soap, because to her way of thinking, the black fellas were just untamed, pagan savages. But Kip liked them and they liked him too. His wide eyed innocence and the obvious happiness which he experienced in their company was irresistible to every one of them whom he’d met him so far.
But today, the sun was shining and the world was all his to experience in such splendid isolation.
Down by the river’s edge, he watched as the distance black cormorants circled and swooped for fish way out over the water. Up in the trees behind him, atop the high limestone cliffs, white cockatoo screeched at each other. Kip thought they were calling to him so he gave them a wave.
Even though he’d only lived in the area for a short period of time, he’d become aware of the patterns of nature. By the time he’d got to the shore, the early easterly breezes had settled and there was a stillness in the air, it was the lull before the afternoon sea breezes came in to keep everyone and everywhere, cool.
The vast waters of the river stretched off for a mile in every direction, it’s still waters reflecting the pale blue of the endless sky above. He watched as more water fowl seemed to be circling way out over the water.
“Fish” he whispered to himself. He watched as the birds seemed to be having a feast out there as well as having a lot of fun. Kip spread his arms and pretended he was flying with them as he ran along the narrow sand strip. When he stopped, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a flat stone. “Time for some serious skimming” he said to himself with a smile.
“Catch this if you can Mr Fish” he shouted at the top of his voice and sent the stone skimming across the surface. He watched as it hit the water and disappear in the bullseye of ripples.
His eyes opened wide with amazement as the stone came flying back at him, landing safely on the beach at his feet. “Wow, what was that” he whistled.
The grin which dawned on his face would have soften the soul of the devil himself. Bending down again, he picked up the same stone and tossed it. Once more, in the second after it had disappeared, it arch up into the air and landed at his feet.
“Amazing” he said out loud, and picking it up once more shouted, “see if you can get this one.”
This time he made the stone bounce high into the sky yet on this occasion, the stone didn’t reach the water. As it was falling towards the surface, a glistening dolphin shot out of the water and caught it in its beak before flipping over and landing on its back creating a huge splash. Kip roared with delight and did a little jig on the beach.
“Wow, that’s amazing” he said again.
“It’s nothing really” said a clickedy voice which came from just beyond the waters edge. A dolphin’s bulbous head, with an infectious grin on its happy face was looking at him. “On the count of three, throw it as high in the air as you can and I’ll see if I can catch it.” With that he spat the stone out onto the sand near Kip’s feet. The boy was as happy as he’d ever been in his short, but frequently troubled life.
“One, Two ...” the dolphin disappeared, “THREE” Kip shouted and threw the pebble as high as his arm could make it go. As it arced down, the dolphin pierced the silken skin of the lake and the sunlight glistened off it’s beautiful body as it caught the stone once more. As the dolphin fell back into the water Kip saw white scars along it’s flank and his happiness was blemished for an instant.
In as long as it took to wonder if it’d come back to him, the dolphin popped his head above the water once again.
“That was fun” he said. “What’s your name boy?”
“Kipling, but everyone calls me Kip.”
The dolphin began to click and wave his head around. To Kips mind, if he didn’t know any better, he thought that the animal was laughing.
“That’s a funny” his new friend said, “because that’s like my name. It’s Kwilena really, but most of my friends call me Kwile. Kwile and Kip, it sounds good doesn’t it? Well, I must be off. Great to meet you Kip, if you ever need me, you just skim one of your stones and call out my name and I’ll come to you as soon as I can. Bye.” With an almost inaudible ‘plop’, his head disappeared below the surface.
The illusion of the ensuing moments suggested that he might never have existed except in Kips imagination. For most of us the line between illusion and reality is gossamer thin, yet it’s as impenetrable as steel. For Kip though, that barrier that had yet to be erected.
He stood there with his hands on his hips and a fixed smile on his face. The sea breeze arrived stirring the water and Kips fringe of strawberry hair. “Wow” he said, “just wait till I tell Mum and Dad about this.”
But he never did. Kip may have been the biggest dreamer in the whole of the colony, and some might say the biggest dreamer in the whole of that vast country, but even he knew that no one - not even his dear old Dad, would ever believe his story. That was, until he met Maali.