If blood should stain th.., p.21

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, page 21


If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

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  Matron had been kind. But no kindness could hide the truth. That day Sharon Taylor had finally understood that her parents had rejected her so totally that they didn’t wish to see her, didn’t even want progress reports sent to them each month. Sharon Taylor was too defective to be in their family.

  That day, Sharon Taylor ceased to be.

  ‘My name was Sharon Taylor,’ she said quietly. ‘I used to be Sharon Taylor.’

  ‘Sharon!’ The faded woman at the other table gave a cry like a strangled peacock. She stood, knocking her teacup across the table. Brown liquid dripped onto the floor, like blood from a skinned knee.

  Scarlett glanced at Mark, who looked confused, then back at the mouse-faced stranger, and thought: that woman is my mother.

  Chapter 33

  Gibber’s Creek Gazette, 22 March 1973

  Sit-In Over Oak Tree, by Cheryl Gladstone

  Gibber’s Creek’s first ‘sit-in’ yesterday against the cutting down of the much-loved big oak tree at Buttons Corner has resulted in an agreement with the Gibber’s Creek Shire engineer to widen the road on the other side, leaving the local landmark untouched.

  ‘I’ve loved that tree since I was a toddler,’ said Mrs Gladys Oppenheimer, 89. ‘It would have been like losing my best friend. You don’t have many best friends left when you’re my age. I didn’t want to lose that one too.’

  More than fifty people attended the sit-in, organised by the Gibber’s Creek Women’s Electoral Lobby and the Senior Citizens Action Group. A number of Gibber’s Creek HSC students also attended, brought along by teacher Ms Isabelle D’Arcy, though strictly as observers of democracy in action.

  Pictured from left to right: Mrs Gladys Oppenheimer, her granddaughter Elsie Sampson, Des Muttock, Ruby Osbourne . . .


  The woman stepped towards her, then stopped. ‘You really are Sharon Taylor? From the River View Home for Crippled Children?’

  ‘My name is Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara. I live with my sister on a property outside town. But, yes, I used to be Sharon Taylor. And I used to live at River View. But it’s never been called a home for crippled children.’

  ‘You . . . you can’t be. My Sharon couldn’t move. The doctors said she’d never even be able to sit up, or grasp anything. They said she’d die before she was five . . .’

  Scarlett felt every vein burn liquid fire. ‘You’re Sharon Taylor’s mo— You gave birth to Sharon Taylor fifteen years ago?’

  ‘I . . . Yes.’

  ‘Your daughter is still alive? Presumably you’d have been told if she died,’ Scarlett added bitterly.

  ‘I . . . I suppose so. I didn’t think!’

  ‘Then it seems the doctors who told you she’d die before she was five years old were wrong. I don’t suppose you’re here to try to see her? Or her grave?’ It was the final tingle of hope.

  ‘I just stopped off the highway for a sandwich on the way back from seeing my sister.’ The woman sounded bewildered. ‘But you’re my Sharon!’

  For a horrible moment Scarlett thought the woman was going to embrace her. She would rather be held by a dead fish.

  She tried to say, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ but nothing came.

  Mark too still looked stunned. He blinked, then stood, protectively, in front of the wheelchair. ‘Sharon Taylor did die, just like the doctors told you she would.’ His voice gained strength. ‘This is Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara, an entirely different person, who is,’ he paused and looked at Scarlett, ‘beautiful.’

  ‘No! Sharon, I need to . . . We have to —’

  ‘Goodbye,’ said Scarlett, her voice carefully steady. She managed to steer her wheelchair out the door. They were ten metres down the footpath, the woman standing in the doorway, staring after them but, thank goodness, not following, before Mark asked, ‘Can she take you with her?’

  ‘What?’ Scarlett hadn’t even thought of that. Had that woman any rights over her? She tried to think; remembered; shook her head. ‘I don’t think so. The River View Board are my legal guardians. My parents . . . that woman . . . they signed over guardianship when they sent me there. I suppose they could go to court to get me back.’

  ‘Court cases take a long time,’ he said reassuringly. ‘And when you’re sixteen, you can choose where you want to live anyway.’

  ‘I . . . I didn’t know that.’ Had never needed to know that.

  ‘Mum tried to make me leave the Chosen. But I was over sixteen.’

  ‘Why didn’t she want you to stay there?’

  ‘She wanted me to work in a nice neat job in a nice neat suit with a nice neat degree that I was never going to get. But I’m where I want to be. Where I need to be. Where I can be healed and whole, and part of something gigantic and extraordinary. Will you come and visit? Please?’

  Mark had saved her from that woman. She was shaking now, as if someone had injected her with two litres of adrenalin and a beaker full of hormones and two cups of the coffee Jed said she was too young to drink. She was in no shape to make decisions. But she knew she owed Mark that much, at least.

  ‘I’ll ask Jed.’ Jed too would be grateful for what Mark had done today. Jed would make sure that woman never came anywhere near her again. ‘We’ll come to lunch next Saturday.’

  Chapter 34

  New Constitution for the Commune known as Halfway to Eternity, 22 March 1973

  1. Shares in the property known as Halfway to Eternity are to be allocated at market value. Or, in simple words: if you want to live here permanently, you buy a share.

  2. The number of shares shall be limited to the number of dwellings that the council will approve. This is currently two, as well as studios and multiple-occupancy dwellings.

  3. Every resident shall be required to pay an equal share in all rates, insurance and other costs, as agreed by the Residents Committee. A resident is defined as anyone who has lived at Halfway to Eternity for three or more months.

  4. Only shareholders may vote on the Committee. Others’ views are welcomed.

  5. Every shareowner is entitled to two hectares of land for personal use. The paddocks known as the ‘River Flats’ and ‘Orchard’ are for communal use. It is expected that every resident will help maintain them with at least four hours’ work each a week, as well as have access to their fruits and vegetables.

  6. No more bloody goats.

  7. Private property remains private unless the original owner agrees it will be communal. This includes Sam’s ute and Leafsong’s violin, and if you try to play it like a guitar again, Clifford, you’ll be singing soprano.

  8. The new big shed is for communal use. All tools currently in the shed are for communal use and will be replaced by communal funds as they wear out. Note: Sam, get used to everyone borrowing your chainsaw, or keep it in your cottage.

  9. Money earned by members is not for communal use, except as needed for communal costs.

  10. All vegetables, fruit, eggs and other goods from Halfway to Eternity used at the café currently known as the Bluebell will be paid for at normal wholesale rates, the money deposited into communal funds. The café and its proceeds are otherwise in no way connected with the commune.

  11. Composting toilets will be installed in each dwelling as soon as possible. Till then members are reminded that dunnies should be dug on the slope away from the river.

  12. Nappy waste will not be used on the vegetable gardens. Ever. Hepatitis and worms may be natural, but not all of us want to share them.


  You had to be careful with ginger roll. Beat the egg whites too much and it was dry; not enough and it was hard and flat. Roll it when it was warm and the cream filling soaked into the cake. But if the sponge was too cold, it cracked instead of rolling smoothly. The trick was to roll it up loosely with the help of a sheet of baking paper while it was still warm, leave it for a few minutes and then unroll it again (but don’t flatten it out) and allow it to cool properly before you put the whipped cream in it. Once it had been rolled
once, it remembered to behave itself when it was rolled up again.

  Leafsong had taken one glance at Scarlett’s white face and rigid fingers when she arrived at Dribble that afternoon to drop off a chicken casserole with leeks, carrots and potatoes to be reheated for dinner, and known exactly what was needed.

  So now she beat eggs, five yolks blending with the caster sugar, while out in the living room Jed spoke urgently on the phone, first to Mrs Nancy Thompson and then to Matron Clancy, Scarlett waiting white and scared beside her.

  Jed’s side of the conversation was mostly ‘Yes’, ‘I see’, ‘Yes’ . . . But Jed would explain it all when the phone calls were finished. Good news or bad. Jed never lied, though Leafsong wondered if others picked up the slight tension in Jed’s shoulders when she was withholding information that others would want.

  Leafsong had just slid the mix onto the tray when the phone clicked down.

  ‘Well?’ demanded Scarlett.

  Leafsong placed the sponge in the oven, which was where it needed to be for twelve minutes exactly, and hurried out to hold Scarlett’s cold hands in hers. Jed Kelly was good at most things, but not at knowing when someone needed to be hugged, or held.

  ‘First of all, don’t worry. Nancy can’t get on to the solicitor till Monday, but she’s pretty sure Mark what’s-his-name was right.’

  Only pretty sure, thought Leafsong, watching Scarlett’s face. Scarlett too had noticed that ‘pretty sure’.

  ‘Your mother can’t make you live with her without going to court. And even if you were younger, a court would probably decide that you were better off here, not with a stranger.’

  Probably. Not beyond doubt. Jed’s face was a lot more worried than her words let on.

  Leafsong felt Scarlett stiffen. A mother who was a stranger. That was hard. As hard as having a mother who cared so deeply for herself that daughters were a nuisance, except when they were useful.


  ‘Yes, brat?’ Jed’s voice was gentle.

  ‘Who . . . who am I?’

  Leafsong pushed Scarlett’s chair closer to the sofa, then put her arm about her shoulders, leaving Scarlett’s hands free for Jed to hold. Jed took the hint, and took them in hers.

  ‘You’re Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara of Dribble, who is astounding and wonderful and my sister. Mrs Nancy Thompson and Matron Moira Clancy are your registered guardians. Or do you mean who was Sharon Taylor?’

  Scarlett nodded.

  ‘Okay.’ Leafsong could sense Jed weighing up how much to say, could see her face relax infinitesimally, showing she had decided to tell it all.

  ‘I don’t know much more than you, only what Nancy told me when I signed your transfer-of-residence permit when you came to live here.’

  ‘I . . . I didn’t know you had to do that.’

  Jed shrugged. ‘It was just paperwork. Not stuff that mattered. Your full name used to be Sharon Ann Taylor. Your parents’ Christian names were on the guardianship papers, but I didn’t bother making a note of them. Does it matter?’

  Scarlett shook her head. Leafsong slid into the kitchen to take the ginger sponge cake out, while Jed’s voice continued. ‘You came to River View from the Arncliffe Private Hospital, where you were born. You were six months old then.’

  ‘Why did River View take me?’

  ‘I don’t understand,’ said Jed.

  ‘I’ve wondered before.’ Scarlett’s voice was a small wisp of her usual one. ‘The youngest kid who’s come to River View since I’ve been there — except for Gavin — was three years old. Miss Sampson told me that’s because kids younger than that can’t respond to the therapies River View can offer. Why did River View take me so young?’

  ‘I don’t know,’ said Jed gently.

  ‘They probably thought I was an interesting case.’ Scarlett’s small voice was carefully matter-of-fact. ‘All the others are there because of thalidomide or polio or measles or a physical birth defect.’

  Leafsong left the sponge to cool and came back into the room, and found Jed staring consideringly at Scarlett. ‘I don’t know why you came here so young. I think Nancy and Matron Clancy just fell in love with you, brat. People do, you know.’

  Scarlett’s small body relaxed. ‘What else do you know about my . . . the Taylors?’

  ‘Only what I saw briefly on your file. Your father worked as a salesman for a cigarette company. Your mother was listed as a housewife. They had a son three years older than you. There were dates too.’ Jed paused briefly to calculate. ‘That would make your mother fifty-six, your father nearly sixty, and your brother eighteen.’

  ‘Did the file say why they didn’t want reports on me, or come visit me?’ asked Scarlett quietly.

  ‘No.’ Jed’s voice was equally soft. ‘But, brat, none of it means they didn’t want you, just that they couldn’t look after you. When kids are taken into care, or go to hospital or even boarding school, parents are asked to stay away to help the kids settle in. Your parents might have felt that it would only confuse you to have contact with them, if they couldn’t ever take you home. The Arncliffe doctors might have convinced them of that too.’

  Jed managed a smile. ‘No one then ever expected you to become the brilliant Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara in her aluminium and titanium chariot. Maybe it hurt them so much to let you go they couldn’t bear to keep hearing about you. They did at least refuse to sign a form allowing you to be adopted. Maybe that meant they did dream one day you could come back to them.’

  ‘Do you really think that?’ asked Scarlett.

  ‘No,’ said Jed with desperate honesty. ‘I think they signed you away so they never had to think about you again. And I hope the next time your parents go to the beach a school of sharks eats both of them in very, very small nibbles, till they can never hurt another child again. I think abandoning a child is the worst crime any human can commit —’ She stopped, her face crumpled and red.

  Leafsong desperately wished the ginger sponge was ready. Bringing it out would change the subject, but it was still too hot to roll up with cream . . .

  ‘Yoo-hoo!’ The voice sounded at the same time as a knock on the door. Leafsong relaxed, and went to let her sister in.

  ‘What are you doing here?’ asked Jed. The words should have been rude. Instead they sounded exhausted.

  ‘Your lawyer has arrived,’ said Carol.

  Chapter 35

  Gibber’s Creek Gazette, 22 March 1973

  End of a Squished-Fly Era

  The Empire Tea Biscuit Company, affectionately known for its ‘squished flies’, passes into foreign hands this week, as proprietors Mrs Blue McAlpine and Mrs Mah McAlpine hand the company to its new American purchasers, the Global Cookie Corporation (GCC).

  Chairman of GCC, Mr Frank J Lyons Junior, promised that the much-loved squished flies will remain as good as ever and that they will continue to be made at the factory outside Gibber’s Creek for at least two years, as well as in its other ‘cookie’ factories around the world.

  Mrs Blue McAlpine stated that while business had been more difficult since the 25% tariff cut imposed by the Labor government, she and her partner and sister-in-law were retiring to spend more time with their families, and to have time to travel.

  The two Mrs McAlpines arrived in Gibber’s Creek in 1934 as members of the Magnifico Family Circus, still remembered with affection by old-timers. Mrs Blue McAlpine played a mermaid with a blue-sequinned tail while Mrs Mah McAlpine was nightly sawn in half by her magician brother, Fred Smith, who died heroically saving others in New Guinea in World War II.

  Mr Smith’s memorial sits in the Gibber’s Creek graveyard. It is hoped that his sister’s memorial, the biscuits she first made in a frying pan over the fire to keep the actors’ strength and spirits up between performances, will continue under the new ownership.

  The two McAlpine families intend to celebrate their retirement with a tour ‘from Gundagai to Glasgow’, travelling around Australia and then spending six months explori
ng Europe.


  ‘How did you know we needed a lawyer?’ Jed glanced at Leafsong, as if suddenly wondering whether she could speak and had rung up her sister. But Dribble’s only phone was in this living room.

  ‘Nancy called me on Sam’s phone. I can hear it ring from our place.’

  Scarlett almost smiled. A year ago Carol would have said ‘the people’s phone’. Things had changed at the commune.

  ‘I didn’t know you’d ever practised law.’ Jed’s actions were more welcoming than her words, nodding Carol to a beanbag.

  Carol flopped down in it. ‘Only for a year. Don’t worry, I’m fully qualified, slightly experienced, and registered and all. And anyway, I rang a friend who specialises in family law in case things have changed since I was a student. They’re going to change even more soon, with Lionel Murphy’s Family Law Acts. It was a long-distance call, so you owe me forty-five cents. Or you owe Sam.’

  ‘What about your fee?’

  ‘I don’t charge friends,’ said Carol shortly. ‘Okay, as the law stands now, parents or guardians have complete rights over any child unless they are neglected or Aboriginal. Senator Murphy’s proposals will mean that the courts only look at what’s in the best interests of the child. But they haven’t been passed yet.’

  ‘I’m not a child,’ protested Scarlett.

  Carol’s look assessed her. She nodded. ‘No, you’re not. But the law says you are. In New South Wales that’s the case till you’re sixteen. Luckily the law moves extremely slowly so, even if your birth family decided to challenge your guardianship, you’d be over sixteen by the time it came to court.’

  Scarlett felt the last of the terror seep away. ‘So Mark was right.’

  ‘Mark?’ asked Carol.

  ‘He’s . . . a friend. He stood up for me to my . . . that woman.’

  ‘Good for him. Anyway, if the Taylors could prove that you were in danger, that might get them a quick court order. But living here, going to school, your therapy sessions at River View, with the Thompsons and Matron Clancy to testify? They wouldn’t have a chance.’


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