If blood should stain th.., p.25

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, page 25


If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

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  ‘I’m going out to the community of the Chosen for lunch this afternoon. I rang them up and Mark said I’d be welcome.’

  Jed stared at her, but bit back whatever she was about to say. ‘Why?’ she asked finally.

  ‘What else am I supposed to do?’ said Scarlett bitterly. ‘Read a book? Watch TV? Do you know how many things I CAN’T do?’

  ‘Scarlett, darling, I’m sorry. Come to the pictures with me.’

  ‘I wasn’t hinting for that.’

  ‘I . . . I hadn’t realised. How about next holidays we do something different? Interesting? We could drive down to Melbourne. Even along the Nullarbor Plain. Or we could —’

  ‘No!’ Jed stopped, startled at the yell. ‘I need my own life. Mine. Not arranged by you.’

  ‘I didn’t think.’

  ‘People don’t,’ said Scarlett. ‘Even you.’

  ‘I’m sorry. Go out there if you really want to. But, Scarlett . . . why do you want to go there? You don’t really think this Ra person can help you walk?’

  ‘I want to go because I can,’ said Scarlett simply.

  Jed paused. ‘Fair enough,’ she said at last. ‘I can’t drive you though.’

  ‘Why not?’

  Jed flushed. ‘I’m going to the pictures with Sam.’

  Excellent, thought Scarlett. ‘Then you definitely don’t want me there too. I hope he buys you popcorn.’

  ‘I can pay for my own popcorn!’

  ‘Mark will pick me up,’ said Scarlett.

  Jed gave her a look that said, ‘I want to warn you that those people are flakes, that they are after my money, but I hope you are intelligent enough to see through them.’

  ‘Don’t worry,’ said Scarlett. ‘They’re interesting, that’s all. Probably more interesting than the pictures. What’s on?’

  ‘Alvin Purple.’

  ‘Is that the one everyone’s talking about where they show a bloke with no clothes on?’


  ‘Maybe not quite as interesting then,’ said Scarlett.

  Jed looked at her with love, concern and worry. But even so, thought Scarlett, she was going.

  Chapter 40

  Gibber’s Creek Gazette, 24 May 1973

  May Manifesto Signed at Aquarius Festival, Nimbin

  More than 10,000 people have attended the Aquarius counter-cultural festival organised by the Australian Union of Students at Nimbin on the north coast of NSW. The festival aims to celebrate alternative lifestyles and sustainable living. It has culminated in the ‘May Manifesto’, which summarises the world of peace, love and sustainability the festival embodied and which participants hope to establish more widely . . .


  Matilda poured Jed’s cup of tea first, wishing she didn’t have to concentrate these days to keep the hand holding the silver tea strainer firm.

  ‘So when does this new tea shop open?’ she demanded, a little more peremptorily than usual. Her own weakness always made her stroppy.

  ‘Scarlett says Leafsong says the renovations will be finished by the end of the year. I don’t know how Scarlett always knows what Leafsong says.’

  ‘Mime and a good eye. Are you sure you don’t want sugar?’

  ‘Given it up. Scarlett’s made me promise not to go and see the café till it’s finished.’

  ‘And yet it is your building. Your first venture into capitalism.’

  Jed laughed. ‘Don’t you start calling me a capitalist too!’

  ‘What is wrong with being a capitalist? We have capital. We use it in good ways.’

  ‘I trust Sam to make sure the Bluebell is renovated properly.’

  ‘Ah. So he is in charge.’

  ‘Just helping.’

  Matilda raised an eyebrow. It had taken her two decades to get the gesture correct. She was glad that, at least, was not slipping from her in old age. ‘As I said, Sam will be in charge. That young man who is singularly good at being in charge without others realising it.’

  Jed looked surprised. Matilda smiled. It was good to still be able to startle the young.

  ‘You’re right,’ said Jed slowly.

  ‘Of course. Scone? Not as good as Leafsong’s. I miss her cooking. Maybe we can persuade her to do deliveries from the café. Have you slept with Sam yet?’

  ‘Matilda!’ Jed choked on her scone, to Maxi’s delight. When had the Doberperson managed to change the rule of not allowing her into the living room when there were guests? At least there was no danger of scone crumbs being trodden into the carpet. ‘No, I haven’t . . . slept with him. We have gone to the pictures twice since he finished the chook palace. And he’s come to lunch a few times . . .’

  ‘Nancy says his ute was parked outside your place last Tuesday night.’

  ‘He was fixing a drip in the hot-water pipes. We asked him to stay for dinner. The gossip around here —’

  ‘Is meant well, and is usually a blessing. But tell Sam to park around the back, out of sight of the road.’ Matilda changed the subject before Jed became even more defensive. ‘That Cheryl girl is doing a good job at the Gazette.’

  ‘Yep. And I still don’t want her job. Does everyone in life have to have a deep personal project?’

  ‘If one wants to be truly fulfilled.’

  ‘Maybe my deeply personal project is to be a butterfly. A hard-working butterfly.’

  ‘You do know that Jim thoroughly approves of your not looking for a job? A woman’s place is in the home.’

  Jed laughed. ‘Not even my great-uncle’s approval is going to make me take Cheryl’s job. Or any other, just now.’ She put down her teacup. ‘And this particular hard-working butterfly had better get a move on if I’m to help Michael drench the ewes.’

  Had the girl realised how much she had given herself away with the word ‘help’? Jed lent a hand to others’ projects, but had none of her own. It worried Matilda, slightly. ‘When I was your age, I wanted to breed the best strain of merinos in New South Wales. And I did it.’

  Jed grinned. ‘So that doesn’t need to be done again, by me. Stop nagging me, you darling dragon.’

  Matilda smiled at the old name and to hide her growing concern. Oh, she knew women who were happy with no business or professional commitments. They were called housewives, and being a wife and mother, or caring for other relatives or volunteering, was their calling. But Jed seemed to be rejecting that as well. Or — which worried her still more — that business with Nicholas had hurt her more than they had all realised, especially after the traumas of her early life.

  She had been so determined to use that brain of hers, until Tommy’s bequest meant she no longer needed that sensible professional career. She’d been an outstanding student — surely she would wither without stimulation.

  And there was Sam, eligible, eager, eminently suitable, and with a nicely browned body that gave even Matilda’s heart, still wedded to Tommy, a small flutter. Jed needed children too. You need only watch her face when she held that poor little scrap Gavin to know she’d be deeply fulfilled as a mother. But women could be mothers and much more, these days. What would it take to make this great-granddaughter of hers see it?

  ‘And tomorrow, and the day after that?’ she asked.

  ‘Tomorrow I’ll be on the bus taking the River View kids for afternoon tea at Parliament House with Nicholas. My diary the next day is entirely clear, but I’m sure something will turn up.’

  ‘Jed . . .’ The girl looked at her. Matilda rarely used the name. Such a silly name. ‘Did you know I was engaged to someone else before I married Tommy?’

  ‘No.’ Jed blinked. ‘I thought you’d loved Tommy since you were twelve years old.’

  ‘I did. He used to bring me jam sandwiches at the factory. Wonderful doorstop sandwiches. I might have starved if not for Tommy’s sandwiches. And he followed me out here. Set up the first water system at Moura. I loved him since the first day I met him. And yet I fell in love with someone else. Falling in love can be different fro
m loving someone. His name was James . . .’

  ‘What? You named your son for him?’

  ‘Certainly not. Jim is named for my father. James was . . . the most vivid man I had ever met. In control, always. He died in the Boer War. If he hadn’t, I would have married him, and we would have been deeply, terribly unhappy.’


  Matilda smiled. ‘We were too alike, both wanting to rule. Can you really imagine me with a man who needed to control? Love doesn’t always mean you will be happy together.’

  ‘What was Tommy doing while you were engaged to James?’

  ‘He’d left. And broken my heart, a little. Love comes in so many flavours,’ said Matilda lightly. ‘Tommy married his first wife and they were happy, and had your grandmother. And then his wife died, and he came to me again.’

  ‘When was that?’

  ‘In 1915. I was alone by then. Old Drinkwater had died, and so had Auntie Love. No, not alone, of course. There were friends all around. It was a good life. I hadn’t even known I needed love till Tommy’s car drove up . . .’

  ‘Tell me more,’ said Jed softly.

  ‘But the ewes . . .’

  ‘Michael and Andy don’t need my help,’ said Jed. ‘And you know it. Tell me about Tommy. About James . . .’

  Matilda felt her cheeks grow wet. Stupid, irrational tears. Old-age tears. She hadn’t known she needed to share these stories.

  My ghosts, she thought. My darling, beloved ghosts. So many ghosts in ninety-one years. She watched Jed settle back, truly absorbed, as she began to speak.

  Chapter 41

  Gibber’s Creek Gazette, July 1973

  Australia’s First Commune?

  More than 1,200 acres have been purchased at Tuntable Falls to form the ‘Co-ordination Co-operative’, communal living, with multiple occupancy, and putting into practice all the May Manifesto ideals. Shares are still being offered to the public to be part of this idealistic venture . . .


  Sam sat on his chair outside his cottage — a perfectly good cane chair he’d found at the dump and repaired, with cushions made from bright patches by Leafsong, as part of her thanks for his helping to get her café up to speed.

  It was a good place to sit, to watch the river and the shadows change along the hills, the mist snaking down the gullies and the just-as-white smoke wriggling up into the blue from Jed’s chimney at Dribble. As long as he could see that smoke snake, he knew she was there and warm, and all was well.

  This was a good place to think too.

  He’d enjoyed the festival. No, more than that, it had been a deep vindication of everything he had felt but not been able to put into words, a meeting of people who shared his social ideas and, even more exciting, his fascination with the technology that these new ways of living needed. Appropriate technology that touched the earth gently rather than just made money for the manufacturer.

  Tuntable Falls was just one of an uncounted number of old dairy properties being sold to the newcomers. It was obvious that the Nimbin region would soon become the capital of alternative Australia.

  But Nimbin was a long way from Gibber’s Creek.

  JohnandAnnie were talking of selling their share in Halfway to Eternity and heading up there. Clifford had simply not come back, just sent a note asking them to send his guitar — the one he had yet to learn to play — up to him, though offering no money to cover the postage.

  It didn’t occur to Sam to do the same. Part of the reason was Halfway to Eternity, of course. He wanted to see the trees he’d planted grow, the paddocks watered with his hydraulic ram. Part was his deep familiarity with the wider community, knowing which of the three assistants at the chemist would sell you condoms and who refused to sell any contraceptives at all; knowing who made the best scones at a bring-a-plate bash. And partly it was the land itself.

  It wasn’t just that he knew it. Loved it. He approved of it too. Things grew too easily at Nimbin, weeds like lantana as well as veg or fruit trees, with all the rain and deep volcanic soil. Which sounded good till you realised you had to work all year, every year, just to keep the growth in check.

  At Gibber’s Creek there were six months of frozen wombat droppings clad in white frost whiskers when nothing grew and yes, a fair bit died as well, but at least you got those months off except for picking the odd cabbage or bunch of leeks.

  Long winter months to put in composting toilets, to build, to yarn, to think. There were droughts too. Sam had only lived through one bad one, in the sixties. But he’d listened to old Matilda explain that droughts left the land stronger, the weak plants dying off, the brown leaves and dry branches rotting into soil so when it eventually rained new greenery would grow, the years’ accumulation of dried roo and wombat droppings holding the fertility as well as the microbes that replenished the soil once the skies began to weep once more.

  Seasons: that was it. He liked seasons. And Nimbin had only one.

  But, mostly, there was Jed.

  Sam could have lived at Nimbin, because Gibber’s Creek would still be home for him, as long as he came back for visits. Even if he didn’t come back for twenty years, he’d still know the season just by glancing at the hills.

  But Gibber’s Creek had only been Jed’s home for not quite five years. Enough for a girl with an enormous amount of space for love to find her peace there, to begin to watch the land and learn it. It was not just the Thompson family Jed needed at Gibber’s Creek, but a place she knew without question was her home. He would never try to take Jed away.

  He’d gone gently. She liked him. Trusted him. Enjoyed his company, had delighted in building the chook palace with him, clearing and levelling a track for Scarlett to get to the river, loved the mock battles over the artistic merits — or not — of films like Alvin Purple and did being ‘made in Australia’ really make a difference to the way you felt about a book or film, and, if so, what exactly were you feeling?

  Maybe there were seasons for love too. Traditionally, that meant spring, lambs clambering up on boulders to play ‘king of the rock’, birds nesting. Of course the mating for all that to happen needed to be in winter, but Sam had a feeling spring would work best with Jed.

  Waiting for spring would give him a chance to work out the right romantic gesture too. Not chocolate and roses, because if Jed had been someone who could be wooed with the conventional, she wouldn’t be Jed. It had to be something big. Something that would change Jed’s world. Something that would make her realise that, just like a female lyrebird chooses the male with the best song and tail display, Sam was the man to give her exactly what she needed in a partner throughout her life.

  Maybe if he walked along to the billabong an idea would come to him. Ideas did come, when you were walking or swimming or building an adobe wall, your body letting your mind work things out on its own. And that was something else Gibber’s Creek winters had. No bushflies in your eyes, no Great Australian Wave . . .

  Ah. It was as if a mortise and tenon joint went ‘click’ inside his brain. Because he had just read an article in the CSIRO magazine that Neil, his mate from uni, sent him every month.

  Sam grinned. He needed to ring Neil. And maybe . . . just maybe . . . by spring he’d have exactly what he needed to win Jed Kelly. A small miracle to change her world, and make her see she needed to share it with him.

  Chapter 42

  Gibber’s Creek Gazette, 24 October 1973

  77 Arrested in Green Bans Stoush

  Seventy-seven protestors were arrested, including former secretary of the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation, Jack Mundey, and four police and many protestors were injured in a violent clash over the redevelopment of Sydney’s historic Rocks area.

  The confrontation is the latest in a long-running struggle by community groups and the BLF to prevent Australia’s oldest buildings and streetscapes being destroyed.

  While the federal government supports the preservation of heritage areas, the NSW state government has all
owed developers to buy historic properties with no regard for their conservation.


  Jed blinked at the bedside clock. Five-thirty am! Who the heck would be pounding on her door at five-thirty on a cold spring morning when the only sensible thing was to keep even your nose under the quilt till the sun had melted winter’s leftover chill?

  She flung on her dressing gown, or rather Matilda’s — green silk embroidered with dragons, circa 1936 — muttered, ‘I’ll get it, go back to sleep,’ into Scarlett’s bedroom and stumbled to the back door. She opened it, and the screen door that kept out flies that flew, but not the ones resting on people’s backs. ‘Sam! What’s wrong?’

  He grinned at her, the horizon still night-grey behind him. ‘Got you a present. Come on outside.’

  ‘I don’t understand. It’s not my birthday.’

  He laughed, waking the kookaburras. They laughed with him, more annoyed than amused — we are the ones to bring in the dawn, not you. ‘It’s in the back of the ute.’

  She stepped outside, still half asleep, the frosty grass crackling under her bare feet, then jumped back.

  ‘Go get your slippers,’ said Sam mildly.

  ‘Why does it have to be so early?’

  ‘You’ll see. We need to wait for the sun to rise.’

  Was this some kind of Druid ritual? Sam wasn’t into New Age crystals or astrology. Was he?

  She clomped back into her bedroom, thrust her feet into her ugg boots, dashed water on her face and pulled a comb through her hair, then, slightly more awake, padded outside again, where Sam still stood at the back doorstep, excitement almost bubbling off him.

  ‘Did you say you’d brought me a present?’

  ‘Yep.’ He gestured at the ute.

  Jed stared at the giant transparent bucket on the back of the ute. ‘It looks like a bucket of cattle dung.’

  ‘It is.’

  ‘You’ve brought me a bucket of dung and want me to watch the sunrise with it?’ Don’t biodynamic farmers do things with dung and herbs? she wondered vaguely. But that was with the different phases of the moon, not the sun.


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