If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, page 52
Was this heaven, or just a place to rest, watching those she loved, the land she loved, till it changed enough to scissor her connection to it, for her soul to make its final flight? Or was her soul in heaven already, while this small part stayed put?
Matilda didn’t know. Nor did it matter. She passed around a plate of lamb sandwiches with peach chutney — they had always been Tommy’s favourite — and then a plate of date scones. Perfect scones: Aunt Ann’s date scones. How could she have forgotten the lightness of Aunt Ann’s date scones?
Hey You panted, waiting for the sandwich scraps. She wondered if old Drinkwater would visit later. Not ‘down came the squatter, riding on his thoroughbred’, but the old man, her friend, partner and mentor, greeting his great-granddaughter at last, and his grandson too. And Auntie Love? Matilda smiled. Auntie Love was all around. She always had been.
‘What will they do now?’ she asked, meaning not just Michael, Nancy, Tom and Clancy, Jim and his family, Jed, Sam, Nicholas, Felicity, Scarlett, Leafsong, but the whole of Australia.
‘They’ll work it out,’ said her father confidently. ‘Give ’em time. One thing you learn as a ghost, it all takes longer than you want. Lifetimes, maybe.’
Tommy smiled at her, that crooked, wicked Tommy smile. ‘Not much you can do about it now, darling.’
She caught Fred’s eye. Fred winked at her. She looked at the billabong, clouds in a haze of blue drifting on brown water. A frog jumped. The mirror rippled, calmed. He leadeth me beside the still waters . . .
‘We’ll see,’ said Matilda.
Unlike the previous books in the Matilda series, this one is based primarily on events I lived through. I have described those years as I witnessed them, remember them, and wrote about them at the time. The scene where Rex Connor collapsed and was supported by Lenox Hewitt (later Sir Lenox Hewitt) was one I saw. As Nicholas says, I have never admired a man so much.
The afternoon the Whitlam government was dismissed I was researching an article in the National Library as the incredulous whisper ran across the room. Like many others, I ran from the library to what is now Old Parliament House, to listen to the dismissal of parliament and Whitlam’s response. Like Nicholas in this book, I had heard rumours Whitlam was going to call another double dissolution that day.
Whitlam was certainly the victim of a conspiracy. But whether it was a small one, an impulsive few days’ planning between Malcolm Fraser and Sir John Kerr, or a much wider one, is still debated. A balanced analysis of even a week of those latter days of 1975 might take several volumes to write.
Those months were a time of deep disquiet due to the social and financial implications of proposed laws and projects, including vast infrastructure programs, and the bypassing of state and local governments so they withered away, with direct Commonwealth grants to the new regional areas the Labor government had created.
There were many who felt they must not let that happen, and who were seeking ways to stop it, but legal contingency plans should not be labelled ‘conspiracy’. Even back then I felt that some of the Whitlam ministry were pursuing their ideals with little heed for other factors, including public opinion and economic impacts, and that many projects were not a cost-justified use of public money. I also felt great concern at the lack of scrutiny of much of the expenditure, bypassing the Department of Supply, which had the expertise to evaluate costs and contractual obligations. It should be noted that this lack of expert contractual scrutiny has continued to the present day, leading to the many government projects that don’t work as they were planned. This — as well as Indigenous land rights, equal rights for women, anti-discrimination laws, no-fault divorce, laws that put the welfare of children ahead of parental rights, indexed pensions, the remnants of ‘free healthcare for all’ Medibank and much else — is the legacy of the Whitlam government.
They were not afraid, as every government since then has been afraid. Their vision was limited only by their sense of what was right and good.
And yet . . .
Back in 1975, I could not see the ‘and yet’. Today I can . . . far more ‘and yets’ than I have put into this book. Inflation meant the mortgage we had assumed for the property where I live now was soon less than two years’ wages, and — with extreme frugality and working two jobs — soon paid off. But for others that same inflation combined with the oil crisis that affected the entire western world meant disaster.
I do not know how Australia would be different now if the dismissal hadn’t happened, nor do I know if the act of dismissing the government led enough voters to feel the government deserved that dismissal, and so changed their vote. But the act of dismissal, and voters’ overwhelming repudiation of the Whitlam government, has perhaps helped shape the politics of today, where idealistic politicians are afraid to put forward progressive platforms they believe in, in case of voter backlash, and where policies can be reversed in hours because of a single opinion poll or media campaign.
We elect our governments to lead, and while they must reflect the wishes of those they represent, there are also times when they need to make decisions that are right, not popular, in the expectation that before the next election voters will get over the shock and agree that those actions were correct, or at least forgivable. Courageous political choices can indeed lose elections, but I suspect voters put more trust in politicians who are open about their own beliefs than those who blow this way and that in the breeze of opinion polls and media commentary.
But this is supposition. Others’ memories and opinions of 1972–1975 will not be the same as mine. Much happened behind closed doors. Even more was whispered. No one back then was a dispassionate observer, especially not me; and if my views have changed with time, I am also aware I only saw what was around me, or what I read or was told, and that was a very small proportion of what happened.
The 1970s was a time of many, many different dreams of a better world. There was no consensus on how to achieve that world, or even what that world might be. But it was a time of deep and glorious social optimism. Even the dawning knowledge that earth’s resources were finite was seen as a catalyst to make the world better, sustainable, equitable, rather than leading inevitably to doom.
Ra Zacharia’s fantasies may seem ridiculous now. They would not have been seen as so impossible back then. Meditation had recently been made fashionable by the pop idols The Beatles. Many adherents believed it could transform not just themselves but — as long as enough people meditated at once — the world, bringing universal peace.
Back in the 1970s many also believed humans were descended from aliens, and that the pyramids and Easter Island statues were evidence the earth had been visited by alien ships from cultures of enormous sophistication and technical prowess. And of course any technologically advanced society must also be a peaceful, loving one, even to those less advanced, like earth.
Millions of people believed that aliens would land on this planet again, perhaps at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius — celebrated on stage and off it, but never quite defined — or in the year 2000, ushering in a new age of peace and cosmic consciousness.
It didn’t happen. Did it?
Gibber’s Creek is, of course, based on the land and town near where I live. In the 1970s this district too had communes, and locals dreamed of starting alternative energy companies, and alternative schools, while the worst of conventional society withered away and the good alternatives remained.
Did that happen? I think, in part, it did, though not quite as expected. The future rarely is what is expected. And like the Carol of this book, I believe my ideals haven’t changed, though my tolerance and pragmatism have. Unlike Carol, however, I never believed I’d enjoy communal living. Apologies for making Halfway to Eternity embody a few too many of the occasional farces of a commune. But all geodesic domes so far experienced do, in fact, leak, and human waste and vegetables do not make good companions, unless you long for hepatitis.
But more thanks than I can say go to Peter Pedals, for confirming that my memories of his work and inspiration in the mid-1970s were correct. We bought the third inverter that Peter made. It blew up a fortnight later, but by then he had invented version two, which worked for decades. Possibly it still does — my husband Bryan handles our home power system now. Peter’s vision, and that of others like him, would formally become the Rainbow Power Company in the 1980s. But the beginning was long before that and the logo was a rainbow then too. There were many, many rainbows back then, both literal and symbolic.
It was an extraordinary time to be young. But perhaps all ages are extraordinary.
To James Kellow and Cristina Cappelluto, who fight to keep Australian publishing an integral part of our culture, and also create and support the perfect team to work on every book, my deepest gratitude. Thanks also to Hazel Lam, who created a cover that richly fits time, place and theme.
The Matilda Saga is the story of our nation, seen through the eyes of strong women. It’s fitting, then, that as I sat down to write these acknowledgements I realised that the books have been created by women like this too. Three, especially, have been the foundation of this book:
Lisa Berryman of HarperCollins, who evolved through complex genetic and professional factors to become the most magnificent publisher in the universe. Lisa is always correct. Life is far easier if everyone accepts this. This series is as much her creation as mine, nor would I be the writer who could have drawn together the historical and emotional threads of this book without the need to reach Lisa’s expectations. Lisa is also the ‘Julieanne’ in this book, writing most of the letters Jed receives. Even more than Jed, I knew little about the popular culture of that time, nor about the ‘real world’ beyond Australia where so many would-be writers, publishers, artists, filmmakers and photographers had to go if they wished a career.
Most people in 2016 cannot conceive just how small the Australian arts scene was back then, nor how much struggle went into establishing it in the 1970s and 1980s, and turning it into the powerhouse of diversity it is today. Lisa has travelled its entire journey, from Australia to London then back to Australia, a major part of creating an industry that now punches well above its weight overseas. I deeply hope that by the time you read this the recent threats to demolish the industry by abolishing territorial copyright (PIR) and making disastrous changes to author’s copyright have vanished, and our industry can continue.
Angela Marshall once more translated a dyslexic’s long, peculiar document and managed to turn it into text. Our journey together began as friends and neighbours, back in the days described in this book, sharing a concrete mixer and homemade formwork — we built our house of stone, she built hers of rammed earth — and an ice-cream machine (Angela had the cow that gave the cream, I grew the peaches added to it). Our dreams of self-sufficiency and the good life have changed a little, but the ideals we had then are still the heart of our lives.
Noël Pratt was a Most Senior Person in the Canberra Public Service when I was a Most Junior Person, and possibly the youngest in the department. Without her insight and friendship, as well as her background as political correspondent for The Australian, I would never have understood much of the events around me during those years. Women did not become senior political journalists back then. Noël did. I don’t even know how to finish a sentence that begins: ‘Without Noël’s friendship . . .’ Perhaps I should just say that every time I have sat in a hospital emergency room, for loved ones or myself, Noël has sat there too — and had soup waiting in the pot for our return.
Enormous gratitude as always to Kate O’Donnell, who will not forgive me for the death of Gavin in To Love a Sunburnt Country, but still edits each book with deep and wonderful commitment. Kate Burnitt brings it all together and edits once again, and is totally, magically, always there and always able to do exactly what is needed to each book.
I would also like to extend my deepest admiration and gratitude to the late Rex Connor, who actually sent word to thank a graduate clerk for her background briefing paper on expanding the export potential of our minerals, and who — even knowing he was dying and that this stress would hasten his death — fought for his vision of the infrastructure needed and the laws in place for the best possible development of those resources. Nor did I realise at the time what a privilege it was to work with Tom Uren, whose vision of regional development is rediscovered every decade or so; the man who understood and forgave his Japanese captors from World War II, and who spoke to each of us individually after the dismissal, asking us ‘to keep the candle lit’.
I wish I’d had the courage to say then what it is now too late to tell you: your passion for your portfolios was as deep as your desire to serve our country, and my admiration goes beyond words.
About the Author
JACKIE FRENCH AM is an award-winning writer, wombat negotiator, the 2014–2015 Australian Children’s Laureate and the 2015 Senior Australian of the Year. She is regarded as one of Australia’s most popular authors and writes across all genres — from picture books, history, fantasy, ecology and sci-fi to her much-loved historical fiction. ‘Share a Story’ was the primary philosophy behind Jackie’s two-year term as Laureate.
An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, Australia
First published in Australia in 2016
by HarperCollinsPublishers Australia Pty Limited
ABN 36 009 913 517
Copyright © Jackie French 2016
The right of Jackie French to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her under the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000.
This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, recorded, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data:
French, Jackie, author.
If blood should stain the wattle / Jackie French.
ISBN: 978 1 4607 5311 8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978 1 4607 0593 3 (ebook)
For young adults.
Nineteen seventies—Juvenile fiction.
Young adult fiction.
Australia—Social conditions—Juvenile fiction.
Australia—Politics and government—1972–1975—Juvenile fiction.
Cover design by Hazel Lam, HarperCollins Design Studio
Cover images: Girl by Ebru Sidar / Trevillion Images; Newspaper headline by News Ltd / Newspix; Scrivener Dam and Lake Burley Griffin image from a Nu-color-vue postcard
Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge copyright. Where the attempt has been unsuccessful, we would be pleased to hear from the copyright holder to rectify any omission or error.
Jackie French, If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
Other author's books:
- The Lily in the SnowClancy of the OverflowThe Last Dingo SummerChristmas LiliesPirate Boy of Sydney TownThe Secret of the Youngest RebelMy Name is Not PeaseblossomDingo: The Dog Who Conquered a Continent
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