The Ceremony (31) The Boy in my Father's Story (34)
My father's childhood was spent in Adelong, near Tumut N.S.W. In 2000 my brother Mike, an historian as well as a dairy farmer, travelled there to talk with the oldest inhabitants, some of whom knew the stories our father had written down, on which I'd based these poems. It seems the events in ‘The Boy in my Father's Story’ were historically accurate, though the names had been altered. The narrative of ‘The Ceremony’, though, was a conflation of many separate events. In 1922 four brothers named Perfect were involved in a violent pub brawl, though no-one was killed. The Perfects were aboriginal on their mother's side and Robert Perfect had recently been demobbed following his war service. But earlier, in 1912, the year our father was born, the police had shot and killed Tom Conquit, half-brother to Hubert Perfect, father of the Perfect boys. Conquit was dark-skinned but not aboriginal. He was descended from an Afro-American who was transported with the First Fleet. A number of black slaves fought with the British in the American War of Independence and lived in England after the British defeat.
There was indeed a crippled town cryer. His name was not Boland but Halpern. He didn't grow vegetables, marry an aboriginal woman or lose a son. But Conquit had worked for a Chinese market gardener Ah Soon, known as ‘Smiler’, at West Blowering, near Tumut. It seems then that Charlie Boland was an amalgam of Tom Conquit and Robert Perfect.
Our father's original story made reference to the way the local aborigines were kept out of the town and not even allowed to camp on ‘Crown land’. The military funeral for the aboriginal soldier was entirely fictional. Writing this might have expressed his shame, near the end of his life, over the outcasts of the community he grew up in. I wrote the poem in 1998, before my brother had researched the background of the story. I wrote it in alarm and anger, when the Howard government, never slow to stir racial tensions for electoral advantage, was threatening a double dissolution over its Wik Native Title legislation. The poem was completed, appropriately, over the Anzac Day long weekend. In 1999, an agreement was reached under the amended Native Title Act between the Adelong Consolidated Gold Mine and the Walgalu, Wiradjuri and Ngunnawal people, in which the company received mineral exploration rights in return for shares in the mine, jobs and education bursaries. A small libation perhaps for all the Charlie Bolands.