Intro: These are the first two sections of a verse novella. Told by an English journalist it charts his 60 year friendship with an Australian ‘bluestocking’ and her family, whom he meets on a tour he takes of the British Empire’s Dominions in 1913-14. The work also charts Anglo-Australian relations in the context of the Empire’s decline.
In Our Four Dominions
for Louise Byrne
‘Proud? Most certainly we’re proud!’
In this land we’ve a first of everything!’
And Mayor Moriarty, seed merchant,
escorted me up, through, down and around
his suburb’s first town hall.
And if, as I were to find, his womenfolk
checked him just one side of humbug,
still this silly man seemed to prefer them
schooled and daunting.
Jean surely was.
‘We’ve a surprise,’ the Mayor seemed pleased.
‘My most brilliant girl has volunteered
to enlighten you on what our younger set believes,
and if our younger set means Jean,
and Jean believes what Jean believes,
I’m sure you will be charmed and thus adjust.’
I had to. For outside his mayoral chambers,
with a pixie-slight demeanour I sensed would prove
disarmingly robust, there she was.
And chaperoned by their municipal chauffer
we headed to the Boat House where in its Palm Court,
to an overlay of tea dance numbers
flirtatious chat commenced.
‘Though I’ve been introduced as Jean,
you may refer to me as Minx, father does:
His Worship being something out of Mr Arnold Bennett,
I’m something out of Mr H G Wells.
Welcome to that kind of place where women
in case you weren’t aware
possess the vote and our last PM before the last
was “Affable Alf”.
That kind of place and
these kind of women, with Jean forever to remain
this small and bustling girl with eyebrows raised
and quizzing sidelong glances.
Attempting one better to top her catalogue
seemed my only option.
‘Recall the attribution,’
she was asked, ‘from our Colonial Correspondent?
Well Miss Moriarty, I am he!’
and the sidelong glance returned, ‘elsewhere may think themselves
in such a fashion, Australians though are a Commonwealth now,
up-to-date as can be allowed and when we aren’t…
let’s make it up!’
Little ‘side’ then in this most pragmatic
of Dominions, merely an insisting cheek that I,
this visiting London journalist Should try us out!
The very reason I was there.
My uncle, an outward-looking man,
also was my editor. And believing I wasn’t yet a drab,
and trusting I wrote both wittily and well
made this proposal.
‘On balance then,’ he stated
(since he loved to state) ‘what quarter of our globe
seems better blest than where we British truly reign
yet fairly rule? Reasonable?’ he asked..
‘Very,’ I replied as he arose and pointed
to his map.
‘India,’ he announced, ‘our jewel…
Africa, our mission…whilst for a spread of sheer diversity:
Middle and Far East, the South Seas and the Caribbean. But…’
he paused (since he also loved to pause)
‘what of those partners-in-empire, our Dominions?
Having learnt so well from us (and aren’t they us?)
what indeed might we learn from them?’
Knowing who they were,
he and Britain wished to know who and what
they truly were. And such would be my brief:
(with backing from certain chaps of clout
and six months touring our Dominions)to discover
who indeed and what indeed they were.
Somewhere my uncle had his list:
those he knew, those he’d met and those his correspondents:
very chaps of clout in Cape Town and Melbourne,
Sydney and Auckland, Vancouver and Toronto.
And though he planned I’d meet them Uncle warned:
‘In ten or twenty years they may or will
be heading fogey. So as an extra brief seek out
those men of your age, chaps of the future,
for both articles and an eventual book.’
‘And such if you like Miss Moriarty,’
(how we enjoyed such fake formalities!)
‘are the reasons I am here.’
‘Chaps of clout?’ quizzed and answered Jean.
‘Chaps of the future? Seed merchant mayors or
seed merchant mayors-in-training?’
This Sunday evening though,
might I be free to visit the Moriartys at their Bella Vista?
Bio: After 18 & ½ years teaching poetry at the University of Wollongong Alan is retiring to Melbourne to continue writing & publishing Grand Parade Poets books. His next volume as a poet THESE THINGS ARE REAL appears from Giramondo in 2017.
More sections from Alan Wearne's verse novella In Our Four Dominions will be posted on BM in about six months.