…was how it all started.
An old man; walking through the High Street Mall in Fremantle, spots my uncle and his family having a meal in the café, between the book stores there.
He froze in his tracks he said; completely startled by the resemblance, and three passes on – up and down the mall – he builds up the courage to approach my uncle, and kick-off a conversation.
“I used to work in Broome” this fella continued, “at the Aerodrome there – long time ago now. This bloke’s name was (and I can’t tell you the name as my grandfather is long gone now – cultural thing), and you look exactly like him.”
My uncle smiled.
“That man was my father”, he replied.
My aunty reckoned that old man’s face just exploded in a smile. He was so genuinely happy to hear such a thing he just had to fill the moment gained, with the tellings of a time past. You all know the feeling; between a couple of complete stranger’s there’s an instant connection that blinkers out all of those surrounding you, and suddenly it’s only you and that person, in one very, very small room. The pressure comes on almost immediately. It’s like a rush of high pressure water through a four inch fire hose. Nothing you can do will stop the words gushing out of your mouth. You simply have to fill that void – the one triggered by such a coincidental meeting, the one that feel like it’s been vacant and waiting, all this time. The man couldn’t help himself – he simply fell into reminiscing.
“Broome” he said, “was an amazing place in the 1950’s”.
He spoke very highly of my grandfather, it would seem he had been close to him at the time and he spoke for a few minutes of the good times they’d had.
“But” he said, “I had always regretted one thing”.
In 1957 a Cyclone hit the town and did a lot of damage. It killed quite a few people. Two of whom he remembered especially well. They got themselves caught when a double story house collapsed close by him.
“A man and a woman” he told them. By the time he got through the rubble and wreckage, they had died.
“They died trying to protect each other” he recalled. The man was on top of the woman, and when he got in there amongst them, he found under the woman a little boy, and a baby girl – still alive. He got them out of there, and got them to safety, but he always regretted that he couldn’t save the couple who died.
He paused here, lost in the moment – and I wish I’d of been there because I would have been lost too – my aunty listened spell bound, and my uncle couldn’t take his eyes away from the man who had just joined them. That table could have been in the middle of a stool-wielding bar fight, and I doubt anyone could have moved, such was the intensity of the yarn being shared.
“I always wondered what happened to that baby girl – you know?”
He sighed. “I hope she’s done alright”.
My uncle looked about the table, sort of passing the moment amongst his family some, and made a decision. My uncle then reached up to the man – touched his arm – and pointed with his chin and lips in that typical blackfella way in this country, looked over at his wife – my aunty – and said:
“You can ask her yourself. She’s right there.”
In 1957 my aunty and her brother, trapped under the bodies of their parents who had shielded them as the house collapsed, had been pulled out of the wreckage of their house by a man whom they never knew, and were unable to identify.
That man, took one look at my aunty, and started to cry.
This fateful meeting took place a couple of months ago now. My mother told me it this afternoon, as I swung off a shovel to shift dirt for a concrete pad, for my parent’s new veranda. I had to stop. The yarn climbed up and into my head, rattling it in a way I can’t even begin to describe to you. Even now – later in the evening as I type this – my eye’s struggle to stay dry. This yarn echoes around in my brain-box, bouncing poignantly about in there, scoring emotional hits I wasn’t even remotely ready for.
I know the story well. It’s often told in my family. I used to sneak looks at my aunty and uncle when I was younger, wondering why they were so special. When I came to realise the luck and sheer sadness in the moment they owed their lives to, it had always struck me as one of those special moments of awareness, of those who make up my family.
This now – thanks to that man – is another of them. A significant ‘yarn’ in our family, has turned and become complete. That man didn’t stick around for much longer. After a short time, he regained his composure. My aunty felt odd thanking him after all this time, she didn’t know what to say, but thanked him anyways. My uncle thanked him too, and the family said it’s goodbye’s to this stranger. He simply smiled again, thanked them for the specialness of the moment gained – and continued on his way.
I like to think that the great pause button in the sky – which had stopped all life bustling around them in that moment – was probably depressed once more – and I bet then’ the world simply just shuddered on; as it does best, and – well, I sure wish I’d been there!
Belongum – Out!