Albert Grace

Gerald “Georgy” Jowl was 54 years old. He had got lucky in his forties when he had married a good humoured, intelligent and beautiful woman.

They had a wonderful son Arthur who was now 8 years old. Jowl now led a good life in a place that had been his dreaming country, within walking distance of the place where he’d seen his first puppet show and land preserved especially for the conservation of koalas.

He lived close to the University of Queensland where five of his siblings had played, socialised and studied and where he had been employed in the Augean stables of its libraries for seven years. He lived close enough to the Gold Coast to be able to rekindle memories when he rode through its surf clinging to his father’s naturally brown, dolphin-like back. He lived close to the River, the upper reaches of which he’d canoed, camped beside and swum in.

There was a library, a golf course and a public swimming pool and a medical centre within walking distance and Jowl’s garden grew bananas, papayas, mangoes, cassia pods and mulberries; the fruits of his childhood dreaming.

[Publishers Note: Albert Grace is the second short story by Geoff Shera posted on WBT. The other was Pretty Boy and Delilah which appeared first in ‘Brizbin Boy – Canberra Girl’ by Metro Community Press in 1991. I hope readers enjoy this story as much as I did.]

It was 2009 and after ten or fifteen boom years when share prices had doubled, trebled and quadrupled it was now bust time; share prices had halved in value in a year.

In recent times prices of houses had doubled and trebled and people had borrowed money to ramp into this gold-rush; investing in apparently solid assets that appreciated in value in a short time. Unfortunately, for many, it was now time to repay that money that had been frenzy borrowed; bills on their investments had manifested; and employers were laying off their workers.

Jowl was fortunate. Although he didn’t have much money or a high paying job, he had no debts.

Previously he’d been unlucky in terms of income and employment. In applications for employment he’d had to answer “yes” to questions as to whether he had a criminal record. This was particularly galling for the ever honest Jowl. As an ex scholar at the Police Boys’ Club in the art of boxing and self defence, having to cite the trumped up charges of Taking Part in an Illegal Procession, Disobeying a Police Direction and Resisting Arrest, were a constant insult. He knew these charges were a farce brought under a tin-pot despot’s desire to divide a people and crush dissent. But having these charges on Jowl’s police record was a nightmare for him.

With a record of “resisting arrest” would the revolver be ready when a policeman came to his door, would a young police officer, privy to Jowl’s police record, be frightened at approaching such a felon?

Jowl’s conviction for Possession of the Dangerous drug Cannabis for a fly speck of ash in his pocket while he was on tour with a group of musicians at a kangaroo court in a country town at the height of the repressive and gerrymandered National Party regime in Queensland was a dark stain that had shadowed him and infected his life.

Jowl had a hatred of litter and all though his life had made a virtue of removing it, particularly from parks and halls and seasides which he made his own.

Jowl’s duties as proprietor of the Culture and Anarchy Café in Canberra and his obsession with leaving the hall with a clean floor may have resulted in the miniscule content in his pocket raising the ire of the under-cover police who picked him up in in an unmarked grey Ford in Queensland on the pretence of taking him to the country destination to which he was hitch-hiking.

Thirty five years later Jowl learned that Jowl’s village destination was the residential address of one of the most corrupt police in the history of Queensland.

Jowl’s angst filled memory of dark, police watch-houses and the dishonest evidence of police officers and dinky court-houses ruining peoples’ lives provided a lens through which Jowl could judge the conceits of his more straight-laced fellows.

The rottweillian desire for unremitting punishment of the less fortunate and a criminal desire for pay-backs to the fallen by those who had not fallen often astounded Jowl.

It was the bay of the brown shirts. Why shouldn’t prisoners be allowed the vote? Why shouldn’t they be able to earn a fair wage? Why should the punishments of society condemn the society to further crime? Why should police, for whom Jowl had great respect, have been turned against him, a lover of all things just?

Jowl’s craven position in his world seemed to evaporate from Jowl’s sub-conscious when Jowl had trumped his injustice by becoming one of Her Majesty’s and the State of Queensland’s Honorary Magistrates, a Justice of the Peace.

Jowl had scored 100 per cent in the test for the position. New legislation had enabled damning fingerprints on the poisoned chalice of injustice to be discounted after ten years. Jowl had endured the indignities of the previous regime and its legislations for nearly thirty years.

“Emancipation”. He’d cried out tearfully to a mate from his local garage; an aboriginal mechanic with a good sense of satire called Sonny Roberts who had Dubbo Dreaming.

On the death of that great fighter for the rights of aboriginal Australian people Charlie Perkins, Jowl had shared his teary eye with Sonny.

Charles demanded respect towards aboriginal people in a time of great discrimination. Charlie was at times, like Jowl’s father, an uncompromising man; they were two peas in pod.

Jowl’s father had once told Jowl’s young Vietnamese wife not to worry about the rise of a racist One Nation Party in his Queensland city because they were all in-bred anyway. These were the cruellest words Jowl had heard his father saying about his fellow human beings for whom, no matter the stripe, he’d held an abiding devotion, but a withering analysis.

Jowl’s parents had died and left him enough money to buy a house before the rocketing rise in house prices. His father had died in 1998 after four years of hemiplegia which had required Jowl and another brother (and Jowl’s young wife) to feed him, clean him and lift him from his hospital bed to his chairs and over to his house each and every day.

And now Jowl had a job in a local library only a few minutes from his house; every innocent lag’s dream job. But Jowl’s wife was pregnant with another son. “All my hopes of me becoming a trillionaire have been dashed!” Jowl had joked to his wife’s doctor.

Jowl was haunted by the memory of his father, whose life was consumed by the Hippocratic oath, a taciturn man with a severe, sharp intellect whose brain contained a locked closet of memories. Memories of sixty years work as a doctor including five as a soldier/ doctor tending to and commanding men sick, injured and mutilated at war.

Jowl’s first son carried the name of his grandfather and his great grand father. It was also the name of great rugby league footballer, Arthur Beetson, a big strong, courageous brown man with soft and deft hands who shared the ball.

Part of Georgy Jowl’s being haunted by his father was his reading of some of his father’s collection of military histories which detailed his father’s battles. On reading these sometimes opaque texts Jowl would have to stop after only a few pages to stop every time after a few pages when a machine operator from Footscray or a furniture assembler from South Melbourne, or a Smith, a Jones, a Jacob, a Key or Dean, or any one of the ordinary diggers for whom his father had the greatest respect, would be marked off, killed in action or died of wounds.

In a book called A Bastard of a Place Jowl read of an engagement in battle where a man, Albert Grace, was dispatched with a message from a Lieutenant Sword’s forward fighting platoon to Battalion HQ. Grace, it was reported, didn’t get to BHQ. He was never seen again.

Jowl had a studious and gentle friend called Grace who worked with his haunted self in the library. Stephen was a man who had lost his father and who looked after his ageing mother and was interested in films and the preservation and conservation of Peugeot motor vehicles and who was concerned that the Roman Catholic Church be liberalised.

Mr Grace put the people who visited the library before the accounting of shoot’em up thrillers lost and the petty demands of punishment for books returned late.

Jowl also had a great Auntie called Grace, Gracen Pfitzenmeir who his family had visited when she was dying in Brisbane’s Hospital of the Holy Spirit.

And Albert was the first name of a painter called Namatjira whose delicate and strong, perfect water-colour landscapes of Central Australia with vibrant blues and enamel whites, and ochre yellows George had always loved since seeing them at an exhibition when he was about three years old.

And Georgy Jowl had a dear friend from less contented days, in the cold air of Canberra, called Albert. Both he and Albert had been banished to or had fled to Canberra away from their warm Queensland dreaming and they had become the dearest of friends. Albie was an aboriginal bloke from Murgon who had also had problems with the law in Queensland .

He’d also worked with the revolutionary Black Theatre Company in Redfern in the 70’s (coincidentally with a man called Bostock who was a figure in his father’s war histories). Albie was matey with some of the practical public radio intellectuals in Canberra and was always kind and kindred to Georgy in the days when Jowl was away from his own family and his home Dreaming.

Albie always carried a smile for Georgy, they were like loving brothers. Albie’s smile was only matched by the irrepressible good humour of Georgy’s friend the sublime fiddle player George Washingmachine who could play in four different bands in one night and could still raise a smile in the morning when the pair of them might be move a fridge for some other lad who might be forced to abandon digs.

Georgy and Albert travelled to Melbourne and to the Snow Country with the artist Trevor Nicholls on one memorable road trip in one of double x matriarch’s limos; and they both attended Trevor’s art exhibition From Dreamtime to Machine Time which featured some wonderful landscapes and a portrait of the musician Jimmy Little.

It was a great joy for Jowl when Albie had met and married his equally beautiful wife Barb. When they had had a baby and they had left the cold city of Canberra Georgy went to see them in the central west of new South Wales in a rural retreat near some disused wool presses at Wellington, south of Dubbo.

Jowl was in disbelief when he had heard that Albie, who was younger than he, was now deceased.

He was smitten that a gentleman like Albert had left the earth so early in his life.

Jowl’s would call his new son Albert.

Geoff Shera
Feb 2015

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