Dance of the Tragic Heroines
This is one of those fascinating, can’t-put-it-down reads that you rarely strike. It would be an amazing saga if it were fiction, but these women, traced back through six generations to a young aboriginal girl, are the author’s ancestors and the author herself. The colourful stories clearly depict life from the 1890s through to the ‘naughties’, showing the lifestyle of both the white man and the indigenous Australian. This refreshingly non-political novel is not for the easily-offended, because of its raw and truthful nature. The bare-all biography contains a broad mix: illicit love, aboriginal customs, childhood abuse, neglect and finally hope. As you read, you can see the birth of young Australia through the women’s eyes. Whereas history on its own can be dry, watching the world from the viewpoint of the author’s aboriginal great grandmother, then Irene’s grandmother and so on, we get a rare glimpse into the past.Throughout the book, we also get to listen in to conversation between demons, as they endeavour to manipulate humans in areas of weakness.Generations of women making poor choices lead us to the author’s unhappy childhood. She and her siblings were often flayed with a heavy leather belt by one of the men who stayed in her mother’s life long enough to marry her.Proceeds from the sale of this eBook go to supporting the 10,000 orphans that Irene cares for in Uganda. Do yourself, and our brothers and sisters overseas, a favour and purchase at least one copy of this astounding tome.
Excerpt from Dance of the Tragic Heroines by Irene Gleeson AO
The year was 1894. Ted was 40 years old. He had just driven a mob into Sandhill Station and was collecting his pay, a few paltry pound notes with rations of tea, sugar, flour and tobacco. ‘Going bush for a while, Ted?’
‘I reckon I’ve earned myself a long smoko. Hooroo. See you next year’. As his boots clomped down the wooden stairs, Ted looked across the yard; a square of grass edged by an orchard of fruit trees, a trellis of beans, and on the third side, rows of giant yellow sunflowers. In their shade a native girl was trying to pump water. The pump had seized and her small face was screwed up in concentration, as her hands wrestled the handle. Ted watched her, fascinated to see her frail brown body filled with such determination. Glowing gold in the sunflower’s reflection, her skin glistened with sweat. She hitched her ‘Mother Hubbard’ dress over her knees. Then he saw them: heavy ankle chains that hobbled her. He stormed back into the office. ‘Why’s that black gin shackled?’ The paymaster shrugged. The stationmaster looked at him shrewdly. ‘What business is it of yours?’ ‘I’m making it my business…poor dumb animals got no-one to look out for them’. The manager beckoned Ted closer. ‘Look mate. It’s for her own protection. The Aboriginal Protection Board brought her in when she was 8 years old. She’s 15 now, but she’s never settled. Keeps running off to the blacks’ camp down the river’. He cleared his throat and spat towards a spittoon in the corner. ‘After all my missus done for her…nothing but trouble. Tell you what…you can have her for what we just paid you’. Ted stared at him. He was used to looking to his animals’ needs…. couldn’t stand by and watch one suffer. The stationmaster leant closer and grabbed Ted’s sleeve. His breath smelt like sulphur. ‘Tell you what some more. Just half your pay and she’s yours’. He closed his eyes and chortled. ‘She’s ripe for the plucking. The station hands been tapping at her door every night. I don’t know how long Ma can keep them out’.
Ted reached into his back pocket, and slammed half the notes on the table. ‘Give me the key’.As Ted stepped out into the glare, the full realisation of his action hit him. He had bought a woman. She was kneeling in the garden when she saw his boot beside her. Her eyes filled with fear and she cowered even lower. ‘I’m Edward Carlton... er... Ted Carlton’, he stammered. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Nganyintja’, she murmured.
‘Proper name not blackfeller name. You got a proper name?’
‘Sometimes. Nan’, she murmured to the ground. ‘Sometimes... They call me Nanny-goat’.
Ted wrinkled his forehead and scratched his head. ‘You’re called Edith from now on. Stand up Edith. You work for me now’. Eyes downcast, she lithely rose to standing. Ted knelt before her and lifted the hem of her dress. As he unlocked the shackles, she lifted one then the other thin foot away.
‘Wait’, Ted whispered. He ripped his handkerchief in two and gently bound her blisters on each ankle. Edith looked at him, her eyes wide and moist with gratitude.
‘Edie belong to you now?’ she said.
Ted studied his scrap of humanity. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. C’mon. Let’s go’.
As they mounted the horse, the stationmaster leaned out the door. ‘Just leave the leg irons there for the next darkie… Sucker!’ he laughed, ‘Enjoy your bit of black velvet’.
Cantering along the red dirt road, Ted’s mind was in turmoil. Sitting at his back, Edith clung to him like a frightened possum. He rode for miles to the north, his heart softening towards the small creature trusting him. Presently the scrubby bush merged into tall eucalyptus forest, and he reined his horse toward a familiar watering hole.
‘Whoa Nell’. He unclenched the girl’s tight grip around his waist and slid off the horse. She stayed astride, watching him with dark eyes as he walked the horse to the billabong. As the horse splayed its legs and lowered its head to drink, Edie tumbled forward into the cool water.
Shrieking with delight she splashed scoops of crystal water over herself. Then she dove beneath the surface, exploring the submerged tree roots like a platypus, trailing a string of silver bubbles.
After several moments she surfaced blowing waterspouts, laughing and diving again. Ted watched,mesmerized by her vitality and pure joy.
‘You come’, Edie beckoned. ‘Get cool’.
Ted sat down and pulled off his boots. He peeled off his socks, rank with sweat from the long drive. He threw off his jacket, his shirt. Then he stood to his full six feet, discarded his trousers and plunged in wearing his long johns. Edie giggled uncontrollably at this outfit, so Ted pointed to her bedraggled dress and feigned laughter. He’d had no reason to laugh for years and felt uncomfortable with this long denied emotion. He was relieved when Edie submerged, leaving him alone to collect his thoughts. The waterhole so familiar to him seemed to be different that day, alive with whisperings and shimmering. Ted floated there watching light beams shining through the water touching submerged rocks with rainbow colours. Slow languid bubbles rose to the surface. Kingfishers flashed iridescent blue as they darted across the silver water, spearing insects with their beaks. Around the water’s edge, paperbark trees overhung, making a cool retreat. Ted’s head spun with the smell of honey-sweet pollens, the tang of eucalyptus oils and dark earth.
Paddling across the water, Edie smiled at him and breathed out bubbles. Her curls glistened and the whites of her eyes flashed at him just before she plunged to the bottom of the waterhole, almost rubbing her nose on the rocks. Arching her back, she rose straight from the water before splashing down, a boisterous celebration of sparkles, sunlight and shining limbs.
As Ted’s eyes followed her, an undeniable ache began to churn within him. He drew a deep breath and turned away, fighting to control long-buried sensations within his body. Seeking stillness, he looked to the foliage of the trees, but their boughs swayed in a rolling motion, shimmering and rustling their leaves with bewitching energy. From the dark lairs of their roots drifted hot sweet smells of fecund humus - old tree debris decaying as forest saplings sucked new life from it.
‘Hoy! Teddy - turtle’. Edie squealed. She held aloft a small tortoise, its legs paddling in the air. ‘Looks like you’, she teased. Her eyes wide she wobbled her head mimicking. Alligator like, Ted dropped into the water. Only his eyes shone above the surface. He focused, smiling, and determined on the girl then slid soundlessly below. Trembling, Edie dropped the turtle. Her eyes skimmed over the ripples. Sunlight glanced back at her. She could not see him. She was aware of some awesome force, some powerful body zeroing in on her. She stifled a shriek of excitement and tried to blunder away. Her dress billowed around her and her legs thrashed aimlessly. His fingers grasping her, the strength of his hands fused with the flesh of her waist with supernatural force. As he lifted her high from the water, she held his shoulders and sliding her arms around his neck she drew him close against her. Their eyes met and she knew she was gazing into the essence of him, melting into the milky honesty of him. He began to carry her out of her depth, so that she would cling to him, trust in him, but she knew she could not surrender herself. With a struggle she managed to break away from his hands and fling herself back into the shallows. She stood there breathing quickly, scowling at Ted’s puzzled face. Then ‘AEEYEEOWWW…’ with a mock war cry she ran at him, scooping water over him so that he spluttered forbreath.
Laughing, they staggered from the water and collapsed on the bank. Ted removed his wet singlet and lay there feeling the sun’s heat drying his tingly body. Shafts of sunlight danced across his eyelids. His ears were filled with the buzz of cicadas, his whole being throbbing with their song. Every one of his senses, cocooned till now, was reawakened and in the pit of his stomach grew a gnawing hunger to take the girl beside him and know her with his full manhood. Taking a deep breath, Ted turned his body to study her. Edie lay perfectly still, trusting, her legs outstretched. Red welts circled each ankle. One thin arm framed her head. Her long lashes castshadows on her cheeks as water droplets dried there. As she drowsed, she murmured, her lips parting over pearl-like teeth. A frown crossed her brow. Slowly, tenderly, Ted touched his fingers to her temple to brush away a damp ringlet. Instantly she awoke, the white of her eyes flashing. She bounded to her feet.