Chapter 1 – The Pub

I am releasing a chapter a day of a story I wrote as a tribute to a WWI digger, for background click here

Jacko sat at the pub, the usual one he went most evenings after work prior to going home. He didn’t know why they called him Jacko and, he didn’t understand the Australian love of nicknames or for that matter how they came up with his. One day they just decided he looked like a Jacko.

Jacko was still getting used to many things in Australia after arriving only a couple of years earlier in 1914. He had arrived from the north of England, immigrating with his mother.

She’d wanted a new start after the death of her husband, Jacko’s father. She didn’t grieve in fact she was happy to be free of the man who’d made her life nothing but misery. A drunk and violent man she was enjoying the freedom to start again, a new life, in a new country. Doris was her name and prior to embarking on her voyage to Australia had barely ventured beyond the city of her birth.

Given his father’s drinking problem Doris didn’t like Jacko attending the pub as often as he did. She begrudgingly accepted the practice given, he was trying to make new friends in a new country.

He was not old enough to drink. He carried good favour with the barman and some forged paperwork should it be required. Jacko had no issues being served and his money was the same colour as the men of drinking age.

A raid by officers was unlikely in this district anyway. The pub stood near the docks. It was not an area police frequented. Most disputes were dealt with by the men themselves. Bruisers and brawlers. The pub had many scars from “wharfie justice” being metered out regularly. Broken tiles, chips and dents in the bar, the barman himself sported an eye patch after having glass fly into it from a previous fight. Despite only having the one eye he had the vision of a hawk and, if you didn’t have a drink in your hand, you’d best get one or move on, no chit chat, more drinking.

The interior was a mixture of red leather also with many scratches and tears, and stained cream tiles. Men sat around in their various work groups and drank their cares away.

Jacko didn’t make friends easily he was a loner. Doris encouraged him to be sociable and hopefully find a wife one day.

Finding a wife was one thing Jacko wouldn’t achieve at the pub he sat at. A domain filled with labourers and dockers fresh off the day’s shift only metres from where he now sat. Jacko didn’t like his work colleagues but, having a drink and gaining favour with them helped gain the better jobs.

He’d worked there over twelve months now. Labouring was hard, long days filled with heavy lifting. The foreman was sceptical of Jacko when he first arrived given his small five-foot four-inch stature. But after being granted a trial he showed he was more than up to the work and had now gained respect among his colleagues.

Labouring was all Jacko knew he’d been a labourer from an early age. He was forced to leave school to help the family income given his father’s inability to hold down stable employment. His father spent a large portion of the small wage he did receive on drink.

Jacko had enjoyed school but knew he would not be able to attend for long. So now he was forced to do what he knew which, was labouring.

The dock had been a natural fit when he and his mother arrived in Australia. They’d moved into a small flat nearby. A small two-bedroom, nothing fancy but compared to their home in England both Doris and Jacko thought it was luxurious. Situated walking distance from a major regional port in Australia and the areas main employer. Jacko had gone there the day after arriving in Australia and managed to arrange his trial and then be put on full time.

Jacko sat quietly with his small group of co-workers and finished his beer. He was known as the quiet one, most of them were boisterous louts. At some stage soon, a fight would break out. That was the typical nightly routine at this place. Today most were in a good mood. No one had been injured or killed. This was not uncommon for the work they did. But no matter what mood the men were in at some stage a fight would break out.

The conversation that evening was no different to normal, these days it focused around the war. Coming up to two years of involvement and with no end in sight it was turning out much different to those who expected it to be finished by Christmas in 1914.

Gossip about the war was what filled conversation. Men who knew others who’d been and told stories of what they’d heard. There would be talk about family members killed or gassed. Or other people they knew.

Walking around the streets you would see returning veterans in various states of injury. Most would not talk of their experiences, but all were changed, all had faces that showed they had seen things that could not be unseen.

Getting real information on the war was difficult, the press was limited in what could be printed and letters from the front were censored.

Whenever walking near a recruitment officer though, you would hear that it was time to sign up and join a glorious victory. That your country and the empire needed you.

Jacko checked the time, he needed to get home. One thing Doris always requested was he be home for dinner. The excuse worked conveniently for Jacko as it enabled him to excuse himself before the evening’s fight broke out and spared him conversations, he did not want to be a part of.

He finished the remaining portion of his beer said he’d see his colleagues in the morning and begun the short walk home. On the way out a drunk was thrown in front of his path, then he was beset upon by another man who accused him of trying to steal his money, wharfie justice in action.

Arriving home was the same as every night “How was your day?” Doris asked, and they sat down to dinner.

For Chapter 2 click here

Private Jacko goes to war…

2018 marked the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War. I’ve always been interested in the history and stories of this conflict, and am left saddened at the sheer brutality and senselessness of much of it.

In the lead-up to the 11th of November 2018 I began thinking about what my life would have been like if I had been born 100 years earlier so in 1886, not 1986. If I had there is a good chance I would have been in the trenches in World War I and if not the trenches some form of other involvement.

Stoking my curiosity I started searching service records of the War Memorial to find someone who was born on the same day as me. I found this difficult but searching for names was easy so I instead looked up someone with my name and given I have a very common name found a young man from Newcastle in New South Wales.

I started researching the battalion he was with as his service records don’t tell you much other than when he left Australia, then the UK for Belgium and his subsequent date of death. He did not serve long in fact he was killed on his first time up to the front which was a fate experienced by many. He was not killed in a major battle or action but in a minor thrust by the German forces.

During the years after I traveled to Newcastle on a couple of occasions for business and visited the street that he came from, the local Cenotaph where his name is etched as well as a larger memorial as he was part of a Battalion made up of men from Newcastle and surrounding regions.

I grew an odd connection to this man and would one day like to visit his grave. His story seemed like so many from the war, his stay at the front was short, another statistic, another one slaughtered but he had a mother at home who must have wondered the point of it all.

He performed no great heroics he just got trained and went and then was killed.

In response I began writing and ended up with a tribute of sorts to this man and the many like him who served in that war. I now publish what I wrote in full starting from Nov 11 (Armistice Day) I’ll release a chapter a day.

Please note this is a work of fiction, I studied bits and pieces but really it’s me writing what I think life may have been like (and I may be way off the mark). This includes the language (there’s swear words) much of if I believe was not used at the time, but I wrote imagining myself in the shoes of a young man in a country he’d never seen seeing sights one should never have to see.

So enjoy Private Jacko goes to war (if you don’t, don’t read it!).

For Chapter 1 click here

Isla and the Rainbow Cave…

I have not posted here for a long time now. I’ve written different drafts of things but they never felt right to share. COVID world has been difficult to navigate in the past couple of weeks as Melbourne has gone into harsher lock down.

I’ve felt bored, restless and a lot of the time that life has become quite pointless. I don’t think the world we live in at the moment is easy for anyone.

I’ve been trying to do some “good things” the most notable of these has been baking cakes and dinners for people and giving them away. This has made me feel useful on the weekends and hopefully spread a little joy in what feels at times quite bleak.

The other thing I have done recently is write a little story based on drawings my daughter did. She did all these drawings of “The Rainbow Cave” and she would tell me about it. The Rainbow Cave has become a special place that she’s dreamed up and she talks about going there with her friends.

Something inside me felt like writing a little story of this place that she could remember later maybe. So I did and put in some of the things she mentioned were in the rainbow cave and added a few of my own.

I read her the story and she loved it. I asked if she wanted to change it and she said “No Daddy!” I then said we could print it of and she could draw the pictures of the story in it (you can see the main picture attached to this post). She was extremely excited by this idea and worked hard on a Sunday afternoon drawing the pictures on the different pages.

The book now lives in a plastic pocket and my daughter says it’s “the most special book!”

I’m glad I could bring this small joy to a four year old. I need to try and take more enjoyment in simple things like this. And maybe I need to find my own Rainbow Cave as we navigate through this crazy time.

So without any further introduction below is “Isla and the Rainbow Cave” by Isla and I.

“My name is Isla and this is my dog Patch.”

We’re going on an adventure to the Rainbow Cave. I have a younger brother Ben but he’s too little to come on adventures.

To get to the Rainbow Cave we go along the path past the creek, over the hill and through the fence. And then you have to look and listen to find the entrance.

When you find the entrance you wave and say “Hello!” to fairy that waits at the door.

Inside the Rainbow Cave it’s bright with all the colours of the rainbow over the walls. The walls flash as you walk by.

You go past the strawberry plants and the apple trees down to the green lake where the unicorns live.

On the way Patch sees the magic white bunnies and wants to chase them. The bunnies disappear and then jump out and say “Boo!” and Patch barks and the bunnies disappear again. “Peekaboo!” The bunnies jump out from behind a rock. I tell Patch to “come” and she leaves the bunnies to play.

In the Rainbow Cave it starts to rain, it doesn’t rain with water in the Rainbow Cave but rains GUMMY BEARS!

We pass the friendly furry snakes as we run through the mystic fields and roll down the colourful hills.

The Rainbow Cave is a magical place special for me but its time to leave and go home for tea! Maybe a snack before we leave of rainbow berries with special ice cream. Patch has a rainbow bone and now it’s time to go.

Back past the hills and the green lake and waving goodbye to the furry snakes.

The bunnies play “peekaboo” as we go past and see the unicorns still down by the lake. I put some gummy bears in my pocket and smell the strawberries and apples, then I go back to the door and say “Bye” to the fairy.

Then back through the fence and to the other side of the hill where home is past the creek and up the path.

Back home to Mummy and Ben, he’s not ready for adventures not yet anyway. And he has to find is own special place his own Rainbow Cave.