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