The sign of the Black Swan
Westralia Town. The name did not appear on any official map of Sidoni, but everyone knew where it was. The streets were long and sometimes wide, rigid pre-war grid patterns inscribed upon the flat topography. Factories, abattoirs and railway yards, madhouses and the Necropolis marked its bounds. Jerry-built tenements lined its treeless roads. Grubby children played and squabbled among the rubbish and car wrecks. The air was grimy with industrial fumes. The ways out of Westralia Town were few. Death was one; children of colour could go by the orphanage or adolescence, whichever came first; and there was always The Avenue.
Thomas and Peter Sabu alighted from the train. Evening was falling and there was a slight chill in the air.
"Come on, let's stick together". Peter Sabu gathered them all together on the platform "Kim, Yoshi, Charles, Steve, yes we're all here. Now if we get separated we'll all meet here again for the last train back at eleven twenty".
They climbed the stairs over the footbridge, and as they headed for The Avenue they were greeted by several beggars.
"Got a yen, just a louse yen?"
"a coin mister, for some food for me baby"
They pushed their way through and crossed the street.
"Tight arse monkey fucks" hurled the mendicants "piss off".
The night lights were coming on, illuminating the dusk and hiding the crumbling surrounds beneath flashing neon and twinkling colours.
"Let's have a few drinks first, then something to eat" said Peter Sabu.
"OK with you Thomas?"
Thomas shook his head in agreement but said nothing. The streets were becoming more crowded as the bars and cafes opened their doors. Girls and boys were taking up their regular street corners and alcoves. Cars were crawling along, drivers looking, hungry but not yet ready to hire.
"What about this place" said Kim, pointing to a garish facade that announced its name in several colours of neon tubing: The Rottnest Arms. Neon-outlined marsupials bounced endlessly around the name. Thomas followed his friends into the main bar. It was noisy and smokey, and they wound their way across the floor to a smaller lounge bar.
"Come on Thomas, cheer up" said Peter Sabu "this is your night". He winked at the others "I'll get the first round, what's everyone having?"
After a few drinks they left the bar and wandered along The Avenue, looking for somewhere to eat. The shop names suggested another more exotic place than the seedy reality. Sunset over the Sea Restaurant, Karri Dreams Opium Bar, The Freo Bar, Hot Desert Delights Comfort Inn, Pearly Beach Hotel.
"You want girl?, you want boy?" leered the pimps. "Gents, come on in, every table a winner" shouted the hustlers.
Golden Reef Casino, Down South Cabaret Bar, Big John's Hash Joint, Shark Bay Fish & Chips. The tawdry glitz and the alcohol were making decisions difficult.
"Let's go down here" said Thomas. They turned into a shadowy lane, and could see two red paper lanterns illuminating a recessed doorway. 'The Black Swan' read a small sign swinging over the recess. Thomas pushed the door open, and they all followed him down a flight of narrow stairs to a largish basement room. The lighting was soft and gloomish, tinged with a smokey fume. The sounds of a small blues band mixed with the low murmurs of the patrons. About half of the tables were occupied, one by domino players. There appeared to be private rooms off to one side, sequestered by beaded curtains that jangled as the waiters move in and out.
"Konichiwa. A table for six?" inquired the tall, gangly head waiter as he bowed "over here perhaps?". He gestured with his marionette arms to a table about halfway between the band stand and the booths.
"Yes, that will be fine" said Thomas as they followed him to the table. Almost immediately another waiter brought them menus and jugs of water. The cuisine was the fashionable nito, or west-east style. As they each studied the menu card and suggested various dishes to each other a small woman, Javanese perhaps, appeared at Thomas' side. A paisley-patterned shawl hid her face in its shadows. A large cairngorm ring on her finger caught the dull light. She spoke quietly into his ear.
"I am the one who you need to see. I am the dreamweaver. They call me the Divinatorix. Eat your meal. refresh your body and spirit. I will be waiting for you".
Before Thomas could respond she walked away and disappeared behind one of the beaded curtains. The emblem of a black swan was woven into the beads which tinkled as they closed around her. Thomas looked at Peter Sabu "You..."
"Don't look at me" he said "I don't know anything about that. You're the one that brought us in here".
Tom and Mrs Welsh are re-united
Mrs Welsh looked around the ward. The captain and the marine had stayed out in the corridor, to allow them some privacy she supposed. There were several white patients at the far end, and she quickly recognized Tom among them. A large bandage covered his upper face and head.
As she strode towards him her footsteps echoed on the polished floor. The military order of the ward made a deep contrast with the damaged city around it. Tom seemed to recognize her stride, and turned towards her when she was only half-way along the ward, his brow quizzical.
"Tom. Tom it's me, Adela. Oh my darling, what's happened to you?"
As Tom pointed at his throat a doctor came over and spoke in an Australian accent.
"Mr Welsh is unable to speak. It seems to be an older wound, healing up well but his vocal chords have been destroyed".
"Yes, we know that, it happened during the bombardment, but what about his eyes?"
"We're not sure what happened there. The Nips, ah, Imperial soldiers, were taking some men from Prince Alfred when there was an explosion of some sort, perhaps some unexploded ordnance or a booby trap, and several of the men were injured, including Mr Welsh. There are fragments of glass in his eyes. We've removed most of it, but it's not looking good for his sight".
"Oh no, what do you mean?, what else is wrong?"
"Apart from a few cuts and bruises everything else seems all right. His hearing is fine, and he's mobile enough. The throat wound is healing nicely, but we'll need to get the last of the glass from his left eye. It will take him a while to recover, and I think this is the best place for him at this time, don't you?"
"Yes, you're probably right. Thank you for being so frank".
A call from a patient at the other end of the ward drew the doctor's attention. "I'm sorry, I'll have to see..."
"Yes, yes of course, thank you again"
As the doctor walked away Mrs Welsh sat down in the chair next to the bed and held Tom's hand. He could neither speak nor see, and as he gripped her hand he began to shake.
"Darling Tom, everything will be all right now. The city has been freed, and the fighting is over. Things will be back to normal in no time, you'll see..."
She stopped, regretting the unintended pun. His shaking was lessening, and he began to stroke her hand. She could feel him becoming calmer.
"I've brought you some things, they're in a bag here. Some clean clothes, a few books..." Again, the moment jarred. What would he do with the books now? She continued
"there is also a writing pad and some pencils. Do you think that you might bne able to print something?"
He shrugged his shoulders, but held out his other hand for the pad. She opened the bag and took out the pad and a pencil. "Here" she said as she placed the open pad in his hand "and here's the pencil". He took the pencil and scrawled on the page, then tilted the pad in her direction. 'Hello' read the spidery handwriting. "And hello to you too!" she laughed "How are you feeling?" 'Awful' he scrawled 'what's happened?'
Mrs Welsh described for him the whole sequence of events that had happened since he had been taken to the hospital, sometime backtracking for a forgotten point or jumping ahead for a better explanation. Tom nodded his head as he listened, his body language making all oif the necessary responses at all the right places. After a while it almost seemed like old times, as if there hadn't been any injuries or near deaths, as if their whole world hadn't been turned upside down and changed utterly and permanently, as if Tom was sitting in his armchair in the flat with the newspaper while Mrs Welsh talked about the days events and the next days plans, with Tom making the occasional affirmation: "Yes dear", "Yes, I see", 'Well I never". It was almost like the old days, but of course it wasn't. Inevitably the updating came to an end. "And so here we are" she concluded. Tom nodded his head, and drummed the pad with his fingers for a minute before he scrawled 'radio OK?'. "Oh Tom, fancy being worried about that after everything! Yes, yes it is working. 2BL is the only station broadcasting at the moment, lots of official announcements and some lovely Nippon music. I suppose the other stations will come back again once things calm down". As she finished speaking she saw that the captain and the marine had come in and were standing at the end of the bed.
"Tom, my time is up for now, I have to go". Tom gripped her hand again. "It's all right darling, you're safe here, and in good hands. I will come again soon, but for now the Taisa has to get me back home, and there is business that I have to attend to". She felt his hand reluctantly release hers. "Please don't worry darling, I'll be back again soon, and it won't be long before I can take you home with me. We must be patient for a little while longer". She kissed him on the cheek. "Buy for now" she said as she stood, and then walked away with her escorts. Tom settled back into the bed, twiddling the pencil between his fingers.
Sunland welcomes Sandy
Breakfast was over and Della had been given the task of showing Sandy around the plantation homestead before Miko introduced him to his work routines.
"Well, this is the big house, as you know! 'Sunland House' as its says on the front door. It's about a hundred years old, and there's only a few others like it in the shire. The thick stone walls and the high roofs and wide verandahs keep it cool in summer and warm in winter. Built in the old way by the old people".
"We had some places like this back home as well" said Sandy "not that I really remember much about it".
"You can see everything from here" Della continued "the two large sheds over there are also from the old days. They're where we keep all the machinery and stuff. That one is called Jack's Store, and the other is called the Tractor Shed. Those long, low sheds over there are the drying sheds. When the leaf plants are harvested they are hung to cure in there. Then it is taken to the packing shed over there, where the leaf is all graded and packed for the auction house. Those are the staff quarters on this side, where we each have our own room and share the furoba bathroom. Aunty lives in the big house, where we all eat, and get together in the big lounge room. There's also a sick room in the big house, and a cellar underneath the house. And then down there is the animal area. The high-roofed building is our dairy for the cows and goats we keep, and there's also the silo, the piggery, the chicken runs, the horse stables, and the dovecote. You can see the orchard and vegie gardens spread around from there back towards the Tractor Shed. The little brick building on the side is the power house. Beyond all of this you can see the paddocks where there are crops in various stages, and some fallow areas where we run some sheep for premium wool".
"It's quite a little village you have here" said Sandy as he waved his arm around. "This seems to be the highest land around, a good site for a stockade!"
"Yes, it is, and you can really see that when the river, which you can see by the winding string of old gum trees way over there, floods as it does sometimes. Sunland Hill then becomes an island. Aunty has some old photos showing the place in flood".
Della then lead Sandy around the complex, following the well-worn pathways and routes from shed to shed, pointing out the views, greeting the other hands as they worked. Sandy took in all that he was being shown, asking the occasional question as they went. As they came through the animal quarter he asked "Why do you keep pigeons? It seems a little unusual".
"Well, as you already know, we are pretty isolated out here. Rough roads, our own electricity, no telephone, only a radio. There is something of a pigeon post between the plantations which comes in handy if the roads are cut, or there's an emergency..."
"Or there's a flood".
"Yes, or there's a flood".
"Who looks after them? Is that someone's special job?"
"Yes, Miko is the pigeon keeper. Do you know anything about pigeons?"
"Not really. I worked for a while at the Zoo aviaries in Sidoni, cleaning out cages and so on. The raptors were my favourites. They liked a fat pigeon for lunch sometimes! Perhaps Miko might let me help out with all the birds here?"
"You'll have to ask him about that" said Della. "I'm a gardener myself, I spend most of my time in the orchards and vegie gardens, as well as the big house gardens, and also work on planting the leaf crops, and collecting and grading seeds. I love working in the gardens. Its the first time I've ever had some space to think and meditate"
"Yes, I've worked as a gardener before" said Sandy "But I prefer working with animals to plants".
As they walked and talked several pigeons flew out of the dovecote, shooting skywards, swooping and pirouetting around each other, an epitome of graceful freedom. Della and Sandy watched them against the pale blueness, lost for a moment in winged dreaming.
"Come on Sandy", Della interrupted, "it's nearly morning smoko, and I've got to hand you over to Miko and get on with my jobs".
"OK" said Sandy "You know, this is a really special place. I hope that there is room for me". They looked at each other. Della blushed in the warm sun. "Come on" she said "we'll miss out on Aunty's scones".
Mrs Welsh made a final adjustment to her hat, then picking up her bag she left the flat. She went down to Karafuto Avenue and, as usual, the bus arrived within minutes. As she flashed her pass at the driver she felt someone else step onto the bus behind her. She moved along the aisle and sat down, noticing that the person, a rather good looking Nippon man, had also quickly shown the driver a pass before walking further down the bus to sit out of her view.
As the bus pulled out from the kerb she took the program out of her bag to read again. Two masters of Ikebana were visiting Sidoni, giving exhibitions of their art. There were several public shows in the large department stores, but Mrs Welsh was going to a special invitation-only demonstration in the Exhibition Hall in the Governor's Tower. Although not particularly adept at Ikebana herself, Mrs Welsh could appreciate the skill and artisanry involved, and the beauty of the arrangements. And anyway, a vice-regal invitation was not to be ignored.
The bus pulled into the stop at North Sidoni Station. Mrs Welsh alighted, and followed the stairs down to the underground concourse. She showed her pass to the ticket collector who bowed to her as he allowed her through. His bow, she thought, could have been a little more respectful. She would have to speak to the station master about that. A train pulled up at the platform almost as soon as she reached it, and in what seemed like only a few minutes she was alighting at Tower Station.
The Exhibition Hall occupied a sprawling wing of the tower complex. Several long silken banners, each depicting a stylised Ikebana arrangement and stylish calligraphy, fluttered in a gentle breeze at the entrance. Mrs Welsh gave her invitation to an attendant who, after an appropriately low bow, escorted her to her seat. The seat was close enough to the front to afford a good view of the proceedings as well as indicate her status. It was also, she noticed as she sat down, very comfortable. As she was seating herself Mrs Welsh glanced around at the other people now filling the hall. She felt pleased to be among her peers, loyal subjects all. It was her first outing since the terrible events on Awakening Day, and she intended to enjoy every minute of it. As she looked around she thought she saw the good looking man from the bus. But then he was gone.
Within what seemed like only a short time the demonstrations by the Ikebana masters, the politician's glowing speeches on Nippon culture, the formal introductions and thanks, were all over. As Mrs Welsh waited for the crowd to dissipate a little before leaving she felt a tap on her shoulder.
"Adela, how lovely to see you here". Mrs Welsh turned in her chair. It was an old friend she had known since school days. May Mikimoto had married well and prospered in the new age since Liberation.
"Hello May, how are you? I haven't seen you for a few weeks".
"Fine, yes I've been fine, but what about you? I hear that you were at the Awakening Day ceremonies when the terrorists attacked".
"Yes, it's true, but I really don't want to talk about it just now".
"No, of course not. Wasn't the demonstration wonderful?"
"Yes, I wish I had just a little of their talent".
"And how is the handsome Thomas, and what about Della?" May's eyebrow arched as she said Della's name.
"Thomas is still doing very well as the Governor's aide, very well. And as for Della...." Mrs Welsh again thought she saw the handsome man's face in the crowd behind May.
"...did you see..." he voice trailed off.
"Sorry May, I'm not feeling too well. I think ... Awakening Day was such a shock, I thought I'd put it behind me until you mentioned it then".
"Oh Adela, look, we've got our car here, let us drive you home. You can't go on the train in this state".
"Thank you May, thank you. I would appreciate that".
As she sat in the car during the drive home Mrs Welsh barely heard May's running commentary on recent social happenings at the Bowling Club and her Women's Guild branch and the charity events being planned for the upcoming spring fashion shows. The images of the handsome man kept going through her mind, like an endless loop, passing her on the bus, taking a seat at the exhibition, passing behind May. He could have been anyone, just a coincidence that he caught her eye. Perhaps it was just his good looks. There could be any number of entirely innocent explanations. So why did she feel uneasy? There was something. And Mrs welsh was not naive to the ways of the Kempetai. But why would they be watching her? Were they watching her?
"Della" she suddenly said aloud.
"What was that dear?" asked May to the unexpected interruption.
"Della. You asked me before about Della. I haven't seen her for a long time. She's out west somewhere. I must write to her, find out what she's doing".
"Yes, of course you must. Oh look, here's your stop coming up. We can't come in today, but perhaps another time?"
"Yes, another time, that would be lovely" said Mrs Welsh. The sudden connection between the handsome man and Della was both startling and curious, and her sense of unease increased.
"Yes, I must write tonight" she said to herself as May's husband pulled the car up at the footpath in front of the Bridge Apartments.
The Takamatsu Declaration
"I declare this session of the cabinet open". With these words and a bang of his gavel Prince Takamatsu opened the meeting. The men and women of the cabinet were silent, all looking to their chairman. They had been summoned to this extraordinary meeting with little notice and the atmosphere was thick with expectation.
"Cabinet Secretary, ministers, I have called you together to announce a new direction in our affairs. I have discussed these matters with my brother, His Imperial Majesty, and we are in accord. But there are others in Tokyo and Syonan and here in Sidoni who do not agree with these measures. I will ask each of you personally, at the end of this meeting, to declare your position. The time to make a decision is at hand."
He paused. Anxiety, Uncertainty, Fear. This and more he could see on their faces.
"You will notice that there are no officials present, no record being taken. There are only those of us sworn to serve the Emperor in this land. You may speak freely and frankly once I have laid out His Majesty's plans, but the only details that are to leave this room are those that I write in the official record. Is this understood?" They all nodded their heads in agreement.
"Then I will begin". The Prince took a long draught from the glass of water in front of him, and cleared his throat.
"The tendency in the affairs of this country over the last twenty years has been for the establishment and growth of a creole people, a distinctive people admirably suited to this land and its climate. The parallel tendency in the affairs of the Empire and the Dai Toa has been for the local peoples to take responsibility for their own affairs under His Majesty's benign guidance. If we bring these two tendencies together..."
A murmur ran around the room. members leaned forward in their chairs. The air began to thicken with cigarette smoke.
"If we bring these two tendencies together, a new pathway opens up before us. Consider that Manchukuo has been a kingdom within the Empire for fourty years, with its own king. Malai, Indonesia, Filipinas, Burma, Cochin. They all have their own rulers. Syonan has its own Assembly. Their political development has been far more rapid than ours. But our time is approaching".
The Prince paused and took another drink of water.
"His Majesty is of the view that it is time for the people of Dai Nan to begin the learning of self-responsibility. He is prepared to consider reforms that would allow for the creation of an Assembly for Dai Nan, with half the members elected by the orderly portion of the people. There are certain conditions of course. No political parties are to be formed. The franchise will be restricted to loyal subjects. The powers of the Assembly will be limited, but may increase over time if the reforms are successful, as has happened in Syonan".
He paused again, and several hands were raised to catch his attention.
"One more point. His Majesty wishes that this generous expression of his faith in the people of Dai Nan should be sealed with the establishment of a branch of the Imperial house here. As this country matures and develops so will its need for a uniting symbol within the Dai Toa. The appointment of our own king will provide that symbol in a personal union with the Emperor. This branch of the Imperial house will be deemed to begin with my son and heir, the Prince Harry Nobuhito, from the time of his coronation. That time is yet to be decided".
By now all hands were in the air, desperately competing to be the first to be called upon to respond. The Prince surveyed the members. The die had been cast. There would be no turning back.
Mrs Welsh's new career
Several people sat in the ante-room. Mrs Welsh recognized some of them, but none acknowledged each other apart from a curt nod or tight smile. The Japanese occupation authorities had set up office in the YMCA on the corner of Bathurst and Pitt streets in the city. Mrs Welsh had never been in the building before, although she knew of the subversive anti-Nippon reputation of the YMCA. The naval captain, Taisa Yamada as she now knew him, had picked her up from the flat about an hour before to meet Admiral Yamamoto, but had said little else.
"Mrs Welsh?" The softly spoken voice intruded upon her thoughts. "The Admiral is ready to see you know".
'The Admiral himself' she thought as she stood up.
"This way please". She was escorted across the polished floor into a large timber paneled room, possibly a board room of some sort. A man, evidently in charge of things, rose from a large desk at the far end of the room, and advanced towards her.
"Kombanwa Welsh San" he said as he offered her his hand.
"Kombanwa Gensui" she said, showing her linguistic skills as she shook his hand.
"Please take a seat". He gestured to several armchairs arranged around a coffee table. "Would you take some tea with me?"
"Thank you Gensui, that would be lovely".
He made a sign to the aide who had escorted Mrs Welsh into the room, and then turned back to her. The aide quickly returned and placed a pot of green tea and two little cups on the table between the Admiral and Mrs Welsh. He poured the tea and then withdrew to stand at one side.
"Welsh San" began the Admiral "as you are probably aware, the old regime is almost finished. We expect a final surrender within days. Our task now is to govern this country, ensure that it contributes its fair share to the Dai Toa, and prepare its people for the necessary changes ahead. I am now selecting a provisional administration, and am inviting several local people with a proven record of loyalty to take part. And, as we are both busy people, I am obliged to dispense with many of the usual courtesies in such matters. I am offering you a post as Minister, with responsibility for education and welfare matters".
Mrs Welsh looked at him. She felt overwhelmed, but nevertheless ready for the Great Task ahead.
"Can I ask Gensui what you have in mind for such a minister?"
"Things must return to normal as soon as possible. Schools must re-open, children must learn Nippon language. There are many orphans from the fighting. They must be cared for. These and many other things. The details will all be explained by others. But for now I need to have your answer".
"Gensui, I would be honoured to serve the Emperor in this or any other way that he may command or deem useful. I accept your offer".
"Good, good" he said as he stood up. "You will not regret your wise decision. My assistant will tell you more, but for now I have others to talk to. Please forgive my haste. I hope that we will meet again soon in more congenial surroundings".
As Mrs Welsh walked from the room she felt as though she was walking on a cloud. She couldn't have asked for more. At last, her time was at hand.
4854 words at 9 January 2005
Text copyright Bruce Baskerville
left'Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Japan's most brilliant naval leader, planned and executed the strategy which swept the Western allies from the Western Pacific in 1941-42', in Mayer, S.L., (Ed) The Japanese War Machine, Ure Smith, Sydney 1976: 72, image source US Navy
centre'No. 367 Windsor Street, built by John Bowman in 1821', in Baker, H., Historic Buildings, Windsor and Richmond, State Planning Authority of NSW, Sydney 1967: 52.
rightadvertisement, 'Buy your Radiola at Nicholsons', Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 1938