We took the little blue hire back to the depot in East Devonport, Bob and I. He’d never been to Tasmania before. It was March, and the weather had been typically autumn Tasmania – showery, windy, but with times of brilliant sunshine.
And the air smelled clean, as it never did in Melbourne.
We took the hire car back, I can’t remember who paid for it. Probably me. We found the Purser’s Office on the Abel Tasman, collected our key, and located our cabin.
I couldn’t stand to be inside, enclosed by the four shiny laminated walls. I had to be outside. I wanted to see the mountains again, Mt. Roland, Quamby Bluff, the Tiers, purple in the evening light. I wanted to look at the clear, pale, eggshell blue of the sky.
We went up onto the deck, and shivered slightly in the breeze. He wanted to go inside. He’d discovered there was a bar on board, and he wanted a drink, as usual.
For once, I stood up to him. For reasons I couldn’t articulate, it was important for me to stay on deck. The seagulls rode the eddies above the Mersey. The low, unpretentious buildings of Devonport came down to the riverbank. Already Tasmania seemed so very far away.
Bob always had to be doing things. He couldn’t be content just leaning on the rails, watching the currents in the river, or the yachts tugging at their moorings.
He persuaded me to come to the bar. He brought our drinks, still talking. What would we do when we got back to Melbourne?
What we always did, I supposed.
The movement of the ship was barely perceptible. The hotel at East Devonport, Formby it used to be called, slipped past the windows.
I felt it then.
I remember being a child. Low tide at Adventure Bay. Gently prodding sea anemones stranded in rock pools. They’d cling to my twig, thinking it was food, and I’d pull it away. Reluctantly, regretfully, the tiny, ox blood tentacles would release the twig.
As the Abel Tasman left the Mersey at Devonport one March evening in 1991, Tasmania let me go, reluctantly, regretfully. It would be five years until I came home again.
Now, I never leave.
(c) Jane New
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“Your coffee, miss.”
Rachel’s thoughts were focussed on the sepia-toned photo on the table in front of her. She looked up at the server, confused for a moment.
Propping the photo against the salt and pepper shakers in the centre of the table she mindlessly spooned several teaspoons of sugar into the white china mug and stirred the drink.
“You want anything to eat?” asked the server.
“No.” She wanted to study the picture, not eat. “No, thank you. This will be fine.”
Pushing the steaming mug to one side she concentrated on the photograph. The man would have been in his mid thirties, she guessed, perhaps ten years older than she was now. Dark hair, carefully parted and brushed to one side, curled around his ears. He was clean shaven, with a well-defined jawline and a finely moulded mouth. His eyes were a light colour—grey or blue or hazel, it was impossible to tell. A high, stiff-looking collar ensured he held his pose for the camera. A softly knotted, striped, silk tie complemented a buttoned up waistcoat and a smartly tailored jacket with satin lined lapels.
What colour were his eyes? Rachel wondered.
She reached for her coffee. She needed it, she realised, as the caffeine registered. She’d barely eaten since leaving Hobart late that morning.
The brown, cardboard frame bore the photographer’s imprint and a year: Wm. Simmondson, Zeehan, Tasmania 1898. And on the back, scrawled in pencil and barely legible, was another name: G. Lewis.
What did the G. stand for?
Gordon perhaps, like the river? Graeme? Garry? What names were popular in the eighteen sixties, when he would have been born? Where was he born? From the photo he looked English, but he could have been Australian, or American, or Northern European. He was light skinned, but that gave her little to go on.
Rachel looked up at the waitress.
“I’m sorry, miss, but the café’s about to close. I have to clean up.”
Rachel pushed her chair back and gathered up her big, tapestry bag and overcoat. She’d have to find somewhere to sleep, it was far too late to drive home now. She’d passed a motel on her way into Zeehan, she’d find it again and see if they had a room free.
After paying for the coffee at the counter she let herself out of the double glass doors of the Heritage Centre and Mining Museum, bracing herself for the chill and the inevitable rain. The downpour must have recently ceased however, and weak sunlight filtered out from under heavy, dark clouds in a final, feeble attempt at cheerfulness before night descended.
She would walk for a while, and clear her head before she did anything else.
“The forecast said thunderstorms for tonight, miss.”
Rachel hadn’t realised the girl from the café was standing behind her, waiting to lock the main doors to the building.
“Going to be huge, I heard. I just love thunderstorms, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Are you planning on being in town for long?”
“Just overnight, I think.”
“You’re in luck then, there’s a big fancy dress gig on at The Gaiety tonight. Still a few tickets left, if you’re interested in going.”
“What’s The Gaiety?”
“It’s the old theatre, you can see it from here.” The girl pointed up the street to a Victorian era building. “It’s all been restored, and they’re having the grand re-opening party tonight. Dancing girls and all.” The girl looked Rachel up and down. “You could go as you are.”
Rachel knew what the server meant. Her long, patterned skirt skimmed the top of her laced up, low heeled, ankle boots. The short red velvet jacket she’d found in an antique shop flared over her hips and was a perfect match for her white, high-necked, embroidered blouse. Her red curls—always unmanageable—were tucked into a floppy, black, broad-brimmed hat. She’d pinned an elaborate broach in the shape of a sunburst to the front of the huge, ex-military greatcoat she’d retrieved from an army disposal store.
She was the only person she knew who still wore a petticoat.
Her passion was searching second hand shops and garage sales for old, interesting treasures. She’d carefully restore any ancient garments she found with needle and thread and her great-grandmother’s treadle sewing machine.
Her hobby had led her to the photograph.
On a perfectly normal Saturday a week ago she’d been browsing through a cardboard carton of rubbish outside a nineteenth century sandstone cottage in one of the steep back streets of West Hobart. Old brass door handles competed with chipped pottery and broken strings of beads. She’d given up on the prospect of finding anything interesting, when the hint of a frame caught her eye. Carefully sliding the junk to one side she extracted the faded photograph now tucked safely in her bag.
After paying the owner the fifty cents asking price she’d taken her unlikely prize home. In her basement flat in New Town she propped the photo on the mantelpiece together with her other finds from that day—a small brown jug with a lovely glaze and a sewing basket from the 1950s—and gone to her afternoon ballet class. After sitting behind a computer at work all week ballet was an excellent way of keeping fit and working off steam.
But the photo of G. Lewis refused to leave her alone.
Those light coloured eyes followed her around the room when she was home and haunted her memory when she was at work.
Fantasies of long-fingered, masculine hands caressing her body kept her awake until the early hours. When she finally managed to sleep thoughts of him invaded her dreams.
Six days later she’d reached her limit.
To be continued…