Friday, September 14, 2018

Sepia Saturday 436 - Bowled over in Redfern

It's been another busy week of assignment writing.  I'm on the home stretch now, submitting my last assignment for the Convicts in Context course as part of the Diploma of Family History through University of Tasmania.

Life has thrown a curve ball at me and I have been pretty much flat on my back with a sore foot after dropping a table on it a fortnight ago.  I am an impatient patient and have been a bit glum.  But I got a mark back today for an assignment I submitted last month for the Writing the Family Saga course and it made all the pain worthwhile.  The feedback was really lovely too. So without further ado, here is another chapter in the saga of Kit....which I have submitted rather belatedly as part of Sepia Saturday.

Interior view, from top of staircase, 108 Buckingham Street, Redfern, 4 June 1950. Creator: NSW Police Department

Kit didn’t think it was possible for them to go any lower, but here they were in a boarding house in Redfern.

“How the mighty are fallen!” she thought to herself.

Ernest was wailing and the baby was fractious with the heat. Truth be known, Kit wanted to have a good howl herself but she held fast, recognising that her emotions had got her into enough trouble already. She didn’t know what she found the hardest to bear; the loss of their possessions or the loss of her pride.

Now, it seemed she’d lost Dick, to top it all off. He’d scarpered the week before Christmas and it was well into the New Year. For all his bluff and swagger, Kit suspected Dick’s bravado concealed his fear; she wasn’t sure if it was a fear of being found out or a fear of being trapped. If she was honest with herself, she knew it was the latter. She recognised his actions were based on self-preservation. Dick knew she’d abandoned a relationship before, so he was making the first move rather than being “king-hit”.

At first, the half-truths and then the outrageous lies they told to anyone and everyone had been a game. How far could they go? But when her own deception of Dick was revealed, trust was broken. Their disappointment with each other led to sniping and delivering low blows more and more frequently. Taking on the Black Horse Inn in Richmond had been too big a gamble. They would be lucky if they or their reputations ever recovered.
Redfern life turned Kit’s stomach into a hard knot. She constantly scanned the environment for threats lurking in the shadows and laneways.

There were twelve of them under the one roof in their lodgings. The landlady had the front room. Two old maids shared the middle room. There was a couple in the room out the back next to Kit and Dick’s room and a young couple and their baby were up in the attic. Kit worried ceaselessly that the little they had would be stolen. The front door was often left unlatched, so tenants could come and go. The staircase was so perilous, she imagined herself at the bottom of it with a broken neck.

Dick had charmed his way into a job at the local baker earning £2 a week but that wasn’t going to go far. At night, she lay in bed listening to the sounds of neighbours drinking away their despair until the early hours of the morning. She loathed the hard streets of Sydney and its brittle inhabitants and wished they’d never returned.

“Do you not have family here?” asked Mrs Steel, the landlady, gently. Kit and the children had stayed in the boarding house over Christmas, when most tenants were eager to return “home” for the festive season.

“My parents died when I was a baby,” lied Kit, more out of habit than design. “My aunt raised me but she lives in Melbourne.”

“Well you’ve got your own family to look after now,” the old woman cooed. “Nothing quite like your own brood. I haven’t seen your husband lately. He must work odd hours.”
“Yes, he has to be at the bakery at two in the morning. Then the builders want to see him after work about the new house we’re building, so he doesn’t get home until quite late,” Kit fabricated in a careless tone.

Mrs Steel’s questions were beginning to grate. All Kit wanted to do was lie down somewhere and lick her wounds in private. But privacy was a thing of the past now with a common scullery and laundry.

“I’ll just take the babies out for a walk, Mrs Steel, to get some air while the washing’s drying. Can I fetch you anything while I’m out?” she said, against her better judgement. Kit had exactly three shillings in her purse to last her until goodness knows when.

“Oh no dear, I’m all sorted. Now you be careful. Stay right away from Abercrombie Street. The larrikins and their pushes get into all sorts of mischief late in the day, throwing stones and anything they can lay their hands on. One little boy lost his eye last week.”

Cooper Street, Abercrombie Place, Redfern from the Mitchell Library Collection State Library of NSW

Something in Kit started to boil. Damn Dick and his abandonment of them! She wouldn’t let him get away with it. She bundled the children into the large pram she’d cajoled from a sympathetic neighbour in Richmond and headed off to the police station to report her missing “husband”. She walked quickly with her head held high, just as her mother taught her all those years ago.

Police Station (Redfern) from State Library of NSW collection

“Kit? Is that you?” said a familiar voice at the intersection.

As she turned to respond, the knot in her stomach turned to jelly.

“Oh, Alf,” she gasped. “What on earth are you doing here?”

“I might very well ask you the same question,” retorted her husband in an aggrieved tone.

I’d like to say that I thought about structure but I really think I must be a pantser. I decided the only way I was going to get this assignment written was 250 words a night. Just do it and then review it. I became obsessed with finding out exactly where the boarding house was in Redfern. And then I wanted to read a lot about Redfern and what it was like in 1901/1902. Ann Hood’s book Creating Character Emotions was helpful. I decided that shame and fear and then anger would be the progression of Kit’s emotions. I didn’t know how to introduce Kit’s first legal husband but he turned up on the street when she took the babies out to get away from all the questions from her landlady, so I needn’t have worried. The feedback I received over the six weeks was really useful. I was complimented on my description of the senses, so I tried to do that again – what Kit’s stomach felt like, what she could hear and so on. Redfern needed to be a character too – hard and cold despite the heat of summer. I hope the language I gave my characters was appropriate to the era; I’ve wrestled with that in the past. I’ve tried to shorten my sentences and make the intricate details of Kit’s life crystal clear. I’ve tried to improve my use of dialogue tags; not use them too often and make them a bit more interesting than just “said”.

City of Sydney Historical Atlas of Sydney,, accessed 22 August 2018
The Daily Telegraph
Evening News
Hood, Ann, Creating Character Emotions: Writing compelling, fresh approaches that express your characters’ true feelings, Story Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1997
New South Wales, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1854-1930, Ancestry, accessed 22 August 2018
Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, NSW
Sands Directories: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, 1858-1933, Ancestry, accessed 22 August 2018
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser
Sydney Morning Herald
Windsor and Richmond Gazette
The Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette 

Please go and visit other Sepia Saturday contributors too who are much more on theme than I am !


La Nightingail said...

:) :) :) Lots of fun here. For us as well as you. I know! I'm a writer too so know how much fun writing can be - especially when your characters begin to deviate on their own from the outline script you had prepared for them! I thought I was a little nuts when I found that happening when I first started writing, but a well-known author said the same thing about HER characters, so I decided that was okay, then. :)

Barbara Rogers said...

How very's like coming in the middle of a story, getting caught up in these lives, and then bam, there's a crisis which may lead on, or may be the end!

Mike Brubaker said...

A fine story evocative of the many kinds of stress families can go through, both then and now. I've always found old photos fascinating sources for imagining characters and their motives. Not unlike the way animators use storyboard art. And sorry about the foot. I hope you recover soon.

tony said...

Yes a universal & timeless theme.
You write so well.
I like the 'pace' & the way the story developes.Bravo!
(i hope your foot is mending)

Molly of Molly's Canopy said...

This is an excellent treatment of incredibly stressful life situation. Easy to see why you received positive feedback on this piece. The photos help establish place and make the story come to life. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Saved as a favorite, I really like your website!