“There are no secrets in Balmain.” – Dorothy Mullins.
- Sunrise, Balmain… July 21, 1903.
“Singing Tooral liooral liaddity.
Singing Tooral liooral liay.
Singing Tooral liooral liaddity.
And we’re bound for Botany Bay.”
Setting off in their fishing boat, Dadda was the Captain and Maggie was 1st Mate.
“Fishy!” Maggie squealed, as Dadda helped her reel in her fish. “Bweckfsst!”
That’s all Margaret remembered about before.
A book with no beginning, Margaret had been adopted as a tot and her story now began at Chapter Three. All the previous chapters had been ripped out. Thrown away. She wanted them back. Not that she and her sister didn’t love their second family. But you are who you are, and then you’re not. Sometimes, Margaret wondered if finding out would turn her into someone else. Or, whether she was more than a just a name.
Years ago, Margaret had consulted the tea leaves .Yet, as she peered into the tea cup, there was nothing… only the scream. She had lived with the scream all her life, never knowing why.
Now in her late 60’s, the beginning didn’t matter anymore. She was “Grandma”.
Moon Landing, Balmain…Monday July 21, 1969, Sydney Time.
As the neighbours crammed into their sardine tin of a terrace, everybody knew Bob’s brand new telly had fallen off the back of a truck. No one cared. Man was landing on the moon. There was barely breathing room left!
Grandma was knitting footy socks in the front row. 1969 would be a good year for the Balmain Tigers. She felt it in her bones.
“Robbie, Tom, Arty, Jack…these should fit Paddy,” she mumbled.
Knit one, pearl one but then Grandma dropped a stitch… and another.
More than her knitting was unravelling. Mary Mullins’ perfume had unwittingly unlocked a secret inner labyrinth, and the Minotaur was out. The room was spinning round and round like a record on acid and Margaret felt incredibly dizzy. Being sucked into this swirling vortex, she reached out a frail, desperate hand. Bob steadied her back in her seat.
“Lottie, tell Mum Gran’s had another turn,” Bob yelled. Even if his mother-in-law dropped dead in front of the telly, he wasn’t budging. He had the best seat in the house.
Lottie found her mother bailed up in the kitchen, making curried eggs and cups of tea.
“Dot, I can’t watch! They’re gunna die!” her cousin wailed, who clearly hadn’t read The Power of Positive Thinking.
“Mum, Gran’s had another turn.”
“Mother Mary!” Dot gasped, crossing herself. “Grant me peace!”
Dot’s blood pressure hit the roof. She ripped open the Bex and made one for Mum and one for herself.
Bex might be a universal panacea, but they knew Grandma had more than a headache. That she was on the blink like a broken telly. At times, she didn’t know who or where she was, retreating inside watching her own, private movie. How long would it take? Dot’s eyes welled up, as she pictured spoon-feeding her mother like a baby.
“How’s your Mum, luv?” a neighbour asked. “Saw she had another turn. Have you taken her to the quack? Don’t mean to pry but don’t you think it’s time?”
“There’s no way I’m sending my own mother to the asylum. She’s just under the weather. That’s all. She’ll be right.”
“None of her business,” Dot muttered.“We’ll get by. We always do.”
After all, they were Balmain born and bred… tough as old workman’s boots, and never gave up!
Dot’s sister turned up with the kids.
“Gran’s got purple hair!” The cousins all burst into hysterics.
Engulfed by the intensifying vortex, Margaret had arrived home with a new “do”. New hair always helped, although she wasn’t too sure about this purple halo, which seemingly glowed in the dark.
Like an apparition, a sketchy white figure appeared through the fuzz, bouncing along like a kangaroo. “The Eagle has landed…That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind “
The room erupted with applause until Robbie’s home-made detergent bottle rocket missed the moon, smashing through the back window, hitting Grandma on the head.
“Robert Joseph Augustus Mullins!!!! Go to your room!”
Robbie bolted off to save his hide.
Meanwhile, Grandma wandered out the front door heading for Darling Street. An old lady slipped out behind her. Lottie had seen her before at Mass.
“Mummy! Mummy! Grandma’s…” Lottie shrieked.
“Not now, Lottie,” Dot snapped. “Grandma can wait!”
Yet, before she even stood up, a pamphlet slapped her in the face:
“Save our Sons…The government has failed to convince Australians that Vietnam is truly a war in which young lives must be sacrificed. That is why it relies on unjust conscription law which forces young men into the army against their moral convictions.”
“Dotty, you’ve got five boys. You’ve gotta sign up. This war’s the devil’s work!” Her sister insisted. Bernadette had married well and moved up to Wahroonga. They even had their own swimming pool.
“Mrs Mullins, don’t listen to that pack of hysterical mothers with nothing better to do,” groaned a bloke in a suit. “Without the Yanks, the reds will move in. We’ll all be speaking Russian.”
Dot was saved by a knock at the door, although the front door was wide open and the flotsam and jetsam were letting themselves in and out.
“Quick! It’s the coppers”.
They all knew Constable Baker. He was a local lad, but he still meant trouble.
“The telly!” Bob panicked. “Fell off the back of a truck…Struth! Should’ve known. This time, it’s the slammer!”
Bob had been charged with receiving stolen goods before.
Meanwhile, the toilet flushed…just in time.
“Mrs Mullins, your mother’s down at the wharf again. You’d better come.”
“See, Mum,” Lottie snapped. “Tried to tell you Gran had wandered off.”
Riddled with guilt, Dot grabbed her purse.
As usual, Bernadette was “busy”.
The pressure was building. Hauling herself into a dinghy, Margaret thought she was fishing with Dadda again. Yet, the voices were still yelling and screaming with violent horror. Margaret could no longer block them out.
“Brownie! Gotcha Brownie!” Her father threatened, holding a razor to her mother’s throat.
“Stop, Jack! It’s me…Florrie!”
Blood squirted like a fountain from her mother’s neck. Miraculously, Muvver ran down the hallway clutching Sadie.
Then, Maggie heard a thud, another scream and found Dadda also bleeding by the throat beside Muvver.
“Muvva! Muvva! Wake up, Muvva!” Maggie shrieked.
But Muvva was gone.
Maggie heaved Baby up all by herself. She was Muvver now.
“Ssh, Bubba. Sleepy-byes.”
Then, the lights went out.
“Mum!” Dot called, holding her hand. Margaret had taken off her coat and was holding it like a baby.
“We’ve called the ambulance, “Mrs Mullins.”They’ll be taking her to hospital,”
“But she’s my mother. She belongs at home,” Dot pleaded.
“Mum. It’s me, Dotty.”
There was no response. Margaret was rambling and her words were like autumn leaves scattered by the wind. All Dot heard was: “Uncle, Dadda did it.”
“Dadda, did what?” Dot gasped, but she already knew. “I’ll strangle the bastard.”
This was a demon no priest could exorcise. An unforgivable sin. No amount of Hail Marys could fix this. Dot fell to her knees.
“Your mother’s not losing her memory, dear. She’s getting it back.” Said the voice and Dot realised an old lady was holding her up.
Who was she? An angel? She seemed so familiar. Yet, Dot couldn’t place her. Those eyes! Finally, the penny dropped. The stranger had her mother’s eyes. Pedalling backwards through time, she’d almost arrived back at the beginning, crash landing in an eerie corridor overflowing with ghosts. Suddenly, she remembered the lady hugging her at her first Holy Communion.
“I’m Aunt Cissie…your mother’s aunt. Florrie was my sister.”
Dot shuddered. “Florrie…” even the name sounded like a ghost.
Words were inadequate. Aunt Cissie reached into her handbag, pulling out a well-worn newspaper clipping.
SAD DOMESTIC TRAGEDY.
A TAILOR KILLS HIS WIFE.
AND ATTEMPTS SUICIDE.
A MOTHERLESS BABE.
EXCITEMENT IN DARLING-STREET.
The busy waterside suburb of Balmain was
thrown into a state of unusual excitement
this morning, by the news of one of the saddest
domestic tragedies imaginable, a tragedy
which was committed by a man of good re
pute, worried by business troubles into a
state of temporary insanity…
“I’ll never forget her little voice: “Dadda hit Muvver”.
“Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of Florrie and the girls. My poor Ma, bless her, went to her grave a broken woman. As much as we loved the girls, we had to set them free.”
Dot held her hand tight just to make sure she was real. That she wasn’t an angel.
Aunty and Dot climbed into the boat beside Margaret.
Finally, they were all in the same boat together.
Balmain’s secret was out.
 The Australian Star (Sydney, NSW : 1887 – 1909) Friday 24 July 1903 p 5 Article
This is the short story I submitted for the Central Coast Short Story Competition. I have identified some changes I’m going to make but I wanted to post the original and would appreciate your feedback and suggestions.