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WRITING FOR ADULTS

Edel Wignell's articles, short stories and poetry have been published in more than 100 journals, newspapers and collections. Some have won awards.

  • Read a feature, Cycling Swaggies, which was Commended in the Scribbligum 'Gum Leaves' Competition, 2010
  • Read a short story Deep Frozen Fire - Winner, First Prize, Viewpoint Manuscript Service Short Story Competition. First published in The Australian Women's Weekly and then in Melissa Chan and J. Terry (eds), The Modern Woman and Other Crimes (1993, Artemis Publishing)
  • 'A Drop in the Ocean' and 'Are You Ready?'
  • Read two award-winning poems, A One-bird Band (First Prize, Reflective Poem) and Action for Frogs. (Second Prize, Humorous Poem) in the Murtoa Big Weekend Poetry Competition, 2011.

CYCLING SWAGGIES
Edel Wignell
Australian Society of Authors Ltd ©

Commended in the Scribbligum 'Gum Leaves' Competition, November 2010, www.scribbligum.com

Cycling is popular today, all around the world, both as a means of transport and for recreation. In Australia it improved the lives of itinerant workers, such as swaggie shearers, in the 1890s.

Back in the 19th century, a man travelling the country looking for seasonal work was called a swagman. The polite term was 'traveller', but many people called the man a 'swaggie'. He carried a swag of possessions on his back.

He was a swagman only when he was 'on the track' walking from one job to another. He might be a scrub-cutter for a fortnight, a drover for three weeks, a potato-digger for one and a shearer for four months. In between these jobs, he was a swagman 'waltzing Matilda' (carrying the swag), looking for a job.

The bicycle was introduced to the outback some time in the 1890s. Soon it was popular with itinerant workers, for, in comparison with the horse, it needed little maintenance.

Shearers took to the bicycle with alacrity. After a few weeks of shearing, most were fit, and could easily ride up to sixty or seventy miles (96-113 kilometres) in a day. Of course, much depended on track surfaces and the terrain, but under good conditions, journeys of a hundred miles a day (160 km) were common. By cutting down on travelling time, the men could earn more money.

Jim Fitzpatrick noted that a high proportion of shearers used bicycles. He quoted a property-owner near Port Augusta in South Australia who estimated that, between the years 1912 and 1917, half the shearers in the area rode bikes. (The Bicycle and the Bush)

A shearer who worked in New South Wales from 1909 to 1918 recalled a shed where 'there were almost all bikes'. Walter Taylor, a wool classer in NSW from 1914 to 1924 said that he remembered sheds employing over a hundred men, nearly all of whom owned bicycles.

In 1910, a group of South Australian shearers pedalled 550 miles (885 km) north along the Strezlecki Track to work at sheds in south-western Queensland. When the shearing was over, they returned home for the local season.

From 1900 until the outbreak of World War I, some Tasmanian shearers left home early each March and travelled by boat to Melbourne, then train to Wagga, carrying their bicycles with them. Then they cycled thousands of miles, shearing at sheds in such areas as Jerilderie, Narrandera, Yanco, Ivanhoe, Menindee, Wilcannia and Tibooburra. In October they returned to Tasmania to shear locally.

Because bicycles became so important in New South Wales, a clause was added to the provisions of the Shed Hands Agreement. It read: 'The employer will provide suitable room or other place, outside the kitchen and sleeping accommodation, for the housing of saddles, harness and cycles of employees'.

The 'cigarette' swag was favoured for cycling, for a bulky swag required too much energy to carry while pedalling.

Henry G. Lamond wrote that riders discovered many useful things by experience: for example, how to use the wind. A team of shearers could leave Longreach in Queensland in the morning, and arrive at Winton in the afternoon, a distance of 128 miles (205 km). For about nine months of the year, the prevailing winds are south-easterlies, so the cyclists had a 'side' rather than a 'tail' wind. Nevertheless, they still made good time. ('They Humped Bluey')

Bicycle sharing was common. Two men would start out together, one walking, and the other riding with both swags tied to the bicycle. After riding about two kilometres, the rider would dismount, leave the bicycle propped against a tree, and start walking.

When the first man arrived at the bicycle, he would ride, catch up with his mate, ride on and repeat the sequence. In this way, they could double the distance travelled on foot.

When a shearing job was finished, many shearer swagmen travelled to the nearest shanty (bush pub) and 'knocked down' (cashed) their cheques.

Shearers were known as heavy drinkers, and many spent their cheques on drink. This was called 'lambing down'. Some publicans took advantage of them. Those who owned farms next to their shanties employed swagmen for small wages, and encouraged 'lambing down' - expecting the swagmen to spend their wages on drinks. So the hotelier gave with one hand and took away with the other. These wages were called 'boomerang money'.

When thirsty shearers arrived, some hoteliers said that they hadn't enough money to give change for the swagmen's cheques. If four swagmen came in, the hotelier would use one cheque, and put the other three in his safe. Then he invited the men to order drinks, and told them he would keep an account of the money spent. He promised that, as soon as enough cash was available, he would give change.

A heavy drinking session would begin, usually lasting until midnight. The drinking might go on for days - until all the shearing wages had been spent.

In White Man, Black Man, W. Michael Ryan related an anecdote, describing one occasion when a group of cycling swaggies got the best of a publican at a hotel in New South Wales - but this was a rare occurrence indeed.

References

Jim Fitzpatrick, The Bicycle and the Bush, 1980, Oxford University Press, Melbourne
Jim Fitzpatrick, 'Colonial Cycling' in This Australia Vol. 1, No. 2, Autumn 1982, pp. 5-14
Henry Lamond, 'They Humped Bluey' in Walkabout Vol. 31, October 1965, pp. 28,29
W. Michael Ryan, White Man, Black Man, 1969, Jacaranda, Milton

 

DEEP-FROZEN FIRE
Edel Wignell
Australian Society of Authors Ltd ©

Acknowledgment
Winner, First Prize, Viewpoint Manuscript Service Short Story Competition; first published in The Australian Women's Weekly and then in Melissa Chan and J. Terry (eds) The Modern Woman and Other Crimes (1993, Artemis Publishing).

I approached the murder coldly. Rage had died months ago with the death of love. She deserves it, I told myself as the car bumped along the flag-stoned lane. So does he - that campy lover.

High back fences shielded me from view, and no one walked or drove in the lane. I pressed the button for the automatic opening of the roll-up garage door, swung in, braked quietly and sent the door down behind me.

I looked at my watch: three fifteen. She would be in the bath. She always bathed - long and languidly - between three and four, with Mozart, Puccini, Verdi... Opera, the only thing we ever really shared. But that was publicly: Attending The Opera.

Handkerchief covering my hand, I opened the door connecting the garage with the kitchen and stepped inside. For a moment I felt regret. Nothing would ever be the same again. Travelling all week, I have always enjoyed this moment - arriving home. Everything is perfect: glass sparkling, pot-plants glossy and exuberant, floors shining, carpets freshly vacuumed, flowers... Lorin, the perfect housewife.

I knew it would be the same mid-week, even though she wasn't expecting me - and it was. The kitchen - spruce, everything in place. Through the arch, an arrangement of dahlias in autumnal hues on the dining-table pleased my aesthetic sense and soothed my soul. Even in a perverse sort of way, sharpened my nerves for the act. Well-planned, the execution must reach the same high standard.

Opera from the bathroom. It was loud in the kitchen, so it would be overwhelming in there: ecstasy. Preparation for her lover? I listened intently, and recognised the aria: 'La Donna E Mobile' from 'Rigoletto'.

Appropriate, I thought with grim delight.

There were things to do before I surprised her - them. I walked from the kitchen, through the conservatory to the door which opens into the tiny courtyard. I knew it would be locked. Lorin was fussy about security, even during the day. Of course, I insisted on it. Handkerchief in hand, I turned both the key and the handle, and pushed the door gently. It swung outwards - the alleged murderer's escape route.

Back in the kitchen, I noticed a tall plastic jug standing on the bench, screw-lid beside it. I bent and sniffed: zucchini soup. I was proud of Lorin's culinary skill and her fame among our friends for exotic soups. I salivated.

Handkerchief in hand still, I checked the answer-phone. A message from her mother, and then the campy voice - rich and slightly breathless, expectant. 'Les! Deliver at three thirty.'

The answer-phone messages of several months mocked in my head: 'Les! Deliver at three forty-five!' 'Les! Deliver at four!'

Six months she'd had the answer-phone. Three months I'd been checking the messages secretly - the ones still existing on Friday nights - amazed that she didn't wipe them. Guess she thought I wouldn't be bothered listening.

I exhaled, rage subsiding quickly. That voice! Last time!

The open diary beside the phone had her usual appointments written in: tennis, golf, gym, lunch with Mother, hairdressing... On Sunday evenings I always entered my destinations. Had she noticed they were missing this week? Now I wrote for Monday to Friday: City, City, City, City, City.

The opera stopped mid-aria. Silence. I hadn't made a sound. I guessed that Lorin knew it was time.

'Is that you, Les?' Voice distinct, unmistakably inviting.

I knew he must have keys. The visits were always between three and four. Sudden rage! Plan - to catch them together - forgotten. I strode to the bathroom, opened the door and stepped in.

'Oh!'

Lorin covered her curves imperfectly with her hands, and jutted the near knee upwards modestly. Her perfect body enticed under the bubbles.

Long ago, she would have stretched out her hands and pulled me in - business suit and all. Once I would have offered to join her. Bath times were the only occasions when either of us really let go, when we were free from reserve. But six months is a long time, and there was no welcome in her eyes, and certainly not in her body language.

'You frightened me! I thought you were travelling... I thought it was...'

'Les?'

There was a pause, and she looked away, puzzled. How did I know about Les? And if I did, then I must know he was her lover.

Ha! I read her mind!

I thought I read it, but there were things I didn't know, so I misread - not that it matters now. But it does matter now! Imagining her last moments, how she was computing the change of events, is my hell, and will be for the rest of my life.

'Les isn't...' she began.

I pulled the revolver from my breast pocket. My voice was brutal and triumphant. 'Les's due at any moment...' I mimicked the campy voice: 'I'll deliver him to you - with this!'

I enjoyed the horror on her face - her sudden comprehension.

'No, no, no! No-o-o!' She sat up quickly, and reached for the revolver. 'Jerry! You don't under...'

I stopped her mouth with fire, and she slumped back. A car door slammed. Les arriving, I guessed. Time for a quick look through the security viewer, then hide in the hall closet. Take him unawares in the bathroom. Enjoy his horror, too. Better than my original plan.

Handkerchief in hand, I closed the bathroom door behind me and hurried to the security viewer. A woman approached - middle-aged, I guessed, elegant coiffure, snazzy suit, business-like walk. An unexpected turn of events. One of Lorin's friends, perhaps? Best to wait, not open the door. She'd go away after a few rings.

Then I heard the key in the iron security door. Someone else with keys! Gripped by rage and panic, I stared at the revolver in my hand. What next? Did she hear the shot? Back in my breast pocket? No! Mustn't be caught with it on me. Get rid of it!

Into the kitchen, looking round desperately. I pushed the revolver down into the soup, licked my right-hand index finger, screwed the lid on, turned and put the jug into the deep freeze.

The wooden door opened as I stepped back into the entry hall.

'Oh! I thought Lorin was alone.' A contralto voice. Where had I heard it before?

'I'm sorry...' She waited, still holding the keys. Then business-like, 'I'm Lesley Morphett, picking up the soup. You must be...?'

'Jerry. Lorin's husband...'

Suddenly - comprehension. Brushing past, Lesley didn't see my face - my horror and disbelief. Les! Lesley! I followed her into the kitchen.

'Funny! In this business, I never meet the husbands. But I remember Lorin saying you're a traveller, always away mid-week.'

'A change of plans...'

'The soup.' Lesley's eyes swept the kitchen bench and the dinette table.

'Soup?'

'Yes, you know. Morphett's Gourmet Dinners - home catering...'

'Ah, yes...' I didn't know. It was Lorin's innocuous little secret.

Lesley was expansive. 'Lorin does the soups, Jessica - the entrees, Katherine - the sweets. A little pin-money three or four times a week. Tennis girls - I hardly know them, actually, but they're all good cooks. I do the organisation and the main courses, and my husband is the waiter...'

During the explanation, I remembered. Six months ago Lorin had suggested going back to work. Bored, she said. But I persuaded her not to. The wives of most of my friends work, and their lives are chaotic. So this was Lorin's part-time alternative, still giving her time for her two main interests: music and fitness. The two main reasons I used in my persuasion.

Lesley spread her fingers on the bench, and looked around the kitchen again. 'Funny! She always leaves the soup here.'

'I don't know... Just walked in...'

'Ah well. I'll ask her.' Lesley moved toward the bathroom.

'She's at tennis, I think.'

'No! Tennis in the morning, first thing. Then she makes the soup. She'll be in the bath. Gave me the front door keys - Fort Knox, I call this place, by the way - because she's always in the bath between three and four - my pick-up time. "Restoration," she says. "Body and soul."' Lesley rich contralto laugh matched the campy voice that had fooled me on the answer-phone.

'Lor-in!'

She waited.

'Funny!' Lesley opened the door. 'Sorry to barge...' Her voice rose, and I heard the horror as I ran. 'Oh-h-h!'

'What's the matter?'

'Oh-h-h-h! She's shot! Oh no!'

Lesley charged out waving her hands, and we collided in the hall, horror real and horror feigned. The murder had not gone according to plan, but amateur theatrics of student days have often stood me in good stead, and I knew they wouldn't fail me then.

I glanced into the bathroom, grabbed my head and staggered into the kitchen. I had judged that Lesley was the managing kind. As soon as she saw my emotional fragmentation, she recovered and took charge. Swiftly she poured me a brandy; swiftly she phoned the police.

I took a little sip while we waited, and timed my visible signs appropriately. Lesley would be a key witness. Now she said the right words, and mothered me.

'The police will want a statement. But I'll have to be quick, you understand. Dinner party for ten tonight - booked six months ago. Here, take my card, and don't hesitate to call me tomorrow - any time. You'll need to talk about this... If I can help...'

The police arrived. I was the distressed husband - silent, numb. Lesley explained quickly - impatiently roving back and forth, looking around, asking questions.

'How could the murderer have got in? Lorin was so fussy about security.' Her eye caught the conservatory door. 'Look! Back door's open!'

They asked me, but of course I didn't know anything. I'd just walked in when Lesley arrived.

'Drink it up!' ordered Lesley. 'I poured him a brandy, and he's only taken one sip...'

I shook my head, and pushed it aside. I couldn't risk my rusty theatrical skills under the influence.

'I really must go,' said Lesley, when she had signed her statement. 'Where's that soup? Perhaps she put it in the fridge.' She opened the door.

My heart dropped. She'll look in the deep freeze next.

'Ah, here it is.' Lesley brought out an identical plastic jug.

I remembered that Lorin always cooked in quantity: some for us, some for the deep-freeze - always ready for unexpected guests. I could bring executives home at any time.

Saved!

Shocked husband, I can't remember the arrangements and the sequence of events that afternoon. My natural reserve and stiff-upper-lip manner were perfect for this kind of trauma. I prepared myself for a period of grieving and waiting - weeks? months? - until the coroner's inquest.

It hadn't turned out the way I'd planned, but I knew it was the Perfect Murder. The elaborate details afterwards had worried me. Now I could dismiss them. There wouldn't be a murder trial. The deep-freeze would take care of that. And, after a short interval, a picnic hamper of food, including frozen soup, would be appropriate luggage in the boot of my car as I travelled. I would have time to think of safe disposal.

Lesley handed her card to the sergeant, and moved towards the door. 'Yes, I'll talk to you again tomorrow.'

Then her eyes focused on the lid of the jug. 'Oh! This is the wrong one! Mine always has more pepper... Something to do with his taste...' She began to laugh, but suddenly realised her behaviour was tasteless, and frowned.

She walked to the freezer and opened the door. 'Here it is - the hot one!' She took out the jug, and replaced it with the other. 'Mine has a black cross on the lid.' She felt the body of the jug. 'Deep-frozen already.'

A DROP IN THE OCEAN
Edel Wignell

A spore of mould,
a granule of mustard:
life.

A spark from a furnace,
a pinpoint in the galaxy:
light.

A droplet on a bud,
pinpricks of mist:
moisture.

A speck on glass,
a fleck on a table:
imperfection.

A sliver of ham,
a shred of almond:
feast for an ant.

A dot in the universe,
a jot in the galaxy:
the earth.

Australian Society of Authors Ltd ©

First published in The Scrumbler No.2 (UK), 2010

ARE YOU READY?
Edel Wignell

Grandpa was happily working with timber –
  Blithely sawing wood in his shed.
His granddaughter came and quietly watched,
  Then touched his arm and, with puzzled voice, said,

'Tell me Grandpa, tell me please…'
  While he wiped his specs, flicked away flecks,
He smiled and listened, waiting for the question.
  'Tell me Grandpa, what is couple-sex?'

Startled, he paused; she's only a kid!
  I can't tell her yet, she'll have to grow;
But, feisty and modern, he understood the fact:
  She's asked the question, so she needs to know.

To start with creatures is best, he thought:
  Animals on land and birds in trees.
So he rambled and stumbled, trying to describe
  The amorous behaviour of birds and bees.

Granddaughter frowned; Grandpa smiled,
  Feeling so pleased that he'd cleared the decks.
'But Nanna said, "Go and tell Grandpa:
  Lunch will be ready in a couple-sex".'

Australian Society of Authors Ltd ©

A ONE-BIRD BAND
Edel Wignell

First Prize, Reflective Section,
Murtoa Big Weekend Poetry Competition, 2011

Sneak through the leafy understory,
Seeking the elusive bird.
A boom – surely it's a frogmouth!
A drum – is it an emu?
A chatter – probably a wren.
A hoot – it's an owl.

Skulk past the hulk of mountain ash,
Its bulk hiding the tantalizing bird.
A warble – surely it's a butcher-bird!
A carol – is it a magpie?
A trill – probably a robin.
A laugh – it's a kookaburra.

Arrive at a secluded, secret glade:
Upon a mound, the incredible bird!
A quack – it's not a duck.
A quock – not a wattlebird.
A screech – not a cockatoo.
A crack – never a whipbird.

The elusive, tantalizing, incredible lyrebird
In concert – tail fanned;
Struts, sings, dances,
Whistles, mimics, prances -
A one-bird band.

Australian Society of Authors Ltd ©

ACTION FOR FROGS!
Edel Wignell

Second Prize, Humour Section
Murtoa's Big Weekend Poetry Competition, 2011

The Association for the Protection of Wild Animals in France
is urging authorities to create tunnels and special crossings
to save frogs from being killed on roads as they attempt to reach
the damp areas where they mate. (The Age, January 2010)

'We're losing our frogs,' a spokesperson said.
   'Extinction is coming; soon all will be dead.
Look at those frogs – they're crossing the highway!
   Daily they're dying by entering the fray.'

'Quock!' croak the frogs, urged by their needs,
   Knowing it's time for their amorous deeds,
Oblivious to the fact that others have died -
   Reproduction is something that won't be denied.

'The frogs are dodging, the traffic is surging,
   Don't look! Disaster! The traffic is merging.
The frogs are so stupid, they're losing their lives -
   So eager to cross to mate with their wives.'

The frogs know the season; they croak, 'Away!
   Leap to the road; leap fast; do not stray;
There's a wet place beyond where our loves we will meet;
   We'll chuckle and croak in a frenzied frog-greet.'

The spokesperson said, 'Tunnels, I suggest,
   Would help frogs to travel and allow time for rest,
Or overhead crossings, the frogs may prefer –
   An impression of flying - the traffic a blur.'

Tunnels they dug and crossings they built,
   The frogs cruised across and mated in silt.
The Association for the Protection of Wild Animals was glad,
   And so, too, was ev'ry Frog Mum and Frog Dad.

Australian Society of Authors Ltd ©