Elena Govor, My Dark Brother, Sydney, 2000
National Biography Award nomination
In the bush
... ‘Mrs Core was a tough old girl, but she was kind too’, Flora relates, ‘she was always looking after somebody, she was kind in her way.
‘When my mother was dying in childbirth at Christmas Creek Mrs Core came up there, her and her sister-in-law, and she was with my mother right to the end, she hold my mother’s hand when she was dying. Mother was labouring for about two days, a bad labour. It was very hard, there was no doctor to help her. Baby, a boy, was about fifteen pound weight and he was born dead. The afterbirth grew up inside, there was infection, it was blood poisoning, she was dying. Then when the doctor came he give her chloroform. In those days chloroform was a very bad thing. I think the chloroform might have done more than anything and killed her because it was too strong.
‘Father would not tell us that she died. He never told us for about a month. He used to tell us that the ambulance took her away to Charters Towers. But I knew that she was dead because I saw this new grave when I rode the horse to bring the cows to milk them. I knew that that was my mother but I never said that to him. Father told us about a month after. But I knew it already. I used to say to Tommy and Harry “Mum is dead, she’s not going come back”, but I never said to my father that I knew. Because he was telling us she wasn’t and I did not want to say, “You are not telling us the truth”. I just let him think that I believed him but I didn’t, I knew that she was dead.
‘My mother had a dog. This dog used always to be there with us, and when my father would go away my mother used to be very frightened, so she used to put the dog underneath the bed. He was a big kangaroo dog. His name was Possum. Just before mum died that night Possum howled and howled, he must have known what was going to happen. Father took me in and show me my dead brother. Everybody in the room said “oh!” when they heard Possum howling. I was frightened too. I kissed my mum good night and went out of the room. I never saw her any more.
‘And the next day, after my mum died in this little room, I went to the room to get some clothes out of it for Harry and Tom — they were smaller — to put on clean clothes. And when I went there the dog followed me in. He followed me in and he stopped underneath the bed. And the next day I went to get some clothes and when I opened the door he jumped up and he ran and he was looking at me. And I thought he had a funny look on his face. And I called him, “Possum, Possum”, and he just looked at me, he kept on running, and he kept on running. I ran after him. I was nine-year-old, but I knew there was something funny about it. I was singing out to him, “Possum, Possum!” I thought he might come, but he just kept on running in front of me and looking back at me like that and kept on going. He went away and we never saw him after.’11
A lonely little girl in a faded dress standing on the riverbank was desperately calling out after the dog, as if it could restore the disintegrating order of things and return her mother. The old ways never came back. And this little girl never returned home either. The one who came back was nearly an adult, wise enough to understand and forgive her honest father the only lie he had to tell to his children, and kind and strong to take care of the youngest — Tommy, Harry and Lullie...