Thursday, 16 July 2015

Mr. Warrakoo. A Short Story by Allan Hudson. Part 1.

Australia's Stolen Generations occurred between 1909 and 1969. Aboriginal children were removed from their homes by the Federal and State Governments.

Perhaps one of them grew up in Eastern Canada.

Mr. Warrakoo.  By Allan Hudson  Part one.
Department of Vital Statistics. Fredericton, New Brunswick. 1934

“You want to change your name to Tamati Warrakoo?”

The question is spoken by Registrar General Terrence Beers in such a low voice that Thomas Klemann doesn’t even hear the man speak. Sitting on a faded leather sofa he is keener on studying the four boxed frames of fish flys neatly posed upon the wall behind the official’s desk.  Each holding ten perfectly feathered, counterfeit insects with barbed tails that will never see duty. Thomas is admiring the craftsmanship, his manner nonchalant while the Registrar peruses a time wrinkled document. Office smells entertain his senses, the old leather, ink, dozens of aging books, darkly stained wood and worn carpet; if he closes his eyes, he could imagine it to be his father’s. The Swiss wall clock with heavy weights and glossy chains by the door keeps rhythm with its inevitable tics.

Lifting his eyes over the half-moon glasses at the tip of his pudgy nose, the middle aged bureaucrat, studies the young man before him. Over a wide forehead, hair as glossy and black as a preacher’s coat is slicked into a pompadour, the sides neatly trimmed. The nose is wide and longish with a foreign flare, the eyes dark and confident. A stubborn chin and a lopsided smile are Caucasian. His skin is the color of golden taffy, all in all a handsome lad. The charcoal double breasted suit is the latest fashion. The white shirt is crisp, the burgundy tie and pocket square are obviously silk. He holds a dove gray fedora in his lap. The Registrar General,
although he wouldn’t admit it, is leery of anyone not white. He can’t help but wonder what is going on in this man’s head.

Thomas Klemann is a half caste. His mother was a Maori maiden, she never told him who his father was; only that he was white and did not want them. He was born of the Noongar in southwestern Australia 28 years ago. Living in Canada since he was nine, he graduated from the law faculty of Dalhousie University, second in his class, three years ago. His adopted parents have been dead for six months.

His musings over the fine detail of the fishing flys are interrupted by the Registrar.

“I knew of your father from my university days. Of course, he was well known for his benevolence, his work for the poor. I read of the tragedy that took both your parents and I must offer my sincerest condolences.”

Thomas looks down at his feet, the pain of losing his adopted parents still very real. It’s not a subject he cares to discuss.

“Thank you, Mr. Beers.”

Wanting to change the subject, looking towards the Registrar, he asks,

“Is there a problem with my request? I was to understand that a name change was quite simple.”

“Normally young man, I wouldn’t be involved in most instances of name changes but I must say, your request and statement have certainly piqued my curiosity and as you know, every detail to a name change must be considered and the most importantly, why.”

Registrar General Beers drops the file he was reading on his desk and leans back into his chair that whines from the movement. A half grin softens his usual stiff demeanor. Sunlight from one of the windows highlights the wisps of grey hair that attempts to mask his shiny head. Thomas sits up straighter, parks the fedora on his knee and nods his understanding. He waits for the man to continue.

“All your documents, immigration papers, adoption forms, birth certificate, passport, criminal check, certificates are all quite in order. There is no reason that you cannot assume your new identity. I have the memoranda from the Citizenship Department in Ottawa that you will be relinquishing your Canadian passport upon arrival in Perth at the end of September which is less than two months away. I’m curious to know why our lovely province will be losing such an exemplary citizen and from what I read, a promising lawyer?”

Thomas grows serious, a frown crosses his face, the eyes glisten and his manner is polite.

“Can you imagine being forcefully removed from your home when you were a child, Mr. Beers?”

The Registrar reacts with raised brows, the grin vanishes, surprised by the gravity of the question. Unsure of how to respond, he stumbles.

“Why...why, I…no…I guess not.”

Thomas sets the hat on the couch beside him to sit forward.

“I can Mr. Beers because I was torn from my mother’s embrace when I was seven. I can remember it vividly. Would you like to hear about it?”

Reaching for his pipe from the glass ashtray at edge of his desk and beginning to add tobacco from a tattered leather pouch, the Registrar is fully attentive.

“Yes…yes I would.”

“I was born in Mogumber, Southwestern Australia. Our village was settled along the Moore River. The land is flat, no hills for miles and especially fertile. My mother was a domestic to one of the white land owners. I haven’t seen her for 21 years and I can still remember her smile. More acutely, I can still remember her grief when the Aboriginal Protection Officers came for me one day. We lived with my grandfather then…”

Thomas hesitates for a moment. The reflection stirs a loneliness he has been consumed with since the Klemanns died in the house fire. No siblings, no cousins, a handful of close friends the only thing pulling him through.  He yearns for family. His narrative is tinted with longing as he relates his abduction and placement in the Southwest District Native Settlement.

“…it was basically, and still is, an internment camp Mr. Beers. Oh, I admit, we were well fed but the staff was strict and punishment frequent. By the strange sounds I would hear some nights I think many were taken advantage of. I was rescued from an uncertain and desperate future by the Klemanns.” 

Both remain silent for a moment. Mottles of smoke from the Registrar’s pipe swim about overhead. The clock persists with its monotonous regularity. Thomas is sitting forward, his elbows on his knees, hands clasped. He stares at the floor.  Lost in imaginings of what his life might have been like had the Klemanns not claimed him, of how fortunate his life has been?

The Registrar is shocked by what he hears. Coddled and encouraged by doting parents and four older siblings all his young years, he has difficulty in absorbing the idea of forced confinement of children, the wholesale disruption of families whose only sin is mixed blood. Behind his liberal views, he is a tiny bit racist. He’s not usually kind to native people when he encounters them in public; he is uncomfortable around Old Joe, the shoeshine man, he avoids restaurants owned by Asians. He feels guilty. Right at this moment he feels shame in being white.  His chair squeaks as he sits forward to set his pipe down. Seeking some succor, he asks,

“How did the Klemanns find you from so far away?”
To be continued..............
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I hope you'll return on Tuesday the 21st to read Part 2.
Please leave a comment if you like.


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