During my time in the inner-city Melbourne suburb of Richmond, between 2008 and 2018, I saw thousands of apartments being built. These constructions were, as we shall see, an ironic reversal of the suburb’s historical development, which since the middle of the nineteenth century tended to favour industry over the residential, and as such, the suburb had mostly been working class. And encroachments of industry into residential space had been the history of Richmond as it grew and developed into the twentieth century.
Several years ago there was an article in The New York Times that caught my interest. The article was about Olly Neal, a high-school kid in the late 1950s who stole a book from the library because he liked the racy cover. Neal was an ‘at-risk’ kid. He was poor and black and had an attitude. His father was a farmer. The house had no electricity and Olly Neal was one of thirteen children.
The collector was a man named Alfred. He lived with his wife Emma in an old hotel on a bumpy dirt road below the blue hills of Talmalmo. The hotel was built in the 1860s. It began as a coach stopover and provided the services of an inn. From Bowra to the head of the Murray, where the way was being made more and more accessible with every year that passed, it was the only licenced establishment. The hotel must have seemed at the time a worthwhile venture.
Thomas Keneally’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972) is a novel based on the life of Jimmy Governor, an Aboriginal man who in 1900 was on the run after committing murder. A similar tragedy predates this, however, and has received far less attention than the story Keneally put into his novel.
Talmalmo began as a place of dispossession and massacre, but with the passing of a century it regained innocence and beauty in the eyes of children. There are a remarkable number of archived letters written by children describing the landscapes of their home. Children were asked by the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express newspapers to write letters for a Children’s Corner column.
Talmalmo is a mountain-locked valley in Upper Murray country. Its beginnings occur within the colonial context of the early decades of the nineteenth century, when there was a movement for inland settlement and a search for country suitable for grazing. Once a route south from Sydney across the Blue Mountains had been achieved by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth in 1813,
This essay was first published in Sydney Review of Books, July 2015, under the pseudonym, Paul Galimond. It appears here in a slightly altered form.
In The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story (1962) Frank O’Connor argues that a defining feature of the genre is what he calls ‘submerged population groups’. ‘It may be Gogol’s officials’, he writes, ‘Turgenev’s serfs, Maupassant’s prostitutes, Chekhov’s doctors and teachers, Sherwood Anderson’s provincials, always dreaming of escape’. If, in his short stories, John Morrison’s characters are a particular class of ‘submerged’ people, it is due to the labours of work and material hardship — to ‘battling’.