The car was big. A mass of dark leather separated two boys stationed at opposite ends of the back seat. Looking up they saw an ocean of cigarette smoke, a layered blue sky with flicks of bare Jacaranda, and rushes of swaying Norfolk Pines. It was hot in the sun, but cold whenever the car pulled-up for long in the shade. The boys were around four years old and had never heard their parents speak this way before.
“I just don’t see why not? We have the right car for it, we can certainly afford it, and everyone seems to be getting one.”
Up front, their mother’s brown curly hair bobbed along with the ride. Sunlight passed through her curls, shining directly onto the dark leather between the boys. It looked like a sea just before a storm and it made them feel nervous.
“Deirdre Wilkinson, Astrid Albertson and even Marcus Allen gave in to Daisy,” came her familiar voice in an unfamiliar way.
Their father, a giant of a man even amongst his friends, always drove gently through the streets of Perth. Shifting gears he looked back and smiled at his sons; he, the master of their tiny universe.
“Bea, I know you think we should be seen to have a driver, but I get so much enjoyment from driving,” came his reply.
“It’s not that I think we should be seen to have a driver.” She returned quickly, “I need a driver. This car is far too big for me to learn to drive.”
“If you need to drive we can get a smaller, easier car. Just for you,” he said, as though the idea had only just occurred to him.
“Why should we spend more on another car,” she continued, evidently expecting her husband’s response, “A driver could do the job, and then so much more around the house and the garden?”
“I’m not sure, my dear, how much a driver costs. But I imagine he’d not be an asset once his time was up,” came the retort.
“Come now Teddy,” leading to her crescendo, “We’ve come a long way and you’re an important man. Important men have had drivers since horse and cart days.”
He accelerated slightly through the corner.
“When I was a lad, Bea,” he began.
A more familiar tone now reached the back seat passengers. In private their father rarely gave orders but told anecdotes to explain his decisions. The boys loved his tales and they suspected this story would last the rest of the trip.
“We would hunt foxes on the weekends.” He continued, “My brother and I would get two shillings for each tail we took back to the post office.”
“A number of us local boys would hunt like this and it quickly became a competitive business. We started leaving earlier and earlier on Saturday mornings. We walked all-day, slept rough and returned late on Sunday night.”
“Our mum hated it, ‘You’ll end up freezing to death out there,’ she’d say. But the money helped, so she let us go.”
The boys always giggled when their father imitated their grandmother. Beatrice looked back, surprised.
Theodore continued, “And in truth, we nearly did freeze a few times.”
“We hunted using traps fashioned from sticks and branches with rope in a way our dad taught us before he died. We used a rifle to kill the animals we caught; we thought it kinder than using a blade.”
As was his practice, their father paused for effect, “But we never shot at a moving animal.”
“One day from the top of a ridge, we watched as another group of boys, lower in the plateau, stalked and shot at a fox that had two white rings on its tail. The oldest boy missed three times and was obviously upset.”
“Although he’d already finished with school, I knew him from town. He was a bully. That day, playing his role to perfection, the bully blamed his companions for his failure and demanded they chase the animal down.”
“We lost sight of them, but some time later we found, stuck in one of our traps, a fox with two white rings on its tail.”
“The following evening as we were delivering our line of tails to the post office, the bully and his friends arrived. He must have caught sight of the tail with two white rings because he stormed across the street and demanded we hand it over, threatening violence if we didn’t.”
“Not wanting to get into a fight, especially with rifles nearby, I handed the tail over. In doing so, I let my shot-pouch slip open and scores of unspent rounds fall to the dirt.”
“While snatching the tail, the bully noticed the fallen bullets. My brother and I both struggled not to laugh watching the cogs turn in his overgrown head. ‘How’d you get your hands on so many bullets before even heading home?’ he wanted to know.”
The boys found the imitation of the bully equal to that of their grandmother and their father waited for the giggling to subside before continuing, “Sensing that the wrong answer could end in a broken nose, I let him know that we’d only used seven shots for the whole weekend.”
“He looked down and counted six other tails and, after a while, realised that we hadn’t missed a shot.”
“The bully replied as all bullies do, with aggression. ‘No one shoots that good,’ he said while prodding his finger into my chest.”
“I picked up our bullets and with practiced humility, suggested that we’d had a lucky weekend.”
“He didn’t need to know that all our shots were from point blank range, so I didn’t tell him, and we scampered away before anything else could happen.”
“Now Bea, no one ever needs to know, nor should they ever assume anything about our household or our finances. This isn’t because I’m frugal, although that’s important. It’s because you never give your hand away to the mob.”
“If Independence is to come to Westralia, its leaders must always remain distinct from the East coast and London establishment. The average man, the mob, must never be given a chance to presume anything about me, or my family.”
“You and I, and all the Independence leaders must display a moral constitution above which should be reasonably demanded of us. Anything less will see this referendum fail.”
“I didn’t sign up to this for a driver. And nor, I hope, did you,” ended their father looking directly across to his wife.
“I’m not sure I agree with you dear,” replied Beatrice, looking right back at her husband, “But as usual, I see you’ve timed the end of the story to perfection.”
Sun poured into the car from all angles now. The boys blinked away the glare, captivated by the mass of citizens pouring slowly between the cankered red-flowering gums along Fraser Avenue.
They pulled up next to the unfinished State War Memorial, atop Kings Park which overlooked the fledgling cityscape astride the Swan River. The hum grew as the crowd headed towards them.
Theodore Flynn assessed himself briefly in the rear-view mirror, pushed his floppy hair across his forehead and stepped out of the car to great applause.
Bob grew up in Tasmania, studied in Melbourne, travelled the world, lived in Perth for a while, and for now, lives in Sydney.