The Boy, the Girl, & the Man
Dedicated to our fascinating grandchildren, who keep us remembering how young people think, live, and see life.
None of the stories in this volume is intended to refer to any person or character, however much you may think they do.
ONE or the proof-readers who had read the whole manuscript said, 'Why, this book is about freedom!' She asked me whether I would use the word 'freedom' in the title. Curious as to what she had seen, I went over the stories, reading them again. Usually I write stories off the cuff, and at any point in time. I rarely try to place one in a journal or magazine, and so one or two of these stories have been written many years ago, some a few years ago, and others quite recently. They all lie unattended until enough accumulate to make a full volume. How would the yarns, then—written over a number of years—have a common theme? Probably because freedom is a prominent idea in our thinking.
Ideas regarding freedom are many, and the introduction to a volume of short stories is scarcely the place to discuss the matter or metaphysics of freedom. Short stories are for entertainment, but then not for mere entertainment. True entertainment takes a genuine look at life, not as escapist fiction, the stuff of idle dreams, but as looking at reality in its most stimulating and enriching forms. The short story is as much an art as any other. Whilst the writer is not a preacher or a moralist, he is a communicator, and what he communicates must matter some, if not much. A thoughtful volume of short stories can be a useful social document. Henry Lawson's stories and poems were nothing if not that.
There can be no doubt that for the most part Australian short stories have been occupied with the idea of human freedom. This Bicentennial Year tells us that our beginnings were in years of bondage, especially on the East Coast of our land—that part established by convicts, their bosses, and free settlers. South Australia, by contrast, is proud that her history was free from convicts. Even so, this State has been called 'the house of dissent', because much of her land was settled by dissentents. Methodists chafed under the social opprobrium of 'chapel' as against 'church', and Baptists and others as being classed 'nonconformists'. Lutherans were of two orders, but both were glad to be free to start a new society in a southern land. There were churches simply called 'Christian' because they resented the tyranny of denominationalism.
Most of us envisage freedom as liberation from domination, the opportunity to live life without authoritarian intervention. How free we can be without some agreed form of order is a moot question, but certainly the Australian spirit resents restrictions, including the constriction of the human spirit. But is this resentment simply part of the Australian mind, or is it universal? It seems universally to be part of human thinking, i.e. that we are born to be free. Whether in fact this freedom is ever attained in full is questionable, but we certainly have moments of freedom, and they can be exquisite.
The first of the stories-'Don't Fence Me In'-deals with the mind of a boy who meets his first restriction in life: a fence. Another obstacle to pure freedom is parental insistence on obedience in 'The Woman and the Wild Apple'. Freedom from natural fear is sketched in 'No Fear for Jeremy', but in 'The Girl in a Cossie' a young boy has fear of water which has to be neutralized. 'The Boy and the Golden Gelding' presents one of these delicious moments of freedom, when a boy rides untrammelled, as in a dream. 'The Power and the Glory', which was written in 1946, spins the old theme of a mother who holds the family in bondage by her last will and testament 'The Magnificent Male' has nothing to do with sex, but simply with the liberation of a godlike captive bird. 'The Sound' is a yarn about a near-deaf old man who recovers his hearing and a world once lost to him. 'Singapore to Sydney' was written in 1945 when prisoners of war were returning from Changi to Sydney, and this previously unpublished document describes the incredible sense of freedom the men felt on release. 'The Man in the War Wards' is a series of stories describing a soldier's wounding, captivity, and release. 'How Come You Kept Corrie?' tells of a pert Corella parrot which changed character from the wildness of freedom, to serenity and affection through the pleasures of captivity.
It is certain, then, that the stories are concerned with the matter of the freedom of spirit which is natural to man and other creatures. Even so, there is no moralism in these accounts since they are meant primarily to entertain-to bring pleasure. When we write yarns we join, and so help, to perpetuate the ancient order of story-tellers. When we read, or listen to yarns, we join the equally ancient order of those who delight in the history, mystery, and endless antics of the human race.
'The Girl in a Cossie' was published by the Australian Women's Weekly, and 'The Power and the Glory' by the Bulletin. The remaining stories have hitherto been unpublished.