It's been another busy week of assignment writing. I'm on the home stretch now, submitting my last assignment for the Convicts in Context course as part of the Diploma of Family History through University of Tasmania.
Life has thrown a curve ball at me and I have been pretty much flat on my back with a sore foot after dropping a table on it a fortnight ago. I am an impatient patient and have been a bit glum. But I got a mark back today for an assignment I submitted last month for the Writing the Family Saga course and it made all the pain worthwhile. The feedback was really lovely too. So without further ado, here is another chapter in the saga of Kit....
Interior view, from top of staircase, 108 Buckingham Street, Redfern, 4 June 1950. Creator: NSW Police Department
Kit didn’t think it was possible for them to go any lower, but here they were in a boarding house in Redfern.
“How the mighty are fallen!” she thought to herself.
Ernest was wailing and the baby was fractious with the heat. Truth be known, Kit wanted to have a good howl herself but she held fast, recognising that her emotions had got her into enough trouble already. She didn’t know what she found the hardest to bear; the loss of their possessions or the loss of her pride.
Now, it seemed she’d lost Dick, to top it all off. He’d scarpered the week before Christmas and it was well into the New Year. For all his bluff and swagger, Kit suspected Dick’s bravado concealed his fear; she wasn’t sure if it was a fear of being found out or a fear of being trapped. If she was honest with herself, she knew it was the latter. She recognised his actions were based on self-preservation. Dick knew she’d abandoned a relationship before, so he was making the first move rather than being “king-hit”.
At first, the half-truths and then the outrageous lies they told to anyone and everyone had been a game. How far could they go? But when her own deception of Dick was revealed, trust was broken. Their disappointment with each other led to sniping and delivering low blows more and more frequently. Taking on the Black Horse Inn in Richmond had been too big a gamble. They would be lucky if they or their reputations ever recovered.
Redfern life turned Kit’s stomach into a hard knot. She constantly scanned the environment for threats lurking in the shadows and laneways.
There were twelve of them under the one roof in their lodgings. The landlady had the front room. Two old maids shared the middle room. There was a couple in the room out the back next to Kit and Dick’s room and a young couple and their baby were up in the attic. Kit worried ceaselessly that the little they had would be stolen. The front door was often left unlatched, so tenants could come and go. The staircase was so perilous, she imagined herself at the bottom of it with a broken neck.
Dick had charmed his way into a job at the local baker earning £2 a week but that wasn’t going to go far. At night, she lay in bed listening to the sounds of neighbours drinking away their despair until the early hours of the morning. She loathed the hard streets of Sydney and its brittle inhabitants and wished they’d never returned.
“Do you not have family here?” asked Mrs Steel, the landlady, gently. Kit and the children had stayed in the boarding house over Christmas, when most tenants were eager to return “home” for the festive season.
“My parents died when I was a baby,” lied Kit, more out of habit than design. “My aunt raised me but she lives in Melbourne.”
“Well you’ve got your own family to look after now,” the old woman cooed. “Nothing quite like your own brood. I haven’t seen your husband lately. He must work odd hours.”
“Yes, he has to be at the bakery at two in the morning. Then the builders want to see him after work about the new house we’re building, so he doesn’t get home until quite late,” Kit fabricated in a careless tone.
Mrs Steel’s questions were beginning to grate. All Kit wanted to do was lie down somewhere and lick her wounds in private. But privacy was a thing of the past now with a common scullery and laundry.
“I’ll just take the babies out for a walk, Mrs Steel, to get some air while the washing’s drying. Can I fetch you anything while I’m out?” she said, against her better judgement. Kit had exactly three shillings in her purse to last her until goodness knows when.
“Oh no dear, I’m all sorted. Now you be careful. Stay right away from Abercrombie Street. The larrikins and their pushes get into all sorts of mischief late in the day, throwing stones and anything they can lay their hands on. One little boy lost his eye last week.”
Cooper Street, Abercrombie Place, Redfern from the Mitchell Library Collection State Library of NSW
Something in Kit started to boil. Damn Dick and his abandonment of them! She wouldn’t let him get away with it. She bundled the children into the large pram she’d cajoled from a sympathetic neighbour in Richmond and headed off to the police station to report her missing “husband”. She walked quickly with her head held high, just as her mother taught her all those years ago.
Police Station (Redfern) from State Library of NSW collection
“Kit? Is that you?” said a familiar voice at the intersection.
As she turned to respond, the knot in her stomach turned to jelly.
“Oh, Alf,” she gasped. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“I might very well ask you the same question,” retorted her husband in an aggrieved tone.
I’d like to say that I thought about structure but I really think I must be a pantser. I decided the only way I was going to get this assignment written was 250 words a night. Just do it and then review it. I became obsessed with finding out exactly where the boarding house was in Redfern. And then I wanted to read a lot about Redfern and what it was like in 1901/1902. Ann Hood’s book Creating Character Emotions was helpful. I decided that shame and fear and then anger would be the progression of Kit’s emotions. I didn’t know how to introduce Kit’s first legal husband but he turned up on the street when she took the babies out to get away from all the questions from her landlady, so I needn’t have worried. The feedback I received over the six weeks was really useful. I was complimented on my description of the senses, so I tried to do that again – what Kit’s stomach felt like, what she could hear and so on. Redfern needed to be a character too – hard and cold despite the heat of summer. I hope the language I gave my characters was appropriate to the era; I’ve wrestled with that in the past. I’ve tried to shorten my sentences and make the intricate details of Kit’s life crystal clear. I’ve tried to improve my use of dialogue tags; not use them too often and make them a bit more interesting than just “said”.
I haven't blogged for ages because I've been busy with work and Uni. Here's a story that I submitted for my Writing the Family Saga course recently. It is a case of imaginative fiction that is based on research conducted into my ancestor Kitty Ellis.
Sydney Girls High School c 1892 NSW State Archives Digital ID 15051_1_31_a047_000653 Series NRS 15051 No known copyright restrictions
At nineteen years of age, Kitty Ellis seemed hell-bent on turning her parents’ hair grey.
Bella Ellis, her mother, worriedly checked for silver streaks in the dressing glass every morning, whilst George, her father, regarded his receding hairline soberly.
Kitty’s older siblings had done their parents proud. Her brothers were studying at University or gainfully employed. Esther, her sister, found a suitable match in John Flynn, who was the pharmacist for Callan Park.
c. 1883 No known copyright restrictions
Kitty was godmother to the Flynns' darling baby boy, Sydney, now twelve months old. She minded him occasionally so Esther and John could attend fund-raising dinners.
But Kitty was a dreamer and had big plans. If you asked her what they were, she would be hard-pressed to tell you. She just knew she needed to get away. “Settling down” was her idea of a slow death.
Her mother, Bella, never hesitated to throw cold water on Kitty’s ‘fanciful notions’ and believed in calling a spade a spade. George, her father, was a stickler for convention and very proud of having been a schoolmaster for twenty years. If Kitty heard him lecture her one more time, she would surely scream.
The family moved from Ararat in Victoria to Sydney when Woollahra City Council appointed George their Inspector of Nuisances. Kitty seemed to be the only one who found the title amusing.
It was January 1892. Kitty missed the excitement that the advent of a new year usually brought with it; the promise of new experiences and opportunities. Her mother relied on her more to help with the running of the house, now that Esther had gone. Her two younger siblings, Bertie and Bea, would be going back to school (and their friends) on Wednesday.
A year of drudgery and boredom yawned in front of her. The only bright spot on her horizon was meeting her friends at Circular Quay tomorrow. They would catch the steamer to Clark Island and watch the boats in the Anniversary Day Regatta.
“Can you imagine the type of person that would be hanging around, George?” her mother cried.
“Indeed I can,” agreed her father, snapping to the next page of the Herald. “Layabouts and larrikins,” he observed.
“Stop gaping like a fish Kitty. Clear the rest of the table and make sure Bertie and Bea are doing a good job of the dishes,” said Bella.
Then, before Kitty could protest, Bella added:
“I simply must finish this hemming before I retire this evening. Bertie must have grown three inches over summer. You, my girl, on the other hand, are growing out, rather than up. You’re starting to look a bit thickset like my sister Margaret. She had a sweet-tooth just like you. You’ll never catch a young man with that figure. After the dishes, you can play on the harmonium for your father. He likes a bit of music before bed.”
The clock on the mantel ticked sonorously and then started to chime the hour: eight long chimes. Something in Kitty snapped. Her dark eyes flashed. She let out a wail of frustration and disappointment and ran out of the room.
Upstairs, in the tiny room she shared with Bea, she paced back and forth seething with rage. What could she do? Where could she go? The walls seemed to close in around her. If only she could think straight.
Esther! Esther would help her surely. She missed Kitty’s company now that she was at home all day with the baby. Hopefully, the trams were still running this late in the evening.
Woollahra Steam Train from John Cowper on Flickr Date unknown - NSWGR photo scanned from personal collectionhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
She threw a shawl on to the bed and, snatching a few clothes from the chest, wrapped them into a bundle.
Money. She would need money. She pulled the crisp notes from the empty box of marzipan, hid them in her bodice and then shrugged into her sealskin jacket. Yes, it was too hot to be wearing a jacket but nothing would induce her to leave it behind. It was the one bit of luxury she possessed and made her look like a real grown up. Running down the stairs, she found her mother blocking her path at the bottom.
“And where do you think you’re going, young lady?” Bella asked.
“Somewhere where I won’t be treated like a slave!” Kitty cried theatrically.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” her mother snorted.
“Just ignore her, Bella,” her father instructed. “She’s having another one of her tantrums. It’ll blow over. “
Then he added as an after-thought:
“Kitty, apologise to your mother and go and do the blessed dishes, there’s a good girl.”
But Kitty pushed past her mother, snatched her hat from the hallstand and then, with some spite, her mother’s favourite umbrella with the ivory handle. She flounced out the front door, making sure to slam it behind her.
Notes regarding photos - I chose the Sydney Girls High School photo because I was interested in the girls' frank stares. I do not know where Kitty went to school in Sydney - another avenue of research for me to pursue. The Miles Franklin portrait is a little after the time of this incident (1892) but came up when I searched for the term "umbrella" on Flickr. I thought it was too good not to use. Bibliography Australia Birth Index, 1788-1922, Ancestry, Accessed 25 July 2018 NSW Police Gazettes 1854-1930, Missing Person, Kate Ellis, 19 Woollahra 3 Feb 1892, p. 38, Ancestry, Accessed 25 July 2018 Probate Files, Item Series 4-92905 / Isabella Ellis - Date of Death 12/05/1918, Granted on 08/09/1918, NSW Government State Archives and Records