Hearing the Herald boys spruiking for sales in the street outside – with their calls of Her-ald! Her-ald pa-per! Read all about it! reverberating – Graham Hickmott carried his first beer back to the doorway of the public bar in Young and Jackson’s Hotel. A landmark, here on the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, right in the heart of Melbourne – what better place to meet a new friend from interstate?
Not only did Graham buy a copy of The Herald – once he had made the quickest check, he bought a second one, then added tuppence as a tip, to the surprise of the young newspaper vendor. Being generous, sharing good luck, it felt like the best way to go.
Graham saw no need to explain – there could be no second day, as a young newspaperman, where he would get a front-page story again, for the very first time, in a big city daily. Even if it did not carry his byline, of course, given that it was a news piece, and he was simply a junior staff writer, who had started as a copy boy – not yet a member of the editorial team. Still, he had been given several column inches – quite some detail. With no further changes made to the proof version, as he established with a quick scan down the full article, once his sub-editor had made all those alterations which Graham expected.
Tucking that pair of copies under his arm, he negotiated his way back to his stool in the corner, still vacant despite the bar starting to fill with workers gathering for a drink after five o’clock, prior to heading across Flinders Street as such, to the railway station bearing its name, to make their way home for dinner. Graham hoped the temperance movement would not succeed in its campaign to have liquor licensing laws changed, to make hotels close at 6.00 o’clock, here in this state, like they had in South Australia, back in March.
Already being called the Six O’Clock Swill over there, he felt sure it would bring nothing but chaos to Victorian bar-rooms across one madcap hour, making levels of alcohol consumption far worse, not better: surely a measure that could not last for long, if introduced at all, should sanity prevail, once the need for wartime austerity had passed, with all those harsher laws from Billy Hughes repealed too, once things became quiet on the Western Front.
Thinking of drinking times and South Australia, Graham Hickmott took another glance at the clock above the bar, while nodding at the barman – a decent fellow named Seymour Wilson – for another beer. Just draught, please. Whatever you’ve got on tap, Seymour. Carlton? Great. Yes. Just a seven-ounce glass, thanks. No, a seven. For now, anyway. Taking things quietly, at least for a start. Just waiting for a mate. Held up. Keep the change with this one, though – pay day tomorrow, Seymour. And a big day this one, too! Cheers!
While Graham’s new colleague was overdue, that was an occupational hazard in the newspaper game. As was building up a thirst …
Halfway through this second beer, Graham Hickmott decided to head home, checking his fob pocket for his return train ticket. His landlady at the boarding-house – Mrs Gale – could be true to her name, kicking up a storm if he rolled in late for dinner, worse for wear …
But then his new workmate burst in, with an entrance that threatened to take the whole of Young and Jackson’s by stampede. Exactly as he had started in the newsroom at The Herald, only three weeks back. Newly arrived from Adelaide by train, having come over on the Melbourne Express. Full of bluster, with a way about him which cut no ice with all the hard heads who had been slaving away at that grand old evening paper of theirs for years.
‘Greetings to you, Aitch!’ he called, signalling to Seymour for two pots.
‘Aitch?’ Graham asked quizzically, taking a last sip, before sliding his glass across the bar.
‘Heard you explaining the other day how your name was Gra-ham with an aitch, not Gra-eme with an ee. Plus there’s Hickmott, also starting with an aitch. Too obvious.’
Raising an eyebrow, the newly christened newspaperman asked Tommy what nickname he usually went by himself. Taking a gulp of beer that emptied half the contents, before belching, his fellow journalist smiled for a second, only to explain: ‘Bit of a story, that. But stories, they’re what we’re paid for, hey, so here goes … Christened Thomas Thomas. Unbelievable. Didn’t even give me a middle name I could use, the parents. What’s a bloke supposed to do? Apart from dusting the chip off his shoulder … Call himself Tommy … And hope to get away with it … But then some newspaper mates over in Adelaide, they got onto it. Started calling me Tom Tom. And then the Drum.’
Graham Hickmott did not feel he could share the fact that his drinking partner was already being called Scoop here, behind his back: in no sense a compliment. As some old newshounds around The Herald office saw things, Tommy had spent three weeks sniffing around minor magistrates courts and second-string police stations and low-rent backstreet bars where the meanest members of the greater legal fraternity – from either side of the brotherhood – worked and watered. But how come his pockets were so deep? With all the beers he was shouting. On his wage. To get the inside gossip behind the story. What annoyed them most, though, was this Thomas ring-in getting all his work on their front page!
Graham Hickmott gulped now, however, acknowledging inwardly that he had finally won himself a little success today, by following the same strategy, heading over to the Fitzroy Court on a Brunswick Street tram.
Nervous, he handed a copy of tonight’s Herald over to Tommy Thomas, pointing at the headline for his own front-page piece.
While waiting for the most threatening form of feedback, from an equal, he resolved that he would keep that second copy forever – bearing today’s date, Wednesday 17 May 1916 – because he wanted his children (should he end up being lucky enough to have any) to place it in his coffin and consign it to the ground with his earthly remains, once he passed, whatever else he might write, whatever other finer work he might see through to print – with his name attached – before he shuffled off this mortal coil:
Trading Name Changed – Pastry Cook Fined 25 Pounds
In a hearing at Fitzroy Court, George Schickert – a pastrycook of 239 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy – has been found guilty of trading under a name different to the one by which his business was known at the start of the war.
Mr Schickert is a naturalised Australian citizen of enemy origin, having migrated here from Germany.
The court found his actions to be in contravention of The War Precautions Act.
He was fined 25 pounds for this offence, with him required to meet costs of a further five pounds five shillings. He has been given a stay of seven days in which to pay.
Under instructions from the Crown Solicitor, Mr C. Robertson acted as prosecutor, with Mr J. Fitzgerald representing the accused, entering a plea of not guilty.
Plain-clothes Constable A. E. Roxby testified that his surveillance of the premises found that the name ‘Café Australia’ had appeared in three places out the front of Schickert’s shop until about February 18.
A different name was displayed at the front of the shop thereafter, reading ‘C. Schickert’.
George Schickert testified that this change of name came because of a change in ownership, with him having handed the business over to his wife Caroline before the date identified.
The accused explained that these alterations had been required because his own health had broken down, forcing him to go to the country to recuperate.
Mr Schickert added that ill-health followed an incident at his previous cakeshop in Carlton, where a group of males – including Australian soldiers returned from overseas – made such a hostile demonstration that he had had to sell that business in great haste, at a bad loss.
Originally, he had been asking 750 pounds, yet had to sell for only £250.
Mr Schickert added that he had started the new business in Fitzroy in the hope of helping to overcome high levels of unemployment.
Mr Schickert’s wife Caroline stated how she had been born of English parents at Long Gully, Bendigo.
Mrs Schickert testified that she had met costs involved in furnishing the shop, while paying all accounts arising from the business herself, using money bequeathed to her through her late mother’s estate, under the approval of her father as trustee.
During questioning from the prosecutor, Mrs Schickert explained that the business had been made over to her by her husband George some months ago, while agreeing that this was only by word of mouth, without written record of a precise date.
The Schickert’s schoolgirl daughter Elsie testified that she was present when her father verbally handed over the Brunswick Street business to her mother.
Mr Robertson pointed out that the name ‘Café Australia’ would answer for any proprietor.
Presiding magistrate Mr S. J. Goldsmith endorsed the prosecutor’s view that evidence tended by defence witnesses as to the precise date of the transfer of the business was too indefinite, therefore finding George Schickert guilty as charged under the act.
While Tommy Thomas read his article closely, Graham Hickmott fidgeted from foot to foot, wanting to grab his colleague by the arm and spin him around to face him, when he saw his fellow newspaperman jab his index finger at the page, and wag it energetically, then point again, firstly by way of interrogation, and then with a spirit of admonishment.
Before Graham could even dare to ask what had upset him with the report, Tommy Thomas proceeded to pick over points which bothered him: ‘That sub-editor – what’s his name? – he’s taken the blue pencil to this bit, surely? Stands out a mile!’ He took a pencil of his own (grey-lead, of course) from a pocket in his jacket, to scribe a rough-looking arrow which linked two different paragraphs: ‘Reading this, you’d think the defence counsel didn’t say a single bloody word after entering a plea of not guilty! Whereas he should have been all over that copper like a rash! What’s his name? Roxby! Heard of him myself, even in the time I’ve been here. Never a good word said either, just quietly – neither from fellow coppers nor their criminal brethren alike. But am I right, Graham? That’s one bit which got cut, is it not?’
‘Yes, yes, Tommy!’ Graham Hickmott agreed, feeling as relieved as he was impressed. ‘That lawyer Fitzgerald, he argued that the whole prosecution case rested on two points about dates. With Constable Roxby not definite about the date when the name of the shop got changed on the front window. Only to have the Schickerts crucified for not being definite about the date when George handed over the business to Caroline!’ Sipping his beer reflectively, Graham thought better of adding how he had never seen so beautiful a woman looking so strained.
‘With no formal written transfer through a solicitor – just the say-so of a schoolgirl daughter.’
‘Quite a plucky little character, she is!’ Graham added, in an appreciative tone of voice. ‘Had a friend in court there with her. Tall girl from school. Both good kids.’ He leaned in significantly: ‘Young Elsie, she wanted to say a whole lot more on the witness stand, you know. Frustrated. Told me later how she helped her mother with the accounts for the shop.’
‘Exactly!’ Tommy Thomas thumped his beer glass so heavily on the bar that he sprayed froth over Graham as well as himself. ‘What in hell was this Fitzgerald bloke doing with their defence? If they hadn’t had the money, or the brains, or the time, to get themselves a lawyer to draw up a change of ownership, all water-tight and official, then why in the hell wouldn’t Fitzy see fit to tender orders and invoices and receipts, signed and dated by Caroline’s hand, showing she was paying the bills herself, well before the eighteenth bloody day of February?’
Graham Hickmott gave the deepest shrug of resignation: ‘For the same reason the magistrate was always going to find poor George guilty anyway. For the same reason our sub-editor cut out my bit showing the defence trying to cast doubt on the case. The mood of these times.’
‘Hear, hear, Aitch, my friend!’ Tommy gave a great huzzah, as if he were a backbencher in the House of Representatives, endorsing the maiden speech of a newly elected parliamentary colleague: ‘Because we’re living in a country where we’ve got this hard-line Prime Minister, bringing in very tough laws, in a nation which calls itself a democracy, limiting people’s freedom, especially if they happen to have come – no matter how long ago – from a country which is suddenly an enemy!’
Having shown signs of concern for some time, with his level of anxiety building, the barman Seymour Wilson leaned forward now, looking both men in the eye, to make a request – in the politest possible tone – to keep things down, please … Graham agreed others were listening.
Tommy Thomas was not about to be quietened, however: ‘That’s why I hope people buying The Herald can read between the lines, Graham. Love your piece, mate – love how you’ve got the sub to let you keep stuff about George’s old shop being wrecked by a mob over in Carlton. By soldiers who had run amok, training in Egypt. Getting drunk in Cairo. Calling the local blokes Gyppos. Treating Muslim women like pigs. Meaning those boys got sent home before Gallipoli. With chips on their shoulders as big as a lad called Thomas Thomas. So they had something to prove back here … I can see it all, Aitch, clear as the pyramids!’
By now the barman was bringing a finger urgently to his lips. Nodding, Graham tugged on Tommy’s sleeve, giving a flick with his forehead to indicate how fellow drinkers at their side had stopped their own conversations, to listen in. A believer in luck, he knew he and Seymour had the dice rolling against them, however, once that word Gallipoli turned up.
‘As for the danse macabre in the Dardanelles, don’t get me started! We’ll be hearing beat-ups about it for a century – grab your sub-editor’s blue pencil and literally mark my words! Because there are points we need to get clear here, simply speaking amongst ourselves …’
Graham Hickmott and Seymour Wilson were just as surprised as the man himself, when a look of confusion passed across Tommy Thomas’ face – he was suddenly lost for words.
‘Don’t worry – long day for us all,’ murmured Seymour, serving beers to two men in overalls standing nearby, prior to pouring a new round here too and holding his hand out to Tommy.
Yawning his way out of his reverie, the journalist from Adelaide paid for this new pair of beers, despite being caught by surprise, only to accept such a development as if the unexpected arrival of a new glass solved a larger question about his immediate destiny as a human being, till then in jeopardy. While confused all round himself, Graham gave a quick gesture to the barman, indicating other drinkers had resumed chatting among themselves.
Tapping that copy of The Herald on the bar, already getting damp, Tommy Thomas made welcome changes in topic and tone: ‘This poor blighter George Schickert, he’s simply a battler of a pastry chef, with his health and his business both gone to the dogs, just cooking up cakes, not bombs. Makes him a pretty soft target if you asked me!’
Maintaining a reduced volume – to Seymour’s evident relief – Tommy proceeded to explain (on glancing up at the clock) why he had been so late earlier. He had a couple of beers at a dockside bar beforehand, sorry, chasing a story, without luck. Went over on the train. After checking files at The Herald had shown him how German stevedores got badly beaten in Port Melbourne in 1914. With three men chased by a mob down Bay Street. One of them begging for protection at the police station. Another being admitted to hospital. Tommy had been down on the docks today, checking on current tensions, with no new copy to show for it yet.
‘A day true to the newspaper trade,’ he sighed, before explaining why he liked this simple-looking article by Graham so much. Because he came from South Australia. Where there was such a strong German community. Especially up in the Barossa Valley. With them being treated so poorly there now. Despite the contributions they had made. With their wine, their food, their music, their culture. And the decent way they had always conducted themselves.
While Graham Hickmott gave a punch in the air, clapping Tommy’s shoulder, his friend wagged his finger: it was what lay beneath these laws from Billy Hughes, though … which the court case did not appear to bring out … and which this article could not highlight either.
‘Precisely! The things we cannot say,’ Graham sighed.
‘No, no, don’t get me wrong, Aitch! No discredit to you! Pearl of a job. That much in there. Column inches – first front page! But your hands were tied. Like they always will be …’
Clearly Tommy had gained a second wind, flicking his fingers through mid-air, as if dismissing an annoying mosquito. While the barman rolled his eyes, Graham Hickmott was drawn by what he was hearing, with his colleague sitting forward to voice his concerns.
‘Since when should changing the name of a shop become a crime? What’s the point of a law like that, Aitch? What’s this bloke done wrong? Tell me that, Seymour – as the man on the street. What type of danger are we protecting our citizens from here, eh?’
‘We’re safe, touch wood!’ the barman smiled, tapping the timber edging to the bar. ‘Same name since way back, this pub. Middle of last century.’
‘But it’s not owned by a Hun! Taking good Aussie pennies and shillings. To get them melted into shells, so to speak. So they’ll be rained down on the heads of Diggers in France!’
Graham laconically excused himself: ‘In sympathy for the French, I’m off to the pissoir.’
Walking back from the lavatory, he found his thoughts turning to another confronting prospect mooted by Prime Minister William Morris Hughes. The young journalist had a fair idea what his colleague from Adelaide might have to say about this other thorny question: the possibility of boys being forced to enlist, to boost waning troop numbers. Having heard talk in the newsroom about a national conference against conscription at Trades Hall, Graham could only hope that this (like six o’clock closing) might be a proposal that came to nothing.
As soon as he returned to his stool, he wondered if he were developing telepathic powers: Tommy Thomas was giving Seymour an inside perspective on that exact subject.
‘But it’s all down to Billy’s vanity, you know. Personal glory! That’s all the lives of young men are worth to him. Because he’s been promised a seat of his own at the victors’ table. If we win this war. As long as he keeps on sending his wild colonial boys to the slaughter!’
‘I think you paid for two rounds in a row, back there, sorry, Tommy, when you had your … forgetful moment,’ Graham interrupted, wanting to set things right: ‘Two more, please.’
‘Apologies, boys – my fault,’ Seymour admitted.
‘Not to worry, barman!’ Perplexed once again, Tommy asked, ‘But what was I trying to get at back then?’ He shook his head. ‘Need to go to the amenities myself. Following your lead again, Aitch! Like trying to keep things quiet.’ With a nod from Seymour, he exited.
While Tommy was gone, Graham took the opportunity to go back to his article, sharing it with Seymour, who shook his hand in congratulations. While the barman glanced over his piece, in between serving other drinkers, the young newspaperman also made a point of apologising to the pair of chaps at his side. He hoped they did not find all this loud carry-on too much, spoiling their evening, when they probably just wanted to have a quiet beer after work.
The two fellows concerned – a pair of brothers, it turned out – each shook their heads and waved their hands placatingly, as if they were one (like it was a gesture they had both picked up as children, without ever realising it): everything was fine, as far as they saw things. One spent his day as foreman of a shift at a clothing factory; the other filled a similar role at a munitions plant; both being government jobs; one making soldiers’ uniforms, in order not to wear one himself; the other making bullets for soldiers’ rifles, so as not to have to fire one either: ‘Good girls, we work with, both of us. But hearing blokes’ voices? Not a problem!’
No sooner had this trio likewise shaken hands, than Graham’s colleague returned in full voice: ‘Nothing like a trip to the toilet to clean things up!’ Tommy took his seat and his beer in one smooth movement: ‘Gallipoli!’ Seymour gave out an extended puff of air to show he had been all too aware of what topic had slipped from his customer’s mind earlier.
‘Like I started to say before, lads, with the whole Anzac thing … Seeing as we’ve just had the first anniversary, of course, back on April 25th … Same day of the month as Christmas … With people already wanting to make it just as big!’ At that Tommy stretched out both hands, congratulating himself: ‘Like the connection?’ Graham took an anxious look at the men to his side, whereas Seymour busily polished glasses with a cloth: ‘Some points to get clear, boys!’
‘Like I say, Doubting Thomas,’ warned the barman, ‘if you can’t keep things nice, keep them quiet.’
While Graham agreed, making a hand gesture resembling an effort to stop a balloon from inflating, his newspaper colleague took a surprising approach, fumbling his way through a set of notebooks he had stored in pockets in his jacket, before pointing to a particular page for his companions to read, sharing – in total silence – a set of items he already had written down:
Question number one – what are we calling that first day at Gallipoli? Answer – a landing.
Number two – what was it actually? Answer – an invasion.
Number three – what are we are calling the whole thing now? Answer – a triumph; a coming of age as a young nation.
Number four – what was it really? Answer – a terrible defeat, with huge losses.
Number five – what could we have done better from the start? Answer – land on the right beach in the first place; not go there at all.
Number six – what can we feel proud of? Answer – how brave all our Anzac boys were, no matter the mistakes made by British politicians and military commanders.
Number seven – what did we do well? Answer – showing bush cunning in leaving so quietly.
Number eight – what had the Turks done wrong to us, beforehand, as provocation? Answer – rhetorical question. Answer implied. No response required.
‘The things we cannot say,’ Tommy observed wistfully, as philosophical in mood as he had been when lost for words earlier.
‘You expect anyone to print this for you?’ Graham asked. ‘What about your Adelaide Truth?’
‘You get my point, Aitch?’ Tommy begged. ‘Another case of changing a trading name! Calling an invasion, a landing; a disaster, a triumph; a point of shame, a national honour …’
Looking genuinely distressed at a lack of recognition for a carefully considered, deeply felt viewpoint, Tommy raised the nearest copy of The Herald in the air, making Seymour throw up his hands in turn, ready to quell another outburst.
‘Strong work, this! Great piece. Real breakthrough. First front page.’ With a sad smile, the newspaperman from South Australia dropped his colleague’s second copy onto a table: ‘Even liked how you gave the second initial for both the copper and the magistrate!’
Pulling out another notebook, Tommy Thomas sat reading more of his own notes, explaining that he did not wish to flog a dead horse, but this issue of changing trading names becoming an offence, it had got right up his left nostril.
‘I’ll get you to answer to Aitch before this night’s out, Graham – changing trading names …’
Tommy proceeded to show a set of dates which demonstrated how Prime Minister Hughes had altered the name of his political party from the one it had when the war commenced, having started out as being named simply the Labor Party, before that got swapped to the Australian Labor Party: ‘Dare I say, yet another case of …’
Seymour Wilson surprised Graham Hickmott by interrupting, to agree, tapping that copy of The Herald still sitting there on the bar: ‘Sounds awfully like Café Australia to me! A name which “would answer for any proprietor”, hey? In any country, that is. Just calling it the Labor Party,’ the barman smiled.
‘Good work, Seymour! Give you a job at The Herald!’ The newspaperman from Adelaide – taking a signal from Graham – dropped his voice yet again, before making a further point: ‘Is there a change of trading name involved, Aitch, if you have a Labor government putting trade unionists into prison? Especially where it’s the editor of a union magazine, getting chucked in gaol for printing a cartoon? One protesting against the war. In a country that calls itself a democracy. Meant to have freedom of speech. Changing trading names there too, eh, Billy?’
Glancing up at the clock, Tommy Thomas admitted he was in no hurry himself to get home, with no one there waiting for him, except the face he would see in the mirror: ‘Your shout again, is it, Aitch? Thank Christ there’s no six o’clock closing here yet. Not like Adelaide!’
Graham had been intending to head off himself, only to break his last five-pound note, once he saw Seymour pulling two beers, without checking, as he had before. Bidding him cheers, Tommy ferreted around in his pockets again, to produce what surely must have been his final notebook, begging his colleague to read, although Graham was feeling bleary-eyed by now.
‘Those old pricks at The Herald, they sneer at me behind my back, saying I just worked for a gutter rag back over in South Australia. And some of that’s fair! Calling itself The Truth – like the one you’ve got here – when sometimes its stories look like the opposite.’
‘Yet another change of trading name, dare I say?’ Graham Hickmott sighed wearily.
‘Yep? Guilty as charged, Constable Roxby! But that doesn’t mean everything it says is false! Why, I worked my heart out on one story, but they’ve had to hold it back. Because of censorship. That internment camp on Torrens Island. On the Port River. You’ve got no idea!’
‘German men flogged with a cat-of-nine-tails, I’ve heard you say. Captain Hawkes, was it?’
‘Except one of the two wasn’t even German! He was a poor bloody Swede! Cries so loud, people could hear it a mile away. One bloke beaten so badly, he couldn’t walk for four days!’
‘Really better bring this down, Tommy,’ Graham warned. ‘Some uncomfortable things here!’
‘I keep needing to quote what you said yourself before, Aitch – the things we cannot say …’
One of the workmen alongside – in bidding them farewell – pointed across the bar, while his brother whispered, ‘See that character over there? Brown coat. With his own little notebook out now.’
The first man was even quieter: ‘He’s your Constable Roxby. Thought youse should know.’
Graham stomped his foot, furious at himself for not having spotted a man he had studied quite closely in court only that morning.
After thanking the brothers warmly, Tommy Thomas – not to be distracted – kept thumbing his way through that last notebook: ‘Here, look, Aitch! Hermann Homburg. State Attorney General. 1914. The British king’s legal representative in South Australia. Only to have two Australian soldiers enter his government office. In uniform. Carrying rifles. With bayonets fixed. A warrant to search. In case Homburg was a spy! Born to German parents. Never set foot outside the state border. They found nothing, of course … A further story from my days at the Adelaide Truth. Another thing those old pricks at The Herald won’t credit me for!’
‘Another unheralded story, dare I say?’ the barman sighed in commiseration: ‘Home, boys?’
Tommy Thomas opened his wallet, in search of a tip for Seymour Wilson, only to be embarrassed on finding it empty, exchanging respectful nods instead. Putting an arm around his colleague’s shoulder, he ushered him – past Constable Roxby – outside.
‘Didn’t see Chloe, Aitch.’ Tommy gave a shiver. ‘Canvas hanging in the Saloon Bar, I hear.’ Graham nodded in apology. ‘Friday night again here, hey? Where we’ll discuss my other change of trading name in wartime – Scoop.’
‘I prefer Drum as an alternative myself.’
‘Know any real girls, though?’
‘Not really. One at the office. Might have to look for a story at the munitions factory.’
Echoing up Flinders Street, off the railway station’s brickwork, came the eerie cry of one last newspaper boy, still striving to sell his final quota, on a wet, empty pavement, after dark:
Her-ald! Her-ald pa-per! Read all about it!
Finding he had left both his copies in Young and Jackson’s, soaking up spilt beer, Graham Hickmott called out for two more – it was the same lad as before: he tipped him once again, giving him the superstitious shilling he always kept in his fob pocket.